by Rebecca Irvin
From the Editor: The following remarks were made at the 2011 meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Senior Division and are reprinted from the spring/summer 2012 issue of the Division’s newsletter. Everyone understands the need to ensure that blind children get the education and services that they need to succeed for a lifetime. We recognize how important it is to make inroads in the staggering unemployment rate that plagues blind adults. But perhaps the fastest growing and least effectively addressed need the NFB faces is blind seniors’ lack of skills and increasing hopelessness. What follows is one woman’s description of what she is doing about this problem.
I lost my sight at age fifty-three. I woke up one morning, and everything had gone black. I simply did not know what to do. The only thing I saw in my blind future was death. Finally I came out of my coma and went to a blindness-skills training center. One of the most important things I learned along with the skills was that I could in turn give back to other seniors losing vision.
I tell them my story with a sense of humor and how I gave in and learned the skills of blindness. I frankly answer their questions, and I make them feel that, if I could learn, and I really resisted, they can too. I met the sister of Joe Ruffalo. She told me that I needed to meet Joe and get involved with this nationwide blind organization. Of course I was very impressed, have joined, and have started a chapter.
I go out and find older blind people who have simply been sitting around the house. I get them going again. I travel by myself, and I tell everyone I meet that it is true that I am blind, but so what? The rest of my body parts all work. I used to love reading. Now I have mastered Braille, so I have taken up reading again. Now I teach others to read Braille.
I have support groups. I let each person bring a concern to the table. We all talk it over and find a solution to the problem. At one group we talked about reading mail. Many said a family member would read the mail to the blind person only when he felt like it and would only read what the family member thought was necessary. We all decided it would be much better to find a nonfamily member to do that task. Then we discussed how to find a reader. Some have found readers who do not charge, by putting a note on a bulletin board at a senior center, a library, or place of worship.
I am thrilled to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind; others have given to us, and now we turn around and give to others. It’s a great feeling.