by Judy Sanders
From the Editor: Judy Sanders is secretary of the NFB of Minnesota and an active member of the Metro Chapter. The following article appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Minnesota. This is what she says:
Ah, the wonders and excitement of the Minnesota Great Get-Together! I listen to the sounds—the music, the children laughing, the vendors selling, and the food frying. I smell the food—the grilling, the popcorn, and Sweet Martha's hot chocolate chip cookies. I'm happy and hungry. So I decide to venture through the fairgrounds to find one of the new food items this year sold by Famous Dave's. They're pork cheeks. I'm taking a chance that they taste better than they sound.
We in the National Federation of the Blind have a lot of work to do. Still too many blind people do not know that they can enjoy the fair by themselves. In addition, most members of the public can't imagine how we do it.
I begin by asking at an information booth about where the Famous Dave's dining area is located. I then head in that direction. Using a long white cane at the fair is very handy as it is in any other travel situation. Some people get out of the way; others don't. But everyone is in a good mood, and no one seems to mind when he or she encounters my cane. Periodically I ask for directions to make sure that I am still headed the right way. I arrive and wait in line to place my order. The paper tray in which my feast is sitting is quite heavy. Is it all the food or the stick?
I sit down and tentatively check out what I have. It is several huge chunks of tender pork with lots of gooey barbeque sauce on it. I dig in and discover that it is delicious. But I need to ask another customer where I might find a supply of napkins. Finishing all of it, I am thinking that I really should stop eating. But then I think about the roasted corn and the fact that it is the last day of the fair and my last chance to indulge.
So I reverse my steps to find the corn. I think I am close and decide to confirm my impression. An older couple resting on a bench confirm that I am heading in the right direction and offer to go with me. I tell them that it is not necessary, smile, and keep going. The corn is just across the street.
There are two lines at the corn booth: one for purchasing a ticket and one for getting the corn. I am listening to determine which line gets me a ticket when the lady from the bench comes up to me and says that her husband is getting me a ticket. I know they are trying to be kind, but I am embarrassed to accept the gift. So I ask her to tell her husband not to bother, but she says it is already done. What to do?
My initial reaction was to get three dollars out of my wallet and give it to them. But I had only a twenty, and I could hardly ask them for change. I then remembered Dr. Kenneth Jernigan's eloquent Kernel Book story, "Don't Throw the Nickel," in Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving. He talked about recognizing the right time to accept a gift gracefully that has been given in kindness. So I smiled and said thank you.
Why did they buy the corn? Did they think to brighten my day? Did they think that I could not afford the corn? Whatever their motive, it could not have been because of high expectations for blind people. The corn didn't taste as good as it might have. As I say, we have lots of work to do in the Federation.
Have we made no progress in changing public attitudes? We've made plenty. I think of the number of people I passed at the fair who felt no obligation to help me. Others were courteous when asked for directions. There were curious children who asked their parents about my long stick, and I found a teachable moment. I hope I always remember the nickel but never lose sight of the important lessons we teach and learn through the National Federation of the Blind.