by Kim Tindall
From the Editor: Kim Tindall is a member of the East Hartford chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. Before going blind Kim owned and directed a funeral home, and in this article she describes how traumatic she found going blind to be and how determined she was to find the independence she had lost. Here is her story:
Perhaps there is nothing more disorienting than losing your vision. The world is turned upside down. The independence once taken for granted is shattered and falls to the floor; one’s previous existence seems as distant as another life. The problem is that it isn't one or two things that need to be relearned; it’s everything. Going to the fridge to get a glass of milk used to be something I could do half asleep; after I lost my vision it became a multi-step process, and any error meant I found myself standing, lost in a house I'd lived in for years.
I felt like my opportunities had become extremely limited and that everything I wanted to do was made impossible because I could no longer see. Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like, I wondered?
When I lost my vision, I began to hear of blind people who were managing fine. At the time, imagining that I could be one of those people struck me as almost beyond belief. I've never been a person who would give up easily. When the loss had settled on me so that opening my eyes in the morning was no longer devastating, I realized what I needed was training in how to be blind. If there were independent blind people, I knew I could be one of those people. I wanted to be a productive member of society again. Before I lost my vision I'd worked my entire life. I didn't want to be one of those people who sat around feeling sorry for herself.
I went on the Internet, looking for the best training centers for the blind. The program that stood out to me was a comprehensive training program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) that lasted for nine months. I signed up because I knew I needed to learn a lot of new skills in a hurry, and, with a lot of hard work and great teachers, I did. The classes taught me how to shop by myself, how to read Braille, how to build useful items in the wood shop, how to use a washing machine and drier, how to travel safely by using a cane, how to ask for help if I became lost traveling, how to cook, how to use computers by employing adaptive computer skills using a screen reader, and how to become comfortable while doing public speaking. I was also shown how to apply makeup again.
The reason the program was valuable was that it prepared me for the rest of my life as a blind person. The LCB program didn't minimize the future challenges I'd be facing. We were expected to cook our own meals, wash our own clothes, and walk from our apartments to the LCB headquarters every morning for class.
When a person is confronted with low expectations, it’s all too easy for her to accept those expectations. However, when a person is expected and encouraged to succeed, she's inspired to work hard. My instructors told me that being blind wasn't the end of my life. Instead, it was a new beginning.
It’s hard to explain all that the LCB program did for me. I learned to read again, I relearned to cook my own meals. After I'd gotten familiar with the basics, I was challenged to cook a meal for forty people. I made chicken spaghetti and Texas Toast, with a Caesar salad as a starter and a lemon pound cake for dessert. For drinks I made sweetened and unsweetened iced tea.
My program wasn’t only about life skills. It had plenty of activities to challenge my notions about the limitations imposed by blindness and put them to rest with experiences I never thought it possible for a blind person to have. I went rock climbing, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, ziplining, and even went to Mardi Gras. All these activities build up a strengthening sense that the world is not too complex for a blind person to deal with. If you can survive whitewater rapids, you can survive the checkout at Stop N Shop. Until I came to the LCB I'd never used a cane. Now I can't imagine traveling without one.
The biggest thing the LCB program gave me was confidence, and this was even more important than the skills I learned there. The LCB made me really believe that I had the skills it takes to live fully and independently back in the real world. When I graduated, I felt like I was starting the first day of the rest of my life. I’d rediscovered how to be independent!
The LCB program isn't truly finished on graduation day. The instructors running the program continue to pay attention to the students they have graduated and are always ready to provide advice, aid, and encouragement to us. Knowing I have that support if I need it means a lot to me.
On graduation day every blind student is given a small metal bell that says “Together we are changing what it means to be blind.” I like that statement because I know that the world has expectations that are far too low for blind people, and sometimes we have these same low expectations for ourselves. The statement makes me feel pride at what I am doing, not only for myself, but for all blind people, and I rejoice at being a part of an important social movement. My bell has a picture of an eagle on it, and this, too, is significant. I have always believed that a person gets out of life what they put into it, and I worked hard in the program. Wanting that bell and the eagle on it gave me the encouragement to believe that I could once again fly high like that proud bird, and, like that eagle, I am proud. I have once again found my independence.If anyone has recently lost his or her vision, knows he or she needs training, and is feeling worried and overwhelmed, I urge that he or she calls the LCB and asks about the training program that lasts for nine months. I have learned so much about how to be blind, but more importantly, I feel like I have rediscovered myself. On that note I’d like to personally thank Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind in Connecticut and my case worker Jeannette Rodriquez, Beth Rival, and Mrs. Pam Allen, all of whom helped me on my journey to LCB and in reaching my destination, where I once again feel normal and proud.