by Danny R. Robinson
From the Editor: Danny Robinson lives in Oklahoma and has recently taken advantage of the push to get blind people in Oklahoma to embrace intensive training in the skills of blindness. What makes this article so compelling is his honesty. Before training he thought he understood blindness, reconciling himself to limitations he thought reasonable for a person without sight. To his credit, when offered a different perspective, he did not get defensive, did not tell those trying to help him that he had been blind long enough that he already knew everything significant there was to know about it. No, he listened to what they said and was brave enough and sufficiently excited to see if what he was being told could change his life. He risked to touch a dream, gave the time it required, and now has quite a story to tell. Here it is:
I would like to start this by thanking Mr. Doug Boone for allowing me the opportunity to make the choice to go to the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana (LCB). I was certainly apprehensive about making the decision to leave my wife, children, and the many duties on the farm. I was also concerned about leaving a newly acquired position in the agency. While I knew the day-to-day operations would continue without me, I wondered if any of the ideas I had about change would truly be effective. It wasn't until later that I would realize that I had just begun to think about a term that Mr. Boone introduced me to called "possibility thinking."
The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services supports participants in programs called long-term training; I would argue that the name or phrase should be "skills for the long term." The skills and abilities that I worked on during my thirty-day experience there could not have been gained and were not mastered in the previous sixteen years of my acquired blindness. One of the reasons for this was because the skill of independent travel by way of structured discovery was not offered in my area. Honestly I was too busy focusing on work, family, and other distractions to have learned it anyway. To me this is the beauty of being able to go away to learn without having to worry about outside factors; that is certainly not to say I was able to turn off my concern for what was happening while I was gone: it just was not right in front of me to stumble over.
Another of those skills that I was able to really work on in a short period of time was the acquisition of Braille skills. While I know I did not come out as a proficient reader of Braille, I can certainly now read a basic book or letter.
The experience that I had personally—and please understand that I am not saying this is true for everyone—showed me that the majority of the barriers that I faced both personally and professionally were placed upon me by none other than myself! I began to see that these barriers existed due to my lack of skills to operate independently and to use what already existed physically. What do I mean by this: I would not travel independently using all the transportation available to me: bus, train, plane, and other ways. I would not use these without having either my wife or a driver to take me. When someone asked if I had a pocket knife, I used to joke that my wife would not let me play with sharp objects. Honestly it was my fear of cutting myself that caused me not to have one. It is truly these small things that determine our level of independence, and without gaining the skills that I did during my time there, I would still be locked in the warp of thinking I was independent, not knowing there could be more.
I can honestly say that it was not until my second week of training that I began to see what the term "possibility thinking" was all about. I began to understand that travel, Braille, and independent living skills were based in problem solving and thinking ahead about what could happen if I learned to use the techniques being imparted to me by the staff. I personally was too afraid and frustrated at times to figure this out in the first week. By the third week I was traveling most places under sleep shades by myself without the staff having to look over my shoulder. I was so proud of my accomplishment in this area that I made a special effort to travel to and from the stores by myself. I can say that the feeling of empowerment is almost unexplainable to anyone who has not faced all of the fears of blindness internally and those fears placed upon us by others.
Most people want to keep a blind person safe, so they tend to remove all of the responsibilities that might involve something considered dangerous or a task that they would not consider blind-friendly. The tasks I did in my life prior to training were those that society believes a blind person could do. I would add that I have been amazed through the years by how many professionals I have worked with who always ask "What can a blind person do?” I would have to step back and laugh because I thought I was actually being an example.
Today I have the privilege of saying that I am as independent as I want to be, not limited by the lack of skills and the limited perception of my abilities, but by the choices I make to learn as I go. I choose when I want to go somewhere, not allowing the lack of skills to hold me back. I thought my life was over when I gave up the keys to my car; now I realize that you can take my keys, but you cannot take my skills away. Please let my experience and my life speak to you about what it is to wake up to the idea of "possibility thinking" and go to bed knowing that you are doing everything you can to make it your reality.
I would like to leave everyone with a short poem I wrote years ago for a class in my undergraduate program, not knowing then what it would mean to me now:
Lonesome, like blind, is a mere state of mind,
You are lonesome if you choose to be,
You are blind if you choose not to see,
If you open your mind, you could never be blind
And lonesome you will never be.