Braille Monitor                         May 2021

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On Chainsaws and Changing What It Means to Be Blind

by Ana Martinez

Ana Martinez with her guide dogFrom the Editor: Ana is a gifted writer as will be clear just as soon as you get through reading my note of introduction. She loves the outdoors, playing board games, performing missionary work, and still manages to be the president of the Louisiana Affiliate’s Student Division. I look forward to you meeting her as I have been blessed to do, so here she is:

Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I learned the importance of giving good impressions, and I was blessed to have people in my life who held high expectations for me. One of these people was my mom—she expected me to do chores around the house, and expected from me good grades at school. She made sure to teach me those skills that eventually would make me competent in the real world. And, just like most blind people, I also faced the hard reality of low societal expectations since I was very young.

Another place where I learned the importance of good impressions was at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. In all of my classes, in seminars, and in other interactions with my instructors and peers, the importance of making a good impression as a blind person was emphasized. I learned that my blindness did not define me. But I also learned that society can have very negative attitudes toward blind people and that I had a sense of duty to combat these misconceptions not only for my own benefit but also for the good of those who will come after me. I know some in the blind community may think that it is not fair for us to always have to be the ones paving the way for everyone else or that we should not always have to present ourselves in a perfect way just to gain respect and credibility in the sighted world. I can empathize with those feelings. A few times in my life I’ve struggled with the idea of paving the way for others and of having to go above and beyond in order to be viewed as an equal. However, I have proof that the way we carry ourselves as blind people and the good impressions we strive for are extremely worth it!

As a faithful member of the Catholic church, I’ve been involved in ministry for the past three years. One day Jesus turned my life upside down, and I’ve been blessed with the grace to follow him ever since. I started getting involved in retreats, Bible studies, and conferences, both as a participant and as part of the staff. All these things were very good, and they produced much fruit in my spiritual life and in others. And although at times I encountered minor instances of low expectations or negative attitudes toward blindness, I was able to participate in those things and was viewed as an equal for the most part.

As I spent more time doing ministry, a desire to go on a mission trip started growing in my heart. But whenever the idea popped into my head, I quickly tried to discard it. I loved the idea of going on missions. Sharing the gospel with others and going to a new place were all very exciting. However, as much as I felt called to it, I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed to participate. Lots of questions went through my head: What if the mission leaders or my fellow missionaries did not let me participate in certain things? What if there were activities or projects that I could not do because of my blindness? How would I handle accessibility barriers that might come up? I didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars or fundraise for it and go somewhere only to have people tell me, “We got it; you can just sit in the corner.”

The idea of going on a mission trip got farther and farther away, until this past fall when I once more felt like the Lord was inviting me to reconsider the possibility of getting involved in one. I didn’t have much to do that winter, and this particular mission trip I felt called to was two hours away from campus. I applied and got accepted.

A few months later, excited and a little nervous, I hopped on a Greyhound into the unknown. I didn’t know anyone going on that trip, and I didn’t know what to expect.

I was pleasantly surprised at how open-minded my fellow missionaries and the leaders were about blindness. The day we arrived we learned that instead of doing evangelism work, our main tasks that week were going to involve a lot of manual labor. I was a little nervous because manual work has never been my strongest skill. Quite honestly I started doubting my abilities as a blind person. However, once we were assigned our groups and started doing some work, my fears vanished, and I quickly felt more confident with what I was doing.

One night we were all sharing stories about our day, and one of the groups talked about how much fun they all had cutting trees using a chainsaw! The mission leader told my group that that’s what we would do the following day. I felt a little jealous. I wasn’t sure if it was even possible for a blind person to use a chainsaw successfully, and I didn’t like the idea of being left out of having that experience.

The next morning we all loaded up in the van and went to the mission site where the trees needed to be cut. One of the mission post volunteers was waiting for us there and showed us how to use the chainsaw. Then, one by one, he started teaching us how to do it. While one of us cut the tree logs, the rest of us were in charge of picking up branches and piling them up out of the way. All the members of my group were invited to have a turn using the chainsaw. After one of my friends was done with her turn, I asked her, “How was it?”

She said, “It was fun! You should try it. It’s not that hard.” I was surprised at her comment, and I thought “Me?” I didn’t even know what a chainsaw looked like, much less how to use one. But her comment really encouraged me to at least ask our mission volunteer if he could teach me. I went to him, mentally prepared for the expected answer of “No, it would be too dangerous for someone like you.” However, when I approached him he answered excitedly, “Yes, of course!” He let me feel the chainsaw and patiently explained where all the buttons were and their functions. He told me that cutting with a chainsaw could be done by feel for the most part. Once I was ready, he let me feel the trees I had to cut. He first helped me cut a few logs by doing the hand-under-hand technique so I could get a feel of what I was expected to do. But once I felt confident enough, I started cutting on my own with minimal verbal cues from the instructor.

This and other experiences on the trip were very empowering and reinforced the importance of high expectations. I was also reminded how important it is for us as blind people to have high expectations of ourselves and to carry ourselves with confidence even when we are nervous or unsure. If it weren’t for my friend who encouraged me to give the chainsaw a try, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But she encouraged me because she believed in my ability to do it. The reason she believed in me was because of the way I carried myself and because of the way I did the same things everyone else was doing.

This is why it is important for us as blind people to gain the skills of blindness and to surround ourselves with mentors who will push us, not shelter us. Was my trip perfect? No. I still had to educate my fellow missionaries a few times, but overall it was a great experience that I wouldn’t have been able to have without the grace of God and the skills of blindness I learned at LCB!

If you feel called to serve Christ, don’t let anything or anyone get in the way—not even yourself. Jesus calls everyone, and that includes you. Your disability should not be an excuse to say no to him. So don’t be afraid, say yes to him, and get ready for a life-long adventure you’ll have with him!

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