by Debra Hill
From the Editor: What do we do for seniors? Too often we stop at saying we give them hope, but what tangible things do we do to make that hope real? This article begins to answer that question. In Missouri we are getting ready to host a program, and I hope we move people in the same way Ms. Hill has been moved. Here is what she says:
I lost my sight completely over seven years ago due to complications from diabetes type 2. I have had many years, therefore, to adjust to the tremendous changes blindness has brought to my life. With the daily support of my husband and the helpful interventions of my family and friends, I thought I had settled into a safe, well-organized, and secure life.
As I listened to the Zoom meeting about the National Federation of the Blind’s new program, Silver BELLS, I began to feel an uneasy fluttering of butterflies in my stomach and nervous tingling in my palms. I heard the encouraging words of the instructors as they spoke of the upcoming Silver BELLS weekend in Richmond, Virginia. My heart beat a little faster as they spoke of the various training programs that would be offered to attendees. I asked myself why I needed to learn all that when I so conveniently had my friends and family literally at my beck and call? My husband reads my emails and writes down what I need to remember. I haven’t cooked for years, and Door Dash knows my home address by heart. Braille sounds much too complicated, like learning a foreign language, and I stopped using my cane years ago, since it is far easier to hold on to a willing elbow and have a human guide warn me about obstacles ahead.
Suddenly it dawned on me that the comfortable life I had created for myself actually had become a life of dependency, not independence. I can now see that sometimes I unfairly took advantage of the kindness and support of my friends and family while limiting my own knowledge and personal growth. Perhaps it was time for me to face my fears and trust that I can challenge myself to live the life I want to live.
Sitting in the passenger seat as my husband drove thirty minutes from our home in Richmond, Virginia, to the Hyatt Hotel in Short Pump, Virginia, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I was proud that I had decided to face the challenges of this four-day weekend. However, I was reassured that everything would be done to make this a great experience for all the participants.
The Silver BELLS weekend from beginning to end provided a welcoming atmosphere, a supportive learning environment, and community bonding. The sixteen participants were divided into four intimate teams of four persons. I was amazed to hear about the diverse careers, family structures, the hobbies, and the learning goals of my group members. I met six women who, like myself, loved to sing gospel music. By the last day, we had formed a choir we fondly named “The Silver BELLS Singers.” I could never have imagined that this Silver BELLS program would bring so many new friends into my life.
Each day of the Silver BELLS weekend was packed full from early morning to evening with skill-building courses and times to mingle with staff and participants over meals. The four training classes covered techniques for using the white cane, communicating using Braille and other devices, safe cooking skills, and phone and computer technology tools.
Every instructor enthusiastically presented a ton of information and patiently answered questions. Although there were some technical difficulties, particularly during computer-related demonstrations, the teachers remained in good humor and assured everyone that they would be sending follow-up emails covering all the information that was shared in each class. By the end of each lively day, I was happily exhausted and fell asleep before my head hit my pillow.
As my husband and I said our goodbyes to everyone on the last day, I reflected on what I had experienced over the weekend. I was so thankful to all the staff who had encouraged me to face my fear. I learned that there are so many tasks that I can do on my own. As a singer and writer, I look forward to using VoiceOver on my iPhone and reading programs on my computer. As for me, for now I think I will stay away from sharp knives in the kitchen, but I can help with cleaning counters, measuring, pouring, stirring, and using the microwave. Amazingly, I picked up Braille concepts very quickly and discovered it is a language I can learn. Finally, I am determined to practice, practice, practice using my white cane. I have learned to accept it as an extremely valuable aid to help me navigate safely and efficiently in the world.
I courageously look to the future, having become a new member of the National Federation of the Blind. I will continue this life’s journey toward greater independence with new friends and resources.