Taking Out the Garbage

by Kathy McGillivray

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Spring, 1998, issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Minnesota. Kathy McGillivray is a Disability Specialist in the Disability Services department at the University of Minnesota. As Kathy's experience shows, NFB philosophy and self-confidence come to a person in varied and interesting ways. This is what she says:

The day had finally arrived. The last box had been hauled away from the apartment where I had lived for the past five years. I was excited. Finally I had a place of my own. No more paying rent. No more repeated calls to the caretaker to beg him to fix my sink. I was free at last. I had just moved into my newly-purchased condominium and was happy to have more space and to live in a quieter neighborhood.

Overall, the move had gone relatively smoothly. In fact, this was the easiest move I could ever remember. Now that all ten of my volunteer moving crew had left, I decided it was time to take out some garbage. We had already unpacked some of my boxes, and they were neatly stacked near the door. I decided it was time to get rid of them before the pile became too large.

I remember that, when I had first looked at the house, one of the other owners had warned me that the dumpster would be very difficult for me to find. She said I would probably need some help with it. She let me know about another blind person who had wandered several blocks looking for it. I told her that I appreciated her concern, but I would do just fine.

Hoisting my boxes onto my shoulder, I made my way down the back stairs and out to the parking lot. A sighted friend had informed me that I could go out and walk straight ahead for a few yards, take a left and go about twice as far again, and I would be at the dumpster.

I tried following these directions, but alas, no dumpster. I worked my way around several cars in the parking lot and searched for the dumpster but was unable to find it. Within a few minutes a woman came out and showed me where it was. I thanked her politely but inwardly felt humiliated, frustrated, and even a bit angry. It was just not fair. I had just bought my own place, organized the move, and now I could not seem even to take out my own garbage.

A few days later I invited a friend to my house. My pile of boxes had grown rather large, and there were several bags of trash that needed to be taken out. I asked my friend for some assistance since there was so much to haul. At this point there was a lot of snow in the back of the building, and many cars were parked there. My friend commented, "This is really going to be hard for you to find. There are really no landmarks; you just have to find your way through open space." She offered several suggestions for ways to locate the dumpster. I tried them later that week and was not very successful.

The reader of this account might be wondering why this was such a difficult task for me. The dumpsters are located across an alley, where many cars are parked, and the snow is not shoveled very well in the winter.

Several days later I asked the president of the condominium association whether it would be possible to move the dumpsters closer to the building. She said no.

Finally, I decided that enough was enough. I was going to find a way to locate these dumpsters, no matter how long it took. I grabbed my trash and headed outside.

This time I really made an effort to notice my surroundings and changes in the terrain as I moved closer to the dumpsters. Upon finding them, I took time to look around the whole area. I noticed that there was a garage within several feet of the dumpsters. I had also noted a fence and several trees along my path. As I returned to my house, I wondered why nobody had pointed out these environmental cues to me, especially the garage. In a way I was glad they hadn't because it gave me the opportunity to discover them on my own.

By now, as you can probably guess, taking out the trash at my new place is a routine task, and I don't even think about it. While this was a relatively small incident in my life, it made me think about some garbage we blind people can collect in our attitudes if we are not careful.

One of the biggest pieces of garbage we can collect is the idea that sighted people have more information about the environment than blind people do and that they know best what we can do and how we should do it. While sighted people can provide valuable information, they do not necessarily have all the information. As Federationists know, blind people are often the best teachers of other blind people.

A second piece of garbage we need to take out of our lives is excessive anger and frustration. Whether we are blind or sighted, if we are honest with ourselves, we all experience frustration in our lives to one degree or another. Anger and frustration can be our friends if they move us to action. They can sound an alarm that calls us to wake up and make a change in our lives. At a certain level the NFB came into existence because of positive anger. People were angry about the lack of opportunities for blind people and the negative stereotypes society often has about us, so they did something about it. On the other hand, anger becomes an enemy when it paralyzes us and saps us of the creative energy we need to solve problems in our lives.

The third piece of garbage that needs to be disposed of is plain, old-fashioned laziness. If you're like me, you prefer things to be easy rather than hard. Unfortunately, much of life is not easy. I think we all know several blind people who would rather have things done for them than learn the alternative techniques that would enable them to do things themselves. I fear that this attitude will not pay off in the end.

Just as I found a way to get my trash to the dumpster, all of us need to find ways to get rid of the garbage that collects in our lives. Through the work of the National Federation of the Blind, we can recognize that garbage and put it where it belongs.