Future Reflections         Summer 2011

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What’s Up in Baltimore?

by Somaya Terin

Reprinted from The Student Slate, Summer 2011

Mentor Garrick Scott shows a student how to change a tire.From the Editor: Somaya Terin is a high school student from Arizona. She currently serves as treasurer of the Arizona Association of Blind Students.

At some point nearly everyone has had a life-changing experience for good or bad. For me, traveling on my own was a life-changing experience in a good way. When I went to Baltimore for the Youth Leadership Academy of the National Federation of the Blind, my thoughts about traveling with my family changed completely. I used to want to go everywhere with my mom or dad, but now it's different. Baltimore was a wonderful experience, and I was a different person when I came back. The trip made me become more independent and brought me close to blind youth my own age.

Before I went to Baltimore, my family always helped me with the simplest tasks. At a buffet my mom would tell me to stay where I was, and she would serve me my food. When I traveled with them, I would hold my mom's or dad's arm and they would carry my luggage for me. I felt uncomfortable and helpless. When I went to the NFB national headquarters for the Youth Leadership Academy, I took my forty-seven-pound suitcase upstairs by myself. In the dining room I got my own food without any trouble.

Parents attend a meeting in the NFB conference room.Before I flew back to Arizona, my mom told me that she would meet me at my gate in Phoenix. As it turned out, my plane arrived early. Instead of waiting for Mom, I asked an agent at the airport to direct me to my luggage carousel. He gave me specific directions on how to get there. When I got to the luggage location, I put my hand on each bag that came by. My bag had a pink ribbon on it, so when it came past me I could feel that it was mine. Everyone in my family was surprised. This is what the National Federation of the Blind teaches. It teaches blind people to be independent.

Meeting blind youth who experience the same issues I face is very important to me. When I need to solve problems having to do with my family or my school, my blind friends are right by my side. They have dealt with the same issues. In Baltimore I talked about my eight-year-old brother, who is also blind. I explained that my family didn't let him use his cane. A mentor told me that he had faced a similar situation. One day when my brother was walking to the park with our cousin, he tripped over a rock because he didn't have his cane with him. His leg was badly injured for a very long time. My mentor told me to talk to my parents and explain to them that my brother's cane is his way of seeing. What would they do if someone took their eyes away from them? When I returned to Arizona, I talked to my parents and they understood. Now my little brother uses his cane everywhere, and it makes him happy and safe.

Mark Riccobono teaches a student how to use a chain saw.When I was in eighth grade, there were new students who didn't know what my cane was. A seventh-grader fell over my cane and told the principal that I purposely tripped him. A few days later the principal called me up to his office. I was really scared. He asked me if I had tripped the boy on purpose. I told him that I couldn't see him, so it was an accident. The principal agreed, and he apologized to me. I told this story to the group of students in Baltimore. It was funny to us, but we all learned from it. We had a large discussion on how we can explain to a sighted person why we use the cane.

Sometimes my family gets upset because I want to be independent and get my own food in buffet lines and fast-food restaurants. I tell them that that's not how it's supposed to be. They should be happy that I want to be independent. I want to follow the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

As I got ready to go back to Arizona, I felt very close to the students I had met in Baltimore. I got very emotional because I was going to miss them so much. Of the forty-three students in the program, I met at least fifteen who had amazing personalities. I know I can count on them for anything I need. The National Federation of the Blind is like a family. The Federation has done a lot for me, and I will do anything to help in return.

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