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Dairy Queen Cones

By Angela Howard

Editor's Introduction: Angela Howard is a long time Federationist and has served on the National Association of Blind Students Board for many years. Angela is now successfully employed, however her story is powerful for all students.

There is an art to making an ice cream cone. The cone must be placed directly under the nozzle. As one hand holds down the lever, the hand holding the cone should be slowly rotated in circles as the ice cream eases into the cone. To finish with a fancy top, the lever should be released; and the cone should gently be pulled straight down away from the nozzle.

I have known how to make a decent-looking ice-cream cone for about a year. My pitiful looking cones were always a source of embarrassment for me when I was eating out with my family or eating lunch in the college cafeteria with my friends I would hold my cone under the nozzle, pull down the lever, and wait for perfection. It never came. My ice cream would always land lopsided into my cone and collapse like a fallen building. Most of the time I prayed that no one would see me struggle with the do-it-yourself monster machine. I would eat as much as I could before I returned to my seat hoping to eliminate the evidence of my ineptness at making an ice-cream cone.

The task seemed simple enough. Put the cone under the nozzle; pull down, and let the ice cream fill the cone. But, my thousands of attempts continued to be unsuccessful. Often I wondered, "Is blindness the factor that makes this chore so difficult for me?"

I asked a blind friend once if she knew any alternative techniques for making a pretty cone. She sighed and said, "No, maybe this is just one of those things that is easier to do when you can see." I reluctantly agreed and continued to silently harbor my shame of being a terrible ice-cream cone maker.

One day, after returning to the cafeteria with my wilted, lopsided cone, I asked a friend who had worked at Dairy Queen, "Is there a trick to making a good cone, or is it that some people just don't have it in them to do it?"

"Making a nice looking ice-cream cone is a skill," she told me, " and I can show you how to do it." She marched me up to the machine and I had my first lesson in making a Dairy Queen cone. After some delicious efforts, I began to produce ice-cream cones that I could carry to my dinner table with pride. I doubt I will ever win the Dairy Queen award for best ice-cream cone maker, but I have reached a level of acceptable proficiency in the skill.

Like most tasks in life, making an ice-cream cone is not a mystery, but a skill that must be mastered. We are all blessed with different talents that make learning certain skills easier for us to master than others are. However, we often fool ourselves into believing that we are born with abilities and disabilities, which make learning certain skills impossible. For blind people, this mental trap is a constant threat. We often come to believe that blindness keeps us from doing that thing we really want or need to do.

It is true that having sight often makes mastering a skill much easier. A sighted person can often learn how to get a job done, simply by watching how the task is performed. By merely observing the actions of others, sighted people often learn how to do new things without even realizing that learning has take place. The skill just seems to come naturally.

As blind people, however, learning a skill sometimes takes a little more effort. We often have to ask questions. We sometimes need to be shown exactly how something is done. And we use trial and error to figure out which method works best for us. This additional effort is just part of the nuisance of being blind, and it is a part of our lives we must accept.

The danger arises when both others and we assume that, because we do not have the advantage of learning a skill by simply watching others, we are not capable of performing the task. When I was a child, I had great difficulty learning how to scoop liquids with a ladle. I did not understand that the bottom of the ladle is not shaped like a spoon, but like a bowl. I would hold the ladle at a slant as if I were holding a large spoon, and naturally, the liquid would never end up where I wanted it to go. When members of my family saw me struggle, they would hurry to my rescue and scoop the liquid for me. They had the best of intentions, but they fell into the trap of thinking that I could not perform the task because I am blind. A member of the Federation finally taught me how to use a ladle properly. Her explanation made sense, and I haven't had trouble using a ladle once I learned the technique.

I am sure that we all have stories like my struggle with the ladle. We all at one time or another have been denied or have denied ourselves the opportunity to learn how to do something new because of mistaken notions about blindness. This mental trap continues to keep us from being all that we can be, and we must work every day to prevent this from happening.

Of course, we cannot possibly learn every skill that exists, nor do most of us want to do so. I hate computers, and at this point in my life; I openly admit that I am perfectly willing to let my computer literate friends solve my computer problems for me. People tell me that, like making ice-cream cones, to become computer literate is a skill that can easily be mastered. I am forced to admit that I have no desire to learn how to use computers efficiently, and there are many other skills in this world I will never master. However, I must be cautious not to blame my lack of information, my laziness, or pure lack of interest on the fact that I am blind.

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