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Why I am a Federationist: A Partialís Perspective

by Meleah Jensen

Editorís Introduction: Meleah Jenson is the first Vice President of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students. In this article, Meleah shares her years of internal struggles and uncertainty about her eye condition. She explains how someone with partial sight could come to find freedom in the word blind. Here is what she has to say.

Henry David Thoreau once said "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and that when I came to die discover that I had not lived.Ē Just as Thoreau went in to the woods, I went to the NFB. I am a federationist because it has been only through my learning about and becoming a part of the federation that I have truly begun to live deliberately, and suck out the marrow of life.

When I was growing up, I had no positive blind role models, nor did I see myself as being blind. To me the word blind had an extremely negative connotation, and was definitely something I did not want to be. It wasnít until I was introduced to the NFB that I gained not only positive role models, but also a better understanding of what being blind truly meant.

I had my first exposure to the NFB during my freshman year of high school when my VI teacher gave me a letter telling about a student seminar in Ruston Louisiana. My first thought was where in the world is Ruston?

I went to the seminar not exactly sure of what to expect; little did I know that not only was I opening the door to great future opportunities, but I was also laying the bricks of my foundation towards a positive attitude about blindness. I came away from that weekend amazed by what I had seen. I will always remember many of the events of the weekend but there is one that will stand out in my mind the most. On that Saturday afternoon we were sent on a scavenger hunt. We were divided up into groups and given a list of things to locate and bring back from various spots in town (for those of you who donít know, Ruston is small enough to permit this to be done easily). The leader of my group was totally blind; I had absolutely no idea how we would go about doing this since she seemed to be the only one who supposedly knew her way around Ruston. We set out on our journey around town. I was utterly amazed how well she knew the town. No blind person I had met before could walk around a room without assistance much less a whole town. It was during that experience that I realized that there actually were blind people who could function independently.

Over the next couple of years, I continued to build my philosophy through attending student seminars, and talking with positive blind people. In 1998 I attended the Summer Training and Employment Project (STEP) at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. While in the STEP program I was taut Braille, cane travel, and many other important skills. I was also given the opportunity to attend my first national convention. In addition to all of this the STEP program is where I began to shape my philosophy into what it is today. It made me start to realize just why it was important to be a part of the federation. For the first time I realized that I was not alone. I had a network of people just like me. They not only understood, but also lived and overcame some of the very same issues I had been struggling with every day.

Through this shared understanding it became more and more apparent to me that I was in fact blind. Since these federationists were normal and shared many of my experiences, it slowly became ok for me to admit that I too was blind. Unfortunately, this process didn't occur over night. I was a little resistant at first it took a few years for me to fully understand just what being in the federation could truly be about. During my freshman year of college I began to realize that the quote sighted wayĒ of doing things would not always work well for me. I had been able to depend on my sight for so long that it took me a while to accept that it no longer was the most efficient way to accomplish things. Unfortunately by the time I had realized this I had to struggle through many tough situations such as trying to take print notes in a dark classroom. After I would return from class I would look at my notes and see that I had to rewrite them because they were extremely sloppy. I also had problems traveling around at night. I walked slowly, and I found it hard to keep up with my friends. I still went out at night, but I found myself looking really awkward. Actually I found myself looking awkward in a lot of areas because of my lack of skills. Once I knew and accepted that I needed the skills of blindness in order to be successful I made the decision to attend the centers adult training program. It was during my time at the center that my transformation was completed. I not only grew in my attitudes towards blindness, but in my skills and confidence in my self as well.

Since completing my training I have returned to school. I have compared my experiences then and now and they are like night and day! I still have things that I have problems accomplishing in the course of a day, but now I can say that I have those problems simply because there arenít enough hours in the day, not because of my blindness getting in the way; but what college student sighted or blind doesnít have these issues?

Through all of these experiences, I too have become a federationist. I am now a part of that network of blind people that has come to mean so much to me throughout many aspects of my life. I am so glad to be able to be a part of an organization like the NFB. Now that I have finally recognized that I am blind and that it is truly respectable to be blind I have the chance, through this organization, to share my knowledge and experiences with others.

It is so important for us as blind people to work together in the federation to live our movement each day and share our philosophy with others. By doing this we will all be able to live deliberately and suck out all the marrow of life.

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