By Tai Tomasi
Editor's Introduction: Tai recently completed her degree at the University of Arkansas in Political Science with a minor in French and Legal Studies. She has moved to Utah to go to law school. She is the president of the Utah Association of Blind Students and a member of the NABS board. In this gripping article, she describes the process by which she has become the accomplished student and successful woman which she is today. Tai's writing reminds us that we all are works in progress, encountering the occasional rough spots, but we have the potential to one day become the beautiful creations we would most like to be. Here is her story.
Thinking back on my days at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I recall the many tools to which I was introduced. I also recall the multitude of power tools I was taught to use. Reflecting on these experiences, I am confident that I would have found it next to impossible to make a clean and accurate cut without the precise measurements of a click rule. I was unable to fine-tune my shop project without the use of a router. You can't drill an 8/16-inch hole with a 7/16-inch drill bit.
Until I found the federation, I was a mere concept of a woodshop project waiting to be completed. I had many skills, but they needed to be developed. I had shape but needed refinement. Admittedly, I will never be perfect. I will always have the occasional scratch or knot in the wood which gives my project character and personality. I will add layers of gloss for added shine and luster, continuing to grow as my life takes me in new directions. With a few more layers of stain or perhaps some hardware, lining and brass work, my project will see continual improvement.
I have been given the foundation of federation philosophy. My project has taken a definite form, but its wood is still rough and needs sanding. Similarly, we cannot succeed as blind individuals without the proper tools. My training at LCB was my first exposure to sleepshade training. For me, sleepshades have come to symbolize the development of self confidence. I began to use the long white cane, a tool of freedom and independence. I was fortunate to have learned Braille as a child. To me, Braille is the most important tool for literacy and nothing can ever fully parallel the advantages of reading tactilely.
How have these tools affected me? Well, let me change gears a bit. My mother is an incredible woman. She has adopted 23 children. She managed to work a full-time job, take care of all of those children, and amass an impressive menagerie of pets including llamas, peacocks, and twelve obnoxiously vocal parrots. So when she adopted me, the only blind child in the family, my blindness was thankfully the least of her worries. I was a very well-adjusted child (at least I think so), and was treated like the rest of my siblings. I was expected to pull my own weight and to get decent grades just like everyone else. I had chores to do and skinned my knees just as much as my peers while learning new sports.
It was not the expectations of my family that were low, but the expectations of many professionals in the blindness field that were sorely lacking. I was told that blind people were capable of doing anything with the right tools and training, but the way these same professionals treated blind people did not reflect their supposed belief in the capabilities of the blind. What's more, they refused to give children with partial vision, like I once was the proper tools to succeed.
I am very lucky to have been brought up this way, but wish that the professionals with whom I worked had told me about the federation.
I had known nothing of the federation until I graduated from high school and won a state scholarship. All I had been told was that the Federation was a very radical militant organization and that I should stay away from it at all cost. I looked up to blindness professionals as competent role models and so never questioned their advice. It wasn't until I began struggling in college that I turned to the federation for help.
I won a national scholarship in 2000 and attended my first national convention. It was then that I realized that my family had raised me in the Federation philosophy all along. I had had some of the necessary tools, but hadn't possessed those enabling me to put the finishing touches on my philosophy. I hadn't had the router I needed to smooth the rough edges of my upbringing.
After discovering what the federation stood for, I became angry and bitter. I couldn't believe that professionals could turn an unknowing naïve girl against something so vital in the lives of thousands of blind people. These feelings soon turned to empowerment, and I began to work to promote the power tool I had found in the Federation, its goals, and its philosophy.
I had always been told that I was a great traveler. Once I started going to conventions, I saw that my travel skills could be improved immensely. I had been fortunate enough to learn Braille when I was four years old, but at the center, I met many people who had been denied the right to learn Braille or who simply never knew it was an option for them because they had some usable vision and were encouraged to use it no matter what the toll. This renewed my vigor for federation work. I hated that the federation had been made to sound so unfair, so complicated, when it was actually very simple and made sense.
Seeing my blind friends struggle through various situations has strengthened my faith in the federation. Many of my friends never got the opportunity to learn Braille and are afraid to travel independently because they lack the confidence and encouragement to do so. It saddens me that these results are caused by the misguided efforts of others and the false notions about blindness held by the blind themselves. Blindness professionals are supposed to provide, not withhold, these tools of success.
Over time, the federation has become my router, the tool lending definition and shape to my life and my attitude about blindness. It has enabled me to make smooth transitions. Since becoming involved with the Federation, my ability to deal with blindness has been sawed from a web of complexity to a simple, no-nonsense attitude and philosophy on blindness.
Recently, my mother adopted six children from Ghana. Subsequently, she has been asked to send aid to the school for the blind there. She has enlisted my help in initiating a project to aid blind Ghanaians. It is unfathomable to me that only .1 percent of blind Ghanaians are able to read Braille. I hope to be able to share with them the power tools that I have gained through the Federation. I did a quick search on the Internet and found a federationist who had been to Ghana. I discussed the proposal with him and he was eager to help.
This incredible network of federationists is one reason why I am a federationist.
There is always support and encouragement, always someone willing to lend a
hand. No other organization has the membership and ability to affect change
like the NFB and the National Association of Blind Students. No other organization
can educate blind individuals about their rights. No other organization emphasizes
high expectation and personal responsibility and accountability. No other organization
has the networking opportunities and diverse membership that we enjoy. I would
encourage you to actively seek the power tools of blindness. Learn to put the
federation's router to good use. Seek the table saw enabling you to cut through
the complexity. But most importantly, remember that you are a shop project in
progress. It is never too late to master the skills of blindness. Make extensive
use of the arsenal of tools available to you.
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