by Amber Chesser
Editors' Introduction: Amber Chesser is a student at Louisiana Tech University, majoring in English and Psychology. She is the secretary of her local NFB chapter and in her spare time enjoys reading, writing and traveling. One of her travels took her to Western Canada, and in this story, Chesser shows us how blind students can put blindness skills and a positive philosophy into practice.
Last November, a week before Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of traveling with 73 students and adults from the BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministry) at Louisiana Tech to western Canada. Once here, we divided into teams and traveled to six different locations in Alberta, Canada to work with missionaries in their churches and other fields of service. My group, the largest with 18 students, traveled to Calgary, where we joined a husband and wife missionary team who were both graduates of Louisiana Tech. Although I had many memorable experiences during our week there, one of the things that will always stay in my mind is the way I changed a few opinions about blindness.
The air was thick with tension as my teammates and I made our way through the Dallas airport. Even though I knew four or five people on the team, most people seemed uncomfortable and uncertain about talking to me. They seemed afraid to ask questions or were unsure of how much to help me. I was polite and answered their questions, but I hoped that our whole trip would not be so tense. I tried to act as normal and calm as possible, hoping to help them feel comfortable with my blindness and me.
In Calgary, we spent a good bit of our time driving. I found that this time in the van was very helpful in relieving a lot of the tension. We had great conversations and got to know one another. My teammates asked me questions about blindness, which I answered willingly. I also used their questions as a way to ask them questions about themselves so that our conversations did not pertain solely to blindness. By the second day, everyone was a lot more comfortable around me, even making blindness jokes and laughing at mine. That was a true sign of their comfort, and it made me so happy.
I wish there was one definite way to ease people's minds about blindness, and I wish it worked for everyone. Unfortunately, we have a mission in life; that mission is to find our own unique ways to change opinions about blindness. I chose to use humor and to seek equality in all aspects of this trip. My teammates saw me in lots of situations: learning to make snowballs, using a Braille menu at a local pizza place to place an order, eating at a local church potluck dinner, surveying locals about their involvement in church and enjoying the scenery at Lake Louise. At times during these various events, I had to say, "Hey, show me how to do that," or "could you describe the different areas we are in?" By participating and showing people that I appreciated equality, I accomplished my mission.
As students, we have many awesome opportunities that most people do not have.
I encourage everyone to take advantage of as many of them as possible and tell
them to accomplish the mission of the Federation: security, equality and opportunity.
It takes effort, but it can be done, one person at a time.
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