The Braille Monitor                                                                                               May, 2002

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Finding a House

by Chancey Fleet

Chancey Fleet
Chancey Fleet

From the Editor: Anyone who uses e-mail today has undoubtedly had the experience of coming across a little nugget in the midst of a whole group of silly, demanding, or pedestrian messages. This phenomenon is what keeps me attentive to my messages. On Easter Monday I returned to my office after three days away to find a torrent of messages pouring into my e-mail box. The following one was buried in the midst of dozens of others. Chancey Fleet, a college student in Virginia, had written to the student listserv on March 29. I hope it gives you as much of a lift as it gave me. It shows how far we have come, and it demonstrates that some of our younger members really do recognize what is happening. Here it is:

I had a great experience this month that I'd like to share. After living on campus for three years (one year in a dorm and two in an on‑campus apartment), I decided that I wanted to find a place off‑campus. I came to this decision because I wanted a room of my own and because the people I want to live with next year are of mixed gender, and college housing is not co‑ed by apartment at my school.

Finding off‑campus houses and apartments within walking distance of William and Mary is a real challenge for anybody, and public transportation barely exists here, so I couldn't consider any places outside walking distance. I used the Internet and word‑of‑mouth to track down places for rent, then called up the landlord of each place and arranged to go see it. In most cases I went with at least one of my future roommates, but a couple of times everyone else had prior commitments, and I had to scout out the place for the whole group.

There's no other way to say this‑‑I saw a lot of truly awful residences. Some had bedrooms the size of walk‑in closets; some were one‑room dwellings with fridges, masquerading as apartments; and some were optimistically billed as walking-distance to the college when they were two full miles away. But I am happy to say that my searching paid off, and I am now the future tenant of what is quite possibly the most amazing house for the least money in the Burg. It's actually closer to most of my classes than my current on‑campus apartment; it has a fireplace and hardwood floors; and it felt like home the moment I walked in.

What's amazed and delighted me about the search for a new home is that blindness barely entered into the process. My future housemates never doubted that I could assess the desirability of a place when they were unavailable to tour it with me. None of my potential landlords worried about the so-called hazards of steps or yards or furnaces, and every single one of them accepted the fact that I was the spokesperson for myself and my roommates. At the same time the topic of blindness was never avoided. My roommates and I freely discussed how we'd mark various appliances so I could use them, and several of the landlords I met asked at the start of the tour how they could best explain the features of the house to me.

In the past blind people had difficulty in finding housing because of the misconceptions about blindness held by landlords, and I imagine the search for roommates was harder too. It's true that legislation today theoretically protects blind people from housing discrimination, but what I experienced reflects something deeper than laws. I didn't encounter one negative attitude about blindness from any direction during my search and acquisition of the house. I'm positive that that's because of the work the NFB's been doing for sixty years‑‑not just the legislative work, but the subtler process that each of us engages in every day.

So here's to sixty years of individual, normal blind people living independent, active lives, patiently explaining alternative techniques to parents and children and bosses and friends, and maintaining high expectations for themselves so consistently that society can't help doing the same. Thank you for helping me get this house.

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