Future Reflections Summer 1992, Vol. 11 No. 3


                          by Ted Young

[PICTURE] Ted Young

The following article is reprinted from the July-August, 1991, issue of the Braille Monitor. The introductory remarks are those of Barbara Pierce, the very able Associate Editor of the Braille Monitor.

From the Associate Editor: Only rarely in life is one's fate determined by a single irreversible act. Most of the time we look back and notice that a series of small acts and decisions have shaped our outlook on life and our skills for meeting its challenges. This is a comforting thought since it means that evolving patterns of dependency or timidity can be reversed if one has a little perseverance and grit. Parents, of course, play a key role in shaping their children's attitudes toward themselves and the world around them; and it is worth a little parental reflection to consider in what ways they may unintentionally clip their children's wings, particularly those of their blind children.

     Ted Young is the president of the NFB of Pennsylvania. In the Spring, 1991, edition of The Blind Activist, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, he wrote about such a small but important episode in his own life. All parents of blind children should take heart from the courage shown by Ted's mother. Here is the story:

     The other day I had occasion to wonder why it is that some blind persons are more willing to be independent than others. Yes, I know that this is true of sighted people as well, but that truism was not the point of my contemplation. Anyway, the question carried me back in thought to my first real assertion of independence. I don't know its relevance for anyone else, but perhaps it would prove helpful to a parent confronted with a similar situation.

     My parents were not particularly overprotective. My father figured out that I could tell if a fish was biting by holding the line and taught me how to fish. My mother talks about how hard it was to follow the advice of the first expert in blindness she ever talked to by letting me wander about the house, bumping into things on my own. But, hard or not, she sat back and let me do it. The problem was that my parents were no more prepared than others to deal with a blind child, and there wasn't a lot of professional help or advice available in central Pennsylvania. As a result, although they knew what I could do when I was being watched or was on familiar territory, they had their fears about letting me be outside the house by myself.

     How well I remember that familiar, friendly house of my childhood. Despite the leaking roof and the landlord's complaining because the rent was overdue, despite the many times my mother had little to put on the table for a meal, it was security and home. My world was my often-grouchy father, my always-caring and loving mother, and my three sometimes-okay sisters. I vividly remember being pulled from that security at the age of four to be dropped into the unfamiliar environs of the Overbrook School for the Blind, where I would spend nine months a year until high school graduation.

     As time went by I learned to wander, play, and enjoy things independently on the grounds of Overbrook. Here there was no question. I was out on the sidewalks and grounds playing, running, or walking independently with my friends. I was, in short, experiencing my own capacities.

     Now we come to that sultry summer day the recollection of which started these ruminations. I can't remember whether I was seven or eight, but I know that I had been to Charlie's, the nearby grocery store, many times with my sisters. What a great place it was--filled with the pleasant smells of meats, vegetables, and coffee and run by a friendly owner who gave candy to the kids. To get there one needed only to walk down the front steps of my house, make a left turn, walk a half block to the corner, turn left again, and walk another half block. That's right; no alleys or streets to cross, no big deal, unless you happen to be the caring mother who doesn't know what best to do for her blind child.

     I'm not sure when it occurred to me that, although my sisters were sent to the store all the time, my mother never asked me to go. I do know that on the day in question none of my sisters could be found, and my mother was complaining that she would have to drop what she was doing and go to the store herself. I told her not to worry; I would go for her. That offer was immediately and firmly declined. Although I cannot remember the argument that followed, I do remember telling my mother that I could do it, and I remember her stating that I wasn't going to try. I ended the argument by telling her that I was going to the store, and she could find me there. She replied that I'd better not. I guess she didn't believe me because she eventually went upstairs, at which point I sneaked out the door and was on my own. Down the street and around the corner to Charlie's I went, feeling guilty but good. The problem was that once I got to Charlie's, I had no money to spend, and I needed to wait there since I wanted my mother to come and see that I could make it on my own. I did the only thing I could think of at the time which was to sit on the front step of the store and play with a leaf.

     I won't go into the beating I got for disobedience or the day or two that followed in which I practiced nonverbal resistance. I was furious to realize that my demonstrated abilities were being ignored and discounted and was determined not to give in. The only protest I could think to make was silence. Although I never discussed it with her, I believe my mother was torn between the need to punish disobedience and her recognition of my need to be treated like any other child. That was the situation two days later when my mother helped with a major step in my development by phrasing the simple question, "Do you wanna go to the store, Ted?"