Over the years, I have worked hard to become an independent, successful young woman with dreams of helping children who are blind or visually impaired grow into successful adults. Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (FSDB), my family, Iowa Department for the Blind, Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, National Federation of the Blind, and other blind services that have helped me on my journey. These services assisted me to figure out who I am as a person with a visual impairment. I hope I can help young children with visual impairments figure out who they are and to find their place in this world. Here are some tips that have helped me along the way.
Have a Positive Attitude Towards Life
As a future educator of the visually impaired, I will teach children that in order to achieve your goals, you must possess a positive attitude. If you don’t let negative events get to you, you are more likely to be successful in anything you do. The key for me achieving my goals was that I always tried to keep a positive attitude and rely on God. Yes, there are some college classes I might not be fond of, but I worked hard and wasn't afraid to get help from teachers or tutors. We all have a choice on how we are going to approach life. I remember a motto from my former school, FSDB: Attitude is everything! If you are always complaining about your visual impairment or how you are never going to finish college, you are setting yourself up for defeat and failure. Be positive! Look up to people with visual impairment or other disabilities that have achieved many things in their lifetime. Celebrities such as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Hellen Keller, Andre Bocelli, Emilie Gossiuax, Jose Feliciano, and Louis Braille have achieved many things despite being blind because of their positive attitude. If they could do it, you can too!
In order to achieve your goals, no matter how difficult they may be, you have to work really hard. I am so happy that my braille skills are improving day by day. Behind my success with braille, I have been practicing every day for two hours and taking advice from experts who know braille. I would say the most challenging obstacle with braille is using the slate and stylus. The slate and stylus is challenging because you have to manually punch the dots in the paper with a lot of force, which can cause your hands to become sore. You also have to be very careful not to write over any braille that was already produced on the paper. However, with a lot of practice and determination, you can master the use of this device! Even though the braillewriter is a little easier than the slate, there can still be a challenges. I hate it when my braille paper gets stuck in the braillewriter because it causes me to accidentally mess up on my writing. I have been working on making sure the paper is straight in the braillewriter, so it doesn’t stuck. When I make a mistake with braille, I rewrite my sentence or word and try to correct it. With my college work, I always try to make an effort and put my best into what I do.
I would say the best decision I made at my school was to learn braille. Learning braille has made me more self-confiden and it has also eased my fear of losing my vision from glaucoma. One of the best things about braille is that if you do lose your sight from a progressive eye condition or you are constantly putting your face close to books, you can use your hands to enjoy reading and writing. Braille can also be used to take notes in college, jot down important numbers or addresses, and more! When I have a hard time seeing cards, the stove, or washing machine, braille is the answer. I am able to do my tasks without straining my eyes and struggling to see.
In order to maintain my knowledge of braille, I use my braille contraction book or braille alphabet card to copy words down. I usually write a word or letter many times in a row with my slate and stylus or braillewriter. I like using contracted braille (Grade 2) because it challenges my brain to practice more literacy skills and I don’t have to write out certain words if I don’t feel like it. The other benefit of grade 2 braille is you have access to a wider variety of books. Right now, I am reading The Braille Monitor from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Glaucoma: What Every Patient Should Know. I also enjoy proofreading my work after I’ve used my braillewriter or slate and stylus. My favorite reading technique for braille is the hand separation technique. I love this method because I don’t have to worry about moving both hands to the end of the page. I always use a blindfold to keep me from peaking at the dots as I practice every day, which makes writing and reading braille much more fun! I am currently strengthening my braille skills by taking Braille Literacy 3: UEB Uncontracted Braille through the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired and I plan on taking Braille Literacy 4: UEB Contracted Braille. I am willing to challenge myself to get better in braille. Never be afraid to learn new things and be prepared for what life may throw at you!
Learn to Use the Long White Cane or Guide Dog
Another skill that I am glad I learned at my blind school and from my NFB Mentor was how to better use my long white cane. My cane has made me more confident and safety conscious over the years. I like using my cane to go to places such as Dunkin Donuts, the gas station, the track, and downtown Branford. I also rely on my cane when I take the public transit bus to college. I am excited about taking my cane with me to the airport as I make my journey to visit my grandparents and friends in Iowa for 3 weeks. Since it is my first time flying alone, I am a little bit nervous because my mom won’t be with me. However, I believe in my heart that I can go on a plane by myself. For some people guide dogs can also help to bring up your confidence by assisting you in everyday tasks. Some of my friends have guide dogs and I am thinking of getting a one too some day. Never be afraid to travel and have new adventures! Always explore new horizons!
Advocate for Your Wants and Needs
When you enter the real world, you have no choice but to be responsible for yourself. You are the only person who knows yourself. Let people in your job, college, family, etc. know that you need certain things to accommodate your disabilities. I had to learn all of these things after I graduated from the FSDB. These important advocacy skills may include letting your college professors or disability advisor know that you need devices such as magnifiers, braille, interpreters, a ramp if you are in a wheelchair or a walker, and more. The best time to set up your accommodations is before your classes start. You may wish to talk to your disability office up to a month in advance. It is also important to check with the blind services in your state to find out what support may be available. Your vocational rehabilitation counselor may be able to pay for your college classes or books by giving you a voucher from the blind center to give to the financial aid office. Another thing that some people with visual impairments may need to be responsible for is ordering medication. Because I have glaucoma, I am responsible for taking my eye drops and making sure I don’t run out of any medication. This means ordering my meds on the phone from the pharmacy and picking them up. I try to make sure that I always have refills. Calling a bus or cab to go to college or other places is another way of advocating for your needs! Sometimes, sighted people might overdo their generosity by trying to do everything for you. Sometimes it’s nice when someone helps you with a certain task, however if you always rely on family or strangers to do everything for you, you will never become independent. Politely tell the person that you can do certain tasks all by yourself. If you don’t know how to do certain things, attend a blind center for independence or have a vision specialist come to your home to teach you independent skills. There is no excuse to not be a capable person who just happens to have a visual impairment!
The most important skill to have in independence is to stay safe. One device that I carry with me to school, the airport, and other places is a medical alert bracelet or necklace to use in an emergency. If I were to get hurt or have any kind of crisis, I can just press the button and call 911. Another great alert system to have on you is a whistle around your neck. Learning self-defense is another way to feel more confident.
I hope that all of these tips I’ve talked about are helpful to others with visual impairment or blindness. Working hard, having a positive attitude, learning braille, using a long white cane, advocating for your needs, and staying safe are all things that can make you more confident and increase your independence. These are a key to success and life! As the National Federation of the Blind tells us, "Live the Life You Want!"