From an early age, we learn everyone is different. Whether this difference refers to the color of someone’s eyes, the way we dress, or a disability which we possess, it is imperative that we embrace these differences. Today’s post will focus on the ability of a person who is visually impaired to accept blindness, and will offer some suggestions to make acceptance easier.
I have been blind since birth, and was mainstreamed as the only visually impaired student in the Mansfield, Massachusetts School System. In school, I rarely became upset over being blind, but two instances remain in my mind of when I felt sad. The first time I felt “alone” was when my classmates were getting their driver’s licenses. Excitement and joy radiated through their voices as they described passing the test, and having the freedom to drive to activities independently. The second time I felt “alone” was during the daily lunch breaks in the school cafeteria. I often sat by myself, and couldn’t find people to sit with me.
Becoming More Independent
As friends got their driver’s licenses, I spoke with my caring and dynamic vision teacher regarding how I could become more independent. She helped me register for a community bus service for senior citizens and people with disabilities. If I stayed after school for an activity, I would schedule the bus to bring me home. If I had a day off and wanted to take the train, the bus brought me to/from the train station. Although the bus service operated limited hours and required 24 hour notice, it allowed me to be more independent and not rely solely on my family.
Developing a Social Network
The lunch issue was harder to rectify. Classmates were part of a clique and had trouble seeing beyond a few special friends. For me, this situation didn’t improve until college. At Fitchburg State University, I frequently went to meals with friends, or met in the lounge area of the dorm to talk and watch sports on television. I stay in touch with many of these friends; we meet for a reunion two-three times each year, and one friend has welcomed me at her family’s beach cottage. Recently, I have rekindled friendships with high school classmates. One person is now the coach of a college field hockey team, and has invited me to sing the National Anthem at her team’s games. Another friend had a small party this summer, invited me to attend, and helped me arrange transportation to her house.
As a student transitions during high school, I would encourage that student to have a network of people (both sighted and blind) with whom they feel comfortable sharing their deepest feelings. I also encourage students to stay up-to-date on current events (particularly movies and sports) as these make excellent conversation starters. Third, please know that other people don’t intentionally segregate the visually impaired person; they are just not familiar with blindness. Therefore, remain open minded, be willing to answer questions, and keep smiling. Eventually, everyone feels more comfortable, and the person who is visually impaired develops a larger group of friends.