You’re NOT Alone Doing Blindness

Have you made that transition from a State school for the blind and visually impaired to public school? Perhaps, you’ve left your home and friends-blind and sighted-to venture into college. Maybe, it’s that time for starting a career.

               It’s tempting to leave one stage and setting behind and remake yourself for the next one. I can remember when transferring to public school, I thought I was done with programs having to do with the blindness community. Maybe, it was family or just my then hard-headed ego, but something urged me to fly solo into the sighted milieu.

               Let’s just say that was not a brilliant move. It took graduating high school and making a couple college transitions to realize I needed the friendship and mentoring of others who were blind like me.

               Of course, I’d heard of the American Council of the Blind and (ACB) and the National Federation of the Blind. (NFB) Yet, only when I ran into questions related to student teaching with an eye to a full-time career did I re-engage with the National Association of Blind Teachers. Only when I became interested in playing competitive chess did I learn that a group known as the US Blind Chess Association (www.americanblindchess.org) existed. Then, after living on my own after college for a couple years and struggling to find employment did I enter Lions World Services for the Blind’s IRS training program. Now called simply World Services for the Blind (www.wsblind.org) , the school had to drop its IRS program when the government went into a hiring freeze a few years ago.

               Needless to say, I kicked against the goads for far too long when it came to getting involved in the active blindness community. Now, I’m very thankful to have been a member of ACB for a couple decades, part of the USBCA for just as long and an outreach center director wherever I’ve lived over the past few years as well. Editing the Lutheran Messenger for the Blind magazine from 2000-2013 also brought me into learning a lot from a lot from others who are blind and visually impaired.

That’s why I encourage anyone going blind or who’s been blind most of their life to keep at least some of their anchors in the blindness community. Let’s look at a few reasons why and groups who can help.

CONSUMER ORGANIZATIONS

There are two major consumer organizations for us who are blind in the United States. I’ve mentioned them already-the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) One look at each of these groups’ mission statements shows you that they promote our independence and maximizing our capabilities while engaging the mainstream culture.

               On the ACB’s homepage, we read its motto and purpose:

“Fostering Voice, Choice, and Community

You’re not alone in your journey through vision loss and blindness. American Council of the Blind (ACB) welcomes and accepts you. Guided by its members, ACB advocates for equality of people who are blind and visually impaired, inspires community, and connects you with education, resources, and each other to support your independence.”

The NFB has a slightly different message while also fostering a can-do assertiveness. “You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.”

Even looking at these basic statements, you can see each group takes a slightly different approach to doing blindness. Still, when it comes to speaking up for our basic rights and desires, both share many of the same aims. Whether it’s supporting fair and equal treatment in the classroom, access to all public transportation, or opposing laws against discrimination, members of the ACB and NFB strive for public awareness while partnering with one another for support.

THE AMERICAN FOUNDATION OF THE BLIND (www.afb.org)

If you’re looking for an overarching go-to repository for things blindness related, here it is. It’s legal representatives assist us with matters of workplace accommodations while giving advice on handling potential discrimination issues. Technology consultants develop software suited for blind and visually impaired gamers, computer programmers, and musicians. If you want tolearn about careers where you may help others cope with their vision loss, the AFB website features perspectives on certified orientation and mobility instructors, vision rehabilitation therapists, and teachers of the visually impaired. When I was once looking at these fields for study, I spent several hours browsing the success stories on the AFB website of those who’d served the blindness community in this way.

Like the previously mentioned consumer organizations, the AFB has a chief publication which they call ACCESS World. Reading it, you can find scheduled webinars on being a blind parent, finding the newest techniques for daily living, and recognizing if you suffer from a given eye condition. One of my frequent stop-offs on the web is AFB’s Vision Aware site which gives pretty much anything I want to know about the latest statistics on employment to blogs of real people sharing their coping stories.

And if you want addresses for places where you can meet others who are blind near you, AFB’s site has them all listed by State. In my beloved Indiana, you can get contact info for Bosma Enterprises in Indianapolis and the League for the Blind in Fort Wayne.

CENTERS FOR INDEPENDENT LIVING

Now here’s where being boldly blind gets real hands on. Places like Bosma Interprises, just mentioned, the Cincinnati Association for the Blind, or Braille Institute (Los Angeles, CA) help lots of people cope. You can take classes on how to cook, use a computer, or gain job readiness skills. Some centers for independent living help people in high school find each other through sports and other social gatherings like movie nights where no one balks at hearing audio descriptions of scenes you can’t otherwise see.

As social support groups have become popular for those suffering addictions or depression, centers for independent living gather people who are blind for times where we can share our quest for better self-esteem. You can talk about strategies for handling conflicts that arise in families over how to make your home as blind friendly as possible. Sometimes, these support groups offer outings for tandem biking, watching a ballgame or Christmas shopping as a group. Of course, COVID-19 has driven many of these social and support times online as many of us have become afraid we might catch or spread the virus when around other people.

For information about what center of independent living may be near you, check AFB’s webpage, www.afb.org. In addition to carrying out the activities, I’ve described, many State departments for the blind or Vocational Rehabilitation offices refer clients to centers for independent living to find help with job searching or orientation and mobility services.

Some of the more well-known centers are:

Braille Institute (locations in southern California) www.brailleinstitute.org

The Carroll Center in Boston, MA

Alphapointe, Kansas City, MO www.alphapointe.org

The St. Louis Society For The Blind, St. Louis, MO

The League for the Blind, Fort Wayne, IN

The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, Chicago IL (along with many of the other affiliated centers in San Francisco, CA; Dallas, TX; Rochester, NY; Spokane, WA, etc.)

As you can see, there are so many organizations that help us who are blind or visually impaired maintain our confidence, vigor, and independence. In future posts, we’ll feature these groups, talk to people whose work involves teaching, advocating, and otherwise empowering the blindness community in all areas of life.

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