When did you discover you were blind?
When I was a child, we lived on a farm in South Georgia. My parents were sharecroppers. When I was small, nobody ever said anything about me not being able to see. I assumed everyone had the same situation that I did. I have light perception, and I have some contrast. If the grass is green and the sidewalk is concrete, I can tell where one stops and the other one ends. Thats the kind of sight that I had.
When my brother would see my mother coming hed say, Oh, here comes Mom I would think he just knew because he was smarter than me. I didnt realize that he could see her. When my brother was six years old, he started school. And I was a year older than him and hadnt started. I was like, Wait a minute! What is this? I couldnt figure out why he was starting to go first. I figured maybe I was just too bad, too hardheaded. I thought maybe I had to do something about my attitude before I could go.
When my brother would come home from school he would teach me how to write my letters in the dirt. So I learned as he learned. I thought when you went away to school they taught you to see.
So then one day when my mom got a job, we moved to town. My mom got a job working as a housekeeper for this woman who had moved from Macon. She knew about the academy for the blind in Macon. She brought my mom home one day. She called to me in the yard and said, Why arent you in school? And I said, Because Im too bad. She was like, Are you blind? And I was like, Whats that? So she said, Can you see? And I said Yeah! And then she said, Then what color is my dress? And I said, I dont know, youve got it on, you tell me!
She talked to my mom about the academy, and she was the one who got me enrolled. When I went to the academy, I still didnt know I couldnt see. All these kids were there, and they were running into me and I was like, Why are you running into me? They were trying to explain to me that I couldnt see either.
When I went to class the teacher said to me, Okay Im going to teach you how to read. And she gave me this book with these dots in it. I was like, Thats not what my brother reads, and she was like, Well, your brother can see. I was like, I can see too! and she said, Were going to learn braille. You are going to learn with your fingers. Boy, it took me a long time to realize that I really could not see! The kids laughed at me. They thought I was crazy. Over time, it finally sunk in.
Is anyone else in your family blind?
No, I am the only person in the history of my family who is blind. Its not genetics. Its what they call idiopathic, something with no known cause. Its just a birth defect. It hasnt done anything to really slow me down. It hasnt taken command of my life or anything. I just refuse to let that happen.
If I want to go somewhere and nobody wants to take me, I cant get in the car and drive. That just pisses me off. I get impatient with that. But that doesnt happen that often, because Im scheduled to do things around the other people in my family.
Are other senses heightened?
You have to learn to sharpen your other senses. It doesnt automatically happen. For instance, when I was in school and working for the Center [for the Visually Impaired] and had PTA stuff and was Girl Scout leader, I did not waste a minute of the day. Rather than walking to the light and waiting and starting to listen to the traffic at the corner, I would start listening halfway down the block. When I got to the corner, I would know how long the light was changed just by listening to the traffic. That would save a couple minutes a day, just doing that. I mean, you just learn because you find ways to not waste time.
What is the hardest thing about being blind?
The fact that I cant drive. Thats the hardest thing for me, because Im so independent. I have to tell somebody else what time I want to go and how long its going to take, when they can just walk out the door and take all day doing whatever they feel like doing
When I was in college, I had to have a reader. I had to set the time frame for the reader to get my stuff read to me in the library and they could just go to the library at midnight if they wanted to. Now thats different, because we have all kinds of technology available. We have reading devices, electronic things. We have computerized books we can download from the library. I grew up in a time where we didnt have all that technology access. The young people now are so fortunate that they can study on their own.
Any other anecdotes to help people better understand your world?
When my kids were growing up, I felt responsible for making them comfortable in their daily lives. I didnt want them to carry the load of having people refer to them as the child of a visually impaired parent. One thing I realized I had to be involved in whatever they were doing. Thats why I became Girl Scout leader, PTA President, craft teacher. All those things I did when they were younger, its because I wanted them to be comfortable in their world.
Usually, when youre visually impaired they dont see you as a regular person. They didnt think I was raising my kids and doing things for them. They thought my kids were doing things for me. So I had to show them, by being in charge, that I was capable of making decisions and running things. Just being a member didnt help. I had to be in charge, so that people would pay attention to what I was saying.
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
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