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Proactive Living For The Blind

Editor's Note: Laura Beaudin is a member of AEBC's Edmonton, Alberta, Chapter. She maintains a blog at www.tidbitz.net and is in the process of developing a list of online websites that have useful information for people who are blind. Just click on the Resource Database link at the top of her page. For ease of reading, the term "blind" in this article encompasses the blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

No matter what your disability may be, living in an active world can present challenges. Whether you're deaf, blind, in a wheelchair, or autistic, the very definition of being disabled means that daily life has its way of keeping you from fully participating in life the way you'd like to.

With today's modern technology, blind people more than ever have access to a vast library of knowledge that was once reserved for the sighted. Many things sadly remain out of our reach and it's up to us to make them accessible.

Job training, classes, shopping, and starting a business are all examples of daily activities from which blind people are often excluded because of a lack of accommodation. Either we are kept from getting involved, or are re-directed to services designed "just for us." With a proactive way of thinking, we can tear down these barriers set for us by society and start living in a way that we are entitled. If we continue accepting that organizations, designed to help us, hold our proverbial hands, how are we to be taken seriously by the outside world?

Organizations such as CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) are useful to those new to blindness or trying to make their way through youth, in being oriented to a new way of life. Often, those new to their disability don't know where to go for assistance and the CNIB is an obvious front door.

There is nothing more frustrating than losing one's sight and having to wait on services to learn life's most basic needs. How will I get to school? How can I cook using my stove? How will I dress myself without looking like a fool? Most service organizations have good intentions, but with limited budgets and an even more limited staff, the services aren't always available for those who really need it.

It's important to take the initiative and assess what is needed in order to live a full life. By following four steps, it's possible to develop and execute a plan of action so that blindness isn't an overwhelming obstacle to daily life activities.

  • Assess your situation. What is your status? Are you partially sighted or completely blind? Is your situation stable, getting better, or getting worse? Look ahead into the future in order to decide what your needs will eventually be.

For example, if you know that you will eventually end up totally blind, paying a little more attention to where and how you travel will save you a headache in the future. One of your needs, in this case, would be to learn how to travel without your sight, while still being able to get visual input from your environment.

Sit down with a pen and paper, computer, brailler, or trusted friend, and make a list of the obstacles you encounter in your everyday life. Maybe you are afraid to use your oven, cross the street, or sort your laundry. Also make a list of the things you'd like to do to take full advantage of life. Perhaps you like playing chess and this is becoming more difficult for you. Maybe you'd like to start (or continue) a hobby, or use resources at the local library.

  • List your available resources. Now that you know what you need, you can look at what you have available to reach your goals. Take the information you wrote down from number one (assess your situation) and brainstorm how you can accomplish these objectives.

  • What service organizations serve your area? What non-disability related organizations can address your needs (such as for employment)? Do you have friends or family who can help you come up with solutions? Maybe there's a blind acquaintance that has already been in your shoes. What helpful materials (such as raised markers) are available in local stores, and would you need to order by mail?

As you make your list, try to think out of the box. Maybe your mother's best friend is an interior designer who might have clever ideas for adapting your home. It doesn't hurt to ask and the worst that can happen is you get a "no" in response.

Email lists and support groups are an excellent way to meet people who can give you ideas and pointers. While the answer may not always lie with them, it's a great place to start looking for new resources to fit your needs.

  • Develop an action plan. Now that you know what you need and what you have available to you, it's time to make a plan. Prioritize what you want to do. What things can't wait? What can be done later? It's also good to consider what things are easier to do.

Consider whom you need to approach in order to get your plan moving forward. Need an O&M instructor? It can take a while to get an appointment; by calling now, you get yourself in line for when you may really need that assistance.

  • Start learning. You now have done everything you need to put your plan in full swing. Tackle your action plan and start doing what you need to do to get by in life. If you hit a snag, stop and evaluate what's going wrong and how you can better improve your experience.

Always be willing to be persistent and consistent in what you want, and need and when you are unsure, ask away. With more access to technology than ever before, it's easy to get hold of a huge network of blind people who can help you find solutions to common problems. Don't wait for people to come to you or life will pass you by without your having made any contribution to it.

You are your own best advocate. Nobody will take good care of you like you will.

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