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Independence At An Early Age

Editor's Note: Kim Kilpatrick is a member of AEBC's Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter in Ontario. She is Coordinator of Volunteer Services for CNIB East Region.

There is nothing like the feeling of doing something for yourself for the first time. When I was seven, I got my first white cane, which was so short that it didn't fold up at all! My family was living in the United States then, and I had a great O&M (orientation and mobility) instructor, who was over six feet tall and an ex-basketball player. He taught me sighted guide techniques first, and then began showing me how to use the cane indoors, which I don't remember too much about, because I could get around inside buildings very independently caneless. But I do remember learning my way to this corner store a couple of blocks away from school. I had to learn to cross a stop street, find the door of the store, go in, listen for the cash desk, go there, and purchase something. We went through everything together, and then on a sunny morning I set out.

My mom was there too with the O&M instructor, but they were well back. I strolled up the street swinging my cane and then "clang, clang," it found a big metal garbage can. I loved the sound so I stopped still and continued to clang the cane against the garbage can. Just for fun and the sheer musicality of it! After a minute, my instructor called from behind, "Hey, Kim, quit playing music and keep walking!"

So I proceeded up the street, got to the corner, and lined myself up. I heard a car come to the intersection and stop. Parallel traffic was on my right, and the car came from the left and stopped by the crosswalk! He didn't proceed so, again, my instructor called from behind, "He's waiting for you! Wave him on." So I put my seven-year-old arm up and waved him from left to right. The poor guy didn't know what to do (many years later I heard he did a U-turn and went off up the street). Anyhow, he moved, and I was clear to cross.

I listened until all was quiet, and across I went. I did it! On reaching the up-curb, I trailed the wall of the building looking for the door. I could smell that corner store smell. I could hear the fan. And then I got soaked by the sprinkler! And since it was summer, I thought this was fun! I found the door and went in, hearing the bell ring as I entered. Then I stood still, listening for the sound of the cash register or voices.

Someone came up and grabbed my arm from behind and said, "I'll take you to the cash." I was so happy at finding the store by myself that I had no embarrassment about shrugging him off. I twisted free, smiled up at him with confidence and said, "I prefer to find it by myself. Thank you!"

And I did. I asked for a pack of Trident peppermint gum. I still remember that! I paid and then I found the door. This was just the best! Outside again, I stopped in the sun to put a piece of gum into my mouth and started back. There was nothing like that feeling! I went through the sprinklers again, crossed the street, found the wonderfully musical garbage can, and got back to the school.

I must tell you that this whole time my mom was having fits. She kept saying to the O&M instructor, "Oh, my gosh. Kim is about to hit that garbage can. She is about to hit that pole. How is she going to cross the street? Oh no, she is going to walk through the sprinkler! How is she going to find the door? How is she going to find the cash and get what she wants?" He finally turned to her and said, "This isn't really a test for Kim. It's a test for you, and you're failing it!"

I told mom that night that I was going to frame that gum wrapper because it was the first thing I ever bought all by myself! Really, there is nothing like that feeling of pride you feel when you know you are as independent as you can be! I am so grateful to my family for letting me do all that I could. Giving me a bike, teaching me to skate, ski, swim. Never putting barriers in my path. I was so lucky, although my family says I demanded these things of them! Nevertheless, the best thing we can do for others is to help them to do as much as they can for themselves.