As we here in the United States prepare to celebrate yet another Independence Day, I thank God for all of the brave men and women who over the years have given their lives to protect our country's freedom. I am grateful for every God-given opportunity that I have to exercise and nurture my Christian faith, my literacy and my personal independence. With each new day, we who are blind can give praise to our Creator for touch and taste; for sound and scent; for hearts, minds and souls ready to perceive, grow and share a vision that is as unique to us individually as a thumb print. Our fingers glide with speed and accuracy over computer keyboards, touch screens and Braille displays. We work in mainstream application environments guided by the synthetic speech of screen reading software. We navigate our kitchens, homes, neighborhoods, schools, careers and communities. We stand at lighted street crossings, poised with long white canes or dog guide harnesses in hand, attentive to the ebb and flow of traffic and ready to move forward at a moment's notice.
Still, on any given day, all of us with our different abilities are met with stumbling blocks, barriers and even brick walls. Preconceived notions, myths and stereotypes abound. When asked, the majority of us who are blind or otherwise differently able will readily say that our greatest obstacles often lie in the propagation of these untruths, many times by people who claim to be our greatest advocates, by folks who "really do mean well."
Education is the key to breaking down barriers. Our personal, everyday interactions in our mainstream communities can be changed from negative to positive when we who are blind pause to answer a question posed, or correct an erroneous statement made, by a sighted person regarding our blindness. In addition, we can empower and educate each other, as we share our lists of goals and resources with our brothers and sisters who are also blind.
In June, I was called to lead music and ministry for the Friends of Bartimaeus Christian Outreach for the Blind here in Charleston, SC. I was joined by Kimberly, a fellow Dixie Lander and the manager of the "Own Your Life" program at the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Together, we led an informal discussion about resources available to the blindness community.
It is always a joy to educate sighted children and youth on blindness-related topics. Here, Kimberly and guide Fonzie, Audrey with guide Jessie, and I spoke to "Pet Partners," one of the summer day camp sessions presented by the Charleston Animal Society. These young people, ranging in age from twelve to fifteen years, had a lot of great questions for all of us. While many asked questions about guide dogs, others simply wanted to know our stories, how we learned to read and how we pick out our clothes.
Of course, before we all said goodbye, the kids got to meet Fonzie and Jessie and spend a little off-harness time with them. Seeing the difference in the dogs' demeanors in and out of harness gave even the adults a better appreciation of the relationship between blind handlers and their guide dogs. These times of meeting and greeting, tail wags and doggie kisses are always absolutely priceless!
In this world, some of us are born blind or become blind later in life. Others among us have sight. These traits shape our lives, sometimes more or less profoundly, but they do not define who we are. There is no "least" or "greatest" and no place for "us and them."
The Bible tells us that the first and greatest commandments are that we (1) love God and (2) love our neighbors as ourselves. I believe that when we learn to love God, we learn to see ourselves as God sees us. Through our personal growth in God's infinite wisdom, we can begin to truly love our neighbors as ourselves. Across the hall or around the globe, let us continue to break down barriers and celebrate as we learn more about each other.
God's Light keeps shining! Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!
© 2018 by Laurel Jean Walden