After my head on collision with the pillar at Sprouts and months of grappling with fear, anxiety and shame around the idea of mobility training, I finally went to the Braille institute. The decision to go to Braille, as a patron looking for services, changed the nature of my emotional relationship to RP. It took me from being an incognito partially sighted person to being a blind person. Of course I understand intellectually that I have been a blind person for quite a while now, but I was living in both the shadows I chose and the shadows that have been inflicted upon me. I was making the decision to tell the world that I am blind.
The Braille Institute is huge; it takes up an entire block and houses a library, offices, classrooms, a lovely garden and a cafeteria. I met with a woman named Jane who has worked for Braille for 12 years, so she was super informed and nice and wore a gorgeous black velvet dress. As my husband says, people who choose to help the blind as a career are bound to be pretty nice people most of the time.
Jane led me to her office where she would conduct my entrance interview, and although I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get turned away, I still felt like I was applying for university. Her office was full of baskets that had been woven by blind art students, elephant sculptures and a gorgeous photograph of an elephant that took up half of one wall. The lighting in her office was excruciatingly bright.
Jane proceeded to tell me about all the classes I could take; everything from braille and kitchen skills to creative writing and basket making (which she herself teaches). She told me about government programs that will help me get a job and a ride and tons of different contraptions to help me use what remains of my vision to it’s fullest. And finally we talked about Orientation and Mobility training; it was my primary reason for being there and I was thinking I would sign up and start right away. This was not to be. There was a waiting list and she told me it could be up to six months before I could start learning to use the cane. I didn’t really mind the wait; I figured it might give me time to get used to the idea of bringing a white cane into my life.
At that point, I was feeling pretty good, wanting to avail of the services offered to me and be a part of my blind community, so I signed up for a support group, a crochet class and a creative writing class that I could start attending the very next week.
After my meeting with Jane, we retrieved my husband from the waiting area and she took us to the library; it is two floors of audio and braille books and even a small section of large print books. I was issued a machine that plays audio books specifically made for Braille Institute and given information about an app called BARD that was created for the blind and offers free audio books right through your phone. Things were looking pretty great and I was feeling positive about my choice to brave the Braille institute and come out from inside my self made shadows.
By the time Joe and I were leaving, having spent hours at Braille, my eyes were burning and aching from the excessively bright lighting all over the institute. I turned to Joe in the car, exclaiming how ironic it was that after a day at a place made for the blind, my eyes hurt more than they had in months.
I suppose I was a bit over zealous on that first visit and didn’t end up taking any of the classes I signed up for, but I kept myself on the waiting list for mobility training and spent the next six months preparing myself for what was to come.