Tue 19 Apr 2005
I had never met anyone who was visually impaired before. The closest encounter I had ever had with a hearing impaired individual was my grandfather who listens to the television on the highest volume and yells everything he says. Because of my lack of experience, I walked into the Tri-County Association for the Blind apprehensive about who I was about to meet. However, I knew that my experience would teach me a great deal about living with an impairment. The Association employs those with different levels of impairment. During every volunteer session, I interacted with individuals with different impairments, skills, and specialties. This exposure allowed me to gain an understanding of the impairments several of the employs had. Visual impairment was the most prevalent impairment at the Association. My first visit, I believe, provided me with the best exposure to the world of the visually impaired. Being assigned to help a blind woman organize her office, I was placed in a small, cluttered cubical under the control of my new, temporary boss. She instructed me in the organization process—I was to find and label different bags, and then place the appropriate items inside them. Because my task was simple, I was able to observe the woman’s interaction with her colleagues. Through their discussions (to which, yes, I was eavesdropping), I learned how “normal” of a life she lived. She was married, a writer, a computer expert, and a respected individual within the blind community in Harrisburg. Through my experience at Tri-County Association for the Blind I gained a better understanding of those with visual impairments. I learned that while they may be missing some, or all of their vision, they are capable of everything that one with full vision can accomplish.
Tri-County Association for the Blind is beneficial not only on a local level, but also for the national blind community and the programs that support it. On a regional level, the Association provides jobs and social outlets for the visually impaired living within the surrounding area. The workroom at the Association calls for manual jobs at several levels of difficulty. Workers configure pens, clean equipment, and perform carpentry. There also exists a radio station that requires twenty-four hour management that provides employment. The women mentioned above performed clerical work at a desk with several other coleagues. Because these people do have visual impairments, outside employment may not be easy for them to find. The Association, however, provides a variety of jobs that not only challenge these individuals, but also empowers them as they are partaking a the “normal” working life. Nationally, the Tri-County Association for the Blind greatly aids the visually impaired community. I personally helped this national effort by cleaning the green cassette cases. These cases belonged to the Library of Congress. Once all the cases are cleaned, they will be returned to the library where they will be filled with books-on-tape and other audio aids. Although cleaning the cases with a dirty rag soaked in orange extract may seem like an inconsequential job, it reaps national benefits. Because of the Tri-County Association for the Blind, the Library of Congress can continue to supply the visually impaired community with auditory aid.
I do not think I had a long-lasting impression upon the people with whom worked at the Tri-County Association for the Blind. Each week I was paired with a new employee, making it hard to develop a relationship. However, I do believe that I impacted their days in a positive way. For example, when I helped the woman categorize her office, I know I immensely improved the organization of her things, making the space much easier to work in. Because she was unable to classify the pamphlets and boxes herself, my work was much appreciated. During another visit to the Association, I peeled cassette labels with Lynn, a partially visually impaired woman. For two hours, she and I partook in casual conversation. We discussed our families, college days, and favorite foods. While Lynn needed no assistance in this mundane task of label peeling, I think she enjoyed my company. She persistently told me how much of a pleasure I was to talk to. I personally impacted the people who worked at the Association by assisting them in their projects and being a friendly person with whom to spend the afternoon.
There is an endless list of the problems the visually impaired face in a “normative” society. Their impairments prohibit them from participating in many of society’s standards for a normal life. Something as simple as watching television or reading the newspaper is a frustrating, if not impossible task for members of this community. Employment, too, creates a difficult situation for the visually impaired. Requiring special computers with audio programs and Braille printers, the visually impaired are not ideal employees both productively and economically. The Tri-County Association for the Blind helps to overcome these obstacles for the visually impaired. Hearing aides and audio programs are provided to the community. Also, by employing those with the impairments, the Association allows them to fully function within the working world.
Throughout the semester we have been discussing the presence of the impaired within a “normal” society. In Motherless Brooklyn, Lionel, was labeled as “freakshow” because his Tourettes differentiated him from others. In Fat, the fat man is described only as such—society is only concerned with his physical appearance, thus stripping him of his humanity. Through my experiences at the Tri-County Association for the Blind, I have learned that the visually impaired, too, are restricted in society, as their physical impairment overwhelms their identity. However, both the readings and my volunteering have enabled me to correct a premature judgment I had made against those with disabilities. While I am not proud of the opinion I once had, my uneducated perspective did not allow me to fully appreciate this community. These people are not ashamed or embarrassed of their abilities. Every worker I met was a strong individual that has worked hard to overcome his/her visual impairment. From this course and my volunteering at the Tri-County Association for the Blind I have gained a new understanding and respect for the visually impaired. I hope the end of the semester does not bring an end to my interaction with this community.