by DJ McIntyre
(Editor’s Note: The article below is the text of a speech that DJ presented at the Georgia Council of the Blind’s 2004 convention as part of the youth program.)
Having a visually impaired parent can be difficult, but there are rewards! When I began to realize that my mother was blind, it just seemed normal to me. She could walk, talk, hear, and basically accomplish everything she needs to do. Now when I see or meet a blind person, I know how to interact with them and how to lead them. For instance, you would never grab a blind person by the hand and drag them wherever they need to go. That would be rude. First, you introduce yourself, and then ask if they would like some help. Then you let them hold on to your elbow. They will generally use a very light touch and follow. They are very special people with very special characteristics. Blind people must be taught how to do many daily tasks. In residential school, blind people are taught some of the everyday skills that sighted people take for granted. For instance, they are taught how to cook, wash clothes, clean house, etc.
My mom is an amazing person. She has four children, homeschooled, and still has to keep up with the normal household responsibilities. Blind people have to learn how to be independent, a skill sighted people take for granted. My mom is not really that dependent on others. For example, Mom was given a Braille Lite M40, which she uses for email, storing e-books on and things that she will need to remember. She had to learn how to use it, but now she is very good at it. She can even use a compact flash card to store files.
We used to go to the MARTA station to take the train to the capital. It was Mom who taught us the stops. It was Mom who taught us when and where we needed to get off the bus. She also taught us which roads we needed to cross. And it was Mom who taught us about the bus routes. I loved being able to go anywhere the train or buses went. Sometimes Mom would call security and tell them at what stop we would need their assistance. When we got there and met the security guard, Mom would tell him where we needed to go, and they would lead us there. One time the security guard was on the wrong side and since all the trains were loading he walked through every train to get to us. I thought that was very funny!! I am thankful that security was willing to help us. We would even take the bus to go to the doctor’s office.
Now, Mom can probably tell this story a bit better than I. When my best friend came over one night, we decided to sleep on the floor in the living room, which you have to go through to get to the kitchen. During the night, for some reason, Mom needed to get to the kitchen. She was walking very carefully and she had to step over me. Well, you have probably already guessed. I got stepped on. I know she didn’t mean to do it, but it was still funny. Another time, more recently, I wished that my mom was sighted and could drive. I had fallen into the bathtub and hit my head. I was screaming, and at first Mom thought that I was joking until my good friend told her what had happened. Mom came up the stairs and felt that I had a goose-egg sized knot on the back of my head. My grandparents were visiting at that time and my grandfather gave me an aspirin to take for the pain. I went to lie down on my bed. The next thing I remember hearing was Mom on the phone with the doctor telling him what had happened in the bathroom and that she couldn’t wake me up. Even though I could hear, I could not move or respond at all. The doctor told her to dial 911, which she did immediately. The next thing that I remember seeing was a paramedic, checking my pulse. I was finally awake. They said I had a knot about the size of a quarter on the back of my head. Mom asked them if I needed to go to the emergency room, or if they thought I would be OK for a little while. They said to wait a little while and see. Then, they left, but I was still not feeling very well. So Mom had to call a friend from church to take us to the emergency room. Oh, how I wished that my mom had been able to see so she could have taken me to the emergency room right away!
When I was about seven years old, Mom enrolled me in art classes. I remember drawing a beautiful sunset that I had seen at my mom’s foster parents’ home in West Virginia. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to go home and show it to her. When I got home, it hit me that Mom would not be able to see it. My heart felt like it broke into little pieces, and I cried most of the afternoon. So, then I started to make pictures that had some type of texture so she could see them with her fingers. I would sprinkle macaroni or beads on glue, or I would use many layers and globs of paint. Still, it was hard to accept that she would never see anything I might draw or color. Sometimes we would use clay and I remember that it became my favorite activity in that class. I knew that Mom could “see” anything made with clay. I remember making two puppets and adding as much detail as I could, and making them as three-dimensional as I could, so Mom could see how pretty they were.
You may be wondering about the advantages of having a blind parent. So far, the picture looks pretty bleak. Well, I am able to see things differently (no pun intended), and I have developed abilities that sighted people may never develop. I have been told that I have a much keener sense of direction than normal, and that my musical abilities are very well developed. I communicate much better than others my age. I was taught how to cook when I was 6 years old, and have a love of cooking that equals my ability. I have learned all about the care and feeding of babies and small children. People have told me that I am very responsible for my age. I am not afraid of the dark, and I have never needed a night light. My hearing is sharper, my sense of touch much more sensitive. I believe I get a bigger picture of the world than other people, due to seeing it from both perspectives. I owe all this and much more to my mom.