Confidence and Independence

It will be a year ago this Wednesday, December 3rd, that I graduated from the Colorado Center for the Blind. This school is located in Littleton Colorado, which is about 20 miles south of Denver. At this school, I attended a 6 month Independence Training Program (ITP). People from all over the world attend this school to gain more blindness skills and become as independent as they possibly can.
All of the students lived in a very nice apartment complex. We were mingled in with other people who lived there and were not attending this school. To get to school, we had to walk a few minutes to the bus stop, take a bus to the light rail station, which is the above ground subway. Then we had to get off at the next stop and walk about a quarter of a mile to the school.
I like to refer to this training as “blindness boot camp.” Everyone was blindfolded from 8:00 until 4:30, Monday through Friday. During the day, we participated in home management class, organizational skills class, technology class, Braille class, travel class, and woodshop class. We would also go to Colorado Rockies baseball games, rock climbing, white water rafting, canoeing, and many other fun activities to challenge us as blind individuals. The people who went to this school ranged in age from 18 to 65 when I was there. It was amazing getting to know other people with similar eye conditions as myself. Some people who I was in the program with were blind from birth, others had some sight, and others were in bad accidents or had diabetes. No matter what the vision problem, we all became close friends and enjoyed our time at the school.
At the end of my 6-month training, I had to complete a final in each class. These finals were not like the tests we have to take here at Oswego or any other college, it was hands on and very involved. I will share some stories of my experiences and some of the things that we did in the program.
For my organizational skills class we learned how to label clothing to decipher what color it was or what shirt it was, we also learned other labeling techniques for food etc. For the final exam in this class, I brailed out a phone book, taking the 356 numbers in my cell phone and putting the name and number of each person on index cards and later into a book. This is still helpful to me to this day.
In woodshop class, we used every tool or machine you could imagine. I was a bit scared when I first met my teacher and he had nine fingers, but it was because of an accident at a previous job. I used table saws, sand belts, drill presses, hammers, you name it. It may have taken a little longer and I may have had to do things a little differently, but my friend and I ended up making four humidors that were lined with cedar wood inside. I do not smoke, so it really did not benefit me, but it was such a good feeling to complete a project like that with no sight.
In Braille class, we learned Braille from beginning to end. I have been taught Braille since I was younger but up until two years ago or so, I could still read large print and never used the Braille that I had learned. For the final exam, I went to a local mall that a lot of the students and I would go to on our time off and made a tactual map. I also made a list of the stores in order and placed them on this map in Braille so that other students can use it when traveling around the mall looking for a specific store. I would also take out books in the school Braille library and read on my free time. I still do this as well, but I have to order them from an agency instead. This helps me improve my reading skills in Braille and gives me something to do when I am bored and have no homework.
In technology class, I learned how to use JAWS, which stand for Job Access with Speech. This program is on my computer that speaks everything aloud to me. It reads the internet, word documents and pretty much everything you could imagine. I also learned numerous other things and played around with GPS equipment that also spoke aloud. For the final exam, I took an Olive Garden Menu and converted it into Braille using the computer and printing it through a program that puts it into Braille. I then bound the menu and took it home to my home restaurant to use when I went there to eat.
For my home management class, we made a lot of food. We would also cook the meal for lunch that day, feeding over 40 people. We also made lists and had to go shopping for the food. For the final in this class, we had to prepare a meal for our graduation all by ourselves. Eighty people were coming to my graduation, including students and staff, and I decided to make baked ziti, homemade garlic bread sticks and cherry filled cookies for dessert. I had to shop alone for all the ingredients, prepare, cook and serve it as well. It was amazing, but a lot of work that is for sure.
Traveling class was the most difficult class I participated in. We were taught how to use a white cane to get around and be independent. We learned how to cross streets, large intersections, how to follow traffic patterns, use the sun to orient us, travel on busses and the light rail, and a variety of other things. We would usually go into downtown Denver to do this training and after awhile the teacher would send us on what they called “independent routes.” This is when the teacher had given us a business that we had to find. They would tell us the address and the street name and we had to go there, get a business card and head back. We learned how to pull apart the address and by doing so, we could tell what side of the street it was on, what direction the street went, and how close or far away from the corner the address was located. Pretty crazy, huh?
For this class, there were two final exams, lucky me! For one of them, they called it a “drop off.” Just by the sounds of this, it does not sound too appealing. A staff member and I were in the car, meanwhile still blind folded, and drove for about an hour or so. She would make many unnecessary turns to confuse me and make sure that I was not trying to use the sun to try to track which direction we were heading. I was so lost from the start so it did not really matter anyways. When she was dropping me off, she asked, “How do you feel about cows?” That was not a nice feeling to know I was being dropped off near cows. She dropped me off and there I went. I had to find my way back to Littleton using public transportation.
We were allowed one question, granted they would never know if we asked more than one, because no one was following you. I stuck to the rule just to prove to myself that I could do it. When I got out of the car, I heard voices behind me and headed towards them. I started talking when I was closer and of course, they did not speak English. This was fine, if I knew how to speak Spanish. A woman then ran out of her house, I think, and asked if I needed help. I told her I was trying to get back to Littleton. She asked “do you know where you are?” and I of course said that I had no idea. She told me I was in Aurora. I then proceeded to waste my only question and said, “Are you serious?” Great, I am far away, and out of questions, I thought to myself. She told me to head east, cross a field near a school and then I will hit a street…no thank you I said. I will not be traveling over a field, my luck I would be in that field all day.
I just decided to walk, and walk, and walk. Thirty-two blocks later, I reached a bus stop. The bus driver told me that this was the closest bus stop to where I was because the other bus stops did not have busses that ran in the afternoon. I sat on the bus for an hour, then had to switch to another bus. Then when I was on my way back to the school and I knew where I was, I was the happiest person ever!
For my last final exam for travel class, we had to complete a “Monster Route.” This is when you plan a day of travel going to four different cities and four different places you have never been before. We had to type it all up ahead f time listing the times the bus or train will come, which corner we had to find the bus stop, which directions we were walking etc. It was extremely detailed. My first stop was the Denver Police Department. Downtown Denver is very confusing, the streets are angled which makes it very confusing for a blind person to navigate. That might be why I walked into the city jail instead of the police department. Oops. When I finally found the police department, I had a tour from an investigative officer who took me to all the different offices and I actually got pictures taken with the Chief of Police. It was a great experience. After this I went to two other cities and went to random stores. My last stop was a restaurant in a place called Highlands Ranch, where everyone met me after school for dinner and drinks to celebrate the completion of my Monster Route. Although it was a lot of work and preparation, I had a great time!
While at this school, I was the President of the Student Body. Many people had told me in conversation that they never went to their prom whether it be because they were scared to because of their vision, or they weren’t asked to go by anyone. I decided to put on a prom. I put together a decoration committee and we went to town. We hired a caterer, a DJ and we bought all our own decorations. It was the most amazing thing ever. I have never seen so many people have so much fun.
We would also go rock climbing and white water rafting as I said above. I climbed seventeen rocks in one day, two of which no one at our school could climb. I am a fighter; I tried so hard and ended up completing my goal. Attending this program has helped me in so many ways. Not only did I meet many great people from all over the world, but I gained an enormous amount of confidence and independence.
If it were not for this training, I would be still holding onto people’s arms to get around, and have no confidence at all. I still get scared traveling in unfamiliar areas or things like that, but overall I am such a stronger woman after participating and completing this extensive blindness training.
I could go on and on for hours, which it seems like I already did, but I just wanted to explain how I became the person I am today and how I get around Oswego campus with little to no problems. Snow is a different story, that is when it starts getting harder to travel, but there is nothing I can do about that, it’s mother nature and it has a mind of its own.
I work at the Disability Office on campus and some of the others I work with tell me that I need a seeing eye bear to get around campus in the winter. Sounds like a good idea to me.
I am done, I promise, I hope everyone had a great holiday and I will write more later.