I was born completely blind and spent my first three years of grade school in a classroom with only blind children. The advantage of this was that I never felt out of place because I was exposed to children like myself from the start. The disadvantage was that I ended up socially behind others my age because I did not learn how to interact with my non-disabled peers until I was mainstreamed. As a result, I found it difficult to make friends outside of those who were like me.
In high school I was again exposed to other blind people my age, and among other things, we talked about proper social skills. It seemed to me that most of us were not taught much about this before or given the opportunity to discuss it. A big issue was proper table etiquette. Some of us struggled to hold silverware correctly, while others with low vision ate with their faces too close to their food. The difference between our group and the outside world was that, in our group, it was ok. We were in a safe environment because we were all in the same boat.
A number of us started attending a new group for high school students established by the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We met to improve our social skills, mobility (travel skills,) cooking, laundry, and other “skills of blindness” that we needed in order to be independent. It was called Summer in the City (SITC).
I remember sitting outside on one of the last days of SITC, talking with a small group of ABVI instructors and other students. We decided that it would be good to get together during the school year to continue working on the skills explored in SITC. At one of the first meetings I helped come up with the nameSTEPS, and what it stood for, Successful Teens Exploring Positive Skills. It’s a good name, because it’s all about students taking steps towards independence.
We were a close-knit community of students. And the ABVI staff cared so much about us and our success. These were my friends. I could be myself around them. I also found that practicing basic skills of blindness that I learned at ABVI prepared me for my future.
When I graduated from high school, I also left STEPS and received additional training from Bureau of Services for Blind Persons before starting college. I was a Spanish major at Hope College. In the fall of my senior year, I studied in Seville, Spain. I stayed with a host family, took classes, and participated in excursions to other cities.
Now that I have graduated from college, I will obtain a certificate to teach English as a foreign language by taking a class that includes a practicum. When that is done, I will seek employment and may have an opportunity to teach English as a volunteer in Spain. I hope to leave in October and will return in March of 2015.
Thanks to STEPS, I know how to survive in “the real world.” Independence is a very basic thing, but I would not be where I am today without the help I received from the ABVI staff to obtain it.