School for the Blind This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 23, 2009
For as long as I can remember, I have not been very independent. In a way, it’s not too surprising, considering I can’t see. The first time I really did feel independent was at the California School for the Blind last summer at a three-week camp called the Student Transition Education ­Program, or STEP for short.

The first day, I was very scared. I had never been away from home before. I mean, I’d been to camp, but that was only an hour away and my parents visited. This was six hours from home in a place I had never been. Luckily I knew some of the kids, ­including my friend Louise, who became my roommate. Our apartment had a small kitchen with pots and pans and a stove and everything. It was like a little house. We got food at the cafe­teria, but we could buy groceries too. Louise and I just had juice and snacks like cookies.

They even gave us keys to our door, which was strange and new to me. ­Until this point my life had always been controlled. I hadn’t had to decide when to go to bed or get up, and I’d never had to clean up after myself. I had never felt more scared and abandoned than when my parents left me that day. I was suddenly out in the big, bad world with no one for protection.

I think the hardest thing was walking on my own. Sure, I walked at school, but someone was always next to me, ­reassuring me. If I went the wrong way, my teacher would say, “Watch out for the stairs!” At STEP, it was different. There were people to look out for us, but we were eventually expected to learn our way around. I dreaded the day I would have to know the routes.

The staff was patient with me. They let me learn one route at my own pace. Gradually, I realized that I knew how to get to various places. With just that one route, I could connect to other destinations. I started to understand that if I really paid attention, I could do it, but I was scared to try because I didn’t want to get hurt.

The best day of my whole life was when I realized I could walk on my own. We were leaving the computer lab and there were no counselors available, so the computer teacher walked with us. Since I am slower than everyone else, I quickly fell behind. At first I was concentrating so hard on the route that I didn’t ­notice. I just took it for granted that somebody was there, since someone had always been there. But suddenly I noticed how quiet it was. I stopped, ­realizing that I was alone, and started to panic. What if there were stairs? What if I fell? What if I got lost? Then I thought, Am I lost? That’s when I ­realized that I knew where I was. And so I started walking, slowly at first ­because I was still scared. But I kept telling myself that I knew where I was going and little by little, I started speeding up until I got back to the apartments. I was shaking, but I had managed on my own. And that’s when I knew that if I tried, I could do it.

Another challenge was going out in public. We went on a lot of field trips. We had to talk to store clerks and do price comparisons before we bought anything. We learned how to handle money and write checks, although I still need practice. We even asked pedestrians for directions. That was hard for me because some people don’t think that blind people should be in public without help. One clerk wanted to call security because Louise and I were on our own. But I realized that we have to deal with those who have never interacted with the blind. I don’t want to say that they’re ignorant, but in a way they are. But we learned from them too – we’re not always ­going to be with those who know about us and our needs.

Another completely new activity for me was cleaning. Occasionally I had helped Mom with the dishes, but that was only when I felt like it, which was rare. At STEP, I had to clean up after myself or nobody would. I couldn’t just drop clothes on the floor and ­expect someone to pick them up. ­Believe me, I tried and I only had a bigger mess to clean up later. Mom had always hung up my clothes and put the outfit I would wear to school on the bed. She still does, but now I know how.

I still need practice with eating. I can’t really use a knife and fork properly. At home, Mom gives me a spoon for everything, and she even cuts up my spaghetti. You can imagine what happened when they served spaghetti at STEP. I got tomato sauce all over my hands, face, and hair (not to mention the table). Don’t even get me started on pouring; that was worse. I tried getting myself some juice at home and ended up spilling the whole pitcher. When I got to STEP, they had to help me pour, but I got the idea. I did put milk on my own cereal, even though it was a small carton.

We also had fun trips. When we went sailing, I loved how the boat went really fast and rocked back and forth. We even got to drive and the captain told us which way to steer. We also went on a kayaking trip.

My time at STEP taught me skills that I will use forever. I’m not always going to have someone to hold my hand. Someday I’ll be alone, and I’m scared of that day. But still, when that challenge comes, I’ll be more ready to face it, and I hope that I’ll be able to do so with confidence.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 7 comments. Post your own now!

KiraKira said...
Nov. 3, 2009 at 10:53 pm
This is so amazing. I think that you have a great amount of courage, and that you are an amazing writer.
MyChey5 said...
Jul. 17, 2009 at 2:46 am
Dear Paola,
i hope you dont think im sayin your piece is good beacause i feel bad for you. i honestly believe you are an amazing writer and will acomplish a lot in life because,as it says in this piece, You try and succeed!! Keep writing so i can leave more amazing comments like this one!!!
pinksage33 said...
Jul. 1, 2009 at 1:24 pm
This is a great pice. I am part blind and went to acamp similer to that so i know where your coming from.
iluvsoccer50 said...
Jun. 10, 2009 at 6:28 pm
Wow. You're a great writer. Please write more.
Angelswatchoverme said...
May 14, 2009 at 11:31 pm
wow, that is amazing. i really look up to you, because you've done what i probably couldnt do if i were blind. i probably would have wasted away to nothing. you are a awesome writer, and you sound like u would be an awesome person to talk to. =)
HollyL said...
Apr. 15, 2009 at 2:36 am
Wow, that sounds pretty awesome. I am nearly totaly blind, so understand what it must be like for you. I think our lives are very different though. I've been made to do stuff for myself from a young age, my parents break up contributed to that. Then at 11 I started at New College Worcester, a school for the blind. I can really do whatever i want.
There's still fears though, and I don't think anyone grows out of them. Being lost, people not liking me because I can't see. Not fi... (more »)
Terd_Ferguson said...
Apr. 3, 2009 at 5:53 pm
Very very Inspirational. Keep it up.
Site Feedback