Ambassadors and Advocates

We are ambassadors and advocates every day to each person we come in contact with, whether it’s in familiar settings in our communities or somewhere far from home.

Last week’s conference in California emphasized this point. Any time an organization holds an annual conference, it’s an opportunity for those involved to rekindle old friendships, build new connections, learn about what’s new and see a wide range of possibilities.

When the conference deals with something like educating blind students, these things are even more in the forefront. So when I attend something like that, I am keenly aware that, every moment, I am an ambassador and an advocate. I represent what might be considered the “finished product”: I’ve left school and embarked on a career, have a family and a place in my community.

For teachers of the blind, regardless of whether they’re working with preschoolers or college-bound teens, whether their students are totally blind or have some usable vision, whether they are “just blind” or have other disabilities as well, what I am and what I have, to varying degrees, is what they dream of for their students.

How does someone, as a parent, teacher or mentor, help a child grow into an adult who is reaching their full potential as a human being? The answers are many and they aren’t the same for every child. To expect someone with severe mental disabilities to get a master’s in chemistry is unrealistic and unfair, but they might be extremely successful working in a company that manufactures things, or as any manner of other things. The challenge is to be imaginative and creative. Do we cast our minds far and wide to encompass all the child’s potential, or do we limit ourselves because of what we fear might happen?

What do we hold in our minds as the “example” of a blind person, and how did that example get put there? Do we know any other blind people? If so, what are they doing? What is their overall attitude toward life in general and their perspective on blindness more specifically? Is blindness a defining characteristic for them, or just one among many traits? (For the most part, in my case, I’d say it’s one among many, but that doesn’t mean that at some times it isn’t the defining characteristic, and I think this dynamic, fluid way of thinking is healthy.)

If you’re a parent, have you found someone you respect that shares your child’s disability? In other words, have you found your kid a mentor or role model? The types of people in the world are endless, so if you’re looking for someone special, you’re bound to find him or her, but only if you’re actively searching.

As a blind person, I have to accept that I represent different things to different people. For some, I’m evidence that Braille music is a viable way to learn. For others, I exemplify how one can use a guide dog to travel successfully and independently. And, much as I dislike this, I also represent for others how they don’t want their child to turn out.

The important thing, I think, is to think long and hard about what it is you are portraying to others and make sure it matches your overall beliefs about life. At the same time, it’s just as important to be humble about the whole thing and not take oneself so seriously that there’s no room for anyone else’s ideas.

As much as I was serving others as an ambassador and advocate, others at the conference were serving me. The lessons can be big or small. For instance, I may have taught one person that Braille music is easy enough that, even after vision loss, you can still play the instrument you love and learn in new ways. But also, I may have come away thinking about how I might navigate a buffet line more successfully and gracefully with a guide dog.

The greatest lessons are the ones we are learning continually over a lifetime. What I took away from last week’s conference can and should inspire me to keep pushing myself to new heights, just as I may have encouraged someone else to do likewise in their own life.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Blindness, Dogs, Family and Friends, music

4 Comments on “Ambassadors and Advocates”

  1. ombudsben Says:

    Wonderful post. But I have to admit I’m stuck on the very concept of dealing with a buffet line. But I suppose you are accustomed to finding serving forks and spoons already. Still, hats off to you.

    And it must leave you with a wonderful warmth to know how you’re touching and helping others. My wife was a teacher and liked it for the students; it was the bureaucracy that drove her away.

  2. halfnotes Says:

    Ombudsben,

    I must confess that I haven’t fully solved the buffet challenge; I usually ask for help from someone to carry my plate and/or serve the food, especially if I’m doing the buffet alone (i.e. without a friend, etc.). Otherwise, I can usually carry my own plate and just ask for help serving food onto it. As Ecko gets older and learns when and when not to sniff (ah, this’ll be a never-ending education!), it gets easier.

    I’ve though of leaving him with his leash attached to the table where I’m sitting. This would be good since I’d be able to find my way back there (assuming he’s doing something that makes his collar and tags jingle), but I’m always afraid he’s going to decide he wants to eat something off the floor just out of range and take the whole table with him! Now there’s a way to get fast restaurant service!

  3. ombudsben Says:

    “Now there’s a way to get fast restaurant service!”

    LOL!

  4. halfnotes Says:

    Also gives new meaning to “doggy bag” … Thanks for coming back!


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