Every now and again, life throws you some introspection, some minor way of making you look at your childhood and thank God, your parents, teachers, the neighbor down the street, or plain dumb luck that you were shown or taught something at an early age that made your adult life so much easier. As a very young child, you remember thinking – as all children think – that everyone’s parents taught them how to cook four-course dinners, name all the birds in the sky, or (in my case) use hand tools and identify the size of drill bits by touch.
Last night, Ben and I put together a bookshelf. Leaving aside the really annoying fact that the delivery company left an 8-foot tall box leaning up against our house, making it impossible to move it inside single-handedly from my 6-foot-wide porch, I was thrilled that our music room would soon have an additional book case. As everyone knows, braille books take up an insane amount of room, and Ben’s huge collection of paperbacks are relatively scattered, with no set place to go. So last night, we were putting our new shelf together with screws and nails, and (obviously) a screwdriver and hammer. I had been struggling tightening a screw, so I opened the top of the screwdriver and grabbed the #3 Robertson bit… it worked like a charm! Ben asked me how I know what we needed, and how I could tell the #2 from the #4, or a Robertson from a Phillips by touch. I told him that my father taught me the basics as a child, and other friends along the way have had me set up stage sets and other things, and when I first moved out on my own I did most of my minor home repairs myself.
As a child, I thought it was perfectly normal to go down into my father’s workshop in the basement (and later the garage) and hand him tools while he was working. But it was a rude awakening when I was about seven or eight, and I told someone to hand me the hammer so I could fix something or other. The reaction was just priceless: “Um… no! You can get hurt!” No amount of begging, pleading, telling them I’d fixed things before would make them relent. I can’t remember the general outcome, or even what I wanted the hammer for in the first place, but I remember feeling so dejected; my father believed in my abilities, but no matter what, to this neighbour, I was still viewed as the blind kid who dared to want to wield a hammer.
Fast forward several years, and I had moved in to my own apartment in Edmonton. My kitchen cabinets were loose, and I just grabbed a screwdriver and within five minutes they were good as new. The empowering feeling is almost indescribable even now, more than ten years later. When Ben and I bought this house, I took delivery of a new bedroom set, and put it all together, with the exception of the bed. Little things come apart, and I can put them together again… and there are few better feelings of accomplishment in the world than simply being able to get them done. This was all made possible because I was the daughter of someone who not only believed that I could learn about tools and perform these tasks, but that I should, whether or not I could see what I was doing.
I know that this blog has blind subscribers, and I know there are parents of blind children who read this blog; I may be preaching to the choir here. Those who are blind, don’t let anyone clip your wings. If your family does not believe in your abilities, I am so sorry… but don’t give anyone the power to tell you that you cannot do something before you try and succeed, fall on your face, or somewhere in the middle. For parents, relatives, or friends of blind children (or even adults), please resist the temptation to jump in and do for them something that they may really want to do for themselves. Would you deny a sighted family member an opportunity to make mistakes? For most, the answer is no. So if you have the skills, show them. Give them the opportunity to fly. I may never use a table saw, and that’s OK… but pass me that screwdriver… this table leg is wobbly.