By Jeffrey Thompson
(Editor’s Note: Jeff is the past president of our student division, and the newest member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors.)
Some say that because I am a “partial” (i.e., I have some vision) that I do not need to use my long white cane or need to learn Braille. Others think I am rude when I do not accept their seat on the bus. Some think that I am enjoying the tuition breaks at college, assistance from the state services and discounted handicap bus rates. Some think that they “get it” when they find out that I have some residual sight saying, “Oh, I thought so, you’re not ALL BLIND.” I smile and go about my way, tapping my NFB long white cane, carrying my BrailleNote, reaching for my U of M issued bus card, and wondering what it takes to be ALL BLIND. My name is Jeffrey Thompson, I am a partial, and I am ALL BLIND.
I go to the mall with my children and they question why I bring my cane, when they see me at home and in the yard moving about without it. I tell them it is because I am blind and they say to me that I am not ALL BLIND. I read the Braille on my note-taker in class and some ask if I can read large print, I tell them with a pause, “Yes, but not as fast.” Oh, you’re not ALL BLIND. I notice people rising from their bus seat and heading towards the back of the bus only to find me sitting right next to them five seconds later. The others who tried to tell me where to sit bend their necks, quietly watching only to assure their seat partner that I must not be ALL BLIND.
I attend the University of Minnesota as a non-traditional student, seeking my new career, working on a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. I had tutored for a year and a half in the subjects of Calculus, English, and ESL (English as a Second Language). I worked in the learning center, lobbied for higher education while Vice President of the Minnesota State College Student Association, worked in the disabilities office and helped facilitate math tests for those needing the service. Each step of the way, others observed me as a leader, hard worker, and ambitious student. No one knew how hard it was to do what I did trying to imitate a sighted person. I could almost pull it off—most of the time. But, most of the time was starting to turn into some of the time and my ambitions dropped, my work ethics dropped, and leadership is something I really needed. I wasn’t feeling ALL BLIND and did not know what to do.
I escaped from the public eye for two years, caring for my father and raising my son. Was this what I was going to do? Be “that blind guy” in the neighborhood, “that blind guy” who mows his own yard. Was I going to let blindness define me? I knew I had to do something right then before I became ALL BLIND.
Now, after national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind and graduating from Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc., I can hold my shoulders high when I say that I am “that blind guy” in the neighborhood, I do mow my own grass, I don’t sit in the “handicapped seats” in the
front of the bus when I can physically sit elsewhere or stand just like most others. I buy the U-pass bus card just like 20,000 or so others do. I use Braille as much as I can. Most of all, when I am out and about, flying or riding, shopping or entertaining, I use my long white cane. This is not just for me, not just for those who recognize me with the usual trappings, but it is also for those who haven’t yet had the training and experiences that I have been privileged to have. It is benefiting ALL BLIND when I use my cane and carry my shoulders high. It is benefiting ALL BLIND when I succeed in classes while not depending on the services of the disabilities office. It is benefiting ALL BLIND when I help change the ingrained stereotypes with which most of society plagues us. It is benefiting ALL BLIND when I conduct myself in a professional manner, and I too, am part of the ALL BLIND when you do the same.
ALL BLIND people have the opportunity to change what it means to be blind. Not ALL BLIND see the same. Not ALL BLIND act in the same way. ALL BLIND are uniquely different and I am just one who is doing it with ALL BLIND in mind.