Family, Family, Family! by Ellana Crew

From the Editor: Ellana Crew is a sparkling leader with many great qualities. As one who grew up in Maryland, her loyalty continues as she is now furthering her education in Baltimore. Ellana is proud to serve as president of the Maryland student division and as the co-chair for the Outreach Committee for our national student division. It’s hard to not mention Ellana’s contagious attitude and genuine personality. She loves building the National Federation of the Blind and learning about others’ differences and identities. Join us in reading this month’s blog post!

I think I can speak for many of us when I say that although we love our families dearly and are excited for the holidays, the family gatherings of the season can get just a little bit crazy sometimes. With all of the traveling, gift shopping, cooking, and everything in between, the winter months can certainly leave us all feeling a little exhausted and sometimes stressed. One winter as I traveled home for the Christmas break, I was preparing for all of these things, but I was not prepared for one thing in particular that I did not expect to happen that year.

It was 2015 and I was right in the middle of the CORE program at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, a structured discovery blindness training center in — you guessed it — Maryland. It was the first year I would be going to the Christmas gathering with a cane in my hand, naturally, I was a little bit nervous. What were my relatives going to say? Would they treat me any differently?

The time finally came on Christmas day for the whole family to come together at my grandparents’ house for food, presents, and lots of hugging and story telling. When I got there, unfortunately, some of my fears were confirmed. Even though they had never done so before, even though I had always been blind, my grandfather was suddenly far more attentive to moving things out of my way, my grandmother was extra insistent on making my plate for me, and people seemed to make an extra effort to move around me than they had in previous years. It was a little disheartening, and really, I couldn’t understand how my act of using a tool to enhance my own independence had somehow caused my family to believe I now had less of it.

I began to realize just how little I must have done for myself in the past. I had started thinking about the fact that, before training, I had never made my own plate at the family Christmas dinner. My mom would often keep her hand on my shoulder to help guide me through the house, my grandparents would get my drinks for me, and I would usually find one place to sit and avoid walking around very much. But this year was going to be different. I had spent the last several months learning that I could walk around as freely as I wanted with my cane, I had gone through several buffet lines at large meals for 40 and served myself at every one, and I had learned how to work around obstacles that I found in my path with no problem. I was more than capable of doing so many other things I had never done before, and I wanted to show my family what I had learned.

So, when my grandfather insisted on moving things out of my way so that I could get through the house, I said “oh no, I’m okay. I don’t trip over things anymore. Let me show you how I use my cane.” And when my grandmother insisted on making my plate for me, I said “oh, you don’t have to do that. If you tell me the order of things on the counter, I am able to independently serve myself.” And instead of sticking to one spot on the couch and staying there, I decided I would walk around and join conversations myself this year, using my cane to navigate where I wanted, when I wanted. I started teaching my family what I was able to do and how I was able to do it, showing them the things I had learned and the skills I had gained, and everybody benefited. They appreciated the explanation, and I appreciated not being fussed over too much.

Simply educating your friends and family can make a world of difference, and while my family is still learning to adapt to the new me, we are able to talk openly and honestly about what helps and what doesn’t. I am sure to let them know that if I do want some help, I will definitely ask them, and when they see me use my newly acquired skills to do what I need to do, it helps them understand a little bit more about what blind people are really capable of.