I volunteer as an account director for the Taproot Foundation, an organization that is basically a Peace Corps for professionals to benefit non-profit organizations. Right now, I am working with a team to help create a new name and visual identity for the Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired – you can probably figure out why they need a new name! This organization teaches blind youth how to live independently, despite their disability.
We had a client kick-off meeting today, and to better understand this non-profit, the CEO asked that we experience what it is like to be blind. On came the blindfolds, and we were escorted in to the kitchen where we were asked to chop ingredients for a Waldorf salad. I was able to quickly relate to the shapes of sliced apples, grapes, celery and walnuts because of my seeing experience. Congenitally blind people take longer to figure these things out. We used a cool device to safely chop the ingredients, and then had to guess how much dressing to scoop in to the salad…I clumsily slopped it on my fingers.
Next came the guided tour, and I quickly volunteered to be led by a blind man, down a hallway, up three flights of stairs, and in to an apartment shared by two blind 19-year young men. The experience was surreal! Here was this blind man, leading me with confidence and determination, telling me what to do and helping to make me feel safe. I felt off-balance as he told me to use my hearing to help get my bearings. He sat me down on a sofa, and proceeded to sit on the floor next to me.
With the blindfolds on, we met Tom and Dionne, the two roommates learning skills to live independently – from cooking and house cleaning, to paying bills, grocery shopping, going to the mall or traveling and any of the thousands of things – big and small – those of us who are sighted take completely for granted.
These two boys reminded me of my son, who at 19 is also learning some of the same skills to be independent, but without the added challenge of not being able to see. They were excited about their learnings and the skillful coaching being given to them. And, like my son, there were so many similarities in their interests, starting with music, but also girls.
I listened to their voices, painted pictures in my mind of what these boys might look like, and it was a gift to then be able to remove the blindfold and see their fresh, beautiful smiles. As we left the apartment, I was struck by its cleanliness – the place was immaculate! I only wish my kids had such skills…
The last destination on our tour was the adaptive technology lab where a blind instructor whizzed through demonstration after demonstration of web technology, check-writing, GPS and other tools that help make the life of visually impaired people easier. This guy was amazing – he could listen to the computer-generated voice faster than my brain could register…
I have only intense admiration and respect for the teachers and staff who dedicate their life to work such as this. To be able to positively impact these youth is a gift that money just can’t buy. Unfortunately government funding for organizations such as this is dwindling, creating a squeeze that necessitates more philanthropy and creative financing to keep these programs open.
In the coming months we will be exploring creating a new, catchier name and logo for this program to help them better attract new students, fundraise, and thrive.