The Girl With No Eyes

Here’s my latest Toastmasters speech.

THE GIRL WITH NO EYES

“I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters…. that saying has always bothered me.

“I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

It’s the part about the man with no feet. The way some people react to the disabled. They see the disability, and that’s all they see. They don’t see the individual.

The shoeless man thought, “That poor man has no feet! His problems are so great, mine shrink in comparison.”

The guy was totally into problems… I have no shoes… He has no feet… Always judging people by their limitations.

But what if he learned that the man with no feet had overcome tremendous barriers to lead a happy, successful, fulfilling life?

Would our shoeless friend finally understand that the person is NOT the limitation? Would he begin to see possibilities not just disabilities?

Let me illustrate…

I read in the LA Times about an 8 year old Canadian girl, Brenda, who is blind. Brenda was in LA with her parents for a sort of spelling bee for blind kids at the Braille Institute.

The Braille Institute near downtown LA publishes books in Braille. They help the blind live independent lives. They’re into possibilities, not disabilities.

The story said that when Brenda was four she had cancer of the eyes and the doctors removed her eyeballs.

When I read that I was shocked. I thought, “She’ll live her life in complete and utter darkness, practically helpless.” And I pitied her.

Like the shoeless man, I saw only limitations. To me Brenda was The Girl With No Eyes.

This contest that Brenda was in, it’s called the Braille Challenge. And it’s a big, big deal for thousands of blind students all over the United States and Canada. Each year they enter local and regional contests hoping to make it to the top competition in LA.

In the Braille Challenge, students compete by answering questions, tough questions, in Braille. They answer in Braille using Perkins Braillers, a typewriter that makes the small raised dots of the Braille code.  Speed counts as much as accuracy, and they answer so fast their fingers are a blur on the keyboards.

Imagine: You not only have to know the correct answer before anyone else, you have to type it–correctly–in Braille!

Perkins Brailler in action at The Braille Challenge

Girl using Perkins Brailler at the Braille Challenge

For blind kids, the article said, the biggest obstacle is not the loss of vision — they find their own way of doing things. No, the biggest obstacle is the low expectations of the sighted world.

The belief that, “They’re blind. They can’t do much.”

Again, like the shoeless man, focused on limitations.

The little girl I felt so sorry for, who lost her eyes to cancer?

Brenda won first place in her age group. And she told the reporter about  all the new friends she’s made in LA, and all the things she does back home in Canada.

She is happier and more accomplished than many people I know. And she certainly doesn’t need my pity.

Funny thing: While Brenda was talking to the reporter, while she was competing in the Braille Challenge, I was just a few blocks away.

For many years I worked near the Braille Institute on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. I must have driven by it thousands of time commuting to work.

Each June, 200 finalists come to the Institute for the Braille Challenge. Two-hundred stories just like Brenda’s. Stories of hope, triumph over adversity, the best of the human spirit.

And I drove by blind to it all.

If I had seen Brenda and some of her friends outside the Institute as I drove by, I would have thought, “Those poor kids are blind. Their problems are so great, mine shrink in comparison. What kind of lives can they have?”

So, let’s revisit that “no shoes… no feet” saying, this time with my own personal spin.

“I was sad because I have to wear glasses, until I met a little girl with no eyes.”

No, Brenda is much, much more than her limitations. And she gives me much, much more than an appreciation for my eyesight, such as it is.

It should be, “I was sad because I have to wear glasses, until I met a young lady… Who inspired me to see possibilities, not disabilities.”

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Information on the Braille Institute and awe-inspiring Braille Challenge

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2 thoughts on “The Girl With No Eyes

  1. sblazak says:

    This speech won the Area A-2 International Speech Contest on March 21 and the Division 12 International Speech Contest on April 4. I’ll be giving it again on April 25 at the Tournament of Toastmasters District 12 Spring Conference at Benedict Castle in Riverside. Wish me luck!

  2. sblazak says:

    This article in the San Diego Union-Tribune is about a another young lady in the Braille Challenge. Cricket, the name of the blind girl profiled, is similar in spirit to the Canadian girl who so touched my heart. Extremely bright… self-sufficient… positive attitude… all the attributes I most admire. Read this article and you will understand what inspired me to write this speech.

    http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/jun/25/1sz25blind181816-skills-put-test-braille-challenge/

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