One of the most valuable things I gained from studying for two years at a specialist school for the blind was the freedom to make mistakes. I would never say that my parents have been suffocating or wrapped me up in cotton-wool, but natural parental instincts are always going to come into play when your blind child is handling sharp objects or very hot things. Maybe that’s why I never quite felt comfortable doing those things at home. I always thought that if anything went wrong, my parent’s reaction was guaranteed to be much more dramatic than mine.
It’s a tricky one to manage because when you have limited vision a lot of the time you’re venturing into the unknown. You’re not going to see the steam rising from the kettle, so you’re not going to know if it’s hot until you touch it and learn to approach it by the handle next time. On the other hand, you don’t want to be so terrified of touching something just in case it’s hot that you never try.
What I’m trying to say is that making mistakes is essential for learning. That’s the case for everyone, but maybe even more for a blind child. Because chances are they’re going to make more mistakes than your average sighted Jo on a day to day basis.
I used to be very anxious about getting around on my own for fear of getting lost because at one point, getting lost was the absolute worst thing I thought could happen to me. This is until the day I finally got lost, panicked for a minute, pulled myself together and asked someone for help, only to realise I was a few metres away from my destination. That day taught me a lot; pay more attention to where you’re going, there are always people around to ask for help, and it’s actually very hard to get totally 100% lost.
Since that day I’m so much more confident in my mobility. But not only that, I now actually quite enjoy exploring. It’s a challenge, it’s interesting and most of the time I end up discovering something I never knew existed until I found it by mistake.
The ability to correct yourself when you’ve gone wrong is such an essential skill that it bothers me that children with disabilities are often denied the opportunity to develop that skill. Fear plays such a massive part in this that protection can sometimes stray into the territories of suffocation. By denying a child the chance to explore, make a mistake and learn from it, you’re denying that child of confidence, independence and the feeling of pride when they can do it right.
If you teach a child to do something for themselves as simple as tying their shoe laces, you’re teaching that child problem solving skills that will take them through life. Be ready to support them if they need your help, but don’t force your assistance and smother their confidence. It’s hard enough realising that society doesn’t expect you to be able to tie your own shoe laces without your parents reinforcing that message at home.
By encouraging your child to learn and grow, you’re teaching your child that they are capable. Fostering that belief is so important for a child growing up in a world that immediately labels it disabled. The confidence you have in your child will boost the confidence they have in themselves, and with a bit of confidence anything is possible.
I’m the kind of person that will try anything at least once. I’m so grateful for that because it’s resulted in some of my favourite memories; skiing, fire walking and scuba diving to name but a few. My parents have always encouraged me to try my hand at anything that takes my fancy, which is what I think has given me the determination to have big dreams, reach for the stars and believe that I can do anything I want to if I try hard enough.
It’s because of this attitude that I’ll soon be fulfilling my biggest goal of graduating from University; it’s because of my ambition that I’m predicted to graduate with a 1st; it’s because of the confidence I have in my own ability that I overcame the biggest challenge I’ve faced yet and stuck it out for three years, even when people around me were suggesting that I quit.
It’s so important to have the confidence to try new things because if we never test ourselves we never get to grips with our own potential or capabilities. So if there was one thing I could ask of the parents of visually impaired children, it would be let them try; let them learn; let them have the chance to fail, so they can have the chance to succeed.