I went to Radboud University on Wednesday. Caught the bus near the training home at 11:43 AM, got the 12:09 PM train to Zutphen, caught the 12:28 express to Nijmegen and arrived there at 1:07 PM. A railway company assistant took me to the bus station. There, we couldn’t find the correct bus, that would take me to the dentistry department, where I’d have to get off. But I remembered there was another bus that’d stop at Houtlaan, a street also near the university building I’d have to get to. So the railroad woman took me to that bus, which appeared not to stop at Houtlaan. So as I got off, I had to walk for a long while to eventually find the correct building. But I was still on time.
The discussion with the stuent counsellor went all very well. She understood the accommodations I needed, gave me a tactile map of the campus and informed me that, with a doctor’s note and letters from myself and her, I am eligible for some disability policy where I’d be able to get housing by September. When I informed the training home staff about that, they seemed rather shocked, as if they didn’t know that I wasn’t planning on living at the training home for eighteen months till two years. It was exactly what I’d planned, cause once I’m at university, I’ll probably not have time for training anyway.
The way back was somewhat more complicated. It was easier to get to the bus and the Nijmegen train station, but I’d not known when the express to Zutphen would come, so someone got me on the slow train. Once in it, I got off at Dieren instead of Zutphen, but fortunately the express to Deventer (I wonder if it’s the same that’s coming from Nijmegen) arrived a few minutes later. Otherwise, I’d known what bus to take to Apeldoorn anyway, but it was nice that I could get onto the train. I transferred to the train to Apeldoorn without difficulty and got onto the right bus without problems, too. I arrived home at about 5:15 PM.
So, not surprisingly, the journey didn’t go perfectly, but I got where I wanted to and in the time I’d scheduled. The only truly surprising effect was that I was exhausted – I’d not expected sitting in a train or bus or having a discussion that went well, would be so tiring. That particular drawback made me feel confused: I’d expected that either it’d go all well, so I could be proud of myself and “prove” to the skeptical staff that indeed, I could travel independently, or it’d go completely wrong, so I’d have had to admit my limitations and accept the fact that, in order to travel independently, one has to learn a route first. But neither came out, so I and others could interpret the journey in these two ways, or an even more undesirable combination of the two: something about it being brave for me to want to do this independently but my having to acknowledge my limitations, or whatever. Such an in-between perspective leaves the most room for interpretation about what is people’s attitude about the capabilities of a blind person to travel independently, and it troubles me not only on my journey to Nijmegen, but also on simpler travels to the bus stop or the supermarket: what’s the criterion for mastering the route? Is it knowing the way? I do, on both routes. Is it not making a mistake on my way? If it were, I wouldn’t ever have mastered any route, cause even after ten years I might still walk past my own house sometimes. Or are factors unrelated to orientation involved? On the route to the supermarket, my coach comments on stuff like walking straight and hearing a sidestreet by using echolocation (instead of seeing it or feeling it). Now if that’s the issue, it doesn’t prevent me from travelling routes I know – that does not include the route to the supermarket yet – alone, and fortunately the staff people don’t think I shouldn’t go to the bus stop alone. Or maybe only my coach thinks I shouldn’t, cause after one staff member had gone to the bus stop with me on Wednesday, she skeptically asked me if I’d ever walked the route alone, as if the fact that, after another staff member asked me if I minded the staff folk going with me and I said I didn’t mind, this staff member walked with me, meant that I couldn’t travel the route alone. Of course I had travelled it alone! It makes me think of the stages a rehab student, according to Kenneth Jernigan, goes through: fear and insecurity, rebellious independence, and, eventually, normal independence (whatever that is to mean). Maybe a blind person’s entire social environment revolves around these stages, sort of expecting such a linear development: first, you of course don’t have to do much for yourself cause you’re not used to the setting and/or you’re just starting your training (assuming you didn’t have training before), then you have to prove your mastery of the skill by doing the stated thing without any help – having a staff member accompany you to the bus stop cause you realize that by having her be there to lead you should you make a mistake, you’ll save time and, hence, make it to your bus on time, is seen as a sign of incompetency -, and eventually, they’ll allow you to do things on your own even if, at some point, you might be making mistakes. Maybe that’s the answer to my question, thought many times and spoken out a few over the past week: if one has to do something perfectly before being allowed to do it at all? At first, one does, indeed. That’s probably why people at NFB centres are expected to do drop-offs, while one would never travel in an unfamiliar area without asking questions in real life: being able to do a drop-off proves that one masters the skills of independent travel.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe entirely in the linear development of an independence-oriented attitude to blindness, cause one may have different attitudes to different situations, and, particularly, a combination of the first two stages, is very common for me, taking the form of worry (in some situations knowledge) that I don’t master a skill but also a feeling that I ought to master it. The thought most suitable for this situation is “I can’t hold on but I have to rub along anyway”, and it’s a very prevalent feeling in my life. It was the feeling I had whenever what to do after high school graduation would come up in early 2005. It was the feeling I had in the last couple of weeks of rehab, when I found myself addressing issues I’d not felt comfortable addressing before yet and at the same time wanting to minimize them cause after all, I had to have made progress. And it’s the feeling I have about training here now: I didn’t come to this home cause I mastered all skills already, so I want someone to teach me to do these things, but I also want to be able to do them already cause, firstly, I should’ve learnt them at rehab, and, secondly, I will have to be done training by September.
A very specific application of this feeling, is travel, and it was what happened surrounding the going to Nijmegen on my own thing: I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find people to ask the way, or that I would get “locked up inside” upon having to ask them, or that I wouldn’t be able to follow their directions, or that I wouldn’t know the way from the bus to the train station in Apeldoorn, or some other skill required for the travel. And yet at the same time I realized that I had to travel independently, cause, after all, I assumed I was a successful blind person. The journey went mostly without trouble, eventually. However, I’ll never say that it isn’t more convenient to go with someone. It is, but sometimes you’ll have to step outside of your comfort zone, don’t you?
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