Although many individuals will disagree with me on this point, I am actually someone who is quite shy. Making social connections and becoming active in an advocacy group was not always easy for me. I never saw myself as the kind of person to go the extra mile to build on certain relationships, mostly because I was too scared and did not know how. At least, not at first.
Becoming active in my local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in New York City really began after I was awarded a statewide scholarship. Although I had always loved browsing the NFB's national website for the most recent articles, I was not really aware of what I could do or who I could meet on the local level.
Still, after I was awarded that scholarship in the fall of 2011, I remember feeling taken with the NFB's philosophy on blindness. To me, it felt very similar to my own ideas about strategic independence, learning to do as much for myself as possible. There was one person in particular, a mentor I met at that convention with whom I’m still very close. I remember being impressed with his teaching job, and the way he seemed to live his life with maximum ease and independence. During a discussion at a dinner that same weekend, I recall feeling empowered, not intimidated, about finally having a way to connect with other professionals who are also blind. I remember feeling at ease with the individuals I met. For me, it was the first time I really interacted with any individuals who were blind.
I immediately joined the Students' Division in New York and asked how I could become more involved. The process was gradual, but I increased my involvement by making it a point to attend all chapter meetings, each third Wednesday of the month, despite how busy I was. I soon learned that half of making connections is being in the right place at the right time. When I was awarded a national scholarship in 2012, I was amazed at how much being around other individuals who are blind helped me develop and reach new goals. I switched my concentration in school from medicine to teaching.
Sometimes making connections is not just about attending a meeting or taking down a phone number to use in the future. Really getting involved in the VI community is a great way to learn about the issues students' who are blind deal with on a daily basis. They are a great tool to maximize self-confidence. Advocacy groups such as the NFB provide support, but they are also a great way to meet people. You'll never know who you'll meet, or what impact this person will have on your life. Making the effort to make connections is the first step on that journey.
Hear more from Valeria about connecting academically and socially on our College Success Program website.
Valeria is currently pursuing her Teacher of the Visually Impaired degree at Hunter College in New York City. She lost her sight due to retinal blastoma as a teenager, but considers herself blessed with an ability to make lots of friends. She is an avid technology user and has taught both music and braille to young people in New York City. Valeria is one of three students to win Learning Ally's prestigious Mary P. Oenslager scholarship in 2015.
Valeria is also one of Learning Ally’s College Success Program
mentors and is available for mentoring sessions with current college students who are blind or visually impaired. To learn more, visit www.LearningAlly.org/collegesuccess