I am not blind. If a chair, rock, person, building or lamppost unexpectedly meets my body, it is not because it was impossible to see, but rather due to my absentmindedness or clumsiness. Seeing these so they never become an obstacle, watching the beauty of a sunset or sunrise and reacting to others’ facial features and body gestures I take for granted; they are part of each minute I am awake.
Yet for those whose vision is no more or barely there, these everyday visual encounters of mine are but memories for them. They strive to be acknowledged as contributing members of society through enhancement of their other senses, so they can realize how loss of sight is but a mosquito bite, not a shark chomp.
The Olmsted Center for Sight becomes their friend, their mentor, their guide, their trainer – and we who have not a whit of worry about our sight are so much the better as a result.
There was a day when the blind were cast by the wayside as broken members of humanity, relegated to ubiquitous dark glasses, a cane and a cup asking for handouts, accompanied only by sadness and depression; to menial jobs where the thoughts seemed to be if they could not see, they could not think; to lonely existences as others shunned them for “being different” or feeling awkward in their presence.
But today we find the visually impaired involved in nearly any available profession; their interaction with others is often as if blindness was nothing more than a dictionary word; and they can offer up optimism, courage, enthusiasm and joy for life that are difficult for anyone to top. And to present them with these opportunities, to enhance their abilities to walk in step with the fully abled, to introduce them to potential beyond what they could have imagined is Olmsted Center for Sight.
I have taught these extraordinary folks through the Olmsted Center’s Statler Center for Hospitality Training. Here, through a myriad of courses, such as written and oral communications, computer training, and hospitality, these students eagerly embrace all learning offered. When their course of studies is completed, they leave with solid preparation for careers – not merely jobs – in the hospitality industry.
These Statler Center graduates now fill hundreds of hospitality slots throughout the United States and Canada, allowing for millions of travelers expert and competent assistance in crucial components of travel, tourism and hospitality.
And do these daily travelers ask if the ticket agent, concierge, communications liaison, hotel auditor, greeter, manager or restaurant host is blind? Of course not. Needed is but professional, courteous, qualitative, punctual and expert abilities for a smooth completion of the customers’ needs. These visually challenged professionals accomplish this – and the Statler Center can quietly and proudly smile in its role of helping to transition their possibilities of dreams into realities of life.
One can be blind in so many ways, not only through the loss of eyesight. We who physically see the world as we know it often need to open our mind’s eye a bit wider, for when we do the unparalleled power of what one organization – the Olmsted Center for Sight – can do will allow for a greater brightness of the world.
Isn’t education something else?