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Winter 99 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Proceeding Forward While Legally Blind

By Jerry Herrera, Luling, Texas

The first time I realized that there was something wrong with my vision was when I was about six years old. My mom was explaining to my dad that she felt something was wrong with my vision. My dad did not want to hear it. To prove to her that I could see, he dropped a pocket full of change on the floor as he told her, "I'll prove it." My brothers and I scrambled to pick it up. I did not find one cent. This may sound cruel, but sometimes loved ones don't understand your situation or condition. Sometimes they do or say things that make no sense. For the record, I love my parents dearly and will never hold anything they've done or said concerning my vision against them.

I remember the first time I went to the optometrist. I couldn't figure out why I couldn't read the chart in his office. I felt I finally made some progress when I was able to see his finger a few feet away. The relationships I have established with my doctors are very vital in my every day struggles. Some doctors are very helpful, and some don't seem to care. Always be honest about what you can see and can't. No detail is too small. You really need to speak up so they can help. Medical technology is always changing. Try to stay informed about medical breakthroughs and studies as much as possible. All this information is there to help you understand and cope with your condition.

My vision is 20/400 in both eyes due to congenital nystagmus and keratoconus. In 1993, I had three cornea transplants to try to correct the keratoconus. My right cornea was done twice because my body rejected the donated cornea. Two things I want to point out, right off the bat. First, educate yourself on your diagnosis as much as possible, especially with the use of the Internet. Second, never take anything you read or hear to heart. Your situation will never be like someone else's. You may have similarities but a different situation or treatment.

One of the biggest challenges I have faced in my lifetime was attending public school in Lockhart Independent School District. At first the counselors placed me in special education classes where I remained until the fourth grade. I think this was a good idea because I could not see the blackboard and was able to learn faster in the resource classroom. After I proved that I could learn when I could see the work, I went to regular classes.

In my opinion, when you are young, going through primary, elementary and intermediate school, it's best that your parents or counselors help guide you through your education. When you are older (junior high and high school) no one knows about your capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses better than you.

Never sell yourself short when it comes to education. If you don't apply yourself you will never know how far you may go. I went through constant struggles trying to make my teachers, counselors, parents, and friends understand my vision impairment. I had help taking notes and used large print books and visual aids to be able to function in and around the classroom. A day never went by that I would not face a new obstacle. I learned a long time ago that no one can really help you unless you can make them understand what your main problem is in accomplishing a task. A task can be anything from getting up in the morning to taking standardized tests.

Just when I thought I could handle anything, I was faced with the reality that I had to go to work. This is where it really got difficult. I don't want to scare you, but this may be a struggle that you have for the rest of your life.

The number one rule is to never set limits, and try anything that may be of interest to you. As you proceed from one experience to another, you will realize your strengths and weaknesses. I would tell myself when I would fail at a job or task that at least I tried. I always learned from my failures. Believe me, failing hurts. I'll be the first to say that it's hard to bounce back when you fail, but you have to never give up. When you succeed, it feels wonderful.

Technology, adaptive materials, and low vision devices have played a big part in my life. I use all sorts of special equipment from large print books to multiple pairs of reading glasses to adapted kitchen utensils to CCTV to computers. I live by them. Dr. David Starnes, a low vision specialist, has been my guardian angel when it comes to visual aids. The Commission for the Blind and the rehabilitation facilities have been very helpful to me throughout my life. They have been involved with me from the day I went to school to the day I got my first job.

There will come a day when you may feel that you're at a point in life where no one can help. When I feel that I may have reached this point, I research what else can be done or what I can do to achieve my task. The main goal is never give up and always try to find a better way. Sometimes you may amaze yourself at the engineering talents you have. Be creative in finding ways to see better or perform a task.

My family has been my backbone throughout my life. I have a wife, Erlinda, two sons, Juan, 17, and Ray, 20, plus our lovely nine-year-old daughter Bonnie. I have been married for ten years. Every second of our marriage has been an adventure with more good times than bad. My kids make me strive even harder to succeed. I am very fortunate that I still have my mother, Mary, my father, Natividad, two wonderful brothers, David and Nick, and my sister, Gerisma. If it weren't for my family I wouldn't be as rich as I am today. No money in the world can ever equal the love and joy my family brings me. We have our differences, but we know that without each other we wouldn't have a foundation to stand on.

When there were transportation issues, doctor visits, meetings, and job interviews, there was my family. They have also been there to scold me when I needed it. They remind me that I am not a quitter and once I start something to finish it. The one thing my whole family gives me that I cherish the most is that they don't pity me or feel sorry for me. They accept me the way I am, and that's all I want, to be accepted as I am.

Editor's note: We were thrilled when Gerald "Jerry" Herrera volunteered to write an article about his experience growing up with low vision. After graduating from high school, Jerry lived two years in a dorm while attending Texas State Technical Institute in Waco. There he received his associate's degree in computer science. Currently, Jerry works in the Information Services Division of the Texas Department of Insurance. He can be contacted at home at 229 West Austin Street, Luling, TX 787648.

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