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Summer 2002 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Transition, a Lifelong Process

 By Michael Beukenkamp, Student, Amarillo, Texas

Transition is a number of different changes that go on all throughout life.  It can be going from one school to another.  Transition can also be getting a job, or for someone with sight, it could be driving for the first time.  I have experienced a number of transitions in my life just like everyone else.  In this article I want to tell you about different transitions I have gone through and how they have changed my life.

The first big transition that I had to overcome in my life was losing my vision.  I went from being a normal third grader to being completely blind overnight in the summer between the third and fourth grades.  When I lost my vision it was very difficult.  I couldn’t just go out and ride my bike or go out and rollerblade.  I had to relearn how to live.  I had to learn how to read Braille.  I also started to use the white cane.  Right there, those changes effected my life so much.  I went from going to the playground and going on slides and monkey bars to thinking if I fall I will have to have more surgery.  Being so young at the time, I really wasn’t exactly sure what was happening.  I also knew, though, I had things I wanted to do.  I made my mind up that  I would overcome blindness.  I will say I really knew I was going to be permanently blind at around age eleven.  I feel that if it wasn’t for all the support I had at school and at home, I would not be at the point I am now.  I think that support at a young age is very important.  If I wanted to do something, I would hear, “Yes, you can do it.”  Sure there were problems to overcome with different things I tried to do, but that is part of adjusting to having a disability. 

When I started learning how to use the white cane, I realized that being blind would not stop me from getting around on my own.  I remember the first time I went up and down a staircase, I knew then I could do it.  It was very intimidating knowing there was a drop-off somewhere up ahead.  I remember thinking that if I use my cane I will find it.  After using my cane for a couple years, I felt comfortable traveling out of town on my own.  I went to the Texas 

School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin for a summer program.  While I was there I learned more about using the cane to get where I wanted to go.  I also learned how to use landmarks to travel different routes to different buildings.  That was the first time I really relied on my cane.  After doing that, I went to Space Camp in

Huntsville, Alabama.  During that trip I traveled through Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on my own.  I learned a valuable lesson about trying to get help.  I was thirteen at the time.  I learned how to tell someone what I needed.  The airlines are very willing to help if they know what you need.  You also have to know exactly what you want them to do.  Their first idea most of the time is to get you a wheelchair.  When they did that, I told them I had no problem walking and showed them how to do sighted guide.  My experience has been that the majority of people are always ready to help, even if it is just to give directions.  I took a second trip to Space Camp the following year.  I remember on the trip home that I was alone at DFW again, waiting for my plane to leave.  The airport closed due to severe weather.  It turned out to be closed for eight hours.  I remember my connection being changed five times.  I just kept asking the gate agents what was going on.  By the time I left there that day, I was on a first name basis with a lot of the employees.  It just takes persistence to get the help you need. 

Going from middle school to high school was another learning experience.  I had to carry many more books and notebooks, and the homework tripled.  There were many more tests to remember to study for.  The teachers’ had higher expectations of grades and over all what you should learn in one day.  I went from carrying one backpack to carrying two, both of them so full they almost couldn’t close.  I took advanced classes in computers and math that were not offered in middle school.  Algebra became very time consuming.  I knew it was all very worthwhile though.  It gave me a small taste of real life.

One of my goals when I became blind was to get a guide dog.  The dog guide schools require you to have good cane skills.  They also require that you be sixteen years old before you apply.  When I turned sixteen, I sent applications to a few different schools.  Thinking I would not be accepted while still in high school, my hopes weren’t very high.  The idea of getting a dog some day was the driving force that helped me learn the cane.  I was very happy on the day in April of last year when I got a letter saying I had been accepted to the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey.  A few days later, I received a letter from Guide Dogs for the Blind in California, saying I was also accepted there. Since I heard from Seeing Eye first, I attended there.  Switching over from the cane to the dog was a challenge.  When you work a dog you take into consideration time and distance and not as much, say, cracks in the sidewalk.  For example, if I know there is a door a certain distance ahead, I do  little bit of physics in my head.  I think I am going this fast, so I need to start thinking about turning in a certain amount of time.  When you use a cane you are in charge of watching out for hazards and also keeping track of where you are.  When you work a dog he or she makes sure you don’t run into something.  It is fifty-fifty, I give him the directions and he makes sure I get there safely.  One thing I noticed since I have used a dog is that the public is very interested.  With a cane, I almost think people don’t know what to do, so they shy away.  On an average day with Sporty, my dog, I probably talk to about ten different people.  They all have pretty much the same questions.  I like to educate the public that blind people have lives, and that having a disability is just a challenge that you must overcome. 

Transition can be very hard, but at the same time it can be very self-gratifying.  When you look back and really think of what you did to be where you are today, it is all so important.  Having a good attitude is vital to advancing into different phases of life.  The next big transition for me will be going from high school to college.  I have come to the conclusion that everything you will ever do comes back to self-advocacy.  That is the key to getting the help you need, whether you’re traveling or doing homework.  There is always someone ready to point you in the right direction.  I will be an 18 year old this summer, ready to face the world.

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