It seems like only yesterday and not so many years ago that I met who would later become one of my best friends. It was our first time at “big” school, at the tender age of 11. I knew no one from my elementary school but GiGi became one of my closest. I remember her walking through the gates of our school on the arm of her brother and news went around fast: we would be one of the first high schools with two blind girls in our class. How exciting! It never seemed strange or awkward to have two visually impaired girls in class. They were just there and part of the group of girls all struggling to get through the day.
I was drawn to GiGi and wanted to learn everything about her Braille
machine and how she was able to read and maneuver her way around. I found out she had to go to a special school for the blind and would get her work transcribed so the teachers could grade her papers. It must have been so difficult for her and for the other girl, Jayne.
GiGi was patient with those of us who wanted to learn Braille and she would spend the time to teach us while we, in turn, learned what it was like to have a vision impaired friend. Her warm nature, quick wit, and her ability not to feel sorry for herself was endearing to us all. She quickly fell into our group of about seven young girls with similar backgrounds and tastes, and we never felt like she was a burden or different. She was just one of the girls. Every day at lunch, we would sit outside and swap lunches, talk about boys, laugh at and complain about our teachers and homework. We were young and our bright futures lay ahead of us.
I think I can speak for our entire class when I say that none of us ever felt that GiGi or Jayne were any different from us. We were all very protective of them and helped them whenever we could. We helped each other in our daily work and we led as normal a school life as any young teenagers could.
As my friendship with GiGi developed, we spent more time together away from school as well. We visited each other’s homes and got to know each other’s families well. We giggled and shared hopes and dreams about boys. When I had my first serious boyfriend, GiGi was already off to
university but she heard all about it through long letters and the occasional phone calls. We were miles apart and stayed separated for many, many years but our friendship endured. Being vision impaired was not a hindrance to my fearless friend who took on many challenges in her life and overcame them all.
How different a world we live in now with computers that talk to us and all the technology to help those who have a disability. I think back at the old Braille machines that slowly spit out the brown papers with Braille letters.I think about how those brave young women, GiGi and Jayne, were able to live independently, pursue higher degrees in education and have meaningful careers in the workforce without the help of today’s technological advances. They are the ones who forged the way for all people with disabilities and should be lauded for their efforts.
GiGi taught me many things including how to be self sufficient, patient, appreciative of all I have, and most of all, if you have a disability it doesn’t mean you have to be passive. We are all important and we matter. Let’s stand up and be counted!