“Are you blind?”
“No, sir; I am not.”
“Oh… Why are you working at AFB then?”
Believe it or not, this is the most popular question I have been asked during my internship, but I still don’t have a simple answer for it.
My name is Katy Lewis, and I will be a senior at Marshall University in the fall. I am majoring in public relations and minoring in marketing and history, and I am an intern for the American Foundation for the Blind’s (AFB) CareerConnect® program. I am not blind or visually impaired.
But just because I am not blind, however, does not mean that I am not affected by blindness. When I was in elementary school, my father began to lose sight in his right eye as a result of his diabetes. The doctors told us he had diabetic retinopathy, but I did not understand what that meant or what was happening to him. All I knew was if I walked on his right side, he would constantly run into me. Although his sight continued to deteriorate, he never seemed any different to me. It was not until last semester when I realized people without vision loss often act differently around people who are blind or visually impaired.
I was sitting in a room the size of a closet with 40 other people waiting for my English class to start, when a fellow student came walking into the class with a black Labrador retriever. Everyone stared at him when he asked if there was an open seat nearby, but no one bothered to answer his question. I stood up and said, “Yeah, there is an open seat in the front of the class.” He started to walk forward, but he was having trouble getting to his seat. I said, “Take three steps forward and then turn left. It is the third seat in.” My classmate sat down in the open seat in front of me and thanked me for my help.
I did not understand why everyone was acting so weird or why they did not bother to help him, but then I realized not everyone knows someone who is blind or visually impaired like I do. I imagine that people without vision loss are concerned that they will do or say the wrong thing and offend a person who is blind or visually impaired, but the most important thing to remember is that people who are blind or visually impaired are just normal people who happen to do things differently than sighted people.
Our class ended up being reassigned to a bigger room, but the professor only left a sign on the door. I was worried that my classmate would not know where our class was moved to, so I waited for him and asked if he wanted to sit beside me in the new room. Every day after, his black lab would stare up at me with his big brown eyes.
Shortly after this experience, I found an open internship position at the American Foundation for the Blind. I felt as if this position was meant for me because all the signs were pointing in the right direction. I was interested in non-profit work, and I felt like this position would provide me with a chance to benefit others.
So when people ask me, “Katy, why are you working for AFB?,” I can’t just give them a simple answer. I am working for AFB because I believe in fate. I believe that I was presented with this opportunity for a specific reason, even though I am unsure of that reason. More specifically, I believe in the vision and values of AFB, and I wish to do all that I can to help fulfill the mission of this organization.