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Achieving Independence
-By Steve Zent

On May 26th 2002, I celebrated a joyous occasion in my life when I married my fiancée of seventeen months, Leslie. My journey toward that day was exciting, challenging, and most of all, fulfilling. As a person who is blind, I realize anyone would probably use similar words to describe such a life-altering event. In reflecting on what I would say in this essay, I began to think about how my experience would be the same and different from that of a non-disabled person. My general answer to this question is that the experience is probably very similar with just a few subtle differences.

Growing up, I didn't date very much. I had my circle of friends and family and these interactions were within my comfort zone. I also over-analyzed the entire prospect of asking someone out. Would she say "yes" and if she said "yes" would it be out of pity? Would she say "no" and if she said "no" would it be because of my blindness. You can easily see how this type of reasoning is unproductive. Fortunately I began to abandon it. In college and beyond I had women who were friends, but I never built a relationship out of the friendship. What it really came down to for me was building my self-confidence, taking a risk, and putting my feeling and myself on the line.

As Leslie and I began to build our life together, I shifted more dramatically away from my parents-in a healthy way. Prior to meeting Leslie, my parents assisted me in grocery shopping, banking, and much of my transportation needs. It was this reliance on my parents that caused a certain degree of adjustment, particularly for my mother. Leslie and I were now doing the shopping together; we were now managing a joint bank account; and as a result of being more active I was applying more and more of my mobility skills thus becoming less reliant on Mom and Dad for rides here and there. In short I was asserting my independence in many different ways.

My parents did not know how to react to all of this. They were somewhat distrustful-the bottom line was that they felt a loss as their roles shifted. My advice for anyone, but particularly someone experiencing a disability is to begin the healthy separation from parents in the natural course of entering adulthood. For example, use a reader or bank personnel to help with banking tasks. Use a shopping assistant when necessary or do it on-line. Most importantly, use mobility and other life management skills. Adults without disabilities are expected to carry out day-to-day tasks independently; as a person with a disability, you should set these or parallel standards for yourself. Sometimes it's easier to have a parent run you here or there; indeed, sometimes it is necessary when no other alternative exists. Choose those situations very carefully; a little inconvenience will go a long way in demonstrating to parents and society at large, that you are capable and want to be treated as the adult that you are. This mind set will also instill more self-confidence and better enable you to assert yourself.

I am truly blessed to have found Leslie. We work well together solving the day-to-day problems, as well as the larger obstacles that come up. We laugh together, cry together, share each other's joy and sorrow, and most of all, work hard and have fun together. In the end, this is what life itself comes down to, disabled or not. Leslie has reminded me of the fact that as a person who is blind I am fully capable and competent even when I become frustrated. She has helped me rediscover the areas I have just discussed.

In conclusion, as a person with a disability, I treat those around me as I would want to be treated, but more importantly I treat myself, as I would want others to treat me. As I have mentioned earlier it isn't always the easiest course, although in the end it is certainly the most rewarding.