Guest blogger Jeremiah Taylor (pictured at left) is the founder and CEO of ProActive Sales, Inc., a full-service sales management company.
In 1999, Jeremiah became suddenly and totally blind as a result of complications during routine back surgery. You can read more about Jeremiah’s (and his wife Jo-Ann’s) long, steady, and inspirational journey – from sudden blindness through rehabilitation to full employment – at the VisionAware website.
In addition to his talents as a dynamic sales professional and motivational speaker, Jeremiah is a serious – and opinionated – movie buff. During the past several months, Jeremiah and Jo-Ann have been “test driving” the Sony Entertainment Access System, which provides descriptive audio narration for blind and visually impaired film-goers, as well as closed-captioning and volume control for deaf and hearing impaired audiences. Jeremiah’s reviews of the audio-described The Wolf of Wall Street and Gravity are a must-read for all film fans – blind or sighted.
This week, Jeremiah pays tribute to a blindness professional who changed his life: Wojtek Jacobi, his Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor from Lighthouse Guild International.
Wojtek – and O&M – Enter My Life
Last week, I was the subject (a success story!) of a photo shoot and an article for the Lighthouse Guild International’s annual report. I took a car service to the Katonah, New York train station for the one-hour ride into Grand Central Station in Manhattan. Then I walked seven blocks to a client’s office where I met several representatives of the Lighthouse Guild for the photo shoot.
It sounds pretty much like an everyday commute, doesn’t it? Fifteen years ago, I never would have believed that such an everyday activity was possible for me.
I lost my sight about 15 years ago; I was 51 years old. The idea of traveling or commuting on my own was a concept I could not consider or even believe. Then an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor named Wojtek (“VOY-tek”) Jacobi entered my new “blind” life.
[Editor’s note: Orientation and Mobility (O&M) is a profession specific to blindness and low vision that teaches safe, efficient, and effective travel skills to people of all ages. “Orientation” refers to the ability to know where you are and where you want to go, while “mobility” refers to the ability to move safely, efficiently, and effectively from one place to another.]
Wojtek “Ups the Ante”
After I learned basic cane skills, Wojtek raised the level of my training and set goals that seemed impossible to me at the time. He understood I wanted to regain my independence, get back to work, and become as high-functioning as possible. I was living in northern Westchester County, a New York suburb where sidewalks are mostly unknown and local stores are not within walking distance.
Since Wojtek lived in Newburgh, New York, an hour further north from my home, it would have made his working day much easier if he was able to train me in a local town like Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown, or even my own. But he understood I was a city boy and wanted to be able to travel and work in Manhattan, if possible. So Wojtek stuck me in his car and drove the extra 30 miles into Manhattan.
Tough Love and O&M Training
Wojtek understood I needed to train in the world I would be living in. He understood I needed to be challenged if I wanted to reach my personal goals. On my first day in Manhattan, I walked 50 blocks, which is at least two miles. To say the least, I was tired. Since I knew Wojtek had a two-hour drive home and I was weakening, I asked if he wanted to quit for the day. Wojtek stood next to me and said, not entirely unkindly, “Poor baby” …
So I walked another ten blocks to the 96th Street subway station and took the train, for the first time as a blind person, back to where we parked his car.
It was a breakthrough day for me. Wojtek didn’t take the easy way out and train me near my or his home. He added at least three hours to his work days in his effort to help me reach my goal!
Each time we met for O&M training, we headed into Manhattan. Sometimes he would put me on the train at the Croton-on-Hudson station and I would travel into Grand Central by myself. When I asked him what I should do when the train reached Grand Central, he said, “Get off!”
When I asked what to do once I got off, he said, “Ask someone for help!” When I said I was nervous, he said, “Poor baby!” But of course, Wojtek was always there, in the background, watching and protecting me.
Fast-Forward Fifteen Years
Now, 15 years later, I’m working with Wojtek once again as I prepare to move to White Plains, New York. Although we are both older, my goal of becoming as functional as possible in this new city hasn’t changed. After the first day of training in White Plains, I told Wojtek my energy level was low and it was a tough day for me. “Poor baby,” he said.
Fortunately for me, Wojtek hasn’t changed! It is because of Wojtek that I am a success story and always speak highly of Lighthouse Guild International. Thank you, Wojtek.
Additional Orientation and Mobility Information
- To locate an O&M Specialist in your home area, the VisionAware Directory of Services includes information about Orientation and Mobility instruction.
- What Will People Think About Me if I Use a White Cane?
- How Do I Learn to Use a Cane?
- What Type of Cane Should I Use?
An unfolded long cane photo is a Wikimedia Commons file, used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.