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Essay by Holly Scott-Gardner:
In June 2018, I arrived at Enchanted Hills Camp to work for the summer. I honestly had no idea what I had signed up for. The truth was, there was no way I could have known, because in the UK as a blind person I would never have been exposed to something like EHC.
I always felt like I was pretty blindness positive, and though there was a time as a teenager when I hated my blindness and felt a huge amount of shame, I’ve worked through a lot of that over the last six years. Until I visited EHC, I thought I had already reached the end of that journey.
At Enchanted Hills, I watched blind people do all kinds of things, things I had never even considered. If you asked me before I went to EHC if a blind person could be a mechanic, if they could build furniture and all kinds of other things, I’d have probably said yes, because I wouldn’t have wanted to let my community down. But deep down I wouldn’t have believed it, not really. Surely, they would have help? Or something. But then I met blind woodworker George Wurtzel and watched how he worked. My mind was completely changed — there was someone right in front of me who was doing all of these things and teaching other blind people to do them too.
I remember the day I found out almost all the kitchen staff at camp that summer were visually impaired. It wasn’t that I’d believed a blind person couldn’t do the job, but until that point it had never entered my head that they would be. I believed in blind people, but they were never my default assumption. I would always assume a sighted person was doing a thing until I learnt otherwise. It was moments like that when I realised how deeply growing up in the UK had affected me, growing up I had never seen blind people working in environments like that.
Working my guide dog often wasn’t an option due to the heat, yet I didn’t have any previous travel experience with a cane, beyond learning to use one as a child but never doing it outside of my lessons. Over those weeks I learnt to love the feeling of exploring new environments, how my cane could tell me so many things about my surroundings. I have now become the kind of dog handler that will sometimes explore a place using a cane because I know how both methods of travel can benefit me, when before doing so would have never entered my head.
I also discovered that nobody had pushed me – not really. I knew that I would often do more than a lot of blind people in my country, but I was still very used to people doing things for me or not ever being given the chance to try. At EHC, all staff are equal. I learnt from sighted and blind people alike, I watched as we learnt together, made mistakes and worked on fixing them. Often there were times when I couldn’t remember which staff could see and which couldn’t because we worked together in a way I had never experienced before. The director of camp, Tony, is sighted and it was almost unbelievable to me at first how he worked with his staff. I had ultimately never been in a situation before where I was viewed as truly equal.
I was a terrible counsellor at first; I was going through this profound and intense journey, and it was only when I started to believe that I could do these things that I tried and discovered I could. That was something else I learnt – in the UK it’s so normal to hear a sentence begin, “I can’t,” and end with “because I’m blind.” I never heard that at camp. Once I realised that, actually, these are limitations we set for ourselves, I began to wonder what I, myself, was truly capable of.
I did not become a perfect cane traveller that summer. I didn’t learn to build things like others could, and I was certainly far from the best counsellor I could be. But I learnt that all these things and more are possible, and that realisation has changed my entire life.
Last week, I went on a couple of hikes. We walked through beautiful trails, laughing and talking to one another. Afterwards, I took some time to myself and thought about how three blind people hiking together was viewed as completely normal, when a year ago I’m not sure I’d have believed it would be something I, or anyone else, could do. I sat watching as a friend lit a fire, again without anyone questioning it. As we were all preparing dinner two of the guys went off to grill the food, one of them is completely blind. Today the phrase “a blind architect,” was dropped into a conversation.
I soak up each of these moments, drawing them close to me and letting myself live them again and again. Because it’s only been in the last six months that this was ever part of my reality.
We as blind people can do this. Blind Americans are no different than we are in the UK. But we have to be the change. We can’t expect someone to come along and do it for us, because they won’t, and if you feel like digging into the history of Enchanted Hills Camp, the NFB or ACB, or any number of blindness initiatives, you will learn that these were created by blind people who wanted to see their community thrive.
I could mention so many people and moments that have had an impact on me. These reflections have barely scratched the surface. I’m continually learning and growing not just as a blind person, but in every aspect of my being. And it’s because of the small moments, the people who reach out, who teach and listen and learn with me, that I am able to do this.
The reality is that you never really reach the end of a journey – not one like that. Because as you grow older, meet new people, and have experiences that you hadn’t before, your perspective continues to evolve. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year, it’s to never believe you have finished learning; you always have to be open to change.