What Training Has Done For Me

What Training Has Done For Me

By: Kia Yang

(Editor’s Note: Kia Yang gave the following presentation at a conference this past fall called “Dare To Be Remarkable.” Through our structured discovery training, Kia has become self-confident and is not letting blindness hold her back from living the life she wants. Here is what she said.)

Training was not something I had ever considered until I went to college. Growing up with 3 blind siblings and 6 sighted ones, I always assumed I had all the skills I would need to be successful. Training was for other blind people, not for me. My parents always made us do household chores such as washing dishes. However, when they had guests over, we were told to sit still in one spot so that we wouldn't bump into anyone. My parents did the best they could, but the mixed messages were confusing. On one hand, we were held to similar standards as our sighted siblings, but on the other hand, our blindness was something that needed to be managed.

Growing up being number 6 out of 10 in my family and the second blind daughter was hard because I was very quiet and not as outspoken as my younger blind brother, or as outgoing and charming as my older blind sister. I was known as the quiet one. When we were younger, we would all attend activities specifically geared towards blind kids, and so "The Yang Gang," became our nickname. Besides my blind brother and sisters, I had never had that much contact with blind people until we started going to these activities. After that, I always felt that I was better than the other kids. I just assumed that all blind people were like the people I met at these events, dependent and slower than me. I was appalled at the socially awkward students who constantly needed so much guiding, and I hated to wait for a lot of them to catch up to the rest of the group when traveling.

Then college happened! I realized quickly that my vision teacher had done so much for me that I didn't have the skills to advocate for myself. Contacting professors to acquire accessible materials, getting my textbooks on time, and pushing for equal access were not tasks I'd ever done before. Needless to say, it was definitely a shock to the system, and I started failing classes! I had never, ever failed a class before! I was always an A student, so I felt so ashamed and embarrassed. I also struggled to make friends. Now I can look back and see that I didn't have confidence in myself or my skills, and so this made me reluctant to approach other students. As a result, I spent a lot of time feeling very alone. I hardly stayed on campus. I went home every chance I got, and I even spent a lot of time isolating myself in my room from my family. The online world became my escape from the reality that I was living.

You know what they say about sororities right? They say that sororities are a place where you pay for your friends. So, I joined one!

In a way, I got what I had wanted. I was finally invited to go to college parties, but I had always been anxious about traveling, and looking "lost." I didn't want to depend on someone having to feel responsible for taking me back to my dorm, and so I often did not go. For fundraising, my sorority worked concession stands at Gillette stadium. Each girl had to work a certain amount of shifts a semester. So, I would go and try to help out. However, I didn't know what I could do. A lot of the tasks involved pouring beer from a keg stand, making pizza, or working the cash register. We would work there for 6 to 7 hours at a time. Most of the time, I stood there feeling useless because I did not know how I could help. I didn't know how a blind person could ever help out at such a fast pace new England concession stand.

Towards the end of my college career, my older sister decided to go for training at the Colorado Center for the Blind. I had heard a little about structured discovery training, but I did not know how crucial it would have been for me to go. I always heard that students had to complete something scary called a "drop-off" where they were dropped off somewhere in the middle of the city, and then expected to find their way back to the center, asking only one question. That, to me was insane and totally impossible. But my sister was loving it out there in Colorado. I noticed how proactive she became in her everyday life, and how she just seemed to blossom into this person who had magically gained strong leadership skills. This was nothing like the sister I had before she left for training. Seeing my sister journey through her training program planted the idea in my head that maybe I should go to one as well.

My college was constantly under construction, and they built a subway across the street from my dorm. Now, I loved subway, and sometimes when life got overwhelming, I just wanted a Chicken bacon and ranch sandwich. However, this was across a 2-lane street, but I was so afraid to go and find it by myself, and I only went if other people were going. This was the breaking point for me. I got so sick of being trapped by my own fears. I saw what training had done for my sister, and now I wanted that for myself.

After graduating college in 2014, I left Massachusetts to go to a training center, BLIND, Inc. In Minneapolis Minnesota.

Having classes such as Communications, which is a class combining both Braille and assistive technology, Wood shop, Home management and Travel helped me hone my skills, however, what the structured discovery method of instruction did the most for me was increase my self-confidence.

During training, travel was my most challenging class. I had never been taught to be ok with being lost. Between crossing bridges, taking different bus routes, traveling on the light rail and more by myself gave me the confidence that I had never had. Knowing that I had cooked a full meal for 40 people in home management, used loud scary electric tools in shop, and slated tons of pages of braille for communications class was an empowering feeling. The instructors equipped me with the tools to teach myself new tasks even after my eight months were up.

Despite this, I did not see how much training had changed me for the better, until I left. After I graduated the program, I was hired to work as a summer counselor for the youth summer program at BLIND, Inc. I had no intentions of ever becoming a teacher of any kind. This was my first job, and I kept thinking that someone would realize that, in fact, I had no clue what I was doing.

One night while on the way home from taking my students to eat out at buffalo wild wings, it started raining. And I don't mean light rain, I mean it was a torrential rain. I wasn't super familiar with the area, so of course, we got lost. The girls were freaking out as teenage girls are known to do from time to time, and being the staff member, I had to not freak out, too. I was so afraid! I thought that I would never be able to get these students back to the apartment safely. My phone got soaked from the rain, so of course, voice over failed me. No one was around, so I knew I had to problem-solve our way back. I remembered from my training experience that I had to find the next busy street, and find a business that we could go in and ask for directions. With a drenched phone, panicking girls, and my flip-flop breaking in the middle of crossing a street, we trekked through the streets of South East Minneapolis until we came upon a pizza place. We went inside for some much-needed shelter and some desperately needed directions. It turns out we were not as far from home as I had thought. We made it home drenched, but safe, and a little more confident in ourselves.

That night taught me a lot about myself. I learned that no matter the situation and pressure I find myself under, my training kicks in and helps me problem solve my way out of it. I learned that despite the stressful situation, I did not freak out like the old me would have. I had come a long way from the Kia that I had been pre-training. I also learned that flip-flops are never, ever, a good thing to wear while walking in the city! You never know what weather you may find yourself in.

I have been working part-time at BLIND, Inc. for over a year. I have worked for the summer programs for 3 consecutive years, and I am currently working on obtaining my graduate certificate in rehab teaching. I love what I do. I love being part of our student's journey of self-discovery through training. I want to give students the tools that my instructors have given to me. From the girl that was afraid to explore her surroundings and cross a two-lane street to a woman who is becoming a part of the change for blind people, I am Kia Yang, and this is what training has done for me.