Tammy Gochanour was my visually impaired teacher up until the fifth grade. She started working with me in preschool. She would come to my house and teach me braille, shapes, and some mobility skills. She was like my second mom, and she helped me learn a lot of life important skills.
Tammy would never let me say I can’t do something. She was the first to take me skiing. I remember one day we drove to Michigan for her baby shower, and her dad let me drive his lawnmower around. I think that was the first time I drove anything. She’d take me to the grocery store and have me pick out ripe fruits explaining how to tell if they were good or not by the feel. In the third grade she’d give me a grocery list, and I’d have to go in to the store find the customer service desk and get assistance shopping. She’d follow us around making sure it was safe, but she wanted me to be prepared for the world. We’d also do the same in the mall she’d give me a map that she made in felt explaining all the stores and landmarks. She would say meet me at Sam Goody, and I would navigate the mall alone with her trailing me. It was good practice for me to be able to communicate with clerks in stores to find what I needed.
Tammy and I would go around to different organizations trying to raise money for other blind children in the area. As I said before technology is pretty expensive, and the Lyons Club really did a lot to assist. We would attend a meeting about every month where I would do a demo using my Braille N Speak, and other devices. The goal was to show people how the equipment could make us successful. I don’t remember how much money we raised, but it was a lot. I enjoyed going with her for that, because it benefited others and helped me develop public speaking skills.
Tammy would also take me to her house after school, where I would make a dinner. The process would start with the shopping list, so I’d go buy everything for dinner. I would then go to her house where she would teach me how to cook a dinner. I think this started in the third grade. I loved this and while I lost some of my skills lately I’ve been cooking more for myself. TV dinners only go so far after a while. I’m pretty good with cooking actually the only thing that makes me nervous is the oven being so hot. I do have some gloves that protect up to a certain temperature but I’m still pretty cautious. I would make an entire meal, but she would usually let me slide on the dishes.
After dinner I’d usually play basketball with her and her husband. I had a basketball with bells in it so I could run after it. Usually the basket would sit on a poll and I could feel the poll and kind of remember where it was. I was actually pretty good. I used to play all the time. My dad put a basket up on the side of our barn so I played a lot at home. The only problem with that was he’d park plows and disks around which I would nearly kill myself on when I’d hit them. One thing I remember was I was riding my bike around is yard. I knew my yard so well that I could avoid trees and obstacles when I knew they were there. One day he left a plow sitting in the middle of the yard with nothing around it, and I rode my bike directly in to it. I think I was around 16 at the time, and I stopped riding my bike after that. I didn’t need stitches or anything, but I hit hard.
Tammy always was challenging me in some way that I could learn from. The final thing she did before she left was she purchased a scanner for me to read books with. Before the scanner and a program that would read what you scanned in books were pretty limited. The Library of Congress would have talking books and some books in braille, but it wasn’t much to choose from. I think I remember being in the fourth grade at a book fair and I wrote down 10 books I would like to read. When I called the library to see if I could get them in braille or audio they had none of them. Now of days thanks to http://www.bookshare.org the Kindle even though Amazon fights accessibility we have all most equal access to books as the sighted. Back to the story anyway she purchased me a scanner and I remember going to the public library and getting a book. I brought it home and was able to scan it in myself and read for the first time what I wanted. To think there were generations of people before me who never had this privilege still bother me. I will never be able to tell Tammy in person how much she met to me and my success.
I saw her when I graduated college and I was kind of nervous. She taught me with a cane, and we had several talks about dogs, and I remember a story she would tell me about how she didn’t like them because she saw a blind person get hit once where the dog didn’t stop at the curb. I was relieved to hear her say she thought it was more of a handler and that she thought my skills were good enough for one. I was relieved because I didn’t want to disappoint her. I know it’s not often you’d see someone be so dedicated like Tammy was when I was a kid, but I thank her for it. The things she had me do were way beyond what any sighted child was doing, but she knew that the world wasn’t going to cater to me, and I think she wanted me to be as prepared as I could be when she left.
I’ve been thinking of going back for my masters to be a teacher for the blind. I used to be the coordinator for an older blind grant and I loved it. I got some mobility for a 65 year old woman who didn’t want to leave her house. She called me around Christmas time, and told me that she was about to commit suicide, because she felt like she couldn’t have a life anymore. I think the mobility person spent 16 hours with her, and she now has been to Virginia to visit her daughter, and North Carolina to visit her son. She told me the mobility gave her confidence to take the flights, and gave her hope. I loved the feeling it gave me that her daughter and son can still have their mom around. I wish I could describe that, but when someone tells you that you saved there life it’s kind of a strange feeling. I really have a passion in changing people’s opinions about blindness.