A Journey of the Blind in the Blind

by Dan Marshall

I'm a good example of the 24-hour sleep-wake disorder because it's between 3 and 4 in the morning. I'm up and have to write this article. I can't get it off my mind.
My working life has been a series of different vocations. I grew up on a farm in South Dakota during the '60s. I graduated from Tulare High School, Tulare, S.D., in May 1971.  I graduated with a bachelor of arts from the University of South Dakota in May 1976. I practice-taught in Mitchell, S.D. My teaching in German was fun and rewarding, while my teaching in 7th-grade social studies was disastrous! There was no demand for German teachers.
Because I knew I could not teach, I went to the then-Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind to the TSR course and went to work in Saint Louis, Mo., during the 1977 filing season working with 1976 tax returns.  After April 15, my hours were cut to 6 hours for every 2 weeks, so I resigned.
I entered law school at the University of South Dakota in the fall of 1977. I went to class and studied for 12 hours per day for 2 semesters before finding out that law school wasn't for me! That summer I volunteered at the school of education at the University of South Dakota. I had to fight get into the master's program in special ed with an emphasis on learning disabilities. It took me 18 months to earn my master's degree.  Then I began looking for a teaching job.
I was hired in Council Bluffs, Iowa, partly because the principal had a disabled son who couldn't work. The principal thought he should give me a chance in just the same way he hoped someone would give his son a chance if it were possible for him to work. I taught learning disabilities resource for 3 years. That meant that I had students for one or two periods per day. Then I was moved into a self-contained classroom with integration. This meant that I had students from three to five periods per day. I was responsible for the main academics at a lower level than their grade. In the resource room I was teaching remedial math and reading. I worked 9 years but was ready for a change of location and assignment.
In the fall of 1991 I relocated to Port Sulphur, La., 60 miles south of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish. Highway 23 was the only road in and out. On one side was the Gulf of Mexico. Then there was a strip of land. Next came the Mississippi River followed by another strip of land. Finally after that came the Gulf of Mexico. In that first year it rained over 100 inches there. I stayed there for four years but left when there was no more demand for my skills teaching the blind and visually impaired.
The next two years, from fall of 1995 to the summer of 1997, I taught braille at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired. I enjoyed Baton Rouge but left because of financial problems and difficulties with the administration. From July of 1997 through Aug. 1, 1998, I worked at the Affiliated Blind of Louisiana Rehabilitation Center teaching braille, keyboarding and money management. I left there and took a position in Ouachita Parish just outside of Monroe, La. on Aug. 24, 1998. There I taught the visually impaired classroom until my students either moved up to junior high or moved away.
I left Ouachita Parish and moved to Vernon Parish, Leesville, La. on Dec. 19, 2000. I was hired as an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired. I taught there until I was riffed on May 25, 2007. There were blind students just to the south in Beauregard Parish, but the parish refused to provide services even after being sued. I just couldn't face starting over again in another parish.
During the filing season of 1977 I had worked in Saint Louis as a taxpayer service representative and liked the job. This was pre-computer. You could look up an answer in the braille material and give the answer. After attending Lions World during the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2008 I relocated to Denver, Colo. This time everything was based upon what is on the computer screen. At the beginning of the classes at Lions World, the IRS hired me to work in accounts. At Lions World I did well in tax law and horrible in accounts. I was never fast enough on the computer.
I lasted just over 6 months before I resigned. My evaluation said I was horrible at 3 months and hadn't improved at the 6-month time but they would help me. I knew that I was never going to be able to do what they required of me at a fast enough rate to satisfy them.  By this time I was just barely hobbling along with my Seeing Eye dog, Toffee. I applied for admission to the University of Colorado's downtown campus to receive another master's degree in counseling. I was accepted in March of 2009 but rejected in May. There had been a mistake, and I should never have been accepted.
I returned to Baton Rouge in July of 2009. By this time I was using a wheelchair because both of my hips were shot. Thanks to hard work and good luck I was able to receive public assistance and a place to live. My left hip was replaced in September of 2011, and my right hip was replaced in January of 2012. I'm now walking with a quad cane and my 6th Seeing Eye dog. I've also begun assembling novel plots in preparation for a writing career. This is the short version of my vocational journey, but it does teach some valuable lessons. First, there are very few set jobs for blind workers today. Second, a blind person has to be very determined to work. And finally, that determined person must figure out what his or her God-given talent is and use it to the max to succeed!