Editor’s note: Jacob Ray, a college student who is low vision, reflects on how to self-advocate and take ownership of one’s life.
If I could give advice to my younger self or anyone who is embarking on college or a career, the best advice I would give is to be your own advocate. This does not mean I think everyone should go to law school. It does mean believing in yourself and taking ownership of yourself and your life.
Acknowledge you have a right to opportunities
I believe there are many steps to being an advocate for yourself. First, you have to understand that you have a right to opportunities. For example, in the musical Hamilton, the successful play about Alexander Hamilton, there is repetition in the song “My Shot”. The words of this particular song are like a shot from a gun. They are staccato, rapid, and sung short. It starts with “I am not throwin’ away my shot.” The phrase is repeated throughout the story. The author, Lin-Manuel Miranda, uses a shot to represent and symbolize opportunity.
In the world of disabilities, I think opportunities are like shots. Shots may come and go, but each one is unique. Fundamentally, as a human being, everyone deserves a basic level of respect and opportunity. I believe this to be true in any circumstance.
It is ironic how, in the musical and in real life, the theme is visible. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the author of Hamilton. He was born in Puerto Rico, an economically struggling American territory, and moved to the mainland to start a new life. He created some musicals before Hamilton, but not with as much risk. Miranda wanted to try something new, so he incorporated teaching history with modern music. Writing Hamilton was a risky, one-chance gamble. One has to push limits and take measured risks. You have a right to opportunities; you then have to take them.
Ask for help
Being an advocate also means being vulnerable. I think asking for help is very important.
For example, I have developed a love of fishing. This was not always the situation with me; my brother was the fisherman in my family. He actually studied how to fish, where to fish, and what to fish. He watched videos, read books and magazines, and taught himself to tie special knots. He shopped at outdoor and fishing supply stores. He saved and bought special fishing rods and fishing lures. He practiced casting and how to reel in properly. He learned how to properly treat the fish as so not to hurt them or damage the environment.
I thought I did not like to fish because my line always got caught in some nearby tree and the sun was always in my face. I had to learn to ask for help.
When I couldn’t see because the line was too thin for me, or if the sun reflected too intensely off the water, I would ask my brother for assistance. At first, I thought it was embarrassing, but then I came to realize my vision isn’t something I can control. Since asking for help, I have found a new hobby.
Utilize tools and accommodations
I started talking to my eye doctor about how I was having trouble fishing in the sun and how I wished I could utilize sunglasses and my glasses simultaneously. I told her my brother wore these special polarized fishing lenses with some fancy tint. She showed me amber-tinted clip-on shades.
Because I mostly fish in lakes, ponds, and rivers in the southeast, this was the best color for me, and I was able to get the shades in a special magnetic clip-on style. These have made a difference to both my vision and my fish count. And once I started catching some more fish, it started to be even more fun. I began to appreciate all the things my brother had been talking about. I started doing my own research, started watching Youtube videos, reading online articles, and looking up all that I could online. I practiced the same things my brother did and got better and better.
You, too, can work to obtain the skills, tools, and accommodations that enable you to pursue the interests, hobbies and career-related, that interest you. You have a right to develop your skills and take the shots.