by Noemi Roque-Keen
My name is Noemi Roque-Keen and I have a story to tell. I was born with my eyesight on August 7, 1967, and I remember my mother Ada telling me I had blue eyes. One day, she was carrying me and I looked up into the trees and was trying to communicate something I saw, but I couldn’t. That’s when the change happened; I was visually impaired and had a blind, lazy eye.
I think my sister Wanda noticed it first. My mom knew, but she is quite religious and just figured it was God’s way. I remember hearing that I had a cousin who was born mentally and visually impaired with epilepsy. As I got older, I thought to myself, “Wow that could have been me too. I was just a typical child with a vision problem.”
I had quite a few surgeries and ugly glasses, and endured a lot of bullying, just like all other children with disabilities. I would have none of it. In those days, if you had a child that was different, you got extra money from welfare or social security because the idea was that one parent, most likely mom, would have to stay home and take care of the disabled child(ren). That was very embarrassing for me to be used that way. I used to cry a lot. My family would not take me anywhere. They would take my sisters but not me, because it was too much trouble for them to take me.
I was sent to the school for the blind for the summers, and it took a while before my mom even noticed I was gone. I was taught that I’m just as good or bad as anyone else, and should not stereotype myself. I followed my sisters around, and I played sports. I got married and had two children of my own, one who is also visually impaired. All of these things were not easy for me. I was a single parent too, and I had to find work to support them and our lifestyle. I use to run out of food because I was on food stamps and it was never enough, so I started an after-school babysitting service.
I would have to leave the girls a few times to receive guide dogs to further my independence. I use to hate to leave them, but we do what we have to in life so we can get by. When I started to work for the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI), I applied for an upward mobility program called Quest. I learned so much about the agency, their finances, fellow coworkers, my personal brand, and CABVI’s commitment to every blind and visually impaired person, which is reach the ultimate level of independence and to “Live Your Vision.” When I graduated from the program last spring, I wanted to do more for the Spanish community.
I want Latinos to understand that there is help for you or whomever is in a state of being blind and/or vision impaired, or going blind and/or vision impaired. If it is God’s will, then it should be their will to be the best they can be with the disability. With education, rehab, mobility training and some counseling, if wanted, their lives can become normal for them. Loved ones need to be encouraging and research ways to help those who won’t or can’t do it for themselves.
Without the interference of my sister, Wanda, and a rehab teacher, I would never have the life and opportunities I have today. I (live my vision) to the fullest and have found my reason for being here, and the reason why it was God’s will.
For further information about CABVI, please visit www.cabvi.org or call (315) 797-2233.