I remember, when I was young, being afraid of the dark. I recall running into my parents’ bedroom to hurry and turn the lights on and run back. It is funny when I think about it now, but I never really understood the reason I was so afraid. Maybe it was just the unknown – but it would be a feeling I would never forget.
In August of 2013, I lost my eyesight to diabetic retinopathy. At this time, I was 28 years old and I had just become a father of two beautiful little girls. After many surgical attempts, I was told there would never be a chance I could restore my sight.
At this time I fell into a deep depression. I remember when I received a white cane, I just put it in a closet – not wanting to touch it or even learn how to use it. I went from being an independent man to just sitting on the couch – nothing else.
I was scared, just like the little boy I used to be – except this time there is no light to run to and turn on. I used to sit on that couch and cry my heart out. My depression took a toll on my life, which resulted in the ending of my six-year relationship and losing all my possessions.
Before I knew it, not only was I blind completely – I was also a single father. After learning about orientation and mobility training, I realized how essential the white cane was to me. Orientation and mobility training kind of gave me a little confidence and I decided to enroll into college in August of 2014. I started receiving help from the department of blind services which – no pun intended – really opened my eyes.
I never knew about the technology that was available – such as screen readers, apps, and numerous techniques – to help a person with a visual impairment. At this time it was just me and my oldest daughter living alone. I was back to cooking, cleaning, and caring for my household on my own.
I sit here and remember when I first lost my sight and I thought my entire life was over. Little did I know it was just the beginning of learning a new way of living.
I am very grateful for all the people who I have come across through my journey and who have shown me truly that life is what you make it. I know my journey is far from over – especially since, this August, I am set to graduate with an Associates in business and administration. Also, my oldest daughter, who is five years old now and lives with me permanently, learns alongside me. After trying to learn Braille by reading a children’s book, my daughter ended up learning the book before I did! She is so intelligent and I’m so proud of her every day.
I hope that I can inspire people and also show that people with a visual impairment can do anything anybody else can – and maybe even be better at it.
Jona Barrientez is a quiet man who loves his children and whose ultimate goal is to show them that anything is possible.