By: Ada Marie Toraño Rodríguez
The sky is the limit… whether you can see it or not.
Ernesto Julio is a young man that was born in San Juan. He is special because even though he lost his ability to see, this did not become an obstacle for him. His mental development has improved.
In his childhood he was diagnosed with one eye that was not developed and the other eye was partially developed. He was able to see shadows and silhouettes. He had to undergo a couple of medical exams and surgery trying to find a way to overcome this. He is completely blind.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), complete blindness means that you cannot see anything and do not see light. Vision loss refers to the partial or complete loss of vision. This vision loss may happen suddenly or over a period of time. Some types of vision loss never lead to complete blindness.
He always had the back-up from his brothers, parents and family that were there to help him but not limit him. His mother has always been there in order to help him live a normal life. She kept pushing him so he could be a strong and happy man.
He began his studies in the “Liceo de Hostos” school which was small. One of the things that made it a little bit easier for him to adapt to this school was not yet blind and he knew most of the people who studied there. When he started to lose his sight his friends would help him and he would feel comfortable.
When he moved on to his high school education he transferred to Notre Dame School where it was more complicated for him because this school was bigger, new and he had been losing his ability to see. Now he could not walk alone because he did not know the areas nor wanted to use a walking stick. This made it hard for him to socialize because he was practically always with the same person. When Ernesto Julio was a senior he became completely blind, started to use the walking stick and was more independent. At school a teacher would help him take notes of the class or he would make copies from his friends’ notebooks.
Proceeding to his college studies, he was admitted at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras (UPRRP) where he completed his bachelor’s degree in audiovisual communications in radio. What he liked most about college was the environment because he got to meet new people every day, people from other nationalities.
One of the most memorable experiences of his childhood was when his sixth grade graduation was dedicated to him, said Ernesto Julio.
Being blind has not become a limitation for Ernesto Julio, said his aunt. He has been able to play instruments such as the drums and piano which he wants to improve on and study music.
He travels alone, which has been one of the challenges he has faced. The first time he traveled alone he was 17 years old. It was hard because it was a time for acceptance and adaptation for him since it was when he became completely blind. When he arrived to the airport his escort was not there and an old lady overheard him talking on the phone and offered him her help. She was kind enough to talk on the phone with his parents and take him where he needed to go. When he arrived in the United States he got to meet many blind people that were his own age and had a normal lifestyle. This became for him an inspiration in which he saw that he could do the same and made him feel better about himself. Here he learned to read Braille. It took him three weeks to learn it.
Another challenge he had to face and probably the harshest is walking in new places and crossing avenues alone. In college he would always walk alone but when he goes out he is always with his friends or his brothers.
When he found out he was going to lose his sight it was frustrating for him and was hard to accept the need of having someone by his side, said Ernesto Julio. However, he did not let this stop him and he became an example of self-improvement. One of the moments that he cherishes the most about his life was the opportunity he had of graduating from the UPRRP.
Something that has marked him about how the people around him handled this situation was their ignorance of the people, the way they treat a blind person. A blind person has the same capacity and ability to do what any other person can do. They are independent persons, said Wanda Santana, mother of Ernesto Julio.
The happiest moment of his life was when he decided to look for self motivation documentaries about two years ago. This was when he started to feel better about himself and forget what others thought about him. He became a happier person and finally understood that what he thinks about himself matters more than what anyone could think about him.
Wanda and Ernesto Julio both said that this has not become a limitation for him because he has been able to do what any other person could do. He exercises, cooks, clean, uses the computer and cell phones, but most importantly he has a social life like everyone else.