ENIL’s intern Mari Siilsalu met Jakob during a four day project in Estonia. Both of them were volunteering at this event. “We had 30 volunteers, but one guy was different. He made all people around him laugh very loud. So I could always hear where he was. Later I got to find out that his name is Jakob.” In this interview Mari talks with Jakob about his life story and how Independent Living became an important part of his life.
Could you tell me little about your background?
I was born theoretically visually impaired but having less than 0.1 of sight I am practically blind. I am eighteen years old and I have made it through elementary, secondary and most of the way through high school. Twelve years ago my parents made the decision to send me to a regular school to study with sighted children. I have to say I am very thankful for this. There is one school for blind students in Estonia and although this is an option I am glad that my parents did not choose this option. I find it a more independent way of living to interact with all kinds of people.
How did you become involved in the Independent Living Movement?
After a few years of self-consciousness, probably at age eight or nine, I decided that I wanted to do the things that I want to do, that I should not have to cancel these because of my blindness. After a few years I was perfectly able to move around the large school building myself, use the computer and do other normal things twelve year-old kids do.
Is there an area of Independent Living that you are especially interested in?
Moving. It is very important that a person can go when and where they want and not be unable to because they do not have money for the cab. A taxi is a very easy way of moving around but it would be incredible to move around the city using public transport and not get lost at all.
Right now, it`s pretty difficult to go to places you have never been, navigate houses you have never been in, or give directions to a lost tourist. I hope that my eyes can see the day when it all this is possible.
Who has influenced you most and how?
My family, the local rehabilitation centre and my friends. Although there have been arguments like “No, you can’t go there yourself,” my family has been very helpful and is always interested in supporting me to becoming more independent. Becoming more independent is the work of the rehabilitation center I am involved with and they have expertise on how to blind people can live more independently. Without this organization I would not do half of the things I do today.
What motivates you to be active?
What motivates everyone to be active? There is no one clear thing which I could point at and say, “if you take it away, I am not active anymore.” Probably the fact that I want to be independent but I cannot be right now because of the standard of accessibility and society and government are not quite aware of blind people yet. Too frequently I have to answer questions like how do you type a text, how can you use twitter or facebook, or “It’s so sad that you can’t do anything.” I am trying to work towards a life where you really can do everything yourself and a blind person walking alone somewhere would not be a surprise to others. Although if this were to be achieved I would not stop as life is just too short to spend it sitting in the home doing nothing.
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
This summer I went to London to see my friend who is blind as well. We both took a trip to Birmingham for a technical event. The whole week was successful. I proved to myself that I can travel alone wherever I want.
What is your biggest dream at the moment?
To bring accessibility to Estonia. It is quite good in for example the UK already, but some obvious things like bus number announcements, audio description on the television or guidance in train stations is missing here.
What is your vision for Independent Living at present and for the future?
At present it is pretty hard to be independent. I cannot go to the grocery store to buy things myself without the help of my friends or relatives or go to bank to make a contract (because they say that I am not competent to give signature) etc. In the future a blind person managing life perfectly without needing to prove oneself to others every step of the way would be very close to perfect independent living.
What advice would you give to other disabled people?
Do what you like. Never say that I cannot. Yes you can. If you do not try, you will never know. And if you think you cannot you maybe did not try enough.
What makes you wake up in the morning?
Usually it is my iPhone which goes off, dragging me out of the bed. No, really, it is the knowledge that you have another bright and happy day ahead, with god knows what in it. I would never know what interesting things I might have discovered by the evening or what nice people I would have met.
Your favorite sentence or wisdom?
Yes, I am gonna do it.