A Heart-to-Heart on Blindness The grand prize winner of the 2011-12 Lions International Essay Contest, Mikaela Smith, 13, of Indiana, first met Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), while in New York to be recognized for her winning essay at Lions Day with the United Nations. The two found they had a lot in common and, at the request of the LION, they later spoke on the phone about the chal-lenges of blindness, Lions and attitudes about the blind. Fol-lowing is an edited transcript of their conversation. Mikaela: How is this opportunity through the Lions Essay Contest significant? Augusto: Well, first of all, I think it is significant because it was Helen Keller who went to a Lions clubs convention in 1925 and asked Lions to become the knights of the blind, and they said yes. And so for the last 87 years they connected to people like us, Mikaela, the blind and visually impaired. I think it is terrific that the Lions said, let’s have an essay contest just for visually impaired kids. The other thing– and I think your essay proved this–the subject matter is really important. Asking blind kids to talk about peace I thought was a very good idea from the Lions. Mikaela: So, what is one your favorite Helen Keller sto-ries or items from your archives? Augusto: One of my favorite Helen Keller quotes, which is hanging right behind my desk, says: “When they were saying among themselves it couldn’t be done, it was done.” That was a quote from the early 1900s, and basically, all the medical doctors, the neurologists, the psychologists–all these Ph.D.s and M.D.s were saying [that] people who were deaf-blind can’t be educated, they can’t contribute to soci-ety, they can’t go to college. While they were saying that among themselves, it couldn’t be done, Helen Keller was doing all of that. She was going to college, she was being educated, she was contributing to the literature, she was also traveling the world and beginning to influence and change attitudes. So whenever people say, “Oh, that’s too hard, we can’t do it,” I often point to that sign. I think [during your visit] I said something like, “You know, Mikaela, you can be a Helen Keller someday.” The things I was really impressed by with you that reminded me of Helen Keller are: you are smart, you have a great presence and personality. The other thing is, I see you advocating not only for yourself but for all people with visual impairments. So I think you are going to be removing a lot of barriers in your life and changing a lot of stereotypes. That’s the war-rior image in you that I saw connected to Helen Keller. 46 LION OCTOBER 2012 Mikaela: And are there many similar opportunities for visually impaired people to be able do this? Augusto: I don’t think so, and that’s the beauty of it. That’s why we tip our hats to the Lions for initiating this. Mikaela: Yes, I have to agree. I liked it. How can Lions further connect to visually impaired youth in their com-munity to sponsor the [essay] contest? Augusto: Well, first of all, we hope that the Lions will continue to have this contest. We think that whole concept of literacy for blind people is so very important. In the United States, Mikaela, most blind people like you and I know Braille. But in many parts of the world, few blind people even know that there is Braille. They are not even educated at all. So if we could launch this literacy cam-paign throughout the world, maybe we could touch the lives of thousands and thousands of blind and visually im-paired kids, who before this campaign didn’t even know that Braille existed, didn’t even know that they could be ed-ucated. So we are very excited about what we are doing with the Lions on this campaign.