Reflections from the 2016 Community Service Division Habitat Build

On June 30, 2016, the first day of the National Federation of the Blind’s 76th convention, a group of ten blind people took part in a service project with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando that was organized by the Community Service Division. Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization dedicated to building safe and affordable housing for people experiencing poverty. That day, we participated in a Habitat build, where volunteers work alongside staff members to build a home for a family in need.

Our main task during this project was to hang drywall in the house that was under construction. Since many of us had never done this before, the staff members explained how we would use a drill and screws to attach the panels of plaster to the walls. Although they seemed a little nervous about how we would accomplish this as blind people, they were perfectly willing to let us figure it out, and we did. Those who had hung drywall before took the lead in explaining the alternative techniques we could use to line the panels up correctly, attach the screws, and operate the power drill. Pretty soon, the staff members knew how to walk each person through the process, and everyone got multiple turns hanging drywall. When we were waiting our turns, we handed over supplies and cheered on the people who were using the drill. Everyone was supportive and encouraging of one another, and we were all having a great time serving.

Lunch was generously provided by the Golden Triangle Chapter from Texas, and the break gave us a chance to talk and get to know each other. After lunch, we went right back to work. By then, we were hanging the drywall quickly and efficiently. Once we had finished and everyone helped to clean up, we had a short debrief with the Habitat staff members. They told us that we had done a great job and been useful to them in the building process and that they had learned a lot from us that day. They seemed more comfortable and at ease around us than they had been just a few hours earlier. It was striking to observe how their notions of what blind people are capable of had changed; while they were a bit hesitant and uncertain about our ability to participate in this kind of project at the beginning, they were just as confident as we were by the end. We also discussed how the future owners of this house might feel if they knew that blind people had hung the drywall and how this could also raise their expectations of the blind. Each person who participated in the Habitat build gained something unique from this experience.