U.S. Army Sgt. Joel Tavera was injured and blinded by a rocket attack in Iraq on March 12, 2008 -- two days before he was scheduled to come home. He suffered burns on 60 percent of his body, lost his right leg, and has endured many surgeries and incredible challenges on his road to recovery. At the 65th annual Blinded Veterans Association Convention in Washington, DC, we were honored to meet Joel and his wonderful parents, Jose and Maritza.
On Tuesday evening, I had dinner with Joel and we instantly became fast friends, talking long into the night about all kinds of things. He said he is grateful for the life he lived as a young person and for a treasure trove of visual memories he can draw on. He has a great sense of humor, a wonderfully nimble mind, and acute interest in all kinds of technology -- particularly when it comes to accessibility for the blind. When I told him that I've been using a Plextor Pocket device for listening to audiobooks, his curiosity was intensely aroused -- so we agreed to get together the next day at RFB&D's booth where he could try the unit out.
True to his word, Joel came back to see us on Wednesday and spent an hour at our booth, where he quickly got up to speed on the nuances of the Pocket player as well as the details of RFB&D membership. We completed an application on the spot and made him a member ready to access downloadable DAISY-formatted books for enjoyment and learning.
Photo above: With some assistance from his father Jose, Joel Tavera set down his signature to complete his application for membership with RFB&D.
Joel's game plan is to return to college some time next year, after he gets through some planned reconstructive surgeries. His skin grafts are healing slowly. It will be a long process, but he is 23 now and has a clear vision for the future that involves service to others. It's a humbling experience to be around him, but also a pleasure -- because for any tears that came to me in this encounter, there were at least double the laughs.
You can view a brief photo album of RFB&D's time at the BVA National Convention here
. To learn more about the great work of the Blinded Veterans Association
, visit http://www.bva.org/