How challenges are met is, well, up to the individual. Born legally blind, Steven “Ike” Sagrera II, 32, faced a challenge beyond his control. He responded to the challenge by never backing down.
Sagrera enrolled nearly three years ago at Teche Area Campus of the Louisiana Technical College, focusing on air-conditioning repair and electrical work. Sagrera graduated on Friday, June 29 as the Outstanding Graduate of his class, which included more than 130 students.
“It feels good,” Sagrera said. “It was a long road.”
Sagrera actually completed his courses last fall with a 3.6 GPA. The school only holds one ceremony per year. Sagrera hasn’t relaxed since taking his last test, though.
“I’ve been doing odds-and-ends jobs and other handy-man work,” Sagrera said. “Whatever I can get my hands on to do.
“I enjoy doing it all.”
Sagrera expressed that in a speech he prepared as part of being the Outstanding Graduate. When he got to the podium, Sagrera, who wears glasses to help with his vision, was unable to read the speech.
“The lighting was bad and I couldn’t see the speech,” Sagrera said. “There were lights in my face and no lights in the background.”
“I just had to say what came to my head,” he explained. “It was short and to the point.
“I said what was most important.”
On that list is support from family, including Sandy, his wife of eight years, as well as friends.
“Everything is a challenge,” Sagrera said. “I have to rely on people for support. If I am going to meet someone for a job, I have to have somebody to drive me. I have to have somebody help me cut out materials. I have to have somebody back me up and make sure there are no cracks on finished work and things like that.
“None of that is slowing me down at all.”
And it does not affect his work.
“He does more than you would think a legally blind person could do,” Sandy Sagrera said. “He does a lot more than most people I know because he wants it so badly. He wanted so badly to be able to work and bring income into our family. He went and did the schooling and is out working.
“A lot of people, once they hire him, they call him back because he does such a good job.”
He put on display that work nearly seven years ago.
“We had four feet of water in our house after Hurricane Rita,” Sagrera said. “We built a new house and totally demolished the old one.”
Working on the house is what drove Sagrera to his interest in the work he does now.
“That made me want to go to school,” Sagrera said. “I was a cattleman before. My dad passed away in ‘03 and left me the headache of cattle. I ran that until Rita. We sold the ones that survived because we didn’t have anywhere to put them. When I built the house, I hired a friend to put the air conditioning in, because that is one of the things I couldn’t do. He asked me to help him do the installation. I gave him a hand and took interest in it.
“When we I was done with (the house), I thought about the fact that I would have nothing to do. So I went to school and accomplished what I wanted to do.”
Sagrera went through an agency in Lafayette to get set up with school.
“I had an option of getting a job and they would supply whatever visual aides I would need to do the job,” Sagrera said. “They promote people with physical handicaps to be able get a job in the public. Someone may look at someone who is legally blind and say, ‘What are they going to be able to do?’ With some of the visual aides that are out there, they can do a lot of things.”
For Sagrera, who attended the Louisiana School for the Blind in Baton Rouge as a youth, advances made in helping the blind are nothing short of amazing.
“At home I have a closed-circuit TV to help read paper work,” Sagrera said. “It’s a flat-screen computer monitor with a camera on the top of it. You can put down a book or paper and you can invert the colors to where you have a black background with white writing. I have a lap-top computer with some software called Zoomtech. I can blow up the screen. I also have a portable version of the closed-circuit TV I can clip in on my belt. It can help me when I’m looking at a computer board on an AC. I can snap a pick of it and look at it on a screen.
“There’s so much stuff out there. Every day I find out about something out there that I didn’t know about.”
That includes a project that could make a world of difference.
“I saw something on TV a few months ago that the Japanese are trying to make a car that blind people can drive,” Sagrera said. “It has sensors in the steering wheel that, if you are going off one way, it will pull you back. I just saw a preview. It said in the next 10 years that would be coming out.
“It could be the difference between me driving and not.”
Sagrera is certainly driven. He helped set up for Vermilion Parish’s Relay for Life event in May. He will actually be honored later this year with the American Cancer Society’s Spirit of Hope Award for that effort.
“I wonder when I find time to do all of this stuff,” Sagrera joked.
Sagrera said he hopes that he can be an inspiration for others facing similar challenges.
“There are a lot of people who may pass up going to school and having a career,” Sagrera said. “There are many occupations that a legally blind person can do without having to settle for something less.
“If there is someone like me who has something they want to do, I would tell them to go for it.”
Below is the speech Steven “Ike” Sagrera prepared after being named Outstanding Graduate of his class at the Teche Area Campus of Louisiana Technical College. Lighting on the stage prevented Sagrera, who is legally blind, from being able to read his speech.
“I would like to begin by telling you a little about myself. I am 32 years old, from Abbeville and I have been legal blind all of my life. I did attend the LA School for Visually Impaired in Baton Rouge as a child and although being away from family all week and only getting to see them on the weekends was very hard for me as a young child, I feel that this has helped make me into the man I am today. As a younger man in my early twenty’s I did not have many jobs as a matter of fact I have held only 2 and was always very grateful for having had those opportunities. I feel that both of these jobs showed me that I could do anything I put my mind to regardless of my disability if given the chance. In 2005 with the devastation of Hurricane Rita I was able to help my family rebuild their homes and this is where my first interest in air conditioning and electrical began. A man not having a job to provide for his family is something that is a very hard thing to accept and not having a choice in the matter can make it even harder to accept. I learned very young how to be independent and to depend on myself to get things done that I wanted. This can be a very hard thing to do when you have to wait on someone to bring you where you need to go on a daily basis. Being so independent and having to wait on everyone else to be able to do things that most adults do on a daily basis, like going to a job or coming to school for a education to help you better yourself, has taught me to have patience’s in my life. So When I was given the opportunity and blessing of being able to attend Acadiana Technical College, Teche area campus I did not once hesitate to take this challenge. However this was not only going to be a challenge for me but this was also going to be a challenge for the teacher that would teach me, I mean how do you teach a blind man to work on air conditioning equipment? Well, things have a way of working out for the best, by this I mean I believe that I received the best teacher that I could have gotten in this situation. Mr. Kibby treated me as there was no diffidence in me and the next student, I wanted to be able to go out on my own and do the job that I was here to learn. I feel that with Mr. Kiby I was able to learn the right way to do things and to have pride in my work and to do a good job for the person I would be working for. I was taught everything I needed to know and learn and I was showed good workmanship. Attending Tech Area Campus has given me a new direction in life, a feeling of responsibility and great achievement. There are no words that I can say to express the gratitude that I feel to the school and to Mr Kibby personally for teaching me, and treating me the same as any other student, which helped me to learn like any other person.
Thank you to the administration and to the instructors of Teche Area Campus for assisting me in my endeavors so that I will be able to go out into the work force and feel that achievement.”
Steven “Ike” Sagrera II