Without Sight and Full of Vision
"He's got a presence about him -- a confidence," said Rich Krafsig, a regional manager for Pulse Data HumanWare, which makes high-tech devices for the blind. He has known Bonds for a year. "He doesn't use his blindness as an excuse, and he doesn't see it as an obstacle. It doesn't even cross his mind -- and it shouldn't."
Antoine Johnson, children's program coordinator at the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, believes Bonds has managed to harness his rebelliousness to his advantage.
He likes to "show up the sighted," Johnson said. "A lot of sighted people write him off because he's blind. What he ends up doing is trying a lot harder and doing a lot better than a lot of sighted people."
Mishaps still happen. In April, while walking through a school hallway and absorbed in a conversation on his cell phone, he momentarily stopped using his cane and smacked into the edge of a door, breaking a tooth. His grandmother joked that there should be a law against blind people walking and talking on a cell phone.
Bonds copes, but he hasn't stopped mourning the loss of his sight. He remembers the green glory of trees in springtime and the sparkle of flowing water. He misses seeing the goofy-eyed characters of his favorite TV show, "The Simpsons." He yearns to ride a bicycle and see the faces of his family and friends.
But while he nurtures a faint hope that advances in science might someday restore his sight, he has reconciled himself to the fact that the main rite of passage for a teenager -- a driver's license -- is beyond his reach. His two 16-year-old sisters have theirs.
"It doesn't get me down -- it's just reality," he said as he walked along Constitution Avenue NW, where the Lighthouse campers were learning to use a Braille device equipped with Global Positioning System satellite technology to help them navigate. Such high-tech devices, including screen-magnification and screen-reading software for computers, have helped open up jobs and other opportunities for many blind people, though their cost often puts them out of reach of many. The Braille personal digital assistant that Bonds covets is $6,000.
Day in and day out, he relies heavily on two masterpieces of "low" technology: his ears. Folding his cane, he sat on the low steps facing the center of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall and listened to cascading water.
He guessed that he was facing a large body of water with waterfalls or fountains. Lots of them. He was sure of that.
He tilted his head and listened harder. The water, he decided, was "going around" -- a nearly perfect description of the oval of fountains dancing in the pool before him.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
"I never met a guy that's so busy. He's not even 18, and he's got two cell phones," Antoine Banks, 19, right, says of his best friend Mario Bonds, center. They and Reina Brown, 19, visit the National World War II Memorial.
(Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)