Arash Dabestani was living in Iran when his eyesight started to deteriorate at age 15. Though his parents lived in America, they traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Iran until he could join them and his brothers in Roseville at age 27. By then he was almost completely blind. Two years later, Arash confidently walks the Sierra College campus with his white cane, using the skills he learned at Society for the Blind as he studies creative writing.
In Iran, Arash was misdiagnosed with an eye disease that his American doctor later determined was tuberculosis that had settled in his eye – not contagious, but strong enough to trigger a genetic flaw in his eye. After nine months of antibiotics and six surgeries, he no longer has tuberculosis, but has lost his vision.
Eyesight was not going to stop Arash’s vision of becoming a full-time writer. So he came to Society for the Blind to learn computer skills and other assistive technology that would allow him to continue writing.
“We didn’t have a creative writing major in my country, so I wanted to come to America to study writing academically,” Arash said. “I could no longer write with my hands, so I also needed to change everything about how I wrote.”
At Society for the Blind, Arash began learning orientation and mobility, independent living skills, computers and assistive technology, including Jaws, a computer screen reader. The program helped him write two volumes of short stories in his native language, Farsi – one published in London and another in Iran. But his feelings about using Jaws are complicated and he even wrote about them in the short story titled “Mr. Jaws” in his second book.
“When you start writing, you need quiet time,” Arash said. “But when you write with Jaws, you have to listen too. It’s like there’s not enough room in your brain. So now I’m working to learn Braille so I can have some quiet time to write. I’m sure it will change the way I write.”
As he continues to learn new techniques for his vision challenges, he remains dedicated to his passion for writing, studying Spanish and English in preparation for applying to UC Berkeley’s writing program. For one of his short stories, he even traveled to Canada just to feel what it’s like to stand in freezing weather. Arash says music, dance, movies and art are strong influences on his writing, and now that he has learned how to travel with his white cane he can visit museums again.
“When you write a story, you never know how much of it is influenced by the last movie you saw or what is happening in your day,” Arash said. “I now feel like I’m growing here because I can actually go places,” he said. “Society for the Blind taught me that my sidewalk doesn’t have an end.”