Meet an Amazing Blind Man Raising Blind Triplets By Sherri Dalphonse - The Washingtonian

Jan 13, 2017, 12:50 PM

This podcast is produced by the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network, part of State Services for the Blind, and it is recorded for people who are blind or have reading disabilities. You can register as a customer of State Services for the Blind to access many other services that they offer by going to Complete programming of the Radio Talking Book is available at and the password is rtb. (music) The Washingtonian, September 2016 Meet an Amazing Blind Man Raising Blind Triplets Ollie Cantos was a workaholic lawyer—the highest-ranking blind person in the federal government. Then along came Steven, Leo, and Nick: blind triplets who needed a dad. What happened next changed their lives.

By Sherri Dalphonse on September 7, 2016

On May 22, 2010, Leo, Nick, and Steven had pancakes for breakfast. The date is as easy for the triplets to remember as their birthday. Because on that particular Saturday, a visitor was coming, a man named Ollie Cantos. Ollie had something in common with the brothers. He was also blind. A government attorney, Ollie had learned of the family through a friend from church. The boys—born in Colombia three months premature and weighing about a pound each—were ten at the time and being raised in South Arlington by their mother and grandmother. Their father, who had come to the States to work for the Colombian Embassy, had moved back home when the boys were four. They hadn’t seen him since. Ollie’s friend believed that the brothers—who were being bullied by other kids and getting into fights—should meet him. Ollie had mentored children for years, and the triplets’ mother welcomed the visit. “I had heard that Leo was Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky but yearned for friends,” Ollie recalls. “Steven was very serious and, again, didn’t have a lot of friends. Nick was the one, I heard, who was the most angry.” Ollie, then 39, was confident he could make a connection, because his own childhood hadn’t always been easy. He had tried to hide his blindness for years, forgoing a cane and the use of Braille until he was an adult. “I was in denial,” he says. “I thought blindness was a bad thing. I thought it meant you were helpless and couldn’t do anything.” When Ollie arrived, the boys were playing a made-up game show on their Casio keyboard. They immediately made him a contestant. “The next question goes to Mr. Ollie,” Leo said. “Mr. Ollie, do you like candy?” The brothers fired off more questions. They wanted to know: What had Ollie’s childhood been like? Ollie told of the troublemakers who’d tripped him in the school halls or waved hands in front of his face and teased: “How many fingers am I holding up?” As intrigued as the boys were, says Leo, “the first feeling I had was that it was probably going to be one of those one-day relationships and then he’d be gone. “And then,” Leo goes on, “he introduced us to this thing called a shoulder ride.” One by one, Ollie hoisted each boy onto his shoulders, then spun in circles and flipped them down and around. It was terrifying and intense and amazing, but most of all confusing: How was a blind man doing this? • • • The triplets’ lives had been extremely sheltered: school during the week, church on Sunday. Teachers and Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind volunteers took turns helping them have experiences common to others their age, such as ice-skating and trick-or-treating, and they went to a weeklong CLB day camp five summers in a row. But by and large, Leo, Nick, and Steven didn’t stray much from their routine. Their mother, Ceila Gracia, says she was working two jobs and had little time. She was also cautious: “My mother and I, we wouldn’t let them do some things like go outside alone. Always in order to protect them.” The tedium wore on the boys. They say they could hear other children laughing outside the apartment windows—including their older, sighted brother—but weren’t allowed to join in when kids were playing in the snow or kicking a soccer ball....