Braille Monitor March 1985
by Barbara Cheadle
(Note: Barbara Cheadle and her husband John live in Boise, Idaho. Although both are sighted, they are dedicated to the movement. Federationism has a high priority in their lives. One reason for this devotion is the fact that they have a blind child and that they realize how important the Federation is in creating a positive future for the blind. Future Reflections (which Barbara edits) began as a publication of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind. It is now published by the National Office of the Federation.)
In July, 1981, at the annual meeting of the NFB Parental Concerns Committee a motion was made and carried to start a newsletter for parents of blind children. Under the leadership of Susan Ford and others the committee was alive with excitement. All kinds of creative ideas and projects were being discussed and proposed. The newsletter was one of them.
Later that summer I--as the new volunteer editor of this venture--pulled out paper and pens, sat down at the kitchen table, and started to put together our first issue. We mailed out 368 copies of a 15-page newsletter that November of 1981. John's parents came to see us the weekend that we were right in the middle of folding, stapling, labeling, and trying to puzzle out the postal regulations for bundling all those papers. We put John's parents to work, too. Before they left, they even "paid" for the privilege of helping. They left us a check as a donation to the National Federation of the Blind. It had taken us all weekend to get the job done.
This month--November, 1984, three years later--we had 7,000 issues of a 32-page magazine (now called Future Reflections) printed for circulation. This time we didn't assemble and label them in my living room. We did that on the dining room table at Frank and Glenda Smith's home. (Frank Smith is the First Vice President of the NFB Parents of Blind Children Division. Glenda handles the mailing list on her home computer. They also have six children, and a big table.) Our NFB Western Chapter President was there to help, too. Between telephone calls, sick kids, and babies with runny noses, we had the issue ready to mail in two days.
From November, 1981, to November, 1984, the circulation of Future Reflections has increased almost 2,000 percent. Originally a project of the NFB Parental Concerns Committee, it is now published (like the Braille Monitor) by our Naional Office. Currently, we are the largest publication for parents of blind children in the nation. We are also the only magazine for parents of blind children. There are two other national publications for parents of blind children. One is a four-page quarterly newsletter put out by the International Institute for the Visually Handicapped, 0-7, Inc. This group deals exclusively with pre-school children. We have reprinted articles from this newsletter from time to time in Future Reflections. The other newsletter is published by the National Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired (NAPVI). This is the American Foundation for the Blind parent group. Typically, the content reflects the AFB attitudes about blindness. I have had parents tell me that there is no comparison between Future Reflections and Awareness, the NAPVI newsletter. Future Reflections is read from cover to cover and kept for reference. The NAPVI newsletter gets a glance and is tossed aside.
Remarks about reading Future Reflections from "cover to cover" are common. Some young mothers report locking themselves in the bathroom to read it as soon as the issue arrives. (If you think that seems like a strange thing to do, then you've never been a young mother. The bathroom is the only place I've found where you can get a little privacy when you have small children in the house.)
The comment that best describes most parents' reactions came from a California mother. She said, "This is the first time I have read your newsletter, and I am delighted and excited to know it exists...I found a wealth of information THAT I CAN USE!"
Fathers read Future Reflections, too. "I gain so much from your publication," was the brief--but very much to the point--note from one busy father. Another parent from Hawaii wrote saying, "I am writing to you to ask if you could send me your magazine, Future Reflections. I saw a copy of your magazine and was really impressed by it. I have a son who is blind. Your magazine really gave me some ideas on how to work with him, how to cope with future problems I may have, and how to deal with Chris as a person. Also, it could be used as a reference to more information I may need. I really feel comfortable with your information." Parents aren't the only ones who read and benefit from Future Reflections Teachers frequently write requesting subscriptions or expressing their appreciation. One teacher wrote in the spring of 1984 saying, "As a teacher of visually impaired children, I was very impressed with your new publication. Keep up the good work." Another teacher from Georgia wrote, "As an educator, I do appreciate and learn from your publication, Future Reflections. Thanks for a job well done." Other teachers have commented on our "professional" quality.
It's very important that we continue to reach these teachers. Often, the teacher for the visually impaired is the only contact parents have with someone who has any knowledge about blindness at all. Parents and their blind child can become very attached to and dependent upon this teacher. There are obviously problems with that. Even some of the best teachers have little contact with blind adults in general, and even less with the organized blind movement. Needless to say, that seriously limits their understanding of blindness.
Colleges, universities, libraries, pre-school programs, schools for the blind, hospitals, eye clinics, churches, and agencies for the blind are just some of the institutions that subscribe to Future Reflections Special education professors distribute copies to their students. An ophthalmologist in California keeps copies in his patients' waiting room. Our magazine is distributed and used in college programs for preparation of teachers of the visually impaired. Agencies for the blind, such as the Vision Foundation in Massachusetts, keep multiple copies on hand to distribute in information packets to parents. Future Reflections is quoted and used as a reference by educators, and top educational administrators recommend and praise it to teachers and parents alike. The executive director of the Royer-Greares School for the Blind in Pennsylvania sent us this year a "letter of appreciation...on behalf of the teachers of this school for multi handicapped blind boys and girls." Other representatives of institutions have expressed similar feelings.
Future Reflections is also becoming known outside the United States. We have a growing number of subscriptions from Canada. A teacher from the Hollywood School, Metro Day Program for the Blind in Canada, called it an "excellent magazine." A teacher with the school for the blind in Gambia, West Africa, says that parents especially respond to the NFB's "approaches to blindness."
We often like to say in the Federation that "it is respectable to be blind." One of the most exciting things about the magazine is that it is helping to make that statement a reality for thousands of blind children. Most of the time we will never know what impact an article or issue will have on any individual parent, child, or teacher. But we do know this: Future Reflections is respected and valued by thousands of parents and teachers nationally. Since Future Reflections is published by the National Federation of the Blind--by BLIND people--it is only logical and inevitable that these parents and teachers now have more respect for blind people than they had three years ago. And you don't discriminate against, coddle, or treat as inferiors those you respect.
There is another aspect to the influence of Future Reflections that reminds me of the nursery rhyme, "The House that Jack Built." The rhyme links all kinds of events and relationships together. A rat is killed, a cow tramples a dog, a maiden is kissed and wed, and a farmer sows his corn--violence, murder, romance, and re-birth--all because Jack built a house!
Future Reflections did not arise out of a vacuum. Long before the magazine became a reality we had Doris Willoughby demonstrating how Federation philosophy can work in the education of blind children. Susan Ford was an early leader in the formation of the parental concerns committee. She is the current president of the Parents of Blind Children Division and sets an example for other parents with her own down to earth wisdom and savvy about rearing children. Marc Maurer in the Student Division helped demonstrate how dynamic our national divisions and committees can be. The NFB has accumulated over the years a library of literature and information that provides the best, most accurate insights about blindness anywhere in the nation, or world for that matter. And it all goes back to 1940 when Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and blind representatives from seven states met and laid the philosophical and organizational foundation for our "house"--the NFB.
The philosophical foundations are, of course, the reason we succeed where the American Council of the Blind cannot. We were not the first to attempt to publish a newsletter for parents of blind children. The ACB tried to but their circulation never reached beyond about 300 and finally their newsletter folded. Unlike the NFB, the ACB does not have a unifying goal, philosophy, and purpose. That's why we succeed where they fail.
Just as the success of Future Reflections has been influenced by the work of Federationists in years past, so has the magazine been influencing the growth of the Federation in some rather surprising and unlikely ways. Here's an example.
Shortly after we started publication, I began collecting names and addresses of visually impaired teachers from the various states. (We now have such lists from over two-thirds of the fifty states plus D.C. We would like to get the other one-third also, so write and let us know if you would like to help in that effort.)
One state president was really on the ball and was among the first to get such a list from her department of education. A year later that state president called me and said, "Guess what? Future Reflections just helped us set up a new NFB chapter." She and an organizing team had gone into a new community to organize a chapter but weren't having much success finding blind folks. She did have the name of a teacher of the visually impaired, so she called her. The teacher was ecstatic when she heard that they were with the NFB. "I just got my latest issue of your magazine for parents of blind children this morning," she said. "I read it from cover to cover. It's a wonderful magazine. Of course, I'll help you." The town soon had a new chapter, and that teacher was one of its charter members.
There are so many possibilities. We can use Future Reflections to educate, to increase membership, to raise funds, to improve job opportunities for the blind, and more. But it can be effective only if WE promote it and use it. Marc Maurer recently used Future Reflections to get a donation for the NFB from a service club. It wasn't hard to do. People are happy to donate their money when they know it is going to be helping blind children right in their own communities. But how many of us have thought to do that? Time and priorities surely have something to do with it, and perhaps simply a lack of knowledge about the effectiveness of Future Reflections--a problem I hope this article will help take care of.
There is an interesting phenomenon about the reactions of sighted members of the public and blind Federationists after they have read their first issue. Both are often surprised. About two years ago a high school journalism teacher (who was going to do some volunteer typing for us) took her first look at an issue and exclaimed, "Hey, this ain't no rag." At first I thought it was because of me. Maybe no one expected a homemaker and mother working out of her own home to be the editor of a first-class publication. But as incident after incident occurred, I wondered if it wasn't something else.
Not long ago a Federationist, who had just read an issue, remarked to my husband with shock in his voice, "It was really good!" This came just after I had had a talk with a Federation leader who wanted me to speak at a state NFB seminar for parents of blind children. It didn't look as if I could go, and she was worried. She didn't think she knew enough about raising and educating blind children. "Well," I said, "Why do you think I know more than you? I'm the parent of a blind child. Do you think that makes me more qualified than you?" "Well, no," she said.
"All right," I said. I have completed one half of a college education program for the preparation of teachers of the visually impaired. Does that make me more knowledgeable than you?"
She laughed (she knew what college I was talking about). "No!" she said. "You 're a mother," I said. "You were a blind child, and even more important, you're a knowledgeable member and leader of the NFB. Where do you think I learned about blindness? From you and from the thousands of other Federationists who have directly or indirectly taught me everything I know. You're the real 'experts' about blindness."
I wonder how many of us still secretly believe that the "professionals" know something that we don't.
Future Reflections is a first-class publication. It's first-class because the National Federation of the Blind is first-class; because blind people are first-class. Let's use it, distribute it, and promote it with pride.