Braille Monitor                                                    July 2008

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Making Lemonade from Lemons

by John Bailey

John BaileyFrom the Editor: How often have you found yourself representing the NFB in a situation in which you need to do or say something different from what you were prepared to present? I have walked into what I thought was going to be a high school class only to be confronted by a range of students as young as six. I have also faced political science high school students armed with identification games appropriate for an elementary school class. Here is a tale of a different sort of emergency requiring quick thinking and radical change of plans. John Bailey describes what he did and what he said. We can all learn from his creativity and readiness to scuttle plan A as soon as it was obvious that it would fail. This is the way he described his experience in the May 2008 issue of the NFB of Fairfax Newsletter.

Fairfax Chapter Representative Speaks at Local School

On April 8 I was invited to represent our chapter at a potluck dinner hosted by Holmes Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia. The Holmes organization, Parent Education Advocacy Training Center (PEATC) organized the evening so that parents of disabled children who are attending the school could meet community organizations that help the handicapped.

Sara Astrow, parent liaison at the school, asked me to talk to several of the students with vision problems. Unfortunately, none of those students or their parents were there, and this caused a problem. I was to give a short introductory speech about our organization, but none of those present had any interest in blindness organizations. I needed a way to connect with them even though they did not have a blind child.

An indicator of the difficulty I was going to have reaching them was their nearly complete lack of interest in the NFB literature I had brought. I could not even give out any of the NFB's Freedom Bracelets to the kids. There was complete indifference because the parents were looking for organizations that could help their children and their nonvision-related issues. One grandmother stopped by for a short time to tell me that she had no need for our organization because her child was not blind and to tell me about the difficulties he had with cerebral palsy.

I decided to take a different approach. Rather than give them apparently useless facts about an organization that could not directly help their kids, I introduced them to the Federation philosophy of empowerment and presented it in a way that would resonate with them. Following is the speech I made:

Recently, I received a phone call from a parent who had a blind son. Her son had lost his vision from head trauma in a violent crime. The mother was at her wits’ end. She asked me over and over again, “What will happen to my son when I die?”

My name is John Bailey, and I am president of the Fairfax Area Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. Our organization is different from most other blindness organizations because we were organized by the blind to help ourselves. Rather than having sighted professionals tell us what we are capable of, our blind members decide for themselves what they want. The NFB does not believe that we are limited by our disabilities.

"I overheard a grandmother talking about her grandson when he was born. There were tubes coming out all over him and the doctor was saying that he would never talk, walk, or be able to take care of himself. The grandmother had thought, “Why bother to keep him alive then?” [Turning to the students directly] Is there a young man here who just finished performing in the musical, The Music Man? [A cheer arose from the students along with one raised hand.] The NFB believes in people and their potential. If you think your child is capable of going beyond what the professionals are telling you, I invite you to come talk to us.

I knew the speech had gone well because after that I gave away dozens of bracelets. Even though the parents may not have currently needed any resources from the NFB, they definitely went away with a really positive impression of our organization and our mission.

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