by Bill Clapp
From the Editor: If you have attended state conventions for a number of years, you may have forgotten just what an impact these events can have on new members and those still trying to cope with the challenges of blindness. The following article will bring back fond memories to some readers and may inspire others to attend their state conventions this year. Now meet Bill Clapp, a new member of the Utah affiliate:
Sixth Street is where the National Federation of the Blind of Utah has its annual convention, at the Red Lion Hotel and Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. This year’s convention (May 20 and 21, 2010) had record-breaking attendance, nearly 350 registered participants. NFB President Marc Maurer, Governor of Utah Gary Herbert, and U.S. Congressman Scott Matheson were all guest speakers.
As a new member of the NFB, I would love the opportunity to explain why I am a member and the wonderful impact the state meeting has had on my life. I am eighteen years into retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and just a few years from total blindness. For the first fifteen years my wife and I struggled with my constantly decreasing vision. I have gone through all the symptoms I now hear so much about, from denial and grieving to acceptance and independence.
Three years ago an NFB member, Jerry Neeley, called me and insisted my wife and I attend local chapter meetings of the NFB. We reluctantly went, always asking ourselves, “Why are we doing this?" We attended our first state convention two years ago and went to a few of the sessions. One of the attendees later told me that I looked like a deer caught in the headlights. True, I was uneasy, totally out of my comfort zone; I just never realized it was so obvious to others. I know now that I was struggling with depression and that my wife and the NFB pulled me through it. This last state convention I felt right at home with friends all around me.
I am now on about step thirty-seven of a hundred and learning what lies ahead, and my friends are helping me. On the other hand, I now clearly understand that it is my responsibility to be available for those who are coming behind me. I have no idea what step thirty-eight is, but I am trying to piece this puzzle together and always seeking advice from others.
The miracle of it all is to see my relationship with my family improve and my energy level and competence at work return to where it was before my vision loss. I was contemplating retiring three years ago; now my level of energy and success at work are greater than ever. I am starting my twelfth year as the chair of the computer and electronics engineering technology department at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. A few weeks ago I was selected to be the chair of our new electronics engineering degree, which would never have happened without a loving wife and the NFB.
I feel a need to give back to those who have helped me survive my plane crash. I can now say I am a survivor. Most of you will agree with me that the crash (vision loss) was horrific and that few survive. I am one of the fortunate ones, and I must now help others. So you will never guess what I get to do to help others with vision loss. I am the new president of the Senior Division for the Utah NFB. Yes, I am a senior, but not yet old enough to slow down. It is time for me to get back to work, but not until I tell you what I like most about the NFB of Utah convention.