Braille Monitor                                                 October 2010

(back) (contents) (next)

The Miracle on Sixth Street

by Bill Clapp

Bill ClappFrom 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.

  1. The NFB leaders are people I respect and love because they are friendly, competent, successful, and of course blind. Their words to us were ones of hope, but only if we are prepared to work harder than ever.
  2. All of the speakers and breakout sessions had something to contribute and encouraged discussion.
  3. The roundtable meals were a great place to meet others, tell stories, and even share blind jokes.
  4. The prize drawings every few minutes at first were annoying but are now enjoyable. I have been attending engineering conferences for thirty years, and never had I been exposed to this much fun. I am no longer a nerdy engineer, I am a blind engineer and proud of it.
  5. The greatest miracle of all is that my wife enjoys the NFB family, and we can do this together. The other sighted spouses made her feel right at home, and this is absolutely wonderful.
I appreciate the opportunity to share thoughts and perspectives from someone who is new to the NFB family. You have made us feel welcome and comfortable. Are you kidding? I have yet to complete cane training and learning Braille. I have a long way to go, and my journey is going to be a continuing challenge, but I will be traveling with friends.

(back) (contents) (next)