Future Reflections Winter 1992, Vol. 11 No. 1
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CHANGING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLIND THE 1991 SEMINAR FOR PARENTS OF BLIND CHILDREN
From Barbara Pierce, Associate Editor of the Braille Monitor: The telephone rang at about seven one evening last June. I was alone at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, preparing my dinner and anxious to return to my computer. I answered the call--one is never sure what such evening conversations will cover--and found that I was talking with a young father from Louisiana. His infant had just been diagnosed as blind, and he was looking for help. Someone had mentioned that a big convention of blind people would take place soon in New Orleans and that there might be some information there that would help him and his family. He had made a number of phone calls trying to learn the name of the organization and the time and place of the convention. None of the professionals in the blindness field with whom he spoke seemed to know anything about the event, a fact which puzzled and frustrated him. Finally someone at the Chamber of Commerce told him that the organization was the National Federation of the Blind and gave him the phone number for the National Center.
I told this father about the upcoming convention and the seminar for parents of blind children that was scheduled for Sunday, June 30, and assured him that if he and his wife attended it, they would meet a number of people who could help him get started the right way with his baby. I also talked with him about the importance of changing his own notions and expectations about blindness and what blind people can do. He did attend the seminar, and though I did not meet him, I have learned that he talked with other parents of blind children. I don't know what impact the event had on him, but I do know that this was one of the most exciting and constructive parent seminars we have ever conducted.
From their various perspectives, a number of speakers addressed the subject of "Changing What it Means to Be Blind." The morning began when keynote speaker, Barbara Pierce, took a look at the parent's responsibility to mold the blind child's attitudes and experience in order to nurture the development of competent, resilient blind adults. Then other national leaders in the movement--Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, President Marc Maurer, and James Gashel--looked at their own experience and the ways in which the National Federation of the Blind has assisted them to succeed in their own lives and work. Following these speakers, a panel of blind students talked about the problems blind children face and the impact of the National Federation of the Blind in solving them. (See the following article, "What it Means to be Blind: In our Hearts and in Our Minds.") A panel of parents wrapped up the morning session with the topic "Change Through Role-Modeling and Networking" (see page 27 in this issue.)
The afternoon session of the seminar was devoted to a series of 45-minute small group workshops. Workshop topics included: Math and Sciences, Braille, Physical Education and Sports, Cane Travel, The Blind/Multiply Handicapped Child, Networking, and Open Discussion. There is no way to convey the information and excitement communicated in the afternoon small group sessions. One had to be there to appreciate the scope and usefulness of the entire seminar and the warmth and support of the members of the Parents Division.