Future Reflections Spring 1992, Vol. 11 No. 2
THE FIRST ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGIONAL PARENTS OF BLIND CHILDREN CONFERENCE
by Julie Hunter, President,Parents of Blind Children Division
National Federation of the Blind of Colorado
"Large streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow." David Everett
Big things can come from small beginnings. This proved to be true when the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado developed a parent conference. Like a flower grown from seed, we planted an idea which grew with roots of community support, a strong stem of group commitment and, finally, the blooms of new insight and shared enthusiasm.
"Expect Success" was the theme of the NFB Parents of Blind Children Division conference made possible by the generous financial support of the Denver Church of Christ. The conference was held on December 13 and 14, 1991, in Denver, Colorado. Parents and children from Kansas, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado gathered at a Denver hotel to look at ways to help their blind children achieve success in life. Speakers and panel presentations provided both inspiration and challenge to the parents, while the children were occupied with their own learning experiences in a program which included cane travel instruction (with street crossings and bus travel), and cooking their own pizza for lunch. The NFB Student Division held a concurrent conference for high school and college level students.
An exciting line-up of speakers was pulled together for the "Expect Success" conference. We were delighted to welcome Barbara Cheadle, President of the NFB Parents Division and editor of Future Reflections, as our keynote speaker. Mrs. Cheadle spoke to the parents and the students on Friday evening. Her address "Blindness --an Alien Experience?" started the members of the audience thinking about their perceptions of blindness and how these perceptions might be limiting their expectations for their children.
The process of self-examination was continued on Saturday morning with a panel discussion involving three successful young adult women who shared some of their experiences in growing up. Judy Dixon and Julie Dedan spoke about their backgrounds as totally blind children, while Marcie Page represented the trials faced by a child with partial vision. Although the three had different experiences in terms of how their parents approached their blindness--from total acceptance to denial--they were united in encouraging the parents to expect their children to compete on a level with their peers.
The morning session got quite exciting with a presentation by Fred Schroeder, Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, mobility instructor and educator. Mr. Schroeder reinforced the importance of children being expected to perform on a par with their peers and he addressed the necessity of providing them with the skills they need to compete. He challenged parents to monitor what other children the same age are doing, and then to work with their own child so that they are prepared to carry out the high expectations which we hold for them. Without the appropriate adaptive skills, we have set the blind child up to fail.
Mr. Schroeder also addressed mobility and cane travel issues with the parents. This was followed by a "Cane Travel Workshop" where the parents were divided into small groups for instruction in the techniques of using a long white cane. Many questions were answered and fears alleviated by the workshop session and the follow-up with Mr. Schroeder.
"Expect Success" found its climax in the Saturday afternoon session with Ruby Ryles, Washington state itinerant teacher and doctoral candidate in special education. Mrs. Ryles gave the parents a no-nonsense look at development from infancy to adulthood and addressed the issues involved in keeping a blind youngster developmentally on target with his sighted peers.
As the conference drew to a close, the parents felt stimulated and challenged to take an aggressive role in preparing their children for success. For many of us demanding that our children be given the adaptive skills they need to compete is not easy. It was agreed that belonging to the National Federation of the Blind Parents of Blind Children Division is one way to secure support and assistance. We now have a group of new members committed to the process of working together to expect and achieve success for blind youth and adults through the support and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.