Future Reflections Convention 1992, Vol. 11 No. 5
OUR FIRST CONVENTION
by Myra Lesser
[PICTURE] Myra Adler Lesser (Pennsylvania) and son Alex
July, 1992--Alex and I finally made it to our first NFB Convention! For three years I had been thinking about it, and each year there was some reason why we couldn't go: too busy, too expensive, too far (I hate to fly). Well, this time it was in North Carolina, only a one-day drive from our home in Pennsylvania, and I was able to get some financial help from my affiliate, the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. So even though we were still busy, off we went.
The twelve-hour drive there gave me lots of time to think: Why am I doing this? It's such a long drive. I guess it's because I want to meet other parents of blind children, blind children themselves, and blind adults. I also want Alex to know there are many other blind people in the world and to have successful role models. After all, the NFB had already influenced our lives so much: because of articles I read in Future Reflections and the Braille Monitor, Alex has been using a cane since he was three years old; we all have healthy attitudes about blindness; I have been much more assertive and prepared for IEP meetings; and through our state NFB affiliate we already felt a sense of belonging and support. Was it really necessary to drive for twelve hours and be away for five days?
When we arrived in Charlotte on Saturday evening we walked into the hotel and immediately met Paul Bartlett, father of Ellen, who is just about the same age as Alex and also uses a cane and a Perkins Brailler. What a nice beginning! After the next five days of riding shuttle buses between hotels and the convention center, attending various group sessions, and swimming in three different hotel pools,--many, many of the conventioneers also came to know Alex and Alex's mom.
But on Sunday morning--before we really knew anyone—with great trepidation I took Alex to the room where the children were gathering to go to the Charlotte Science Center. My concern (and his) was not that he was going off with a group of blind people, but that he was going off with a group of strangers. Neither of us knew anyone in the group. I just kept thinking about the articles I had read in the Braille Monitor about previous conventions and how happy the children looked in the photos. Well, it turned out that Alex found a very special adult named Ollie Cantos who helped him and the other kids have a great day.
While Alex attended the children's activities I attended the day-long parents' meeting where I got to meet and listen to many of the people whose articles I have been reading for three years in Future Reflections. I also heard presentations by other parents of blind children, educators, blind adults, and blind youth. I was particularly impressed by the five blind youth who were so poised and articulate as they delivered their talks from the Braille notes. (Texts of their talks appeared in Future Reflections, Fall 1992). I realized that some of these youngsters were only a few years older than Alex. Wow! What great models for me--and for some of the other youth in the audience--to see. At the large session I asked a question about rural mobility that was answered by the speaker (Fred Schroeder,) and then at the break I was thrilled to have five other people come over to me to share their personal experiences and offer other resources related to my question.
On other days I attended workshops on technology, parental concerns, and Braille. At the Technology Workshop I was pleased to hear that many of the other parents had children about Alex's age and that they seemed to be as new to the world of computers as I am. Tom Balek, the workshop leader, has a wealth of knowledge and experience, but even he couldn't give us the simple answers we were looking for about our future with technology. The range of what is available is so complex and always changing. I felt overwhelmed, but I also felt that when we are really ready to enter this world that Tom and some of the other parents (and kids) will be valuable resources to consult.
I attended the Parental Concerns meeting not realizing the focus was on concerns of blind parents. At first I felt like it wasn't going to pertain to me, but of course, very quickly I remembered that most concerns of parents are universal and apply whether the parent is blind or sighted. I think it was also helpful for the blind parents to be reminded of this, too. It was also quite educational for me to hear about the unique concerns of blind parents and to remember that some day Alex may be a blind parent and face some of these same concerns.
Even though the material covered in the Braille Workshop was already familiar to me, it was exciting to be with 25 other parents who wanted to know more about Braille in order to help their children.
While I attended these workshops, Alex went to day care (or as he called it, his "kids meeting"), where he was watched by volunteers and got to play with lots of other kids, both blind and sighted. Alex and I both visited the exhibit hall many times and bought a talking watch, talking calculator, abacus, Federation cane, Braille Readers are Leaders tee shirt, and picked up lots of information on technology and free literature from the NFB table.
Alex really enjoyed visiting the Sensory Safari Exhibit with stuffed lions and tigers and leopards and many other animals. He also enjoyed swimming in the pools at three of the hotels with his many new friends. He loved riding on the shuttle buses, which at first I viewed as a bother and a waste of time, but I quickly realized that some of my best interactions with people took place on the bus or while waiting for the bus--like with the two teenage girls I met who shared their experiences growing up with a blind father. They talked about the ignorance of the general public as when people asked them how they could leave their fathers home alone? What if he had to go to the bathroom? When they were asked in a survey about growing up with a blind parent if that parent ever embarrassed them, they responded as many other teenage girls might respond, that it was actually their sighted mothers who sometimes embarrassed them, not their blind fathers. It was evident to me how their lives had been enhanced by their family's involvement with the NFB.
Attending this convention was an important event in my life and in Alex's. The support and sharing and caring expressed by so many people was overwhelming and continued in every session, on shuttle bus rides, and even around the pool. Where else could a sighted child feel "left out" because he was one of the few children there who didn't have a cane? At the Parents of Blind Children Division Annual Meeting I was elected to serve on the National Board. I am really happy to do this, and Alex and I both look forward to next year's convention in Dallas.
*In order to make the NFB Convention experience even more enjoyable and meaningful to parents with small children, the POBC board decided to locate inexpensive toys appropriate to display and sell at our POBC table in the exhibit hall next year. If your blind child has really liked a certain toy, especially if it's something you don't see in every store, I'd really appreciate hearing about it. I'd also like to hear from you if you are a blind child or adult with a suggestion about toys. I will also take donations of toys like See'n Says, music boxes, jack-in-the-boxes, push toys, etc. for the day care area next year. Write to: Myra Adler Lesser, RD #3, Box 913, Chicora, Pennsylvania 16025.