Future Reflections Winter 1993, Vol. 12 No. 1

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PARENT LEADS THE WAY IN ORGANIZING LOCAL NFB CHAPTER

[PICTURE] Joann Grimmett and daughter Marian head for the convention hall at the 1992 NFB Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina

From the Editor: In the winter of 1983 the Cheadle family moved from Missouri to Idaho. We took two infants with us; our nine-month-old daughter, Anna Katherine Roberts Cheadle, and a thriving one-year-old publication, Future Reflections. Both continued to grow and flourish for the two years we lived in Idaho. It was also while we lived in Idaho--July of 1983 to be precise--that the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind was organized at our National Convention.

     We (the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho) did our part to help our new national parent division grow. We worked diligently to locate parents of blind children in the state. The National Federation of the Blind offers so much to parents; a positive philosophy about blindness that really works, support, information, advocacy, role models, etc.; but all this doesn't mean much unless parents know about us. Anyway, we never organized a parent group in Idaho, but we began to be known and recognized by parents not only as the expert in blindness, but as an organization that really cares.

     All of this is by way of introduction to the following article which appeared in the April 1, 1992, Mountain Home News, Mountain Home, Idaho. The original title (which is rather typical of the sentimental human interest slant journalists tend to give to any story about blindness) does not do the content of the article justice. (The newspaper title is: "A Light In The Darkness.4-year-old girl's smile lights up a world she can't see.")

     As I read the article, I was reminded of a young blind college student I had met when we lived in Idaho. The student had explained to me why he had joined the Federation and why he was particularly interested in being active in the parents division. His reason was basically selfish, he said. He wanted a better life for himself, and the Federation was opening doors and creating opportunities that would make that possible. And his interest in helping parents came from his own experiences as a blind child. Though he loved his parents, and knew that they had done the best they could, his life then and now, he explained, could have been so much different if only his parents had known about the Federation. He couldn't go back in time and change his own childhood, but he could tell parents of blind children today about the National Federation of the Blind.

     Now, almost ten years later as reported in this local newspaper, an Idaho parent of a blind child is reaching out in her community to tell blind persons of all ages about the National Federation of the Blind. What goes around, as they say, comes around.

     Both of these people--the blind college student and the mother in the following article--exhibit one of the characteristics of a Federationist: enlightened self-interest. Federationists understand that it is only in a climate of equal opportunity and social acceptance for all blind persons that any one individual blind person can ever truly succeed. Because of Joann Grimmett the blind of Idaho, and yes, the blind of the nation, have a brighter future. Through the National Federation of the Blind, individual efforts can make a difference! Here is the article from Mountain Home, Idaho:

     She twisted her curly blonde hair with her small hands and wiggled in her mom's lap, worried about when she was going to get to go to school. Four-year-old Marian Grimmett's shy smile became a broad grin as she reached over and stroked the beard of the reporter questioning her.

     "She really likes men with beards," her mother, Joann Grimmett, said. Without reaching out to feel it, however, Marian would not have known it was there. The small white cane in her hand explained why. Marian is blind.

     When she was two months old she was diagnosed as having cancer of the eyes. At the age of four months, surgery took one eye from her. The other was subjected to extensive radiation treatments. Today, she can see at 20 feet what others can see at 800 feet. She is legally and practically blind.

     "You wind up verbalizing everything to her, that's probably why I rattle on so much when I talk," Mrs. Grimmett said. "For her to get a picture of anything, you have to describe it."

     Yet, to this point in her life, Marian says she's missed nothing. She has scores of friends at Children's House Montessori School in Mountain Home, where she receives a pre-school education. On the playground, the children line up to play with her, almost fighting over the opportunity to help her. With her small white cane and the heightened senses of awareness the blind develop, however, she rarely needs the help as she heads for her favorite playground equipment. Her smile is quick, her laughter bright.

     "They treat me like everybody else," Marian says. Her mother smiles. "They treat her like a queen."

     Supplementing the instruction she receives at Children's House is an itinerant teacher from the Gooding School for the Deaf and Blind, who visits her home on a regular basis. She's already begun to learn her ABCs in Braille and said she enjoys reading with her fingers.

     Next year, she will enter kindergarten in the Mountain Home School District, becoming the third student with severe vision impairments to be attending the district (the other two are much older). Some district officials admit it will be a challenge for them when Marian enters kindergarten at West Elementary, but they are already preparing to receive her. An aide will be hired and trained to help her visualize some of the things the other students will be seeing (the aide also will be available to the other students in the class) and the Gooding School will translate all of her textbooks into Braille for her.

     "They (the school district) are trying to do all they can within the limits they've got," Mrs. Grimmett said.

     But Grimmett also is fighting for the rights of the blind and awareness of their needs. "A totally blind person can do anything except drive," she said, "yet 70 percent of the blind who are capable of working are unemployed."

     At the recent state convention for the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho, held in Moscow March 20-22, Mrs. Grimmett received the Frank Smith Memorial Award for her efforts "to help the blind in her efforts to achieve their goals." It was the first time the award had ever been given to a sighted person.

     She said she returned to Mountain Home from the convention with a "new determination to try to organize the blind, visually impaired, and those interested in these people into a local organization.

     "If we have enough people in Mountain Home that are interested in beginning a local chapter of the NFBI, or who just want some more information, I hope they will show up at a meeting we are having April 20 at 7 p.m. at the Mountain Home Public Library."

     Ramona Walhof, NFBI president, will be present to speak to those in attendance. For more information about the meeting or for assistance with a ride call her at 587-4002 in the evenings.

     "One of the reasons I want to start this group, is so Marian can have older blind people around her, as role models, more than she would have just going with me to conventions."

     Mrs. Grimmett hopes to take Marian to the national NFB convention at the end of June, and will be raising funds to help pay for the trip. Mrs. Grimmett said she has learned a lot about the blind since she began her associations with them, but the one thing that has struck her the most is that "the average sighted person has been taught from early childhood many misconceptions concerning the blind.

     "Blind people, like sighted people, come in all different shapes, sizes and styles, as do sighted people. And like sighted people they develop their abilities in their own ways. One cannot compare all sighted people into one grouping, nor can they do so for the blind."

     "Some of the experiences the blind go through are just appalling," she said, relating a case where, when visiting the BSU Student Union with several blind youths, a guide directed them to a freight elevator to take them to the third-floor conference. "After we got there, we discovered there were regular elevators we could use."

     She said she was "appalled" to discover that there are no state or federal competency standards for Braille instructors. "Very often, the teacher of a blind student is only one or two lessons ahead of their students. I don't know any sighted children with this kind of teaching situation."

     She said her goal is to fight the discrimination that exists regarding the blind and to build public awareness of their needs and capabilities. She is trying to build a better world for her daughter and all others like her. Behind her, as she spoke, Marian's giggling laughter could be heard as she headed into class with her fellow students. So far, Marian hasn't seen the barriers ahead of her.

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