Future Reflections Winter 1993, Vol. 12 No. 1

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WHY I THINK PARENTS SHOULD BE PARTNERS IN THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
by Sandra Jacobson

[PICTURE] Sandra and Jacob enjoy the Sensory Safari at the 1992 NFB Convention

Editor's Note: Why should parents attend the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind? Over the years I have discovered that the answers to that question are always the same, yet always different and new as each parent encounters the convention experience for the first time. Here is what Sandra Jacobson of Minnesota has to say about what the 1992 NFB Convention meant to her and her son.

     I am a parent of three beautiful children, one of whom is blind. Blind since birth, Jacob is now fourteen years old. He is attending junior high and is in the eighth grade.

     When my husband and I were told that our son was blind we knew it would not change our love or our goals for his life. Our plans remained the same.

     Little did we know that society--including some friends and family members--would not have the same attitude. I could share numerous stories about situations in which we have encountered the misconceptions of blindness held by doctors, teachers, coaches, schools, friends, and even family. Let me share two of those experiences with you.

     Last summer I arrived early at camp with 22 children who were looking forward to a week of training, singing, swimming, water skiing, boating, etc. Jacob, a normal fourteen-year-old, was looking forward to the week's activities, not as a spectator but as a participant. We were met by the camp director, and he informed us that the "handicap" would be staying in the dorm instead of with his sighted friends in the cabin. I immediately asked Jacob if he wanted to stay in the cabin or in the handicapped dorm. Jacob, of course, wanted to be with his friends. I explained to the director that I had purposely arrived early to give all the children time to orient themselves to the camp and also to give Jacob a chance to orient himself to the necessary buildings. After much embarrassment to all of us, the director reluctantly said he would permit Jacob to stay in the cabin along with the rest of his friends. For the next hour he followed us all around the camp watching Jacob. The time finally came for me to leave. After all the trouble with the camp director, I was an emotional wreck. I constantly worried about Jacob and often wondered throughout the week if he was being treated with fairness and dignity.

     A few weeks later, I sat with Jacob in the Orthodontic office as he got braces put on his teeth. The assistant called me over to give me instructions on brushing, flossing, and putting on rubber bands, as if I was the one who was getting braces! I had to inform her that Jacob had been taking care of his own teeth since he was five years old. Again, I was angry, frustrated, and full of self-pity for hours after this incident.

     I understand now that stories like these are the same for all blind individuals, just different places with different people. This is why it is important to be a part of a network of people who have faced challenges and conquered situations that you may also be experiencing. That's why attending the 1992 National Federation of the Blind Convention in North Carolina this past July was just the answer to my prayers. It was a wonderful experience for Jacob. He met new friends, participated in the talent contest, attended many great informative seminars, played games, and attended many social gatherings. But most of all he met many blind successful students and professionals. I would like to say a special "Thanks!" to: Scott LaBarre, Curtis Chong, Brian Buhrow, John Miller, Russell Anderson, Chaz Cheadle, and Ollie Cantos. You gave Jacob a very much-needed confidence in himself.

     For myself, I believe I received much more than Jacob. For me, the National Convention was an emotional healing. Logically, I can handle the problems that our society puts on Jacob and other blind persons. As described in the stories above, I have always stood up for Jacob and tried to educate people about blindness. But I would always come home from such incidents an emotional mess; angry, crying, and full of doubt, fear, and self-pity. I know that because of these feelings, I did not always come across well in these encounters. I'm sure I was viewed as hostile, strident, and emotional. But I couldn't help it. I was full of fear of the future for my son and doubt that Jacob really could have a chance to live a full life. And the self-pity came from wondering why I always had to be the one to instruct and convince not only the public of Jacob's abilities, but also the professionals. I thought they--the professionals--were here to help us through situations!

     This is where the National Federation of the Blind came in for me. I discovered I wasn't alone. I witnessed thousands of blind people helping each other and educating the sighted. Everyone there--blind people and parents--had all gone through the same situations our family had encountered. I came home from the Convention well-informed and ready for anything. Most of all, the National Federation of the Blind Convention brought to me a wonderful and much needed faith and encouragement.

     Now when I run into situations like the two I just described earlier, I do not get angry or cry in frustration. Emotionally, I have accepted the challenge to do my part to educate society to the fact that the blind are normal people who, if given the chance, can lead perfectly normal lives in our society today.

     This is why I believe every parent of a blind child should become a partner with the National Federation of the Blind. We need to pull together, parents. The NFB and the NFB Parents of Blind Children Division can bring you and your child the emotional support that is necessary to face the demands and challenges of being blind in today's society.

     I hope to see you in Dallas, Texas, in 1993!!!!

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