Future Reflections                                                                                           Convention 2004

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The New and the Tried and True:
Report on Parent Activities at the 2003 Convention

Editor’s Note: For a full report of the 2003 convention, please see the report from the August/September 2003, Braille Monitor. Print, tape, and Braille copies may be ordered from the NFB Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998; (410) 659-9314. The issue can also be viewed on the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org>.

Twelve teens sit poised with notetakers, Braillewriters,and/or slates to begin the NOPBC-sponsored "I Want to be a Writer" workshop.  Conducted by three blind women -Bebbie Kent Stein, a successful author of books for youth; Sheila Koenig, a middle school English teacher; and Robin House, a high school counselor - the workshop had a dual purpose: to introduce teens to writing techniques and strategies used by professional writers, and to give them an opportunity to interact with accomplished blind role models.
Twelve teens sit poised with notetakers, Braillewriters, and/or slates to begin the NOPBC-sponsored  “I Want to be a Writer” workshop. Conducted by three blind women—Debbie Kent Stein, a successful author of books for youth; Sheila Koenig, a middle school English teacher; and Robin House, a high school counselor—the workshop had a dual purpose: to introduce teens to writing techniques and strategies used by professional writers, and to give them an opportunity to interact with accomplished blind role models.

The 2003 National Federation of the Blind Convention was a wonderful blend of the new and the tried-and-true. To begin with, we returned to the familiar, gracious atmosphere of the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, site of the 2002 convention. Even families attending the convention for the first time found it easy to locate meeting rooms and kid-friendly restaurants; all they had to do was follow the crowd or ask their Federation neighbors for directions or tips.

Activities sponsored at the convention by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), included the typical program: a full-day seminar for parents of blind children—a tradition of twenty plus years; the fifth annual Kenneth Jernigan Braille Carnival for children; Family Hospitality night; the Cane Walk; the annual IEP workshop; specialized workshops for parents; the annual NOPBC division meeting; and the many—now-routine—activities for teens: the get-acquainted party, the teen hospitality room, and blind teen discussion groups. Adding an exciting new element to this familiar line-up, the NOPBC joined with the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille to sponsor the Twentieth Anniversary Celebration of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest and, in conjunction with the celebration, the first Annual Braille Book Flea Market (see the photo report elsewhere in this issue). Also new this year were the astronomy workshops for kids conducted by astronomers Bernhard Beck-Winchatz and Noreen Grice, but more about that later.

As usual, family activities sponsored by NOPBC filled the first day—Saturday, June 28—of pre-convention programming. After NOPBC registration, NFB President Marc Maurer kicked off the seminar by calling all the kids (blind and sighted) up front for a personal chat with them about blindness and learning to get things done as a blind person. Shortly thereafter, when the kids went off to the Braille carnival, the adults settled down to some straight talk about “Transition to Independence,” as blind youngsters move from stage to stage on their way to adulthood. At noon participants were invited to attend casual lunch gatherings by state or region to do networking. These lunches were a great success and jump-started a lot of helpful contacts.

The Discovery Toys exhibit at the convention is a big hit.  In this photo, Ariana Heath and her grandmother, Anita Heath, try out one of the toys.

The Discovery Toys exhibit at the convention is a big hit. In this photo, Ariana Heath and her grandmother, Anita Heath, try out one of the toys.

This year during the afternoon the adults did not move from workshop to workshop as they have in the past. They stayed together and listened to a riveting group of speakers talk about effective strategies for stimulating blind children at various stages of their development. The older kids and teens, on the other hand, had to choose among a number of interesting and useful workshops: Note Taking with an

Electronic Notetaker; a babysitting clinic; I Want to Be a Writer; Fun with Braille; Impact!—Asteroids, Craters, and the Extinction of the Dinosaurs; and A Journey through Space. Noreen Grice and Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, the science education specialist and astronomer who developed the Braille book, Touch the Universe, published by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, came to Louisville to work with blind youngsters and their families on science and math.

That evening, families relaxed and continued their informal networking at the NOPBC-sponsored family hospitality. A hands-on display of Discovery Toys put together by early childhood specialist and Discovery Toy dealer, Heather Field, made the evening as enjoyable for the little ones as it was for mom and dad. Teens had the option of attending confidential, guided discussion groups about dating, grooming, etc., or another astronomy session. Interestingly enough, the astronomy workshop also attracted a number of blind adults interested in the subject. It is clear that the new relationship forged with NASA and professionals in astronomy resonates strongly with NFB members of all ages eager for exposure to science of all kinds.

The following morning, parents, teachers, and kids had the opportunity to take a “Cane Walk” under sleepshades, with NFB canes, and under the guidance of former and current students of the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind O&M degree program as well as other competent blind cane travelers. Using the structured discovery method, instructors gently guided their blindfolded students out into the hallways, elevators, and escalators of the hotel. After the Cane Walk families had plenty of time to register for the convention and to browse through the extensive exhibits in the exhibit hall. Families with teens were delighted to discover that they could drop their teen off for the afternoon at the teen get-acquainted party co-sponsored by NOPBC and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). The NOPBC also sponsored a Teen Hospitality Room where teens could hang-out together throughout the week during lunch breaks or off-hours under the supervision of adult volunteer parents or teachers.

Kerri Regan and Megan Kelly of New York are delighted with their selections at the Braille book flea market event.
Kerri Regan and Megan Kelly of New York are delighted with their selections at the Braille book flea market event.

On division meeting day, the NOPBC and NAPUB coordinated their meeting schedules and location for a very special reason. NOPBC held its annual meeting in the early afternoon, then volunteers from UPS helped members of NOPBC and NAPUB set the same room up for the festive Twentieth Anniversary Reception and Reunion of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. The reunion, funded by a grant from the UPS Foundation, featured the first-ever used Braille book flea market, free food, and blind mentors who shared and read Braille books together with the children. Participants were also inspired by an exhibit and presentation from two student representatives of an innovative high school program in Islip, New York, that offers Braille courses for credit to sighted high school students. The event ended with a brief program featuring speeches from former and current Braille Readers Are Leaders contestants and supporters. At the conclusion of the program, UPS volunteers hurriedly labeled and boxed up the last of the Braille books to be shipped to the homes of their happy new owners. Finally, Nadine Jacobson, President of NAPUB, gaveled the NAPUB meeting to order. Over one hundred adults and children attended the anniversary celebration and over $1,000 was raised in donations from the Braille book flea market—enough to fund the second annual Braille book flea market at the 2004 NFB Convention in Atlanta.

The week of NOPBC-sponsored events was beginning to wind-down, but the NFB convention program was just beginning!

John Jell, national sales manager for the Nestle Company; Dan Roach,Nestle vending business manager, Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization od Parents of Blind Children; and Kevan Worley, president of the  National Association of Blind Merchants, stand together holding a large check replica of the $5,000 donation made to support the Braille Readers Are Leaders literacy prigram.
John Jell, national sales manager for the Nestlé Company; Dan Roach, Nestlé vending business manager; Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children; and Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, stand together holding a large check replica of the $5,000 donation Nestlé made to support the Braille Readers Are Leaders literacy program.

The opening session of the convention began at 9:30 sharp Tuesday morning, July 1. The convention was treated to a warm southern welcome of music and song from the Blue Hollow Band. After the roll call of states and a break for lunch, the afternoon program began, as usual, with the Presidential Report. Following the inspiring review of the highlights of the NFB’s accomplishments of the past year was a speech, then an announcement of particular interest to parents of blind children. A.V. Diaz, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Flight Center (NASA), described research that may have implications for blind people in the future. At the conclusion of Diaz’s speech, President Maurer announced that the NFB would conduct, in partnership with NASA, a science camp for blind children at our headquarters in Baltimore the summer of 2004 (please see the announcement about the science camp elsewhere in this issue).

As usual, NOPBC sponsored more workshops for parents on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. NOPBC vice president, Marty Greiser, organized and chaired the always-popular IEP workshop Tuesday night. On Wednesday afternoon, parents and teachers had the opportunity to hear about Braille for the Partially Sighted: Methods and Techniques from distinguished guests Stuart Wittenstein, Superintendent of the California School for the Blind, and Sheila Amato, the 2003 NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award winner. Concurrent with the Braille workshop, NOPBC parent leaders Carol Castellano and Brunhilde Merk-Adam met with small groups of parents to discuss and trouble-shoot specific problems and concerns about their children’s education. Although Joe Cutter could not be at the 2003 convention to conduct his Kids and Canes drop-in session on Wednesday afternoon, Carol Castellano did a great job as his substitute. Although this completed the NOPBC activities for the week, the convention was far from over. The Thursday agenda was intense and packed. The day’s topics included international issues, technology, education (the now former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Robert Pasternack, made a less than stellar appearance), rehabilitation, certification, and orientation and mobility. The afternoon ended on an inspirational high with lively presentations from a blind chemist and a blind missionary. But the best was yet to come—the annual NFB banquet. The evening featured the annual banquet address delivered by President Maurer, presentation of special awards—including scholarship awards to thirty outstanding blind college students—good food, songs, laughter, and plenty of door prizes.

On Friday, the last day of the convention, there were a couple of special treats in store for parents. Traditionally, the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award winner receives his or her award early in the week at the NFB Board meeting, then gives a major presentation to the NOPBC division meeting. However, our 2003 award winner, Sheila Amato, was busy greeting her newly returned son from military duty in Iraq and could not join the convention until later in the week. Needless to say, under such circumstances we were more than happy to accommodate her schedule. So, Amato received her award and gave her remarks to the convention on Friday. The other special treat came from the Nestlé Corporation in the form of a $5,000 check to the NOPBC to be used for our Braille Readers Are Leaders literacy program. On that sweet note, we wrapped up the 2003 convention. Exhausted physically, but renewed in spirit and armed with new information, families dispersed to their homes throughout the nation to take up the challenge of “changing what it means to be blind” in their individual communities.

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