Future Reflections Convention 1994, Vol. 13 No. 4
by Debbie Day
[PICTURE] Tim takes a hotel escalator on one of his solo mobility lessons at the 1994 Convention
[PICTURE] Tim writes in his convention journal during his flight home
Though we had, as a family, previously attended two NFB National Conventions, with a family size of nine, the expenses for us to attend are significant. Attending the 1994 convention far away in Detroit (we live in Washington state) seemed out of the question. Out of the question, that is, until our ten-year-old blind son, Tim, announced one day that he really wanted to go to the convention. He had two reasons; he wanted to meet Deane Blazie, the president of Blazie Engineering, and he wanted to "meet blind people and ask about their jobs." The fact that the request came directly from Tim himself, and that it was sincere, made me determined to find a way to take him.
The learning experiences connected to attending the NFB National Convention began for Tim months before we left. Because I teach Tim at home (we homeschool), I've learned to use every available opportunity for learning-and this was a great opportunity! First, Tim needed to project our expenses for this trip. Referring to the Braille Monitor, he figured our hotel expenses for the week, and after much discussion he was able to compute the cost for our meals. The airline fare was a bit different, I explained. He could check on the current rates but fares fluctuate and "specials" are frequently offered. So, I gave Tim the job of calling the travel agent each Monday morning. The first call was a little bumbled, but he quickly began to look forward to calling, and his phone skills improved dramatically.
When the time came to purchase the tickets, Tim was in charge of taking care of the arrangements and dealing with the travel agent in person. All he needed me for (as he put it) was the ride and the money! Tim was very thorough and businesslike, and I was pleased the agent treated him seriously and maturely.
We had saved and scrimped and budgeted for months to purchase the airline tickets. The remainder of the expenses, I figured, would just have to be charged. I knew that this trip would be worth every cent for the experiences Tim would encounter. Tim was still receiving Braille instruction through the school district and his Braille teacher, Ms. Sara Bye, was aware of Tim's strong desire to go to the Convention. With the okay from us, she approached two local sources for financial help to make this trip possible. I remember the day she called to say a local business, Chritenson Engineering, had generously agreed to pay all our expenses! We were ecstatic!
The trip itself was as great as we had hoped. From the airport to the hotel to the convention, everything was a learning experience. Tim was overwhelmed with excitement about being among so many blind people. He listened intently to the questions blind adults asked when needing verbal assistance as they traveled independently. By the end of the week Tim was able to make three different, and quite complicated, solo mobility trips at my request. Keeping my distance, I watched as my son used a variety of appropriate skills to confidently reach each destination. All this from a child who at home quickly becomes confused and agitated when met with even the smallest mobility challenge. Here at the convention-surrounded by hundreds of blind role models-those skills and the desire to use them came naturally. For that alone the trip was a success!
For Tim, meeting Deane Blazie, founder and president of Blazie Engineering, was extremely important. As an owner and user of Blazie's Braille 'n Speak, Tim wanted to meet the people who made this piece of technology possible. Tim has become extremely fast and proficient in the use of the Braille 'n Speak, with all of its various commands and functions. Once Tim realized that we would be attending the convention, he approached me with the idea of writing Blazie asking if he might work for them at the convention demonstrating the Braille 'n Speak. Though he did not get the job, he was happy to meet them and know that they would indeed consider his request in the future when they are in our state. But, to me, getting that job was not as important as seeing Tim develop a greater self-awareness of his capabilities.
Tim was still too young to sit through the sessions, but that didn't stop him from meeting and speaking to tons of other blind people. His concept of himself as a blind person soared as he met adults from a variety of professions. Right now he wants to do it all-be a baker, a teacher, a scientist, a computer programmer, the owner of a general store, a priest-he knows no limits. Just the way it should be!
As for me, what I received by going to the National Convention is a greater awareness of my job as a parent. In the midst of so many competent and independent blind teens, students, and adults, I am able to see more clearly the skills on which Tim still needs to work, and most of all, I see why it is important for him to learn those skills. Even though I have been a member of NFBs Parents Division since Tim joined our family seven years ago, and I believe in the NFB philosophy, I sometimes need to be immersed in that philosophy as intensively as one is during that one week of convention. At the NFB Convention my vision of Tim's becoming independent and capable is strengthened and my focus is, once again, definite and exact.