Future Reflections Convention Report 2004
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– “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”
A farmer I’m not, but there is enough of the country girl in me to really appreciate this old saying. I remember walking the woods and the orchard with my grandpa as a little girl and asking him about the strange bends and twists in some of the trees. He explained to me that sometimes it happened because a tree was too much in the shade and it was trying to reach the sun. But sometimes it happened because a young branch, or twig, had been bent or twisted when it was very young and it continued to grow in that shape or direction. Later I learned that people could take advantage of this characteristic; like the Japanese who developed it into an art form with bonsai trees.
What is true of plants, is also true of people. At the 2004 National Federation of the Blind convention in Atlanta, Georgia, parents and teachers were involved in an intensive week-long “twig bending” workshop. We were engaged in the process of learning what we could do better, or do differently, in order to bend the twig of our children’s lives toward a future of independence and productivity. It was intensive, informative, and sometimes emotional work. But it was also exhilarating and often downright fun.
The following photographs and descriptive captions capture some of the highlights of the convention with a special emphasis on the activities for parents, teachers, and children. The week began on Tuesday, June 29, with a day-long program of seminars and workshops sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). The theme is: As the Twig Is Bent. And that’s where we begin our Photo Report of the 2004 NFB Convention:
Tuesday, June 29
The first program item in the parents seminar agenda is a “Kid Talk” with NFB President Maurer (top left, sitting on the floor, surrounded by kids). One boy asks him what it is like to be blind. Dr. Maurer explains that trying to answer that question is like trying to answer the question, “What is it like to be a boy?” Being blind, he says, is just a part of who he is, and mostly he doesn’t think much about it.
The Jones family (right) from Kentucky (from left to right, Kenneth, Alicia, Kenneth Jr., and Maria,) and the Leon family (below) from Ohio (Sarah, Rebecca, and Lori) pose for snapshots during the seminar break before heading off to the Braille Carnival (also located in the hotel). After the kids are settled in, parents return to the seminar session to listen to two more presentations: The Visual Made Verbal (Joel Snyder) and The Jacks Tournament, Turning Double-Dutch, and Other Excursions into Society (Barbara Pierce).
Funded by a Braille International Foundation grant and sponsored by NOPBC, the Braille Carnival is a big hit. At any one time there are between 75 to 100 participants in the room. Right, Carnival coordinator, Melody Lindsey, a blind leader from Michigan, plays a Braille game with Meghan Palmer (Utah).
Mike Jones, President of the NFB of Alabama, volunteers as a Carnival Buddy to Samanth Ratkowski (Wisconsin). About 40 blind and sighted federationists volunteered at the event.
With colorful tactile craft materials, Dr. Dennis Dawson, (Astronomy Department, Western Connecticut University) demonstrates to David Thomas (Louisiana) just how much fun astronomy can be for everyone.
Winona Brackett (Florida) trys her hand at the Braille Word Search Puzzle; one of the key attractions at the APH Carnival booth.
Tyler Christopher (Florida) and Grace Workman (Missouri) enjoy a lively game of Twister, adapted with tactile markings and a Braille spinner. Sleepshades are in order, of course, for sighted siblings and low vision kids.
The Louisiana Center for the Blind booth features face-painting. Caitlyn Sebastion (Alabama) proudly shows off her Braille name painted in colorful dots on her forehead.
Parents learn how simple and fun Braille can be at the Beginning Braille for Parents workshop conducted by Californians Caroline Rounds and Nancy Burns. Here Caroline Rounds demonstrates the slate and stylus to Thomas Wright (Maryland). Five other NOPBC-sponsored workshops on Tuesday afternoon address the topics of social skills, body language, facial expressions, friendships, early movement, the importance of play, and tactile graphics. Other workshops for parents, scheduled later in the week, cover topics on IEP’s, the education of partially sighted children, and early childhood development.
Heather Field from Tennessee (standing, left) co-conducts a workshop with Joe Cutter about the role of movement, play, and music in the early development of blind children.
This workshop group gathers in a large circle around facilitators Carla McQuillan of Oregon (right, with hat) and Debbie Stein of Illinois (left of Carla) for a discussion about how to teach blind children the importance of body language and facial expressions.
Socialization skills are important for all children, including blind children with additional disabilities. Dr. Sheila Amato (New York), a specialist in deaf-blindness, gives a presentation and leads a discussion on this important topic.
While parents are in the afternoon workshops, blind and sighted youth explore the solar system via a guided scavenger hunt. Volunteers from UPS and the Federation are stationed throughout the Marriott Marquis with tactile representations of items (planets, meteorites, sun, moon, etc.) in the solar system. Right, Federationist Marla Sewel (Maryland), shows Olivia Wells and Madison McClain (two sighted siblings from Ohio) what the surface of Mercury might feel like. Both girls take advantage of the option to use sleepshades and canes.
The “Exploring the Solor System Scavenger Hunt” is the brain-child of astronomers Noreen Grice (left) from the Hayden Palnetarium, Boston, and Dr. Dennis Dawson. They spend many volunteer hours planning the activities, preparing the materials, and conducting the hunt at the convention. They also sponsor a booth at the Braille Carnival and, later in the convention, they conduct an astronomy workshop for all age groups.
Timothy Jones (Georgia) jets off, cane in hand, to his next port-of-call in the Solor System. He carries his tactile “passport” card where he places the pin he picks up from each stop. He will turn in his card for a prize at the completion of the hunt.
A small but eager group of sighted teens pass up the scavenger hunt and sign on for the audio description workshop. Later that evening, they come back to perform for an audience of family members and others. Above, Joel Snyder (standing, left) begins his presentation to Tracy Yeager (Virginia), Michelle Povinelli (Virginia), George Haley (Maine), John Cucco (New Jersey), Casey Martin (North Dakota), Tori Anderson (California), and Donna Neddo (Michigan). Three of the teens have blind parents and the others have blind siblings.
Wednesday, June 30
Bright and early Wednesday morning, parents gather with their kids for the annual Cane Walk, co-sponsored by NOPBC and the Louisiana Tech O&M Master’s Degree program. Right, Joe Cutter (New Jersey) gives a demonstration on the basics of holding and moving the cane. Soon, parents and kids will be paired up with instructors for the walk. Most of the instructors are blind and all are volunteers.
Macy McClain (Ohio), Luke Brackett (Florida), Esmeralda Gutierrez, and George Haley (Maine) hang-out together at the Teen Get-Acquainted party co-sponsored by NOPBC and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). The drop-in party gives kids a chance to hang-out and make new friends in a supervised, but teen-friendly, setting.
The NASA convention exhibit displays hands-on tactile models and materials developed by NASA for the NFB Science Camps and other educational programs. Right, blind scientist and NASA employee, Robert Shelton (right), talks to NFB Scholarship winner, Victor Wong, about employment opportunities for the blind at NASA.
The Hashash brothers (left to right, Damin, Mohammad, and Sammi) from New Jersey examine a stuffed seal at the Sensory Safari, an exhibit sponsored by the Safari Club International. All of the exhibits are touchable and volunteers from the club are on hand to give detailed information about each of the wild animals on display.
Thursday, July 1
Vejas Vasiliaukas (California) a 2004 Braille Readers are Leaders winner, looks for books at the Braille Book flea market while dad, Eric, holds his cane and bags his books for him. Award-winning teacher, Jan Zollinger (Idaho) checks out titles to take home to her students.
First timer, Mona Wright (left), a parent from Hawaii, volunteers at the NOPBC exhibit table with convention pro, Rosemarie Bowman (Michigan). NOPBC distributes literature and raises funds by selling toys, books, 50/50 raffle tickets, Whozit tattoos, and t-shirts in the exhibit hall.
Michael Taboada (Louisiana) shows off his Whozit tattoo to prospective buyers at the NOPBC table in the exhibit hall. The exhibit hall is packed with vendors displaying anything of interest to the blind; from technology for big “kids” to toys for the tots.
Friday, July 2
Two bands, Conundrum (left) and The Lyke House Drummers (right) contribute to the excitement and high spirits of the convention on opening day, Friday, July 2.
Anne Naber (Minnesota) makes a star necklace at the drop-in, “Astronomy—It’s for Everyone,” workshop conducted Friday evening by astronomers Dr. Dennis Dawson, and Noreen Grice. As the title suggests, the workshop is open to everyone of all ages—not just kids.
Saturday, July 3
Susan Spungin, Candidate for Treasurer of the World Blind Union and Vice President of International Programs and Special Projects, American Foundation for the Blind, New York, New York, speaks to the convention on Saturday morning about “The World Blind Union: A Study in Contrasts.”
It is “standing room only” at the Saturday night, Audio-Described Family Night at the Movies. Presented by the National Captioning Institute and the NOPBC, the feature film is the popular Disney movie, “Lilo and Stich.”
Sunday, July 4
Miles Hilton-Barber, blind adventurer from Derbyshire, England, blasts the audience into the stratosphere on Sunday afternoon, July 4, as he chronicles his adventures as a blind pilot flying the English Channel.
Dr. Maurer delivers an inspiring banquet address, “The Assimilation of Crisis,” to some 2,000 members and guests on Sunday evening, July 4. In the speech, he reminds the audience that, for all the value it has, “It is not the technology that creates our ability but our own minds and hearts, and we must not be mislead into thinking that the machines are more important then we are. We will use the new technologies and the innovative programs of education, but these will not change our fundamental being. We have already determined what the blind will do, and we will accept no argument that tells us we lack the capacity to be an integrated part of the society in which we live. We are the blind imaginative, articulate, determined, persistent, and productive. We will not let anybody forget it.”
Barbara Cheadle (at the microphone) and Carol Akers (Ohio) announce the winner of the NOPBC 50/50 raffle at the banquet on Sunday night, July 4.
Monday, July 5
Roland Wenzel (Wisconsin) and Elliott Gabias (Canada) are captivated by two bunnies that have come to pay a visit to NFB Camp, the childcare service provided at the convention under the management of Federationists and Montessori educator, Carla McQuillan.
Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants is named to chair the Imagination Fund, devoted to raising funds and building a donor base for the Jernigan Institute and the ongoing programs of the Federation at the grass-roots level. Throughout the convention session, Kevan makes announcements and appeals about contributions and pledges to the new fund.
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