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An Embarrassing Revelation
by Gary Wunder
From the Editor: Gary Wunder has a long list of credentials in the Federation State President of the NFB of Missouri, National NFB Board member, NFB Scholarship Committee member, and so the list goes. But his claim to fame among parents within the Federation is not his status or skill as a leader. At numerous seminars for parents of blind children throughout the country he shares many very personal experiences about blindness. Although some of these experiences are embarrassing or less than flattering, he considers them important to a full understanding of blindness, so he shares them with frankness, insight, and humor.
The following anecdote from Gary illustrates in a different way the problems identified by Linda Z. Thomas in the preceding article. He brings to life the difficulties the statistics point to, and then suggests an approach to take as we explore the questions they raise.
Several years ago I was asked to keynote a seminar for parents of blind children. The theme was something like, You have a Normal Child Who Happens to be Blind, and my remarks closely followed and reinforced this theme. One thing that follows from this thesis is that children should behave in an age-appropriate manner, and this begins with age-appropriate expectations.
The parents were very courteous and attentive during the seminar, and one could tell that they very much appreciated those who had organized this event for them.
At the end of my presentation I voiced a concern which had been bothering me since my talk began. Of all the individuals who identified themselves as present, not one was a child, though several parents in the group said their children were teenagers. I hammered on the point that teenagers were old enough to start learning about the special problems and skills to overcome them that we were discussing, and I made a point of asking the parents why they did not bring their children along. What I felt, and was trying to imply, was that these parents weren't expecting their children to be age-appropriate and their very absence from the seminar was but one indication of this.
In response to my question I received very polite replies which together went something like this: Well, we just didn't think it was the place for our children, you know with the toys and the noise and the diapers.
It turns out that many of those teenager children were actually older infants, their bodies maturing as they moved into adolescence, but their minds remaining somewhere between the newborn and the toddler. My lecture to them about making their children behave in an age-appropriate manner, while well intended, was inappropriate. Those parents probably had made the only reasonable decision possible, and even though they must all have known I was talking about expectations which had little if any relevance for their children, they listened with respect and attention to everything I said.
As I spoke to that group, the picture in my minds eye was of my own parents and the information I wish they would have had. What I learned is that while there is a place for remarks to the parents of persons whose only real disability is blindness, there are also others out there who need our help and who deserve to hear something from us about their children. They need to understand that we care not only for the blind child who is employment bound, but also for the blind child whose largest accomplishment may be learning to move around the house.
We must push those who can be integrated into the educational system and the work force, while at the same time offering our love and support to those whose children cannot. Of all the virtues we wish to promote in our work, let us not consign compassion to be last.
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