Future Reflections Convention 1999, Vol. 18 No. 4
Kathryn Hanks, age 14
Jamie Weedman, age 15
Chris Dahmke, age 14
Joanne Gabias, age 9
Editors Note: What do kids get out of the NFB convention? The following four reports from three blind teens and one sighted child give us a glimpse into how kids respond to this unique experience. Here is what Kathryn Hanks, Chris Dahmke, Jamie Weedman, and Joanne Gabias have to say about it:
My NFB Experience
by Kathryn Hanks, age 14
Everytime I go to an NFB convention, I learn a lot and come home feeling better about who I am. This year, my fifth convention, was no exception. I learned that blind people can do anything they want to do. They can climb mountains; they can sky dive.
I also like being around other people who are blind. The first night of the convention I ran around with a boy named Jerry. This is one of the few times I ever did something like this without my mom or dad around. Jerry and I and our mothers went to dinner, and Jerry and I passed notes under the table to each other. Our moms thought this was rude, but we were having fun.
At the exhibit hall, I looked at a lot of different things. I liked the independent living items, such as watches, clocks, tape players, and a remote control for the TV. I bought a small tape player from the American Printing House for the Blind and a Braille Lite from Blazie Engineering. I have used by Braille Lite a lot in school. It is all I use for writing in school now.
I liked going to the Teen Room and visiting with the other teenagers while my mom went to parent sessions. Another teen-age girl named Serena helped me learn about my Braille Lite. She was an expert, and she showed me how to create files and things like that.
When I came home I felt more independent. For the first time I walked around my neighborhood without sighted help. The NFB Convention gave me a lot of self-confidence, and I am looking forward to going again next year.
My First NFB National Convention
by Chris Dahmke, age 14
Chris Dahmke at the CNN Studios
This summer I went to Atlanta for the National Federation of the BlindcConvention. I went down with my mother by airplane. This was the first time I had flown, and it was cool. When we arrived at the Atlanta airport, we had to find the Marta station so we could get downtown to the hotel. It only took us about 15 minutes riding the rail system to get to our stop. Then we had to find the Hilton Hotel, which is where we were going to be staying. Our room was on the 25th floor, and it was very nice. Most people stayed in the Marriott Marquis across the street where the convention was being held.
The next morning I went to the teen meeting while Mom went to her workshop. I got to meet all sorts of kids, blind and sighted, from many different states. I liked our activities. We role-played that we were in court and parents were on trial for not giving their kids enough independence. I was the lawyer for the teens. A bad one at that, since we lost our case, and the parents won.
I was glad Jamie, a friend from my school, was there with his parents. We did a lot of things with them. That night at the Family Hospitality we got a chance to meet a lot of other families from all over the United States. Some of the other parents wanted to talk to me since Im partially sighted, go to school at the Kentucky School for the Blind, and stay in the dorm during the week. They wanted to know how I liked school, if I get homesick, do I have friends, and if Im in sports.
The next day we signed in at convention registration and met up with some friends from Kentucky. Later we went to the CNN Center for a tour. We also sat in the audience of CNN "Talk Back Live." It was cool getting to be on National TV, even though the topic was boring.
The next couple days we went to general sessions with LOTS of other Federationists. It got real noisy at times. It was neat seeing all the other states and countries that come to convention. My mom even got to talk to some members she knew from Nebraska, where she grew up. One night we went shopping at Underground Atlanta and ate at a really nice restaurant with good food. One day we went to the Exhibit Hall to see all the equipment and stuff companies have for the blind. The NFB even had a store there. When I saw all the canes, I asked mom if I could have my own cane and she said, "Sure!" So a lady helped me pick one out and now I take it with me most everywhere. This is a big change for me. I used to just borrow one for O&M classes at school.
Next we went to the Sensory Safari, which had a lot of stuffed animals that we could touch. The volunteers from the Safari Club International answered our questions about the different animals. Some of the furs were so soft; some were scratchy and stiff. My younger brother, who is also blind but who didnt come with us this year, would have loved all those animals.
We went to the Hard Rock Cafe to eat our last night in Atlanta. Then we got up early and flew home the next day. I was tired and ready to go home, but I had a lot of fun and learned some new things.
Maybe our whole family can come along to the next National Convention. We would have a great time. Thanks NFB!
Chris Dahmke at the CNN studios.
Increasing My Self-Confidence
By Jamie Weedman, Age 15
Jamie admires the tiger at the
I learned a lot about blindness that I didnt know when I went to my first NFB convention this summer. I got to look at brand new material that blind people could use in the future. One of the most interesting demonstrations was the "talking newspaper"Newsline® for the Blind.
It was also a great experience to meet other blind and visually impaired kids from around the United States. I finally felt like there were people I could talk to about what Ive gone through. Being a blind person has had its ups and downs. In some situations, Ive been left out of a social activity or a conversation just because I was blind. Id also get left behind in an unfamiliar area because the sighted person didnt want to take the time to guide me. Going to the convention in Atlanta helped me express some of my feelings about these situations.
I ran into a young blind lawyer named Chris who has the same type of visual impairment that I have and is totally blind, like me. He told me that he had the same kinds of experiences, and finally, after he got mad enough about getting left behind, he took extra mobility lessons. He learned when he did this he was less dependent on his friends. In fact, his social life was improving because his friends could trust him and didnt feel like they had to look out for him. I think this was something I needed to hear, and I will work harder on my mobility.
One of the best parts of the convention was the touring my family and I and some friends of ours did around Atlanta. We went to Underground Atlanta, which is a big shopping mall in an old part of the city. We toured CNN and even got to be on "Talk Back Live," an international TV talk show.
Another best part of the convention was that we also got to sit and listen to other blind people make speeches about their lives. This definitely helped me build more self-confidence.
This convention made me feel more proud of my disability. Sometimes Ive felt unusual because of my blindness, but what the blind people at the NFB convention taught me is that you can still be successful regardless of your disability.
Jamie Weedman admires the tiger at the Sensory Safari.
The Scavenger Hunt at the
by Joanne Gabias, Canada
Joanne Gabias (right) helps her brother, Jeffrey
make playdough at the Braille Carnival.
Hello! My name is Joanne Gabias. I am in the fourth grade. My parents, Paul and Mary Ellen Gabias, are both blind. I am sighted. I have three brothers who are also sighted. Jeffrey is seven. Philip is three. Elliot is one.
I went to my first NFB convention when I was four months old, and I have never missed one since. I have made friends at NFB conventions every year. I look forward to seeing them again.
I like all the games for the kids, but I wish that the little kids could go on field trips. At the last convention my favorite game was the scavenger hunt. This was the first year I was old enough to participate in the scavenger hunt.
In the scavenger hunt, everybody used a white cane, and the sighted children were blindfolded. I was worried at first because I thought that my cane might not hit something and Id run into it. The thing I worried about most of all was going down the escalator. Our guide was a grown-up. He was blind. I asked him to help me. He told me that I should hold onto the railing of the escalator. He said that I could feel the escalator going down with my cane before getting onto the escalator. Touching the railing and using my cane made it easier, and I got on with no trouble. At the bottom of the escalator, I got off with no trouble.
I felt a little weird using a cane and sleep-shades because I was afraid that people in the hotel were looking at us. I could hear them walking by, and I wondered what they were thinking, but I didnt peek. I wasnt even tempted.
Sometimes, at home at night when the lights are off, I dont bother to turn on the lights. I can still do things. When I close my eyes, or when wearing the sleep-shades, I see black. Mom says she doesnt see anything at all. I dont understand that.
Lots of people think its amazing that my parents can get around. I was brought up with it, so I dont think its amazing. They are just people. Theyre not weird.