Future Reflections                                                                                       Volume 20, Number 1

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2000 National Organization of Parents of Blind
Children (NOPBC) Annual Meeting

by Christine Faltz, Secretary, NOPBC

The NOPBC Board

The NOPBC Board, back row, left to right: Board Members Maria Jones, Kentucky; Samuel Baldwin, Missouri; Mark McClain, Ohio; Brad Weatherd, Montana;Sally Miller, South Carolina; and Tammy Hollingsworth, Indiana. Front row: Second Vice President, Martin (Marty) Greiser, Montana; Secretary, Christine Faltz, New York;
President, Barbara Cheadle, Maryland; First Vice President, Carol Castellano,New Jersey; and
Treasurer, Brunhilda Merk-Adam, Michigan

     By the time we all gathered for the 2000 Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children on July 4, 2000, an infectious spirit of fun, comradeship, and shared goals suffused the group, a microcosm of the greater convention at the Atlanta Marriott. The Parents Seminar had provided the usual staples, such as the Beginning Braille Workshop, and fantastic new offerings, such as the pre-seminar breakfast and information tables. At these tables parents could pick up information packets and ask questions on topics as varied as early childhood, the multiply-handicapped blind child, home-schooling, and so forth. Another new feature was the mentorship program for teens sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). On request, NABS matched blind college students with blind teens for the duration of the convention. Once names and room numbers were shared, it was up to the parent, the teen, and the college student to arrange times and places to meet.

     NFB Camp, as usual, provided a safe, fun place for our kids. There were also plenty of recreational opportunities, both organized and otherwise, for the older children and teen-agers, sighted and blind alike. Family Hospitality Night provided a time and place for casual chatting, establishing new acquaintances, and recharging existing friendships with people we hadn’t seen in a year or more. The only drawback was the conspicuous and deeply-felt absence of Tammy Hollingsworth, our usual Family Hospitality Night and Raffle maven, who developed a serious throat infection. Happily, it only managed to neutralize Tammy’s energy and commitment for a couple of days.

     It was in this atmosphere of friendship and eagerness to learn that NOPBC president, Barbara Cheadle called the 2000 NOPBC Annual Meeting to order on Tuesday afternoon, July 4. This year the brief business meeting included a motion to expand the NOPBC board by two positions. The membership clearly felt that the growth of the NOPBC over the past few years warranted a larger and more diverse board. The motion passed unanimously.

     Everyone was saddened to learn that Julie Hunter, our treasurer for the past six years, was not running for re-election. Julie has done an outstanding job in her position, and NOPBC owes much to her leadership. Julie will remain active in NOPBC through her leadership of the NOPBC in Colorado.

     At the conclusion of the brief business meeting, we kicked off the afternoon’s program with a delightful presentation by Amanda and April Jones about their first year in a magnet high school (their speeches are reprinted on page 41 in this issue). Amanda and April, blind twins from Chattanooga, Tennessee, have been active in the NFB from a very young age.

     Mary Ellen Gabias and Christine Faltz then provided information about Art Education for the Blind, a nonprofit organization devoted to the idea that blind children should have the opportunity to appreciate art and art history through touch and sound and other adaptive techniques. A thoroughly-researched, fantastic series, “Art History Through Touch and Sound” is now available through the NLS regional library for the blind system, American Printing House quota funds, and residential schools for the blind. The introductory volume was available for perusal at the convention. It is beautiful and pleasing—both tactually and visually. Astonishingly, some regional libraries for the blind sent their free volumes back to NLS for “lack of space” or “lack of interest” (one even threw it in the garbage). But the libraries reversed those decisions and agreed to take the volumes when people at the NFB Convention heard about it and expressed their dismay at such short-sighted actions. It was made clear, however, that not all of the libraries had responded this way and that many were very supportive of the project from the beginning. Christine Faltz and Mary Ellen Gabias discussed how important they felt art awareness was for blind children, and urged attendees to ask their cooperating network libraries and schools for the blind for the books, and to tell their area art museums about the project.

Dr. Sheila Breittweiser, President of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind accepts the $200 cash award for Outstanding Participation in the 2000 Braille Readersare Leaders Conmtest.  With her is Anna Miller, a student at the school and the daughter of NOPBC board member, Sally Miller
Dr. Sheila Breittweiser, President of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind accepts the $200 cash award for Outstanding Participation in the 2000 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.With her is Anna Miller, a student at the school and the daughter of NOPBC board member, Sally Miller.
      It was then time for another of the favorite highlights of the annual meeting: recognition of the winners and the outstanding participating school for the blind in our annual Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. The contest runs from November 1 through February 1, and is co-sponsored by NOPBC and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). Braille readers from kindergarten through twelfth grade are eligible to enter. Ellen Ringlein, one of the contest judges, gave a report about the contest and announced the winners. This year we had 388 students and 15 schools for the blind enter thecontest. The South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind won the award this year for its high rate of participation, and the Kansas School for the Blind received an honorable mention. A Massachusetts teacher of the visually impaired, JoAnna Stenbuck, was recognized for her efforts over many years in promoting the contest among her students. Past and present contest winners and the parents of winners were asked to stand and be recognized. Macy McClain of Ohio, Hannah Weatherd of Montana, and Elizabeth Causey of Georgia were among those recognized.

     At the conclusion of the Braille Readers Are Leaders update, our 2000 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award winner, Marlene Culpepper from Columbus, Georgia, was announced and called upon to give the keynote address. Mrs. Culpepper talked about standardized testing and the challenges and rewards of including blind students (see Marlene’s article “My Experience with Standardized Testing and Blind Students” elsewhere in this issue).

     Following Mrs. Culpepper’s informative address, Deborah Kent Stein of Illinois described the NOPBC-sponsored Slate Pals program, a pen pals program through which blind kids can perfect Braille skills while staying in touch with blind peers in other geographical locations (see the Slate-Pals application on page 53 in this issue). The success of the program depends upon the number of requests we receive for slate pals. The more requests we receive, the easier it is to tailor matches according to interests, age, eye condition, level of Braille skill, etc. Parents like the service because, among other benefits, it improves their child’s Braille reading and writing skills. Children and youth who become slate pals sometimes find life-long friends, and all discover much needed peer support and encouragement from another blind kid who shares common interests. But mostly it’s just plain fun to get personal Braille letters in the mail.

     We then heard from Susan Richardson of North Carolina who gave a report about NOPBC’s home-schooling network. This group has become one of our most active networks. Considerable credit for this goes to coordinator Debbie Day of Washington State. Her home-school website is, as Susan Richardson stated in her report, “awesome.”

Family and friends relax at the 2000 Family Hospitality
Families and friends relax at the 2000 NOPBCFamily Hospitality.
       After Susan’s report Maria Jones of Kentucky described her experiences at the NOPBC Southeast Parents Leadership Conference at the South Carolina Rocky Bottom Camp of the Blind last March, 2000. It was agreed that similar conferences and retreats should take place throughout the country, if possible. Ms. Jones felt one of the best parts of the conference was the role-playing activities to teach parents how to assert themselves on behalf of their children and how to teach their children to advocate for themselves. Parents also got a cane travel lesson under sleepshades (blindfolds) and got to sample some very tasty homemade chicken soup prepared right in front of them by a blind cook. Small groups of parents were given tasks to work on together, such as planning a fund raiser or a social activity that integrated blind adults and blind children. There were workshops on IEP’s and the IDEA Amendments of 1997, how to decide when to teach print or Braille, the slate and stylus, transition from school to job or college, and so forth.

     It was then time to move to reports from our state POBC divisions. With some 26 divisions, the reports had to be brief and to the point. As always, however, it was exciting and rejuvenating to hear what our parent groups are doing around the country. We heard about the family camping trip in Ohio, the Bowl-A-Thon fund raiser in Indiana, the Braille literacy legislative initiative in Michigan, the Braille Storybook Hour in Maryland, the mentorship programs pairing blind kids with blind adults in Colorado and Illinois, the Mall Cane Walk in West Virginia, the seminar for classroom teachers and aides in New Jersey, and many, many other innovative projects.

     Before we moved on, Daniel Lamond, a blind entertainer and member of the NFB, arrived with his guitar in-hand to lead us in a much needed song break with plenty of hand-clapping, foot-stomping, stand-up, sit-down, action. Soon, we were all pumped up, refreshed, and ready to move to the next agenda item.

     This item was a panel of representatives from our Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota NFB training centers for the blind and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). They came to talk about the summer programs they sponsor for blind kids. One of the panelists described her experience when she was a summer student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind a few years ago. She talked about her initial hostility toward the idea and her anger at her mother for sending her. By her third day, however, she was thoroughly hooked on the program, and to all of our delight, whispered into the microphone, “Sometimes . . . parents know best.”

     From that panel we moved to another panel. Kristen Cox, NFB Associate Director of Governmental Affairs; David Andrews, Director, Minnesota Communications Center; and Sharon Maneki, Chairman of the NFB Resolution Committee, spoke about the timely provision of textbooks, standardized tests, and other materials in  adapted formats for blind students.

     Sharon Maneki concluded the panel with an in-depth look at the issue of standardized testing for both children and adults throughout the nation. She again raised the issue of the complexity of adapting standardized tests for blind children. It is especially difficult to adapt tests after they have been developed. It would be much easier if blindness professionals were consulted while the tests were being developed. Then there is the problem of practice test materials. Sighted kids get a lot of practice, but adapted practice materials for blind kids are virtually nonexistent and often unreliable. Other problems include providing blind students instruction and experience in using tactile graphs and charts so they can be prepared to use them in testing situations and the problem of who decides what medium a student shall use for a test—Braille, print, large print, readers, etc. [Editor’s note: All these topics were the subject of resolutions passed at the 2000 NFB Convention. See page 54 in this issue.]

     The NOPBC meeting concluded with the final order of business, the election of officers and board members. The slate of officers submitted by the nominating committee that was chaired by Julie Hunter was elected by acclamation, and the meeting was adjourned.

     We parted ways rejuvenated and excited about being a part of an organization that is on the leading edge of Changing What It Means to be Blind.

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