Future Reflections  Convention Report 2006

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In this issue, or "It's okay, Mom…"

Barbara CheadleBeing a parent is a big job. Part of the job is straightforward: you feed your children, clothe them, shelter them, protect them, and teach them the “do’s” and “don’ts” of civil behavior; you know, things like when to say “please” and “thank you,” and “don’t hit your sister--ever.” But the much harder tasks are the lessons that cannot be taught. For example, a small child sees another child crying in the doctor’s waiting room and spontaneously offers the sad child a favorite toy. That’s empathy. Parents can teach a child to share his/her toys, but the empathy that impels the child to comfort and care for others has to be developed--not taught. Parents must be role models of empathy; they must encourage, nurture, and reward it; and they must find other people and institutions to help with this task, too.

Learning that it’s okay to be blind falls into this same category. It can’t be taught, it must be nurtured. That’s what over one hundred families discovered first-hand this past July in Dallas, Texas, at the 2006 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Don’t get me wrong; there was plenty of good teaching going on at the convention. The inspiring speeches, reports, and photographs in this issue attest to that. But the really defining moments--those moments when blind kids really got it--came about most often in the unexpected, unplanned experiences. Here’s an example of one such incident from the 2006 convention as described to me by a mom and her eight-year-old blind daughter at their first NFB convention banquet.

Although her daughter was a bit young to expect her to sit through a full banquet program, the mom was sure that her daughter would enjoy seeing the thirty blind scholarship winners receive their awards. And even if the child couldn’t understand the entire speech, the mom thought her daughter was mature enough to get something out of it. Throughout the day leading up to the banquet, the mom reported how her daughter had listened to the echoes of hundreds of canes tapping along the broad corridors of the huge hotel. The little girl was full of questions. Even for a bright child, the reality of so many blind people together was hard to grasp. Although she had occasionally been around other blind kids and some blind adults, she had never been in a place surrounded by over 2,000 blind people. Later that evening, as the banquet proceeded with door prizes, announcements, cheers, songs, rowdy laughter, and the buzz of conversation, it began to click into place for her. She turned to her mother and asked, “Is everyone here blind?”

“Almost,” her mother replied.

“Then you’re the only here who is sighted?”

“Not quite,” her mother replied, “but almost.”

The little girl paused as she thoughtfully considered this data. Then she leaned over and gently kissed her mother on the cheek and said, “It’s okay, Mom.”

When the mother told me this story, I thought I detected a little catch in her voice and mistiness in her eyes. I know my eyes were misty; even though I’ve heard variations on this story for as long as blind children and their parents have been coming to the NFB national convention--nearly three decades--it still amazes me what an impact the NFB convention has on even very young blind children.

As you read the speeches and reports from 2006, and review the exciting themes and plans for the upcoming convention in Atlanta, I challenge you to consider whether 2007 is the year for your family to attend. And if your child or student is also a high school teen, there is another 2007 summer event you will absolutely want to read about in this issue: the Youth Slam, sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute.

When it comes to creating an environment for blind children and youth to learn that it is okay to be blind, no one does it better than the National Federation of the Blind.

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