The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children
Volume 27 Number 3 Convention Report 2008
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
Copyright © 2008 National Federation of the Blind
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2360
www.nfb.org/nopbc • [email protected] • [email protected]
Volume 27 Number 3 Convention Report 2008
National Braille Literacy Campaign and Commemorative Coin
Convention 2008 Photo Report
Our First Convention
Impressions from the Parent Leadership Program Class of 2008
NOPBC Silver Anniversary Extravaganza
by Barbara Pierce
Photo Report – NOPBC Anniversary Dinner
An Open Letter to Parents
by Carrie Gilmer, President
NOPBC Honors Barbara Cheadle for Twenty-Three Years of Service
Twenty-Five Years of Program Initiatives
For Parents and Their Blind Children
Barbara Cheadle, Panel Moderator
In Celebration of NOPBC’s First 25 Years
by Carol Castellano
Coming to Adulthood in the NOPBC
by Angela Wolf
Why I Am a Federationist
by Laura Weber
Twenty-Five Years of Parent Initiatives
by Jim Beyer
My Friends in the NFB
by Lauren Beyer
Meet the 2008-2009 Officers and Board Members of NOPBC
Blind Youth IMAGINE the Future
by Kayleigh Joiner, Jordan Richardson, and Anna Catherine Walker
by Vejas Vasiliauskas and Kyra Sweeney
AWARDS AND CONTESTS
Virginia Teacher Receives 2008 Distinguished
Educator of Blind Children Award
Announcing the 2008-2009 Braille
Readers Are Leaders Contest
by Jennifer Dunnam
The 2008 Scholarship Winners
More Than Just Money for School
The 2009 NFB Scholarship Program
by Anil Lewis
Star Sponsors of NOPBC’s Silver Anniversary Celebration
Serotek Presents Keys for K-12
It’s a Party... and You’re Invited!
A Bulletin from the National Braille Press
Save the Dates and Plan for Detroit Now!
For thousands of parents and friends of blind children, PARENT POWER means membership in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The NOPBC is a national membership organization that provides vital support, encouragement, training, and information about blindness to members and to the broader community. As an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, the NOPBC is a bridge that connects families to blind role models and mentors. NOPBC is also a vehicle for expanding resources for parents, changing public attitudes about blindness, and creating greater opportunities for blind and visually impaired kids everywhere. Your NOPBC membership matters. NOPBC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
NOPBC Membership Application * Subscription to Future Reflections
Membership in the NOPBC includes membership-at-large in the NFB. Future Reflections is FREE and there is no requirement that you join the NOPBC to receive the magazine. If you wish to join the NOPBC and/or take advantage of the free subscription, please use the form below. (Please print)
(Please include the first and last names of both parents if appropriate)
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If you are parents, please include the following information for each blind/VI child in the family:
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*International Subscribers: There is no shipping and handling fee for residents of the USA, USA territories, Canada, and Mexico. Residents of all other countries are asked to pay a fee in USA currency of $20 for a one-year subscription and $55 for a three-year subscription. Send checks or money orders made payable to the National Federation of the Blind. Enclosed: $______ shipping and handling for a (check one) [ ] One-year subscription [ ] Three-year subscription
Did you know?
Braille is equivalent to print.
Today, only 10 percent of blind children are learning Braille.
The National Federation of the Blind is initiating a campaign to double the number of
Braille readers by 2015.
Beginning in 2009, to coincide with the release of the Louis Braille Commemorative Coin from the U.S. Treasury in honor of Braille’s 200th birthday, the NFB Jernigan Institute will launch the Braille Readers are Leaders Literacy Campaign.
This initiative will be marked by the most significant investment in literacy for the blind ever—raising $8 million with the aid of the sale of the Commemorative Coin for Braille literacy programs into the future.
Let’s imagine the possibilities…
Want to know how to purchase a Commemorative coin?
Want more information on our literacy programs and initiatives?
Want to be part of the movement and help us make history?
Want to be the first to know when the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar is available?
Find out how by signing up for the Braille Readers are Leaders Campaign List at: www.Braille.org
Sunday, June 29
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
President Marc Maurer kicks off the NOPBC parent’s seminar with his annual Kids Talk. Sitting on the floor, he tells the kids a few jokes, asks them questions, and then tells them what exciting things they can do at the convention and in life. Maurer’s message was simple: blindness doesn’t need to stop anyone from having fun and enjoying life to the fullest.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Texas parent, Sally Thomas, listens intently to the special anniversary PowerPoint presentation of photos and audio recordings from past NOPBC seminars. Carrie Gilmer and her husband Phillip Richardson did the research to put together this moving testimonial.
Instructor Annee Hartzell (CA), shows Giana (TX) and her grandmother, Barbara Boyd, how to use the Cranmer abacus to do math problems in one of the thirty NOPBC-sponsored workshops for parents and/or their kids offered on Sunday and later in the convention.
Teens learn some power yoga moves in one of the Youth Track activities. The 2008 Youth Track at convention was a great success with over sixty teens participating. Activities included workshops on sports and recreation, a David Letterman mock program where teens shared the ten most important things the public should know about blindness, a program to introduce teens to the NFB divisions, and a teen dance to top off the week.
Ixcel Larrauri (VA) (standing) and over thirty other children grades K–8 have fun making crafts and Braille tactile books to donate to the Braille Book Flea Market later in the week.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Sarah Sims (ID) and daughters Ella and Grace enjoy the fine food and festive atmosphere at the NOPBC 25th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday night.
Monday, June 30
Doug Popper (CA) and his daughter, Rio, explore the hotel with their canes under the guidance of blind cane travel instructor, Vicki Buchignani (NM), during the ever-popular NOPBC-sponsored Cane Walk. The Cane Walk attracts families with children of all ages--from infants in strollers to families with teens.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Blind instructor and chemistry doctorial student, Cary Supalo, helps demystify chemistry for about 30 blind children and youth in this NOPBC afternoon workshop.
Antonio Martinez (NM) (see photo above/left/right) and David Bouchard (MS) (see photo above/left/right) carefully follow instructions in the chemistry workshop.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
The exhibit hall and the NFB Store are open all day for those wishing to get a demo of the newest and latest technology and convention shoppers.
Tuesday, July 1
Nearly a hundred parents fill the room for the NOPBC Annual Meeting. In this historic meeting, Barbara Cheadle (right) steps down after 23 years as president, and Carrie Gilmer (left), is elected president by acclamation.
Gabrielle Walsh (WI) (front, left, pictured with her family) was one of twelve students to win a trip to the convention through the 2008 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. The winners were recognized at the NFB Board meeting on Tuesday morning.
Megan Palmer (UT) and Kristy Colton (UT) browse through books at the 2008 Braille Book Flea Market. With the help of UPS volunteers, the NOPBC collects used Braille books to bring to the convention to display and give away to Braille book lovers of all ages.
Wednesday, July 2
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Lindsay Adair (TX) (daughter of Laura Weber) steps out--cane in hand--with confidence and pride early Wednesday morning on the 5K second annual March for Independence.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
The March is a rousing success. Over a thousand marchers--including a hundred or more blind kids and their families—raised well over $500,000 for the NFB Imagination Fund.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
At the halfway point, marchers stop for a special rally at the AT&T Victory Plaza. During the program, former Braille Readers Are Leaders winners Hannah Weatherd (WY), Marché Daughtry (VA), Jordan Richardson (MN), and Vejas Vasiliauskas (CA), present a resolution on the importance of Braille.
The design of the 2009 commemorative Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar is unveiled at the March rally. Brothers Petras (left) and Vejas Vasiliauskas (CA), pose with the mock-up of one side of the coin.
Thursday, July 3
After a packed morning agenda, convention participants have a free afternoon. Options include area tours, a rowing competition, a Scout open house, workshops to promote youth outreach among local affiliates, and a Star Party with Noreen Grice (above) and the Astronomical Society of Dallas.
Friday, July 4
On Friday, it is reported that you could hear a pin drop during the program item moderated by Barbara Cheadle: “Twenty-Five Years of Program Initiatives for Parents and their Blind Children.” Lauren Beyer (with father, Jim, above) wraps up the panel presentation with a youth’s view of the importance of an NFB parents division. The panel speeches are reprinted elsewhere in this issue.
This was the inaugural year for the Bolotin Awards. Ten individuals and organizations were recognized by the Santa Barbara Foundation and the NFB for making significant contributions in creating greater opportunities for blind people. The winners are, from left to right: Dr. Paul Down and his team members from the University of Notre Dame: Fernando Carvalho, Kyle Walters, and Annie Sawicki; Linda Miller (NM); Shawn Mayo (MN), Julie Deden (CO), and Pam Allen (LA), representing the NFB Training Centers for the Blind; George Kerscher; Robert Leslie Newman (NE); Jim Fruchterman of Bookshare; Debbie Stein (IL); and Noreen Grice (MA).
Saturday, July 5
Saturday concluded the convention. It was a week full of new and exciting experiences for Alexander Gamino (IL) and hundreds of other kids and adults who attended the convention for the first time, and a time of renewal of the spirit and hopes for all the attendees.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Bobby Cunningham, a professional photographer, who allowed us to use many of his beautiful photographs in this issue. More information about his work is available on his Web site at <www.gulfimagesphotos.com>. Bobby attended the convention with his wife Kim Cunningham, one of our Texas POBC leaders, and their blind daughter, Kayleigh.
Started three years ago under the auspices of the NFB Affiliate Action department, the Parent Leadership Program (PLP) is thriving. In this program, the NFB provides the funding to provide specialized training over a two-year period to a select group of potential parent leaders who have committed to helping establish or strengthen an NFB-affiliated parents division in their states. The PLP class attends and participates in special workshops at the NFB annual convention in July and the national Washington, D.C., seminar in January. Members of the 2008 PLP class attending the convention were: Cynthia Conley, OH; Alice and Darrold Engel, ND; Nelly Gamino, IL; Esther Huggins, D.C.; Brenda Johnson, MN; Mary Kluczkowski, CA; Brandon Lane and Sarah Sims, ID; Lenora Martin, FL; Claudia Martinez, NM; Trudy Pickrel, MD; Tammy Robar, HI; Carrie Thomson, IA; and Laura Weber, TX. Eleven of the fifteen participants were attending the convention for the first time. Here are some impressions from three of these convention first-timers:
Brandon Lane, Idaho:
I cannot begin to explain how much this past week meant to Sarah, our daughters, and me. The experience surpassed my expectations to a degree not imaginable prior to the conference. Simply being around so many blind people who are not in denial and who are empowered to grab what life has to offer was like a breath of fresh air. I believe it was Annee Hartzel who said in her IEP workshop, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions--and low expectations.” I think that sums it up nicely. I have not yet figured out how to gently redirect the misplaced pity or low expectations of those who encounter Emilia (and her cane), but I am now determined to do so at every opportunity. They must come to understand that Emilia and others like her are can-do kids. As you know, there is so much to be done.
Trudy Pickrel, Maryland:
The best thing was meeting other mothers and discovering that they often feel as overwhelmed as I do. And I carried away lots of good literature that I was able to absorb later at a quieter time. But the biggest benefit was that my husband was finally able to get a feel for what our son’s life is like as a blind child, and what it will be like for him as an adult. I must admit that the Parent Leadership Program made me feel almost paralyzed as I realized all that needs to be done. But as a “get-it-done” type of person, I know that the way to deal with overwhelming tasks is to start with one thing at a time, day-by-day. I know I can make a difference, but I realize it is not going to come overnight. I want to go next year to the convention in Detroit, but in the meantime, I am going to focus on what I can do for our local [Maryland] parent group.
Carrie Thomson, Iowa:
I think the main thing that I will remember about the convention is what Lauren (our daughter) said as we were leaving: “I’m really going to miss all of the tapping canes!” This pretty much summed up the five days that we (our family) were there. The parent meetings were great and informative--the people were wonderful--but we were there for Lauren, and she loved it. As with most of our kids, they don’t know many blind people and to be around so many is just a wonderful experience.
Nelly Gamino, Illinois:
This year I had the opportunity to attend the NFB National Convention in Dallas, Texas. I didn’t know what to expect; I was afraid I would not retain all that I wanted to learn, and at the same time I didn’t even know what I should ask. Alex is six and he goes to a school with an established VI program so we have not experienced many of the struggles that other parents go through to obtain services. Luckily for me, a fellow Illinois parent contacted me a couple of days before the trip and we planned on meeting the day of our arrival. Beth and her family have gone through much to obtain their services. Listening to her and other parents talk about their experiences made me realize how much there is to do to obtain fair services for all our children. So far we have been lucky, but that’s not a reason to neglect preparing or educating ourselves about what our son and other children need.
Attending the convention also helped me become more assertive. We had been told by our school professionals that Alex could have a cane, but he shouldn’t bring it to school. That made sense to me; I mean he has enough vision to get around well enough, right? But attending the convention made me realize that the less he uses his cane now, the less he will want to use it when he gets older; he needs to see the cane as part of himself. We had made it an option not a requirement and therefore he was always forgetting it. After a couple of days at the convention, the first thing he grabbed when we exited the hotel room was his cane. When he started school this Fall, we sent him with the cane. At first he didn’t want to carry it because he had been told last year not to take it to school, but I assured him that there would be no problem. He has been taking his cane to school ever since.I came back to Illinois with the full intention of reaching out to other parents, even those who, like me, think that their children’s educational program is working well. Since the convention, I and a team of volunteers have called, mailed, and e-mailed over 350 people in our contact list. It is invigorating to know that we are doing something to motivate parents to open themselves up to the learning opportunities the NFB offers.
by Barbara Pierce
The place was the old Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, and the year was 1983. Kenneth Jernigan, then president of the National Federation of the Blind, was in the chair at a meeting that participants would look back upon with pride as the establishment of the Parents of Blind Children (POBC) Division. Dr. Jernigan did not usually preside when divisions came into existence, but this group was so dear to his heart and potentially so important to the strength and direction of the entire organization that he decided to do what he could to ensure that it got off on the right foot. He and those inaugural members succeeded beyond their fondest hopes and most optimistic dreams.
An almost entirely new generation of parents and supporters gathered on June 29, 2008, in the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas, to celebrate twenty-five years of that organization’s growth and expansion. This is a report of that celebration and the 2008 activities of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). The name may have changed across the years, but the heart and soul of the division have only become better defined and more powerfully active.
At that inaugural meeting Susan Ford was elected the division’s first president, and Barbara Cheadle was elected its treasurer. Two years later in Louisville, Barbara Cheadle, who was already editing Future Reflections, became POBC president. Within a year she was working to expand the number of parent divisions at the state level. Ruby Ryles soon joined the division’s board and in the early nineties became its first vice president before heading off into the wilds of academe to earn a PhD, putting academic heft behind her professional and personal convictions about the importance of Braille in the education of blind children. In its early years Doris Willoughby contributed her professional expertise to the organization and wrote and co-wrote landmark texts that fleshed out the concept of establishing high expectations for blind students in the classroom and step by step showed teachers and parents how to do it.
In 1984 Carol Castellano gave birth to a premature daughter, who came home from the hospital with an entire range of problems of prematurity, including blindness. A social worker gave Carol some of the NFB literature that was beginning to appear. She described the organization as a radical bunch of troublemakers. The advice this group gave was pretty good, Carol was warned, but the group itself was nothing but trouble. Carol immediately contacted Barbara Cheadle and joined forces with the rabblerousers. She has been helping to write the books and lead the charge for reform ever since.
Twenty-five years have flown by, and thousands of families with blind children have benefited from NOPBC campaigns for Braille availability for all blind students, canes in the hands of all young blind children, and Braille and other accessible textbooks in the hands of the students who need them at the same time as their sighted classmates get theirs. None of these battles has been won across the board, but the battle has been engaged everywhere, and school officials are beginning to understand what they are expected to provide, and parents in every state are learning where to turn for help getting what their children need.
NOPBC activities at NFB national conventions have come to be recognized as the single most thorough and effective crash course in parenting a blind child that a family can receive. This year’s program was no exception. The teen track is coming to be a weeklong series of activities and supervised hangout opportunities for blind and sighted teens that provides fun, insight, and learning. The younger kids have NFB Camp during the week, but they too are enjoying more and more workshops specially designed to meet their needs and interests. Parents of blind children face many different problems: stimulation in the early years, homeschooling, IEP development, early cane travel, help for multiply disabled youngsters, access to math and science, and the list goes on almost endlessly. Yet each year the NOPBC meets the challenge of addressing the entire range of parent and student needs while constantly challenging every family to raise its expectations and tap the resources available to it in the division and the NFB as a whole.
“Remember the Past, Imagine the Future” was the title of this year’s NOPBC seminar. To open it, President Maurer sat down with the kids to talk about the things that interested them. Then a panel of younger students talked about what was on their minds. Carrie Gilmer then showed a PowerPoint presentation with photos and audio, highlighting the history of the NOPBC. The audience was captivated to see and hear Dr. Jernigan call the organizing meeting to order and the group elect its first officers. They watched and listened to NOPBC leaders grow in confidence and skill as the years rolled by. The morning session closed with Carol Castellano’s tribute to Barbara Cheadle and the immeasurable impact she has had on the lives and parenting of an entire generation of families of blind children. Carol concluded by pointing out that through the years Barbara had lacked only one tool of excellent leadership, a gavel. She then presented Barbara with a beautifully finished rosewood gavel and wooden base inscribed with her name and the dates of her NOPBC presidency.
Barbara responded to this tribute by inquiring where the coffin was, since that many lovely things were not usually said about a person before the funeral service. She went on to recall for an audience mostly too new to have heard the story that, when her own blind toddler Chaz was just beginning to acquire the skills of blindness, she learned firsthand about the depth of the discrimination he would face when he began searching for a job. She tried to persuade a work colleague at the Red Cross to consider hiring a blind employee. The woman, herself married to a legally blind man who, like Chaz, had significant residual vision, flat out refused to consider a legally blind candidate. Barbara realized at that moment that equipping her son with the blindness tools he needed to live and work in the world would not be enough. She had to change the world he would face as an adult. She has been about that work ever since. Barbara went on to assure the group that, though she was retiring from office this year, she was not going anywhere. She will continue to edit Future Reflections and advise the division.
During the remainder of the morning blind children and adult family members could choose from a number of workshop offerings: music Braille, the abacus, early cane use, adapting board games, preparing for more independence as a multiply disabled blind adult, helping low-vision kids adapt to blindness, and feeling at ease at your first convention with more than two thousand people using canes or dogs. In the afternoon kids did arts and crafts by age group while their parents chose from another array of hour-long workshops. A sequence of two workshops was available for parents of preschoolers, elementary students, and teens and young adults. Separate sessions were also available for families of multiply disabled children and homeschoolers.
Monday morning, families could take advantage of the growing number of cane travel instructors at convention by signing up for cane walks in which kids and sometimes parents got a travel lesson under sleepshades with an expert in the structured-discovery method. These cane walks have become a popular feature of parent activities. That afternoon teens and parents could learn more about chemistry and the adaptive equipment that makes it possible for blind students to take full advantage of chemistry labs.
Tuesday afternoon the division conducted its annual meeting, following which those interested in strengthening state and local parent organizations met to trade ideas and report on their successes. During the remainder of convention week, evenings and other free time were filled with valuable programs on IEP advocacy, evaluating assessments, encouraging kids to become really active, and much more.
Teens from twelve to eighteen had their own programming all week long. The teen hospitality drop-in room was open lunchtimes and some other times. Supervised by Brigid Doherty, it provided blind and sighted teens a safe place to hang out and get to know other teens. Participation in this year’s youth track was not for the faint of heart as teens learned the art of step dancing from Faith Penn, a college student from Texas, and tested their endurance during power yoga instruction by Janice Jeang, summer intern at the NFB Jernigan Institute. Teens also showed off their creativity as they presented their own top ten lists for the David Letterman Show. Amidst giggles and forgotten lines, small groups of youth shared what they believed to be the ten most important things the public should know about blindness.
Nearly every NFB division turned out for the youth track’s division meet and greet held on July 1. Representatives talked to the youth about their divisions and invited them to attend their convention meetings. At least three of the teens who went to division meetings as a result of that day’s program were elected to a division board. The youth wrapped up the week in typical teen style--dancing the night away and singing their favorite songs at the tops of their lungs.
However, the event that all those who attended will remember longest was the silver anniversary buffet dinner and program held on Sunday evening, June 29. Laura Weber, president of the parents of blind children division in Texas, coordinated the production of a full-color program commemorating the organization’s history. Braille and print editions of this beautiful document were available that evening to the 240 who attended the dinner and the overflow audience who joined the event in time for the program. Anyone who would like to order a single copy of the print program for $10 can contact Barbara Cheadle at <[email protected]> to place an order.
Carrie Gilmer, incoming NOPBC president, and her husband Phil Richardson created a second PowerPoint presentation of NOPBC history that stirred fond memories for many in the audience. Then Ruby Ryles was presented with the Dan Ryles Memorial Award. Dan, whom we all came to know through Ruby’s speeches and writings and Dan’s own speeches, especially, “Mean like my Mom,” died unexpectedly in July of 2007. His mother was of course deeply touched by this tribute to Dan and to her. She spoke movingly of Dan’s life and her personal development within and commitment to the National Federation of the Blind.
At this celebration the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children also initiated the Twig Bender Awards, to be given to those whose work has influenced the direction in which our blind children have grown. NOPBC leaders decided this first year to name one Twig Bender for each year of the organization’s existence and one to grow on. The recipients were invited to come to the platform to receive their medallions. Carrie Gilmer placed the medallion ribbon around the neck of each recipient, saying something fitting about each person’s contribution to the organization. Those honored were Carol Castellano, Barbara Cheadle, John Cheadle, Joe Cutter, Susan Ford, Marty Greiser, Sandy Halverson, Allen Harris, Joy Harris, Julie Hunter, Nadine Jacobson, Kenneth Jernigan, Mary Ellen Jernigan, Denise Mackenstadt, Marc Maurer, Carla McQuillan, Abraham Nemeth, Barbara Pierce, Ruby Ryles, Fred Schroeder, Debbie Kent Stein, Gail Wagner, Ramona Walhof, Loretta White, Doris Willoughby, and Joanne Wilson.
Brief biographies of the award recipients appeared in the program, as did memories and tributes from supporters across the country. The entire event was a tribute to the organizational skills and the meticulous planning of the NOPBC leaders and members who worked hard to make the evening a success. The food was delicious and included choices that made even the youngest guests happy. The program was just an hour long and kept moving so that even the kids stayed remarkably interested. In short, those who plan the golden anniversary celebration will have a difficult act to follow.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
The beautiful centerpieces at the twenty-fifth anniversary dinner of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, symbolized the accomplishments of the past and the hopes for the future. Created by Texas parent leader, Lety Flores, the colorful flowers in full bloom, the watering can, and the packet of seeds said it all.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
The centerpieces graced twenty tables at the anniversary dinner on Sunday night, June 29. The tables sat twelve, and the room was packed--you do the math.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
The menu included entrées to please adults and kids. Here, Kendra Holloway (GA) digs into her kid-friendly menu of chicken tenders and mac’n cheese.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Despite a packed room, the buffet lines moved quickly thanks to the efficient hotel staff and our own registration crew.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
The friendly, unhurried atmosphere encouraged many kids, such as this young girl, to practice blindness skills at the buffet table under the tutelage of parents or blind mentors.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Texas POBC leaders (left to right), Sally Thomas, Kim Cunningham, Lety Flores, and Laura Weber, were excellent and gracious hostesses for the evening; they helped guests find seats, assisted when needed in the buffet line, and generally helped everyone have a good time.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Susan Ford (MO), the founding president of the NOPBC and one of the writers of its constitution, speaks to the dinner crowd about our early history.
Carol Castellano (right) presents the Dan Ryles Memorial Award to Ruby Ryles (left).
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Abraham Nemeth, inventor of the Nemeth Braille Code for mathematics, enjoys a cup of coffee before the Twig Awardees are called to the front for the presentations.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Carrie Gilmer (at the microphone), prepares to present the twenty-six As the Twig is Bent award medallions. Behind her (right to left) are award winners Carol Castellano, John Cheadle, Susan Ford, Marty Greiser, Sandy Halverson, Joy Harris, and Allen Harris. Carrie, the Master of Ceremonies for the celebration, also chaired the Twig Award Committee.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Barbara and John Cheadle smile as they accept their Twig awards.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Barbara Pierce, OH (left); Joanne Wilson, MD (center photo); Doris Willoughby, CO (center); and Mary Ellen Jernigan, MD (right) beam as they accept their Twig medallions from Carrie Gilmer. Mary Ellen Jernigan also accepts the award posthumously for Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, whose unwaivering support was essential for the establishment of the NOPBC.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
Serena Cucco is entranced by the final program item: a PowerPoint presentation by Carrie Gilmer and her husband, Phillip Richardson, called “Keeping the Faith.” Scenes and people from the past and present flash by as we hear the recorded voice of Dr. Jernigan speaking to parents at the NOPBC organizational meeting on July 2, 1983, at the convention in Kansas City, MO.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
The finale to the program and dinner is the grand entrance of the anniversary cake--well, cupcakes to be exact. Formed into the shape of the number 25, the red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting sport a candle each. After the candles are lit, the Twig award winners are invited to step up and help blow them out.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Cunningham
by Carrie Gilmer, President
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
It was my great honor at the 2008 NOPBC annual meeting in Dallas to be elected to hold the office of the president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one….” Our purpose in creating a climate of opportunity for blind children is one I indeed consider a mighty one, and it gives me joy every day to see that purpose realized in the life of a child whose opportunities have been limited by a lack of accurate knowledge about blindness.
I have four children of my own; two are now adults. They all have their own unique personalities and needs as all humans do. My third child, Jordan, is seventeen and he is blind. Last year I had the opportunity to raise a fifth child (who became partly my own): a blind foreign exchange student from Ukraine. Raising all of them has required wisdom, love, and a measure of time devoted to their individual needs. My blind children needed the same things my sighted children did, and then something more. The something more was a lot of work, commitment, and self-education to ensure that those normal opportunities occurred. My involvement has created the potential for seemingly infinite learning and networking opportunities. I learn every day from NFB members and other parents how to further create a climate of opportunity for my son and for all our children. The reward is that my blind kids are living up to their potential, and have as many normal opportunities as my sighted kids. This is all we can do for any of our children: give them the best chance possible to make it on their own.
I have two great passions: one is children, the other is justice. For nine years I have been able to combine these two passions by working to improve the lives and education of all blind children, not just my own. I’ve done this in my professional life, as a volunteer member of the NFB, and I’ve done it at the local, state, and national levels. For the past five years I had the opportunity to work at BLIND, Inc, which is one of three national NFB training centers for the blind. At the local and state levels, I’ve established and conducted programs for blind kids and their parents--programs such as Saturday School and Teen Night. My experience at the national level has taken me around the country as an advocate and inspirational speaker. I’ve observed how hundreds of blind people of all ages adjust to blindness by learning the nonvisual, problem-solving, coping, and confidence skills necessary to succeed. And as an instructor, mentor, and facilitator, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of that process. I understand, deeply understand, exactly what it takes for a blind person to become fully integrated into society. I understand what that integration requires from the blind person and what it requires from society.
No child can be empowered if the parent is not empowered first. Yet, the strength of that empowerment is at risk if the teachers and the others in our children’s lives are not accurately informed about blindness. Barbara Cheadle’s phenomenal work and passions as the past NOPBC President were, for twenty-three years, the driving force in making our organization successful in empowering thousands of blind children, their families, and their teachers. The NOPBC is today (because of our integral relationship to the NFB) the largest and strongest parent-consumer force in the world for bettering the lives of blind children.
Yet, Barbara did not do it alone. There were many dedicated parents and NFB members along the way who helped grow us and make us into who we are today. And neither can I do it alone. It will take all of us to fulfill our purpose of changing the climate of opportunity in the world for our kids. None of our children will have the full measure of opportunity they should have until all of them do. This is what we strive for.
When we make the world a better place for blind people, we make the world itself a better place because of the incalculable contributions the blind can make. My Federation colleague, Dr. Edward Bell, ends his online signature with this quote from Stephen Jay Gould, “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” We cannot afford to let any blind child or adult fail in gaining opportunity to live up to his or her potential, not just for the benefit of the blind person, but also for the sake of all of us.
Jimmy Carter said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something…I’m free to choose what that something is, and the something I’ve chosen is my faith. My faith demands--this is not optional--my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to make a difference.”
Out of my faith in the normalcy of blind people, I have chosen to make a difference for blind kids. This is my pledge to you: to do whatever I can--wherever I am, whenever I can--with all the knowledge and heart and energy and resources that I have, for as long as I can, to make a difference. I ask you to join me. Join me in making a difference with all that you can and with whatever you have.
Sometime around mid-morning at the June 29, 2008, NOPBC Annual Parents Seminar in Dallas, Carol Castellano, first vice president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, took the microphone to make a surprise presentation to Barbara Cheadle who, after twenty-three years as president of NOPBC, had announced in 2007 that she would not be seeking re-election. Here is what Castellano said, followed by comments from Barbara Cheadle:
You are here as a part of the best, the premier, the most progressive parents’ organization in the country. It’s an exciting place to be; it’s really where the action is. So many of us return year after year--at first we come to find help for our own child, and then we stay and we make a commitment to help others. This organization is unique. We were not founded, supported, or run by professionals in the field. We were founded in partnership with the real experts on blindness: the members of the National Federation of the Blind. No other parent organization enjoys the benefits of this unique structure. We, and our children, can call upon the experience of 50,000 blind people across the country who become our mentors, our role models, and our friends. And our children have an organization that they can grow into. I am so proud of this organization and so proud to be a part of it.
NOPBC is an agent for change in our society. We change the lives of individual families and children, and we move beyond individuals to make changes in the system. Twenty-five years ago, expectations were far lower for blind children and opportunities fewer. NOPBC raised the bar and raised the expectations of parents and teachers and of the blind kids themselves everywhere. Instead of being doomed to dependence, illiteracy, and helplessness, our kids learn a “can do” attitude and find out that it’s okay to be blind. NOPBC works to get laws passed to safeguard our children’s right to a full education and an independent future. We fought for their right to learn Braille and to get textbooks on time, and we led the campaign to get canes in the hands of young kids. This kind of parent advocacy simply was not available before this organization came into existence. This organization insists on equal access for our kids. We insist on their getting the opportunity to learn blindness skills that can make them independent. And we don’t take no for an answer.
Over the past twenty-five years, we’ve grown and grown. Our projects to enhance the use of Braille have become the subject of academic research. Our magazine is read by thousands across the country. Our legislative initiatives touch the lives of every blind child. And we have such a great organization because of the people in it, and that means you. NOPBC is strong because of the leadership, commitment, dedication, advocacy, and passion of its members. And there’s no one who embodies that passion and commitment more than the person I’m going to speak about for a few moments.
When my daughter Serena was a baby, twenty-four years ago, a hospital social worker gave me some literature from the NFB, along with the usual dire warning about its militancy and radical nature. As soon as I got home, I called and was put through to Barbara Cheadle. And thus began one of the most important and cherished relationships of my life.
Through the first five years of Serena’s life, Barbara gave me advice and encouragement about bringing up a blind baby, as well as a new way to look at blindness, and the possibilities that the future might hold for my daughter. Barbara also put me in touch with the Federation leaders in my state. When Serena entered kindergarten and first grade in our local public school, our troubles began. We were confronted with the powerful plague of ignorance, fear, and prejudice. In June of 1990, I frantically called Barbara, desperately needing the facts on the law and what we could really expect from teachers, special services, and our young blind daughter. Barbara’s response was to fly me down to the convention--and it was here in Dallas that year--so that I could talk to Doris Willoughby, Ruby Ryles, and other Federationists who would have answers for me, and who could provide ammunition with which we could fight for Serena’s rights. I couldn’t believe that someone who hadn’t even met us would make such an effort to help my family.
And now, nineteen conventions later, I’m still here. I think Barbara got her money’s worth out of me. So we find out that Barbara is not only a caring, concerned person; she is also a sly fox. In the early nineties, NOPBC was holding seminars in different regions of the country. I hungrily read about them in Future Reflections. And one day I called Barbara and asked her when she would be bringing a seminar to the New York/New Jersey area. She said, “Well, why don’t you go ahead and put one on?” So here we see another of Barbara’s characteristics. She has the ability to empower others and nurture and bring out their talents. And when we think about the fact that she got me to do her work, we also realize that she is very smart.
Over the years, Barbara and I became colleagues in the cause. Barbara is wonderful to work with. I have so enjoyed our many hours of discussing, brainstorming, analyzing, and making plans. Barbara is truly generous of spirit. She always made me feel that my thoughts were worthwhile, and I have never heard her speak of anyone with anything but appreciation and respect. If you’ve ever worked with Barbara, it’s not long before you discover that she knows everything. She knows Federation history, the positions we’ve taken on every issue since time immemorial, and everybody who’s anybody in the blindness field. Barbara has been the face, the words, and the voice of NOPBC virtually since our beginning. She has been a strong, steady, tireless advocate for blind kids. I don’t know anyone who has affected the lives of blind children more. So many of us in this room can say that we owe the success of our blind children to the loving support, wise counsel, knowledge and information, patient encouragement, and kindness and understanding of my friend, Barbara Cheadle.
And Barb, we have a little presentation to make for you. Now in all the years that Barbara’s been running seminars and meetings, she was missing one tool. The tool was a gavel. This is a token of our gratitude and appreciation of your years. I’m going to describe it: it’s a rosewood base and the inscription says, “Barbara Cheadle, President NOPBC 1985-2008,” and it has Mr. Whozit on it. And the gavel itself is a rosewood gavel with a brass wrapping around it. And now I present to you: Barbara Cheadle.
So where’s the coffin? The only time people say this many good things about you is at a funeral. I do not believe this. [pause, emotion]
I want to share one story with you. Some of you may have read it, but maybe not because it’s a story I wrote in one of my early articles in Future Reflections.
My son Chaz, who’s blind, is now thirty-years-old, married, has a job, his own life, and his own friends. He’s out on his own and actually plans and prepares Mother’s Day and Father’s Day for us, without any prompting. That’s when you know that they’re really grown up.
But when we adopted Chaz, we were already members of the Federation. We had blind friends. And Chaz is, in the terminology of the day, a high partial. So I guess [I thought] that maybe he wouldn’t really encounter as much of the discrimination and problems as those who were totally blind. Within the first year I learned differently. I was at that time working for the American Red Cross. And we had a [job] opening come up. I had talked to my supervisor about blindness and blind people, and he seemed very open-minded. So I thought, “Wow, this might be a good chance to get a blind guy a job.” I didn’t have anyone in mind, but I thought, “Wow, if we could put out the word that there was a job opening, and they’re open to hiring a blind person, wouldn’t that be great?”
So I went to my supervisor, and he said, “Well that job now comes under the purview of someone else,” and named a colleague of mine. So I went to talk to her. I was absolutely dumbfounded. She listened politely to me, and then told me that a blind person couldn’t do this job. So I said, “Well you know, blindness is--people have different degrees of vision and still be blind. You might even have someone who would read print or some print. They [blind people] have lots of different ways of doing things. Surely you would be open-minded to someone.” She said, “No. No. No. No, they’d have to drive.” I said, “We have volunteers with the Red Cross who do driving.”
Well it turns out that her husband was legally blind, had some vision, didn’t drive, and was a helpless, hopeless kind of person. And, you know, the only thing I could think of was my beautiful, wonderful, three-year-old boy being twenty or sixteen or seventeen and trying to get a job, and to not even [pause, emotion]--not even get in the front door for an interview. I went to the bathroom and I locked the door and I cried.
But that was the day--that was the day--that I knew that I had to do more than simply what I needed to do to make him independent--you know, get Braille for him and a cane--we had all that and role models (we were already members). But to change the broader public attitudes required being a part of an organization like this--and the NFB--and developing a parents’ division (this was pre-parent division, it was even pre-Future Reflections). And it all happened because I realized that if we didn’t change public attitudes and laws, then my son could be the most competent blind person in the world, and he still might not have a job or opportunities.So, that obsession stayed with me--as you can see thirty years later. I am not going away, mind you. I’m stepping down as president because now is the time when our parents’ division is at its strongest, when we have more leaders and more coming on. When we have a wonderful woman here who’s ready and eager and has the passion and the philosophy to step forward to take on the responsibility. That person--Carrie Gilmer, sitting next to me, whom I whole-heartedly support--will have lots of other experienced leaders and new leaders coming on to help carry on for the next twenty-five years. So, thank you very much--all of you. I’m not going away, but it is time for the new leadership to come on and to make the transition. Thank you very much.
Barbara Cheadle, Panel Moderator
Editor’s Note: On Friday morning, July 4, the 2008 convention took official notice of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Barbara Cheadle, the retiring NOPBC president, chaired the panel that spoke about the division and what it has accomplished. Barbara spoke briefly and then introduced the panelists. This is what they said:
“Daddy said, ‘All children must look after their own upbringing. Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.’” So said Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. What are the right paths, and how do parents put children onto them? Well, when we teach our children to say “please” and “thank you,” we are putting them on the right path to becoming civil and thoughtful citizens. When we require our children to take out the trash, make the bed, and do other chores, we are putting them on the path to becoming self-sufficient people who will one day support themselves. When we require our children to say “I’m sorry” and to give back the toy they snatched from their baby brothers, we are putting them on the path to becoming moral people with a sense of right and wrong. But what happens when that child is blind? How are parents to know what the right paths are for that child, or even if there are any choices of paths to take? Many of you in this room were once blind children, and most of you had caring and loving parents who tried hard to teach you to be good people, and some of your parents even reached beyond the stereotypes of blindness of their generation to insist that you do everything that other kids did. But it is also true that, when it came to blindness, many--indeed perhaps most of you from my generation--had to find your own path to the Federation and the knowledge that it is indeed respectable to be blind.
Twenty-five years ago, at the NFB convention in Kansas City, Missouri, the NFB under the wise and caring leadership of President Kenneth Jernigan established the division of parents of blind children with the sole purpose of showing parents how to put their children on the right paths. And now, twenty-five years later, what can we say that we have accomplished? I have assembled a panel of three parents and two young blind women to speak to you today about their personal experiences and how the parents division of the NFB set them on the right paths.First to speak is Carol Castellano, vice president of the NOPBC since 1991, president of the POBC of New Jersey, author, and educator--her most important role has been mom to Serena Cucco. Here is Carol.
by Carol Castellano
Good morning, fellow Federationists. So many of you know--or at least know about--my daughter Serena. I’ve been writing about her for her whole life. In fact I’m considering designating each one of you honorary godfather--or godmother--for the role you’ve had in her upbringing.
Serena was born four months premature. She weighed only one pound five ounces, needed surgery after surgery, which set back her development. She spent the first seven and a half months of her life in a neonatal ICU. She was left with the aftermath of extreme prematurity: she became blind, was seriously undersized, had muscle weakness and developmental delays. She was unable to move her facial and oral muscles voluntarily and so was unable to chew--or to talk. Her shoulders were so hyperextended from her arms being tethered to her bed with IV lines that they hung limply behind her.
At one year she could not sit up; at three she could not chew solid foods; at five she still could not talk. Hopes were not high among the many professionals who came into our lives at that time. There was the developmental pediatrician who said to me, “You’d better start treating her as retarded.” I wondered what that even meant. There was the IEP team that placed her in the preschool class for the “low-functioning” children. There was the teacher of the blind who refused to give us stick-on Braille--we wanted to make alphabet blocks for her, because she had made the decision when Serena was twelve months old that she would never read.
Well I’m happy to report that Serena graduated from college a year ago, and even better than that, she successfully landed her first job. How did she get from her precarious beginnings to where she is today? The answer, my friends, is sitting in this room. She got there because of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Federation of the Blind!
We were lucky to be introduced to the Federation and to NOPBC when Serena was just a baby. A social worker gave us some books and papers to read when she was in the hospital having eye surgery. One of those books was Doris Willoughby’s Resource Guide for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children. I read that book right there in the hospital room, and, as I read, I could feel myself being lifted up. It was our first inkling that maybe things could be all right.
I should tell you that the social worker returned to the room and told us, “This organization has some pretty good literature, but keep away from them, ‘cause they’re radical and militant.” My ears perked right up, and the first phone call I made when we got back to New Jersey was to the National Federation of the Blind. As luck would have it, I was put through to Barbara Cheadle, and it was with growing excitement that I listened to her empowering message about expectations, skills, opportunity, and the path to a normal life for our daughter.
Perhaps my family would eventually have found that path on our own, but because of NOPBC we found ourselves fast-forwarded along the road toward competence, confidence, self-sufficiency, and independence for our daughter. This is what NOPBC does. It shows parents the possibilities and then helps them find their way.
From our literature--and I am especially grateful for the writings of Doris Willoughby and Ruby Ryles--to our workshops, from our advocacy to our comraderie, NOPBC is a potent force for spreading our positive message about blindness to parents, schools, and the wider community. NOPBC certainly helped my family through the challenges we faced during Serena’s early school years and rejoiced with us when things went smoothly thereafter.
The years flew by, and, before we knew it, we were visiting colleges. Serena fell in love with Manhattanville College because it had two institutes for social justice--and no disabilities students’ office. She applied early, was accepted, and received a board of trustees scholarship. I’m happy to tell you that she lived away from home, got herself to meals and classes, and tells me that, yes, she even did her laundry.
Serena majored in sociology and minored in social justice. And some night when you turn on the TV news and they’re showing all those people handcuffed around a tree, look for the one with the cane. That’ll be my Serena. At college she handled her coursework, wrote her papers, downloaded e-files, hired and fired readers, and made the dean’s list most of her semesters. We’re very proud of her, but even more important than her academic success were the social experiences she had. Speaking of experiences, I will close by telling you how we knew that Serena was really in college. The first weekend she called and said, “Mom, I’ve been invited to an off-campus party at a senior’s apartment. I know there’s going to be drinking there, and I’ll have to get a ride from somebody I don’t know, and I don’t know whether that person is going to drink and drive, and I’m trying to decide what to do.” She told me eventually that she never did go to that party. A few weeks later she called and said, “Mom, my roommate is having a guy sleep over for the weekend.”
I said, “What kind of guy, a guy who is going to sleep on the floor, a friend guy, or a guy who is going to be in bed with the roommate?” At this point, my son, who is a couple of years younger, comes running in from the other room and says, “Mom, give me the phone.” He gets on, and he says, “Serena, when you have questions like this, you don’t talk to Mom. You talk to me.” They both assure me that that boy never slept over, and I believe them.
Then there was the wild roommate who, shall we say, was responsible for an interesting expansion of Serena’s vocabulary. And the night she called me and said, “Mom, you’re going to be so happy for me. A bunch of us are going into the city to celebrate Megan’s birthday, and I need $60.”
Serena’s success simply would not have occurred without the enlightened positions, progressive programs, and tenacious advocacy of the NOPBC. It is with profound gratitude, deep respect, and great joy that I celebrate our wonderful role models, mentors, and friends in NOPBC and the Federation and join in the celebration of NOPBC’s first twenty-five years!
by Angela Wolf
Barbara Cheadle: Next we have a young woman most of you have come to know quite well at this convention: second vice president of the NFB of Texas, president of the Austin Chapter, and chairperson of the convention ambassadors. Here is Angela Wolf.
“The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears.” -- Ellen Goodman
When I went blind at the age of twelve, my parents were full of fear and uncertainty about how I could regain the independence I had had as a sighted child. Ultimately their hopes for my future set them on a quest to find resources that would help them help me--a quest that led them, us, to the National Federation of the Blind.
The journey began quickly. My mom contacted the local chapter, and my parents were soon heading off to a state convention. There they were struck by the wealth of information that existed, but, more important, they were impressed with the attitudes that this group had about blindness and the capabilities of the blind. They saw competent blind people who were attending college and working in a variety of professions, and they knew that was what they wanted for me.
During that convention they met Joanne Wilson and Pam Allen, who provided them with information about the parents division and about summer programs for blind youth at the Louisiana Center. These ladies insisted that my parents send me to the Buddy Program. My parents were not completely sure about sending their child off to live with a bunch of blind people for four weeks, but, as many of you know, Joanne can be very persuasive.
The next thing I knew, I was in Ruston, Louisiana, learning blindness skills. My mom could not stop crying the day they dropped me off, and for the first week I called home every day, begging for them to come pick me up. The best thing they ever did for me, and probably the hardest thing they ever had to do, was to make me stay and encourage me to have fun and find the positive things about camp. Later I found out that my mother would cry as soon as she hung up the phone. By the end of the summer I was having so much fun that I would forget to call home, and my mom had stopped crying--for the most part.
After that summer my parents, especially my mom, became extremely involved in NFB activities. They found fellowship and support with other parents of blind children through the state and national parents divisions, and my mom took on leadership roles, serving as the treasurer and later president of the Louisiana Parents of Blind Children. She also served on the NOPBC board. However, my parents’ involvement in the Federation was not limited to parent events. They truly embraced the NFB philosophy and attitudes, becoming a part of the movement. Mom joined the local chapter, becoming the secretary/treasurer, and my dad always helped behind the scenes wherever he was needed--from helping set up tables to cooking jambalaya for about two-hundred people at a state convention.
Josh Billing said, “To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.” I have seen my parents work tirelessly in many capacities. They have worked diligently not only at their paying jobs, but the volunteer ones as well. From PTA to NFB I saw them dedicate their time, energy, and most of all their hearts.
Through their example and encouragement I became involved and was often volunteered by association for various jobs. My mom would have me help with creating flyers for chapter meetings and fundraisers and then stuff the envelopes, and we would all help sell candy bars and wash cars for the chapter. Beginning with the convention in Dallas in 1993, we attended state and national conventions annually. Eventually I began to become more involved on my own, taking leadership roles in the local chapter and the state student division. As I grew older and became more involved in the organization, my parents began to step back and allowed the NFB to become my endeavor.
While my parents are not always able to attend conventions or meetings any more, they continue to help fundraise for the NFB and are never hesitant to approach a blind person or parent of a blind child in the community to ask if they know about the NFB and explain how much the organization has changed our lives.
A couple of years ago, after working with young adults in the Post-Secondary Program at the Texas School for the Blind for about a year and reflecting on my work with the Buddy and STEP kids at LCB, I called my parents to thank them for encouraging me to do so much in my life, even the things I didn’t want to do, because they somehow knew it was best for me. So many of my students have not had the opportunities or experiences that I had and that they deserve. This is one of many of the reasons I wanted to help blind parents in Texas experience what my parents had experienced through the NFB. In a way helping to form the Texas Parents of Blind Children was a way to thank the NFB and the NOPBC for helping my parents help me.They say it takes a village to raise a child; I am certainly deeply grateful for my NFB family that helped my parents raise me. You too led by example and are responsible for who I am today. Thank you, and happy anniversary, NOPBC!
by Laura Weber
Barbara Cheadle: Thank you, Angela. Our next speaker is the president of our new POBC in Texas, Laura Weber. Laura’s path to the NFB was influenced by none other than Angela Wolf.
So the NOPBC is twenty-five years old? Big deal. Do you know how many times I’ve celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday? I haven’t been involved with the NOPBC for twenty-five years, or even ten years. My daughter Lindsay is only five years old.
My family’s story isn’t unusual. When I took my daughter to her two-month well-baby checkup, I mentioned to her pediatrician that her eyes moved around a lot and that she wasn’t visually tracking things yet. He referred us to a pediatric ophthalmologist, and after another month, many tests, and a second opinion, we found out that Lindsay was blind due to Leber’s congenital amaurosis. Unfortunately, a diagnosis was the only thing the doctors gave us. We weren’t referred to early childhood intervention services. We weren’t referred to a parent group. We weren’t given books, brochures, or a list of references. We were just sent home.
I started searching the Internet for parent groups and information. I was devastated and scared, but I was determined. I eventually met some local parents who were involved in NAPVI. As most of you know, NAPVI is the other parents group--the National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments. Together we re-formed HAPVI, a Houston-area chapter of NAPVI that had been inactive for several years. I was elected president, and I served for two years.
So why am I here today to tell parents to join the NFB? How did I go from being the president of HAPVI to being the president of Texas Parents of Blind Children and, as of this past Tuesday, the new secretary of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children? What made me cross over to the dark side?
First is this: I came to realize that it’s not about me. A parents’ group doesn’t have to be affiliated with an adult organization of the blind to give you information. You can learn about special ed law. You can meet other parents and exchange stories. You can hear a lot about what the experts in the blindness field--the experts being sighted professionals, of course--have to say about teaching blind children. But what’s in it for my daughter? Yes, having an educated parent is crucial. But what kind of education can you get about blindness from a group of sighted parents who’ve aligned themselves with professional organizations of sighted educators and proudly advertise the fact that they’re not part of an organization of blind adults?
This is about my daughter. Lindsay is a blind child. She will grow up to be a blind adult. I want to be part of a group that can prepare her for that. Belonging to the organization of the blind is essential. We’re talking about my daughter’s future. She needs blind role models. She needs programs like Braille Readers Are Leaders, Youth Slam, Slate Pals, Buddy Camps, and mentoring programs. She needs the NFB.
The other reason I joined the NFB is this: what you believe about blindness affects everything. You can be a loving parent. You can be a skilled teacher. You can sincerely love blind children and want them to succeed. But if you don’t truly believe in your heart of hearts that it’s okay to be blind, your child won’t either.
I have to let you in on a little secret. Some people think the NFB is made up of radicals. (You probably didn’t know that, right?) When I first started talking to Angela Wolf and others about forming a parents of blind children chapter in Texas, I asked her about the NFB’s reputation. Is the NFB really radical? You know what she said? She said, “Well, if believing in blind people being independent and capable is radical, then yes, we’re a bunch of radicals.”
That’s the kind of radical thinking I want my daughter to have. The NFB’s philosophy is what I want my daughter to learn and live. The NFB helps me stay focused on my goal to raise Lindsay to be a happy, healthy, independent, and successful adult. In short, I want for my child what all parents want for their children. My desires and expectations aren’t different or lower because she’s blind.
Lindsay will turn six next week. She’s using a cane and learning to read Braille. She’s smart and beautiful and funny and is, without a doubt, the happiest kid I’ve ever met. It feels good and right to be raising her in the NFB. Together we’ll teach her that it’s respectable to be blind.As Barbara mentioned in my introduction, I do have a day job. I’m a biomedical engineer, and I work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. I’ve had some amazing opportunities. I’ve worked in the Mission Control Center during space shuttle flights; trained astronauts and cosmonauts; experienced weightlessness on the KC-135 zero-G airplane (the “vomit comet”); been to space shuttle launches and landings; trained a crew on an actual space shuttle middeck; and worked on medical and experimental hardware that has flown on the space shuttle, the Russian Mir Space Station, and the International Space Station. I’m grateful for these experiences, but the truth is, it’s just a job. It pays the rent. I can assure you wholeheartedly that my job as a mom, an advocate, and a volunteer is much harder than my day job--and more exciting and fulfilling! Who says that being a parent isn’t rocket science? Thank you.
by Jim Beyer
Barbara Cheadle: Thank you, Laura. We are coming now to our final panelists. President of the POBC chapter of the Montana affiliate of the NFB and a member of the national NOPBC board, here is Jim Beyer, who will speak and then introduce his daughter, Lauren.
Fourteen years ago my wife Gwen and I noticed something peculiar about our four-month-old daughter Lauren. We took her to the local doctor, who referred us to the big clinic in Portland, Oregon. The doctors there told us that she was severely blind and that there was no fix. They assured us that she would be able to live a normal life and not to worry. We got in our car and drove that long, lonely road together, back to our home state, a state in which we had never before dwelt, the State of Denial.
After a while we stirred from our stupor and began to grab every resource we could find. We were grabbers and joiners. We joined every blindness group that we could. Wouldn’t you? They all seemed like they wanted to help us and to help Lauren.
We joined the NFB and received the Braille Monitor and read some great, helpful articles in Future Reflections. We signed up with AFB and received their periodicals. We signed up with the Foundation Fighting Blindness and mailed donations. We signed up with the Foundation for Retinal Research and had Lauren’s blood drawn for genetic testing. We signed up with the Hadley School so that we could learn Braille. I took their correspondence course “Just Enough to Know Better.” I thought I was doing great and that Braille was easy and fun but I kept getting my tests back with big red Cs on them. I thought I should have at least gotten an A for effort; so I am now a recovering Hadley School dropout.
We joined the professional group, AER, went to a conference and got a discount on our car insurance. We were loving parents desperate to do the right thing for our child, but without our knowledge we were instead slowly, yet inexorably, becoming experts in a field not of our own choosing.
Of all the groups we joined, we became personally involved with people from two of them. We attended a few conferences focused on medical advances in sight restoration and met some good people there, some of whom are in this very room. It seemed to us that many of the parents there were looking to the future for hope, not to the present, and to a certain extent so were we. We also attended the local chapter meetings of the NFB in our town in Montana. We were the only members under the age of, like ninety-eight (just kidding, Lois!).
We then moved to a larger town, and things changed. In Missoula we met some great guys: Dan Burke and Jim Marks, blind NFB leaders. They were very helpful in coaching us, not judging us. They didn’t criticize us for being involved in all the wrong groups; they were gentle with us when we made incorrect statements about blindness. They came to our IEP meetings and wrote Lauren’s technical evaluations. They were patient and kind. They were good people and good friends.
Through our relationship with Dan and Jim we were sold on the NFB. Through the people, the practices, and the policies of the NFB, Lauren is succeeding, and Gwen and I are getting close. But we did not get to this place all at once; it was a long process for us.
So be patient with new parents. They want to do the right thing for their child, the child whom they love, the child with whom they would gladly exchange lives. Be willing to come alongside these new parents, to encourage them, and to support them; but be respectful. Be careful not to judge them or correct them harshly if they express ideas at odds with NFB viewpoints. Allow them to make mistakes, but be there to keep them moving, gently, slowly, inexorably in the right direction.
And finally, if your own parents were a disappointment to you, if your own parents spent too much of their energy hoping for a cure and not enough energy encouraging you to enjoy the life that God gave you, there’s only one remedy: you must forgive them. Life is too short, people are too important, and family is too valuable. Let them know that you love them because one thing is sure, warts and all, we love you.
by Lauren Beyer
Jim Beyer: The final speaker in the panel is my daughter Lauren Beyer. She is a fourteen-year-old freshman in high school. She is just going into Big Sky High School. She has been in our local public school all of her career and maintains honor-roll status. Other than that, she’s just a normal kid.
I was born blind in a small town in Montana. My parents moved us to a nearby small city so that I could learn Braille and have a chance to succeed. I did well in school with my grades, but I was kind of lonely. Kids were nice to me when I was in school, but nobody knew how to hang out with “the blind girl.”
I had a few friends, but I spent a lot of afternoons and weekends alone. My parents said once that they would almost pay somebody to come over to my house to hang out. There were always lots of kids over at our house, but they were all my brothers’ friends. Not only did I not have any friends to hang out with, I didn’t know any other blind kids my age. I thought I was the only one in the world who was living this life.
I knew nothing about being blind; I wouldn’t even say that word. Then, when I was eleven, my parents said something about an NFB convention. I had no idea what that was. We all flew to Louisville, Kentucky. I had no idea what to expect. At the convention there was a thing called the teen room. It was a rented room where teens could hang out and talk. I met girls there from all over America. I felt good. I found the friends I’d never even known were out there. We had so much fun at the convention that the words “parents” and “curfew” were forgotten.
When I was at convention, my friends said something about a month-long program in Minnesota. My parents looked into it and talked with Shawn Mayo, the director of the program. Even though Buddy Camp was only a week away, they still let me sign up. I spent four weeks in the Pillsbury mansion in Minneapolis and became closer with some of the friends I’d made at convention. We have all kept in contact since then. We visit on the phone or IM or MySpace each other on the Internet.
We went to the convention again in Atlanta in 2007. All of us hung out in the teen room; had a sleepover in my parents room; went to Six Flags together; and, while our parents were off in--ugh--meetings, we laughed and caught up.
I am so happy that we hooked up with the NFB! Making friends in the NFB has somehow helped me to collect a big group of sighted friends at home as well. I now have friends that I can count on, not only in my hometown, but all around the country.I now have good friends in states such as California, Alaska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon, Missouri, and Utah. My afternoons and weekends are no longer lonely thanks to my friends in the NFB.
Carrie Gilmer, Minnesota (NOPBC board 2005, secretary 2006 to present, president MN-POBC) Carrie has been a leader in the MN-POBC since 1999, and for the past five years she has worked at BLIND, Inc.; one of the three national NFB training centers for the blind. She initiated and coordinates a monthly program for teens and a Saturday school where blind kids and their parents can learn from blind mentors and practice blindness techniques. Carrie and husband Phillip Richardson have four children: Joe (26); Kate (22); Jordan (17), who is blind from cone-rod dystrophy; and Maya (10). Jordan is an honor student and he loves cartoons, sports, science, and foreign languages. Carrie and Jordan attended their first convention in 1999 in Atlanta, where he received his first cane.
First Vice President
Carol Castellano, New Jersey (NOPBC first vice president 1998 to present, second vice president 1991-1998, and president POBC-NJ) Carol is the acclaimed author of Making It Work, The Bridge to Braille, and Because Books Matter. Carol recently started a new career as the outreach and recruitment coordinator for the teacher of blind students training program at the College of New Jersey, a program she helped establish. Carol and her husband, Bill Cucco, have two children: Serena (24), blind from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP); and John (21). Serena graduated in 2007 with a degree in sociology and social justice, and is currently employed as a life skills advocate with the Office of Public Defender in Newark, NJ. Son John made important contributions to the NOPBC Webpage as an NFB summer intern. Carol attended her first convention in 1990 then went back to tell her family where they would be spending their fourth of Julys from then on.
Second Vice President
Brad Weatherd, Wyoming (NOPBC board 2002, second vice president 2006 to present, and treasurer NFB-WY) Brad inaugurated the NOPBC Dads’ Night Out and with wife Jill has hosted the NOPBC Family Hospitality at conventions. Brad is a rangeland management specialist with the US Forest Service. He and Jill have two children: Hannah (15), blind from congenital cataracts, detached retina, and glaucoma, and son Levi (13). Hannah starred in a McDonald’s commercial when she was six and is currently a 4-H grand champion for poultry and rabbits. They have been to 14 consecutive conventions.
Sandy Taboada, Louisiana (NOPBC board 1998-2002 and treasurer 2002 to present, president LA-POBC, and secretary NFB-LA) Sandy manages the NOPBC seminar registration every year with the same integrity and competence she brings to all the offices she holds in the NFB. In her professional life she is Dr. Merchant, a professor and doctor of veterinary dermatology at Louisiana State University. Sandy and her husband Joe Taboada, also a veterinarian, have two sons: Michael (15), blind from optic nerve pressure caused by a benign tumor; and Robert (13). Michael is a Boy Scout and an avid ham radio operator. They have attended 11 conventions since 1997.
Laura Weber, Texas (NOPBC secretary 2008, founding president of the TX-POBC) Laura is a biomedical engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and her husband, John, is an energy trading software consultant at Shell. They have one child, Lindsay Adair (6), who is blind due to Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA). Lindsay is learning Braille and cane travel skills, along with all the “regular” things kindergarteners learn. Her favorite things are swinging, swimming, jumping on her trampoline, playing tee-ball, storytime, and singing and listening to music. The family attended their first convention in 2006.
Jim Beyer, Montana (NOPBC board 2007, chair of HOPE [Helping Other Parents Excel] the POBC affiliate in Montana) Jim is a contractor and real estate broker. He and his wife, Gwen, have two sons and one daughter: Jordan (17); Luke (15); and Lauren (14), who is blind from Leber’s congenital amaurosis. Lauren was named Most Philosophical Fifth Grader in America in 2005 and today loves literature, makeup, and the friends she has made at the Teen Hospitality Room at convention. The family attended their first convention in 2005.
Rose Marie Bowman, Michigan (NOPBC board 2007; various offices MI-POBC, 1989-2002) Rose Marie says she is now just an ordinary member of the MI-POBC. We say there is nothing ordinary about her. She is active in the Telephone Pioneers and is a technical specialist for AT&T. She is most famous for selling NOPBC 50/50 raffle tickets. Rose Marie has seven children: Brickie (41); Vickie (34); Lisa (30); Cyntina (26), who is blind from congenital cataracts and glaucoma; Willie (24); and twins Tamika and Tonisha (23). Cyntina lives independently in her own apartment and loves to sing and play board games. Rose Marie has attended 11 conventions.
Merry-Noel Chamberlain, Virginia (NOPBC board 2008, board member Des Moines chapter, NFB-IA) Merry-Noel, her husband, Marty, and their two children: Royene (28) and Ashleah (9), who is blind from congenital cataracts, glaucoma, and detached retinas, recently moved from Des Moines, Iowa, to Staunton, Virginia. Merry-Noel worked as a teacher of visual impairments in Des Moines, and is currently working as an orientation and mobility instructor at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. Adopted from China in July 2007, Ashleah won the Braille Readers Are Leaders Jennifer Baker award and a trip to her very first NFB convention in 2008. Her favorite books are Winnie the Pooh and Berenstain Bears. Merry-Noel, also blind, attended her first convention in 1998 in Dallas where she discovered her NFB family.
Denise Colton, Utah (NOPBC board 2007, board member UT-POBC) Denise is an important new asset to our leadership. Professionally Dr. Denise Colton is a psychologist specializing in the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents. With the Federation’s help Denise and her husband Rick are fighting to get Braille for their daughters Katie (15) and Kristie (10), both of whom are losing vision from Stargardt’s disease. Katie, a lover of science and math, hopes to become a meteorologist. Kristie would like to become a singer and horse rehabilitator. The Coltons attended their first convention in Louisville in 2005.
Cindy Conley, Ohio (NOPBC board 2008, president of OH-POBC 2007, board member OH-POBC 2002-2007) Cindy has a master’s degree in human resources, is a network technician, and has worked nearly 30 years for Cincinnati Bell Telephone. She coordinates and hosts a fall retreat for families for the OH-POBC each year. Cindy and husband Jim have two sons: Tyler (22) and Kyle (18). Kyle was a 23-week preemie and is blind from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Kyle, a gifted singer and violinist, has sung at the Crystal Cathedral, with the Cincinnati Boys Choir, and in Hawaii with the Honolulu Boys Choir. He attends Wright State University where he is majoring in music education. Cindy attended her first convention in 2000.
David Hammel, Iowa (NOPBC board member 2007, vice president IA-POBC) David, a metallurgical engineer, is married to Barbara, who is blind, and they are both leaders in our new parents’ chapter in Iowa. They have twin sons, both blind with microphthalmia. Adopted from China, Jesse and Paul are 5-years-old. Paul loves to sing, and Jesse, who is just starting to come out of his shell, is a champion Little Smokie eater who can eat twenty-one in one sitting. (We feel a state fair competition coming on.) David attended his first convention in Louisville in 2005.
Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway, Georgia (NOPBC board member 2006 to present, president GA-POBC) Stephanie is the energetic and successful founder of our parent division in Georgia. A biostatistician, she and her husband Richard Holloway have two daughters and one son: Sarah (14); Kendra (5), blind from microphthalmia, cataracts, PHPV, aniridia, and detached retina; and RJ (2). Kendra never met a musical instrument she didn’t want to own or play. She is already a Braille reader and is more literate than most of her sighted peers. The family attended their first convention in 2004 in Atlanta.
Barbara Mathews, California (NOPBC board member 2002 to present, president CA-POBC) An attorney, Barbara is a vice president and corporate secretary of Edison International (EIX) and Southern California Edison (SCE). Barbara organizes and moderates the NOPBC Parent Power workshops at national convention. She is a savvy IEP advocate for parents in her state and does pro bono work for parents when she can. Barbara and husband Rob Sweeney have two daughters: Kiko (15),and Kyra (14), who is blind from Leber’s congenital amaurosis. Kyra enjoys singing and also plays the flute and piano. Kyra and her mother traveled to England last summer on a trip with Kyra’s school choir. The family first attended a national convention in 1998.
Pat Renfranz, Utah (NOPBC board 2007, secretary UT-POBC) Pat is a bio-genetics scientist. Within the NOPBC she is taking a leadership role in the committee for the implementation of textbooks on time. She and her husband David Blair have two daughters: Caroline (12), blind from bilateral microphthalmia, and Camille (8). Caroline is an outdoors enthusiast who especially enjoys hiking, running, and rock climbing. At the NFB 2008 Washington Seminar, Caroline convinced Senator Hatch of Utah of the importance of the quiet cars issue through her personal testimony. They attended their first convention in 2005.
Carlton Walker, Pennsylvania (NOPBC board member since 2008, PA-POBC president 2007, NFB-PA board member 2007). Carlton and her husband, Steve, are the parents of Kenny (23), Stephanie (21), and Anna Catherine (7), who is blind. Carlton is an attorney and is currently pursuing certification as a teacher of the visually impaired at Salus University. Anna Catherine’s blindness resulted from medical complications of surgery and strokes as an infant. Anna Catherine is a bundle of energy. She is active in church, Brownies, jazz and ballet classes, and is eager to resume horseback riding classes. She is an aspiring artist and won an award in the 2007 coloring contest for her school’s musical. Carlton, Steve, and Anna attended their first convention in Dallas in 2006.
by Kayleigh Joiner, Jordan Richardson, and Anna Catherine Walker
A panel presentation at the NOPBC Annual Parents Seminar
June 29, 2008, Dallas, Texas
Editor’s Note: There is little that will grab parents’ attention faster at a seminar than an agenda item presented by children or youth. We all love to talk about our kids, and we love to hear the kids speak about their experiences, hopes, and dreams for the future. This year we had three blind kids on our panel: Kayleigh Joiner, a high school student from Pearland, Texas; Jordan Richardson, a sophomore from Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Anna Catherine Walker, a second grader from McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania. With an optimism and excitement that was contagious to all within hearing, these three spunky youngsters presented the following remarks to an audience of enthusiastic parents, teachers, and blind Federation friends of the NOPBC. Here is what they said:
Remarks by Kayleigh Joiner:
One day my mom and I were having a conversation. I asked her, “Is Texas the only state that has problems with educating blind kids?” She said “No, definitely not.”
When you are young and just starting school, your parents think that your CTVI--certified teacher of the visually impaired--is the most knowledgeable person about blindness; or at least that is how it was for me. Little did my parents know how wrong they were. It deeply saddens me to say that in all of my years of education I have never had a good CTVI. It seems like no one knew what they were doing. My mom was, and continues to act like, my CTVI by searching the Internet for new technology, attending conferences, and helping me to understand concepts that I just don't get. Education is the steppingstone to just about everything else in life. If you don't receive a good education then you will struggle in college and in work.
People’s perceptions of my blindness have caused many different reactions. For example, when my O&M [orientation and mobility] teacher and I were learning the layout of my new high school, the secretary of the school took one look at me with my cane and said, “Are you going to be in Mrs. Brenda Taylor’s class?”
She was referring to the life skills class. My O&M teacher looked at the receptionist and said “No.” We both couldn't believe her reaction.
Some people automatically assume that just because we have a cane, that we have other problems too. While that may be the case for some people, it isn't true for everyone. Blind people can be academic students, too. My mom has told me that when I was young people would never address me directly when asking a question. They would always ask my mom. She would say, “Well she's right here, so why don't you ask her yourself? She can speak you know!”
I believe that it is important to help change the perception of what it is to be blind. I also feel that it is not just the adults that are misjudging us; it is also the children. I believe that is the reason why some kids make fun of others. It is because they themselves aren't sure of what it means to be blind, and are afraid to ask. In response kids will sometimes tease or even bully.
All of what I have gone through and all of what I have heard my friends have gone through has helped me to realize my calling in life. I feel that my calling is to teach. I feel that if I were to teach elementary education then perhaps the children would see that I--a blind person--could do the same job as a sighted teacher. Just because someone is different doesn't mean that he or she is any less of a person than you are. I won't be nurturing pity, but more of understanding and compassion. I also might tutor blind kids on the side. The way I look at it is this: Who better to teach you about blindness skills than a blind person herself?
In sixth grade I was blessed to have an amazing science teacher. She taught everything--from the Periodic Table of the Elements to genetics to the scientific method--all to song. And to this day I can still remember what she taught me. She took concepts that were hard for me to grasp and made them as clear as day. It is because of what she did that inspired me to want to teach in the same way. I know that I want to incorporate music into whatever I do because music is my life and joy.
I believe that blind children can do ANYTHING that they set their minds to. You just might have to be a little bit creative in coming up with a solution on how to do it. If you are having trouble coming up with something then there are listservs, parent groups, and organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind that you can join and get help [from]. I believe that with the proper training and right attitude that blind people can do whatever they want and live happy independent lives.
I am very fortunate to have joined the NFB. They [the members] have helped me to broaden my horizon of possible occupations that I might want to have as a career. They have given me another family that I can proudly say I belong to. They don't put any limitations on me and they show me that anything is possible. This organization has enriched my life to the fullest, and I will forever be thankful.
Remarks (a poem) by Jordon Richardson:
So You Want to Be…
Part I: For The Kids
So you want to be a…
Whatever your heart desires,
Here are some things
That you will need:
Excellent travel skills,
A thirst for knowledge,
And the idea that blind is respectable.
Have you heard
That blind people have done it before?
Dr. Jacob Bolotin
Or Senator Thomas Pryor Gore?
So you want to be a…
Whichever one you choose
You will surely succeed
If you take the advice
That I know you'll need.
Be on time to your job,
Don't accept unneeded help,
And you won't get caught in a mob
Of the unemployed.
Before you decide
What you will be--
When you are still quite young--
Make sure you learn Braille
And the screen-reader called JAWS.
Don't be late to class.
Turn homework in on time.
Work hard to be sure
You do more than just pass.
As well as all of these,
You know that you need
That you can succeed.
To be successful
You know what you need?
You need an attitude
Of determination and pride.
Don't ever feel
The cane is something to hide.
No matter what it be,
Don't give up on your dream.
Don't listen to the mustn’t, the won'ts, or the shouldn'ts.
Lots of blind people who have succeeded
Were told that they couldn't.
To reach your dream
You need confidence--
And that you can receive
From the people in this room,
As well as those you find in Kernel books,
Or here at convention.
To be successful,
You know what you need?
You need to read fluently--
Which you can do by reading a lot.
Read Braille and
Read it a lot.
Read it whether you want to or not.
Find something that you like
And take it wherever you go.
I've read a book
On a bus,
In a tree,
Under the covers is just fine with me.
I can do it,
So can you.
If you don't believe me,
You know you can call
Mr. Jerry Whittle
Or Mrs. Barbara Cheadle.
They won't mind at all.
Part II: For The Parents
So, you want your kid to be…
Here are some things
You will need to do:
Take them everywhere
With the cane.
Will bring later strain.)
Be the mean parent,
And make them do chores.
This you must do
To be really sure
That your child
Grows up confidently.
To make sure
Your child learns real good,
You know what you should do?
You should push the school
To get him Braille.
To get your child
The perfect education,
You know what you should do?
You should educate the teachers
About blindness and what to do.
If you have any more questions,
You know whom you should call?
Call Dr. Ruby Ryles
And Dr. Fred Schroeder, too.
They won't mind at all if you do.
Part III: Back To The Kids
So you want to be…
Maybe you'll be the first.
So you want to be a…
You want it so bad you could burst.
To become successful,
You know where you should go?
To the NFB's Buddy programs
Or Minnesota, too.
To become successful
In whatever you choose,
Go to these places
Where I know you won't lose.
Try a summer camp or two.
Until you find one that you like,
Try a few.
If you want to go
To the Buddy program,
Tell your parents to call these three:
Call Ms. Shawn Mayo,
Ms. Pam Allen,
And Ms. Julie Deden, too.
They'll be happy if you do.
Part IV: Finally, For The Parents Again
So you want your child to be…
A good choice maker.
If you want your child
To be all three,
Take this advice
And you'll yell with glee!
To help your children
Be the best that they can be,
It takes togetherness
To be all that they can be.
To help your child
Achieve this success,
Show them the NFB
And programs they provide.
If you need any more help
You know you can call
Dr. Marc Maurer,
And Ms. Carrie Gilmer, too,
They'll be ecstatic if you do.
Remarks by Anna Catherine Walker:
Braille is important because people who need it can learn to read. And reading helps you get a job, and jobs help you get money, and money gets you things that you need to live with.
When I grow up, I will be a Braille teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a veterinarian, a librarian, a music teacher, and the President of the United States of America.
I don't want to be the first female President because it would take too long, but I want to be the first blind female President.
by Vejas Vasiliauskas and Kyra Sweeney
Student Panel Presentation
NOPBC Annual Meeting, Tuesday July 1, 2008
Editor’s Note: It has become a tradition to include one or more youth speakers on the program at the annual meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. This year, we asked two high-achievers from California to share their dreams with us--hence the title. Here is what they had to say:
Hi, my name is Vejas Vasiliauskas. I’m eleven years old and will be starting middle school this fall. My hobbies are reading and writing. Sometimes people ask me what my favorite book is. It is a very hard question to answer because there are so many fantastic books out there. Last year my favorite books were John Adams by David McCullough and Esperanza Rising. This year it’s a tie for my two favorite books, Things Not Seen and An Unlikely Friendship: A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley.
I am really excited to have the opportunity to talk to you today about California dreaming. Growing up, I listened to or read many stories about children doing all sorts of different activities. These stories inspired me to try different sports and activities, including skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, rock climbing, surfing, and boogie boarding.
I started to dream of surfing when I was five years old. I finally convinced my parents to sign me up for lessons. I actually had a real nightmare the night before my first surfing lesson. In that dream, my surf instructor was really mean and I didn’t catch any waves at all. But that’s normal. Whenever you have a big event, you may feel nervous at first. Fortunately, when it was time for my surf lesson, the surf instructor, Miguel, was really nice. After practicing a lot on the beach, my instructor said that it was time to move the lesson to the water. On my first try, I not only managed to stand up on the board, but I rode my first wave right past my dad, all the way to the shore. I don’t know who was more surprised: my dad, my instructor, or me. When I started first grade that year, everyone was blown away that I had actually gone surfing, because most of them hadn’t tried it yet. I have had a couple more surf instructors since then. At one point my dad asked me who my favorite surf instructor was and I said that Miguel was because he had the highest expectations of me.
Another challenge was our school science fair. In fourth grade I was really busy with lots of homework and just didn’t have enough time to do the science fair. In fifth grade our teacher, Mr. Ahrens, informed us we had to do an experiment in order to graduate. I teamed up with two of my best friends, and we came up with our science experiment, which involved carbonating fruits and vegetables. We were really excited about our topic so we thought, “Hey, why shouldn’t we do the science fair?” It took a little extra writing, and we had to put together a PowerPoint presentation and a poster. But in the end it all paid off because when we came to our assembly that announced the winner of the science fair, we won first place! So it was definitely worth putting in the extra work to participate in the science fair.
Looking to the future, I have lots of dreams. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m thinking about possibly being a teacher, an author, or a scientist. I do know that to make these dreams come true, I need to focus on my schoolwork and my blindness skills so that I’m prepared when I go to college. Then one day I hope to marry, have kids, and be a great dad, just like so many of the grown-up Federationists here at the convention. I want to wrap things up by emphasizing that it’s important to dream, to pursue your dreams, and to make these dreams come true. Thank you.
Hi everyone. My name is Kyra Sweeney. I’d like to start by saying that the NFB has been a very important part of my life. I don’t remember my first convention well, because I was only four-years-old, but my parents have told me about it. It was then that they [my parents] realized that I needed better cane skills, and I got my first NFB cane. Since then I have gone to almost all of the conventions, and they are always fun and informative. For three summers I went to the Buddy Program at BLIND, Incorporated in Minnesota for a month. This gave me a chance to get to know other blind people my age, and I made several friends from around the country with whom I still talk a lot. This summer, I’m going to the [NFB] Colorado Center for the Blind and Camp Ureka in Montana.
I’ve just graduated from John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica, California. Middle school was mostly a great experience. I had some good teachers, and some not-so-good teachers. I made a few great friends, and began to realize that procrastinating is not the best idea. Also, I got to go to Washington, D.C., with about thirty-five other eighth graders. In the fall, I will be going into ninth grade at Santa Monica High School. The campus is very big and there are about 3,000 students, but I’ve been having some mobility lessons, so I think I’ll survive. I’ll be taking three honors classes, which will be an interesting challenge.
Music is basically my life. My main instrument is the flute. I was in the John Adams Middle School wind ensemble and chamber orchestra, and I am still in the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra. In high school, I will be in a concert band. I’ve gotten some great opportunities in music this year. In November, I played at Disney Hall with the LA [Los Angeles] Youth Orchestra. Two weeks ago, I was given the chance to perform at the Hollywood Bowl with thirty other flute students and a famous flutist named James Galway. I also sing in a choir and play the piano.
In the future, I am planning to go to college, and I’m definitely considering majoring in music. However, I also want to find out about other possibilities that I might not know much about now. Whatever happens, I will know that the NFB has helped me achieve my goals by keeping me from being limited by my blindness.
Joyce Scanlan: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Our committee consists of Allen Harris, Carla McQuillan, Adelmo Vigil, and Dr. Ed Vaughan. I serve as chair of this committee. The committee has indeed selected a most worthy person as the 2008 distinguished educator of blind children. But first let me describe briefly the purpose of this prestigious award. The Federation is very concerned that blind children receive an education of the highest quality, and to provide that education, we need to seek out and give recognition to those teachers who meet the highest standards. We identify such educators and bring them to our national convention to participate and to share their skill and knowledge and to expose them to blind children and adults so they can understand the importance of their work in shaping the lives of blind adults.
This year’s recipient is highly deserving of the award. She has high academic qualifications with a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies and a master’s degree in special education with concentration in orientation and mobility. She is praised highly by her colleagues. But in addition, she is one of us, a Federationist. Now who is she? She is Brigid Doherty, [applause] Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2008.
She was a scholarship winner in the Federation and has been involved in several state affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind for a number of years. Brigid Doherty has been an education coordinator in the Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired for the state of Virginia since 2005. Probably her most outstanding quality is her philosophy as a Federationist, which she incorporates into her teaching in many ways. She makes certain that the subject of Braille is brought into the discussion at the IEP [individualized education plan]. What specific technology is needed? How can the student best prepare for a future of independence and productivity? Who is a blind child working with to ensure all educational techniques are being considered and given appropriate attention? She asks the key questions that will make the difference between success and failure in a blind child’s future.
It is Brigid Doherty who is willing to go the extra mile to make sure each blind student’s specific needs are met. She’s the one to point out that the blind child needs to be aware that, when the college years come along, the responsibility for books and travel skills and everything related to carrying out daily living will rest with the blind student and no longer with the teacher. And this is all very important as Brigid has had a caseload of five hundred kids between the ages of birth and twenty-two. She is not only a competent and caring teacher; Brigid Doherty is a most compassionate person with a keen sense of her role as a teacher.
We’re very proud to name Brigid Doherty as our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children. As our winner Brigid has earned an expense-paid trip to this convention. She will be speaking about her teaching philosophy with respect to blindness at a meeting this afternoon of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. As a bonus for us, Brigid is this year, as she has for many years in the past, taking responsibility for teen hospitality during the convention--a most laudable undertaking, I would say. I have here for you, Brigid, a check for $1,000 and a plaque. I will present Brigid with the plaque, and then I will read what is inscribed on the plaque. It reads:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND CHILDREN
FOR YOUR SKILL IN TEACHING BRAILLE AND OTHER
ALTERNATIVE TECHNIQUES OF BLINDNESS,
FOR GENEROUSLY DEVOTING EXTRA TIME
TO MEET THE NEEDS OF YOUR STUDENTS
AND FOR INSPIRING YOUR STUDENTS
TO PERFORM BEYOND THEIR EXPECTATIONS.
YOU CHAMPION OUR MOVEMENT;
YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES;
YOU SHARE OUR DREAMS.
Congratulations, Brigid. [applause] Before I introduce Brigid, I want to let our Federationists know about the career change that Brigid is embarking upon. It can be said that, whatever job change may come about in a teacher’s life, that teacher will always be a teacher, regardless of the job title. Brigid has recently taken a position in which she will be instructing blind people in the Washington, D.C., area to use Metro transit, a very important and much-appreciated job. So congratulations, Brigid, on the new job and being named Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for this year. We are very proud to have you as one of our own.
Brigid Doherty: Thank you so much, Joyce, Dr. Maurer, fellow Federationists. I am honored beyond words, and I cannot tell you how much this means to me. I just want to let you know that I am grateful for the education that I received from everyone in the Federation here and those who aren’t with us. I learned from all of you that we hold this truth to be self-evident: that it is respectable to be blind. When I come to convention--and this is fifteen years in for me--and see how many kids we have walking around with white canes, how many are carrying their technology, as Dr. Maurer said in his talk to them the other morning, they are what’s important, not their technology. But, by gum, they know how to use it, and they know how to use it young. They know how to use those canes, and they know that they are just fine. That’s because of each and every one in this room. I am grateful to you. It is an honor to be part of this family, and I promise, no matter what my job is, to continue to do my part and to reach out and teach the new folks coming in and teach those of our supporters and friends outside of the Federation that it is respectable to be blind, and that we are able and capable, and we have fun while we’re doing it. Welcome to convention, and thank you for this wonderful honor. [applause]
by Jennifer Dunnam
Editor’s Note: Each November Braille-reading students across the country have the chance to compete for prizes, win recognition, and enhance their reading skills by participating in the National Federation of the Blind Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Here are the details of this year’s contest:
The changes we made to the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest last year were resoundingly successful--therefore we are doing it all again this year. Contest awards include the expense-paid trip to the NFB national convention, many cash prizes, T-shirts, and more. We've even brought back the most improved category. Read on for all the details you'll need to know about the 2008-2009 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.
The contest is two months long, beginning November 1 and ending January 4—which happens to be Louis Braille's 200th birthday. Reading during the school winter break is strongly encouraged, and it's a great time to build up the total number of pages read.
Every participant who registers in advance for the contest will get a special Braille Readers Are Leaders T-shirt. Students who do not register in advance but who get the registration and entry form in by the January 23 deadline will still be eligible for all awards, recognition ribbons, and cash prizes, but they are not guaranteed a T-shirt.
Again this year twelve of the top contestants will win an seven-day, six-night trip (July 3 to July 9) for themselves and a parent (or an adult chaperone) to the 2009 NFB convention in Detroit, Michigan. The trip will include transportation, hotel room, and other expenses for seven days, beginning with the parents' seminar, continuing through the banquet, and ending on the day after the final convention session. (No substitution in place of the convention trip.) The winners will also have the opportunity to speak briefly at the NAPUB and NOPBC meetings. We couldn’t think of a better way to reward these bright, competitive young Braille readers from all over the country than to offer them the opportunity to join the excitement, the fun, and the camaraderie of the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled.
Trip not your thing? It's not required that you compete for the trip to be considered for the other prizes. One offer that has always worked as an incentive in the contest is cash prizes. The top three contestants in each of six categories will win a $50 cash prize. The six categories are grades K-1; 2-3; 4-5; 6-8 (middle school); 9-12 (high school); and, back again this year, most improved (those reading the greatest percentage more pages this year than they did last year). The most improved prizes will be awarded to students not winning another award this year or previously, so more children will have a chance to be recognized, competing against their own personal best.
Every contestant will be automatically considered for an award in his or her age-appropriate grade category. This includes delayed readers and ungraded students. We have found that even students with delays can be competitive in their grade category because we do not put restrictions on the grade level of the materials the contestant reads. For example, we expect that a high school student who reads at a third-grade level will read third-grade-level material, or even below, for the competition and therefore, with motivation and diligence, could beat out an average or even better than average student who reads at grade level. Students with reading delays may also submit information to be considered for the Jennifer Baker Award, one of three special awards for which qualified students may choose to compete.
Braille Leaders Community Service Award: This award most closely reflects the ultimate mission of the contest. Braille literacy enhances the ability of blind children of all ages to demonstrate leadership through service to others. For example, a blind teen may use Braille to read to lonely residents in a nursing home or use his or her Braille skills to organize and conduct a food drive for a school project. The opportunities for service, if you are literate, are endless. The goal of this award is to encourage contestants who have developed good Braille skills to reach out into the community and use those skills for the good of others.
This award is restricted to students in grades six through twelve. To be considered for this award, the student must read a minimum of 500 pages for the contest and submit a letter of nomination. Up to five students will be selected for this award, and all winners of this award will automatically win a trip to the convention.
Twin Vision® Awards for dual print-and-Braille readers or print-to-Braille readers: Funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, the award is for elementary students who have learned and used both print and Braille from an early age and also for students who were print readers and have switched to, or are in the process of switching to, Braille. No fewer than one student and no more than five will be selected for this award. To nominate a student for this award, a teacher or other individual intimately familiar with that student’s literacy development must write a letter. The student must also participate in the regular competition.
2009 Jennifer Baker Awards: These awards were named after Jennifer Baker, a young woman from Maryland who overcame many severe additional disabilities to become Braille literate and was a frequent national winner in the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. Jennifer was an avid reader who traveled the world in her mind with the help of Amelia Bedelia and other characters from her beloved Braille storybooks. She died of kidney failure shortly before her twenty-first birthday. This award is given in her memory to no fewer than one student and no more than five based on a letter of nomination with information documenting the obstacles the student has overcome to become Braille literate. Examples of those eligible for this award might be students with cognitive or physical disabilities, English-as-second-language learners, students with brain injuries, or students who have been otherwise educationally disadvantaged. To nominate a student for this award, a teacher or other individual who is intimately familiar with that student’s literacy development must submit a letter of nomination. The student must also participate in the regular competition.
If you have been counting the number of possible winners, you know that we offer a minimum of eighteen and a maximum of thirty-three cash awards, which means that not every contestant will win a trip. If more than twelve of the winners have elected to compete for the trip, then a run-off Braille essay competition will be supervised by Jennifer Dunnam, the manager of Braille programs in the education department of the NFB Jernigan Institute. Jennifer will also be managing the day-to-day operations of registration, processing entry forms, sending out certificates and prizes, and collaborating with NOPBC and NAPUB to judge the contest.
All participants will get certificates, and different-colored print-Braille ribbons will be awarded to contestants who read 500, 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 8,000, and 12,000 pages. We will also give special recognition to residential or day schools for the blind that enroll a significant percentage of their students in the contest and in other ways promote Braille literacy and the Braille Readers Are Leaders program.
The contest is cosponsored by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. We will continue to work with state affiliates, as we have for the past twenty-six years, to promote and build this program with pride, energy, and all of the creative and financial resources available to us.
Whether a student is bound for an Ivy League school, a state university, or a small private college, a few thousand dollars here or there in scholarship money is always welcome. That’s one very big reason why parents and teachers should be more than a little curious about the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program. The NFB Scholarship Program is one of the largest award programs in the world for blind students.
In 2008, thirty blind students received a total of $122,000 in cash awards, an all-expenses paid trip to the weeklong NFB convention, and a beautiful plaque. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, the brand new KNFB Reader Mobile presented by Ray Kurzweil himself, and the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems. This is clearly a program every academically competitive blind student should consider carefully.
But there is another reason parents and teachers ought to be interested in the NFB Scholarship Program. These blind students, who had the capacity and character to win highly competitive scholarships, are also inspirations and role models to younger blind students. Parents, students, and teachers who attend the convention get the opportunity to observe, listen to, and meet current and past scholarship winners. Many past winners have gone on to distinguished careers, and they return to the conventions eager to mentor other students.
Every year, the current class of scholarship winners is introduced at the NFB Board of Directors meeting, which is the first large, public meeting of the convention. The chairman of the Scholarship Committee announces first the student’s name and then both the home and school states. Each winner then comes to the microphone and speaks directly to the Federation. Below, in alphabetical order, are each student’s portrait, name, home state, school state, transcribed remarks from the board meeting, and the name and amount of the award received by each later in the week at the NFB annual banquet. Also at the banquet, the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship is given one more opportunity to address the convention. Those comments, by winner Leslie Penko, are printed at the end of the article. Here now is the 2008 NFB Scholarship Class:
Beth Allred, Wisconsin, Colorado: Good morning, everybody. I have just completed my bachelor of music degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with an emphasis in voice. Right now I am attending the Colorado Center for the Blind, and, after finishing my independence training program, I will attend the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I will pursue a master’s degree in voice. I will become a successful expressive musician, a compassionate teacher, able to teach and learn from my students, and I will continue to work within the Federation to help blind youth as I feel that I am a good role model and that I can help students get the resources they need. And I will treat every experience that I have with enthusiasm as I believe that the experiences we have shape who we are and are going to be. Thank you. [$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship]
Alyssa Bates, Ohio, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everyone. I must say that I never thought that I would end up on stage at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Though I have had the same amount of vision my entire life, I never really considered myself a blind person. Largely due to the help of one very special person I became involved in the Federation, and I’ve embarked on a whirlwind romance with the Federation during the last nine months. I’ve become deeply involved, and I’ve come to believe in what the Federation stands for. Speaking of whirlwinds, I am pursuing a meteorology degree from the Pennsylvania State University, and I plan to research tornados and improve response and warning times for them. I would like to thank everyone in the Federation, especially the scholarship committee, for this wonderful opportunity. God bless. [$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship]
Mika Baugh, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. I would like to thank the convention and the board for your generosity, your leadership, and the resources that you have provided me with. I’m a recent high school graduate and will be attending Indiana University as a freshman in the fall to major in psychology and to minor in medical humanities and Spanish. After completing graduate school, I will pursue a career in physical therapy. Thank you. [$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship]
William Black, Utah, Utah: It’s definitely a great honor to be chosen as a scholarship winner. I’m attending the University of Utah for my generals, and I am going to the International Culinary School at the Art Institute in Salt Lake City. I’m going to get a bachelor’s degree in culinary management, and I intend to become a caterer after that. Also I am the secretary of our local chapter, and I am honored to be a scholarship winner and to be among these wonderful people. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Katy Carroll, New York, D.C.: Thank you for the introduction. Good morning, everyone. I will be a junior at American University in the fall. I’m studying international studies and physics. I studied abroad independently in Norway last summer, and I will be in France in the spring at the École Nationale de Science Politique in Paris studying political science. With my degree I hope to go into the state department one day and work in the Office of Agriculture, Environment, and Trade. I would really like to improve trade relations and the relationship between trade and the environment. I really appreciate being here. Thank you all so much. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Stacy Cervenka, D.C., D.C.: Good morning, Dr. Maurer, members of the board, and other members of the Federation. I am originally from Illinois and Minnesota and currently live and work in Washington, D.C., where I am a legislative correspondent for Senator Sam Brownback in Kansas. I work on issues of education, disability rights, prolife issues, bioethics, veterans’ issues, prison reform, criminal justice, and (as of recently) health care. I always say that Mother Teresa once said that “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle; I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” This fall I will begin a graduate program at Johns Hopkins University’s Washington, D.C., campus, where I will be pursuing a master’s degree in government with a concentration in political communication. My career ambitions are to further the goals of marginalized populations that I’ve often been surrounded by and consider myself a part of, including people with disabilities, people who live in inner cities, people who live in very rural areas, and people who live on Indian reservations. I just want to thank all of you for generously donating your time and resources and energy to give all thirty of us the opportunities that we have here today. We all know how fortunate we are, and we know we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you. [$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Tomás Cintrón, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico: Good morning, everyone. It is an honor to be here again. I’m Tomás Cintrón. I come from Puerto Rico. I got my bachelor’s from Inter-American University, San Germán campus. After that I received my rehabilitation at LCB. Then I started working with the department of education as a teacher with children K through sixth. I am now working on my master’s degree. I hope to be done next year. My mentor [Alpidio Rolón] is here. My goal for this year is to start a chapter in Puerto Rico for parents of blind children. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award]
Buna Dahal, Colorado, Colorado: As Pablo Picasso once said, “I’m always doing things I can’t do. That’s how I get to do them.” I’m a graduate student at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. I was invited to present an empowering speech at the United Nations in 2007. I worked in Turkey last year through Blind Corps. I’m a graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind. Fellow Federationists, it is indeed my honor to share this week with you as a tenBroek Fellow. Thank you very much. [$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Allison deFranco, New York, New York: Hello, everyone. I am really excited to be here, and just a quick correction. In New York, if you say New York, New York, that means the city. I am actually from six hours north of the city, Saranac Lake, New York. I currently attend Syracuse University College of Law, and I am going into my third year, while I am also attending Syracuse University, School of Education, getting a master of education, focusing on disability studies. I believe I am one of the farthest to come to this convention. I flew in from Budapest, Hungary, where this summer I am working at the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, focusing on issues of children’s rights in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I am excited to be here, and it is a great opportunity so far. [$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship]
Chelsey Duranleau, New Hampshire, New Hampshire: Thank you, Anil, Dr. Maurer, and fellow Federationists. I am Chelsey Duranleau. I am pursuing a degree in Spanish with a minor in sociology at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. Also during the summer I am a camp counselor. I work in a program called Interactions, and I work with blind children. That has been really rewarding. I hope to bring a lot to the Federation. I am very independent, and I try to influence people and be a role model, especially for children. It is truly an honor to be here. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Tim Elder, California, California: Good morning, distinguished board, fellow Federationists. Thank you for having me here. I attended my first convention in 2006. Many of you may be surprised to hear this, but prior to that convention I had never met another blind person. I never thought that I could receive a respectable paycheck. I never thought that anybody would look past my blindness and love me for who I am, and this group has really been a family to me and has helped me to achieve my dreams and goals. Thank you. Since that convention I received my BA in music composition. I currently have a band and produce music distributed globally on ITunes and available on national radio syndication. If being a minor rock star wasn’t good enough, I still have concerns for social justice. I’m a third year law student at the University of California, Hastings College of Law. I am currently spending the summer working at a public interest law firm in San Francisco, litigating on behalf of low-income workers, and probably the most notable development is that this past week I proposed to the love of my life and am engaged and excited to be starting a family in September. So thank you for having me. It’s a true honor. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Joseph Engle, North Dakota, Minnesota: Greetings, my fellow Federationists. This is my first convention. I am going to be attending Concordia College in the fall, majoring in social studies, education, or classics education to become a high school teacher while going through Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, to become a Lutheran pastor. Since this is my first convention, I notice it has been quite a good experience, enjoyable, and I do intend to be involved with the Federation. When I get involved in an organization, I get involved wholeheartedly. I don’t do anything halfway; I do everything I can do. What can I do--well, many people have commented about my teaching abilities at my church. I intend to use those abilities in the Federation to educate the general public about the truth about blindness. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Michelle Gittens, Minnesota, Minnesota: Hello, Federationists. The training that I received at BLIND, Inc., coupled with my music degree, is enabling me not only to change what it means to be blind, but also to change what it means to be a blind musician. On and off stage I let it be known that I sing because I am skilled, not because I am blind. In three weeks I will be attending a music program at Yale, and in the fall I will be starting my second degree, in music business, at McNally Smith College of Music in Minnesota. I thank you all for this opportunity. I thank the NFB for challenging us all to be sky-is-the-limit blind people. Thank you. God bless. [$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship]
Justin Hodge, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning, everybody. It is definitely an honor to be here this morning and this week. This fall I will be a junior at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana. I am currently majoring in mechanical engineering. This summer I am working as an intern at Lexmark in their laser printer research and development area. This past fall I had the opportunity to study abroad in Grantham, England. That was definitely a wonderful experience. My independent skills were definitely boosted by that experience. When I graduate, I basically am considering three options for employment. I might go into the corporate sector. I may work as an engineer for the NFB, or I am also considering going into the mission field. This is my first convention. I have learned a great deal so far, and I am looking forward to the rest of the week and finding out what the NFB has to offer. Thank you. God bless. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Janice Jeang, California, California: Hello, fellow Federationists. It is actually Texas, California, Baltimore, Chicago, California. I will be a first-year master’s of public policy student at the University of California, Berkeley, this fall, which is an area related to our most famous activist in our organization, Dr. tenBroek. Speaking of activists, another famous activist by the name of Jesse Jackson once said, “If my mind can conceive it, then I will be able to achieve it. “ So I just wanted to come and say thank you to the Federation for giving me the confidence to conceive it, for giving me the belief and the skills for me to achieve it, and for trusting enough in me to give me the honor and privilege of being up here to speak to you guys. I owe everything to the Federation, and I hope to continue proving myself worthy of your trust for this amazing gift. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Andrew Johnson, Connecticut, Connecticut: Good morning, everyone. I want to be brief, but I want to start by thanking the NFB, especially the scholarship committee, and Dr. Maurer, also to everyone in the room, and all of the thousands of people that this organization represents. This is my first convention, and this has been an incredible experience. I am excited to meet you all, but about me. I just graduated high school, and I’ve finished up an internship at my local radio station. I am going off to Connecticut College in the fall, where I am going to be pursuing an English degree and hopefully be a journalist, where I can fill up my passport, travel around, and write about all the great stories and great people that I get to meet all over the place. Thank you all, and congratulations to the other scholarship winners. [$5,000 2008 Dan Ryles Memorial Scholarship]
Rebecca Ledder, Nebraska, D.C.: Thank you, everyone. I am a rising sophomore at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., majoring in Japanese with a possible minor in sociology. I am also a graduate of the Nebraska orientation center for the blind, and I would like to thank everyone here for making this amazing opportunity possible for me and for all the rest of the scholarship class. Some things I have found are a little bit easier to say in Japanese, so [a series of Japanese words], which very roughly translated means, Thank you for everything that you have done. Thanks. [$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship]
John Mahler, South Carolina, South Carolina: Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Before I talk about myself, I just want to say a couple of things about my experience here. This is also my first time here at convention. I was sitting having breakfast this morning with Mr. Jacobsen--he’s my mentor today. I’m overwhelmed at this opportunity. It’s an amazing experience--the relationships I have developed in the last couple of days. I was telling Mr. Jacobsen, this is the best time of my life. It is incredible to be here today. I want to thank all of you for all the opportunities that are coming with the scholarship. It’s given me the confidence to apply to some of the top law schools in the nation. I’m heading into my senior year at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I am originally a product of Tyler, Texas, which is about an hour and a half east of here, and I am looking forward to coming back to the Texas affiliate and applying to law schools here. I don’t want to leave Parnell, but I have to come back to family here. I’m a political science major and an international studies major as well. I’m a double major. I’m also in the honors program. Out of eight thousand students I am in the top two hundred of Coastal Carolina University. Thank you all very much. It is an honor to be here. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Sara Minkara, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored and flattered to be here today. This is my first national convention, and, to be honest, I was a little bit nervous. However, the moment I arrived here, the warmth and welcome, the inspiration, the support, the encouragement that I received were astounding. I would like to take that and instill it into every heart in this global community because there are children out there who have the potential, but there are obstacles impeding their progress. I believe that every child in this global community has the right to thrive and succeed and become a successful person. Therefore I am pursuing an international relations major with a focus on economics and a math major at Wellesley College. I hope to be one day a UN official to improve the education system on a global level. Thank you. [$5,000 Michael Marucci Memorial Scholarship]
Leslie Penko, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone, the board of directors, and my fellow Federationists. I would first of all like to thank everyone for the warm welcome I’ve had at my first national convention. It has been amazing. I’m Leslie Penko, and I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. I graduated in 2007 from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s in psychology. Currently I am pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. I just finished my first internship at a bereavement center, where I was a bereavement counselor and group facilitator. In the fall I will be interning at a county hospital in a psychiatric ward. I aspire to be a counselor and, again, I just thank everyone for this incredible opportunity. [$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship (Donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults)]
Faith Penn, Texas, Texas: Hello, everyone. Good morning to you all. I am currently a senior at Texas Tech University. My major is public relations, and I will have a minor in English when I finish. In the fall I am going to be interning in the athletics media department at my school. Upon graduation I plan to pursue my master’s in radio, television, and film. I hope to write commercials--you know, the good ones that everybody remembers and that get stuck in your head and all that good stuff--that’ll be me. I hope to do that. I am a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. This is my fifth convention. Every year I learn so much. I am excited to be here again. I’ve been here as a first-time convention goer. I’ve been here as a staff member in the Buddy and STEP Programs, and now I am here as a scholarship winner, so I am excited to be here. Thank you so much. It’s a big honor for me. [$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship]
Trevor Saunders, New Jersey, Pennsylvania: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am a freshman at Carnegie Mellon. I want to study computer science. I want to make computers better for people, particularly blind people like me. I always believed in the Federation ideas and high hopes, but a few years ago I met the Federation and learned it was all-true. I am an Eagle Scout. For my project we put up Braille signs at a nature center near my home so it was accessible to blind people. We should learn about nature too. Last summer on a school trip to Kenya, I was responsible for a trip to a blind school where they don’t learn science; rather they didn’t. We brought the principal of that school to the National Center in the United States. Now they are learning science. Thank you, Federationists. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Matt Simpson, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, everybody. I am Matt Simpson from Atlanta, Georgia, and in the fall I will be a freshman at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. I plan to study history and politics. This is my first NFB experience and my first convention. I would like to thank the NFB and everybody in this room for the honor of this scholarship and the amazing opportunities of this convention and the opportunities the NFB provides us with each and every day. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Nikki Singh, Maryland, Connecticut: Good morning, everyone. I want to take a moment to thank the scholarship committee once again for all their hard work and for honoring us with our scholarships, as well as the convention. I am also a recent high school graduate. In the fall I will be a freshman at Yale, where I hope to major in either literature or history before going to law school. Thank you. [$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship]
A. J. Smith, California, California: First I would like to thank the scholarship committee and the board for giving me this wonderful opportunity to come here to Dallas and to attend the National Federation conference. I am going to attend the University of San Francisco in the fall, and I will double major in biochemistry and social justice. I will become a doctor in the next eight years. As a doctor I will change the world; I will make this world a better place. And the reason why is because the National Federation of the Blind provides great opportunities and gives us no reason not to. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
Amanda Swanson, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning, everyone. I am a senior at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota. I am majoring in biology, and after I graduate, I plan to work for the Environmental Protection Agency. I would like to thank my friends at BLIND, Inc., and the NFB for all their support. Thanks. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
André Tynes, Virginia, Virginia: Hello, Federationists. My name is André Tynes, and I would like to thank the scholarship committee for this honor. I am currently a graduate student at Norfolk State University, majoring in rehabilitation counseling with a concentration in severe disabilities. Also I hold a bachelor’s degree in social work. I am also the president of the Peninsula Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. I currently work for a local magazine called Hampton by the Sea and Beyond. In the fall I will be doing an internship at the Department of Rehabilitation Services in Hampton, Virginia. I am happy to be here today. When I lost my vision in ’98, I had such great mentors from the NFB, and they showed me that I did not need to be ashamed to be blind anymore. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]
C. J. Watson, North Carolina, Virginia: Hi. I am from North Carolina, and I will be attending graduate school at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. I have attended three different mission trips to Mexico and have directed music programs in the summer and also assisted in rehab camps for the blind during the summers for the past several years. I’ve also done PR work for American Cancer Society and the Children’s Miracle Network. I am a six-time cancer survivor as well as being blind--celebrating two years and four months. My undergraduate was in piano performance, and for my graduate degree I am working on my second year at Marymount, in community counseling. I hope to use my experiences as a blind individual and as a cancer survivor to work with blind people and their families, cancer patients and their families, dealing with the emotional and psychological stresses of cancer. I want to thank the scholarship committee and each and every one of you Federationists out there who have done all that you have done in making this possible, and I thank you, and I look forward to the rest of this week. [$3,000 Network 2000 Betsy Zaborowski Memorial Scholarship]
Isaiah Wilcox, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning. My name is Isaiah Wilcox, and I am from Atlanta, Georgia. I am currently attending Morehouse College as a sophomore, where I am double majoring in computer science and mathematics; hopefully I will go on to pursue my master’s degree in computer forensic science. Just want to thank the scholarship committee for having me here this week and also to thank you, the members, for supporting the scholarship program. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship]
Nijat Worley, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning, fellow Federationists. This is my sixth convention, and according to Ray Kurzweil’s calculations, I should have two hundred more to go. I will be attending the University of Colorado at Boulder and majoring in political science and international affairs, after which I will be going to law school. I intend to work for the United States State Department as an international diplomat. My father Kevan was asking me the other day whether I would continue coming to conventions after going off to college, and my answer to him was, “Of course,” I would be coming to conventions, because it’s become a tradition for one thing, and, second of all, after all that this organization has given me, the only way I can pay back to this organization is to serve it to the best of my ability, because of what it has given me by letting me go to Rocket On!, the Youth Slam, the Youth Leadership Academy, and the leadership seminar at the end of this month. I will be attending Cadamount Institute for Environmental Studies at the end of this summer. I am very excited to be here. Thank you to the scholarship committee and to the National Federation of the Blind for the scholarship. Thank you very much. [$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship]
That is the scholarship class of 2008. After Leslie Penko received the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, she briefly addressed the banquet audience seated before her and across the nation listening and watching on the Internet. This latter group included Leslie’s mother, who had searched in vain to see her daughter among the thousands of diners earlier in the evening. These are the remarks that Leslie made:
Thank you so much, Dr. Maurer, Mr. Kurzweil--I cannot thank you both enough for this opportunity. I would like to start by thanking Barbara Pierce, who introduced me very recently to this incredible Federation. I also have to thank the scholarship committee, who saw something in me that led them to invite me to participate in what has become the most incredible week of my life. It has certainly been a life-changing experience, and, though I’ve been telling people that--and I feel kind of corny saying it--I know that many of you understand what I mean when I say that.
I of course have to thank my family back home, because without them and their support I wouldn’t be here. They loved me no matter what, and I’m so thankful for that.Now I also have to thank my new family, my extended Federation family because they have taught me this week, every one of you, actually to love myself just the way I am. Honestly, all money aside, I’m going to walk away from this experience with the most invaluable resources I could ever have imagined, that is, every individual that I have spoken with this week. I have learned wisdom and advice and techniques and skills, ways that I can just be me, more me than I have ever known I could be--no tricks, no pretending, just me, completely comfortable and not panicking about where the stairs are or worrying about looking foolish, fumbling around a restaurant looking for the restroom, all the things I thought I had to put on a front for, prior to this week. So for that I thank everyone who is here. I would just encourage you to get to know each other, to ask everyone questions, because each and every person has a story to tell and advice to give and wisdom. It doesn’t matter where they come from or where they’re going. It’s amazing the things you can learn and gain by just talking to people. That is something I will cherish forever. So thank you so much for this opportunity. I will never forget it, and I will be back.
by Anil Lewis
Last year was my first serving as chairperson of the National Federation of the Blind scholarship committee. Having been managed under such excellent stewardship since its expansion in 1984, the program presented a tremendous challenge to me. Yet the dedicated collaboration of veteran members of the scholarship committee, along with a few new members, made this challenging task a fulfilling and enjoyable one. In addition, the members of the 2008 NFB scholarship class were accepting of my nervous renderings and gracious through my logistical learning curve. They are indeed an impressive, dynamic group of students, pursuing a diverse array of postsecondary degrees, and I am certain they will accomplish great things.
We set out again, this time to select our scholarship class of 2009. On November 1, 2008, the application process and forms for the NFB Scholarship Program were posted on the Web at <www.nfb.org>. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or you can download a printed application from the site. Those who do not have access to the Web can request and receive an application by mail. In addition to providing the application, the Web site is becoming a growing resource for information about the NFB Scholarship Program. You can access direct links to information on past scholarship winners, student resources, and lots more. This will expand into a broader resource for general scholarship information in the future.
We offer thirty scholarships ranging from $3,000 to our $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships (1) must be legally blind (which means both eyes); (2) must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree program at a United States institution in the fall of the 2009-2010 academic year, except that one scholarship may be given to a person employed full-time while attending school part-time; and, (3) if chosen, applicants must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship program activities. In addition to the award, each winner will be brought to convention at Federation expense. The application deadline is March 31, 2009. Students should submit only one application. The scholarship committee will decide which scholarships the winners are eligible for and which each will receive.
In order to be considered for a scholarship, students must obtain and send proof of legal blindness and the additional supporting documentation required for a complete application. This may be a print copy of our Proof of Legal Blindness form that has been completed and signed by a medical doctor or a professional in eye care, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Since other services offered to blind Americans also require such proof, it will be to any student’s benefit to retain a master copy of this documentation. Alternative authoritative proof may be a letter stating the student is legally blind signed by the president of an NFB chapter or affiliate, an itinerant teacher, a rehabilitation counselor, or some other expert in blind rehabilitation.
The scholarships are not restricted to NFB members. There is no requirement for an applicant to be a member of the NFB in order to win a scholarship. In fact, many applicants were not even aware of our organization before applying for an NFB scholarship. However, although there is no requirement for applicants to be members of the NFB, we do expect winners to be committed to the principles of promoting blind people as contributing members of society who can compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers.
The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. If you take a look at past winners, you will see that they have a wide range of academic pursuits and professional goals. They are a cross section of race, sex, and age. Winners are selected from around the country. In fact, there is diversity in all demographic areas. However, each person chosen demonstrated the ability to be successful academically, possessed leadership ability, and was committed to community or public service.
My advice to any potential applicant is to read the application information carefully and provide all of the required information and supporting documentation. Many applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly. Obtain references from individuals that know you as a competent, able individual. Some reference letters are unconsciously negative or condescending; others are unrealistically and inappropriately laudatory. Applicants should choose recommendation writers carefully. Most of all focus on your essay. I recommend that you write your essay in a Word document, edit it, proofread it, then cut and paste the finished essay into the online form or transfer it to the print application form. The essay should be you talking about your life, how you live it, and how you’d like to live it. Committee members give it a great deal of attention.
The scholarship committee, consisting of successful blind college graduates, reviews all applications and will select the top thirty applicants as the scholarship class of 2009. These thirty scholarship winners will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1. Again, you need submit only one application to be considered for all of the scholarships for which you are eligible. The scholarship committee will decide during the annual convention which award will be given to each winner.The NFB Scholarship Program offers more than just money for school. It is an opportunity for personal growth and ongoing professional development. Each scholarship winner will be brought to the NFB national convention in Detroit, Michigan, July 3 to 9, at the NFB’s expense. The convention is one of the most valuable gifts we give to each winner. We expect you will find, as others have before you, that the NFB national convention is a great deal of fun, offers truly beneficial networking at the highest level, answers questions you have always wanted to ask, and is as big a prize as the scholarship check winners receive. Furthermore, we give our winners an opportunity to participate in the development of public policies that affect blind people by assisting them to attend our Washington Seminar. We offer them the opportunity to give back to other blind people by serving as mentors to future scholarship winners as members of our Scholarship Alumni Program. The NFB scholarship is the gift that keeps on giving and is more than just money for school. This November blind students are invited to go to <www.nfb.org/scholarships>, to begin their quest for this national scholarship
Jewish Guild for the Blind
The Hadley School for the Blind
The Braille Institute - Braille Challenge
Braille International, Inc.
Seedlings - Braille Books for Children
Brown, Goldstein, and Levy LLP
Guide Dogs for the Blind
National Braille Press
Editor’s Note: The NOPBC was delighted to have Mike Calvo, the chief executive officer of Serotek Corporation, come to our 2008 NOPBC Annual Meeting to make a special announcement about a wonderful free program Serotek is launching for blind children. Mike was also on the NFB Convention agenda later that week speaking on the topic, “System Access to Go.” We think all our readers will want to know about this special offer, so here is the flyer that was circulated at convention and has also been making the rounds on the Internet:
For children in the twenty-first century, using a computer is as basic as learning to read or riding a bike. Serotek Corporation is introducing a program today that will put blind children on the same page with their sighted peers; giving them the ability to use a computer anytime, anywhere, with help from Keys for K-12.
Imagine a blind child at a friend’s house, and the sighted friend wants to demonstrate a cool new site on the Internet or work on a shared science project. Until now, blind kids just felt left out while the other kids looked at the screen. Now imagine that same child reaches into his backpack or pocket, pulls out a thumb drive, and says, “Hey, let’s plug in my key so I can play, too.”
Keys for K-12 means a free license to carry the System Access Mobile capabilities on a U3-enabled USB thumb drive. With the SA Mobile software, your student can plug her flash drive into any computer anywhere and have instant access through text-to-speech and/or magnification to all Windows-based applications already there.
At school, the library, grandma’s house, or a sleepover, a blind child can access the same information on the computer as any sighted student who can see the screen.
A licensed copy of System Access Mobile sells for $499.00, and now blind students K-12 can have it for free! If you are a parent, teacher, or school administrator interested in the future of a blind student in grades K-12, you have the power to bring this expanded world of access into a child’s life.What you need to do: Complete the eligibility forms for each student (which includes certification of visual impairment from medical and educational professionals), follow the simple steps to download the System Access Mobile software to a USB drive, and your student is ready to go. To get started, visit: <http://www.serotek.com/kk12.html>. Sereotek is located in 1128 Harmon Place, Suite 310, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403; phone numbers: (toll-free) (866) 202-0520 or (612) 246-4818.
Editor’s Note: A long-time friend and supporter of the NOPBC, the National Braille Press (NBP) was one of the Star Sponsors of the NOPBC Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Celebration; their ad is published elsewhere in this issue. Here’s some information about how NBP plans to help celebrate the bicentennial of Louis Braille, the inventor of the Braille code:
Someone you know is turning 200 on January 4, 2009.
Shall we give you a hint? Imagine someone “of medium height, slender, quite streamlined and elegantly muscular. His blond hair curled naturally, his movements free and easy.” This is how his best friends describe him.
Imagine someone who believed that six dots could create a universal means of reading and writing, in any language in the world. Who possesses such an imagination?
Our guest of honor, Louis Braille!
Louis Braille is well known within our community, but hardly known outside of it. We at National Braille Press have been planning a “virtual birthday party” for the past six months. This Bicentennial event offers each of us a unique opportunity to educate the public about the man and his code.
Here are some ways you can take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime celebration:
Whatever you do, celebrate Braille!
It’s not too soon to begin planning for the 2009 National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Convention. The theme for the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) Conference (which is held in conjunction with the convention) is: The Future is Ours. Carrie Gilmer and the NOPBC board have already begun planning top-notch workshops and educational experiences for the whole family. It’s a program you will not want to miss.
What? 2009 NFB Convention and the
NOPBC Parents Seminar and Conference
Where? Detroit, Michigan
When? Friday, July 3, through Thursday, July 9, 2009.