Future Reflections         Summer 2009

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The Way It All Began:
Building a Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children

Early green cover of Future Reflections.In the late 1970s Barbara Cheadle was working as a rehabilitation counselor with the Nebraska Services for the Blind. She was also an active member of the NFB of Nebraska. Through her NFB involvement she helped to organize a seminar for parents of blind children in the state. By most standards the seminar was a success. The parents listened attentively, asked lots of questions, and carried away bags bulging with NFB literature. Nevertheless, Barbara felt depressed when the weekend was over. "I kept remembering the faces of some of those parents, so full of grief and bewilderment and fear," she recalls. "I knew that whatever positive things they took away from the seminar would be lost in the months and years ahead."  She longed for a way to "sneak into their homes" and help them build an ongoing connection with the NFB and its positive message about blindness.

When their son John Earl was two, Barbara and John Cheadle decided to adopt a child from overseas. Eventually they adopted their son, Charles (Chaz), a blind child from Korea. During the adoption process Barbara discovered the strong, consumer-based network of support that existed for parents who adopted children from abroad. Local groups and national publications provided support and information at every stage of the adoption journey. Parents involved in international adoption belonged to an active, welcoming community that recognized their needs and valued their efforts. Barbara realized that the parents of blind children needed such a community too.

Shortly after Chaz joined their family the Cheadles moved to Missouri, where John took a position with the state rehabilitation agency. Again the Cheadles joined their state's NFB affiliate, this time as the parents of a blind child. Barbara connected with a group of blind adoptive parents led by Susan Ford. To help blind parents negotiate the adoption process, this group formed a committee under the auspices of the NFB, the Committee on Parental Concerns. The committee soon embraced other parenting issues as well as adoption; today it is the Blind Parents Group.

In the early 1980s the Committee on Parental Concerns was the only group within the NFB directly involved with parents and children. Although most of its members were the blind parents of sighted children, Barbara suggested that the committee launch a national newsletter for the parents of blind children. With the committee's unanimous support, she carried the idea to NFB President Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. "He told me to go for it," she says. "We had no guidance, no direction, and no money, but we were going to make it happen somehow."

The Committee on Parental Concerns found money for paper and printing, and the Missouri Affiliate helped to develop a database of subscribers. Barbara, who had experience editing the NFB state newsletter in Nebraska, became the new publication's editor. She and John stapled the first issue together on their dining room table. Called the National Federation of the Blind Newsletter for Parents of Blind Children, it bore a simple paper cover with the old NFB logo, a circle with the words "Security, Equality, and Opportunity" around the circumference, and at the center a triangle with the letters NFB. Below the title were the words "published by the National Federation of the Blind Committee on Parental Concerns." Volume 1, No. 1, of the newsletter appeared in October 1981, and went out to three hundred sixty-eight subscribers.
Barbara Cheadle is honored at the banquet of the 2009 NFB Convention.Clearly the publication needed a more attractive name, something around which it could build its unique identity. The Committee on Parental Concerns solicited ideas by holding a contest. The winning entry came from Dottie Neeley, a blind rehabilitation teacher from Missouri. The name popped into her head as she and another Federationist were driving with John Cheadle to attend a demonstration about issues in the Idaho State Vending Program. "I don't know exactly how I came up with the name," Dottie says. "I just thought, our children are our future reflections. In the future they'll reflect back who we are today and what we've managed to give them." The name Future Reflections appeared on the fifth issue of the newsletter, published in October-November 1982.

In 1983 Dr. Jernigan invited NFB leaders Susan Ford, Barbara Cheadle, Doris Willoughby, and Ramona Walhof to the National Center in Baltimore to plan the formation of the NFB Parents' Division. The Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB (later renamed the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, or NOPBC) took over the publication of Future Reflections. The Committee on Parental Concerns fully supported the transition. It had launched the publication, and now passed it into loving hands.

At first finding good material for Future Reflections was a real challenge. The POBC transcribed speeches from state and national conventions. Much of the early material was written by leaders in the NFB, including Doris Willoughby, Ramona Walhof, John and Barbara Cheadle, and Dr. Jernigan. "Myths and Facts about Blindness" was a regular feature. Barbara wrote articles based on her interviews with successful blind adults and with parents of blind children. Many of the early issues also included an article on the medical aspects of eye conditions in children, contributed by a physician who was well-versed in the Federation's outlook. At first the master copy of each issue was produced by a typist. Production became computerized in 1985, shortly after the Cheadles moved to Baltimore. Barbara handled the layout herself, eventually learning to use a desktop publishing program. Future Reflections began to include photographs in 1998, and Barbara did all of the photo research. In the Summer-Fall 2002 issue, Future Reflections added the word "teachers" to the subtitle, and adopted the Whozit logo in its cover design. Three light-blue Whozits, a mother, father, and child, stride across the cover against a dark-blue background.

In 1993 Barbara compiled a special issue of Future Reflections to be sent to new parent contacts as part of an introductory packet of Federation literature. A special issue on early childhood, to be sent to parents of young blind children, was compiled in 2004. Other special issues have covered such topics as cane travel, Braille, and sports and recreation. Generally one issue each year contains reports and presentations from the annual NFB convention. Today Future Reflections goes out to some 14,000 subscribers in the United States and overseas. It is produced in print, cassette, and electronic versions. Most of the back issues are archived at <www.nfb.org/nfb/Future_Reflections.asp>.

Through nearly three decades Future Reflections has built a body of literature that serves as a resource for parents and teachers of blind children. It offers possibilities instead of gloom, a hopeful forecast instead of despair. "I think we give parents something they're really looking for," says Barbara Cheadle, gazing back over her long career as editor. "Sometimes mothers of young kids tell me they keep each new issue in the bathroom; that's the only place they can grab a few minutes alone to read it. But they're determined to read it through, and they figure out a way!"

By now the children whose parents pored over the early issues of Future Reflections have grown up. They are working, studying, and raising families of their own. As they find their way through the joys and pitfalls of life, they reflect the vision their families had for them as children. In the same way, tomorrow's blind adults are the future reflections of the world we imagine and work to build for them today.

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