Future Reflections Convention Report 2011
by Roman Sollano and Shafeka Hashash
Introduction by Laura Bostick: Next we're going to have our student panel. Our first speaker is Roman Sollano from Willow Springs, Missouri. He's going into the eighth grade. He participates in band, cross country, and track. He enjoys sports, reading science fiction, watching documentaries on science and prehistoric times, and playing practical jokes. He hates people thinking he can't do things, being talked down to, and poison ivy. I give you Roman Sollano.
Roman Sollano: I am Roman Sollano. I am fourteen years old. I live in the country. My family has chickens, goats, and horses. We garden and raise most of our own food. I go to a small school in Willow Springs, Missouri. It is easy to know most of the people there. I like spending time with my friends and girlfriend. I like sports and school activities like band and dances. And by the way, I'm illegally blind.
That's right, illegally blind. That's because I get in trouble playing all my jokes.
When I grow up I don't want to be a couch potato. I want to be active and to have fun with my friends. I don't just want to listen to books. I want to read books and maybe make a few of my own. Joke books!
I want to go to college and get an education instead of staying with my nosy parents. [Laughter] When I grow up I want to be a happy member of society. I want to have a job I like and a home I like and enough money for an airplane. [Laughter] I want to be able to find my own way, check out my own books, buy my own groceries, and cook my own food. I want to learn all I can from school and the NFB so that when I grow up I can be independent.
I want to learn how to garden, take care of a few animals, and maybe do some mechanical work. I would like a job in the science field--maybe biology, maybe chemistry, maybe even inventing. I have always been fascinated by science, and I love to learn about it. I first got interested when I was three years old and watched Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. It is still my favorite movie.
When I grow up I don't want to be boring or easy to figure out. My favorite character from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is Golem. I understand how he feels. He has a bad side that everybody sees, and he has a good side that no one realizes. It is a little like being blind. Everyone sees you as just being a blind person. People don't take the time to get to know you. I want to be respected and yet do my own thing.
When I grow up I want to have a bigger part in the NFB. I want to help other children with sight problems adjust to life just like the NFB has helped me. I would recommend NFB programs like Junior Science Academy in Baltimore, Maryland, where I got to ride a rollercoaster for the first time. I also learned that it is okay to be blind; you just have to learn certain techniques so that when you go out in public you don't look as though you have no idea what you're doing. Like my mom--when she was blindfolded she ran into a wall and knocked a picture down.
Then there was Mission Believe [a conference in Missouri], where I learned that blind people can do anything that sighted people can do. I even got to ride a zipline and a giant swing. I think it would have been easier if I had been completely blind. I'm going to go to the Colorado Center for the Blind so I can learn better life skills.
When I grow up I want to be able to throw parties on weekends and holidays. Having fun is very important to me. So is being with friends and family, and that includes my NFB family.
To sum it all up, when I grow up I want to be me, myself, just the way I like to be. After all, isn't that what anybody wants, sighted or blind?
Laura Bostick: Roman and I have a lot in common. I also don't want to be boring, I don't like poison ivy, and I'd like to have enough money to buy an airplane.
Our next panelist is Shafeka Hashash. She's from New Milford, New Jersey, and she's going to attend NYU in the fall. She is a member of the NFB Scholarship Class of 2011. [Applause] She's been a mock trial captain and a Model United Nations chair. She is currently the vice president of the New Jersey Association of Blind Students. Her interests include politics, human rights, law, travel, and meeting new people.
Shafeka Hashash: I'm only eighteen, so I still have plenty of growing to do. I'd like to take this time to talk about some things I went through growing up and what I expect from myself in the future. Recently I finished an internship with a New Jersey congressman, and I'm very excited about attending NYU in the fall. In my future I plan to obtain degrees in political science and international relations. At the moment I think I want to go to law school. My ultimate goal is to work for the United Nations.
When I grow up I want three things. First, I want to be absolutely independent. At the moment I have what I like to call teenage independence. My main source of income is my dad. I know how to cook, but I'm not the family chef. Second, I always want to be confident in myself. Confidence is crucial, especially for a student. Finally, I want to change things rather than avoid them. I never want to avoid something because it's an obstacle. I would rather change it and be the first to do so.
Growing up I went through a lot of phases that parents may notice in their kids. At the moment the two big issues I see for independence are Braille and cane travel. I think every kid goes through a phase of thinking, I will never use the cane! This is absolutely awful! You can't force me to go out in public with this thing!
My parents kept the cane in my hand, not necessarily forcing me to use it but just keeping it with me when we went out. That got me to be more comfortable with it. I'd walk into people at the mall who'd get mad because they thought I was a rude, clumsy little girl. One day I ran into one of those barriers they put in the middle of the entrance to a store, and I got a huge bump on my head. We had to go put ice on it. There was an ice cream place nearby, so I sat in the middle of the mall with a box of ice cream on my head. The lesson in that one: Use your cane!
The other thing is Braille. I am the biggest Braille advocate out there. For me print wasn't an option. But even for kids with some sight, there are no negatives to learning Braille. Some people say, "Braille is unnecessary. It makes you look different." Well, if you're blind you're always going to stand out anyway. But that's a good thing--I don't know why it's perceived as a bad thing. There's a tremendous difference between listening to something and reading it yourself. In college I'm going to have to do a lot of listening, but all my notetaking will be in Braille. Anything you put onto a computer can be put onto a Braille machine. Reading it yourself is much better than having it read to you.
A lot of blind kids deal with blindisms. My blindism was that I rocked. A lot of kids have rocking or light-gazing or other mannerisms. My parents were very, very strict. Maybe when a child is six or seven rocking is not a big deal. But when that child is twenty-five and interviewing for a job, it doesn't matter if he graduated from Harvard, he's not going to get hired if he's rocking back and forth! In high school it's hard enough just being blind. You have to go the extra mile to make friends. If you're rocking or constantly staring into the sky, kids aren't going to approach you.
It's a bit of a cliché, but you have to believe in yourself. Sometimes my parents think I have too much confidence! Maybe that's true sometimes, but I think too much is better than too little. Confidence allows you to be social. Braille and independent travel are important, but if you can't be social you're going to be very unhappy.
You can't be afraid to make changes. This past summer I went to Syria with a program called Open Hand Initiative. There were ten students from the United States and ten from Syria. The purpose was to discuss the rights of persons with disabilities in the UN convention in Syria. We worked with the president and the first lady, and it was a big, big step for Syria. Syria is a developing country in the Middle East. They don't have a lot, but they do have some things. For instance, some blind kids there had canes, but they chose not to use them. They said that the public wasn't aware; people didn't understand. Well, people are never going to understand if the kids who are supposed to be using canes are sitting in their rooms, not going anywhere! I met a girl my age, eighteen, who never separated from her mom. When we went out to restaurants or to visit landmarks, her mom was always with her. You could tell that her mom still dressed her and took care of her. It's a misunderstanding that it's better to be taken care of than to go out and change things.
When I attend NYU I'm going to have to use the New York subway system. My mom is not thrilled with that, of course. I can't say I'm thrilled myself, so we're getting over it together. Actually, I love the subway system. It's a bit nerve-wracking to use it by yourself at first. Some people think that as a blind person you should use what's easiest--a taxi or a Dial-a-Ride service. Well, New York taxis are very expensive. The subway costs $2.25 to take you anywhere in the city. I never want to avoid something because it seems scary at first. I would rather break down that barrier.
My parents have been through everything with me. They went through the cane fits--once I purposely broke a cane because I didn't want to use it! My parents will be with me through college as a support, and that's a big thing. I love them for it! I know I will be a successful adult. I'll always have the support of my family, but I will do things on my own.