Future Reflections Convention Report 2011
by Doreen Franklin
My daughter, Victorria (Torrie), is six years old and visually impaired. The 2011 national convention was our second; we went to convention in Detroit in 2009. At the Cane Walk in 2009, Torrie saw me with sleepshades on, trying to find my way around the hotel. It was not easy for me, to say the least, but I learned some important lessons. When Torrie called, "Over there, Mom!" I heard echoes of the directions I tended to give her, and realized I needed to be much more specific.
In Orlando I signed us up for the Cane Walk once again. Torrie sat in the front row with a group of other children while Jeff Altman, the coordinator, gave the parents instructions. I was pleasantly surprised when Torrie borrowed a slate and stylus from one of the other kids. Torrie wrote me a Braille note that said, "I love you, mommy." What a precious gift that card was! It was all the more special because Torrie was playing with the slate and stylus, a tool she had resisted at school and at home.
Torrie has also had a lot of resistance to using her cane back home. I told Merry-Noel Chamberlain, who was my convention roommate as well as our Cane Walk instructor, that I was unsure what Torrie would do. Torrie worked with Merry-Noel for a short time, but then she stopped. "Let's get Mom a teaching cane," Merry-Noel suggested. As soon as Mom had to use a cane, too, Torrie was thrilled! I am not a spring chicken, and I found it was a bit tricky to pick up the rhythm of tapping from side to side.
Meanwhile, Torrie started to work with Merry-Noel again. Soon she was flying up and down the stairs and elevator! What joy that was! Thank you, Merry-Noel!
Later that day, NOPBC had arranged for families to go to SeaWorld for an educational program, after which we could explore the park. Of course, I took my cane with me. Things went pretty well until I accumulated a few souvenirs. That's when I got it--when you have a cane in one hand, you only have one hand free for holding other things!
I have had a neck fusion, and fun rides are out of the question for me. Two other moms--Merry-Noel and Amber Hall--took Torrie with them and their girls, Ashleah and Alayna. While I watched, they went on the Journey to Atlantis--yes, the flume ride. After everyone got off, Torrie was ecstatic! She couldn't stop talking about how she rode the Journey to Atlantis! She was much braver than I ever would have been, even if I could get on the ride. Merry-Noel and Amber gave me a keychain as a remembrance. Torrie has her own keychain, so she can remember that special ride all the time!
A little later things got really interesting. Still under sleepshades, I tried to pop into the ladies' room without taking my cane. The ladies' room was right there, only a few feet away. "Would you let Torrie do that?" Merry-Noel asked me. Of course, the answer was no, so I took my cane with me to the ladies' room--along with my purse, a souvenir cup, and assorted bags and other paraphernalia. It's not as easy as it looks!
Back at home I have continued to use the teaching cane with Torrie to help remind her of the rhythm. I get strange looks from friends. I can almost hear them ask in their heads, "When did this happen? Why are you still driving if you need a cane?" When I tell them that my cane helps Torrie to use hers, I feel less self-conscious. This is something I need to do to help Torrie! I am glad to help her in any way I can!
Cane travel was only one aspect of convention that made a difference for us. Making connections with other people was the best part of all. Most of the time, Torrie does not do well with meeting new people. She has a fear of strangers, and since she can't see them well, they must seem even more strange. Torrie is very outgoing with people she knows. Then you can't stop her or settle her down!
On Sunday in Orlando, the parents hosted a Meet and Greet event. I met two TVIs from Louisiana, who asked me about the issues we faced with Torrie in our school district. While I was busy talking, I saw that Torrie was having a good time on her own. She was flitting around the room! First she found R.J. Holloway, a little boy about her age, and they played for a while. After that, Torrie darted around the room again, talking easily with several people. I felt very proud that she was comfortable to talk to folks she did not know!
On the way back to our room, we passed a woman with a guide dog as we went down the steps. Torrie asked me how the dog knew what to do on the stairs. I had no clue, so I told her to ask the lady. Torrie did just that. She proceeded to ask how the dog knows there are stairs and how he knows what to do. The woman graciously told Torrie how the two of them work together. She then asked us for some directions, and we ended up walking together.
Then the most amazing thing happened. "Are you visually impaired or blind?" Torrie asked. I had never heard such a direct question about blindness from Torrie before. The woman told Torrie that she is blind, and Torrie asked her how she was blinded. The lady was very gracious and told Torrie how she lost her sight. She was the very essence of what the NFB is all about!
This was the first time Torrie was actually asking questions of other people! Usually she hides behind me and gets me to ask the questions. Torrie felt very comfortable at convention because, like her, nearly everyone there had a visual impairment. She didn't stick out the way she does at school as a child with a cane who needs to wear sunglasses and a visor. Here she was one of EVERYBODY!
That night was an experience I could not have expected, and I really felt energized! Thanks to the NFB, Torrie saw that there are thousands of people like her in the world. She had the experience of being in a group where she doesn't stick out. That was priceless for both of us! Thank you, NFB!