by Barbara Cheadle and Mary Wurtzel
(Editor's Note: Mrs. Cheadle is the President of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Mrs. Wurtzel is Co-Chair of the Parental Concerns Committee of the National Federation of the Blind.)
A woman starts having labor pains two months early. The baby is born premature...and blind. The parents are devastated. A well-meaning neighbor tells them not to worry. The baby probably won't Jive long anyway and besides, she'll be able to see in heaven.
A blind woman and her husband, married over a year, decide it's time to start a family. She tells the good news to a cc--worker and is greeted first with silence and then a shocked, " How are you going to take care of a baby?"
"The Ugly Duckling" is read by a third grade class and the teacher asks the children if they know someone who is pre-judged by their appearance. A boy raises his hand and says people do that all the time to his brother. His brother is blind.
A twelve-year old girl comes home in tears. She had received lots of compliments on her costume for the school play until she told her friends that her mother had made it. Her friends laughed and called her a liar, "Blind people can't sew!"
A teen-age boy fights to keep back tears of frustration and disappointment. He was so sure Sarah was going to ask him to the turn-around dance. But she didn't and now she is avoiding him. He knows why, too. She just couldn't take the teasing she was getting about liking that blind kid. As tears roll down his face he wonders if there are blind people who ever date and get married.
Child, parent, sister, or brother... it doesn't matter which one is blind. Sooner or later every member of that family must face the ugly truth. No matter how competent and capable a blind child or adult is, or has the potential of being, the public still persists in believing that blindness is a pitiful tragedy, a condition of helplessness and dependency. What's worse is that since we are all members of that public, we are just as likely to hold those beliefs as anyone else.
Blindness is just a characteristic like any other, no more, no less. It is not a tragedy. It does not mean that an individual is forever cut off from, or even restricted in, all the normal pur suits in our society--work and career, education, recreation, civic responsibilites, and of course family life.
However, the struggle to really believe that, and to hold to that belief in the face of age-old stereotypes, is difficult and painful. Families can be torn apart by that struggle. They can also emerge stronger, both as a unit and as individuals.
What can really help is knowing people just like us who are going through, or have gone through, what we are experiencing. What parent of a blind child, or blind parent, or blind child, or sighted child with a blind brother, sister, or parent has not cried out within themselves, "Is There Anybody Out There Like Me?"
In response to that cry, the National Federation of the Blind Parents of Blind Children Division and the NFB Parental Concerns Committee announces our 1987 seminar and workshop for families impacted by blindness.
The date is Saturday, June 27 and the place is the Civic Center across from the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix, Arizona. The seminar is called: Blindness: It's Impact on Parents and Children. In addition to this seminar there is a concurrent workshop for school-age children (blind or sighted), grades kindergarten through twelve called, Is There Anybody Out There Like Me?
There are many more exciting, informative meetings in the days following Saturday, June 27 because this day marks the beginning of the week-long national convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Those events include, among others, a Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Workshop on the evening of Tuesday, June 30. Parents and educators of blind children will want to plan to come for the entire week.
The workshops we have planned this year are truely special and unique. Usually, seminars of this kind talk about the problems of blind childem, but never include the child. This time, we are not only including the children, but the emphasis will be on helping a"IV. family members understand and deal with blindness--regard! ess of which member within the family is blind. That means that these workshops are for parents of blind children, blind children, blind parents, and sighted children who have a blind parent, brother, or sister.
As we have defined the issues and drawn up the agenda, we have become more and more excited about this concept. For example, the adult seminar will cover critical issues and questions that parents of blind children or blind parents encounter almost daily. It will deal with such questions as, How do you tell children what blindness is? How can you teach your children positive attitudes about blindness? What do you do when other children tease your child because they are blind or because they have a blind parent? What do you do, for that matter, when other adults show ignorance and insensitLvity? These, and many other topics, will be explored that day.
The children's workshop will run concurrently with the adult seminar. This workshop will be for school-age children grades Kindergarten through twelve (child-care will be available for younger children).
The workshop will be organized and led by experienced and sensitive blind and sighted adults, many of whom are parents and/or educators. Activities will be designed for each age/maturity level and will emphasize positive attitudes about blindness and skills of blindness. Children will be given the opportunity to make friends with each other and to get to know competent blind adults. At the end of the day, the children and the instructors will rejoin the parents in he adult seminar and a report of the day's activities will be given.
Pre-registration is required for the children's workshop. See details about this at the end of the article. Seminar participants will also be able to attend the Parents of Blind Children Division (POBC) annual meeting on this Saturday. The hour-long meeting will be scheduled mid-day and will feature a showing of a video about blind parents. We will also elect officers, hear committee reports, and discuss other business items.
Now, about the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) workshop. The IEP is not on the adult seminar agenda this year for a couple of reasons. Krst, we had so many other topics we could not squeeze it in and do it justice. Second, the IEP process is important enough, and complex enough, to be the topic of a whole workshop in itself. So, that's what we have done. The IEP, for those unfamiliar with the term, is an educational plan which the federal law requires be written to meet the individual needs of each handicapped child receiving special education services. The plan is drawn up by the child's teachers and parents, must be reviewed at least once a year, and can be revised as often as necessary.
The IEP workshop will take place on the evening of Tuesday, June 30 (Tuesday is the day the general convention session begins). This will be a topnotch workshop for parents and teachers and for others (like FederatiDnists) who advocate for blind children.
Beyond what what you can learn from these seminars and workshops is, of course, the chance to really get to know some of the thousands of parents out there who know just what you are going through. Futhermore, it is an opportunity to begin to work together to help ourselves, to help others like us, and to educate the public so that fewer families have to suffer because of the stigma and stereotypes of blindness.