by Barbara Cheadle
(Editor's Note: This artical appeared in the January 1987 Braille Monitor and is reprinted here with some editing of the introduction to the letter.)
At the 1986 convention I asked several parents who were attending far the first time if they would write and give me their impressions of the convention. One of the parents I asked was Debbie Hamm.
Debbie is the mother of Jonathan (one and half years old), who has been blind from birth. Although Debbie is new to the NFB, she has leaped right in and demonstrated lots of enthusiasm and willingness to work. She is the treasurer of the Northwest Chapter (Oregon and Washington), NFB Parents Division, and was elected secretary to the Parents Divison's national board at the annual meeting in Kansas City.
Late in August I received Debbie's letter describing her reaction to the National Federation of the Blind convention. The letter is one of the most moving I have ever read and it is reprinted in full in this article. In it, Debbie doesn't talk about the agenda or what dignitary said what when, or even discuss the pressing issues of the convention. Yet, her report is as accurate as any ever written about what the National Federation of the Blind convention really means to every blind man, woman, and yes, child, in this country.
It is not uncommon for parents of blind children to try and dismiss the National Federation of the Blind as only being for blind adults. As if the rights and welfare of blind adults are somehow distinct and separate from the rights, needs, and welfare of blind children. However, more and more parents like Debbie Hamm are rejecting that false notion and coming to understand that the true nature of the problem of blindness is a bond that ties all the blind together regardless of age or any other characteristic. And it is recognition of that bond that leads to true freedom. Nowhere is this more evident than at a national convention of the National Federation of the Blind. But enough said. Debbie's letter speaks for itself, so here it is:
I am writing as you requested regarding convention. It is long overdue, as I have agonized over what I wanted to say. One, because I am sure there are many versions to the same story and two, because it was such a profound experience for me I find it difficult to describe.
I became interested in the NFB not because of literature that was sent to me, but because a "real" person (Denise Mackenstadt) called me and invited me to a parent seminar in Washinton. There I met blind adults, students, and parents of blind children. They were people who understood our needs and concerns regarding our hlind children's futures.
As I became means involved, I observed these people wanting the same education far children that I wanted for mine: Braille and cane travel at an early age to increase literacy and independence. The basics, yet a necessity that I didn't see some blind children receiving in my community. It wasn't just the system's fault, it was lack of knowledge. I wanted to know what Jonathan needed based on the experience of other blind people, so I could ask for it.
And then I was invited to the national convention. What an experience! At first a little overwhelming. I had never known a blind person (except those recently met). I had to face and accept that I had many misconceptions about blindness and the abilities of blind people. But I quickly threw those notions out!
Never in my life have I been with so many intelligent, well-educated, capable, and articulate people. I have joined other cosganizations but none with the high quality of leadership, motivation, and dedication of the membership that this one has.
There were many notable speakers within and outside of the organization. It would be unfair to say any one was better than another. However, I listened carefully to each, and they all moved me with what they had to say.
With so much to absorb in one week, the thing that will be my fondest memory is the love and acceptance I received from so many new friends. People willing to listen (no question too ignorant) and to share their experiences. Unafraid to give advice and offer suggestions. People that I laughed with and cried with and who helped me move into new and healtier attitudes about blindness. And to accept that my son is O.K., my expectations for his education are reasonable. He can be anything he wants to be.
Yes, there will be fnistrations dealing with ignorance. But there will always be the NFB and the wonderful people in it to support and love him. And who are out there today convincing the world that blind people are worthy of all the dignity and respect a sighted person receives. For that I am relieved and grateful in a way I can't put into words. I can only hope I will be able to give back to the NFB as much as I received in one short week.
I look forward to bringing my husband and children to convention next year. And even more, to rekindling those wonderful friendships I was fortunate enough to start in Kansas City.
God Bless You All,
Northwest (NFB) Parents Chapter
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