Future Reflections Winter 1988, Vol. 7 No. 1

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What Parents And Children Need To Know About Blindness And Independence

National Federation of the Blind Seminar for Parents of Blind Children
Saturday July 2,1988 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

In the movie, Places In The Heart, Sally Fields is a widow trying to hold on to her little farm during the depression of the 1930's. Early in the movie, she is "persuaded" by the banker who holds the mortgage on her land, to take in his war-blinded brother as a boarder. The banker assures her that his blind brother, Will, can pay his own way (he canes chairs and makes brooms) and won't bother or interfere with her household in any way.

As the movie unfolds, Will gradually becomes accepted as a contributing member of the household. He rescues Sally's daughter when an approaching tornado blows a tree branch into the little girl's upstairs room. When harvest time comes and the push is on to win the prize money for the first bale of cotton picked in the county (without the prize money, Sally will lose her farm), Will takes over the kitchen chores. We see him baking cornbread, cooking on the stove, and snapping green beans. The dialogue even suggests that he is a better cook than Sally. Furthermore, he even gains some mobility through a system of clotheslines strung from the house to the cotton fields; a system he uses to run and warn Sally that the truckloads of cotton pickers from the south have arrived to pick her neighbors' cotton.
For the time and circumstances, Will seems to be quite independent. He has work and therefore his own source of income. He demonstrates competency in an emergency, and he pulls his own weight in household responsibilities. But is he realty independent?
In one tension-filled scene, Sally Fields is trying to convince Will and Rosie (the black farmhand) that going all out to win the prize money is the only way to save the farm. Without malice, only speaking a truth that everyone already knows, she tells Will that if she loses the farm, that it is the "Home" (institution) for him.

And she's right. For all his "independence," Will ultimately has no control over his own destiny. He is blind. Though he can "pay his own way, " it is someone else (his brother) who will determine his fate. If Sally Fields can achieve financial security (keep the farm), then she has won her independence. That's not so for Will. He is blind.

Independence for the blind, then, is more than a matter of skills, personal competency, or even financial security (though these have their place). Independence is control. Independence is an attitude. Independence is opportunity.

At the 1988 National Federation of the Blind National Convention, we will be hosting our 7th National Seminar for parents of blind children. The theme will be, "On the Road to Independence: What Parents and Children Need to Know About Blindness And Independence."

We will specifically focus on how parents can help their children grow in independence. We will discuss what skills are needed for independence and how we can learn them and teach them (or see that others teach them) to our children. We will talk about how we can foster a spirit of independence in blind children of all ages-toddlers to teenagers (i.e. getting your children to speak up for themselves and solve their own problems.) The role the NFB has played in creating opportunities for independence for blind children will be examined in light of what it means to our blind child. College students from the NFB Students Division will be there to talk about what helped or hindered them when they left home for the first time. We will also focus some on the problems blind parents encounter as they guide their sighted children toward independence; problems our own children will someday face. The agenda obviously has appeal to blind teenagers, and even mature children of eleven years or so. If your teenager or older child is coming with you, then plan for him or her to participate in the seminar with you. It will be a good experience for the whole family.

For your younger children (ages five through ten) we are planning a all day field trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo (they may also take a side trip to a nearby children's museum.) For children ten and older, we will have organized adult supervision for walking trips to one or more of the following: Planatarium; Shedd Acquarium; and Museum of Natural History. There will be some cost for these trips and pre-registration is required (see the pre-registration form at the end of this article for details). Children who are not pre-registered will be taken only on a space-available, first- come, first-served basis.

Child-care will also be available during the Saturday seminar, during the regular convention sessions, and the evening of the banquet. A set fee is not charged for the service, but we do ask that parents make donations to cover the costs (\ hire qualified child-care workers to supervise the] children and the volunteer aides.)

The registration fee is $8.00 per family. This entitles the family to a print or tape subscription to Future Reflections, and to membership in the NFB Parents of Blind Children Division. We urge you to use the pre-registration form at the end of this article and save yourself that long wait in the registration line.

You will be on your own for lunch. There are a number of restaurants and fast food places within easy distance of the hotel, so this should not present any problems either in terms of time or finances.

Activities for parents at the National Federation of the Blind National Convention will not end on Saturday with the workshop. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) Workshop will be held the following Tuesday (July 5th) evening from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. We had an excellent workshop and turnout last year. We anticipate doing as well, or even better this year.

The Annual Meeting of the NFB Parents of Blind Children Division will be held Monday (July 4th) afternoon. At the business meeting we will hear reports from our state and local parent chapters and divisions. Last year, many parents were disappointed that we did not have enough time to hear from all the groups. We will attempt to hear from all our parent groups this year. We will also elect officers, discuss old and new projects, and take up any other business we have. For example, the status of efforts of NFB affiliates to pass legislation providing for the opportunity for legally blind children to learn Braille will certainly be on the agenda.

Other activites of the convention include the huge exhibit hall which is open all day Sunday,

: Checks for all fees should be made payable to: NFB Parents of Blind Children Division. Your check knd this completed form should be mailed to: Debbie Hamm, Secretary POBC, 747 W. Pilger Roseburg, OR 97470. Mrs. Haitan's telephone number is: (503) 673- 5510.
Please indicate the number of persons you kave pre-registered for each of these three events:

1. Parents Seminar
2. Children's Zoo Trip
3. Youth Field Trip

I have enclosed a check for the following fees:
_____$8.00 per family for the Parents Seminar
_____$8.00 per child for the Zoo Trip
_____$2.00 per youth for the Field Trip {I understand that this fee does NOT cover most of the expenses for the trip, and my child will bring fextra cash to cover costs.)

Saturday, July 2nd
Name(s) (include first names of each family member)
City State Zip

July 3rd; Monday, July 4th; and most other times when convention sessions are not going on (before sessions and during lunch periods). The actual convention session begins Tuesday morning and runs all day Tuesday, Wednesday morning (the afternoon is left free for tours, sightseeing, etc.,) and all day Thursday and Friday. The convention agenda is first available Sunday and can be picked up when you register (the convention registration fee is $5.00 per person.) However, you can be sure that current issues involving education of blind children, civil rights, legislation, library services, rehabilitation services, and new technology for the blind will be on the agenda.
The banquet Thursday night is the highlight of the convention for many Federationists. We find out which students win the Scholarships and then hear a few words from the top winners. Other awards are also presented. But most importantly we have the opportunity to hear an uplifting, inspiring speech by our national president, Mr. Marc Maurer. Banquet tickets will cost in the neighborhood of $25 or so per person and can be purchased at registration.

The blind have come a long way on the road to independence since the depression days depicted in the movie, Places In the Heart. The National Federation of the Blind has been the key element in those changes. Come to the 1988 National Federation of the Blind convention, the seminar for parents of blind children, and all the other meetings and activities at the Hyatt Regency Chicago from July 2nd to July 8th; and learn what you can do to help your blind child achieve true independence.

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