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by Debbie Hamm
This summer at the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Phoenix, Arizona it was my job as secretary of the Parents of Blind Children Division (POBC) to organize and plan registration for the children's seminar "Is There Anybody Out There Like Me" and the parent's seminar, "Blindness: Its Impact on Parents and Children" It was a big effort and I waited afraid that "Murphey's Law" would rear its ugly head and my carefully laid plans would disintegrate. However, things went smooth and as registration forms rolled in my excitement mounted.
In Phoenix POBC kicked off its seminar Friday night with a get together for parents at the Hyatt. Blind and sighted parents gathered together to introduce themselves and say a word about their child. We had close to 50 people there and those with similar interests got together to compare notes after the formal introductions. It was a good icebreaker and in my experience with seminars, a rare opportunity to put faces with names, proof that pre-registration is worth the effort.
On Saturday at the POBC seminar we had parents represented from 32 states and one foreign country. Three large groups of children attended our concurrent children's seminar, totaling nearly 50. There were another 15 or more children under five in the nursery. It was terrific that so many people brought their children. A true sign that kids belong at a national convention.
My children, Jonathan 2 (blind), Matthew 7, and Nathan 8, were there, too. Nathan and Matthew got to navigate the Hyatt wearing sleepshades (blindfolds) and using a cane. They came away knowing a lot about cane travel and more understanding of Jonathan's need for a cane. They also were acquainted with Braille through the use of a Braille writer and Nathan has now taken it upon himself to learn to write Braille with a slate and stylus. I brought sleepshades home from the convention; with Jon's cane the sport is borrowing both for a spin through the house. They learned some songs, did some art work, and latched onto one of the blind teenage helpers.
Their helper was Bart, a student from the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and one of Lori LeBlanc's assistants (Lori is blind and a former elementary school teacher. She was in charge of the kindergarten and early elementary group.) Bart played a leading role in making the convention a success in my sons' minds. I believe that they secretly harbored the idea that Jonathan wouldn't really grow up to be like them and interested in the same things they are. Being with Bart helped change that. They could see that Jon's future would be much the same as theirs. Bart even took time out of his busy week to take them swimming one evening. Thanks, Bart!
The seminar itself was rich with information and I think we all left with renewed hope for our children's futures. Those of us that left with questions had the time and opportunity to have them answered Tuesday evening at the Individualized Education Program (IEP) portion of the seminar. IEP's raise the most questions and requires the most time exploring answers. The three day delay gave parents time to attend some of the regular NFB convention activities, participating and observing blind people at work (because an NFB convention is work!) When the IEP seminar started the room filled to overflowing. Finally the hotel had to move the back wall so we could expand into the adjacent meeting room.
After a detailed and informative agenda we broke up into three groups for discussion: preschool/grade school years; Junior and Senior high school years; and a group for those who act as advocates for parents. In our small group we discussed our hopes, fears, and constructive solutions to the problems that each of us personally face. After three days of convention, most parents had many thoughtful questions and concerns. We answered what we could and referred other questions. Best of all, we had a chance to laugh, wring our hands, and talk about our troubles in a "safe" small group.
As I think back to Jonathan's birth, the thing I wanted most was to talk to parents who had the same problems (real or imagined) as me and who weren't afraid to say so. I met a lot of people like that in Phoenix and I'm glad I was there because my life is richer for it. I was able to talk to some parents alone and although our experiences with our children are unique and our backgrounds diverse, I think we learned a lot from each other. At least I went away with another dose of "I can face the school year" instead of being blown away by the "I can't handle these blues" that sneak up on me in the Spring. For that boost, I owe you all thanks.
If you missed the 1987 NFB convention and parents/children seminar, tapes of it are available from the National Federation of the Blind (see the Hear Ye! Hear Ye! section.) Also, don't forget to contact your state NFB office for upcoming seminars for parents. If your NFB affiliate is not sponsoring one, they will still try to help you in any other way that they can. The membership of the NFB cares about the future of blind people and our children are that future! We may come from different backgrounds, but our goals are the
same: Equality, Opportunity, and Security for the blind--young and old!
My life has changed tremendously in the last two years. I have to say that the best changes have been because of my involvement in the National Federation of the Blind. The education I have received has been intense, the work hard, and the rewards many. I hope that we were able to convey those feelings to those of you who were in Phoenix. For those of you who have not been to a National Federation of the Blind National Convention and Parents Seminar, we hope you will join us in Chicago July 2nd for our next one.
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