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What Freedom Means To Me
by Wayne Pearcy, Laura Wolk, and Nicole White
Wayne Pearcy (center) with friends Kyle Neddo and April Jones at the 2001 convention
Editor’s Note: We are always trying something new at our NOPBC parents seminars. Last year, we decided to invite the children to stay for the first part of the seminar so they could listen to a panel of three blind youth speak about “What Freedom Means to Me.” The panelists had been asked to consider what freedom meant to them as blind people, and to reflect on the impact the NFB had on their lives, and on their understanding of freedom. It was a resounding success. The panelists were insightful, articulate, entertaining, and short – a winning combination. The kids (and adults) in the audience were delighted and impressed with the speeches and the presentors. Reprinted below is this trio of speeches, beginning with the presentation made by Wayne Pearcy. Wayne is a high school sophomore in Austin, Texas. Wayne’s mother and father are also blind, and his mother, Zena Pearcy, is the President of the NFB of Texas. Here is what Wayne has to say about “Freedom”:
What Freedom Means to Me
by Wayne Pearcy
Freedom. An important subject, one that we must all think about. Think about what freedom means to you while you listen to me talk about what freedom means to me.
First, freedom means independence – the ability to take care of one’s self. If you can travel by yourself, that’s part of independence. If you can fold your own clothes, that is part of independence. And if you can cook, and so on and so forth, that’s also part of independence. But you must put all of these tasks together in your day-to-day life to achieve independence, and this is part of freedom.
Secondly, free-agency is part of freedom as well. Free agency is the ability to make choices for yourself. When you can make decisions about what kind of job you want, that’s free agency. Deciding when to cross a street is free agency. When you decide what college to attend, that’s free agency. Free agency is the ability to make good or bad choices.
Now, thirdly, independence
and free agency will go together throughout your life. If you are limited in
your independence, you will also be limited in your free agency. Let’s say a
blind person has five choices of getting around. There’s walking, taking the
bus, taking a cab, begging rides off of people, and special transit for the
disabled. Now, let’s say you don’t know how to travel independently as a blind
person. There goes walking and there goes the bus. You are now limited to taking
a cab, begging rides from people, and special transit. But walking and taking
the bus are the most independent and the cheapest ways of getting around. So
now you’re limited to those three options. If you take a cab, you’ll spend a
lot of money. If you beg for a ride, you have to worry about getting someone
you can’t trust. If you take special transit, you have to schedule your life
two weeks in advance. And so the conclusion is that free agency and independence
go hand-in-hand—if you are limited in one, you are
limited in the other.
In closing, these are the things that I think make up freedom: independence, free agency, and making good choices. The NFB is trying to teach parents about the importance of these elements of freedom to blind children. We should value them and try to exercise them in our everyday lives. Now think about what freedom means to you, and see what you come up with. Thank you for your time and willingness to listen to this speech.
What Freedom Means to Me
by Laura WolkHello.
My name is Laura Wolk. I am 14 years old and I live in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
I would like to explain how the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has given me freedom in my life. I must admit that it is a little hard to describe. It is not as if I was a character in the Wizard of Oz, where the Scarecrow obtains brains and the Tin Man receives a heart. In many indirect ways, freedom is far more important than any possession that is just given to you.
I have always been aware that my father was in contact with the NFB before I entered elementary school. Now I realize that, because of the NFB, my parents enrolled me into the education system with no intention of letting me fall into the category of being treated “different” and “special.” Because of the NFB’s resources, my father was able to clearly state what had to be done to ensure a fair and equal education for me.
This effort has been very successful. I have just finished the eighth grade, and I have always been treated as an equal with my peers. I continue to be an “A” student, and participate in many extra-curricular activities, such as singing in the chorus and playing the alto sax in the school band. I have also recently completed my eighth year of piano instruction. This past year I was chosen to accompany the chorus on piano. I also played a sax solo in the jazz band concert.
I maintain a stable circle of friends, who treat me so equally that they sometimes forget they have to describe movies to me. I usually go out with my friends two or three times a week to movies, dances, the mall, and the local amusement park. All things considered, this makes me very happy because I am free to do the same things my friends like to do.
My first experience with the NFB that I remember took place when I was seven years old. My father and I went to the Detroit convention in 1994. I was overwhelmed by the number of tapping canes I heard as I walked down the hall. The people I saw there were able to not only complete simple tasks, such as finding the restrooms, but more complicated things as well, such as running an entire convention.
Of course, at the age of seven, I was not remotely concerned with my future as an adult. However, looking back, now I realize that, perhaps without intention, the NFB was showing me that I could basically become whatever I wanted to, if I worked hard enough.
People say that it’s what’s inside of a person that counts, not your outside appearance. I have learned that this is not entirely true. Blind people are sometimes improperly stereotyped as needing to be helped and guided through their entire lives. In some people’s minds, we are not supposed to be smart and self-confident. However, an independent blind person’s outside appearance really does show a lot to people. I have always felt that this characteristic of mine (a good outside appearance) has helped me to gain friends quicker, and helped people to become more comfortable around me. Being and acting independent shows people that we’re perfectly capable of being self-sufficient. They will then begin to be able to look past our different ways of seeing and realize we are just like them.
All this is very important to me. I take my freedom for granted many times. When I hear stories of other blind children’s limited lifestyles, where they cannot read, or have no technology to make their lives easier, I am surprised and disappointed. I have no doubt that, without the NFB’s help, I would certainly have had to overcome many more difficulties to get to where I am today. Every day, the NFB works to achieve this goal. Above everything else, this is what freedom means to me.
What Freedom Means to Me
Editor’s Note: I first met this young lady when she was two years old. Her parents, Joe and Loretta White, have been leaders in our Maryland Parents of Blind Children division of the NOPBC for almost the same length of time. It has been a delight to watch Nicole mature and grow in independence. That delight has been tempered, however, by the heartache of watching her parents struggle with a rigid educational bureaucracy incapable of meeting the complex needs of a blind multiply-disabled child with academic potential. Nicole is fortunate that her parents found the Federation early, and that they had the courage and capacity to find an alternative educational path for Nicole. Here now, in her own words, is what Nicole has to say about freedom:
Good morning, everyone. My name is Nicole White. I am 14 years old and I will be in the ninth grade this fall. I am blind and have a hearing impairment. I also have Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s a kind of autism. I used to have seizures a lot, but now only once in a while. I have mild cerebral palsy, but it’s not very noticeable anymore. When I was sent to public school years ago, my teachers said I am retarded and have a learning disability, too; but I disagree.
When I was about 9 months old, my family joined the NFB. They have helped us through the years to learn about blindness and to get the things I needed. Now my mom does things with the NFB to help other kids, too.
I’m pretty independent now, but not totally, at least not yet. Independence means doing things on your own without help. Sometimes it can be fun being independent, like making cookies. I also like going out to play whenever I choose, making my own meals, taking care of my sister when she is sick, and going into the store by myself to buy milk and stuff. My favorite thing to buy is Pringles. Sometimes being independent can be tiring and boring. Some examples of that are making beds, unloading the dishwasher, doing laundry, washing dishes, raking and bagging leaves in the fall, and taking care of my little brother (he’s so irritating). One of my jobs is to fold the towels and put them in the closet. My mother gets furious if I make a mess out of the closet and she make me take all the towels out and refold them.
My mom homeschools me and two of my sisters. These days, I get to do my work independently. In the morning she gives me my lessons and assignments, and then I go to my room or the dining room and spend the rest of the day getting the work done. I have to get everything I need for my work by myself and then put it away, too. That includes my notebooks, textbooks, dictionaries, and computer. Also other stuff, like a math compass, grid paper, the pushpins and rubber bands to make geometry figures, my slate and stylus, Brailler, paper, and such. Of course, everyone should have to do that. I usually make my own breakfast and lunch. I fix bagels, toast, sometimes eggs, frozen waffles; stuff like that. I don’t fix cereal much because I don’t like it, especially Trix. During the school year, it is my job to make breakfast for my younger sister and brother. I make them cereal, because they like it. I also make instant oatmeal, doughnuts, bagels, toast, fruit, and eggs for them.
For lunch, I like to make spicy food, like a sandwich with hot peppers. I also heat up leftovers, but they’re not my favorite. I like the spicy meals from Lean Cuisine. I enjoy cooking. Sometimes I cook dinner for my family. My favorite thing to cook is Hamburger Helper. Canned vegetables are easy. All you have to do is open the can, put them in a pot, and heat them up. The hardest part is the can opener. I wish we had an electric can opener.
Sometimes people try to take over and do things for me that I can do myself. Sometimes when I’m in a hurry, that’s ok. But most of the time it angers me and I wish they would stop. But since I am not a grown-up yet, that is often hard to tell them. My family are the most supportive people in my life. Most of the time, they help me and know that I can be independent. Mr. Tom is the greatest mobility teacher. Mr. Tom really knows what he’s doing because he’s blind, too. We turn mobility into fun. We go to the mall, we take buses, light-rail, and all kinds of fun things. When I am an adult, I plan to travel a lot. I want to go to Illinois, Japan, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. And I will take these trips by myself.
This summer I am going to the Colorado Center for the Blind programs for middle schoolers. I went last year too. They teach me how to be independent. Even though I have multiple handicaps, and I sometimes have a lot of trouble understanding the world, I’m sure I can be what I wish to be if I have help and try hard enough. I am thankful for the help my friends and family have given me. I am glad I am growing up in the National Federation of the Blind. I am glad they believe in me, and I know I can succeed in my life.
The 2001 NFB Convention Offered many oppornities to learn and have fun.
Nathan Clark (right) plays a Braille game with Patrick Ward at the Braille Carnival
Sighted teens have fun using a cane on the Youth Scavenger Hunt. Pictured here are (from left to right) Tracy Yeager, Michelle Povinelli, Stephanie Povinelli, Richard Solis, and Thomas Panaro.
Rocco Fiorentiono examines a deer up close at the Srnsory Safari.
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