Future Reflections Convention 1990, Vol. 9 No. 4

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by Carol Castellano

As the Plane approached Dallas airport last July 2, I felt my excitement~and trepidation--rising. Rarely had I traveled alone before; interpreting maps is difficult for me, and I like to leave the navigating to somebody else. Even figuring out the rail shuttle from the airport to the hotel complex seemed daunting. The responsibility for finding out where I had to be, getting there, and being on time rested solely with me.

But all around me other people were finding their way, and I realized I could do it just as they did--take a deep breath, get moving, and ask questions when necessary. Knowing that the blind convention goers were grappling with the same challenges and succeeding meant a lot to me. If these folks could do it, I could, too. And so, eventually, could my daughter who is blind.

In the long corridor between the hotel towers dozens of people with canes and dog guides walked along, calling out friendly greetings now and then. I observed how people went about identifying each other.

The festive excitement of the convention was evident everywhere--in the exhibit room crammed full of products and people and in the lively sessions where pertinent, practical information was offered by high-powered presenters. Challenges were issued; expectations were high. Energy flowing from the people on the daises was met by enthusiasm and willingness to work on the part of those in the audience.

Meeting Federation leaders--people whose writings have inspired me and who have served as long distance role models for my family--was a thrill. I felt privileged to be present for President Maurer's very moving address (the annual Presidential Report.)

My belief was reaffirmed that people in this organization care genuinely about one another and would go out of their way to help. With such personal commitment on the part of so many, how can the Federation fail to reach its goals?

Almost three thousand people attended the convention, and observing thousands of blind people teaches some lessons. Different ways of doing things appear more and more normal; different ways of being seem less and less different! I watched a blind reporter locate a hotel telephone and operate his recording equipment. A blind wheelchair user competently swung his cane in front of him as he moved along. I felt my tolerance for differences growing, my respect for and appreciation of other ways of doing things expanding by the moment. I hope that many other consciousnesses were raised, too, for I know that every rise in consciousness means a better world for my daughter to grow up in.

Seeing thousands of blind people also served to bring to life an idea I'd come across many times in Federation literature--that blind people are not all alike. I had not understood why that idea was so important until, not long ago, an admissions director suggested that my daughter might not succeed at a particular school because the school had once had a blind student who could not find her way around the building. I did not see the significance of the idea until the director of special services wanted my daughter's school evaluation to be done by specialists in developmental disabilities because

they had experience with blind children. I did not comprehend the importance of the idea until the child study team said they leaned toward placement in a "low-functioning" class (even though my daughter is a bright child) because the teacher of that class had once taught a blind child.

These educators assumed that blind people were all alike. They did not know that some blind people are competent travelers and some never had the opportunity to learn; they did not know that some blind children have developmental disabilities and some do not; they did not know that some blind people are brilliant and others fall into every other category known to humans.

BUT I KNEW!! And thanks to the NFB convention, I had that reality before my eyes, a reality which gave me the courage and the ammunition and the confidence to combat their prejudice.

The convention experience also demonstrated another Federation principle--that there is not necessarily only one "right" way of doing something. I used to wonder why Federationists, who believe that the blind can do virtually any task competently without sight, seemed to refuse to simply tell how a blind person actually does various tasks. If they know a good way, I mused in frustration, why won't they share it?

Eventually I learned the lesson: Instead of relying on someone else to provide an answer, it is far more valuable to engender in yourself and your child the ability to assess a situation and find a workable solution for it. Assume that anything can be done, but don't put life on hold waiting for someone else to hand you an answer. Use common sense. Nourish creativity.

Not being bound by established techniques leaves us free to discover new and better ways, and maybe to accomplish what no other person has done before. If no one tells us we cannot, then we well may do it! In the NFB, the belief is that anything is possible. It's a heady feeling.

I went to the convention for information. I came away with that and much, much more.

Families are empowered by this organization. Come join us in New Orleans in '91!

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