Future Reflections Convention 1990, Vol. 9 No. 4

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[PICTURE] Brenda Allen brought daughter Leslie and fourteen other family members-mother, brothers, sister, in-laws, neices, and nephews~to the NFB parents seminar.

"You can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em!" Husbands say this about their wives. Wives say it about their husbands. And, in general, members of one sex say it about the opposite sex. Sometimes parents even say it about their children. We have all felt the frustration of being in a relationship fraught with conflicts and knowing that the only thing worse that could happen would be not to have the relationship at all.

That's often how parents of blind children feel about professionals. The medical doctors, the special education teachers, the Orientation and Mobility specialist, the librarian or media specialist, the program administrator--they all seem necessary, but dealing with them can sometimes be intimidating and disheartening--especially if a person is not certain what one should reasonably expect from the professional.

Learning who the professionals are and what one should expect from them was the theme of the 1990 National Parents Seminar sponsored by the Parents of Blind Children of the National Federation of the Blind. The agenda of the Who are the Professionals and What Should They Do? seminar began with a panel of blind teens who had been attending a dynamic summer program at the

Louisiana Center for the Blind. The focus of this program wasn't just on alternative techniques-- cooking, traveling independently, learning social skills, etc.--it was also on learning confidence and positive attitudes about blindness from their blind counselors, most of whom were college students. Here is what Angela Howard, age thirteen, had to say, in part, about her experience in the program: "I never really saw a blind person before in my life. I just thought what everybody else thought, that they were kind of weird--standing on the corner selling pencils, with one red sock and one blue sock.. .But after I met Ernie and Zack and all of them, they were kind of normal--well, they are not normal, but they're not weird, [laughter] I mean, they're not like I thought that blind people were; they were different. And I thought that I could still be that way."

After this inspiring panel the teens scooted off on a trip to Six Flags, and the agenda moved on to two excellent presentations from representatives of the medical professions. Dr. John Redwine, a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa, and Eileen Rivera, Director, Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Maryland, were both able to combine a medical perspective with a personal, consumer perspective. Dr. Redwine is the father of a blind child and Eileen Rivera is legally blind and a former Federation Scholarship winner.

Fred Schroeder, Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, and Mary Sonksen, Principal of the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (a residential school), discussed the role of schools. Dr. Charles Hallenbeck, Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas, then shared with us his refreshing, sensible views about the role of technology. The text of his remarks appears elsewhere in this issue.

The "Independent Travel" panel, conducted by cane travel instructor Sharon Duffy and the president of the National Association of Dog Guide Users, Robert Eschbach, inspired considerable discussion and questions from the audience. Clearly independent travel is an important issue to parents of blind children.

A large panel of various educational specialists was also well received. Ruby Ryles, Doris Willoughby, Ruth Van Ettinger, and Kim Bosshart represented the viewpoints of itinerant and resource room teachers of the blind and visually impaired. Judy Cawliey of Texas added to the panel her perspective as an elementary classroom teacher who had a blind student in her class.

Next came presentations from an often neglected area: library services to blind and visually impaired children. Cheryl McCaslin, a blind librarian, spoke of her job as a local school district media coordinator serving blind children in Dallas, Texas. Judy Dixon then described the services of the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Finally, the day ended on an emotional high note with a panel of parents and blind adults. Important as the professionals are, this panel made it clear that there is no substitute for informed parents and good blind role models. Sharon Maneki, blind adult, former school teacher, and president of the NFB of Maryland, was the moderator. Parent Brenda Allen started the panel off with a straight-from-the-heart, no-punches-pulled, account of her experiences with blindness and the Federation. She confessed that at her first NFB convention,"When I saw nearly two thousand blind adults and children and canes and dogs,.. .1 was absolutely devastated... .1 had no idea my blind child was going to grow up and be a blind adult. It had never dawned on me. I had never seen a blind adult, and I certainly had never seen that many canes and dogs in one place." However, Brenda continued, "My daughter [Leslie] was with me, though, and she was having a great time. She had never seen any blind people either. She thought it was neat." With the understanding and help of other parents Brenda not only got through that convention (well, at least part of it), but went back the following year, and the year after. Next, Debra Smith contributed her unique perspective. She is a parent of a blind child, and was once a blind child herself. Zach Shore, a blind college student, wrapped up the panel and the day as he talked of his triumphant struggle to come to grips with blindness. Zach's stirring speech left us all hopeful and optimistic about the future for our blind sons and daughters.

Although the seminar had ended, the day wasn't complete until children who had gone on the special activities were reunited with their parents. The younger children showed off purchases made at the mall and talked of the special clown who had entertained them. Older youth returned from their excursion to the Six Flags Amusement Park suitably happy, exhausted, and sunburned. All agreed that the day had been a fine start to the 1990 convention of the National Federation of the Blind.

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