A Community of Opportunity

Posted by Mark A. Riccobono | 03/01/2016 | Parenting

As a parent, I often think about creating opportunities for my children to learn and grow. Sometimes it is simply being present to recognize those opportunities that emerge in the course of a normal day. Other times it is creating opportunities for learning through new experiences. No one ever taught me how to do this as a parent. In fact, when our first child was born I remember the doctor very clearly reporting to us how healthy the baby looked and, despite her extensive searching, there was no instruction manual included.

In my experience as a parent who happens to be blind, much of what I have done to create opportunities is the same as the average sighted parent. However, there is one important difference that I believe has benefited my entire family. That difference is the community of opportunity provided by our participation in the National Federation of the Blind. In a real way it started before our baby was born. And then when he was three days old, my wife and I grabbed our white canes, bundled up the baby, and went down the street to a party hosted by James Gashel (currently secretary of the National Federation of the Blind) and Betsy Zaborowski. As people shared in the joy of our new baby, they also offered us lots of ideas about how to give him experiences, how to enjoy every stage of life, and when to take a break and get a babysitter. This last point is particularly important as our children have had the experience of spending time with many diverse people informally, as well as  formally, due to our participation in the Federation. They have met people of varied backgrounds, and we get the opportunity to talk about their experiences with people and to build curiosity about differences through those conversations.

Our participation in the Federation has also taught our children important life lessons. When my son Austin was about three, he was annoyed that it was difficult to reach the sinks in some of the bathrooms at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. We found some small stools and donated them to the Federation so that children could more easily reach the sinks. It was the first time I remember my son completely understanding that he could contribute to something greater than his own interests, and he took pride in making a difference in his building. (After all, he is a member of the organization.) He still gets great joy out of saying that he “helped raise the Federation” by bringing stools to the building.

I am a member of the Federation because of the community of opportunity it provides to us as blind people every day. I am especially grateful for the opportunity it provides my daughters Oriana and Elizabeth who are both blind and who are learning Braille. I never had the opportunity to learn Braille when I was their age, and I did not have a community that knew the power Braille could have in my life. I am blessed to now have that community, and I am honored to help build a future full of opportunity every day for my children and thousands of others across the country.

Be part of the community by sharing our Read across America 2016 video and helping to create greater opportunities for blind people to learn Braille. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBpjlUsoWTw

Mark A. Riccobono

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