I came to the Federation with no cane, having never met another blind person, and having already had three different career ideas shot down by my TBS’s (teachers of blind students) and special educators. I was 16, I was failing half of my classes with no motivation to fix it, and my parents had finally convinced me to go to this residential summer program for blind high schoolers to learn a bunch of independence skills that I was pretty sure I didn't need. I threw a fit the first time I had to wear sleep shades, and I begged to come home for the first three weeks. These people were way too ambitious for me and there was no need for me to do all this stuff.
Around the halfway point, though, I attended my first NFB national convention with that summer program, and the longer I sat there and listened, the more I started to get it. I was surrounded by an entire community that I didn't even know existed, and these people were loud and proud and getting things done to change the nation. It was like I had found an incredible secret that had been just under my nose the entire time, and it initiated the biggest change my life had ever seen. I finally started to see the point in everything I was learning.
I wasn't completely on board right away, though. I was still relieved to finish the summer program and didn't see any reason to come back again or try out the adult program. But after I left, the change was unmistakable. Suddenly I was using VoiceOver and walking around with a cane, and I started to actually do my own homework. I was starting to do all kinds of things I'd never tried before, and two years later, I came back. I went through another round of summer training, and after that, I came back again for ten months of adult training. I started taking risks I had never dreamed of before, taking on tasks and challenges I would have previously declined without a second thought, even stepping up and becoming an officer of the Maryland Association of Blind Students. I became loud and proud and dedicated to getting things done to change the nation.
The National Federation of the Blind had finally given my life to ME. They had shown me what I was really capable of and taught me that I was as equally deserving of living exactly the life I wanted as anybody else. I finally learned to be comfortable with myself and to even be proud of myself, and I felt like I had even found a second family. I finally had the confidence to go after exactly what I wanted and the skills to know exactly how to do it, and that is #WhyIAmAFederationist.
Ellana is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. Her #WhyImAFederationist story originally appeared on the NFB of MD’s Facebook page.