by Karen Zakhnini
From the Editor: The time has come to begin thinking about our 2011 Meet the Blind Month activities. To help you think creatively about what your chapter or affiliate might do next fall, here is a brief report of some of the events Federationists conducted in October 2010:
The Meet the Blind Month campaign, which takes place each October, was first launched in 2002. It is a coordinated nationwide project to provide opportunities for National Federation of the Blind members to reach out to their communities. Affiliates and chapters across the country organize and execute events to increase public awareness of blindness and dispel commonly held misconceptions, as well as inform the public about the mission and efforts of the NFB.
During the 2010 national convention we held a Meet the Blind Month seminar which was attended by over thirty NFB members representing over twenty affiliates. We discussed traditional events, new ideas, and a new pilot program called Who's Whozit, targeting students from kindergarten through high school and designed to answer questions about blindness and shatter common misconceptions. We decided that the National Center would once again provide the necessary literature for these events and that the team at the Jernigan Institute would develop the Who's Whozit curriculum and materials to launch the program during the 2010 Meet the Blind Month.
In October 2010 at least twenty-four affiliates presented the Who's Whozit curriculum, including Iowa, Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma, Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Missouri, Minnesota, Kansas, New York, California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Colorado. Most of these affiliates did several Who's Whozit activities, and the program was well received by both our presenters and the audiences.
Brenda Watson, from the Pauline Gomez Chapter in New Mexico, presented the curriculum at all grade levels. She reports, "Everyone asked to take materials for friends and relatives... It was a great experience, and more people are aware of the NFB, our philosophy, and what we can do for them. Thanks again for sending the materials and allowing me to participate in this great program."
Ryan Smith, from the Middle Tennessee Chapter, spoke to his daughter's first-grade class. He reports, "The kids enjoyed it and were very engaged in the discussion. I wanted them to feel comfortable interacting with blind people and asking me any questions they wanted. I came away feeling like I had really impacted the children, and I think the children and I feel more comfortable with each other now."
In 2010 our affiliates and chapters held over two-hundred events across the country. In addition to the Who's Whozit presentations, there were various activities at retail establishments, health fairs, libraries, senior centers, schools, and community events. Many affiliates obtained Meet the Blind Month and White Cane Safety Day Proclamations from their governors.
Dolores Reisinger of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, presented to groups from school children to senior citizens. She discussed blindness, shared her experiences, showed the children Braille, and reached out to the seniors losing vision. She was also interviewed by Paul Nemeth, who wrote a great article for the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission newsletter.
In Oklahoma Jeannie Massey reported that the Central Oklahoma Chapter participated in the Head of the Oklahoma River Regatta, a rowing event that attracts approximately 10,000 people each day. She said that Federationists handed out literature, discussed blindness with attendees, and challenged those who visited their tent to decipher the message on the NFB Braille alphabet cards. In addition a blind rowing team participated in the event through a program called Visually Impaired Assistive Rowing Program (VIARP).
Some affiliates came up with different ways to introduce themselves to their communities. In Minnesota, in addition to attending conferences and other events, the affiliate used its Facebook page to profile two different Minnesota Federationists each week. The purpose in publishing these vignettes was to show fans, friends, and interested onlookers that blind people can lead normal, productive lives.
Affiliates and chapters across the nation implemented both new and traditional programs to highlight the work of the NFB and increase the public's knowledge of blindness. While recognizing the efforts of the chapters and affiliates highlighted in this article, we are quick to acknowledge and appreciate all of the effort expended by chapters and affiliates throughout the country. We congratulate and thank everyone who was involved in the planning and execution and look forward to hearing about all of your events in 2011. It is not too early to begin planning for this year’s Meet the Blind Month events.