by Patti Chang
From the Editor: Patti is the newly-appointed director of outreach for the National Federation of the Blind. She is the immediate past president of our Illinois affiliate, a former member of the national board of directors, and currently serves as the treasurer of the NFB of Illinois. Here is what she says about providing crucially-needed funds that make our programs possible:
The holiday season is coming upon us. It is a time to celebrate, and we ought to reflect on how the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has affected blind people’s lives. In thinking about the gifts the NFB gives, these stories movingly explain how we make better the lives of those we touch:
The National Federation of the Blind provided Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academies (BELL) in most states during the summer of 2016. These BELL Academies change lives as you can see from this “BELL Ringer.”
A rising seventh grader attended NFB BELL Academy for the first time this summer. She had a Braille teacher in first and second grades. However, her school thought she could see too well to continue with Braille, so they terminated her instruction in Braille. Five years later this bright young lady has been struggling more and more every year in school. The volume of work has grown, print size has shrunk, and her persistent headaches have halted any recreational reading and limited her ability to complete regular schoolwork.
This young lady’s parents knew that something needed to change. Her mother signed her up for NFB BELL Academy and drove four hours each day for two weeks to provide her daughter the opportunity to learn the skills she needs. At the end of each day, NFB BELL Academy students share their accomplishments of the day, which we call “BELL Ringers.” On her second day this young lady, who had not been exposed to any Braille for the past five years, reflected on the impact of NFB BELL Academy: “I came in yesterday knowing “a,” and I’m leaving today knowing “a” through “t.”
One of the most important aspects of the Federation is mentorship. Another parent wrote when evaluating the BELL Academy:
My daughter, age seven, attended her first BELL Academy this summer. The word which most accurately describes her experience is enthusiastic. She not only gained more Braille skills and better O&M [orientation and mobility] skills; she also became enthusiastic about reading Braille and using her cane. For the first time she wasn’t the only blind child or the only blind person in the room. She became enthusiastic about learning more Braille and desired to do so because others were reading Braille also. Her cane skills had been lacking because she hadn’t been interested in following proper technique and learning to use auditory cues around her. At the NFB BELL Academy she received a new cane, she was able to make a name tag to put on it, and she became enthusiastic about using this wonderful tool. She knew that others in the room also had canes, and she wanted to be as good as them.
Ron Brown shared his feelings about the National Federation of the Blind:
I lost my vision when I was seventeen years old in a gunshot accident. I was coming home from a basketball game. I had 20/20 vision. After that happened to me I thought life was over as I knew it because I didn't know anything about blindness or blind people.
My name is Ron Brown, and I'm from Indianapolis, Indiana. I tell people I lost my vision at 17, and I found the Federation at 18—and how fortunate for me. Dr. Maurer at the time was our state president, and he is now the immediate past president of the National Federation of the Blind. He was instrumental in changing my life for the better. I met him while I was on the campus of Ball State University.
I felt that my blindness was a negative thing in my life. Every time people would see me with my cane they would react differently, and I noticed that. So a couple of other students and I got together, and we said, you know we're going to stop using our canes. And we're going to do this click-and-shuffle method of getting around. That's clicking your tongue to bounce sound off of walls, and it's sliding your feet in order to stay in contact with the ground.
Now, I'm thinking everybody on campus knew I was blind except me, because I didn't want to accept it. I wanted to pass. I wanted people to look at me the same way they had looked at me before. I was a tall guy who played sports and different kinds of things. I did not want to be seen in a hopeless, helpless way.
I did this for quite some time until one day I was going through the Cooper Science Building, and here I am clicking and shuffling down the hall sliding my feet. I am thinking that this hall is pretty empty so I'm going at a pretty good click, but what I did not know was that down the hall, about a hundred yards down the hall, were students on both sides of the hallway, and they had their legs stretched out. They were reading, and I didn't know it. They weren't making any noise. So I'm clicking my tongue, shuffling my feet, sliding on down the hallway until I got to that first person on the right side. I stepped on his legs and he screamed, and I jumped to the other side of the hallway, and I kicked this girl's book out of her hand, and her books went flying and she screamed, and on and on through the gauntlet of bodies I'm kicking books. In my wake I'm leaving homework and all kinds of stuff!
I'm saying 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry,’ and I'm jumping from one side of the hall to the other.
So then I turn around and make more apologies. I hear a patter of these feet come running behind me, and I'm thinking Uh-oh, I'm in trouble now! This guy came and put his hand on my shoulder, and he said 'Hey guy, I've been there. That's some good stuff you’re on.' And I'm thinking No, no, no, I'm not high; I'm just blind!
You see then I wanted to be blind. I didn't want to pass then. I'm thinking, you know, after it was all said and done—I need my cane. I better use my cane. Had they seen me with a cane they would have looked up and noticed a blind person coming, and they would have adjusted, but I didn't have any idea. So the cane was not only just a mobility tool, but it was an informational tool as well. It let them know that I was blind—and it also let me know the same.
From then on I carried my cane. I saw Dr. Maurer and Mrs. Maurer on the campus getting around gracefully with their canes, and I'm thinking That's the way I want to be. That's the mindset I want to have. I started listening and learning about the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. I felt like it was a good path to walk. Sometimes you want to take the path of least resistance; you don't want to acknowledge blindness, and you want to try to hide it. But the Federation taught me that it's respectable to be blind—that just because you lose your sight doesn’t mean you lose your ability to live the life you want. Not only did it teach me those valuable life lessons, but it also taught me that I could go to school and become someone that I wanted to become. I wanted to go into business. I've been in business now for thirty years. I've been living the American dream basically: living the life I want—not because I'm blind but in spite of it.
The NFB distributes free long white canes. One recipient recently sent a thank-you note:
It is great to know there are still people in this world that care about other people besides themselves. Your gift of a white cane could not have come at a better time for me! My wonderful wife of 43 years, who has Alzheimer’s, has moved to an assisted living facility. The only place I could find a cane was at the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Antonio, Texas. It’s a 14-hour round trip for me, and I can’t drive anymore. What you have done for me I will remember for the rest of my life.
Those testimonials and many more show why and how the National Federation of the Blind helps blind people live the lives we want. But we need your contribution to continue making a difference and changing lives.
With a $50 donation, the National Federation of the Blind can send a long white cane—free of charge—to a blind recipient and give back mobility. With the same amount the Federation can provide early literacy materials to families including a book with both Braille and print which empower parents to help their blind child get an early start to Braille literacy. With a larger donation we can train our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academy teachers, show blind youngsters that they can do science too, and so much more. Be a part of these gifts and everything the Federation does with love, hope, and determination.
We can’t change lives without you. Please help by making an end-of-year gift—and it’s easy to do. You can mail a donation or give online. To mail your donation, simply make out your check to the National Federation of the Blind, and send it to Attention: Outreach, 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.
To give online visit our web page, <https://nfb.org/donate2016>. We all know that the Federation positively affects blind people’s lives every day. Please be a part of our movement with an end-of-year donation. It will be sincerely appreciated.