by Kathryn Webster
From the Editor: The National Association of Blind Students is a division of the National Federation of the Blind, and 2017 marks its fiftieth anniversary. To commemorate this momentous event, President Kathryn Webster addressed the convention on opening day, and here is what she said:
Fifty years ago, during the National Federation of the Blind 1967 National Convention, a small group of students in a hotel room in Los Angeles, California, built the longest standing of all the NFB’s divisions, the National Association of Blind Students. The leader of that small group of students joins us today, the founder of NABS, Mr. Jim Gashel. Since then NABS has been one of the largest and most active divisions of the National Federation of the Blind. Let’s recall the initial purpose behind the founding of the national student division. NABS was created to help recruit students into the larger organization, and also to help give students who might not otherwise have the opportunity the chance to experience leadership positions within our organization. Within the first two decades of NABS, I think our student division did a stellar job of recruiting talented national student division presidents, three of whom stand amongst our audience today. Thank you to Jim Gashel, Dr. Marc Maurer, and Scott LaBarre for your continued work and for paving the path for me and so many NABS presidents.
In the early years of the student division we undertook three essential initiatives: first, we sought to help blind students deal with the problems caused by paternalistic disabled student service offices. Second, the division published a student handbook which functioned as both a resource guide and a how-to manual for blind students at all educational levels. And finally, some members of NABS traveled up to Canada and helped them develop an organization of Canadian blind students. A few years later the division dove into a fourth issue, that being the test administration and validation policies of those entities administering gateway tests, such as the SAT and the LSAT.
Fifty years ago those common principle activities are, in many ways, representative of the focus of NABS. Today we are still fighting with higher education institutions for equal access to coursework, but we are more in number and stronger in resilience. Today, we are still providing endless resources to traditional and non-traditional students, recently blinded students, and individuals interested in returning to school via our network of members and leaders, student blogs, and monthly bulletins. Today, we are still spreading our NFB philosophy far and wide by attending thirty-two state conventions and student seminars over the past year, as well as building our student chapters alongside our affiliates each and every day. Today the SAT and the LSAT, along with several other standardized tests, are accessible to us as blind students. But today there are still barriers that stand between blind people and society’s expectations of us. We are continuing to raise the bar as equal members of society. It is a momentous time for the National Association of Blind Students during this golden anniversary year.John Lord Acton cautioned, "A word of advice to people thinking about writing history—don't!" Fellow Federationists, let’s ponder our history, let’s reflect on our history; but instead of writing it, let’s create our own history and build the National Federation of the Blind!