Braille Monitor                          April 2019

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My Journey to Becoming a Member

by Jeannie Massay

Jeannie MassayFrom the Editor: Jeannie is the chairman of our membership committee, and the enthusiasm she brings to the task is infectious. Here is the story of her finding the Federation and the role we have played in her life:

The National Federation of the Blind became a part of my life in a lasting way in the summer of 2008. I had received help in attending my first national convention. I didn’t really know much about the Federation but figured that I should check it out. Don’t get me wrong; I had heard plenty about the Federation, mostly negative. However, these comments were primarily from people who had only misinformation, myths, and misperceptions to talk about with me. As I was later to find out, they did not truly know the Federation.

I was told that the leaders and members of the Federation were unforgiving and had no tolerance for blind individuals who did not have perfect Braille skills, perfect mobility and orientation skills, perfect technology skills, and well, if you were not a perfect blind person, then you did not belong in the Federation. I was not at the time nor am I today a perfect blind person. There is no such thing. I had also heard that the Federation did not like guide dogs and were rather intolerant of those who chose a guide dog for orientation and mobility. Although I am not a guide dog user, I thought that was horrible. I had also heard crazy rumors about the national convention. Were any of these things true? I didn’t know. What I did know was that I do not take someone else’s word about anyone or anything. I like to find out for myself.

The week that I spent with close to 3,000 attendees at the 2008 convention in Dallas forever convinced me that the Federation was the place for me to be. I met what seemed at the time to be all 3,000 people at the convention. I had never been present with that many blind people—so many blind people. Blind children, blind students, blind seniors, blind parents, blind lawyers…well, you get the idea. The Federation has members from all walks of life and from all states, but the thing I discovered we all had in common was that we were blind, and it was not just okay, it was great! I was welcomed with open arms to participate in whatever interested me. I learned about new technology, took my first trip to the Exhibit Hall, and heard Dr. Maurer bring down the gavel to call General Session to order for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday. Bang, bang, bang. The yells and screams resounded throughout the convention hall. I still get goose bumps when I think of the first time and always get them every convention since.

I was thirty-seven when I began losing vision. I did not know a blind person. I did not know anything about blindness. The reason that I came to find the Federation was money. I had applied for a scholarship but did not receive one at that time. The most valuable gift that I have received was going to that first convention. That single event has continued to shape the trajectory of my life ever since and will continue to do so until I am no longer able to participate actively, if that day ever comes. What I found in the Federation was a group of like-minded blind people who were kind and loving, a bit tough when necessary but who stood up for the rights of the blind to be an active, equal part of society. That is what caught my interest. Many people and many causes have lent themselves to my continuing active participation.

When I returned home from the 2008 National Convention, there was a fire in my belly for the Federation. I knew that I couldn’t keep it a secret and needed to find every blind person that I could to tell them about what I had found to be the truth of the NFB. A group of Federationists met to form a second chapter in Oklahoma. We have continued to grow ever since. This is not due to me alone. Many people in Oklahoma and across the nation have had a hand in shaping the Oklahoma affiliate into what it is today—a proud affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind that is continually growing and seeks to spread the news that you can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. We are better, stronger, and louder as a means of collective action when we come together and stay together.

The members supported and encouraged me throughout the earliest days of blindness. They answered technology questions, helped me to find accessible textbooks, and instilled in me their unwavering belief that I could and would succeed at whatever it was that I wanted to do. It seems in looking back that my friends in the Federation believed in me more than I believed in myself.

As I continued growing with the Federation, my level of participation grew as well. I found myself volunteering to take on projects and continued to meet more and more people who wanted to change the world for the better. In 2011 I became president of the Oklahoma affiliate and was elected to the national board of directors in 2013. I now serve as treasurer and membership committee chair.

My most important role then was the same as it is today—being a member of the National Federation of the Blind. I am so glad to have found out for myself what the Federation was all about. You should too!

The National Federation of the Blind welcomes all blind people, parents of blind children, blind students, those losing vision, and more. We are a family of members and friends who know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. You can live the life you want.

We invite you to attend a chapter meeting, a state convention, our national convention, or any number of events that we hold.

How does one become a member of the National Federation of the Blind?

The best way to become a member of the NFB is to attend a chapter or division meeting in your local area. You can find your nearest chapter or division meeting by reaching out to your state affiliate president. Membership in a chapter or division will automatically grant you membership in your state affiliate and the national organization. Go to https://nfb.org/about-us/state-affiliates to find your state’s affiliate president and their contact information.

What are some of the benefits of being a member of the National Federation of the Blind?

Our new National Federation of the Blind Membership coin is made of pewter and is about the size of a half-dollar. On the front side of the coin is our logo which depicts six blind figures with long white canes moving forward together. The other side of the coin has “National Federation of the Blind” around the perimeter, the word “Member” in raised letters, and the letters t, g, and r in Braille (which is the Braille contraction for the word together) above that. Together as members of the National Federation of the Blind there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.

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