by Chris Walker
From the Editor: Chris Walker is an active member in our Virginia affiliate. He comes to the Federation at a later date than some of our contributors, having gone blind in late 2009. A little research by talking with his fellow Virginians tells us he is the chapter president in Winchester, and in a very admiring voice one member said, “The thing I love about Chris is that he is such a nice guy.” I admire people who are so kind that they rate the title “nice,” and I can’t wait to meet him. Here is what he writes:
To help explain my motivation and commitment to the NFB, I would like to provide some of my personal background. During the last two months of 2009 I went from being a sighted person to being completely blind from Acute Retinal Necrosis (ARN). In December 2009, when I was discharged from the hospital after going blind at age forty-four, I was given a normal, supportive, walking cane and sent on my way into a sighted world with no information on what to do next. During the next six months I received blind services in Las Vegas, developed orientation and mobility skills, and began to learn the blindness skills needed to become an independent person.
My partner and I decided to move back to Northern Virginia to be closer to our families. Shortly after the move my partner passed away suddenly. I knew from that point that I needed to be independent and self-supporting. I also knew that once I got my life back together, I wanted to be able to be there for the next person who lost his/her vision.
I began the next phase of gaining my independence by moving from my family’s home in Warrenton to the city of Winchester, Virginia, where I rented a room from a recent acquaintance. Once settled, I began looking for an organization that would be able to guide me through this new life. I tried to find local organizations around Winchester that could help assist me on this journey. One day as I walked around town with my friends, we met a blind couple who suggested I visit the National Federation of the Blind website. I went home and joined the NFB that night. As I learned more about the NFB, I found the Virginia affiliate’s at-large group and attended several of that group’s monthly conference calls. I later discovered there was a local Winchester chapter of the NFB, and I have been an active member of the chapter since joining in 2015. While attending my second chapter meeting, I expressed a desire to set up an information booth at a local community’s Fourth of July celebration. I was immediately nominated and elected as the outreach chair for the Winchester Chapter of the NFB. After joining the local chapter I realized that being a member of the NFB was what you made it. The more I put into the organization the more I got back.
In the summer of 2015, I listened to the NFB national convention through the internet and social media simulcasts. That fall I attended my first state affiliate convention and was asked to join the Virginia affiliate’s Leadership Fellows Program, which gave me the opportunity to begin learning about the different operational areas of the national organization and the state affiliate. The next year I attended my first NFB national convention and was inspired by the thousands of attendees not letting blindness be their defining characteristic.
As an active member of the NFB, I have been provided with many opportunities to become involved at the local and state levels of the organization. The NFB has helped me to grow personally and professionally. I have been involved with all sorts of fun recreational events from climbing a thirty-foot rock climbing wall to judging a chili cook-off event. I have also attended fun learning events like “Connecting the Dots, the Federation Philosophy.” The NFB has also provided me with opportunities to become a more confident public speaker by inviting me to be a guest speaker at other Virginia chapter meetings and by encouraging me to speak to the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, and other local service organizations.
I have learned the importance of advocating for the rights of the blind by contacting the local voter registrar about issues that the members of the Winchester chapter were experiencing while trying to vote. Through my efforts the training for the local poll workers changed from “telling a visually impaired person to have someone help them vote” to the poll workers being trained on how to use the ADA-compliant voting devices and how to instruct people on the procedures for voting with the device. I was also invited to the poll worker training sessions to describe my experiences and to discuss proper etiquette when working with the blind/visually impaired.
I am not saying that being a member of the NFB has always been a walk in the park—it’s just like life: there are ups, and there are downs. But I have found, when I focus on my natural gifts—which have a special place in my heart—there are many more ups than downs. My natural gift is volunteering to provide outreach to the blind/visually impaired who have not found the support of the National Federation of the Blind.
I have been very involved with social media, and I am a member of many blind/visually impaired discussion groups and chat rooms. Through my social media presence I have stayed on top of what's going on at the national, state, and local levels across the United States. By being part of the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind, we can encourage and challenge each other to serve in many different capacities, to give back to others, and to serve in our local community. We can all help to console, empathize, support, and educate people about our experiences with being blind and how the NFB has helped us to embody the axiom, “You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.”