Braille Monitor                          October 2019

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Cambiando Vidas en la Frontera de Tejas

by Norma Crosby, Daniel Martinez, Raul Gallegos, and Hilda Hernandez

Norma CrosbyFrom the Editor: Those of you who read the convention roundup in the August-September issue will know the English translation of this title. Those of you who know Spanish as your native language are probably glad to see a title written in a language you love. Those who don’t know the meaning of the title are encouraged to read, for the answer is found early on in this article.

Mark Riccobono introduced this exciting presentation with these words: “Here to lead us in this panel is a woman who does not need much introduction because she has been a mentor to many in this movement. Her leadership is invaluable in our organization, and I’m always inspired by what she’s trying to do to build connections within our organization. In her state she’s been empowering others to explore ways to bring and build connections to people in the state of Texas who need our philosophy but who have not always been well-connected to us. So I’m really thankful this morning that we have her and the other team of presenters to talk about bringing hope, opportunity, and the family of the National Federation of the Blind to so many, and I hope that it’s an example of what we can do in all of our affiliates. As you know, what we do often bubbles up, is tested, and refined on the local level. Here to talk to us about changing lives on the Texas border is Norma Crosby.”

Norma Crosby: Good morning, you guys. I’ve got to tell you before I start my presentation that, when you really care what someone thinks about what you’re going to say, it’s really nerve-wracking. So I’m as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof because I really care about my Federation family.

So what comes to mind when you think of Texas? Do you maybe think of people walking around in Wranglers and cowboy hats, pretending that they’re real cowboys? Or maybe you think of oil men who have their tailored suits and their shiny cowboy boots. [shouts from the crowd, Norma laughs] Someone said Willie [Nelson]. Those things are definitely a part of what Texas is, but they aren’t all that Texas is. Let me show you what I mean by using the home of our 2020 Convention as an example. [cheers] Houston is certainly full of oil men, and they certainly strut around town like they own the place. (Which they kind of do.) However, you will also find a vibrant Latino community [cheers] and a dynamic African-American community, but our diversity doesn’t stop there. Our LGBTQ population contributes significantly to what Houston is and what it aspires to become. And we respect all faith traditions. We are a melting pot, and so is Texas. The National Federation of the Blind of Texas is very much the same. Our members come from all diverse backgrounds, and as a result we continue to develop programs that serve both our current members and the members we hope to attract by making them feel included.

Today I’ve been tasked with talking about one aspect of what we do in Texas in terms of diversity and inclusion. But as you’ve probably noticed if you heard my presentation during the board meeting, I’m not always good at staying on task. I’m going to veer off-topic a bit in order to tell you about a couple of other things to promote inclusion.

Our NFB-NEWSLINE program is very dynamic. We are constantly adding content to our local information channel, and this year we’ve added a Spanish-language content manager, Ana Marquez. Ana is working to translate material that’s been available to our subscribers in English so that we can make it available to our subscribers who speak Spanish. Liz Wisecarver and her team do a phenomenal job of making sure to provide access to this Federation program to as many people as we possibly can.

We’re also working to make our mentoring program as diverse as possible, and we’ve already made significant strides in that area. Most of our program participants come from minority communities, and so do many of our mentors.

Because we’re making efforts at reaching the Latino community in particular, we have just asked Rosy Carranza to become a part of our effort at inclusion. Rosy will be helping us to communicate effectively with parents, many of whom are a little apprehensive about allowing their children to participate in programs like ours. We’re very excited to be working with Rosy, and we continue to work with Mika Baugh from Indiana. She’s been helping us for the past couple of years in project planning, and so not only do we have program participants from diverse backgrounds, but we also try to reach out to our Federation family to get help wherever we can to make our programs work more effectively. We couldn’t do it without the wonderful leadership from our other affiliates, and when we see talented members of your affiliate, we won’t hesitate to borrow them from you if you don’t mind. So thank you so much for sharing with us. [applause]

Now let me talk about what President Riccobono actually asked me to talk about, which is our Cambiando Vidas en la Frontera de Tejas, [cheers] Changing Lives on the Texas Border. About a year ago members of our affiliate’s committee on diversity and inclusion came to me and said, “Hey, we really think it’s time for us to expand our community outreach efforts to encompass the Latino community more.” I absolutely agreed with them in concept, but I wasn’t really sure exactly how I could support what they wanted to do. Luckily though they had that under control. They said, “Look, we already have plans, we just need you to figure out how to pay for everything. [laughter] You can do that, right?”

Well, challenge accepted. I let our team run, and they worked with other Federationists and leaders from METAS [Mentoring, Engaging, and Teaching All Students] such as Conchita Hernandez and Garrick Scott. They set about developing a program that would allow us to reach out to a community that is sometimes a little reluctant about coming out of the shadows.

In the spring of 2018 we undertook our Cambiando Vidas on the United States side of the border, and then in the fall we reached across the border to host our second program in Matamoros, Mexico. [applause] We not only served blind people, but we included their families so that they could begin to understand about the high expectations we would be teaching their blind family members. Our team was spectacular. Everyone worked tirelessly for months to make these weekend-long programs possible, and all I had to do was accept the praise that really belonged to our instructors and to everyone who offered support during the process.

Today, three members of a spectacular team of instructors are going to give you a glimpse into what we worked so hard to create. Here are Daniel Martinez, Hilda Hernandez, and Raul Gallegos.

Daniel MartinezDaniel Martinez: Hello, my family. I’m Daniel Martinez. We just heard from Norma Crosby. I can tell you I’ve eaten Mexican food with her and partied with her; she’s amazing. She’s opened her heart, not only to the Hispanic community, but we’ve seen it in the work that she has allowed us to do. In our mentoring program—which is a program that lives in my heart because that’s how I started in the Federation—I now see more diversity than ever.

Norma trusts me with the diversity and inclusion committee along with José Marquez, the co-chair of that committee. We’ve developed a strong core group of mentors, among them Hilda Rolando Hernandez, José and Ana Marquez, and Irma Pyka. [applause]

Last year at our 2018 Convention we had a Spanish agenda, we had volunteers interpreting into Spanish the entire convention, just like we’re doing here—thank you to all the volunteers who are taking the time to interpret every word that we say on this microphone into Spanish. We also held a Hispanic seminar which gave us a lot of insight into what our community needs. From that seminar we concluded that we needed to provide resources and information to our community. We talked about doing a podcast in Spanish. So we recorded the first podcasts, and then we shared them in January with Norma, and we talked about our proposal. Before she could give us a yes or a no, we were showing her the recordings of our podcasts. Now Cambiando Vidas is an amazing program. I had the opportunity to go to Guadalajara, Mexico, in November to a school for the blind. There we did evaluations, we talked with the parents, we talked with the children, with the volunteers, and we realized they need services. Later this month, from the 26 to the 28 of July, Norma, Irma Pyka, and myself are going to travel to Guadalajara to present information and give resources that community needs. [applause]

In the Cambiando Vidas programs we provide programs that you’re familiar with: we see them in the BELL Academies, for example. We teach Braille literacy, adaptive technology, nonvisual skills, travel skills, and one important component is the integration of the family into our rehabilitation program.

And now I would like to present a friend of mine, a mentor in Cambiando Vidas and in the NFB of Texas, Hilda Hernandez, who is going to talk about the family in our rehabilitation. Thank you very much. [applause]

Hilda HernandezHilda Hernandez: Good morning. I have the pleasure of coming to speak to you about an important role the family plays in our rehabilitation, especially in the Hispanic community where it’s so difficult to let go, especially whenever a member of the family has a disability. I worked with the family members of the participants throughout the training weekend of Cambiando Vidas. And believe me, it was not easy. Because during the training that I give to the family members, I talk about awareness, but I also talk a lot about letting them go. It’s very difficult for them to let go, but once they learn how we are able to learn and to become independent, that letting go is a lot easier.

Throughout the weekend I have the family members explore their emotions and their own fears, but I also talk to them and say that they need to let go of their own fears so that their family member can be successful. I emphasize the importance of thinking about the future and what is going to happen when they are not there to continue supporting them. That is what opens the family members’ eyes. They want for their family member to have the tools and the independence to be able to succeed. [applause]

I thank the NFB for giving me those tools and that encouragement when I was sixteen years old when I started participating in conventions and with the students. Throughout the training that I lived with the NFB and the members who supported me, I was able to explain all of that to my family. Thanks to the NFB, now I’m able to explain this message to the family members of my Hispanic community. Thank you for having me. [applause] And I am sorry, but now I would like to introduce to you a bilingual technology instructor who is also sharing this message with his students, Raul Gallegos:

Raul GallegosRaul Gallegos: Hello to my Federation family. [cheers] As a technology instructor, I often get asked a lot of questions, some of them simple questions that I can answer in one second; others I have to do a little research. I have to say that some of the best students I have are youth, because we cannot have seniors without having adults first; we can’t have adults without having teenagers first. But even before that those teenagers are children who are like sponges. So we have our BELL program. [applause, cheers] Everyone who speaks English knows that BELL is B-E-L-L. However, if you say “bel” in Spanish, typically that’s just one L, so unless you’re spelling my last name, you’re not going to think of two Ls in the word BELL. So I had a student say, “Que es ‘BELL’?” (What is BELL?) And so I said, “Well, it’s an acronym,” and before I could tell him what that acronym was he said, “Braille es lindo.” But we often say in English, “Braille is beautiful,” do we not? [applause]

One of the questions I ask my students, especially the younger ones, is what is technology? And children being children, I’ll often get answers like the computer, the tablet, the TV device. Nobody thinks that an abacus, a pencil, or a sketchpad is a form of technology. However, I encompass their learning by using all forms of technology, from the “boring low-tech” as some of my children would call it to the cool high-tech like the notetakers and readers and whatnot. One of my best experiences—we’re not supposed to have favorites as teachers, but I have to say, something that really stands out—through the use of a device like the Sensational BlackBoard or the Sketchpad, I was able to show one of my BELL students, who only spoke Spanish, and he would often hear people talk about the sunset, but he had no idea what people were talking about. We were able to draw together a house, a little lawn, and the sun up above in the corner with little rays coming off of it. I explained to him how the sun travels—well for us science-techy people really it’s the Earth traveling, but that’s okay. I explained to him how the sun moves from our perspective from one corner to the other, and I explained to him what a sunset was, all by using tactile forms of teaching. And this BELL student loved it. [applause] Later on as we practiced with a portable book reader, he got to read a book, and he got to choose what book he wanted to listen to, and it was a science book—I think maybe he might be an astronaut one of these days. [applause]

The students that we have typically are going to be Spanish speakers, English speakers, or even speak other languages, different groups. It just shows how diverse we are, and how much we want to share our information because we want these children to learn the right way how to be a very successful blind person. They are our next generation. Thank you. [applause, cheers]

Norma Crosby: They keep moving this microphone up. [laughter] Thanks Danny, Raul, and Hilda. Programs like these are now in our DNA, and thanks to the hard work of this team of leaders, we plan to hold our next program in Texas this August, and we’re planning to return to Matamoras between Thanksgiving and Christmas of this year. It’s our goal to make these annual events so that we continue to partner with our Latino family to ensure that they gain the skills they need to live the lives they want. [applause] The National Federation of the Blind of Texas celebrates diversity. We want to include any blind person who wishes to be a part of our family. We don’t care where you come from. We don’t care about the color of your skin. We don’t care who you love or what faith tradition you follow. [cheers] We believe that if we work together with love, hope, and determination, we can turn our dreams of including everyone into reality. Thank you very much. [cheers, applause]

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