Braille Monitor                          March 2020

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My Thoughts on Living the Life You Want

by Scott LaBarre

Scott LaBarreFrom the Editor: This piece was taken from Colorado Talk, the listserv of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. Scott is the president of the affiliate, and I think he has helpful thoughts in explaining an important part of our tagline. Here is what he says:

First, I want to wish everyone here a very happy new year! My hope is that 2020 will be outstanding for all of us. Next, I want to thank Jenny for raising the topic of what our tagline “Live the Life You Want!” really means. I appreciate everyone’s thoughtful comments about how it should be interpreted and implemented.

Before I delve into the substance of my comments, I want to give you a little background, which helps to form my perspective. I first joined the NFB in 1986, and I have had the honor and privilege of being a very active member and leader on many different levels. As part of that experience I served on a committee which formed in 2013, maybe even late 2012, whose purpose was to develop our plan for celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Federation. After some discussion, we decided that it was time to rebrand our messaging so that we could more effectively communicate who we are. One part of that rebranding was changing our tagline from “We are changing what it means to be blind” to the current “Live the Life You Want!” Beyond just the tagline, we developed a comprehensive brand architecture which has many elements that would serve as an excellent focal point for future discussions. In any event, I mention all this because I think I have some idea of what we intended regarding the message we were attempting to communicate.

Ever since I have been involved in the NFB, there has been a conception that the NFB only supports and celebrates the “super blind” and that if you do not go about blindness in a very specific manner, you are not really living the life the NFB endorses. I emphatically and whole-heartedly believe that this misconception is not true! There is no such thing as a model Federationist, and there certainly is not one singular script from which we must all lead our lives.

The idea of “Live the Life You Want!” is that your blindness should not hold you back from pursuing your dreams and ambitions. Undeniably, all of our dreams and ambitions are limited and somewhat governed by the realities we face, whether those are financial, educational, health-based, or otherwise. There is no one way to live the life you want. It does not matter if you are pursuing a high stakes profession, working from home, volunteering in the community, or not working at all. Our main message is that whatever you are doing with your life, your blindness should not be the chief reason holding you back from whatever brings you fulfillment and purpose. Our one-minute message, another creation of our rebranding, brings this point out.
“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. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.” A key part of this message is that we are raising expectations. That has both external and internal aspects to it. On the external side, we are working to convince the general population that they can and should expect more from us. All of us often run into very low expectations held by the public. Pretty much every time I travel to and through an airport, somebody tells me how amazing I am for simply putting one foot in front of the other.

On the internal side, we should encourage one another to become the best versions of ourselves that we can. Doing so must always be done with love and understanding. Every year that I am in the Federation, I learn so much from our members on how I can lead my life in a better way—a new technology trick or something that enhances my independent travel or whatever it might be. I certainly haven’t figured it all out, and I know that sometimes I do in fact let my blindness limit me in a way that isn’t truly necessary.

Regardless, we must accept people where they are in their lives and be ready to encourage them to achieve more when that is appropriate. This is what we aim to do at our centers. We work with people from all walks of life and who have a wide variety of challenges. No student’s program is or should be the same. We have some general policies and expectations, but these are always adjusted to the individual student.

Living the life you want is all about independence and freedom. As our founder Dr. tenBroek so eloquently put it, we have a right to live in the world. That means we have the right to be free and independent and to determine our own destiny. The exact mechanism we use to achieve that freedom and independence is not the key issue, but rather that we know and believe that we have the right to achieve it. I think the Federation’s best speech regarding independence is “The Nature of Independence” by Dr. Jernigan from the 1993 National Convention. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so. It is available through our national website.

Before closing this out, I want to address another point Jenny raised in her original message—the idea that perhaps we sometimes emphasize success stories based on traditional notions of success and that we don’t celebrate other forms of achievement. I think this is a great point, and we should endeavor to paint a more comprehensive picture. Convincing an animal shelter to let you volunteer despite your blindness is just as important as someone winning a national scholarship based on academic achievement at the highest level. Both are part of living the life we want.

In closing, I want to share two other elements from our brand architecture: the Brand Promise and Value Proposition. I do this because, for me, it so eloquently sums up why I am involved in our Federation. “Together with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality. I am filled with hope, energy, and love by participating in the National Federation of the Blind because my expectations are raised, my contributions make a difference to me and to others, and I can celebrate the realization of my dreams with my Federation family.”

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