Future Reflections Summer/Fall 2005
by Terry Wedler
Editor’s Note: Around the first of this year I had the pleasure of meeting the mother of one of our NFB 2004 Science Academy students, Henry (his friends call him Hoby) Wedler. We were both attending the same conference (she is also a teacher of blind children), and she told me what a wonderful experience the “Rocket On!” program had been for Hoby. It is always nice to hear good things about our programs, but it is even better if we have it in print, so I asked her to write me a letter. The letter she wrote moved me deeply. In simple eloquence, she expressed both the fears and the hopes that I think all of us mothers of blind kids feel. The letter is, ostensibly, about the “Rocket On!” Camp, but it is really about something much bigger: it is about the antidote for a mother’s fears, and the formula for turning her hope for her child into reality. Here is what she says:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
February 26, 2005
I really enjoyed meeting you at the Lilli Nielsen conference. I now, with pleasure, am responding to your [request for a] letter. My husband and I are so appreciative of the opportunity the National Federation of the Blind gave Hoby. The NFB camp (Science Academy) was a turning point in Hoby’s life.
I think that the most important aspect of the program was the
infusion of self-confidence that the experience gave to the students. Hoby has
met some wonderful, successful blind people, but being with the “Rocket On!”
group for a week was different. I think it was different because Hoby had more
time to find out how blind adults thought about things. He found out that they
had challenges and how they dealt with those challenges. He found out about
all the things that they enjoyed in their lives. He saw them as real
people who live normal lives; and he liked the science work in which many of them were involved. All of this has given him what he needed to really feel OK about himself.
Hoby Wedler examines a rocket model at the 2004 Rocket On! Science Academy.
When I think about it, he is facing life in a different way this year. Any problem he faces, he figures out how to solve it and then he goes on with gusto to solve it. He used to work at solving things--such as having more friends or being good on the rowing team or talking to his teachers--with strength, but not with total confidence that he could accomplish what he intended to accomplish. Now he does it with an attitude of knowing the problems can be fixed. He has more hope. I do think that a lot of this came from the “Rocket On!” Camp. He saw, by example, how it is to live with the hope that things will work out. I think spending a week with all the great [blind] students and mentors did this.
As a sighted parent, I think I have done a good job, but I still have fears that he must have picked up on. My fears are from lack of knowing what it really is like to be blind. If I were to express my fears they would sound like this: “I hope and pray your life will be good, but I cannot imagine how you are going to do it; it seems so huge and scary. Lack of sight may make it too difficult: Who will hire you? Will you meet someone who will want to be your wife?” I am embarrassed to say these fears. I have been working to combat them all of Hoby’s life. I have done a pretty good job because he does not have much doubt in himself, but he must still be picking up some of it.
That is why it is so good for Hoby to get away from me and find out for himself that, “Yes! This is possible; I can do it, I can live a good life.” It was being with all the [blind] people for a week and hearing their stories that was so important. Their energy and positive attitudes were passed on to Hoby. He realized that he, too, was going to make it in life. Again, thank you. Not only has he changed, but I, also, have changed by watching him this year. I can see now that everything will be OK.
You also asked for any suggestions. I think the NFB has already thought of this, but having a little more time to relax with the students, mentors, and facilitators would be helpful. Hoby said he got to talk to people as they were in transit or while they ate. I think more talking time would be good. That is my only idea. What a good program.
One other reason I (and Hoby) liked it is that it was so professionally done. Everything worked right. He felt very important because of all the careful planning that the NFB did to make it run smoothly. I also think that the facilitators expected a lot from the students. The students were not talked down to. They were challenged. As a teacher, I have recently realized how important it is to challenge our [blind] students. No more making it easy. The NFB and NASA people said: This is difficult, but we know you (students) can do it. The students rose to the challenge and ate up every bit of it. Actually this last thought may be right up there as one of the reasons this program worked so well: great role models, enough time to really get to know the great people, and high expectations of everyone. As I see it, these are the ingredients for the success of this program.
Here is a paragraph I took from Hoby’s letter that he wrote for his NFB Scholarship application. He said that I could send it to you.
“During the past summer, I was accepted by the National Federation of the Blind to attend the first annual, “Rocket On!” science camp. Throughout the weeklong program, I learned skills that I will never forget. Seeing other successful blind people thriving in their lives truly inspired me. I and eleven other participants prepared, launched, and mapped the path of a NASA rocket. I believe we learned as much from each other as we did from the science portion. I constantly use the skills that I learned from the blind facilitators and teachers. They taught us lessons that will guide us for the rest of our lives. Whether it be assembling an electrical sensor with our hands using adapted talking equipment or crossing a large busy street in Virginia, we all--including the facilitators--learned a great deal from each other.”
Thank you, Barbara. Please let me know if I can help you in any other way.