Future Reflections        Convention Report 2012

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Skills and Confidence

by Gabe Cazares

The famous Freedom Bell in front of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. From the Editor: Several blind students spoke to parents and teachers during the NOPBC conference and at the board meeting. They talked about their lives and described the things that helped them become successful. The first to speak was Gabe Cazares, a student at Texas State University/San Marcos.

As parents, you have taken the biggest step in assisting your child to lead a normal, fulfilling, and productive life by being here this week. The National Federation of the Blind is not an organization speaking for the blind. It is us speaking for ourselves. Today I would like to share with you the story of my journey in the mainstream.

I was born and raised with blindness. The males in my family have a predisposition to glaucoma, and I am most certainly not the only blind person in my family. In fact, I've often joked that there are enough blind people in my family to start our own division in the NFB. [Laughter]

But like anywhere else, people's attitudes about blindness run across a full range. Unfortunately, most of my blind relatives have been convinced that they can't accomplish anything for themselves, that all they can do is sit at home and be content with the checks that the government hands out every month. They believe that they'll always need people to do things for them. I can safely say that the majority of the blind people in my family have not been positive blind role models. But I can say also that I've been blessed, because my father, who is blind, has been a very positive influence in my life. Although he is not a Federationist in name, he and my mother have followed the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind without knowing it. As long as I can remember, my mother and father told me that blindness is not an excuse for me to be unsuccessful in life. They taught me that if I want to be an employed adult, I have to work hard and change people's negative opinions and perceptions about blindness.

It was with this sound foundation that I faced all my barriers. The first was a fight for Braille instruction. Many kids are not being taught Braille because some professionals regard it as a last resort. These kids are forced to deal with magnification, large print, and long work hours to keep up with their sighted classmates. My mother was not willing to take me down this avenue. Although her English was limited, her desire for me to succeed was great. She argued and struggled with the professionals during my elementary school years. In the third grade I began receiving Braille instruction. I am forever grateful for that. This was one of the largest contributions that anyone has ever made to my education.

Because I received Braille instruction when I was so young, I have been able to succeed academically. Since sixth grade I was enrolled in pre-advanced placement and advanced placement courses. Not only has Braille opened doors for me academically. During my sophomore year in high school, I joined our school's speech and debate team. Using Braille notes, I was part of the team, and I was very successful. I competed in the district and region, and in my senior year of high school I competed at the statewide level.

The positive attitude and confidence that I cultivated in high school, however, made me think that I did not need blindness training, that my skills were good enough. With this mindset I headed off to college.

I can't even begin to verbalize to you how wrong I was! It doesn't matter how good we think our blindness skills are. There is always something new we can learn from a confident blind role model and from attending a good training center. I struggled that first year of college--not because I couldn't keep up with the academics, but because my orientation and mobility and my skills as a confident blind person were not as good as I thought they were.

Thank God for the National Federation of the Blind. It was my Federation family and my parents, who at the time knew only very little about the Louisiana Center for the Blind, who nudged me in the right direction. All of these people knew I could succeed, if only I received quality blindness-skills training from blind role models who truly believe in the capacity of blind people.

After a long and exhausting freshman year, I took off the summer and the fall semester in 2011 and attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind for six months of intensive blindness training. After experiencing the LCB and learning more about the NFB and programs like the Buddy Program, for kids in fourth to eighth grades, and the STEP Program for high schoolers, I can tell you today, encourage your children to spend a summer at one of our centers. If I had participated in the Buddy or STEP Program when I had the chance, my self-confidence would have been even greater than it was before my time in the adult training program.

I'm proud to say that I became a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind on Friday, December 16, 2011. [Applause] Since then I have returned to college to complete my sophomore year, armed with skills and self-confidence. I completed a very successful spring semester as a transfer student at Texas State University/San Marcos. I have become a participant in academic, social, and extracurricular activities on my campus. It's all because my parents and my Federation family stood behind me every step of the way.

You have a huge stake in your children's lives now that they are young, and you have started looking in the right place. Whether this is your first or your fifteenth convention with the NOPBC and NFB, explore what we have to offer for your children as well as for you as parents, friends, and families. I hope you learn, network, and have lots of fun while you're here this week. Always remember that together we are changing what it means to be blind!

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