Future Reflections        Convention Report 2012

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Roots and Wings

by Kayleigh Joiner

From the Editor: Kayleigh Joiner is a longtime Federationist and an active member of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). She won an NFB National Scholarship in 2010.

Kayleigh JoinerThe writer Dennis Wheatley once said, "The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence." My childhood education revolved around me using my residual vision. My TVI determined that I was a visual learner. I used large-print textbooks and magnification devices from third grade all the way through high school. Because of this I spent countless hours every evening doing homework, homework, and more homework! No one ever considered teaching me Braille to help speed things up. Doing all my work visually was very painful and fatiguing. My neck hurt and my eyes ached. I was given books on CD, but that didn't help speed things up much either.

In seventh grade I decided that I was done with the pain and strain of reading visually, and that I would teach myself Braille. While my mother began the long journey of fighting with my school district for Braille instruction, I enrolled in distance education classes with the Hadley School for the Blind. I didn't get Braille services from the district until I was a senior in high school.

I worked hard and was able to finish all my other schoolwork in addition to my courses with Hadley. When I informed my TVI that I was teaching myself Braille, she criticized me, saying, "Why would you want to do that? We can always teach you later on." This was my first step in learning that I had to be my own advocate, that only I know what works for me.

My family always held high expectations for me. My mother wouldn't let me use my blindness as a reason not to do something. I was responsible for chores around the house. I participated in gymnastics, Girl Scouts, and a children's performing choir when I was young. As I got older, I took part in school clubs and organizations such as Student Council, National Honor Society, and the Environmental Club. In ninth grade I earned a spot on my high school swim team. Even though it was hard on my mom, she sent me to various out-of-town camps, beginning at the age of six. The camps were important to me because they helped foster my independence and coping skills around being away from home. I was involved in my school choir starting in sixth grade and continued all the way up through high school. Believe it or not, some of the most valuable lessons I learned were due to my being a choir member. In my senior year I auditioned and won a place in my school musical. My choir director didn't want to bother finding someone to help me learn the choreography, so it was up to me to solve the problem on my own. One of the girls who was in the musical was also on the drill team. I contacted her and discovered that she was willing to teach me the choreography one-on-one. The musical was a great success. I sang and danced for six fun-filled nights. I hope I showed the rest of the cast and crew that blind people can perform just like everyone else.

During high school I went to Disney World with my choir. Prior to the trip, I told my mom that I wanted to go on my own, without her chaperoning as she had done on previous trips. I juggled the airport with the rest of the group. I was just one of the crowd of kids.

In high school I ran for secretary of my choir. I learned about writing a speech and explained to my peers why they should vote for me. I also ran for a position with the Spanish Honor Society. Although I didn't get elected in either case, running for office was a great experience. I encourage all families to urge their kids to take leadership positions within their schools.

In 2007 I attended the first NFB Youth Slam, a week-long science, technology, engineering, and math program for blind high school students in Baltimore, Maryland. This was the first time I flew on my own. At first I was quite nervous, but once I arrived in Baltimore and met the Youth Slam representatives, I felt much more at ease. I was part of the computer science track, where, among other things, we learned to program chatbots that could tell us the weather in a particular city. Attending Youth Slam allowed me to experience traveling on a college campus, eating in a dining hall, and living in a dorm. It showed me that blind people can participate in STEM subjects and careers.

Between my sophomore and junior years of high school, my mom and I were wondering how I would take chemistry in the fall. At the national convention we met Dr. Cary Supalo. At the time he was working on his doctorate at Penn State. He came to my school and trained me, my TVI, and my chemistry teacher on how to use various probes to collect data through a computer running the screen reader JAWS. Cary stressed to me the importance of reading the lab procedures prior to class. By reading the procedures ahead of time, I could better understand what was going to happen in the lab. Thus I could ask my fellow lab partners the appropriate questions while the lab was in progress. If it weren't for finding Cary at the convention, my experience with chemistry would have been very different.

In the summer of 2009, I attended the Earn and Learn high school program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. This eight-week program focused on Braille, cane travel, computer technology, and home management. During my eight weeks of training I learned all of the Braille contractions and got my first exposure to JAWS. In July we had the opportunity to hold part-time jobs, and I received my first paycheck. Apart from our core classes, we also got to participate in whitewater rafting and rock-climbing, activities that helped build self-confidence.

This was my first time to learn alternative techniques with the use of sleepshades. At the beginning of the program I struggled to navigate my surroundings. As the weeks went on, my confidence grew.

The week following my high school graduation, I moved to Ruston, Louisiana, where I spent six more months in intensive blindness training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Upon graduation I was able to cook a meal for forty people and travel out of town independently, and I had doubled my Braille reading speed.

This training, combined with all of my other trainings, prepared me to be successful in college and beyond. College life is so much fun with all the independence that it brings. I am currently working toward a degree in elementary education. It is my goal to get my master's degree and to become a teacher of blind students and an orientation and mobility instructor. As part of my education degree plan in college, I was required to take one semester of a foreign language. One of my options was American Sign Language, or ASL. I wanted to take this class to prepare myself in case I come in contact with a deafblind student. I emailed my professor before we started the semester to let her know that I am a blind student who would be taking her class. Naturally she was concerned, since ASL is a visual language. I had already planned to have an interpreter in the class with me. I would place my hands on hers to feel what she was signing. I also met with a one-on-one tutor outside class one hour a week. My tutor was deaf. We used a combination of ASL and computer to communicate with one another. I would turn on my screen reader and type what I wanted to say to her, and she would type her response back. We found a solution to what others thought would be a problem.

Blind students have to have good problem-solving skills. Chances are good that things aren't always going to run as smoothly as we would like them to! Being able to advocate for oneself is also important. In college it's the student's responsibility to obtain books and talk with professors about their needs.

The NFB has taught me to believe in myself. It has also given me opportunities to hold leadership roles. I am grateful for my NFB family and all it has taught me. I hope you all take advantage of this week and everything you can learn.

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