American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Convention Issue 2015 FEATURE
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
From the Editor: As the National Federation of the Blind celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) engaged in every aspect of the convention festivities. In addition, the NOPBC staged a host of presentations and workshops for parents and teachers, as well as fun-filled adventures for parents and teens. Here is a report on the convention from NOPBC President Carlton Anne Cook Walker.
The diamond spirit sparkled throughout the NFB convention for parents and their blind children as well as for our entire Federation family! The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind, imparted Federation philosophy to parents, families, and friends. Speakers and presenters stressed the vital importance of high expectations, respect, and love.
NFB President Mark Riccobono stepped into the lions' den with the youngest, toughest, and most fun NFB members during Kid Talk. President Riccobono matched the quick wits of the kids, answering the first question, "Lobster--do you like it?" with his own, "To eat or to play with?" Serious discussion followed when a rising ninth-grader sought advice about how to find her friends in the hectic high school cafeteria environment. Like Dr. Maurer before him, President Riccobono shared his intellect and his heart with the children and youth, making Kid Talk a highlight for all who were privileged to experience it. [See the article "Kid Talk" elsewhere in this issue.]
Next NOPBC President Carlton Anne Cook Walker spoke about the seventy-fifth anniversary of the NFB and the incalculable value of each of our children in her keynote address, "Crafting Your Diamond," which is printed elsewhere in this issue. At the conclusion of her speech, she presented a surprised Carol Castellano with the Dan Ryles Award, recognizing her years of service to the National Federation of the Blind, the NOPBC, and the field of blindness education. Dr. Fredric Schroeder next spoke to parents about his experiences as a blind child. He shared that he had typical vision until he was seven years old and became totally blind at age sixteen. In his youth, Dr. Schroeder found that blindness meant one thing: waiting. At family and school gatherings he would be placed in a seat and expected to be passive. He felt left out of life. Dr. Schroeder cautioned the parents and teachers in the room to guard against this type of overprotective "care" of the blind children in their lives.
Marcus Sands, a man who has recently become blind, shared his experience of resuming woodworking. He exhorted parents to keep their children's options open and not to allow doors to close upon their dreams. Blind graduate students Candice Chapman and Sean Whalen gave words of wisdom to the group. Candice encouraged parents and teachers to keep their expectations of blind children high, saying, "If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting." Sean echoed Candice's advice regarding high, age-appropriate expectations and advised parents to advocate for their children and "tap into the NFB support system."
After the morning meeting, parents broke into three sets of concurrent sessions, covering the following topics:
NOPBC registrants were also invited to attend workshops from Professionals in Blindness Education (PIBE) and the Fourteenth Annual Rehabilitation and Orientation and Mobility Conference, including:
Before and after lunch, children at NFB Child Care enjoyed "Music and Movement" with Conchita Hernandez, a teacher of blind students; and "Monsters and Me" with tactile artist Ann Cunningham and Debbie Kent Stein, NFB of Illinois. During these sessions, youth ages eleven to eighteen had the opportunity to experience icebreakers with the incomparable Garrick Scott, president, NFB of Georgia; and to learn about "A Dog in My Life" with Merry Schoch of the National Association of Guide Dog Users. After lunch, youth enjoyed "The Magic of Science" with Dr. Cary Supalo of Independence Science and Robert Jaquiss from American Thermoform, as well as "Fun and Games" with Richard Gibbs from 64 Oz. Games.
As if all of this were not enough for one day, families gathered once more to break bread (eat pizza and drink lemonade) at Family Hospitality Night. Parents, teachers, speakers, and session presenters enjoyed conversing and getting to know one another in this informal setting. Directly afterward, Laura Bostick and Casey Robertson of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) facilitated NOPBC Family Networking, which provided families of blind children with additional disabilities an opportunity to meet and network with one another. At convention, there's no time to rest.
Monday morning, July 6, started off bright and early with the first of two Cane Walks. Jeff Altman and his team of NOMC-certified orientation and mobility instructors took blind children and their parents on a structured discovery outing--with children, parents, and sometimes siblings under sleepshades using long white canes. Monday also brought the first of several "Tween Room" sessions, where young Federationists gathered to play games, snack on treats, and get to know one another better.
Monday afternoon brought the NOPBC Youth Style Show. Coordinator Kim Cunningham and her team, including photographer Bobby Cunningham and DJ Julia Gebert, put on a fabulous show. Our models strutted their stuff up and down the runway--with their long white canes, of course.
Despite the rains of Florida, the NOPBC Breaking Barriers FUN-a-thlon went on by the Rosen Centre pool. Participants faced an inflatable obstacle course that was followed by an alligator-strewn path, land sharks, and water guns. Each participant received a medal to acknowledge her or his accomplishment, and top fundraisers won fabulous prizes. Many thanks to coordinator Jean Bening and her unstoppable team.
Monday evening brought the first of two Bolotin Award-winning Parent Leadership Programs. We had several new families in attendance, including two from Hawaii! Our parents and blind children are spreading the word--we will live the lives we want!
Tuesday morning brought fun at NFB Child Care, including "Tinkering with Tools" presented by Dave Hutchins and Joe Naulty of the National Association of Blind Car Enthusiasts (AKA the Cars Division) and "Fun and Games" with Richard Gibbs from 64 Oz. Games. Youth Track activities included "Unleashing Your Inner Monster" with tactile artist Ann Cunningham and an afternoon of "Student to Student" with the National Association of Blind Students (NABS).
On Tuesday afternoon the NOPBC held its annual meeting, "Options and Opportunities." The NOPBC wishes to thank the Beulah Reimer Legacy (BRL) for its generous donation of our grand door prize. The prize was a $75 gift certificate for the purchase of Braille books from the BRL collection.
Anil Lewis, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, spoke at the meeting, sharing his metamorphosis from a highly sought after speaker who "played up the difficulties of going blind" and concentrated upon "pulling on heartstrings" to raise money into an even more highly sought after speaker who shared the positive message of the NFB philosophy--and raised even more money. Charlene Guggisberg, director of youth programs at BLIND, Inc., described the summer programs available at the NFB training centers. Natalie Shaheen, director of education at the Jernigan Institute, described to the assembled the wealth of programs sponsored by the Jernigan Institute, including the NFB BELL programs being held across the country throughout the summer. The Jernigan Institute sponsors a variety of programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Natalie spoke enthusiastically about NFB EQ, to be held in August, in which twenty high school students would learn about the engineering process, working in teams to solve real-life problems. She also talked about the second cohort of STEM2U, where blind students in third to sixth grade work with blind high school mentors while the parents of the younger children learn to facilitate their children's participation in the STEM subjects.
Kaitlyn Millen, specialty coordinator of No Barriers, USA, described her organization and highlighted the No Barriers youth division. No Barriers offers opportunities for blind students to hike and go whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and to engage in other adventure activities all over the world. Cathy Jackson exhorted parents to nominate outstanding teachers of blind students for the 2016 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award.
Most of us know that parents are good at keeping secrets. After all, many of us work closely with individuals such as the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny to ensure that the mystery and delight of the unknown remain a treasured family gift handed down from generation to generation. NOPBC put these secretive talents to good use this year, first with the above-mentioned Dan Ryles Award to the unsuspecting Carol Castellano; and, at the annual meeting, with three Twig Bender Awards to individuals whose untiring work has truly changed the growth pattern of the lives of blind children for many years. This year's recipients--Sharon Maneki, Joe Ruffalo, and Gary Wunder--were hoodwinked by their state POBC presidents into believing that they had but a few minutes each to share words of wisdom to guide healthy relationships between state parents' divisions and their affiliates. Gary even scheduled a conference call in which all three compared their notes so they would not duplicate one another's presentations! The Twig Bender Awards recognized the tireless dedication of these three Federationists to the future, and the lives of the children they have touched are their living legacies.
The names of the 2015 NFB Writers' Division Youth Writing Contest winners were announced, and the group heard words from our future, spoken by Naudia Graham of Maryland and Ashleah Chamberlain of Nebraska. Dr. Cary Supalo from Independence Science talked about the importance of mentorship and told us the secret of his work: "I'm inventing all the tools I wish I had as a kid." He was followed by Dr. Al Maneki of E.A.S.Y., LLC, who discussed the importance of early development of drawing and tactile reading skills for blind children. David Pillischer discussed his invention of the Electronic Brailler, a tool that makes possible distance instruction in Braille and allows a teacher's handout to be made available in real time in the classroom.
Mario Oliveros from Bookshare talked about Bookshare's growth and offerings. He announced that Bookshare is looking for student beta testers as it expands its work into new areas, including complex tactile diagrams and advanced math. Robert Jaquiss from American Thermoform shared information about his company's products, the Cosmo Brailler and 3D printers. He donated several of the door prizes given throughout the meeting. Dr. Matt Maurer of Butler University shared with the group his experiences with museum partnership in which a group of blind students was included in a "Dozin' with the Dinos" program. He and his colleagues "learned a lot" and will be "working toward more sustainability and systemic change" in this area. Colorado artist Ann Cunningham reminded everyone that we cannot substitute audio description for tactile graphics, and Richard Gibbs from 64 Oz. Games pointed out that games are a great way to socialize and practice Braille.
The annual meeting next moved to the treasurer's report from Pat Renfranz. She gave thanks to the NOPBC's generous contributors and encouraged everyone to support the organization through the Amazon Smile program and employers' matching gifts.
Finally, Kim Cunningham gave the Nominating Committee's report, and the election of new officers to the NOPBC took place. The following individuals were elected to the following positions on the 2015-2016 NOPBC board:
President--Carlton Anne Cook Walker, PA
First vice president--Kim Cunningham, TX
Second vice president--Holly Miller, NJ
Secretary--Pamela Gebert, AK
Treasurer--Sandra Oliver, TX
Board member--Kimberly Banks, GA (soon to be FL)
Board member--Jean Bening, MN
Board member--Carol Castellano, NJ
Board member--Penny Duffy, NH
Board member--Rosina Foster, MO
Board member--Jennifer Gandarias, WA
Board member--Frances Hammond, NM
Board member--Melissa Riccobono, MD
Board member--Pat Renfranz, UT
Board member--Terri Rupp, NV
The annual Braille Book Fair (BBF) followed the meeting, and the anticipation was palpable. Not only were there the usual offerings of Braille books for every age and interest area, but this diamond anniversary year held a special delight: 750 print/Braille books donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. These books were snapped up as quickly as they could be put out by our hard-working BBF volunteers. Two hours later, BBF coordinator Krystal Guillory, her NFB volunteers, and volunteers from UPS had sorted, distributed, and packed for home delivery over one thousand Braille books. After BBF, NOPBC board member Bill Cucco facilitated our annual Dad's Night Out.
Wednesday marked the setting of a Guinness World Record and the kickoff of the opening 2015 General Session. That evening, our children participated in crafts and games, and youth enjoyed "Deal Me In: Learning Poker and Other Card Games" with Jason Polansky and Ben Schuler from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Concurrent NOPBC workshops included "IEP Workshop for Parents of Blind/VI Students" with Dan Frye, executive director of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired; "Adopting a Blind/Visually Impaired Child from Overseas" with Merry-Noel and Marty Chamberlain, adoptive parents, POBC of Nebraska, and with Heather and John Fritz, adoptive parents, NFB of Wisconsin; and "Staying Calm," an advocacy workshop from Sharon Maneki, president, NFB of Maryland.