American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Special Issue: The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) NOPBC COMMUNITY
by Jean Bening
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we often say that we are all a family. We come from every part of the country and every station in life, but our commitment to building opportunities for blind people brings all of us together. The untimely loss of a member of our close community is a tragedy for us all, and we are united as we mourn and remember.
Our daughter Megan Bening's first contact with the National Federation of the Blind came in 1999 through Slate Pals, a program sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Slate Pals matches pen pals who want to exchange letters in Braille. Megan was in preschool, and her teacher of the visually impaired had seen a post from a father in California who wanted to find a Slate Pal for his young daughter.
Soon Megan was writing Braille letters to her new Slate Pal, Kyra Sweeney. The girls wrote back and forth for months, and then they exchanged phone numbers. Once they had each other's phone number, they preferred to talk rather than to write letters.
At the end of June 2001, Kyra asked Megan if she was going to the National Federation of the Blind convention. Megan had never heard of the NFB, and she asked Kyra what the convention was all about. Megan then asked me if she could please go. Her dad, Allan Bening, and I researched the convention and realized that it was only a week away. There was no way we could make it work that year, but we promised we would attend in 2002.
Fast forward to July 2002, when Megan was eight years old. Kyra and Megan were very excited that they were finally going to meet each other in person. We arrived early in the day, and Kyra's family was not going to arrive until 11 pm. Megan begged to stay up late and go to the lobby so she could be there when Kyra arrived.
The girls had never exchanged pictures of each other or their families, so we had no idea what Kyra or her parents looked like. As people arrived in the lobby, I described them to Megan. Finally a family arrived with a girl who looked to be about Megan's age. Megan and I went over to the family, and Megan asked the girl if she was Kyra. She was, and the girls screamed and hugged in excitement.
Megan was thrilled to be among so many other blind people walking independently all over the hotel. A couple of days into the convention she woke up one morning and announced that she wanted to go to the other tower of the hotel and pick up breakfast for us all—and she wanted to go by herself. The hotel had two towers with a skyway between them.
We asked if she was sure she knew the way to the other tower and down to the first floor, where the breakfast area was located. She said that she was pretty sure she knew the way, and if she got lost she would just ask someone for directions. We agreed to let her go. Unbeknown to Megan, I sneaked out the door after her, camcorder in hand to videotape Megan's mission.
Megan found the skyway and made it across. But when she got to the other tower, she was not sure if she should go left or right. She asked a person passing by, "Excuse me, could you please tell me which way the elevators are?" The gentleman asked where she was headed, and when she said she was going to the breakfast area, he said he was headed that way, too. I followed them to the elevator and sneaked in right after them.
The gentleman asked Megan her name and how old she was. He then introduced himself—it was Dr. Fred Schroeder. They chatted in the elevator and exited on the first floor. Megan thanked Dr. Schroeder for helping her find the elevators. I went over to him and told him I was Megan's mother, and that I was following Megan without her knowledge.
Megan made her breakfast purchase and started back to the room. I took the stairs and got back to the room ahead of her. When Megan entered the room she was very excited that she had accomplished her task! She told us that a very nice man gave her directions at one point, but other than that she had found her way all by herself. She was thrilled at her newfound independence and didn't find out what her sneaky mother had done until five years later.
We attended every NFB convention as a family from 2002 to 2013. After that Megan attended on her own as a counselor for Blind Industries and Services of Maryland and the Colorado Center for the Blind. In the summer of 2016 Megan was working on her internship for an information technology degree, and she was not able to attend convention.
Megan also was involved with the NFB in our home state of Minnesota, serving as secretary of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students in 2016-2017.
One of the things Megan loved most about convention was meeting up with her friends. In fact, Megan made friends everywhere she went. She stayed in touch with friends she made at the Buddy Program at BLIND, Inc.; the Earn and Learn Program at the Colorado Center for the Blind; and the Seeing Eye, where she received her first guide dog, Cori, in 2016.
It was not uncommon for Megan's friends to travel to Minnesota and stay with our family. There were reunions with Buddy Program friends and many Thanksgivings with added guests, friends of Megan's who were attending BLIND, Inc. and were unable to travel home for the holiday. In December two friends she had met at Seeing Eye, Lauren and Megahurtz, came for a week-long visit, along with their guide dogs. Because there were two Megans at Seeing Eye, Megan Bening became known as Megabyte and her friend was called Megahurtz. It was a little crazy having three giddy girls and three guide dogs in the house!
Megan loved to hang out with friends, and she loved to work with a blind friend and teach him technology and daily living skills. She was adventurous and tried not to let anything stand in her way. We told her from the time she was young that she could do just about anything she wanted; we'd learn how to make adaptations.
Megan graduated from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota, in December 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in information technology and a minor in psychology. She had decided to continue her education and was working toward her master’s degree in information technology. She was employed as a user experience manager at Minnesota State University/Mankato in their Bureau 507 department. Megan presented some of their projects to B302, a sister company in the Netherlands, and was scheduled to make a presentation in Spain in June 2017. Her dream was to work for Apple or to be a white hat hacker, working for large corporations trying to breach their own computer systems and then working with the corporation to fix the problems.
Sadly, unbelievably, Megan passed away on January 28, 2017, at the age of twenty-two from a spontaneous brain hemorrhage. She was in Rapid City, South Dakota, doing something she loved so much—downhill skiing.
Megan never lost touch with Kyra Sweeney, the young woman she first met as a Slate Pal. She and Kyra visited each other many times over the years, and they reconnected every year at convention. Kyra surprised and honored Megan's family by traveling from out of state to attend Megan's funeral. That friendship truly lasted a lifetime!
Many think that at age twenty-two you are just approaching the prime of your life. In Megan's case, the prime of her life happened throughout her twenty-two years. She traveled the country, skied, and even went skydiving. She had a true zest for life. She had no fear, and she let nothing stand in her way! She is missed so much by her family, her many friends, and her guide dog, Cori.