American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Convention 2017 NOPBC CONFERENCE
by Kim Cunningham
Introduction by Laura Bostick: Kim Cunningham is mother to three kids and five grandkids. Her youngest daughter, Kayleigh, is blind, and now employed (yay!) with the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. Kim currently serves as the NOPBC president and also as president of Texas Parents of Blind Children. She has a passion for helping blind children navigate the education system. She has been a member of the NFB since 2008, when she attended her first national convention.
Good morning, everyone! Welcome to the 2017 NOPBC National Conference! And if you are from the south, please allow me to translate that for you—“Hey, you’all! Glad yer here!”
First, I must say what a wonderful opportunity it is to serve as the president of NOPBC! I would never have dreamed in a thousand years that this is where my life would take me. What a beautiful journey it has been! I have learned that there are many ways to accomplish a task (please don't tell my husband I said that.) I have learned that different is okay. I have learned that you have to walk through fear to understand that there was nothing to be afraid of. I have learned that a family can be stronger than ten thousand men, and yet one person can build a seemingly impenetrable wall. I have had the opportunity to meet so many people in the same situations, seeking answers to the same questions.
It is my passion to work with families to spread the news that the words blindness and independence can be used together. I know that many of you came this week seeking to understand more about raising blind children. You are in the right place.
You may have noticed that our theme for this year is #HOWWESEEIT. And you must all think that we are a bunch of Twitter tweeters, so you may be surprised to know that I don't tweet on Twitter. I can barely say it, let alone do it! Actually, the idea for this year's conference title came in response to a social media fundraising campaign that circulated on Twitter, Facebook, and TV last year. It was a campaign by the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) called #HOWEYESEEIT. This fundraiser caused quite a commotion within the blind community.
Please know that we are not against fundraising, and we wholeheartedly support research! The problem occurred because FFB did not seek or want input from the blind community when planning this campaign. Members of the NFB told FFB that this campaign would have a negative impact on the blind community. We were ignored, and they did it anyway.
This is what the FFB did. The Foundation Fighting Blindness asked sighted people to take part in a blindness simulation activity. The participants were asked to wear sleepshades to simulate blindness, and then they were asked to do a certain task. The participants did not have a cane or know of any of the tools and training that blind people use throughout the day. As a result, the sighted people became disoriented and were unable to attend confidently to any given task. They ended the activity feeling sorry for blind people and thinking that if you can't see, you are "unable." They were sad for blind people, so they donated a lot of money to help cure this horrible blindness.
During this time my blind daughter was looking for a job. She had attended a four-year university and received her degree in elementary education. At that point, she was on about her seventieth job application, and still no job. She couldn't even get a job at a day-care center. Potential employers saw her as a safety risk, both for herself and for her students. Never mind that she had just completed four years of college independently. School personnel couldn't believe that a blind person could live independently, let alone manage a classroom full of children. This was the exact message that the FFB was sending. They were showing the message on all of the social media sites so that millions of people would have that image imprinted on their brains!
This FFB campaign made me angry! Why must people perpetuate these myths about blindness? The participants doing these blindness simulations were our children's potential employers and teachers and friends. What are they going to think when a blind person applies for a job at their business? What if one of these participants had a blind person as their child's teacher?
We don't want the public to see our blind children as people to be pitied. We want people to know that if your child becomes blind, it will be okay. Your blind children can have jobs and get married and have children if they want. We know our blind children can grow into successful adults, accomplishing much along the way—if they are provided with the proper tools and training.
We as parents, professionals, and friends of blind and low vision children want FFB and all others to know that blindness is not going to hold our children back. This is #HOWWESEEIT! We see that if given the right training, our children can learn the skills to lead successful, independent lives. We see our children master spelling bee competitions, bake cookies and pies, ride bikes, ski, march in the marching band, rollerskate, and skateboard. We see our children compete on the debate team, mow the grass, rake the leaves, take out the trash, clean their rooms (sometimes), and do their homework. We see that our children are happy and joyous. We see that our children are brave and brilliant. We see limitless possibilities. We see ordinary futures for ordinary people who happen to be blind. We see a community of leaders and movers and shakers!
The NOPBC would like to spread the message that blindness will not hold your children back from living the lives they want. We want to encourage your children to spread their wings and dream their own dreams. And we want to walk with you along your journey.
We hope you find this week to be life-changing. The NOPBC board members have worked hard to provide meaningful workshops and activities. Please thank them when you see them this week. They give of their time freely, and I am thankful to call them all my friends. The truth is it is going to take every one of us working together to educate the public about what it means to be blind or to have low vision. We must work together to change the misconceptions about blindness. Blind and low-vision children can lead very independent and fulfilling lives—just like everyone else—as long as they are provided with the proper training. The general public should know that our kids can be future employees, parents, and friends. They are not amazing for finding their classrooms at school, tying their shoes, or doing countless other everyday tasks expected of their sighted peers. Our kids are certainly amazing in other ways, just as all children are amazing; we need to educate the public so people understand this fact.
I know we are all busy, and we sometimes can feel "too busy." But please join us in building a stronger community. As President Riccobono reminded me, the NFB is not a certain select group of people. It is a collective us!
Please take the information that you will learn this week and go back into your community to help build change. Our children are depending on us to build a better future for them. Please join us in sharing our message. Please help us show the world #HOWWESEEIT! Thank you!