American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Winter 2018       SUPPORTING THE MOVEMENT

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Make a Difference

by Patti Chang and Anna Adler

Four children play musical chairs under sleepshades at Pittsburgh BELL.A slightly different version of this article appeared in Braille Monitor, Volume 60, Number 11, December 2017.

We know that the NFB changes lives. We know that we foster high expectations. Recently the mom of a blind student sent a thank-you note to us that we believe tells the story of just how much impact the NFB can have on an individual family. We hope that stories like hers and many others will inspire people to support our efforts to turn dreams into reality. Here is what Angela Raske said about our Illinois Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy:

Dear BELL Supporters,

Please allow me a moment to express my sincere gratitude as a mom for your ongoing support of the BELL program. My son, Isaac, age eleven, attended the BELL program this year for his second time. He was so excited to do it and looked forward to it from the moment he was accepted. There are many things that Isaac and I value about this program. From Isaac's perspective, it gives him a chance to hang out with peers who are blind/VI and also experiencing the same challenges/situations. This provides him with support, knowing that he is not alone as a blind young person trying to make his way in the world. He is excited to go every day. He really enjoys learning and practicing his skills that grow his independence. He loves the field trips they take where they learn valuable life skills and have fun while they do it.

This year, a highlight was going kayaking. He was so excited, and it went beyond his high expectations in fun! He came home happy and proud of himself!

He also likes having time with adult mentors. This encourages him with what is possible for him in his future. This year he came home and told me about an adult mentor who had a guide dog with her. Before this, he has always been adamantly against having a guide dog someday, but after interacting with this adult and her dog, he came home feeling different and like it was a possible option for him in the future. Now, whether or not he someday uses a guide dog is up to him, but what he came away with was the model of a blind adult who had found her preferred and successful ways of living independently—another great example for him.

Isaac also enjoyed the wide range of ages in the other students. Being around the younger students reminded him of how far he has come, and the older students gave him excitement for his future. Although our car ride to and from BELL was sometimes close to 1.5-2 hours each way, Isaac never wavered in his excitement, and in fact, told me many, many times, "Thanks Mom for taking me to BELL." I am so thankful for what the BELL program gives to him.

From my perspective, BELL gives Isaac a much-needed opportunity to grow in confidence and acceptance of himself as a blind person. As he has gotten older, he has really struggled with his identity as a blind person. He really does not like to feel "different" from his peers, very normal for any fifth-grader, but even more complicated when there is something such as blindness. Isaac is mainstreamed into his school, so this opportunity to be around other blind kids (and adults) where blindness is normalized is priceless. It gives him a much-needed break from feeling "different." It gives him equal playing ground to make friends and have fun and learn. He never feels like he is missing out on any part of the experience when he is at BELL because it is tailored FOR the blind student. The rest of his year, he is in a sighted environment and continually faces challenges and other people underestimating, judging, or sometimes dismissing him. At BELL he doesn't have to fight those daily battles, and it is like he can really "exhale" for a few weeks and just enjoy life instead of constantly having to prove himself.

Isaac has struggled to see future possibilities for himself as a blind person—as someone who can have independence and meaningful work. He knows he is smart, but he struggles to believe that his blindness will not prevent him from having a great life. The chance for him to know older students and adults who are living full and meaningful lives is critical and something that sighted people (even the best-intentioned parents) cannot give him. He needs that real-life example with flesh on—not just a mom or dad or teacher telling him what is possible. The BELL program provides this.

The BELL program is essential in showing Isaac that he CAN be independent—when they work on simple life skills such as grocery shopping and preparing food/cleaning up, to the more adventurous skills such as how to use public transportation in a big city like Chicago. They don't just talk about it—they DO it, and this shows him he is capable. As a parent, I can do my best to show him how to do these things, but the professionals and mentors at BELL know the best techniques for all these tasks and take him beyond what I as a parent can do.

During the school year, Isaac receives a certain number of hours per week of specialized training on Braille and VI technology and O&M. These are wonderful and necessary; however, the immersive two-week experience for Isaac is an important time of concentrated training and growth that cannot happen during the school year. He can solely focus on his blindness training skills, which lead to a deeper learning experience and also greater confidence.

Finally, the BELL program is not only critical for the students, but also important to their families as well. As a sighted parent, I do all that I can to educate and equip myself so I can equip Isaac well. But I can never put myself fully in his shoes. At BELL he gets this from his blind peers and mentors. This proves to him—and to me as his parent—what is possible. I can be the best mom I can be, but I am not a VI professional such as the staff at BELL. They can equip Isaac in ways that I cannot, and I cannot overstate the importance of this. It gives us insight and renewed motivation as parents to continue working hard at independence so that Isaac will someday be ready to go to college, find work he enjoys, and build a life for himself. We as parents also need BELL so we can be reminded once again of all the possibilities for our blind children.

The BELL program is a very important part of Isaac's growth. It moves him beyond limitations that are placed on him by others and sometimes himself. It shows him new possibilities and opens up new dreams and goals for him. Isaac has a lot to offer the world, and the BELL program is an important part of Isaac seeing and believing that truth for himself AND learning how to make it possible!

Thank you, BELL supporters and the BELL team, for investing in our kids!

Sincerely,
Angela & Isaac Raske

Want to help families like Angela's? You can make a difference.

With a $50 donation, the National Federation of the Blind can send a long white cane—free of charge—to a blind person and give back mobility. With the same amount the Federation can provide early literacy materials to families, including a book with both Braille and print that empowers parents to help their blind child get an early start on Braille literacy. With a larger donation we can train our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academy teachers, show blind youngsters that they can do science, too, and so much more. Be a part of this future and everything the Federation does with love, hope, and determination. We can't change lives without you. Please help starting the New Year with a gift—and it's easy to do. You can mail a donation or give online at https://nfb.org/donate. To mail your donation, simply make out your check to the National Federation of the Blind, and send it to 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Attention: Outreach, Baltimore, MD 21230.

We all know that the Federation affects blind people's lives every day. Please be a part of our movement. Your support will be sincerely appreciated.

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