American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Convention 2019      NOPBC CONFERENCE

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Playing the Long Game and Beating the Odds

by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

Carlton WalkerIntroduction by Carol Castellano: Carlton Anne Cook Walker is the dedicated president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. It's hard to believe the hours and effort she puts in on our behalf. I'm so happy that we have such a dedicated person as our president! In addition to being our president, Carlton is an attorney, and she knows a lot about special education law. She's also a teacher of blind students. If you have a question, she's the person to go to. Here to present our National Organization of Parents of Blind Children Presidential Report is Carlton Walker.

I must take this opportunity to thank all the members of our board and our friends who aren't on the board but work with us. We couldn't do this without everyone's help, and we couldn't do it without the National Federation of the Blind supporting us every day!

As president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind, I welcome you and your families to our conference, "Blindness Skills: The Only Sure Bet in Vegas," and to the seventy-ninth annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. I'm excited to share with you a week filled with information, ideas, and love.

Blindness skills—what does that mean? It helps if we explore the word blind first. Some in society and in education suppose that the term blind may be used to refer only to individuals without any residual vision, but we in the NFB and NOPBC know better. As our late NFB President, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, set forth, "We believe that blindness can best be defined not physically or medically but functionally or sociologically." Thus we in the NFB believe that one is blind if that individual must devise alternative techniques to do efficiently those things that could be done visually by someone who has normal vision. Using this definition, we recognize that these alternative techniques, these blindness skills, allow our children to perform tasks in an effective, efficient, and age-appropriate manner, regardless of visual functioning. With blindness skills our children will be able to compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers. Vision or lack thereof will no longer be a factor in whether or not our children can succeed.

There is an old adage that Las Vegas wasn't built on winners. It makes perfect sense. There's no form of gambling that pays out more winnings than it takes in through wagers. Every single game of chance in Las Vegas favors the house. The only way to beat the odds is to refrain from playing the game. One might enjoy gambling and be willing to risk a loss for the excitement of the game. However, if a person invests rent money or food money in the hope of hitting it big, that person is likely to fall into debt, a debt from which that person may never recover.

For our children, counting on visual skills is truly a gamble. In the short term a child might be able to use residual visual skills well in some environments. However, residual visual skills are just that—residual. Our children have only a fraction of the visual abilities of their typically sighted peers. When they use their residual vision for academic and daily tasks, they must struggle much more than their peers who have typical vision. Also, as we get older, we need to do more things more quickly more of the time. Our children have far better things to do with their time and energy than struggling to see. They need to be able to play the long game, the game of life.

The short-term strategy of relying on visual skills is like a game of five-card stud poker in which our children are only allowed to have three cards. Sure, they still might win some games. They might win with three of a kind, a pair, or even a single high card. However, everyone else who gets dealt five cards can win with two pairs, a straight, a full house, four of a kind, or a royal flush. No matter how hard our children work, no matter how smart they are, and no matter how lucky they are, their odds of winning are substantially decreased when they can only rely upon visual skills. Sadly, many children who rely on visual skills alone find themselves on a steady lifetime losing streak.

Yet, for some reason, many educational professionals encourage us to help our children "maximize" their vision. They want our children to rely most heavily upon the very tool that doesn't work well for them. They want to limit our children to only three cards in a five-card game. These professionals often shun blindness skills such as Braille, cane travel, and nonvisually accessible technology. Some even claim that our children are not "blind enough" for Braille or cane travel, even though these are the very skills that will allow them to play the game with a full set of cards.

The worst part about this is that our children come to believe that they can only be maximized by their vision. As their vision proves less and less useful, our children begin to think that they are less and less useful themselves, and their self-esteem plummets. However, there is a better way. Instead of maximizing vision, we must help our children maximize themselves. Maximizing vision will always leave our children behind. There is no vision maximization tool or technique that allows our children to perform as efficiently, effectively, or independently as they would if they had typical vision. For our children blindness skills are the answer. With proper Braille instruction, our children can read literature, math, science, and music as efficiently as they would with typical vision, and without visual fatigue, poor posture, or the need for special lighting. With proper cane travel instruction, our children can move about their homes, schools, and communities as effectively as they would have with typical vision. With proper instruction in nonvisually accessible technology, tactile graphics, and independent living skills, our children can use technology, read graphics, and perform jobs around the home and community as independently as they would if they had typical vision.

Some of you may be thinking, okay, Carlton, what you say makes some sense. I absolutely don't want issues with my child's vision to hold my child back. I hope you're right about these blindness skills. But even if you are, what can I do about it? I don't know any blindness skills, and the school says my child doesn't need them. What can I do?

That's a great question, and here's my answer. You've already taken the first step toward getting your child blindness skills because you are here. Today and throughout this week the NOPBC will host workshops and events designed to provide you the information you need to help your child learn and master blindness skills. In a few moments you will hear from the highly accomplished Lisamaria Martinez and later from a panel of blind high school and college students who will share with you the impact of blindness skills in their lives. We will then attend concurrent sessions and have fun with our children at Family Game Night, where our Megan Bening Memorial Fund will give away ten thousand dollars in technology. Tomorrow we invite you to join us for more informational sessions and our Cane Walk. Also tomorrow we have the NOPBC Style Show, where our children have the opportunity to strut their stuff and build their self-confidence, most of them using canes.

Tuesday brings the NOPBC annual meeting, including information from NFB Executive Director for Blindness Initiatives, Anil Lewis; a speech by the 2019 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, Adrienne Shoemaker; a panel of middle-school students; and the Braille Book Fair, where every Braille book is free, as is the shipping!

Wednesday evening brings more workshops, including a hands-on Braille party and our mini-BELL® and IEP advocacy workshops. We also have our Parent Leadership Program (PLP), with activities for parents who are interested in learning more about us and the NFB.

And that's just the NOPBC Conference! As I shared earlier, we in the NOPBC are a proud division of the NFB. Even though many of us are not blind, the NFB and its blind members teach and support us every day. Throughout this week the NFB convention will provide you with opportunities to learn more about technology, and you will have the chance to purchase high quality, blindness-friendly items from the NFB Independence Market. You will be treated to three days of our General Sessions, where you will hear where we, as the organized blind, have been and where we are headed.

But wait! I haven't shared the best part! Actually you have already experienced some of it. Just a few minutes ago, we heard NFB President Mark Riccobono speaking with our children. Think about it! The President of the nation's largest blindness consumer group began his day here, with our children! Despite being pulled in dozens of directions, he carved out time to speak with our kids. This speaks volumes! Here at the NFB convention you'll find literally thousands of people who know blindness skills and use them every day. What's more, most of these blind people are ready, willing, and able to help you and your child.

By belonging to a proud division of the NFB, NOPBC members are NFB members. That's right—you are a member of the National Federation of the Blind. If you have not already done so, get connected with the NFB affiliate in your state. We veteran members of the NFB and NOPBC would love to connect you, and your affiliate president is eager to meet you. By connecting with your affiliate you're going to connect your child with blind mentors year-round, not just for one week in Las Vegas.

I encourage you to view the NFB convention as a family reunion. If you're new to us, it's like meeting your in-laws for the first time. It can feel a little overwhelming, so start slowly. Talk to one person, and then talk to someone else. Just as you would at a family reunion, you'll see that we're all related. We are a family. We all want the next generation to succeed. We know that, for our children, the only sure bet in Vegas or anywhere else is blindness skills.

In August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., declared, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Here in the NFB and the NOPBC we have a dream, too. We have a dream that our blind children will have access to the blindness skills and the tools that will allow them to enjoy life and find success based upon what they can do, not on what they can see.

I'll close with our one-minute message, which is kind of our mantra here in the National Federation of the Blind: We in the National Federation of the Blind know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines our children or their futures. Every day we raise expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. Our blind children can have the lives they want. Blindness is not what holds them back.

Welcome. It's going to be a fabulous week!

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