American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Convention 2020     NOPBC BOARD MEETING

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NOPBC: Past, Present, and Future

by Carol Castellano

Carol CastellanoIntroduction by Carlton Anne Cook Walker: In order to know where we are headed, it is important to know where we came from. The perfect person to take us on this journey is Carol Castellano, one of our great parent and Federation leaders. Like many of us, Carol came to the Federation and to the NOPBC looking for help. Through her articles, her books, her presentations, and her advocacy, through her services and her heart, Carol makes certain that we have the information we need and that we feel the love she has for us and for our children.

You are here as part of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind. It's an exciting place to be! I think this is really where the action is.

Our history began in 1983, when the division was organized, but the Federation's interest in parents began long before that. For example, in 1954, longtime NFB President Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and Kenneth Jernigan organized a statewide seminar for parents in California on the subject of the education of blind children. In the 1970s our longtime NOPBC president, Barbara Cheadle, organized a seminar for parents in Nebraska. In 1983 Dr. Jernigan saw the need to organize a division in which parents would work alongside blind adult Federation members to improve the lives of the blind.

Some of you might have noticed that the NFB is an organization with a point of view. We call it our philosophy of blindness. Dr. Jernigan's idea was to apply the Federation philosophy to the lives of blind children as they were growing up.

So what is our philosophy of blindness? It's the idea that blindness does not have to be a limiting factor in a person's life, that it's okay to be blind. Our children deserve a full education and meaningful literacy. We believe that the skills of blindness, such as Braille, cane travel, and access technology, are the keys to living a fully independent life. Our philosophy is the belief that, with proper training and opportunity, a blind person can compete on terms of equality. It's the belief that the blind can speak for themselves and the belief that the real experts on blindness are the blind.

Beginning in the 1980s, the NOPBC became not only a critical source of support and information for parents, but also an agent for change in society. These two areas, information and support and agent for change, pretty much summarize what we do.

Over the years we established our national magazine, Future Reflections. We began to hold national seminars like this one for parents and teachers. We organized chapters in the states. We began programs such as Slate Pals, Braille Readers Are Leaders, Braille Reading Pals, Early Explorers, the Cane Walk, STEM programs, IEP workshops, the Parent Leadership Program, mentoring programs, and so much more. We've published books and articles that have been read by thousands of people across the nation.

Yes, we are an agent for change in society. We change the lives of individual children and their families, and we move beyond the individual to make changes in the larger system. Twenty-five years ago expectations were far lower for blind children, and opportunities were fewer. NOPBC raised the bar. It raised expectations of parents and teachers and of the blind children themselves. Instead of being doomed to illiteracy, dependency, and helplessness, our kids now learn a can-do attitude, and they find out it's okay to be blind.

Blindness in children is one of the lowest incidence disabilities. When a blind child comes into a community or a school system, they're usually the first such child in anyone's memory. No one knows what to do. When parents begin the search for information, they're often barraged by negatives. They hear pessimistic predictions about their child's ability to reach developmental milestones, negative assumptions about what the child will be able to accomplish, depressing messages about how hard it is to be blind, discouraging presumptions about how blindness will affect family life. When a family discovers NOPBC, suddenly they find a new way to look at blindness and the possibilities for their child's future. The message of despair suddenly becomes a message of empowerment and hope.

Because we were founded in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, we and our children can call upon the experience of more than fifty thousand blind people across the country. Those blind people become our mentors, our role models, and our friends. And of course our children have this organization to grow into.

In addition to changing the lives of individual families and children, NOPBC works to get laws passed to safeguard our children's right to a full education and an independent future. In fact, it has been the NFB and the NOPBC that have gotten most of the laws passed that impact blind children and adults in a positive way. We fought for the right of blind and low-vision children to learn Braille and to get their textbooks on time. We led the campaign to get canes into the hands of very young blind children. We got the National Library Service (NLS) to hire its first children's librarian. We have participated on national committees to protect civil rights and to establish national standards in the blindness field.

This kind of parent advocacy simply was not available before our organization came into existence. We insist on equal access for our kids. We insist on them getting the opportunity to learn blindness skills to make them independent, and we don't take no for an answer. This is the place to be! This is where the action is!

We have such a great organization because of the people in it, and that means each of you. NOPBC is strong because of the leadership, dedication, advocacy, and passion of its members.

NOPBC presents parents with a choice. We can view blindness as a tragedy, and we can feel sorry for ourselves and our children. Or we can bring up our children to regard themselves as full human beings, complete, competent, and empowered. We can ask for accommodation after accommodation for our children, or we can equip our children with the skills and tools to get the job done. We can accept custodialism and dependence, or we can insist on our children learning to take care of themselves and earning the respect of their peers because of it. Parents who stick with us tend to choose the hope and empowerment!

We're not a club, though we do have common interests. We're not a social organization, although we certainly do have fun. Ladies and gentlemen, we are part of a movement! It's a movement for civil rights, for full access to all parts of life for blind adults and for our blind children. We have important work ahead of us!

The future might look different, but we will certainly continue to do it. It will be difficult, but we have the strength. It will be demanding, but we have the energy. It will take time, but we have the endurance.

Hello, parents! Together in the NOPBC we are making history!

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