American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Winter 2021     MENTORING

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Mentors for My Son

by Carla Keirns

From the Editor: Carla Keirns is president of the Missouri Parents of Blind Children. She serves on the board of the NOPBC.

My little boy was fourteen weeks old when the doctor told us he was blind.

Blind.

It was Halloween. We had arranged to see an eye doctor because both my husband and I had worn glasses as babies, mine with cute silver frames, his with dark plastic. We thought our son might need eye surgery, as two of his aunts had surgery when they were babies. But we were completely unprepared to hear that our son was blind. We were also confused, because clearly he had some sight. What he could see, we could not tell. 

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of early intervention evaluations and meetings with doctors and case managers. We lived in New York at the time, so we met with the children's specialist for our region from the New York State Commission for the Blind. He was full of information about assistive technology, working with schools, summer camps, and the importance of social skills training.

Russell with the board of the NFB of Missouri

One Sunday afternoon a few weeks later, we made our way to a neighborhood library and met David Stayer, a social worker who was blind from birth, and the rest of the NFB of Greater Long Island. We explained that we were new to blindness. As sighted parents we were eager to find help for our son, but we didn't know what he would need.

David said, "Your children are our children. We know. Don't worry about that."

My heart melted.

Russell is seven now, and I have seen David's promise in action again and again in working with NFB. Russell was voted into our local NFB chapter this spring, and he was excited to receive his membership coin. He loves that he has friends in the NFB and so many aunts and uncles to help show him the way. We have been to BELL Academy in St. Louis for two summers, and last summer we participated in BELL At Home Edition. Russell lists "my blind friends" among his most important people.

In St. Louis Russell learned to take public transportation from his teachers on their way to get a special tactile tour of the museum under the Gateway Arch. He has seen films with audio description. He has learned to love Braille. When he was asked to spell the word "mother" last week, he insisted he wanted to spell it in Braille. The teacher didn't know that he was sneaking in a dot-5 m contraction because he wasn't quite sure how to spell the word out.

I have been to Washington, DC; Albany, New York; and Jefferson City, Missouri, with NFB, and I have learned so much about how to change laws and policy. Russell came to Albany when he was twenty months old in the tiniest blue blazer you've ever seen, accessorized with a sippy cup. He is looking forward to a chance to go to Jefferson City with us soon.

I have learned a lot about law and advocacy in relation to special education, disability services, accessible transportation, and dozens of other topics that are crucial for Russell to develop to his potential. I first learned about many of the challenges we face from NFB and NOPBC trainings, leaders, publications, and Facebook groups. I never would have known to ask how the school was going to get my son's textbooks in Braille if I hadn't read about the struggles of other families. When I needed to know how to get sheet music in large print for my budding piano player, I posted my question to the NOPBC Facebook group. Within a few hours I had a dozen options.

I keep telling my sighted friends that Russell can do anything he wants to do except fly a plane. And our blind friends keep reminding us that you can fly by using instruments.

We look forward to seeing Russell grow up in the Federation. The way to a mother's heart is through her children. And you have earned the way to mine.

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