American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Special Issue: The World of Work      CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

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Marketing Our Message

by Cricket Bidleman

Cricket BidlemanFrom the Editor: When Cricket Bidleman entered college, she planned to major in physics and build a career in the sciences. In this article she describes the journey that led her to a career she had never expected.

I was introduced to the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in 2010, when I entered the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. I went to national convention in Dallas that year, but I spent a lot of that time jumping on the bed with my cousins and wondering why the hotel was so big. In 2015 I participated in the NFB's STEM Engineering Quotient (EQ) program, which introduced blind students to opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We built boats out of recyclable materials and raced them in a river close to Baltimore. Today one of those boats is at our national headquarters, the Jernigan Institute.
In the following year, I participated in NFB STEM2U, another science program. I'll always remember our trip to the Exploratorium, a museum in San Francisco filled with hands-on exhibits. The Exploratorium was conducting a pilot of detailed tactile map books of the museum, and they asked for our feedback. It was one of the first times that I had been empowered in this way.

In the summer of 2016, I attended our National Convention to speak about the STEM programs, and I was energized by all of our programs and initiatives. I had gone to Dallas in 2010 with my family as part of the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. By this time I had a much longer attention span, and I was able to absorb the general sessions.

The following summer, 2017, I attended the summer training program at BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis. I thought that independent travel skills would prepare me for college. I had been accepted into Stanford University, and although I didn't know it at the time, the campus is huge and laid out confusingly. I also wanted to learn basic cooking and other daily living skills.

That summer, I was also an NFB National Scholarship finalist. I was introduced to mentors with whom I am still in contact six years later. I attended convention in 2017 both as a BLIND, Inc. student and as a scholarship finalist. The experience was both empowering and exhausting.

In high school I had a physics teacher who went out of his way to make materials accessible for me. I still remember the Vernier caliper he made out of a Braille meter stick and two pieces of wood with markings burnt into them. The caliper allowed me to measure within tenths of centimeters. It was almost as accurate as the devices that sighted students used. As a result, I felt that I could participate in STEM on an equal footing with my sighted peers, and when I entered Stanford, I wanted to major in physics. Unfortunately, I ran into access barriers early on, and I decided to shift my focus.

I was very interested in social media and the ways that it can be used to spread information, misinformation, and disinformation. (There are differences.) I ended up pursuing a degree in communications. 

Stanford shut down in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. With just five days' notice, everyone had to leave campus. By that time I had separated from my parents due to financial abuse, but there was no exception for students like me. Fortunately an acquaintance from NFB offered me a place to stay, and I continued taking my classes virtually.

By the fall of 2020, I had been working for Stanford's student union for a year. I started a podcast for them, interviewing students and professors alike, using Zoom and my computer's microphone. My passion for journalism started there, and it continued when I was accepted into Stanford's journalism master's program. Suffice it to say that I have a much better microphone now!

Unfortunately, serious medical issues kept me from completing the master's program. I had brain surgery in the summer of 2022, and I stayed with friends and family while recovering and job-hunting.

I attended some career fairs sponsored by the NFB, and I talked to Maurice Peret, who coordinates the national career mentoring program. Maurice mentioned that the NFB was looking for a marketing coordinator, and he submitted my résumé through the HR process.

I went through a series of interviews, and I was offered a job last December. I moved to Baltimore to ring in the new year, and I have found a welcoming community of friends and coworkers.

Marketing is much more than social media and advertising, although these days some think they're synonymous. NFB has countless programs, resources, and initiatives across our many departments. We are composed of fifty thousand members. My job is to help our members stay connected with what we're doing at the Jernigan Institute, what we can offer to our members. The vast majority of what our members can gain from us is free. I'm in marketing, but I don't sell anything.

We do raise a lot of awareness via social media. From event emails to legislative alerts, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube . . . we use numerous channels to raise awareness. There's a lot that has to happen internally to make our presence known in a way that looks smooth and seamless. I enjoy being a part of that.

While we keep our members connected to each other and to our national resources, we also try to encourage societal progress. We do this, in part, by persuading legislators to introduce bills to increase accessibility in a society built for sighted people. I'm not in the Advocacy and Policy department that interfaces with legislators, but marketing is still related to that work. I love helping others tell their stories. Through stories we encourage legislators and the general public to develop empathy for perspectives that might otherwise be unknown to them.

When I was young, I wanted to be a Supreme Court justice. (Or a princess.) Then I started college, and I wanted to be a physics professor, and then a journalist. Regardless of my past or future goals, I'm most happy in an environment where I'm learning. I'm doing plenty of learning here. It all started with a career fair . . .

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