Letter from the President
Learning to Read Again
By Priscilla P. Ching
The Scramble System:A Freshman Experience
By Allison Hilliker
Winning More Than a Debate Tournament
By Joe Orozco
Dairy Queen Cones
By Angela Howard
The Lucky Ones
By Daphne Mitchell
How to Get Access to Print: What It Takes to Succeed as a Blind College Student
By Dan Burke
The Impact of My First Washington Seminar
By Nicole Ditzler
There's More to College Life Than Classes-Get Involved!
By Robin L. House
Well, it is finally here! The long awaited Student Slate has arrived! This Spring/Summer 2002 issue of The Student Slate is being dedicated to Jennica Ferguson, a young woman who died of cancer in 2000. She embodied everything that is Federationism. Her unwavering spirit and undaunted determination made her a truly remarkable person. She believed strongly in the work of the National Federation of the Blind, as well as the National Association of Blind Students. Before she died, she was one of the student leaders in Michigan, who dreamed of what has now been established as the Michigan Association of Blind students. Jennica's strong will and endurance can encourage all of us in our efforts to make a difference. She certainly made a difference in the lives of those who knew her, and her spirit can do the same for those who did not.
I would like to thank Kimberly Aguillard and Brook Sexton for their work on
this issue, as well as those individuals who submitted articles. I encourage
all of you to submit your articles. Everyone has a story to tell about an experience
they have had as a blind student and how they dealt with the situation. The
purpose of this publication is to share those stories with each other, so that
we can use the stories as a resource when dealing with experiences in our own
Our student list serve has been very active with discussion about such experiences.
If you are not already a member of the list serve, we invite you to subscribe
and add to the discussion. Send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Leave the
subject line blank, and in the body of the message (in all lowercase) write,
"subscribe nabs-l." If you are subscribed to the listserve, keep posting
those thought-provoking questions and intriguing answers!
On February 2, 2002, The annual student seminar was held in conjunction with
the Washington Seminar. It was a great seminar! The agenda was filled with excellent
speakers, who all had an important message to share. There were twenty state
student divisions represented, and each had an opportunity to talk about what
was going on in their respective divisions. The banquet was lively, and the
banquet address, delivered by Everly Harrston, was extraordinarily good! For
those of you who were unable to attend, we hope that you can make it next year.
Since the Washington Seminar, we have had an addition to our NABS community
of state student divisions. The Idaho Association of Blind Students was formed
at the Idaho state convention, March 15, 2002. We wish IDABS great success as
its members build the division and make a difference for blind students in Idaho.
National Convention is coming up, July 3-9. The National Association of Blind
students will be holding their annual student division meeting on July 4, 2002
from 7:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. We will also be hosting Monte Carlo Night July
7, beginning at 8:00P.M. NABS invites everyone to come and support the efforts
of the student division.
We hope you enjoy this issue of The Student Slate, but we also hope that the articles provide you with a sense of true Federation spirit, causing you to think about, revel in, or even question your philosophy about blindness. Knowing who we are, how far we have come, and realizing how far we have left to go is what keeps us marching together as a movement. This publication is to help remind you that you are not walking alone. There are many blind students around the country who believe in the capabilities of the blind and relate to experiences that you have had or will have as a blind student.
See you at convention!
President, National Association of Blind Students
For more information, contact:
National Association of Blind Students
604 B Gaylor St.
Austin, TX 78752
By Priscilla P. Ching
Editor's introduction: Priscilla is a graduate of the O&M Master's program at Louisiana Tech University. She was a national scholarship winner in 2000. In this article, she discusses her experience of becoming literate by learning to read Braille and how that changed her life.
A few weeks ago I had a brief encounter with a Braille teacher who was quite
adamant about the importance of using whatever residual sight I had for reading.
"If you have any little sight left at all you should be reading large print
and you don't need to learn Braille."
Time did not permit me to have a more thorough discussion with him and we departed.
However, as I walked home that afternoon, I pondered over the validity of his
statement and reflected upon my experiences with blindness and literacy.
As a young child, I was diagnosed to have "lazy eyes" and I was often
called "the little girl with a pirate patch" who wore little glasses
with uneven thickness. Every day, I had to exercise my eyes by staring at different
patterned cards. I was also forced to watch TV with an awful colored screen
over it. If my eyes decided not to cooperate (and they never did), I would see
nothing on the screen except a thick column of blackness. Therefore, I was never
addicted to watching TV. Just like the other kids at school, I also had to learn
to read. But my "good" eye was patched purposely so that I had to
learn to read with my "bad" eye. Learning for me became difficult
and uncomfortable. Eventually, I did not enjoy reading beyond what was required
When I was 14, I became so frustrated with my vision that I quit taking piano
lessons altogether because I couldn't read the music anymore. Moreover, schoolwork
and homework became unbearable. Every page of reading demanded every ounce of
energy and time I possessed. Soon I developed constant headaches and eye fatigue
that no medicine could cure. Then, after series of medical examinations, I was
finally diagnosed as having a congenital defect on my optic nerves; therefore,
the problem was irreversible.
From that day forward, my room was cluttered with piles of large print books,
a large screen computer, magnifiers, and bright light bulbs. My life was one
big school assignment after another. The large print books were helpful at the
beginning, but after a few minutes of concentrated reading, my eyes began to
hurt, and I had to rest them. I struggled tearfully to keep up with school,
yet always found myself falling behind. My doctor excused me from taking Physical
Education (P.E.) because she thought I would have eye-hand coordination problems.
So I spent all my high school P.E. periods indoors, looking out the window and
wishing that I could participate with my classmates. In addition, I missed out
on most of the social events with my peers because I had to study, which often
lasted long hours after midnight. I became a "nerd" silently.
My poor vision continued to trouble my academic efforts. I was accepted at
a good university, but the insurmountable demand for higher and comprehensive
reading and writing took a heavy toll on me. Although all of my textbooks were
in large print, I still couldn't read them all. Eventually, I couldn't even
take my own notes in class nor could I write fluently and effectively. I was
left with no way to communicate with others through the written medium. In my
sophomore year, I had to change my study habits from that of reading to that
of listeningrelying on readers and tapes. Yet without taking my own notes,
I was unable to retain the large amount of information imparted in lectures.
As a consequence, I was not learning anything, and life seemed miserable.
At the end of my senior year, I had the privilege to shadow a low vision teacher
for a quarter. She taught Braille to all her kids, as young as four and five
years old. While she read them stories, she let them run their fingers over
the Braille text. It fascinated me to see that blind children with different
degrees of vision were still able to learn to "read," yet I, a college
student, was "illiterate" and lacked the tools to "learn."
But what about the professional advice that I had been given throughout my life
that reading large print and visual aids maximized my residual vision? Obviously,
they are not always effective, as in my case. I wonder why Braille was never
offered to me as an alternative technique to reading.
After graduating from the university, I decided to attend an NFB Center for
training in Braille and other necessary skills for independence. To my surprise,
Braille is something attainable with some self-determination, discipline, and
a good Braille teacher. In just nine months, I was able to read again. For the
first time in ten years, I read a novel for fun called Anne of Green Gables
in Braille, without having any headaches or eyestrain. I felt a sense of accomplishment
and freedom. If the novel were in large print, would I be reading it with such
a sense of enjoyment?
In short, since I lost my ability to read, I have lost ten years of learning,
including accessing information, conceptualizing thoughts and developing higher
literacy skills. Large print did play a minor part in accessing information
for me, but the time and effort that I spent in trying to see the print greatly
diminished my ability to comprehend and retain information. In my experience,
using large print is not the long-term solution to my increasing demand for
reading, both for academic and personal reasons. Braille, on the other hand,
is a viable option to meeting the literacy needs for any degree of blindness.
In my case, I now have an alternative to access printed information other than
relying solely on large print. The advancement in computer technology has also
broadened the accessibility of Braille in my daily usage. I am happy that I
have regained my reading and writing abilities through Braille and I am proud
to be literate once again. As I continue to improve my reading speed. I hope
I will be able to make Braille an effective tool in my life.
In reference to the comment that was made at the beginning of this article, another respected Braille teacher looks at Braille reading this way: "Learning Braille gives you another option, weapon, and choice. Without Braille, no matter how much you can see you will still be limited in certain ways." It took me 10 years to realize the truth of this statement.
By Allison Hilliker
Editor's Introduction: Allison is a long time member of the National Federation of the Blind. She recently helped to organize our Michigan Student Division and currently serves as president. Allison was also recently elected to serve as a board member for the National Association of Blind Students. Here is what she has to say about her experiences as a freshman at Hope College.
Phelps, the largest cafeteria on my college campus, uses a system for maneuvering
and obtaining food through it, which is referred to as the "Scramble System."
It is called this because it is simply that, 2000+ students move randomly about
the place in a big mob, with no lines, no structure, and no patterns. It is
essentially a mass of hungry people scrambling for food. This wonderfully organized
system of dining is a chaotic mess, where one can become very easily overwhelmed,
confused, and yes, even trampled if you don't know your way around.
A newcomer to Phelps, unaccustomed to this system of dining, is often very
uncertain as to where anything is located, and all the food seems strange and
possibly inedible. They often find this very frustrating, consider giving up,
and quickly tire of being bumped, jarred, and pushed, while wondering around
through a seemingly never-ending maze on a quest for nourishment.
Like the newcomer to Phelps cafeteria, I had similar feelings during my first
few days of my freshman year of college. I too had that over-whelming sense
of confusion and chaos. I was truly excited about the prospect of starting college
and my new life on campus, but I couldn't help feeling a sense of uncertainty,
apprehension, and of almost being swallowed up.
It all started out with learning the campus. I took a couple of days before
orientation started in order to familiarize myself with the layout. Though initially
things seemed rather complex, I managed to learn my way around campus fairly
well. At first, traveling was easiest when I stuck to the basic streets and
paths, but this was not always possible as our campus has many little twisting
paths that go through the inside of campus. They're really convenient, but also
rather disorienting at times. This means that there are many little paths with
still more paths branching off of each one leading to a variety of places and
different entrances to different buildings. This was all a bit confusing the
first few days, especially during orientation weekend, but after a few days
of disoriented wanderings, and asking a great deal of questions, it all became
easier, to the point that I don't think about the strange patterns of sidewalks
very much now.
After mastering the campus layout, next came the time for orientation. I have to admit that I didn't always like orientation very much. It was truly a mix of both the good and the bad. It was good in that I did get familiar with the ways of the college and was able to meet a lot of new and interesting people. The parts I didn't like quite as well were some of the activities. Most of them were something like lets get 700+ people in a large area and play strange games and/or loud music. They were the types of things involving crowds of people and lots of disorienting noise. Those things were not particularly enjoyable to me. However, that's the way in which the majority of people were meeting one another and to miss out on one such activity was to miss out on an opportunity to find friends.
The way I dealt with this was to try and find one person, or a small group
of people who were a bit on the edge of everything, and try talking with them.
This worked well enough most of the time, and these groups and I would often
migrate to another area and begin a new and interesting conversation or activity.
These weren't exactly my ideas of a good way in which to meet people, but I
managed to make them work. Classes have proved a much better way of meeting
people for me. Also, getting to know others in my dorm and in some of the campus
organizations that I am beginning to join has also worked well.
Moving into my dorm was also an adventure. I had to move all of my belongings
into a tiny space along side a girl who I had never met before. Plus, my very
loving, but somewhat over-eager parents wanted to set up my room just so. I
managed to listen to their advice, and still put things in such a way that reflects
my own style. If there's one thing I've learned recently, it's the importance
of balancing the suggestions and opinions of others who want to help, with what
I want and need for myself. But anyway, back to my roommate…
Kate and I are getting along rather well. She didn't know anyone blind before she had met me. She has later admitted to me that when she first learned that I was blind, she was a bit shocked, but then realized that I was normal and things would work out well enough. Our school gave out the roommate phone numbers and addresses along with our housing assignments when they mailed students before the start of school. I hadn't been sure at first how to tell my roommate, who likely knew nothing of blind people, about the fact that I am blind. I don't think about my blindness very much myself, but I knew that to someone like her, it could be a very new and different thing to deal with. I wondered about whether or not I should even tell her about it before we met. Typically, for job interviews, college applications, and the like, I don't always consider it a good idea to bring up blindness beforehand, but would a roommate be an entirely different matter, I wondered? I wanted her to know that I was normal, simply through talking with me on the phone, and I didn't want her first opinions of me to revolve around her misconceptions of what she thought blind people might be like. So, Kate and I started off our series of phone conversations without the subject of blindness. We talked about what we'd done over the summer, what we wanted our room to look like, and how excited we were about starting college. I wasn't planning on mentioning my blindness until after we had met, but then an opportunity presented itself to me during one of our long conversations. Kate said, "Hey, are you bringing your car to campus?" "I don't even have one, so I know I'm not going to bring one." To me, that was as good of time as any to bring up blindness.
So, I took a deep breath and began my tale. Kate didn't actually say much when
I had finished. After all, what was there really to say? I simply had explained
that I happened to be blind, but that I was in every other way just an average
college student. That seemed to work well enough for Kate, and despite my worries,
that was that and we moved on. As is often the case, what seemed to be a large,
complex issue with a confusing array of solutions, turned out to be very small
and easily gotten through.
The day Kate and I moved into our dorm was still an adventure for everyone.
But, fortunately, blindness was not a factor in the events of our day. She did
ask a lot of questions at first, which I was ok with answering because, to me,
that is a way of sort of putting the uncertainty she felt about my blindness
behind us. We can talk about it, get it out of the way, and move on to other
things like what classes we were taking, what kind of music we liked, and how
on earth we were going to fit all of our stuff into our tiny little dorm room!
Classes have been an entirely new set of adventures altogether for me, but
I've hired readers, met with professors, and (as every college student does)
done a great deal of studying! At first, these seemed to be enormous tasks,
with largely elusive solutions, but fortunately I was able to implement the
skills and confidence that I've gained through the NFB and plod my way through
every issue that has come up.
It is in this same way that I too learned to manage the Phelps "Scramble System." Like all newcomers to my college, I've learned to deal with the chaos and confusion and work my way through. I've learned to make my own way in lines, search out what I need, ask lots of questions, and to stay away from the mashed potatoes at all times! Through the events of this semester, I've discovered the way to thrive within the scramble system, and, rather than get weighed down by the complexities of an often confusing life, manage to not only find the good stuff in a college cafeteria, but also within every freshman experience.
By Joe Orozco
Editor's Introduction: Joe Orozco has just recently joined the movement
of the Federation, but he has jumped in with both feet and become an active
member of the Texas affiliate. Here is a message he posted to the NABS list
serve shortly after Washington Seminar.
It has often been said that a sharp tongue is no indication of a keen mind.
I personally believe that this holds true, particularly in the grip of a heated
discussion where some choose to blindly argue despite their conscious ignorance
and/or stubborn refusal to admit that they are wrong.
It goes without saying that Washington seminar was an incredible experience
for an NFB rookie. I think it was the best introduction to the vast organization
and the individuals who wholeheartedly uphold its principles, not to mention
the legislation it has fervently fought to pass into federal law. I agreed with
the three issues discussed. In fact, at my debate tournament this past weekend
following the seminar I thought it would be interesting to run a case concerning
the third issue regarding the distribution of electronic instructional materials
in a specialized format.
After consulting with my partner, we decided to run it the first round since
we were going to be the government, or affirmative. In her first constructive
speech my partner drew out the case, explaining each component of the proposal
and the criteria of equality we would be using as a means for the judge to weigh
the round. Well, the first guy for the opposition stands to deliver his speech,
and damned if he did not say our plan was impossible because the education system
as a whole was prejudice if not downright racist. To make improvements for the
blind would be showing favoritism, and unless the government was willing to
change the content of all textbooks and standard tests to include an equal recognition
of all minorities, our plan should not even be entertained. Of course my retort
was that whereas racism was a societal problem that could not be changed from
one day to the next, here was an opportunity to stop wishing for equality and
actually implement legislation to physically do something about it. I also pointed
out that his claims of total racism in the content of all instructional materials
were exaggerated, because as you will all know, the SAT and ACt have both included
passages about famous non-Caucasian celebrities. Well, the opposition scoffed
and raised a counter plan that would require all publishers to rewrite its materials
so that it was not racially exclusive. They held steadfast to their plan despite
our point that in such a scenario the costs would far exceed the benefits, not
to mention that their plan did not even acknowledge our criteria because blind
students would still be at a drastic disadvantage. In the end, the judge's ballad
ranked Texas over Tennessee.
Well, the round was so successful that my partner and I decided to run it one
more time during the fifth round against a team from a prestigious school in
Louisiana whose name will not be mentioned here. Same case, same components,
only this time we ran criteria of cost benefit analysis. Their first argument,
making publishing companies switch to a universal format would put them in a
severe economic constraint. We argued that it would be the distribution center
and not the publishing companies who would incur the bulk of the costs. They
blatantly made it clear that a one time cost to change to a new electronic format
was by far more critical than the long term education of a blind child. When
asked for specific figures they declined comment. They totally brushed off my
partner's argument that in the status quo blind students are prevented from
competing on an equal level with their sighted counterparts. Their second error,
they referred to blind individuals as "mentally impaired." May we
think of it as a slip? Not when the term was thrown around more than once during
the same speech. Their only other argument that mattered was that there was
no precedence giving the government authority to interfere with private businesses
in any way. His specific words were: "I challenge the government to produce
a precedence with a case with which the precedence can be supported." Quite
frankly, I did not relish what I did, but desperate times call for desperate
measures, so in an eye blink a copy of the ADA was out of my briefcase and in
the hands of my partner who was due to deliver our closing arguments. As a case
in point we brought out the lawsuit against AOL, citing the federal government's
power to regulate the company in cases where it does not make its product accessible
for the blind. As we made our way out of the building my partner dropped her
own briefcase, threw her arms around my neck and through fits of laughter told
me of the shocked expression on the other team's faces when we firmly met and
accomplished their trivial challenge. The final decision on all three ballads?
Texas over Louisiana.
And so we finally arrive at the main point of this email, and that point is
that this weekend I was proud to have joined the NFB! Beside the selfish fact
that it provided me with a winning case, it felt great to be able to argue for
an important cause. Most importantly, I felt confident after having attended
Washington seminar to sway a lot of the misconceptions sighted people have assigned
to blind individuals. This was most evident in my own partner, who stood by
me and argued the case as though she herself was blind and was in desperate
need of these instructional materials. The overriding point here is that even
though this was just a debate competition, it goes a long way in showing just
how little importance the general public gives to the blind, that is until the
NFB takes the initiative to, as my TABS president put it, "pound the pavement
of Capital Hill," to make our needs known, to insist that our rights be
met, to demand the reinforcement of equality and in very short terms as it was
phrased at the Washington seminar, to change what it means to be blind.
Congratulations NFB, because although Abraham Lincoln said it was a journey of a thousand miles, at least we have taken the first step.
By Angela Howard
Editor's Introduction: Angela Howard is a long time Federationist and has served on the National Association of Blind Students Board for many years. Angela is now successfully employed, however her story is powerful for all students.
There is an art to making an ice cream cone. The cone must be placed directly
under the nozzle. As one hand holds down the lever, the hand holding the cone
should be slowly rotated in circles as the ice cream eases into the cone. To
finish with a fancy top, the lever should be released; and the cone should gently
be pulled straight down away from the nozzle.
I have known how to make a decent-looking ice-cream cone for about a year.
My pitiful looking cones were always a source of embarrassment for me when I
was eating out with my family or eating lunch in the college cafeteria with
my friends I would hold my cone under the nozzle, pull down the lever, and wait
for perfection. It never came. My ice cream would always land lopsided into
my cone and collapse like a fallen building. Most of the time I prayed that
no one would see me struggle with the do-it-yourself monster machine. I would
eat as much as I could before I returned to my seat hoping to eliminate the
evidence of my ineptness at making an ice-cream cone.
The task seemed simple enough. Put the cone under the nozzle; pull down, and
let the ice cream fill the cone. But, my thousands of attempts continued to
be unsuccessful. Often I wondered, "Is blindness the factor that makes
this chore so difficult for me?"
I asked a blind friend once if she knew any alternative techniques for making
a pretty cone. She sighed and said, "No, maybe this is just one of those
things that is easier to do when you can see." I reluctantly agreed and
continued to silently harbor my shame of being a terrible ice-cream cone maker.
One day, after returning to the cafeteria with my wilted, lopsided cone, I
asked a friend who had worked at Dairy Queen, "Is there a trick to making
a good cone, or is it that some people just don't have it in them to do it?"
"Making a nice looking ice-cream cone is a skill," she told me, "
and I can show you how to do it." She marched me up to the machine and
I had my first lesson in making a Dairy Queen cone. After some delicious efforts,
I began to produce ice-cream cones that I could carry to my dinner table with
pride. I doubt I will ever win the Dairy Queen award for best ice-cream cone
maker, but I have reached a level of acceptable proficiency in the skill.
Like most tasks in life, making an ice-cream cone is not a mystery, but a skill
that must be mastered. We are all blessed with different talents that make learning
certain skills easier for us to master than others are. However, we often fool
ourselves into believing that we are born with abilities and disabilities, which
make learning certain skills impossible. For blind people, this mental trap
is a constant threat. We often come to believe that blindness keeps us from
doing that thing we really want or need to do.
It is true that having sight often makes mastering a skill much easier. A sighted
person can often learn how to get a job done, simply by watching how the task
is performed. By merely observing the actions of others, sighted people often
learn how to do new things without even realizing that learning has take place.
The skill just seems to come naturally.
As blind people, however, learning a skill sometimes takes a little more effort.
We often have to ask questions. We sometimes need to be shown exactly how something
is done. And we use trial and error to figure out which method works best for
us. This additional effort is just part of the nuisance of being blind, and
it is a part of our lives we must accept.
The danger arises when both others and we assume that, because we do not have the advantage of learning a skill by simply watching others, we are not capable of performing the task. When I was a child, I had great difficulty learning how to scoop liquids with a ladle. I did not understand that the bottom of the ladle is not shaped like a spoon, but like a bowl. I would hold the ladle at a slant as if I were holding a large spoon, and naturally, the liquid would never end up where I wanted it to go.
When members of my family saw me struggle, they would hurry to my rescue and
scoop the liquid for me. They had the best of intentions, but they fell into
the trap of thinking that I could not perform the task because I am blind. A
member of the Federation finally taught me how to use a ladle properly. Her
explanation made sense, and I haven't had trouble using a ladle once I learned
I am sure that we all have stories like my struggle with the ladle. We all
at one time or another have been denied or have denied ourselves the opportunity
to learn how to do something new because of mistaken notions about blindness.
This mental trap continues to keep us from being all that we can be, and we
must work every day to prevent this from happening.
Of course, we cannot possibly learn every skill that exists, nor do most of
us want to do so. I hate computers, and at this point in my life; I openly admit
that I am perfectly willing to let my computer literate friends solve my computer
problems for me. People tell me that, like making ice-cream cones, to become
computer literate is a skill that can easily be mastered. I am forced to admit
that I have no desire to learn how to use computers efficiently, and there are
many other skills in this world I will never master. However, I must be cautious
not to blame my lack of information, my laziness, or pure lack of interest on
the fact that I am blind.
By Daphne Mitchell
Editor's Introduction: Daphne Mitchell has been involved with the NFB and
its student organizations on a state and national level for many years. She
currently serves as president of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students.
In this article, Daphne shares her journey to the federation and some of the
changes it has made on her life.
"To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance," Oscar Wild. These are the only words that can describe the emotions that I have when I think of the National Federation of the Blind, and what it has done for me. My parents have congenital glaucoma; therefore, one or more of their children were bound to inherit the eye disease. I have two older siblings; beside myself, one of them also has glaucoma.
As a child growing up, I considered myself to be "one of the lucky ones."
Who are the lucky ones? The lucky ones are those who have eye diseases, but
are FORTUNATE enough to have some residual vision. At least, that is what I
had been taught by teachers and family. However, I would not be a lucky one,
for too long. Thanksgiving break of 1994 I took a trip to the Tyler, Texas Zoo
that in hindsight, would effect the course of my life.
I earlier mentioned that my parents have glaucoma; for this, I have always
been grateful. As a child, there were two main reasons for this, (1) I was not
the only one in my family dealing with this situation and (2) I believed that
I would never be totally blind. As I grew older, those reasons changed.
Growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana during the 1980's was great. There was
always something to do, and Shreveport had an organization for blind youths
to socialize with one another. There was an array of kids with different backgrounds
and most importantly, everyone had some degree of blindness. I am eternally
grateful for that organization because it ensured that I never felt that there
was no one else in the world like me. Although that organization did and still
does great work for the blind youth community, it further fueled the growing
feeling of superiority that I felt over totally blind people. I became ever
more attached to the vision I was blessed to possess. I began to pity those
totally blind children who were guided, restricted, and overall treated as invalids
by the sighted leaders of the organization, and then the unexpected transpired.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday of 1994, I was on one of the many excursions
that the youth organization embarks upon each year when I was stung by a bee.
We remove the stinger, applied some ointment and continued on our tour of the
zoo; not giving the simple transaction another thought. With in the span of
two weeks, I had become totally blind. I was depressed, devastated, and frightened.
Before this allergic reaction took place, I had been a vibrant, active, energetic
and cheerful teenager. I now felt as if I had no identity and if there was an
extremely bleak, dismal, and uncertain future for me. Up until this point in
my life, I had only been exposed to a handful of totally blind individuals and
none of those people remotely resembled the way I envisioned myself to be.
However, the previous spring I had attended a student seminar in Ruston, Louisiana
for blind people. There I saw Blind students who used long white canes walking,
talking, dancing, and living confidently. I decided to contact the organization
that hosted that seminar, the Louisiana Association of Blind Students, to see
what information I could find about being a "normal" blind person.
I attended my first state convention the following spring and my life from then
The National Federation of the Blind has taught me many lessons over the years.
The most important of these lessons is that it is respectable to be blind. I
was once ashamed and hated the fact that I am blind. Today I know that my self
worth is not compromised in any way by my blindness. I also now know the truth
about blindness and consider myself to be one of the true lucky ones to have
found the NFB.
I am currently a junior at a state university and no longer see the bleak,
dismal, and uncertain future that I felt I was destined for only seven years
ago. Due to the training, philosophy, and self-confidence I have gained from
the National Federation of the Blind, I now know that I truly am a lucky one.
I have been fortunate to help my parents find the truth about blindness, and
now in their own way they help to destroy the myths and misconceptions of blindness
every day. This past summer I was blessed to work for the Buddy program in Ruston,
Louisiana, one of the Federation's summer programs. I hope that through the
examples, skills, and philosophy that the staff and I were able to give our
students, they too, at a young age, will see that they too are lucky ones.
By Dan Burke
Editor's Introduction: This article appeared in the December 2001 issue of The Braille Monitor. Dan Burke is a former vocational rehabilitation counselor and a disability services coordinator at the University of Montana. He knows firsthand the problems inherent in universities that make print access a challenge to blind students. Here, he shares some words of wisdom and provides some sound advice to students.
I am passionate about access to print, about getting what I want from the vast
store of published instructional, cultural, and entertainment material. Today
the tools available to us are more powerful than at any time in history. More
than ever before, blind readers can read what we need or want, independently
and in a timely way. For college and in our later professional lives this affords
exciting opportunities to those ready to take advantage of them. But this is
not a time to be passive.
Rather there has never been a time for being passive. Many of the technological
advances that benefit blind people bear the stamp of the National Federation
of the Blind. Either they were ideas the NFB decided to support in the research
stage, ideas we asked someone to develop, or innovations of friends of the NFB;
and not surprisingly, blind engineers, programmers, and others have done the
When I was about to enter college in the previous millennium, I was neither
aware of the NFB nor interested in being blind. In my final semester of high
school, a teacher who worked with blind kids came out of nowhere and told me
that I couldn't read to myself as fast as most people could read out loud and
that most people could read to themselves quite a bit faster than they could
News flash: If I didn't try something different, I would not be able to keep up with the college reading requirements! In college reading turned out to be a lot more important than it had been in high school-not just because far more is assigned in college, but because the reading is much more demanding. By contrast, in high school I was able to slide by without reading much of anything, drawing on the strength of my earlier years before print became almost unmanageable.
How about you? Can you keep up as a blind student without access to print or
in spite of low vision? Are you as I was at seventeen, able to read but unable
to get far enough fast enough, or just not getting enough out of the text despite
a lot of reading time? Do you find yourself feeling physically exhausted by
the sheer effort of reading-even with a CCTV? Do you employ my most typical
strategy: if I couldn't get the book on tape, I blew off the reading and made
sure I went to class every day, hoping to make it through on the strength of
the lecture notes I took? How will you manage reading tests?
Here are some startling facts that students who talk to me have heard over
and over again: average college students read at 200 to 300 words per minute-and
they understand what they read. The average speaking rate, the speed at which
most people read out loud, is between 100 and 120 words per minute. Compare
your reading speed with this: Can you read at least as fast as the normal speaking
rate? Can you do it with comprehension?
What does this mean? It means that if you can read no faster than the average
speaking rate, reading assignments will take you twice as long as most of your
classmates need. If you can't read even as fast as the normal speaking rate,
you are simply not competitive. If you need to reread the material or test questions
because the sheer effort of reading, even with magnification, makes comprehension
difficult the first time, you are that much further behind your classmates.
Scared? Good, you should be.
When I was a freshman in college, I started using recorded texts from Recording
for the Blind (now Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic). Not all the books
I needed were available; not always were the correct editions completed in time.
Not always were the recorded texts worth the bother because of interminable
and useless descriptions of graphs or illustrations or because the professor
jumped around in the book, and trying to find the beginning of the right chapters
on 4-track cassettes was laborious and time-consuming. (Actually, when I first
started college, not long after the end of the Vietnam War, RFB was still issuing
recordings on 4-track, reel-to-reel tapes. Now they are rapidly converting to
the Daisy CD-ROM format.)
Don't misunderstand me-books on tape made a huge difference in my academic
confidence and my grades. My point here is that RFB and D did not create a seamless,
foolproof solution for me. They can't. In fact, nobody can. In any given year
only about one in ten newly published books finds its way into recorded formats.
So, even if RFB and D recorded several thousand titles each year, you won't
be able to find everything you need or want.
Before I left for college, my vocational rehabilitation counselor for the blind
decided that I didn't need help buying books since I could get free ones on
tape. He told me to ask for volunteers to read any books I couldn't get from
RFB. In other words he instructed me to do the tin-cup routine. I asked for
volunteer readers for some of the material I couldn't get, but I have to be
honest: I felt ashamed doing it, and before long I dropped the effort. So for
most of the courses in which I couldn't get the books, I either dropped the
course or bluffed my way through without the benefit of doing the reading.
Sound familiar to some of you? As a DSS coordinator I often encounter students
who have vision so impaired that they can't get a driver's license but who are
not using any alternative reading strategies. They are always behind. They feel
frustrated with school and with themselves because they aren't as successful
as they would like to be. They think they should or could be doing better. They
feel ashamed of themselves. And the truth is that they probably could be doing
Yet they have been equally embarrassed about employing more effective methods
of reading. Often these students are already eligible for RFB and D. Maybe they
tried it and were frustrated. Maybe they get the books they can on tape and
struggle or fake their way through the rest of the reading. You know who you
are. Ask yourself now: Doesn't it make sense to use any legitimate means you
can to be as successful in school and later in your career as your natural talents
What about all of you who have found yourselves in the second, third, or fourth
week of classes, still trying to get your textbooks in an accessible format?
Don't you deserve an equal chance to succeed? Here are your choices for accessing print. And, man, choices are everything in life!
Braille is an essential tool. It is the best medium for reading and writing-especially
for taking notes on a Braille notetaker. How much you can see is irrelevant.
Note taking is an essential part of learning since it requires immediate comprehension
and synthesis of information and is a multi-sensory function-the best kind of
learning mode. Taking one's own notes is critical to success. Even so students
may be tempted to use a tape recorder for lectures or rely on a note-taker in
class because they don't know Braille well enough to keep up. Tape-recording
lectures necessitates transcribing notes later, using a computer for example.
This in turn requires listening to the lecture another time, which on the face
of it seems like an advantage. But, since the temptation is to pause the tape
while typing, taking notes this way can take up to twice as long as the original
class period. This quickly becomes unwieldy in time management, and students
using this practice can seldom take a full course load, stretching their college
career and expenses to an unnecessary length.
Imagine telling your future employer or clients that you will need to type
up your meeting notes before you can respond to a question or take any action.
What are the chances either will want to pay for this inefficient use of their
time? Getting notes from someone else in class presents the difficulty of converting
them to a format you can use or reading them on a CCTV. Even if you can read
someone else's handwriting and understand the shorthand, you have created an
indirect, delayed means of learning. And again, how willing will co-workers
or clients be to take your notes for you? And how will you be able to respond
in a timely fashion if you must wait to render someone else's notes readable?
In short, why use ineffective, inefficient means when you can learn to take
notes for yourself?
Laptops are better but present the difficulty of keeping your battery charged
or locating a nearby outlet. Conservatively a Braille notetaker's battery can
function ten times longer than any laptop's. In addition, any electronic file
can be converted to Braille on a Braille display or read by the voice function
in your notetaker. This can be done in one or a few steps, and text files can
be translated into Braille internally for editing. Learn it and use it. Even
if your Braille-reading speed isn't great at the outset, it will improve with
Readers are the next most important tool for managing print access efficiently.
Books on tape can fill a lot of your access needs, but not all, so learning
to manage print with a reader is a critical tool for many types of material.
(I suggest reading Peggy Elliott's article "On the Care and Feeding of
Readers" in the May, 1993, issue of the Braille Monitor. It is excellent,
so there's no reason to plow that ground again.)
Recorded books from existing libraries for blind users are a big help. Recording
for the Blind and Dyslexic has been around for more than half a century, focusing
exclusively on textbooks, mostly for college course work. It has a huge library
and constantly records new titles or editions of existing titles using its network
of recording studios' volunteer readers. RFB and D is currently converting many
titles to digital formats and recording new titles digitally too. The National
Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) serves a more
general reading audience, much like a public library. But it contains books
on tape or in Braille that find their way into college reading lists as well-particularly
in literature, history, and the arts. It is often helpful to check both sources
Sighted students often highlight important passages in their books, and a few
take notes on the reading. Taking notes from recorded texts is a good idea,
but here is where you will encounter the chief disadvantage of recorded books-you
can't always get the true structure of a sentence or paragraph from a recording
if you need to copy a quote. Not all books are on tape either, and not all subject
matter renders well in a recorded format. Still recorded texts are far too important
a source to ignore.
Graphics printers are increasingly effective for rendering maps, math, and
complicated diagrams and graphs. If you have access to such technology or materials,
your competitive equality is literally at your fingertips.
Screen-reading software for computer use is also critical. Nowhere in your
community will you be able to find a business that doesn't now employ a personal
computer, and you can't get through college without using one if you want to
be competitive. Our university, for example, is considering a computer-proficiency
standard for entry into upper-division course work. That's how important personal
computers and information management have become to intellectual and commercial
communications. Turn it to your advantage.
Screen readers are software components that function within your operating
environment and render much of what appears on the screen into synthesized speech
using your sound card or into Braille on a Braille display. Some Braille notetakers
can do double duty as both stand-alone notetaker and Braille-output device for
a screen reader. Screen readers give you all the capabilities of writing, reading,
and editing documents and e-mail using standard office software bundles. They
make spreadsheets, databases, and Web browsers accessible. As operating environments
have evolved, so have screen readers. Thus they are the most versatile tool
for use with personal computers.
Along with your screen reader, seriously consider a scan-and-read package that
will convert print to readable electronic text, making your access to those
materials a more independent function. This makes it possible to get timely
access to hard-to-obtain materials, such as library books, class handouts, etc.
If you like, you can scan much of your assigned class reading, though this may
be difficult with some texts. Still scan-and-read packages give you tremendous
flexibility and independence.
The Web is not the tool of the future; it is the tool for today. The Web is
a powerful resource for access to information. With your screen reader almost
anything on the Web, including electronic library databases and electronically
stored library files, can be your independent domain. The Web has many powerful
global search engines, and both RFB and D and NLS have excellent search engines
for their catalogs of books on tape and Braille. In addition to the many resources
of text files on the Web, you can also obtain formatted electronic Braille files,
which can be read with a Braille display or in a Braille notetaker. These files
are available from the National Library Service for the Blind and from some
independent sources as well. Also a new service is under development that will
allow members to share files they've scanned into text or in electronic Braille
files. (See the article by Peter Scialli in the November, 2001, issue of the
If the school you attend has document-conversion capabilities, you can have
much of what you need converted into usable files. This includes materials you
need for research projects.
For math and science courses such as chemistry and physics there are an increasing
number of audible graphing calculators. Some are portable, hand-held models,
and there is at least one software-based calculator as well.
The Role of Vocational Rehabilitation: Your VR counselor for the blind can
potentially pay for any or all of these services or equipment. RFB and D, for
example, requires a membership fee. VR can pay for these fees, as well as purchase
the screen readers, Braille notetakers, and more, which are necessary for your
educational and professional use-not to mention covering tuition and books.
The NFB has long advocated reliance on your VR plan to pay for equipment and
readers, while recommending minimal reliance on disability services offices
at colleges and universities. We have a couple of good reasons for this advice.
First, logically your VR counselor for the blind knows a lot more about blindness
than most DSS professionals, who work in the broader area of disability. Disability
services professionals are often unsure what to do with blind students, and
this uncertainty is too often fed by the stereotypes and negative assumptions
about blindness that the NFB works tirelessly to change.
Second, while there are a handful of excellent programs serving blind college
students, too many crave dependence from blind students, and others are absurdly
restrictive about the use of their services. For example, a student told me
recently that his former college provided readers but only at the DSS office
during standard working hours-from eight to five. Another university legend
is of a school that prohibits its readers from rereading any portion of the
students' text-so you better get it all the first time through!
The result of these practices is to leave the blind student with hand outstretched
in order to get what he or she needs from the DSS office-in effect a supplicant
or victim. That's not what the NFB advocates, nor is it what the authors of
the Americans with Disabilities Act had in mind. Neither is it a good preparation
for the real world of successful professional advancement. On the contrary it's
a ticket to well-educated unemployment, and it should then not be any surprise
that the ADA has had almost no impact on unemployment rates among people with
disabilities in general. It's not a bad law, but it is too often bent to fit
some model of disability not grounded in the principles of equality, competence,
and independence. The ADA and the civil rights it promises strongly imply the
necessity of taking an active role in achieving equal access. For blind people
there is simply no other effective or respectable way.
The NFB, on the other hand, boasts hundreds of highly successful professionals-lawyers,
doctors, scientists, and more. Their success derives from taking their educations
and careers into their own hands-not by holding them out in supplication.
Working successfully with your VR counselor will be easier if you know where
you want to go and what it will take to get you there. VR law requires that
counselors use "comparable benefits" wherever possible. This means
that your counselor will want to consider services from your college's DSS office
as things someone else can pay for, and therefore something he or she won't
want to pay for. But VR law also contains provisions for "client choice,"
and you should feel free to insist on the means that give you the most control,
independence, and flexibility.
Don't hesitate to remind your counselor that these are the skills and characteristics that will serve you best when it comes time to go to work-which is the whole point of VR. Remember also that you have the right to disagree with your counselor and appeal any decision not in your best interest. Call the National Center for the Blind or your state affiliate President if you need ideas or information. Your state's Client Assistance Program will also assist you if you ask it. Keep in mind, though, that you may need to teach the truth about blindness to the CAP representative assigned to advocate for you. In any case, if you want to understand more about CAP and your rights, ask your counselor for the Client Assistance phone number. (Sometimes asking that question alone brings a certain amount of enlightenment.)
Here are the three cardinal rules for success in college:
* Maximize your independent learning.
Always remember that you are preparing for a career, in which you will be expected to work independently in order to be a success. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't employ readers, for example; it simply means that you have to be in charge.
* Plan ahead.
You have to be organized well in advance. Don't expect others to organize everything for you at the last minute in the heat of the rush. This isn't a magic show, you know. Your goal should be either to have all your textbooks in an alternate format or to have your readers hired and scheduled by the first day of class.
* Be eclectic
You will undoubtedly need to employ a collection of effective strategies because no single one or two will work in every situation, for every textbook, or in every class. In other words, don't put all your eggs in one unstable basket. Be flexible.
Here is some advice I give students at my institution. With some adjustments for your own preferences and situation, it might prove helpful:
After pre-registration, go to the bookstore and write down the titles, authors,
editions, and ISBN numbers of all your books that have been ordered thus far.
Faculty don't always order early, but enough do to get a head start.
For those texts, which haven't been ordered, try contacting the professor or
department to see if they have already selected the books, and gather the same
information on those texts as well. This information is what you will use to
search for the texts in a recorded format. You can do this on the Web (remember,
it's a good idea to check both RFB and D's database and the NLS databases),
or call RFB and D's toll-free number. If you find the titles, you can order
them using the appropriate shelf numbers by calling or e-mailing RFB and D.
Do this right away. Titles in the NLS collection are ordered through the regional
network library in your state. You can order the books, which are already available,
and you'll have them in time for the first day of class.
Now the easy part is done. For the books that aren't available, you now have
to make some decisions. RFB and D can record them for you if you buy two copies
and send them to Princeton, New Jersey. They will reimburse you for one and
return the second when recording is complete, but you won't have the book until
they're done. So ask how long recording will take-you want to make sure it will
be ready in time for the semester. It will be sent out in installments as each
cassette is completed, so you need to know the projected completion date to
determine if you have the time to wait for your copy of the print book to be
returned. I wouldn't go this route myself unless I had at least a year's lead
time, and the book couldn't be scanned easily. In other words, it's rarely a
workable solution in the time crunches in which we usually find ourselves.
Next, there is the option of e-text-you can look for some things such as literature
and history on the Web. Many Web-based repositories contain only titles for
which all copyright claims have expired, so you may not find many recent titles
or editions. Your professor may or may not recommend their use, so it's a good
idea to double-check to ensure that you have found a suitable edition or translation.
Some of the many Web resources of electronic text include the On-line Books
Page, the Gutenberg Project, and the International Electronic Braille Library.
A new Web-based exchange, bookshare.org, may prove useful as well. Bookshare.org
permits members to share books they have scanned for their own use, allowing
us to share the benefit of the work we put into making print accessible for
Some colleges, like the one where I work, convert documents into e-text, so
that is what I tell students their next choice should be. They must buy the
book and bring it to us at DSS. If they can get a syllabus this early, we will
produce the e-text by following the assignments in the order that they will
be read for the class. But if we get the book early enough to have time to prepare
it, the syllabus may not be available. But that's OK-with enough of a head start
we may be able to do the entire book before classes begin.
E-text, as you may have guessed, must be read with a computer equipped with
a screen reader, scan-and-read software, a Braille notetaker, or a nifty little
device known as the Road Runner.
Planning in the case of a system like ours is even more critical. If you bring
your books in at the start of the term, you will be in the production queue
with all the other Last-Minute Charlies, getting your e-text files every week
or two, just in time to get them read for your classes. And since there is always
a delay in getting production rolling, you will begin by being behind by a week
or two. Of course, if you have your own scan-and-read package, you can take
care of the scanning yourself as the term progresses. Again, if you're scanning
your own books, the syllabus is helpful to ensure that you put your time into
the work you will be required to read so that you can have it done at the right
time. This may give you more flexibility-not to mention independence.
In our production-oriented environment at Montana, it just isn't practical
to convert some books into e-text because they have too many formulas, equations,
illustrations, or other problems, such as color shading on pages. These things
do not permit clean scans, or they make editing of converted documents too time-consuming.
In these cases it may be necessary to use readers, ideally sitting with you
while they read. (Again see Peggy Elliott's excellent article in the May, 1993,
issue of the Braille Monitor.) Taping is also an option for your reader,
but you can't ever go back and ask a tape to repeat a mispronounced word or
to spell it for you. Sometimes, though, having someone tape a book may be necessary
for a variety of reasons.
Math, on the contrary, is almost useless on tape. Sitting with a reader allows
the student to ask for clarification, rereading portions as necessary. Of course,
using Braille or Nemeth code for math rather than a reader is a better approach.
This is a good place to look at talking calculators and tactile graphs-all of
which make learning more immediate than simply having a reader try to describe
what's on the page.
Since we don't live in a perfect world, you will find that some professors
order their books quite late. In fact, they don't even pick the books till close
to the start of the semester. And some books, though ordered in plenty of time,
aren't in the bookstore until just before the semester starts, and you can't
begin scanning in advance. In this case-and it will happen-similar steps should
be followed, in an accelerated fashion. As soon as you can get the titles, check
to see if RFB and D has them, and order what you can. It probably won't be useful
to have RFB and D record them now-you'll never get the tapes in time. So students
University of Montana bring unavailable books to DSS to see about e-text. In
such cases the syllabus is critically important since we are obviously busiest
at the start of each semester.
If using a reader is the best way to go, get one lined up as quickly as possible-maybe work something out in advance with your readers from the previous semester. This is an area in which having your VR counselor pay for readers is helpful because it gives you the flexibility to make all the necessary arrangements before the start of classes-something no DSS office can promise in every case or for every term.
All this seems like a lot of work, and frankly it is. But you have every right to give yourself the best opportunity to be successful. That takes some planning, some skill, and some determination, but it saves you the sweat of playing catch-up all the time. That's what the NFB advocates, and in essence that's what civil rights mean. In the final analysis, taking access-to-print seriously is an essential part of being a successful student and professional. It means being passionate!
By Nicole Ditzler
Editor's introduction: Nicole Ditzler is a member of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students and has a powerful story to tell about her first experience with the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what she has to say:
It was a Friday afternoon. My classes were over. My bags were packed. And
I had made certain to bring along with me the folding cane, which had been stuffed,
in my closet for nearly six months. I was about to fly to Washington D.C., the
farthest distance I had ever been from home, with Stacey Cervenka, a girl I
had met at the beginning of the school year. I had not thought much about where
I was going, or what I would encounter there for that matter. I had not taken
the time to think about this trip. But as we headed to the massive two gated
airport in Fargo, North Dakota, her confidence in traveling made me realize
that I was in for something I had never imagined when I decided to go on this
It was obvious to me that my first experience with other blind people would
make a tremendous difference in my life. Our arrival that night sent out a clear
message without a single word being uttered. As we approached the front desk
and obtained our keys, I knew I was entering into a different world when the
woman behind the desk handed mea Brailled card for a free dessert. My lack of
experience with blindness turned my world upside down. Immediately I had to
swallow my pride and allow someone to assist me-something I did not feel comfortable
accepting. Throughout my trip to Washington, I found myself accepting assistance
for the first time in my life. That night and the next day were completely overwhelming
for me. I met many blind people who had competence in the alternative techniques
of blindness. They impressed me with their ability to use Braille and travel
confidently. During the student seminar I had the opportunity to hear how they
had successfully adjusted to their blindness and it seemed that they were speaking
directly to me. I encountered people who were challenging me to be independent,
to stand up for my abilities and myself. I realized that the way I was living:
lacking travel skills; needing to learn Braille; and living fearfully every
day were things I needed to change. The speakers messages challenged me, but
much more challenging was the subway trip I took with my blind friends who had
to lead me most of the way, even though they had less sight than I. As a result
of this new experience with blindness, I realized some important things about
myself. First, I was scared to go with my friends and enjoy myself, not because
I didn't trust them, but because I didn't trust myself and my own skills as
a blind person. Secondly, I needed to accept myself as a blind person and accept
the fact that I could not see. Once accepting this limitation, I realized that
I needed to use my cane and trust my own ability to travel without assistance
since I hated relying on others. Lastly I learned I could do it. I watched these
blind people functioning independently and I wanted to be like them, and their
examples showed me that it was possible.
All of this learning and self realization did not come without a price. The
second night of the conference I talked with Joanne Wilson, bawling my eyes
out and pouring my heart out telling her my frustrations. Talking that night
offered me a new understanding of how to live as an independent blind person.
I was able to see that my feelings were valid and that I was not alone. After
sharing my feelings with her, I was able to come to an understanding of what
it would take for me to gain the independence that I witnessed in the people
I had met that weekend. As the weekend continued,
I realized I would need to adopt a more positive attitude, one that seemed
to be surfacing on its own as the weekend progressed. Furthermore, I began planning
for the next steps to take in order to become what I was meant to be - a fully
independent and strong woman, living life to her fullest without fear.
By the third day, I was gaining more confidence and learning to relax because
I realized that I was moving in the right direction. Through this continuing
experience with independent blind people, my spirits lifted and I started to
have fun. I knew I had found a home, and I resolved within myself to become
more active In the NFB and the National Association of Blind Students. I realized
what I had been missing for so many years, and I strongly desired a more active
social life. These feelings were confirmed when I sat next to Thomas Philip
on the flight home, and he talked with me at length about the Federation philosophy
and how it had changed his life.
After talking with Thomas On the flight home, I decided to talk with my fiancé
about my new perspective of blindness and begin to teach my college friends
the real message of blindness. In addition to these decisions, I also thought
about the impact of the weekend's experiences and the dynamic people I had met.
In truth, I did not fully understand the importance of affiliating with the
NFB while I was attending the conference. After I returned home and put the
things I had learned into action, or even now, I believe that understanding
and fully recognizing the importance of this community of people is a lifelong
task. In one weekend I made friends who allowed me to express my frustrations
and offer sound advice that would change my life for many years to come. Since
leaving the conference, I have communicated with these newfound friends who
continue to mentor me and give me the strength I need to achieve my goals. What
I do understand is that having a community of fellow blind people around me
has given and will continue to give me, a strong base with which to face and
embrace life as a blind person. It gives me encouragement to face hardships,
which undoubtedly may be more difficult for us than for others, wisdom to realize
that while those things are more difficult, they are never impossible, and the
strength to pursue the passions we hold.
The most powerful memory I have of the Washington Seminar was meeting a young
boy, no more than six years old, attending the conference with his father. Seeing
that young boy, as a twenty year old woman finally coming to terms with my own
blindness, in one moment summed up the importance of involvement in a blind
community. That boy will grow up with the knowledge that he is capable of everything
his peers are, that he has the right to, and that he will thrive throughout
life with a community of blind people who are role models. I am thankful to
have found that same community and to have been accepted as a part of it. The
impact it had on my life was priceless, setting so many things into motion,
and pushing me to a greater freedom and quality of life.
My ability was augmented that weekend, by the mere change in attitude that occurred while I was there. A few weeks later, I was forced to admit that The NFB has in part given me the strength to change the way I live. While I do not have all the skills I need, and while I am still scared of many things, I am facing them one at a time. My ability to discern the things I need to do and the wisdom to recognize how to do them increases daily with the help of those who have shared their thoughts, goals, and accomplishments with me. Before Washington Seminar, my friend Stacy told me that in a short time I would gain a family I never knew I had, and she was right. As I returned to Fargo and jumped into college life again, I realized that I have a new home, a new family full of support, love, and encouragement. And as with every good family, every once in a while I now have someone to whip me back into shape when I'm getting out of line or allowing myself to settle for less than I am capable of doing. Now, before someone tries to take me up on that whipping into shape part, the folding cane I used in Washington Seminar has been retired and I have been faithfully using the rigid cane I purchased that weekend.
By Robin L. House
Editor's Introduction: Robin is a newly elected board member of NABS. She is also the President of the Missouri Association of Blind Students and is very involved in her affiliate in Missouri. Here she writes about many different and important kinds of student involvement.
The life of an average college student is filled with writing papers, reading
books, researching information, and attending classes. College would be pretty
dull if this was it. In addition to the demands of classes, many students are
sustaining relationships, preparing meals and housekeeping duties, dealing with
family obligations, and other personal responsibilities. It can be both a fun
and stressful period in a person's life. There is pressure to get good grades,
cooperate with new people, and manage the many freedoms that accompany college
life. And if this all wasn't enough, it changes from semester to semester. Transitions
and changes come with the territory. A college student must be able to move
outside their comfort zone.
I learned a long time ago the importance of being involved in extracurricular
school activities. At first it was difficult for me because I was quiet and
shy. I learned that if you are quiet you won't get anything you want or need.
I worked on becoming more outgoing and assertive. My friends, playing soccer,
and editing the school newspaper got me through high school. In college I had
a paid job as the copy editor of the campus newspaper. I had internships with
radio station KWMU and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
No matter what you are doing right now, you need to take a look at what you
could be doing on your college campus for yourself and the betterment of the
There are many reasons to become involved on your college campus in any way
that you see best for you. It may be with a fraternity or sorority. Perhaps
it might be athletics, student government, or an internship. What ever you choose
it will give you good experiences, which you can use on your resume. It will
also help you meet other people. And when the stress levels intensify, it will
give you the support you need to hang in there until the end-graduation.
How to find what is right for you? First, what are your interests and strengths?
What field of study are you interested in pursuing? Them. Talk to other students
in your classes, dorm or in the library. Check with college professors for opportunities.
Check out the campus newspaper. The possibilities are almost endless. If you
look you will find something that is right for you. (Disclaimer: Try not to
overextend yourself. Balance is the key here.)
Working for the federation cause with other blind students is another way to
get involved. For example, in St. Louis at the University of Missouri St. Louis
a group of us were members of the Missouri Association of Blind Students. One
of our members wanted to get the Coke machines labeled in Braille. He could
not make any progress with the University administration. We devised a plan
to make the labels ourselves. The University agreed and bought the supplies,
breakfast, and lunch. A group of six of us labeled over 700 labels. Now all
the machines on both campuses are labeled in Braille.
Then we held a scholarship seminar where we invited other students and distributed
NFB of Missouri and NFB National scholarship applications in November. During
Disability Awareness Week we put together a display on Blindness. There was
a simulation of finding information using a cassette recorder. The Society of
the Blind brought goggles which simulated different eye conditions. We distributed
cards with the Braille alphabet. We worked together to give students the right
to select and train readers of their choosing. We are not finished. There is
more work to do on our campus. Our goal is to make it better for current and
future blind students.
It is important for students to become active participants on their college
campuses. Whether you pledge a fraternity or sorority, find an internship, get
a job or begin working with other blind students, you will help your campus
to be a better place. Keep those grades up and learn as much as you can. A higher
education is an avenue for you to achieve your goals and dreams. As you can
see, there's more to college life than classes. Get involved!
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