From the President
by Angela Wolf
A Glimpse of Freedom
by Rachel Black
Fraternity Life: A Blind Perspective
by Mike Mello
The Road To Realization
by Jason Ewell
Audio Described Theater
by Matt Lyles
Standing Tall Before the Librarian: A Dignified Discussion of Individual vs.
Institutional Memberships to RFB&D
by Jim Marks
Why I am a Federationist: A Partial’s Perspective
by Meleah Jensen
“Daredevil” Review has the Blind All Wrong
by Melanie Peskoe
A Storybook Approach to Local Involvement
by Ryan Strunk
From the President
by Angela Wolf
As the spring semester comes to a close and the summer quickly rounds the corner, I hope this letter finds you well and ready to find refuge in all of the possibilities that summer holds. To those who have just graduated from high school or college, congratulations and best of luck as you embark on the next phase of your life. To those of you who have been eagerly awaiting a well-deserved break before beginning another year of school, relax and enjoy yourself for the next couple of months.
Many of our local student divisions have been busy over the past year, organizing and building their divisions. Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Hawaii all establish new student divisions, and Kentucky has been working to reorganize their division. We are glad to announce such growth in NABS, but also among our state affiliates. As students begin to take an active role in the organized blind movement, they do not only participate within the student organization, they participate in local chapters and in the state affiliates, as well. By working with and as a part of the state affiliates, we can continue to piece together the bigger picture.
As many of you know, thousands of Federationists will soon be gathering in Louisville, Kentucky for the NFB national convention. The National Association of Blind students will be holding its annual student division meeting on Sunday, June 29 from 7:00 to 10:00 P.M. The seminar promises to be filled with excellent information and an all around good time! In addition, NABS will be hosting Monte Carlo Night on Wednesday, July 2, beginning at 8:00 P.M. All kinds of card games are played and there is money to be won! So, put on your poker face and come support the student division!
NABS held its annual student seminar and auction in February, in conjunction with the NFB’s Washington Seminar. The seminar proved to be a great success and we sold more banquet tickets than ever before. Carla McQuillan and Dr. Fred Schroeder delivered outstanding addresses at the seminar and banquet, respectively, and NABS was able to raise enough money during the auction to be able to assist several first-time students to convention this year. We thank all of you who came and participated in all of the student activities in D.C., and we look forward to seeing you there again next year!
In this issue of The Student Slate, you will find articles on a variety of topics, including being involved in a college fraternity, participating in and learning from a training center experience, and getting involved in the NFB on a local level. I would like to thank Kimberly Aguillard, Secretary of NABS, for assisting in the editing process for this issue, and I hope you enjoy what you find in this Spring/Summer 2003 edition of The Student Slate. If you are interested in writing an article for a future issue, please contact me via e-mail or phone. The Slate, in addition to our student list serve, is an excellent way to stay connected throughout the year with NABS and students from across the country. I look forward to seeing you at convention, on the list serve, or in the next issue of The Student Slate!
A Glimpse Of Freedom
by Rachel Black
Editor’s Introduction: In this article, we hear about the valuable training experience gained at a NFB training center. Rachel Black shares her experiences, emotions, and her journey to independence. Here is what Rachel has to say about her time at the Colorado Center for the Blind.
"So, Rachel, what are your plans after you graduate?" I had been asked that question so many times before I had graduated from high school and I was tired of it. I already had goals for myself, and knew what I wanted to do. My goal was, and still is, to be a teacher of blind children. I am determined that nothing is going to stop me and I will persevere until my goal has been achieved. Yet, because I am blind, there are many people who did not, and still do not, believe that I can do what I dream of doing. They do not believe in the capabilities of blind people. One vision teacher said to me one day, "Rachel, I don't know how you're going to do it. I know you'll be a failure!" Needless to say, I had very low self-esteem because of this and similar other comments made to me. I'm sorry to say that I started to believe that I could not accomplish my goals and dreams.
Then, I had the good fortune of being introduced to members of the National Federation of the Blind. When I first came into contact with the organization, I was not immediately impressed. I did not like people telling me what to do, or at least that was my perception at the time. I already knew what I was going to do. I was going to attend the summer youth program at the Colorado Center for the Blind and then go on to a community college in the fall. The advice members gave me was great advice, but being the stubborn teenager that I am, I did not listen. One member recommended that I do a full-time program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. This was not my plan, so I did not want to even think about it. Looking back, I realize that this individual was right. I needed training in the skills of blindness. I have learned that it doesn't just take someone saying a blind person needs more training, but the blind person needs to discover that fact for him/herself. I, for one, am very glad I did.
It was almost three weeks before the summer program was to end, and I started thinking about my future. I realized that there was so much that I didn't know how to do. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I was going to go into the blindness field, but did not have the skills and confidence to teach other blind people, then I had no business considering teaching. I no longer wanted to limit myself. I wanted to gain the independence I needed to travel freely. I had a glimpse of freedom, and I wanted more of it badly!
I sat down with the director of the Colorado Center for the Blind and discussed the possibility of attending the Center as a full-time student in the Independence Training Program. She was excited that I wanted to attend and that very day we had a staffing to discuss this with my vocational rehabilitation counselor. Nine weeks later I was back!
I have now graduated from the Independence Training Program at the Center. Things were not easy for me, but by the time my program was over, I had gained the skills, and more importantly, the confidence to succeed. Now, as I pursue my post-secondary career in the area of elementary education at Arizona State University, I know that I have the skills, but most importantly, the belief in myself to succeed in my college endeavors.
I strongly believe in what the Louisiana Center for the Blind, the Colorado
Center for the Blind, BLIND, Incorporated, and all Federationists around the
country are doing. Let us all work together (whether it be at work, at home,
in our classrooms, or out in our communities) to truly change what it means
to be blind!!!
Fraternity Life: A Blind Perspective
by Mike Mello
Editor’s Introduction: Michael Mello has been involved with the NFB for several years. He recently helped to organize the state student division in Idaho and currently serves as president. In this article, Mike illustrates the power of the Federation and how this movement gives the extra push we all need sometimes to try new things and get involved in the community. Here is what Mike has to say about his introduction and participation in Greek life.
Before I decided to join or “rush” the Greek system at the University of Idaho I had no idea what living in a fraternity actually meant. In fact, my knowledge of Greek life consisted of what I had seen in the movie Animal House. On top of my misconceptions about what Greek life was, I had no idea how I, as a blind person, would fit in and if I could be a contributing member of the Fraternity. Until I became active in the National Federation of the Blind, I had never met anyone who was blind and had rushed a fraternity.
When I arrived on campus three years ago, to say I was scared would have been an understatement. I was uncertain about my living situation, and of course, I was concerned for my scholastic future and my life as a blind college student, in general. This is where my affiliation with the National Association of Blind Students was a huge benefit and source of encouragement. Through our student division I met blind college students living their dreams and actively participating in every capacity on their college campuses.
In all Greek systems the process for recruitment is different. Here, at the University of Idaho, we have a three-day rush period where the prospective pledges move from house to house, meet the members and tour the chapter houses. Then when the prospective pledge decides and the fraternity extends a bid they can move in to the house. When I got to campus I did not want to be left out of this process nor did I want my prospective houses to think I was incapable of traveling from house to house or that I was unable to do things for my self. So, I asked quite a few questions and got lost numerous times, but I went thru all the houses just like every other student rushing and had no real problems.
In my house Pledges are required to complete a rigorous development program, which is designed to build the new pledges in to strong fraternal members. Pledges have many chores they must do and at first I had to prove I could pull my weight. Being initiated in to the chapter was very special to me, especially because I had to work hard to complete the tasks associated with initiation and overcome many challenges along the way--the most significant being the preconceptions that my fraternity brothers had about blindness. Most of the pledges and other fraternity members had never met a blind person before and were unsure about what I could and could not do. I was proud to become part of the fraternity, and I was proud that I had managed to change some attitudes about blindness in the process.
Joining a Greek organization has been one of the best things I have done while
in college. Not only do I have the support of a tight-knit organization, I have
also gained countless new friends and had many experiences I would not have
been able to be a part of had I not been a member of Kappa Sigma. Also, through
each experience I continue to build my confidence, and contribute to my community
and my campus. So if you are a blind student just starting college or a student
that is looking for a change I encourage you to go Greek!
The Road To Realization
by Jason Ewell
Editor’s Introduction: Jason Ewell is the First Vice President of the National Association of Blind Students. He has been coordinating the NFB Corps, an organizing effort to help strengthen state and local affiliates of the NFB. Along the way, Jason and the other NFB Corps members have a chance to meet a myriad of blind individuals with a variety of backgrounds. Unfortunately, there are many blind people who have never been told that blindness can be reduced to an inconvenience and live their lives without skills or a positive philosophy. In this speech, given at this year’s student seminar in Washington, D.C., Jason discusses how sometimes we, as Federationists, take such things for granted. Here is what he has to say about his realization.
Blind people are unimportant. That is what a majority of people out there in the world think. Most of them have good will toward us, though they often lack confidence in our abilities, but they do not spend much of their time or expend much of their energy thinking about blind people, or about matters related to blindness, other than how terrible it is or how necessary it is to prevent. There are also people, some blind and some not, who believe that the National Federation of the Blind is not important. Some blind people tell themselves and others that they do not need the Federation because they have made it on their own. These people are mistaken. The National Federation of the Blind is partially responsible for any success they have had. The strides that have been made by the organized blind movement during the past sixty-three years have enabled them to do much of what they have done.
Other people, though they might claim to be supportive of our efforts, do not participate because, they argue, that they don’t want to get involved in politics. To put it differently, they prefer to ride the fence. This behavior is totally irresponsible. People who believe in a philosophy ought to care enough to work for its acceptance. Those who know that the public’s understanding of blindness needs to be improved and that blind people need better training, better access, and more opportunity, ought to have the compassion to work to achieve these goals. To all of those who believe that the Federation is not worth their time, I say the following. You are contributing to the fact that most people think that blind people are unimportant. If you would join us, you could increase the influence of the strongest force in the affairs of the blind in the nation and work to improve the lives of blind people, yourself included.
I wish that those who doubt the importance of the Federation could all have been with me in Oregon in June. One day, I had lunch with a blind man (I’ll call him Phil), who was forty-six years old. Phil told me that he does not work and, from the way he phrased it, I thought at first that he had been in this situation for three or four years. It turned out that Phil had not worked for about twenty years. He said that he is comfortable living on Social Security. I asked him if he didn’t want something better for himself. He didn’t seem very interested. I discussed some jobs for which he might apply and some places where he might look for work. Each suggestion he countered with an explanation about why it wouldn’t work and wasn’t even worth a try. Phil told me that he ought to use a cane, but his had broken and he had not replaced it. I thought to myself, “Was this in April or May?” Well, if it was, then it was in April or May of 1977 or 1978.
Phil’s story reminded me of some of the letters that Dr. Jernigan and Dr. Maurer have read to us over the years. The difference, however, is that this was not a man about whom I was reading or hearing in a banquet address, it was a man sitting right across the table from me eating lunch. If you had been there, you would have cried or wanted to. This experience confirmed in my mind and in my heart what I already knew to be true. The National Federation of the Blind is the most important organization for blind people in the world. We have much work to do, and all of us need to participate in it, so that people will think that blindness is respectable and that blind people are interesting and capable. For people to learn this about us, we must exhibit the characteristics we want them to know. It is of vital importance that we be interesting and capable. Furthermore, as the Bible says, we must not hide our talent under a bush. We must proclaim our capabilities, far and wide.
The reality that is Phil’s is definitely not our reality, but we are affected by it. The experience of one of us affects the experience of us all. Phil’s reality will be reality for a smaller percentage of blind people than it was in 1940, but it is still reality for thousands. It is largely due to the National Federation of the Blind that it will not be reality for those of us here today, but each of us needs to contribute so that the reality of Phil’s life can become, not merely a thing of the past, but a thing only of the past.
If we are to make it come true, and I believe that we will, then we need you to help. We need your energy. We need your time. We need your creativity. The Federation is an opportunity for us to be involved in something that will improve our own lives. It is an opportunity for us to help to improve the lives of others. It is an opportunity for us to be a part of something that is bigger than anyone of us; to be a part of something that is important.
Audio Described Theater
by Matt Lyles
Editor’s Introduction: Matt Lyles has been an active member of NABS for several years. He was instrumental in organizing our new student division in Connecticut, where he currently serves as President. In this article Matt gives a fair and balanced report on a new audio description service offered at Yale, where he attends graduate school. Matt’s article reminds us all of the benefits of being involved with new projects, such as Audio-descriptive movies, from the ground up. Our feedback can shape the programs and projects of the future. Here is what Matt has to say about his experience.
To begin with – the Yale Rep, as it is called, operates as an extension of the Yale School of Drama. The actors are mainly master level degree candidates. And the directors are often advanced students, earning doctorates in Dramaturgy or Theater History. Thus the cast and artistic direction is second to none. And the productions offered are student projects presented for the benefit of the paying public.
My first experience at the Yale Rep came about in this way. Back in October one of the assisting directors contacted me and asked if I would take part in an experiment, which could improve the enjoyment of blind and visually impaired theater patrons. Of course I agreed. I was invited to a preview performance on the second Saturday of the month for the matinee performance of a new student production, which turned out to be a peculiar but fascinating combination of three previous plays: Medea, MacBeth, and Cinderella. The result, I must say, confused me to no end; and yet I laughed enough, despite the chaos. I would not recommend that particular play for anyone with a low tolerance for controlled chaos! Fortunately I was familiar with the three original plays, and thus I could follow more or less the sometimes hilarious, sometimes grotesque effects created by the combined action.
Space does not allow an involved account of this truly bizarre student project. I merely mean to describe the audio described experiment. One of the theater attendants supplied me with a voluminous Braille program for the performance. Then he put into my hands a small device with a set of ear-bead headphones. He explained that I would be listening to a narration of the dramatic action, broadcast from the second balcony, where a reader with a specially prepared script would describe the scene. I could adjust the volume of the transmission to my own satisfaction, keeping most of my attention focused on the actual sounds of the performance.
This actually worked very well. I kept only one of the earbeads in place, so that two-thirds of my concentration was devoted to the stage action. The reader’s clarifying remarks were never a distraction but did provide those little insights into the visual dimension we as blind moviegoers fail to follow. You know what I mean. A friend often leans over to breathe a few words of explanation during prolonged silences, such as in Hamlet, “The ghost vanishes.” True, it is not essential to know that such an action has occurred. The dialogue that follows often makes it sufficiently clear. But at the same time – and there are much better examples – dramatic actions often set in motion whole chains of events in a play’s plot; and therefore, we appreciate our sighted friends sharing with us such gestures and actions that may prove tremendously significant later in the drama. In the same way, I appreciated this project, as it made my particular theater experience an enjoyable one!
The people at the Yale Rep have developed this service in partnership with New Haven Savings Bank. I call it a smart use of advertising dollars. The blind theater patrons benefit; New Haven Savings Bank benefits. The Yale Rep benefits. Take advantage of the service for your own theatrical benefit! Offer your opinions to the Yale Rep, as they continue to improve the service.
You may contact the Yale Rep by accessing the excellent web site: www.yalerep.org. There you will find data on each show, pricing on single and season tickets, and also news of other special services. Feel free to call or send me e-mail with further questions. I will help you arrange for tickets and even suggest an area restaurant for a pre-show dinner!
Matt Lyles can be contacted by phone at 203-436-3493 or by e-mail at [email protected]
Standing Tall Before the Librarian: A Dignified Discussion of Individual
vs. Institutional Memberships to RFBD
by Jim Marks
Editor’s Introduction: Jim Marks directs Disability Services at the University of Montana-Missoula. Jim, who is blind, and a Federationist, counsels students and professionals on best practices in accommodating blind and visually impaired students in higher education. Jim serves as the Chairman of the Special Interest Group on Blindness and Visual Impairments, a committee of the Association on Higher Education And Disability. In this article, he discusses the importance of blind student autonomy in regards to RFBD memberships at colleges and universities. Here is what he has to say.
The first time my four-year-old daughter used her library card to check out a picture book, she was oh so proud. There she stood, book tucked under arm, her small frame puffed up, and her arm stretched to hand her library card to the librarian so that she could check out her very own book from the library.
Now contrast that warm image with that of the blind college student borrowing talking books for class work. Imagine the blind student passing the library card to the librarian when, all of a sudden, a third party swings into the image. The third party, the college Disability Service (DS) officer, snatches the card away from the blind student and gives it to the librarian. The librarian hands the officer the books, who then hands it to the blind student. Where there were two people conducting a simple transaction in a dignified manner, now there are three: The blind student, the librarian, and the DS officer. Why in the world should this be?
Blind college students ought to be able to do what my four-year-old daughter did when she borrowed her book from the library. That pretty much says it all. Blind students are perfectly able to borrow their own books independently. If we let a middleman intervene, we succumb to a level of custodialism that would irritate the dignity of a four-year-old.
OK, I admit it. I abhor the RFBD institutional membership. Try as I may, I can't come up with a single good reason why the DS office should sandwich itself between the borrower and the library.
It used to be that blind students would borrow directly from the source, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. But these days, many colleges require blind students to borrow RFBD books from the DS office. Sure, the student gets the books either way. So what's wrong with getting the books from the DS office?
Higher education pundits say that college is like a jigsaw puzzle for all students, and that students are clueless about what the final picture looks like. College is, therefore, a process of discovery and development. It would be arrogant to box and wrap up the final picture since its ultimate form and substance varies from individual to individual, but we sure can talk about what the jigsaw pieces look like. Couple this process of discovery and development with the guidance of the National Federation of the Blind, and we can do most anything we put our minds to.
Institutional memberships came about when RFBD made the decision to start charging user fees for its services. RFBD wanted to move away from its roots as a philanthropic to a more business-like organization. Before the change, only individuals could borrow from RFBD.
Many schools, including grade and high schools, as well as colleges, pressured RFBD for the privilege of being able to borrow RFBD books. Schools wanted institutional memberships in order to lend talking books to students with disabilities who weren't sure that talking books would be of any help. These students were mostly students with learning disabilities, not blind students. Instead of going through the hassle and expense of arranging for individual memberships, schools could let students try out the books to see if they were of any value to the student.
Civil rights laws require that schools take responsibility for making textbooks as accessible for students with disabilities as they are for those without disabilities. The legal concept, which is called "effective communication," means that schools also wanted to protect themselves against civil rights complaints by making sure that students with print disabilities can read their schoolbooks in an alternate format. RFBD always has and always will play a major role in assisting schools as they meet their compliance obligations.
In the mid 1990s, RFBD began offering institutional memberships to schools. Individual memberships remain available, but many schools now employ the institutional membership routinely.
As a DS Director, I went along with the trend to acquire institutional memberships from RFBD. I wanted a cost-effective way of administering my university's legal obligations. But I also knew intuitively that the institutional membership was custodial. I loathed the idea of getting between students and the library. This guided me to make arrangements with my campus library for the distribution of RFBD books. My office paid the bill and told the library who was eligible to borrow the RFBD books, but the library ordered the books and loaned them to the students. This way, blind and other print disabled students could enjoy a natural relationship with a bona fide library. Instead of going through the DS office, these students enjoyed pretty much the same privileges enjoyed by other patrons of our campus library.
But after a while, my staff and I began to wonder about a few things. For instance, the institutional membership seemed fairly expensive. We wondered whether we could save money by dumping the institutional memberships and replacing them with individual ones.
Besides cost, there were other reasons that made us uneasy about the institutional memberships. For one thing, the state vocational rehabilitation agency was let off the hook through institutional memberships. This contributed to the isolation of vocational rehabilitation counselors from what it means to be blind or otherwise disabled. When a partner isn't held accountable, bad things start to happen. Clearly, vocational rehabilitation agencies should pay for RFBD memberships for individuals as part of their responsibilities in the Individual Plan for Employment.
For another thing, RFBD is a life long service for many of us. How can we ever be expected to use RFBD if we can't master the finding and ordering of books on our own? Most institutional memberships mean that someone else is responsible, that a third party does for us what we can do for ourselves. In anyone's book, that's custodialism in its most virulent form. Trouble was, though, blind students weren't even aware that it was custodial. They never got the chance to stand on their own legs because, while in grade and high school, the vision teachers always took care of it. So it was no big thing for the kindly DS Coordinator to do the same. What would happen when the student finally graduates and goes out to tackle a job or advanced studies? Would it mean that the student would stand around with a worried look on his or her face while waiting for a helper type to come along? Would it mean that the learned helplessness would somehow ingrain itself in our social consciousness so that we learned to believe that blind people aren't as competent as sighted peers? As we say in Montana, you bet!
The DS office I direct dumped the RFBD institutional membership. And you know what? Our expenses went down. We pulled vocational rehabilitation back into the process. And students got their books on time. Sure, some had trouble, and it was necessary to show them how to order their books. But if the books didn't show up, the students had only themselves to blame. That's the essence of first class citizenship, which includes equal parts of responsibility and rights.
Many blind students face difficulties with securing the right and responsibility to borrow directly from RFBD. The first and perhaps the most critical difficulty is the lack of awareness that the institutional memberships are a problem. We've got to get the word out so that blind students learn that they can do for themselves when it comes to getting talking books from RFBD and other talking book libraries. It may sound simple, but try talking with today's incoming college freshmen about this. Unlike my four-year-old daughter, borrowing books directly from the library is so utterly foreign that they can't even get mad at how out of the mainstream they are.
To overcome the ignorance of just how custodial RFBD institutional memberships can be, blind students should be exposed to individual memberships while still in high school. Parents of blind children of high school age and the blind students themselves should insist that their education plans include instruction and practice in the use of RFBD. This way, students learn how to use RFBB independently before college. High schools tend to be even more aggressive about doing for students what they can do for themselves than even college DS offices are. It's a shame how our education systems set up blind students for a life as the object of someone else's good work. But just doing something as simple as ordering books from the library on your own can break the cycle. Not much of a bar, is it?
Another barrier to self-determination is the state vocational rehabilitation agency, although this is nothing new. Blind people must be informed and assertive when negotiating the elements of their plan for employment. One may have to be relentless in getting what's necessary from the agency, but it can be done. And every time one of us climbs up the vocational rehabilitation mountain, we clear the way for those who come behind us. Getting the agency to pay for an individual membership, which involves a $50 one-time application fee plus a $25 per year user fee, fits well within the scope of vocational rehabilitation and the agency's budget. Mostly it's just a matter of remembering to include the service in the plan, that's all.
The next barrier lurks in the DS office. Please sit down for this bit of news if you will. DS offices don't know that much about blindness. They do know about learning disabilities, though. The sheer numbers alone necessitate this. For every blind student standing at the DS door, there are 40 or more learning disabled students. That is not an exaggeration. At my university, my office serves 7 blind students out of the 700 students enrolled. Of the 700, 350 have learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders. It should be no surprise that the DS office will then make the mistake of treating blind students just like those with learning disabilities. Interventions appropriate for students with learning disabilities can be very harmful to those who are blind. The RFBD institutional membership is a case in point. Arguably, institutional memberships may open doors for some students, although I do hold professional reservations about this that I won't go into here. My point is that blind students cannot afford to expect the DS office to pay attention to the particulars of accommodating blind students in higher education. The expert is the blind student, wise enough to listen to and employ the principles of the NFB, and blind students should never forget this pearl of wisdom.
Blind students who can't get vocational rehabilitation agencies to pay for RFBD memberships may want to ask the DS office to pay. However, there is no good leverage in asserting that the membership purchased by the DS office should be individual as opposed to institutional. While civil rights laws do honor the accommodation preferences of disabled college students, the laws also give colleges the ability to provide equally effective accommodations. So long as the accommodation provided is as effective as that preferred by the student, then the college is free to do it its way. The issue insofar as the civil rights go is access to information. Institutional memberships can and will provide equally effective accommodations when compared to individual memberships. We may argue that colleges should think about the long term, but they really don't have to follow anyone's best practices when the learning environment is accessible. In short, colleges may dig in their heels and say, "Damn the long term; we're just trying to get you through college!"
The consequence is that blind students may have to buy their own individual memberships. If you think about it, it just isn't that big a deal. Remember that the annual fee is a very reasonable $25 per year. The one-time application fee of $50 may sound steep. But compare the cost of RFBD books to the cost of print textbooks. College students spend hundreds of dollars each academic term on books. Surely the $25 for as many books as you want strikes even the most pitiful as reasonable. Twenty-five dollars per year buys one access to much of the information and the power to borrow directly from the library. It's a chance to say, "Thanks, but no thanks," to the DS office that assigns a lower priority to your self-determination than it does to saving money and controlling the college's legal obligations.
Do think about asserting your personal dignity by insisting on an individual membership to RFBD. This piece of the jigsaw puzzle will help make your big picture bigger and better.
For more information on RFBD, go to http://www.rfbd.org/, or to contact Jim
Marks, send e-mail to [email protected]
Why I am a Federationist: A Partial’s Perspective
by Meleah Jensen
Editor’s Introduction: Meleah Jenson is the first Vice President of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students. In this article, Meleah shares her years of internal struggles and uncertainty about her eye condition. She explains how someone with partial sight could come to find freedom in the word blind. Here is what she has to say.
Henry David Thoreau once said "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and that when I came to die discover that I had not lived.” Just as Thoreau went in to the woods, I went to the NFB. I am a federationist because it has been only through my learning about and becoming a part of the federation that I have truly begun to live deliberately, and suck out the marrow of life.
When I was growing up, I had no positive blind role models, nor did I see myself as being blind. To me the word blind had an extremely negative connotation, and was definitely something I did not want to be. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the NFB that I gained not only positive role models, but also a better understanding of what being blind truly meant.
I had my first exposure to the NFB during my freshman year of high school when my VI teacher gave me a letter telling about a student seminar in Ruston Louisiana. My first thought was where in the world is Ruston?
I went to the seminar not exactly sure of what to expect; little did I know that not only was I opening the door to great future opportunities, but I was also laying the bricks of my foundation towards a positive attitude about blindness. I came away from that weekend amazed by what I had seen. I will always remember many of the events of the weekend but there is one that will stand out in my mind the most. On that Saturday afternoon we were sent on a scavenger hunt. We were divided up into groups and given a list of things to locate and bring back from various spots in town (for those of you who don’t know, Ruston is small enough to permit this to be done easily). The leader of my group was totally blind; I had absolutely no idea how we would go about doing this since she seemed to be the only one who supposedly knew her way around Ruston. We set out on our journey around town. I was utterly amazed how well she knew the town. No blind person I had met before could walk around a room without assistance much less a whole town. It was during that experience that I realized that there actually were blind people who could function independently.
Over the next couple of years, I continued to build my philosophy through attending student seminars, and talking with positive blind people. In 1998 I attended the Summer Training and Employment Project (STEP) at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. While in the STEP program I was taut Braille, cane travel, and many other important skills. I was also given the opportunity to attend my first national convention. In addition to all of this the STEP program is where I began to shape my philosophy into what it is today. It made me start to realize just why it was important to be a part of the federation. For the first time I realized that I was not alone. I had a network of people just like me. They not only understood, but also lived and overcame some of the very same issues I had been struggling with every day.
Through this shared understanding it became more and more apparent to me that
I was in fact blind. Since these federationists were normal and shared many
of my experiences, it slowly became ok for me to admit that I too was blind.
Unfortunately, this process didn't occur over night. I was a little resistant
at first it took a few years for me to fully understand just what being in the
federation could truly be about. During my freshman year of college I began
to realize that the quote sighted way” of doing things would not always work
well for me. I had been able to depend on my sight for so long that it took
me a while to accept that it no longer was the most efficient way to accomplish
things. Unfortunately by the time I had realized this I had to struggle through
many tough situations such as trying to take print notes in a dark classroom.
After I would return from class I would look at my notes and see that I had
to rewrite them because they were extremely sloppy. I also had problems traveling
around at night. I walked slowly, and I found it hard to keep up with my friends.
I still went out at night, but I found myself looking really awkward. Actually
I found myself looking awkward in a lot of areas because of my lack of skills.
Once I knew and accepted that I needed the skills of blindness in order to be
successful I made the decision to attend the centers adult training program.
It was during my time at the center that my transformation was completed. I
not only grew in my attitudes towards blindness, but in my skills and confidence
in my self as well.
Since completing my training I have returned to school. I have compared my experiences then and now and they are like night and day! I still have things that I have problems accomplishing in the course of a day, but now I can say that I have those problems simply because there aren’t enough hours in the day, not because of my blindness getting in the way; but what college student sighted or blind doesn’t have these issues?
Through all of these experiences, I too have become a federationist. I am now a part of that network of blind people that has come to mean so much to me throughout many aspects of my life. I am so glad to be able to be a part of an organization like the NFB. Now that I have finally recognized that I am blind and that it is truly respectable to be blind I have the chance, through this organization, to share my knowledge and experiences with others.
It is so important for us as blind people to work together in the federation
to live our movement each day and share our philosophy with others. By doing
this we will all be able to live deliberately and suck out all the marrow of
“Daredevil” Review Has the Blind All Wrong
by Melanie Peskoe
Editor’s Introduction: Any member of the National Federation of the Blind has had the opportunity to learn skills of advocacy. This movement of over 50,000 has been the voice of the collective blind for over sixty years now. In this article, Melanie Pesco, a relatively new federationist, who is helping to reorganize the Kentucky Association of Blind Students, shares an opportunity that she seized to educate students on her college campus. Melanie encourages us all to reflect on how much we have accomplished, and think about what our role must be in shaping our future. Here is what Melanie has to say about her first experience with educating students on her campus.
Some of you might have heard about the movie titled “Daredevil”. If you haven’t, a review is included here. I went to see this movie in early February and enjoyed it. The movie, for the most part, portrayed blindness positively. I was feeling pretty good about the notions that this movie may leave people with regarding blindness, when I read the following review of the movie in The Louisville Cardinal (the school newspaper for the University of Louisville). I was angry and confused about how these stereotypes about blindness still exist. I mean, it is the year 2003 right? I felt compelled to write a letter to the editor of by to dispel these misconceptions and set the record straight. My letter was published in the paper the following week. Before you read the review and my letter, I want to share a few thoughts.
I am relatively new to the NFB, having joined the Kentucky affiliate in August of 2002. Before I found the NFB, I was going through life trying to “pass” as a sighted person, not accepting my blindness in the least. I have always been legally blind due to congenital cataracts and glaucoma, but until a couple of years ago I functioned quite well with minimal assistance (or so I thought). When I started experiencing some changes in my vision, I soon realized that the techniques I had been using all these years (in work, school, and at home) were not working very well anymore. I got in touch with my local NFB affiliate and the rest is history. What’s more, I now realize that those techniques I once use never really worked at all. Since finding the NFB I’ve discovered many new and much more efficient ways to live. I am now learning how to accept my blindness and not be ashamed or embarrassed to use the tools that enable me to live more independently.
Maybe it is because of my infancy with the organized blind movement or that I just recently attended my first Student seminar and the famous Washington Seminar, but I have this passion and drive when it comes to spreading the message of the NFB. I get so excited and proud about what the NFB is and what it has done for me. I want to tell the world that blindness is not a disease or a handicap, nor is it something to be pitied or looked down upon. Blindness is just blindness. It’s not good and it’s not bad, it just is. That is why when I read the “Daredevil” review in my school’s newspaper; I felt the need to do a little educating on the matter. This is also just one reason I am currently working with other students in Kentucky to reorganize the Kentucky chapter of NABS. The changing of stereotypes and ideas has to start somewhere and I believe that students have an excellent opportunity to lead that change.
It is up to us folks. We as blind individuals have to be the ones to change ideas like the ones you’re going to read about in this movie review. While national campaigns are great, and certainly serve a purpose of their own, much of what we need to do to educate people about blindness starts with people like you and me. I strongly encourage you to speak out, step up, and do something! The only way we can really begin to impact change is to take action and not sit around idly while these stereotypes are obviously still circulating in our communities. When you see examples of ignorance about blindness, whether it’s in a newspaper article or a service worker being overly custodial, or any other action or word that leaves you thinking, “Now wait a minute, that’s not right”, use that opportunity to educate. By influencing the ideas of one person at a time you might just impact many more people through that one person. Here is the movie review of “Daredevil” that appeared in the February 18 issue of The Louisville Cardinal and following the review is my letter to the editor. I hope this review leaves you feeling as I did, and I hope you feel the desire to “step up” the next time the opportunity comes around.
Movie Review: Daredevil (1/2) Dueling Daredevils: Daredevil vs. Elektra
by Sarah Weller
This Valentine's Day was a time for some of us girls to spend with our men. Luckily for me, I also got to spend it with "The Man Without Fear": Daredevil, that is. Though Ben Affleck has played a range of both likable and unlikable characters, with his title role in Daredevil he convinces even his biggest critics that he was meant for this character. This movie is dark, funny, action-filled, and emotional, all in a little over two hours.
The movie begins well into the story, with Matt Murdock lying wounded in a church, wearing the maroon attire of a superhero, telling us that your entire life flashes before your eyes when you die. We then flash back to his childhood, when his father is involved with a crime lord, much to the surprise of little Matt, who is sprayed by hazardous chemicals, causing him to go blind. Later, his father is killed, and Matt Murdock swears to get justice for everyone, and he grows up to become Matt Murdock, blind lawyer, by day, and Daredevil, the fearless masked man who patrols the streets of Hell's Kitchen by night.
Enter Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) who meets Murdock in a diner while having coffee with his business partner. Elektra is the daughter of the extremely wealthy Nicholas Natchios, one of the many followers of the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan). Though she is hesitant at first, the two fall in love and seem to be living happily ever after; that is, until Elektra's father is murdered by hired assassin Bullseye, whom she wrongly identifies as Daredevil. This can only mean trouble for the two lovebirds.
This movie is gloomier and more character-centric than Spider-Man. The characters in Daredevil experience more loss and trauma, and Daredevil seems more human, especially after one fight where he goes home to shower and chew on some much-needed Vicodin. The fact that this man is blind and is able to function at all is outstanding, but to be a superhero at the same time is something that no other comic book character can match. It will be up to the people who've read this comic to judge the accuracy of this movie, but it is a movie worth going to see whether you are a fan of the comics or not.
I really enjoyed the opening photography, which included flashes of upcoming frames of the movie. The action scenes in this movie are great, and the actors, especially Colin Farrell, are a joy to watch. As Bullseye, the man with deadly aim, Farrell not only scares people but also annoys everyone and makes us laugh at his character's sheer madness. He's the sort of character that you are supposed to hate; however, he's so unique and entertaining that you can't help but like the bastard.
The ending screams for a sequel, as if we didn't already know that was going to happen anyway. But just when you think the action is over and you are ready to leave, don't. There's a surprise waiting for you right after the credits begin to roll.
Cardinal Grade: A
Movie Review: Daredevil (2/2)
Dueling Daredevils: Daredevil vs. Elektra
by Chris Johnson
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be blind? Would you feel helpless or would you try to adapt to an unknown world where you don't know what surrounds you? Well, young Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) was blinded in a chemical accident. He began training and became a formidable fighter at a young age. His father was a boxer who had become somewhat famous as Jack "The Devil" Murdock. However, it turns out that Jack's boxing career was in the hands of criminals, and Jack is murdered. Matt swears that justice will be served!
Flash forward many years later, and Matt has become an attorney, with his good friend Franklin "Foggy" Nelson as his assistant. By day, he serves justice in the courtroom, but by night, Matt becomes the Daredevil, commonly known as the “Man Without Fear”. It is Matt's home to right the wrongs in the neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen. Enter Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) who is the daughter of a Greek billionaire who has ties to the criminal mastermind known as the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan). Since the Kingpin doesn't like any loose ends, he hires an assassin known as Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to eliminate any threats to his empire. It is up to the Daredevil to prove that in the end, justice will prevail.
Daredevil is based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, which came out in 1964 and was an instant hit. Daredevil has been around almost 40 years, and though he is not as well known as Spider-Man or the Hulk, Daredevil has developed a huge fan base nonetheless. Recently, under Marvel Knights line of comics, Daredevil was reborn in a new comic that brought an edgier feel to the stories, much like the movie.
The performances in this movie were outstanding. Affleck really captured the look and feel of Matt/Daredevil. He was sincere and showed that he cared while being able to back it up when he was out on patrol as Daredevil. Garner was absolutely stunning and showed that she had the look and feel of Elektra, combined with her Alias skills. Duncan was amazing as the Kingpin, and even though his comic counterpart was white, he proved to be just as good, if not better, than the comic character. Finally, Farrell was an over-the-top villain as Bullseye, but proved to be quite a threat in the long run.
Daredevil is another incredible adaptation of a comic book by Marvel, and it looks like there is no end in sight for these characters. This movie will make millions and spawn a franchise (there is already talk of Daredevil 2) without a doubt. Go see Daredevil and see the world through someone else's eyes. You will learn why he is the "Man Without Fear."
While the reviews of the movie "Daredevil" in the February 18th edition of The Cardinal were entertaining, they contained some very disturbing misconceptions about blindness. Miss Weller states, "The fact that this man is blind and is able to function at all is outstanding, but to be a super hero at the same time is something that no other comic book character can match." Furthermore, Mr. Johnson asks, "Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be blind? Would you feel helpless, or would you try to adapt to an unknown world you don't know what surrounds you?" Both of these writers must not have yet "seen the light", because there could not be more over generalized and ultimately false statements about blind people at large. I would like to first point out that among the millions of blind people in our world there are only a small few who cannot "function" for themselves. In fact, most blind citizens are highly productive, intelligent contributors to society. There are blind people in almost every occupation available to the sighted population. There are blind teachers, lawyers, businesswomen and men, and writers. There are even several blind medical doctors. Last year a blind man climbed Mount Everest. So, you see that we are not helpless or substandard and I will contend that we are as capable as anyone else (sometimes even more so).
As for the blind living in an "unknown world", I wonder if you might consider that we have four other senses with which we perceive the world around us. Granted, I have yet to meet a blind person with such supersonic senses as that of "Daredevil" (no, we don't have extrasensory hearing folks), but we don't need to "adapt" we simply live like anyone else. Through the invention of spectacular technologies the blind are now, more than ever, able to "see" our world with 20/20 vision. With our canes or guide dogs we travel independently and with our large print or Braille we can read and write just the same as anyone else. We use cell phones, computers, microwaves, DVD players - you name it. The blind live as normally as the sighted with very little difference.
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is an organization of the blind, which supports self-advocacy and is a vehicle of collective self-expression. With a membership of over fifty thousand blind individuals throughout the United States, the NFB is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in existence. In the NFB we say, “The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight, but the misunderstanding and lack of information which exist.” I am currently in the process of leading an initiative to bring a student chapter of this group on campus so that we might bring education and understanding to the University of Louisville, where we hold diversity as an ideal. I encourage these two writers (and everyone else) to visit the Web site of the National Federation of the Blind (www.nfb.org) and get up to speed on where we are, because I assure you we're not in the "dark" anymore.
A Storybook Approach to Local Involvement
by Ryan Strunk
Editor’s Introduction: Ryan Strunk is the President of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students and very involved in his state affiliate. As many of us know, involvement in our local NFB chapters and affiliates is the foundation of our movement. In his speech from the 2002 student division meeting at the NFB national convention, in Louisville, Kentucky, Ryan creatively emphasizes the importance of local student involvement. Here is what he has to say.
Now, when I was in Kindergarten, our teacher used to sit us all down in a circle and she’d read us a story. We would all listen real intently, hanging on to that teacher’s every word, including, “Ryan, get your finger out of your nose.” I realize that we can’t all sit around in a circle, but I thought that maybe if I tell a story or two, I’ll achieve that same effect. So, for this occasion, I have decided to write my own storybook about the importance of chapter attendance, entitled, The Importance of Chapter Attendance. Also, please note that everything contained within this book is completely original and straight out of my very own head.
This is the Federation that we built. These are the affiliates that make up the Federation that we built. These are the chapters, which comprise the affiliates that make up the Federation that we built. Here are the NFBers who do not attend the meetings held by the chapters, which comprise the affiliates, which make up the Federation that we built. Let’s pause here for a bit of one-sided discussion. Is regular chapter attendance a huge problem? Well, not everywhere, but if it weren’t a problem at all, then I would not have been asked to address it. In fact, I know a good number of people who do not attend chapter meetings regularly, and many of them are from my home state. Why do they not come?
Well, Curious Ryan, the curious little Strunkey, wanted to know exactly why people weren’t coming. So, he hired the man in the yellow hat to drive him around in the little blue taxi and asked supposedly enthusiastic Federationists exactly why they weren’t coming to chapter meetings. Well, they had more reasons than Curious Ryan could count, but one of the most common answers was, “This chapter is too boring.”
Let’s stop again. Is this a problem? Well, sure. In this world where so much value is placed on entertainment and having fun, meetings in which the members do very little or very little of interest, will not appeal to some, in the slightest, and they will have one more excuse as to why they will not attend. Note, though, that this is only an excuse.
Here is something that might be fun; we could make the chapter fun. That, Mr. Strunk, can never be done; you cannot make a chapter fun. Not in a box. Not with a fox. Not in the rain or on a train. Go away, now Ryan Strunk and bother me no more with this trivial junk.
Now, wait just a minute. You can’t make a chapter fun? Why not? I am not suggesting that we turn each meeting into a variety show with acrobats, jugglers, and dancers, but something can be done. In chapter meetings in Lincoln, Nebraska, we hold drawings for door prizes. They do it in Baltimore, too, with prizes donated by the members. In the Metro Chapter of the Minnesota affiliate, the members hold a 50/50 drawing every month. Not only is this an incentive for attending, but it serves as a great fundraiser at the same time. Rosy Caranza, the president of the Ruston Chapter in Louisiana, told me that she randomly selects a person to lead the chapter in a rousing chorus of Glory, Glory Federation. I’m not sure I’d have the guts to do that, but I am sure that I would enjoy watching others doing it. Not everything has to be funny or lottery based, either. I doubt you would find many people who do not enjoy good discussion at some point.
This past month, I have been traveling about Washington with a team of organizers, and in one of the chapters we visited, we involved each of the members in a discussion of ways to build and strengthen these chapters. The meeting, which was scheduled to end at twelve noon, finally adjourned sometime after one, and not a single person was unhappy with the time spent conversing. Now, before I scare anyone off by making him/her think that chapter meetings will now last longer, let me explain something. The people at this meeting were so interested in what we were all discussing that the passage of time seemed secondary to them. When people feel as though they are involved, they enjoy themselves more thoroughly, and they contribute more readily.
There’s no harm in my meeting abstention, because I attend my national convention. Some people truly believe that the central, most important factor in being an active Federationist is whether or not one attends national convention. To those of you sitting in this room believing that at this very moment, I want to ask: if such is the case, do we really need local chapters and is local advocacy truly important? If you answered yes to either of these questions, which every one of you should have, then you admit that without local chapters and local action, there can be no NFB. And, if a chapter’s abilities are defined by its membership, why can’t your contributions help and why shouldn’t you give them?
But Curious Ryan, most of the people in this chapter are old folks. I don’t really want to go to that kind of a chapter. Well, Mr. Enthusiastic Federationist, you’re being awfully blunt, but I will field the question, and my simple, straightforward answer is why does it matter? We in the Federation are all striving to attain the same goals, and whether we are all twenty years old, one-hundred years old, or a healthy mix, age really has nothing to do with anything. As well, ponder the idea that many of the people you describe have established careers and an accumulation of wisdom. The donations they generously give to the Federation provide such items as our Newsline, some of our trips to convention, and our scholarships. The very least they should be owed is a bit of respect. Besides, if people are making attendance judgments based on the average age of the membership, what aspect of the Federation becomes more important? Security, Equality, and opportunity or superficiality and shallowness? Let’s focus on blindness.
I’d like to do what you suggest; support the chapter and all the rest, but
the wrath of my leaders will be incurred if I try to make my voice be heard.
Someone actually told me this once, though not in so lyrical a fashion. The
answer to this question lies in democracy. A middle school teacher I once had
defined democracy in the following manner. “When damn crazy people get together,
oh, lordy, some crazy things happen.” Now, I suppose that no one ever told him
that there is no “Z” in democracy, but regardless, he was and is absolutely
right. The chapter is comprised of and defined by its members, and if a member
wishes something done, provided, of course, that this something does not conflict
with Federation philosophy or policy, there is no reason why the members cannot
speak up and make themselves heard. The Federation is not a dictatorship. Chapters
make the Federation strong and active members make chapters strong. Each of
you here tonight has something to contribute to the Federation, and I would
really like to see that contribution made. If we are going to change what it
means to be blind, then we all must work to make it happen. Let us march together
both nationally and locally, so that we can all live happily ever after.
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