Editors' Introduction: The following three articles are written by students who describe the influence the NFB has had on their school experiences, as well as their overall lives.
by Paul Ruffner
Editors' Introduction: Paul Ruffner is a sophomore at American University in Washington D.C. While he is undecided about a major, his interests lie in the area of international relations. Ruffner attended his first NFB convention two summers ago as a national scholarship winner. Here he describes that convention and the way it changed his perspectives on both the Organization and on blindness.
As I recall, I was in junior high school when I first heard of the NFB. The organization was described to me as "a bunch of card-carrying nuts," and I was advised not to join. I, therefore, put them out of my mind, thinking that learning how to multiply matrices was far more important.
The next time I took any notice of the NFB, I was in my senior year of high school. By that time, I was frantically applying for colleges, weighing financial aid offers and looking for scholarships. I heard the NFB was offering scholarships and awarding each winner a trip to the National Convention. I decided to apply for one, but only after I researched what exactly the NFB does. Far from "a bunch of card-carrying nuts," I learned what sets the NFB apart from other organizations. I was inspired by the organization's philosophy of blindness and the NFB's goal of achieving equality for blind people in society.
One of the best things about convention was all the people I got to meet while there. Both of my roommates, Hobie Wedler and Steve Decker, were talkative and funny guys. We talked politics, joked around a lot and had a riot of a time. It was exciting to learn all I could about their life experiences; I was also inspired by the way they viewed blindness--as a physical characteristic, not a handicap. More than anyone else, Hobie and Steve convinced me to think of blindness in the same way as the Federation.
A good example of what I'm driving at came on the third day of the convention. Each day, scholarship winners were mentored by a member of the Scholarship Committee, who taught the winner about his or her experiences as a blind person. My mentor asked me if I felt confident walking to a restaurant several blocks away. Until then, I had always been fairly confident in my travel skills, but I wasn't so sure I could make it in an unfamiliar city without first learning a route. Then, I asked myself what Hobie or Steve would do in the same situation. They both seemed like independent people who could do something like that without a problem. Why not put myself to the test? On the last day of the convention, I decided to test my travel skills. Sure enough, I made it without a hitch. If it weren't for Hobie and Steve, I don't know if I would have trusted myself to try that adventure.
The best moments of the convention were the meetings of the National Association of Blind Students and President Maurer's incredible banquet speech. The NABS meeting taught me that I was far from alone, as I fretted over getting books on time for classes. Additionally, it gave me the confidence that comes with belonging to a larger community of blind students. The highpoint of the convention, however, was President Maurer's unforgettable banquet speech. I'd heard from attendees of previous conventions that the banquet speeches were both hysterically funny and very inspirational. However, I wasn't at all prepared for what happened next. At one point, I was in tears of laughter as President Maurer described the sheer idiocy of the measures taken to "protect" blind people, who are supposed to be incapable of doing much of anything without dire physical injury. I was also inspired as he spoke of the NFB's mission to eradicate such perceptions and for the blind people of the world to take their place as equals in society.
In short, the convention was truly a life-altering experience. The things I learned, the people I met and the resulting confidence I gained in myself have brought about fundamental changes in me. Probably the biggest of such changes was my increased confidence around computers. Before convention, I was paranoid that something would go wrong with any piece of technology I touched and that my blindness might prevent me from figuring out what the problem was, let alone solving it. When a computer program wasn't easy to use, for instance, I would get angry and not bother to find a solution for the problem. Attending convention made me realize the unhelpful nature of that kind of thought. Now, I don't get as upset when I have a problem; I do my best to solve it. In fact, the only drawback to a convention is that it has to end at some point.
I can't wait to go again, hopefully next year, to learn more about myself, others and what each NFB member can do to improve the society in which we live. I consider joining the NFB one of the best and most useful decisions I have ever made. For instance, I find it ironic that I have never had any practical use for multiplying matrices. On the other hand, I've found many numerous advantages to being one of the afore-mentioned "card-carrying nuts" who make the NFB a truly unique organization.
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