by Martha Harris
Editors' Introduction: Martha Harris is a Freshman at Bloomsburg University where she is majoring in journalism. She also serves as President of PABS. Below is what Harris has to say about the responsibilities of being a Federation member.
Power is an ideal with many different definitions. Some people see power as being able to control and corrupt society, while others see it as a chance to improve a society, an area or an organization. Rights and responsibilities accompany this positive power. As young people in the National Federation of the Blind, we have the right to speak and to organize, but with this right comes the responsibility of learning from our previous leaders, educating others, advocating for ourselves and developing new ideas for the future.
The first step is learning from our current and past leaders and role models, people who have experienced what we are experiencing right now. People should listen to the division, chapter and national presidents when they speak; read the publications published by our organization, and become involved. Ask questions of your fellow students who are older or more experienced than you. Being a good leader does not mean you know all the answers; it means you can help others to do what they want to do with your information. I have joined the student organization, and I have learned so much from my fellow students. Any time I want, I can post a question to the NABS list, and usually someone can give me an answer or direct me to someone who knows. Either we know a subject ourselves or we know where we can find information on it. Taking the time to learn from previous successful leaders will pay off in personal growth as a leader. Having resources and being observant is an important part of this position.
However, the next step after being an observer is being a leader. To be a good leader is to be open-minded, active and experimental. All of these factors help when educating others. We must realize that, although it would be nice, most sighted people do not know or have not learned about blind people. They have many misconceptions about who we are, what we can do and how we live. Being active means going out to talk to people. I have found this to be one of the best methods of education. An important group to talk to is younger students--sixth grade and below. They are the most curious and the most unafraid to say what they are thinking. They will ask you honest, direct questions. All people learn prejudices or biases, whether good or bad, when they are young. If we can talk to them and show them we are like everyone else, we can have a more educated, tolerant and accepting group of people in the future.
Along with the sighted public, we also have to educate newly blinded people and those who have been blind for a long time. People who are newly blind might feel scared and hopeless because they do not know a blind person. If they have seen one, it was probably a badly portrayed one on television or in a movie. These people need to be exposed to the alternative techniques that we use. When they receive blindness training, they will gain freedom to travel independently. They will become enthusiastic about learning from and taking advantage of every new opportunity. We can teach them about the computers, technology and note takers that we use to work with our colleagues, and they can learn reading, writing and arithmetic--all of the activities we are able to do because of Braille. Teaching them all of these skills will lead to change for blind people.
Confucius wrote "Change has a considerable impact on the human mind. To the fearful, it is threatening because it means things may get worse. To the hopeful, it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident, it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better." Having a positive attitude and being hopeful are all important characteristics. If we are hopeful and confident, we can accomplish anything we want to as an organization.
In addition to education, a young leader of the NFB needs to be able to advocate for himself or herself as well as others inside and outside of our community. Advocating for oneself could range from politely telling someone help is not needed to cross the street, to standing up for oneself when it comes to reasonable accommodations in the classroom or in extra-curricular activities. After one learns to advocate for oneself, one can advocate for others. For example, a student could have a problem with a teacher or professor because he or she thinks the student is incapable of taking the course. As an experienced student, one could talk to the professor or teacher to explain that other blind students have successfully done this before. One could demonstrate alternative techniques that a blind person uses to complete the course.
Another way to advocate is to support legislation relating to blind people or people with disabilities. Many groups lobby for laws to be passed, and we need to be one of them. We can go to our state legislators to advocate for a Braille bill to be passed. Braille is so important for blind people to use; yet, in most states, it is not mandatory for blind children to learn this vital, necessary skill. We can go to Washington, D.C. to fight to receive money that is needed to go to college. Many blind people are unaware of what skills, benefits and services are available. If young leaders and students in the National Federation of the Blind don't help to pass legislation, many people will suffer because we didn't take the time to stand up for our beliefs.
Finally, we need to develop goals for the future. We can teach others about the technology we use as part of our daily lives. We can help software companies, web designers ETC. make equipment accessible to the ones who use it all of the time. We can help others learn about the several priceless advantages of learning Braille. We can show people that we can travel independently on public transportation. Whether we are setting goals so that more people learn Braille, teaching others to travel independently or developing and using technology, we can make a difference in the lives of people now and for many years to come.
As young people in the National Federation of the Blind, we have much influence and power over the events that will shape our future. We need to be determined to make the right things happen instead of waiting to see what will happen. Leadership is action, not position. According to James Fisher, "Leadership is the special quality that enables someone to stand up and pull people over the horizon." If we allow ourselves to learn from our laudable leaders, enthusiastically and energetically educate others, adequately and accurately advocate for ourselves and deftly and determinedly develop new ideas, we will be successful in crossing the horizons and hurtles in our lives and changing what it means to succeed as a young leader in the National Federation of the Blind.
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