Complete Spring/Summer Issue '99

From the President

By Shawn Mayo

Greetings! I am sure that everyone is counting the days until the end of this semester. For some it means graduating and moving on to the next level of academia. For others, it means entrance into the work world. Whatever your plans may be, I hope you find some time to relax and have some fun!

You will want to plan to meet up with your fellow members of NABS at our National Convention. The National Association of Blind Students is ready to take over Atlanta! This year's seminar will take a look at the history of the Blindness Movement through some of our favorite songs, address issues currently faced by blind students, and present speakers and panels that lead to thought-provoking discussions. Whether you are a student in the classroom or a student of life, you won't want to miss this year's seminar held on Thursday, July 1 from 7:00-10:00 p.m.

As students, we also know how to have a good time. So, get your poker face ready and come join the National Association of Blind Students at Monte Carlo Night held on Sunday, July 4 from 8:00 p.m. to midnight. Card games of all types will be played and good fun will be had by all. Cash prizes are given to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners! You will also find us at the Parents Of Blind Children's Braille Carnival. Also, be sure not to miss out on the student parties!

As we move forward, it is also good to reflect on some of our recent accomplishments. The Washington Seminar was well attended by a diverse and energetic crowd. A number of the presentations served as the catalyst for many late night discussions. You will get the opportunity to hear some of these speeches as they have been reproduced in this edition of The Student Slate. I think you would feel as though you are actually present in the NABS Seminar Session. The evening was topped with a rousing banquet address from our leader, President Dr. Marc Maurer.

Many issues, including those raised at this seminar, have been discussed in greater detail on our NABS listserv. Once again, to subscribe to the NABS listserv, send a message to [email protected]. Leave the subject line blank. In the body of the message type, in lowercase, "subscribe nabs-l" (or nabs-d for the digest form).

Finally, I would like to introduce you to our Assistant Editor of The Student Slate, Angela Howard. Angela is the Secretary of NABS. We worked together on this edition and she will take an active role in helping to edit future editions of The Student Slate. We had a lot of fun putting the Spring/Summer 1999 edition of The Student Slate together. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

I look forward to seeing you in Atlanta. If you have any thoughts or questions regarding NABS in particular, or to living the life of a blind student in general, please contact me, Shawn Mayo, via phone or e-mail. Enjoy the Spring/Summer 1999 issue of The Student Slate.

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A Homecoming

by Kimberly Aguillard

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Kimberly Aguillard is the Secretary of the Texas Association of Blind Students.).

I could feel my face turning various shades of pink and then

a deep red as I was seated at a table in our school cafeteria.  Ballots were being passed out for Homecoming Court, and for at least the seven hundredth time, I promised my friend Andrea through clenched teeth that I would get even with her in some horrible way for putting my name on the nomination list.  I was coping with the embarrassment as coolly as possible, cracking jokes about my name being on the ballot.  We were instructed to circle only three names out of the thirty or so listed.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the ballots were taken up and, much to our disappointment, we were ordered to return to class.  Several friends rushed up and enthusiastically assured me that I had gotten their votes.  This little humiliation was pushed out of my mind until several weeks later.  This sounds like a normal incident of a normal teenager's life.  That is exactly what it is.  I am a sixteen-year-old and I go through a wide range of emotions about every twenty minutes, just as other teens do.  What makes me a little different is that I am blind.  I have been what professionals call "legally blind" my whole life.  When I was nine, I had several surgeries that resulted in the loss of whatever sight I did have.

I am the second oldest of five children and my parents have never treated me differently than any of my siblings.  I credit that fact for making me down to earth and typical.  My parents knew that I might have to try different ways to perform tasks, but the tasks still had to be done.  So, we would brainstorm and find a way for me to do them.  I am grateful for their unwavering confidence in me.  They always knew what I needed and they searched for answers.  This searching led us to the National Federation of the Blind and the Louisiana Center for the Blind. 

I attended the center's summer program for children, unwillingly, when I was twelve.  In the Buddy Program, I learned an enormous amount about myself and blindness.  I was a different person when I returned.  I had confidence in my skills and I had a desire for independence that I really didn't have before.  This was the point in my life when the box of potential inside of me was unlocked.  I looked at problems as challenges, not insurmountable obstacles.  I returned one more time to the Buddy Program.  Later, I attended the center's Summer Training Employment Program (STEP).  Each time, I learned a lot more then I bargained for!

I was challenged again and again to set higher goals and to achieve them.  I feel certain that if my parents and the NFB had not pushed me to achieve my goals and follow my dreams, I would not have the accomplishments that I do.  If I didn't have good cane skills, it would take away from my fun in social situations, like dances or parties.  I could never keep up with my friends' break-neck pace in the mall or at school. 

Perhaps most importantly, if I didn't have skills and instead was always worrying about how to get from point A to point B, I would never feel comfortable enough to be myself.  I am an outgoing person.  I love to meet new people and mingle.  I love to go to parties and to shop for clothes with friends.  The only thing that may hold me back is a shortage of cash, a problem which is common to most teenagers.  I am very involved in clubs and organizations at school.  One of the jobs of Student Council is to make a float for our Homecoming Parade each year.  At first, I was uncertain about what I could do to help.  There were people everywhere and the scene was pretty chaotic. 

Six years ago, I would have sat in the corner, feeling awkward, until someone pulled me out and brought me into the group.   But now, I knew all I had to do was find a thing that needed to be done and figure out how I could do it.  So, I took charge of the situation and found some things to do.  I helped cut the tissue paper into strips and stuff it into chicken wire.  There are ways to be helpful, you just have to be assertive and find an effective way to do the job.

Every once in awhile, a pleasant surprise plops into your lap and brightens your day.  Once or maybe twice in a crazy lifetime you get a surprise that knocks you over.  I got one of these when I was told that I made Homecoming Court.  I just felt incredibly lucky that night when "Junior Duchess, Kimberly Aguillard" was announced and the crowd from the stadium, my friends, and family erupted into applause and whistles and shouts.  One by one, the Dads escorted the girls onto the football field and into the heart that the drill team made to surround the Homecoming Court. 

When the last member of the court was on the field and the heart closed, I felt like I was about to burst with happiness.  My friend, Andrea, (who had nominated me) has not stopped demanding my gratitude since then.  This great experience would not have happened to me if I did not have enough confidence to be myself.  For that, I thank my parents and the NFB.

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Strawberry Crush

by Mariyam Cementwala

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mariyam Cementwala is the First Vice President of the California Association of Blind Students.)

Last August, I enrolled as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. No previous educational circumstances or life events could have prepared me for the center experience.  It was literally overwhelming at first because what I expected to learn was not quite what I was learning at all.  The difference between any other center and an NFB center is the whole approach to teaching blindness skills. 

The NFB centers do not teach just blindness skills--they also teach life skills.  Learning at a center is not confined to an hour here of Braille and an hour there of computers and a couple hours here and there of travel.  It's going bowling under sleep shades at 6:30 in the evening with your fellow peers and staff members after you've had a full day of instruction at the center.  It's about sitting cramped in a van full of people who are fretful, or excited, or just plain loud about going to Mardi Gras, or rock climbing, or white water rafting.

Those center days and experiences are just as, or more, meaningful than the eight‑to‑five daily instruction.  You learn more than just Braille and cane travel at the centers, and you learn more than cooking and other daily living skills --you get to "live" daily living skills.  You have to get along with people, work with people you don't like, give to others in big and small ways—whether that means giving a gift at a fellow blind student's baby shower or convincing that quieter person that rock climbing really will be okay.  The centers teach you how to live the philosophy by encouraging and almost forcing you to participate in activities you otherwise would not have been a part of.  You just jump right into everything.  No hours of formal instruction can teach you that.

When I first started the program, I planned to stay for about four months.  I hoped to finish everything and do everything in that time. But the NFB training center program is like no other school or training program or educational institution.  You can't go expecting to set targets and accomplish them all in your fixed time schedule because the centers represent, in truth, the best of discovery learning any place has to offer.  In discovery learning, there is not a set pace that you can expect to follow.  Discovery learning means that you have to problem‑solve and work through situations.  You cannot rush through things for the sake of finishing.  Worst, or perhaps most challenging of all, you have to be patient with yourself--which means allowing yourself the right to fail. 

There have been countless times I walked into the wood shop thinking that today, I would achieve this or that.  Then I would start to work on my grid block or Braille block and would make it almost to the last step before completion, and alas, I would make that one fatal mistake which ruined my project.  So what did that mean?  I had to start all over from step one.  But, I always learned something, whether it was about technique or about myself, in the process.  One lesson that has always stuck is that blindness is no excuse for imperfection.  We're expected to be as accurate in our work as one/thirty‑second of an inch.  The worst thing that happened is that I lost a day, but the lesson learned was much greater than the day lost.  It's this kind of instruction which is available nowhere else.  Sometimes it takes more than the time you allotted for it to obtain this instruction. 

Well, after a couple of months, I came to this startling realization that I could not get everything I wanted out of the program in the allotted four months.  I came to the conclusion that I was simply wrong.  This was not an academic program that I could shorten or the lessons of which I could cram into my head by four months.  I decided to go for the whole nine yards and extend my training time for as long as I needed.  Now I'm fighting constantly with my rehabilitation agency to see it my way and to extend my training.  

I have gotten so much out of training in such a short time.  No blind person should be deprived of training.  Whether it's at home or at a training center is up to you.  I can personally say that the training center experience, which is by no means over, has been unbelievably transforming.  Since starting at the center, I have come a long way in my attitudes, in my self‑perception, and in dealing with my hesitations about blindness. 

I realized this a few months ago when I was on a travel lesson.  I had gone to the library at Louisiana Tech University to work with a reader on an assignment for the College Readiness class here.  Since we finished early, my travel instructor decided that we had time to go to the soda machines and get something to drink.  He asked me if I wanted something, and I said that I wouldn't mind a bottle of Strawberry Crush if the machine carried it. 

We got to the machines, and for a while I stood there wondering what to do next.  I was wearing sleep shades and wasn't planning on taking them off even though I knew that if I did, I would be able to read the machines to know if they carried Strawberry Crush.  I then asked my instructor if the machines were Brailled, and he jokingly replied, "What do you think?"  I replied, "Probably not."

After waiting awhile and wondering what to do, I  finally asked a lady if the machines carried any strawberry soda.  She took a quick glance and answered, "No, only grape and orange."  I was relieved.  Now I wouldn't have to use the machine and ask for any further help from her in finding the button for Strawberry Crush! 

A moment later, in her heavy southern drawl, she said, "Oh wait.  There is a strawberry drink, but it costs a dollar."  I thought to myself, "Oh, darn!  Well, wait!  There's still hope!  I probably don't have a dollar with me, so I still won't have to get it." 

After awhile, my instructor asked, "So did you get your soda?"  I casually replied, "No.  I'll get it at the shop.  We have strawberry soda there.  Besides, I don't think I have a dollar with me now."

To my horror, he said, "You can borrow a dollar from me if you want."  I responded, "No.  It's okay.  Then I may not remember to pay you back, and I can wait.  I don't really want it right now anyway."  He, who had played the same blindness games himself, told me not to worry and that he would remind me to pay him back.  I stood there wondering for a moment what to do.  Then I decided that enough was enough. 

It was time to stop playing these blindness games.  I didn't want to ask the lady for help in reading me the machines because my pride wouldn't let me.  I had never explicitly denied my blindness, but letting go of one's insecurity about asking questions is an indispensable part of really with one's blindness.  So after thinking about my behavior and resolving that it was time for change, I told my instructor that I would take him up on his offer and would borrow that dollar after all. 

So now I had the dollar, but still didn't know where the button for the strawberry soda was.  I asked my instructor if he knew the location of the button.  He replied, "That's up to you to figure out."  I then asked whether I was going to wait for someone sighted to come along who could read me the machine or whether I would do the previously unthinkable deed of walking up to someone and asking him or her to read me the correct button on the machine. 

Well, patience has never been my forte, so I decided that now was the best time to let my impatient nature prevail.  I gritted my teeth and did what was perhaps the most difficult thing in my life.  While my cane travel instructor stood somewhat baffled, wondering exactly why I was taking so long to obtain one simple bottle of Strawberry Crush, I gathered my bearings and walked determinedly up to an office door and asked a lady somewhat with trepidation, "Ma'am, can you please tell me which button on the last soda machine is for the Strawberry Crush?"  She casually replied that if I had asked her for Diet Dr. Pepper, she would have known off‑hand, but since she had no idea, she would walk up there and read me the button herself.  She told me that it was the second to the last button and walked away.  I inserted my dollar bill, and out came a bottle of soda, which, upon tasting, proved to be Strawberry Crush. 

I've kept that bottle of Strawberry Crush as a memento of this valuable lesson.  I still owe my travel instructor a dollar, but I owe him much more than that. 

As I was debating whether or not to get that bottle of Strawberry Crush, one thought went through my mind,  "If I don't face up to accepting my blindness here, I may never do it."  We all know that blindness should not stop us from doing things.  In doing many of the big things like going across the country alone, my blindness hasn't stopped me, but subtly and sometimes subconsciously, we let it stop us from so many little things in life—like getting a bottle of Strawberry Crush when and where we want one! 

One of the best excuses that we sometimes come up with for not doing things is that they really don't want to do them.  "It can wait" or "I really don't want to go out tonight" or "I just don't feel like it" are common phrases we use to avoid doing things we are uncomfortable with because we aren't sure of the lighting conditions or because we don't know how to do something because we've never done it before. 

I decided that I was going to stop playing the "I really don't want to anyway" game.  I had played that too long, and there comes a point when you get tired of fooling yourself.  You may successfully fool the rest of the world for a lifetime, but you can only fool yourself for so long, and you cheat yourself out of so many opportunities when you take the comfortable way out of situations. 

I had sought out some stranger and asked her to read me the labels on the machine!  It was the first significant step to fearlessly and unashamedly asking for help as a blind person--a part of accepting every aspect of blindness.  We all deal with blindness at different levels, but being at a center forces one to confront it right then and there.  It pushes you into new and challenging situations.  I thought I came to the center to acquire blindness skills.  I thought I had confronted my blindness and had "dealt with it" and its place in my life.  I thought I had accepted myself for who I am.  I was wrong. 

The graduates of the center told me that the experience would change me.  I didn't realize just how much and how quickly until my adventure with the Strawberry Crush.  I've got more changing and growing yet to do.  My cane travel instructor once told me he enjoyed his job because he loved watching "discovery learning" happen.  "It's exciting," he'd told me.  Self‑discovery is indeed exciting.  It's a process that, although often starting at an NFB center, continues for a lifetime.

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Spelling Bees and Grammar Gorillas

by Brian Miller

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Miller is the Secretary/Treasurer of the Old Capitol Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa.)

 It's the end of the school term and your computer printer is churning out the final pages of a research paper due in twenty minutes.  Perhaps, you're feeling pleased because a semester's worth of diligent research and rigorous academic inquiry has enabled you to produce a paper that is fit for the MLA Hall of Fame.  Or maybe you're sweating bullets because you waited until three days before the due date to begin your paper and you're coming down off of 48 hours of coffee‑fueled feverish scribbling.  Either way, you're pretty sure your professor of transmigrational Zen historiography will be pleased with your work. You grab the final pages out off the printer tray, lurch out the door and over to campus to your prof's office where you slide the paper under her door and slink away unnoticed.

A few days later you're hanging around the department office annoying the secretaries and chatting with fellow students about grades and beer, when the Zen historian pokes her head out from  her office and waves you in. Reluctantly, you follow her gesture, enter the office, and take a seat.  "Well," she begins,"I wanted to talk with you about your paper."   You nod blearily.  "It's quite good, and I should tell you that I gave you an A‑." You nod again, a little miffed about the minus, but warming to the positive tone of her voice.  "Your title, "The Sound of One Culture Clapping," is very clever, and your research is thorough.  Your conclusion is lucid, and the academic elegance is impressive." You're smiling now.  "But there are some problems."  The smile vanishes.  I wasn't sure if I should bring this up," she says hesitantly, I mean, I know this can't be as easy for you, with your, well, visual impairment, but there are quite a few mechanical problems in this  paper, and, a lot of  spelling errors." "Darn,” you think, “this  old song again."

"Well," she continues, "For example, you put apostrophe s for the its possessive, when there shouldn't be one,  and you spelled Zen with two n's."  Her voice becomes a dull drone in your brain, like amplifier pink noise, "...And here you spell Canada with a K, and, well, I wasn't sure if I should mention this, but I think you misspelled your own name."

Is the above a cautionary tale against the invidiousness of procrastination? A tract put out by the proofreaders and editors of America promotion council? No, rather I think it is a nightmare scenario that many blind students will wake up to at some point in their academic careers. My point is not that the blind are so incompetent that we cannot spell our own names, or that we lack some chromosome responsible for grammatical accuracy. I do hope, however, to draw on my own experience as a student to make some broader comments on the issues of literacy and self‑esteem. 

While I did not suffer through a scenario exactly as described above, I have, both as an undergraduate, and even a graduate student, had to come to terms with the fact  that I was seriously under‑performing as a writer. The reasons for this short‑coming were related directly to my blindness, or more specifically, my attitudes about my blindness, and those of my professors.

A writer since elementary school, I have always used style, the clever turn of phrase, to steam-roll over any  criticism of my organization or mechanics. Writing was a tour de force, a manic assault on the cerebral cortex, with no time for revising, for (gasp!) proofreading.  When I started to seriously

consider graduate school and a career in academia, I had to take some time to reflect on my habits.  I remember being handed back a  paper I had written on the "shining path" guerrillas of Peru on which my professor, someone for whom I had enormous respect and  considered a mentor, had written, "This is your best paper yet, Brian," but went on to say later, "For future reference, shining path in Spanish is 'sandero luminoso, not, sandero luminoso.”

Latin American politics was my gig, and I was a fluent Spanish speaker. How could I have flubbed up something so simple? The answers, I believe, are not specific to me, but may  be all too prevalent a reality for the blind student.

The first of these is the impact of auditory learning on our knowledge of the form and shape of the words we use every day.  By this, I simply mean the preference for cassette books and our ability to reproduce what we know in writing. The second component to this equation is the tendency for our teachers and  professors to not hold us equally accountable when we make mistakes.

As many of us already know, the use of Braille as the principle medium of communication for the blind has declined radically in the past 50 years.  This has had a tremendous impact on the level of true literacy within our community.  This is because when we see words with our eyes, or feel them with our fingers, we imprint on our brains both the word as a whole as well as its constituent parts (i.e., the letters that make up the word).  Conversely, when we hear a spoken word, either live or on cassette, we imprint only the sound component or the word as a whole unit. So when it comes time to reproduce this word later, say, in a research paper, we must struggle to translate the sound into the written form.  This is a tricky  business, especially with the ever‑quixotic English language.

If we are not careful, we can become prone to making errors of spelling in our writing that a sighted literate person would be less likely to make. For example, say you are doing a paper on the great Antarctic poet, Empress Penguinus Bumperschew  A sighted person reading her ponderous work would know the poet's  name was spelled B‑u‑m‑p‑e‑r‑s‑c‑h‑e‑w.  If you're listening to one of her epic poems on tape, however, and the reader failed to spell her name, you would be at a loss, and you would do a terrible disservice to Ms.  Bumperschew.

We cannot blithely fall back on high‑tech solutions, saying, "My spell‑checker will save me." You'll quickly find the more specialized and advanced your studies become, the less reliable are even the best spell‑checkers. As a radical young graduate  student in political science, I became quite adroit at discussing weighty concepts like hegemonic transference, and  con-socionationalism, but beads of sweat would form on my brow at  the prospect of spelling such things in a paper.  Even before we arrive so far as graduate school, we should know such basics as  when to use "their" t‑h‑e‑i‑r, versus "they're" t‑h‑e‑y‑'‑r‑e as no spell‑check program will show us when to use which form.

Professors aggravate the situation by cutting us slack because they imagine we are incapable of  monitoring our own work for mechanical errancy.  They will say, "I know this is harder for you."  And they are right, it is harder, or at least it can be more work.  Even worse is when no one wants to tell us when we've made a mistake because it will embarrass us or them. The professor might think it is unfair to hold us to the same standard as other students.   They might think it is like saying to a person in a wheelchair, "I know you can't run as fast as the rest of us, so I won't even ask you to try."

I hope that my remarks here do not elicit facile retorts  such as, "Yes, yes.  Ok, try not to misspell stuff.  Sure.  Thanks  for the great advice." After all, you might well be a National Spelling Bee champion, and haven't misspelled the thorniest of words since second grade.  However, I know for myself my Achilles  heel has always been mechanical errors in writing, and my resistance to doing anything about it until well into my academic career.  This shortcoming has been derived from a potent combination of two factors.  First, there have been my own fatalistic attitudes expressed in such ways as, "Why bother proofreading?",  "My computer probably won't catch the mistake and I don't have a reader handy."  Second, there has been the willingness of my academic mentors to forgive, forget, or ignore the issue altogether. 

There have always been plenty of people around to assure me  that I am articulate, witty, or glib.  This may be ego‑bolstering, but not especially edifying.  We cannot expect to grow on a  Twinkie‑like diet of compliments.  We must be willing to take and make honest assessments of our strengths and weaknesses, and never say, "Hey, this is pretty good for a blind guy."

We know that with enough grease on the axles that guy in the   wheelchair might well roll right by the rest of us bipedal types,  and with the right skills, we blind people can and will meet the challenges of academia.

We should not  be seduced into producing substandard work when we know we can do better.  When we can't get Braille, we must insist our readers spell all those strange names and places, and even hire a proofreader if we need to. We must budget time to check our work, and hold ourselves to a high standard. If we fail to do this, if  we settle for verbal glibness and charm as substitutes for real writing ability, we cannot honestly call ourselves literate.

As students, we will inevitably make mistakes, embarrassing ones, mistakes that will make us want to move to Argentina.  But with some effort, these can be the exceptions, rare causes for mirth, rather than the standard by which we are measured.  Being a competent blind student has little to do with buzzing about like a spelling bee, or lumbering around like a grammar gorilla, but rather living up to the full measure of our abilities and never settling for second best.

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If They Would Laugh With Us

By Angela Sasser

Two years ago, I was visiting some friends who worked in the children's summer program at one of our training centers.  One day, while I was there, I took part in a seminar in which we were discussing attitudes and stereotypes about blind people.  I brought up the idea that we, as blind people, should be conscious of our actions, because people take note of them without us even knowing.  I insisted that this was how attitudes, both negative and positive, were formed.  I also suggested that other blind people could be affected by those attitudes that were formed by our actions. 

Later that summer, I was on my way to the NFB national convention in California.  I was with the same friends that I previously had gone to visit.  We were getting ready to board the plane.  It was one of those small planes--the kind that you board by walking outside and climbing up stairs.  After climbing a few of the stairs, my friends and I paused and were patiently waiting to continue boarding the airplane.  We were engaged in intense conversation, and I was not paying much attention to anything but our discussion.  I stepped backwards a little and to my surprise, the next thing I knew, I was on the ground.  It was absolutely hilarious.  We were laughing hysterically.  I picked myself up and continued boarding the plane, never really thinking about who all saw this little incident. 

After being at convention for a week, the whole thing sort of became a funny memory; at least I thought it was just a memory of the not so distant past.  However, when we were on our way back home, we found ourselves on the same small plane.  I am happy to say that I got on the plane without any mishaps.  After the plane landed, and we were exiting, a man was standing at the bottom of the stairs and grabbing all of my friends, telling them "Be careful!  We had one blind person fall last" As he was about to finish his sentence, I appeared in the doorway, and he said, "There she is!"

We all got a good laugh out of the experience, but at the same time, realized that the point I had made in the seminar had been proven.  People do notice us and the things we do more often than we think.  That man had seen other blind people make it up into the plane without incident, but because of what happened to me, he took that and formed his attitude about blind people.  People look for confirmation of the things that they believe.  This, of course, makes it more of our responsibility to insure that we are aware of what we do.  Even more so than sighted people, we have to be conscious of how we look, act, and present ourselves.  But, after a while, if enough attitudes are changed, we will be able to fall down without people in society taking pity on us.  Rather they will begin to laugh with us.

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 Just One of the Class

by Billy Petrino

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Billy Petrino is the Treasurer of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students.)

I am a Senior at Louisiana Tech University and a recent graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind.  I have been attending the University since September, 1998 and, during that time, I have faced various issues concerning my blindness.  I want to share with you one experience I had that, at first, seemed quite amusing but was, in actuality, a valuable lesson.

I am an education major and for one of my course requirements, I took a course entitled Education 310, Educational Technology.  One night, we were scheduled to watch a video, administered by a substitute instructor, as our primary teacher was away on lecture.  I sat in the front of the class, something I habitually did.  As class began, the substitute asked me if I would mind starting the video since the VCR/TV combo was directly in front of my chair.  Without giving it much thought, I felt around on the VCR, found the big play button, and we proceeded to watch the video.

When the video was over, the substitute asked me to turn off the video and rewind it.  I did so as the teacher dismissed the class.  As students were leaving, the instructor came up to me and told me thanks for helping with the video.  She further went on to say that she hated working the machine because the writing on it was too small for her to read.  I smiled politely and told her it was nothing.  Then I packed up my slate, stylus, and paper,  picked up my cane from the floor, and left for home.

At first, I found the situation amusing.  There I was, cane at my feet, a stylus in hand, taking Braille notes on the video presentation.  And there the teacher was, thanking me because she felt her eyesight was not sufficient to run the machine.   The one part I could not get over was the fact that there I was, using Braille and a cane, and the teacher never realized, until I was walking out of class, that I was blind.

Upon further reflection, I learned from this experience.  The reason the substitute failed to see my blindness is that I didn't make a particular show of it.  It wasn't that I hid my blindness.  The tools on my desk and at my feet were fairly obvious.  But with my skills and knowledge, the fact that I was blind was not particularly significant.  I did not act like a stereotypical blind person and perhaps that was what made the substitute teacher so unaware.  She evidently saw me as just another student in a class of 40, which is fine by me since that is exactly who I am.

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The CCTV: A Personal Perspective

by Nathanael Wales

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Nathanael Wales is the President of the California Association of Blind Students.) 

There came a night during the third grade when I couldn't wait to fall asleep.  The sooner I fell asleep, the sooner I would wake up and the sooner I would be able to go to school.  Then I could use this new machine that would make print "really big."   The machine had been brought by a woman named Bobbie and I remember that someone had called her a vision teacher.  From time to time, Bobbie visited my school and called me out of class--that was really special.  Bobbie would help me with class work and occasionally show me some magnifiers.

On that big day in third grade, she brought a large machine that was known as a CCTV (closed-circuit television).  It was about the size of a television and made whatever papers or books that you put under it look really big.  There was a knob to adjust the size, a knob to focus the image on the screen, a switch to make black print on white paper look like white print on black paper, and a switch to make the image look really weird and upside-down so you could use the machine with a typewriter.

I thought the CCTV was a really cool machine.  It made it easier for me to read things in school.  It was so helpful to me that my grandparents bought one for me to use at home.  My vision decreased through the rest of third grade and into fourth grade.  Little by little, the smallest size of the print that I was able to read needed to be magnified larger and larger.  I began to use and depend upon the CCTV more and more.  It became the way that I got things done for school.  On many occasions, I would spend several hours a night using the CCTV to do my homework.

I developed many ways to make using the CCTV faster.  For example, when I did math homework I had the book, a piece of glass to flatten out the pages of the book to make them easier to focus on, and the piece of paper that I was doing the homework on.  I would put the piece of paper that I was doing the homework on under the CCTV, put the book and piece of glass over it, read the problem, remove the book and put it next to me on my desk, re-focus the CCTV, write out the problem, put the book back under the CCTV, re-focus the CCTV, and then read the next problem.  Sometimes it was slow but I got the work done.

In the spring of my fourth grade year, I had a surgery that improved my vision enough so that I wasn't completely dependent on the CCTV.  I began to use it in combination with high-powered magnifiers and enlarged photocopies of pages of my schoolbooks.  For example, I now could put my math book next to me on my desk and read the math problem using a high-powered magnifier and write out the problem under the CCTV.  I called the system the "Fast Glance System" because it was faster than moving the book back and forth and re-focusing the CCTV.

As I entered junior high, my vision began to decrease again.  At that point, my vision teacher brought me a portable CCTV.  This portable machine was always slower, and I could never write under it, but it was better than nothing.  I still had a full-sized CCTV in my English class and in the library.  In fact, the CCTV in the library was in color instead of just black and white.  My vision teacher got a few more full-sized CCTVs later that year, and I got two more of them: one in my math class and one for my social studies/science class.

In high school, I ended up having CCTVs in four of my six classrooms, a large color CCTV in the library that I shared with a couple of other visually impaired students, and a portable CCTV for the two classrooms where I did not have a full-sized CCTV.  Outside of class, I was on my school's mock trial team all four years of high school, and I used the portable CCTV during competitions at the counsel table in courtrooms. 

In my sophomore year, my vision teacher brought me a new portable CCTV that I could not only read under but also write under.  That was the ultimate.  Sure, it fit in a case that was the size of a suitcase, but now I could read and write anywhere there was a table and a few minutes to set it up when I began reading and a few minutes to pack it up when I was finished.

My parents and I were always interested in the latest adaptive technology, especially CCTVs, screen-enlarging software for computers, and scanners.  We regularly went to vendors' exhibits.  During my sophomore year of high school we went to such an exhibit at the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind.  There were a number of vendors there, and the exhibit was one of the best I have been to.

However, there was much more at that convention of the National Federation of the Blind than a technology exhibit.  I attended a meeting of blind students, and they were talking about a number of things.  They talked about Braille, which I thought was reserved for only the most poorly off blind people.  They also discussed something called a Disabled Student Services Office as well as the administration of the S.A.T.  It didn't seem to matter too much to me since I was only a sophomore in high school, but I noted the experience in my mind anyway.

After the NFB state convention, I began receiving tapes from the NFB.  It was a magazine called The Braille Monitor, and I read it because in between doing homework and mock trial I had little else to do.  There was an article by a blind man who had been a vision teacher.  He talked about teaching all of his blind, and even partially sighted, students Braille and how to get around the playground with their fellow sighted students.  He even taught them how to play tag. 

The Braille Monitor also published testimony on Braille literacy bills.  Blind college students and professionals talked about how fast and useful Braille was in their lives.  I came to the conclusion that Braille might just be something I ought to learn.  I realized that sometimes a CCTV isn't as versatile in all situations.

During my senior year of high school, I asked my vision teacher to teach me Braille, and she was happy to do it.  I had lessons once or twice a week, and by the end of the year I had learned most of Grade II.  As I learned Braille, I began to put what I was learning to use, particularly in mock trial.  I still used the portable CCTV, but I also had notes in Braille that I used.  It was great to use the Braille notes at a podium or when moving around the courtroom making arguments to the court and questioning witnesses.  One of the coaches remarked that she really noticed that my performance improved with the Braille because I was now able to read as fast as I could think.

During my senior year of high school, I realized that I could probably use some improvement in my skills as a blind person before heading off to college.  Nine days after I graduated from high school, I enrolled at an NFB training center.  In two weeks I finished the Grade II Braille code, and I began learning how to be proficient in using a slate and stylus.  I learned how to take notes in Braille in meetings and in classes.  I read novels and magazines in Braille, and I began learning the Braille code for mathematics and science.  I also worked on my skills of traveling with a cane, using a computer with a speech synthesizer, and living independently as a blind person.  I not only developed competence in Braille and other skills, but I developed the confidence to make them my primary alternative techniques.  

Today, Braille is the principle way that I read and write.  I take notes in Braille, read as many texts as are available in Braille, and read my Bible in Braille.  When I am home visiting my parents I use the old CCTV from elementary school and high school days for personal reading, but I haven't taken it with me to college.  There is a CCTV at my university, and I've used it four or five times in the past two years when it's not been convenient for a reader or roommate to read something such as mail or an article from my university's student newspaper.

I have found Braille to be useful in classrooms, meetings, and church functions.  It may, depending on the situation, mean using a Braillewriter, using a BrailleLite, or using a simple slate and stylus.  Braille is lighter to carry, more versatile in its uses, and can be faster than a CCTV.  Although I didn't realize it on that long ago night as a third grader, Braille and the NFB, not a CCTV, would end up having a major impact on my future.

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The Top Ten Advantages of Dating Sighted and Blind People

by Priscilla McKinley

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Priscilla McKinley is a Board Member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa.  She is also the President of the Old Capitol Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa.) 

 10.  Dating a sighted person means having a sighted guide when some idiot smashes into you and breaks your cane on your way to class; Dating a blind person means having a spare cane when some idiot smashes into you and breaks your cane on your way to class.

9.  Dating a sighted person means having someone keep you from kissing a nose instead of the lips; Dating a blind person means not caring if you give or get a kiss on the nose instead of the lips.

8.  Dating a sighted person means being able to take drives in the country on weekends; Dating a blind person means being able to have private NFB conventions on weekends.

7.  Dating a sighted person means having someone to blame when you run into each other in the hall; Dating a blind person means it's no one's fault when you run into each other in the hall.

6.  Dating a sighted person means having someone to describe what's going on during the silent moments of a movie; Dating a blind person means having time to get  popcorn or go to the bathroom during the silent moments of a movie.

5.  Dating a sighted person means knowing who's going to drive on your next date; Dating a blind person means knowing you're going to take the bus on your next date.

4.  Dating a sighted person means having someone to tell you if your socks match; Dating a blind person means having someone else remember if you cut your tag out of your orange or purple shirt.

3.  Dating a sighted person means someone telling you when you have a piece of broccoli stuck between your two front teeth; Dating a blind person means no one noticing when you have a piece of broccoli stuck between your two front teeth.

2.  Dating a sighted person means being able to ask questions like, "What's the expiration date on this milk?" and "Does this look infected?" ; Dating a blind person means being able to ask questions like, "What's the Braille symbol for S-I-O-N?" and "Does this feel swollen?"

Okay.  Okay.  Hold on.  I'm not going to give you the number one advantage for dating sighted and blind persons, at least not until you hear me out. And don't cheat by fast forwarding your tape player to the next beep tone and then rewinding a few seconds, for I have some important things to say here.  Really!

As students, many of you have dated, are dating, or at least would like to date.  Some of you may have pondered the questions about whether or not to date a sighted or a blind person, as I have in the past.  Sometimes I thought it would be easier to date a blind person, someone who could understand the challenges blind people face on a daily basis.  Other times, I thought it would be easier to date a sighted person, someone who could alleviate some of the challenges that go along with blindness.  But then when in a relationship with a sighted person, I would start questioning why I was with this person and why he was with me.  Is he with me because he likes to play the protector?  Is he with me because he has low self esteem and doesn't think he can get a sighted person?  Am I with him because it's nice to have someone to drive me places when I'm in a hurry or read the paper when Newsline® breaks down?  Am I with this person because I am afraid to be alone? 

When in a relationship with a blind person, I found myself asking similar types of questions.  Do we have anything in common besides our blindness?  Am I in this relationship because I don't think a sighted person could accept my blindness?  If I stay in this relationship, how are we going to manage as a blind couple? 

There are many reasons why people enter into relationships with others, and we as blind students are just as likely to enter into relationships for the wrong reasons.  However, we can make this less likely by possessing self-confidence and good blindness skills.  For example, I won't be as likely to get into a relationship of dependency on a sighted person if I have access to readers, have good Braille and cane travel skills, and know the city bus schedule like the back of my hand. Likewise, I won't be as likely to enter into a relationship of safety with a blind person if I have the self-confidence to be blind on my own. 

In other words, as in any relationship, you have to be happy with yourself before you can make another person happy.  The better your blindness skills, the less your blindness becomes an issue in any relationship. Both sighted and blind persons will respect you more if you have self-confidence and good blindness skills.  And isn't that what Doctor Jernigan, Doctor Maurer, and our other mentors from the National Federation of the Blind have been telling us for years? 

"It is respectable to be blind.  It is respectable to be blind.  It is respectable to be blind."  If you keep telling yourself this, you will start to believe it.  If you believe it, you will start to live it, which will positively affect your relationships with both the sighted and the blind.

It is important for all of us as blind individuals to analyze our relationships.  I'm not saying you should get out a microscope and examine each and every move you and your partner make, but you should ask yourself the following questions:

1.  Would you still be interested in this person if the status of his/her sight changed?  In other words, if dating a sighted person, would you still be interested if he/she went blind? Or, if dating a blind person, would you be interested if he/she got his/her sight back?

2.  Would you still want to be with this person if all of a sudden you could see?

If you are currently in a relationship and answered "no" to either of the above questions, you might want to get out that microscope and take a closer look, for you might be in the relationship for the wrong reasons.

If you answered "yes" to both of the questions,, then you have made it to the number one advantage for dating a sighted or a blind person, which is the same for both.

1.  Dating this person, sighted or blind, means being with the one you love (or at least the one you like a heck of a lot).  And isn't that what really matters?

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A Vote of Confidence

by Jason Ewell

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jason Ewell is a sophomore at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.  He is also an active student leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio.)

During my freshman year of college, I participated in a number of  extracurricular activities, including playing center on an intramural freshman flag football team, playing my alto saxophone in the band for the Christmas concert, and participating in several clubs.  Nevertheless, I was not as involved as I would like to have been.  Early in my freshman year, I considered running for a class office, but only briefly.  Now, I think that I should have run, but at the time, I was somewhat apprehensive of my chances, and, unfortunately, I let my apprehension keep me from trying.

Throughout my second semester at John Carroll, various controversies arose and several events took place that were both irritating and thought provoking. This trend helped to increase my desire to become involved on campus, though I was not sure exactly in what I wanted to participate. While I was at home on spring break, I received an e‑mail message from the Student Union, John Carroll's organization of student government. This message said that those wishing to run for class offices needed to file a letter of intent and attend a meeting scheduled for one week after we returned from spring break.

Once again, I thought, "Maybe I'll run for a class office, possibly for president," but I made no plans to do so and told no one of my thoughts. The day before this meeting was to take place, I was talking to one of my sophomore friends who had suggested that I run for the presidency of a club to which we both belonged.  When I told her that I was considering either writing for the school paper or running for a class office, she strongly encouraged me to do the latter and said that there was no reason why I couldn't write for the paper as well.

I talked to several other friends that weekend, all of whom were encouraging and enthusiastic about my chances.  Upon reflection, I resolved that I did not want blindness to become a factor in the election.   I did not want to gain votes because of blindness, but I didn't want to lose votes on that account either. 

Two of my classmates ran against me for the presidency of the class of 2001 for the sophomore year.  The three of us ran in a primary election. I and one of the others, being the top two vote getters in the primary, went on to the general election. My opponent had run for president of our freshman class in the fall. He lost by seven votes.  During the campaign, an individual prominent in student government told one of my friends that my opponent had complained to him, saying that in his first attempt he had "had to run against a jock, and now [he had] to run against Blind."

How much commentary is needed here? All I wanted was to run a fair, spirited campaign.  I wanted the outcome to be decided based on issues that affect student life. I wanted the best candidate, me, in my opinion, to be elected.  Maybe my opponent was worried that he might not have been running the best campaign. Maybe he thought that I was more charismatic.  One can only guess.

Ultimately, I won the general election for president by ten votes. I think that those who supported me did so because they believed that I was the best candidate for the job. Serving as class president for the past year has been a great experience. I have directed the planning of various class activities, including a weekend trip to Toronto, a one‑day ski trip to New York, and a class picnic. In addition, I have served on two committees of the Student Union: the Rules Committee, which reviews certain legislation, and the Activities Committee, which has planned two concerts this year.

In January of my sophomore year, I decided to run for the vice presidency of the Student Union.  My opponent in the general election told several people that I would get the "pity  vote." While I admit that some people might remember me initially because I am the only blind student on campus, once I get to know them, I think that my personality is what they remember most.

When I campaigned, I went door‑to‑door in several dorms, talking to people, telling them what I thought needed to be done, and how I planned to do it. By no means did people give me a free pass just because I was blind. Some of them told me they would vote for me, simply because I was the "only one who took the time to stop by," but others asked me what I proposed to do about issue X, or if and how I could help to solve problem Y.

While it is unfortunate that I have to deal with the occasional "pity vote" comment, I have come to realize that most of my fellow students have little tolerance for people who make such remarks, not just because they see making the comments as impolite behavior, but because they don't believe such comments to be true.

Those students who care enough to take the time to vote, are the ones who care most that the planning of events for which the vice president will be responsible will be carried out correctly.  Those who voted for me did so either because they thought that I would do a better job, or because some aspect of my campaign appealed to them.  In the end, I emerged victorious, this time by more than one‑hundred votes.

I am really looking forward to the year ahead. I think that being involved in student government is a good way for me to do something beneficial for the students of John Carroll.  I can also promote a positive philosophy of blindness at the same time.  If you would like to participate in the student government at your university, I encourage you to do so, whether you run for an office, or help out in some other way. The individual role that you play in the organization is not nearly as important as carrying it out in a way that maximizes use of your talents and promotes a positive philosophy of blindness.

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My First Steps

by Tanya Stewart

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Tanya Stewart is an active student leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana.)

In March of 1998 I began my first quarter at Louisiana Tech University.  I had just graduated from the Louisiana Center for the Blind and was eager to try out my new- found skills and confidence.  One of my courses that I was to take was Education 125.  This class introduces the basic concepts of education.  As a course requirement I had to observe an elementary classroom for ten hours.  I was very excited about this class for it was here that I would find out if  I wanted to continue my long time goal to teach.  However, I was not prepared for the obstacles that I would face on the first day of class.

At the Louisiana Center, I had learned about blindness and the negative attitudes that many people have towards it.  My family and friends were somewhat skeptical of my decision to teach.  However, after seeing me read Braille and use a cane to travel, their support grew.  The question was no longer if I could teach, but whether I wanted to teach.  So when I walked into class with my yet untried philosophy, I was not prepared for my instructor's attitude towards me.  At first, she would not talk to me.  When she took roll, my name was not called. 

Thinking that this was some mix up, I ignored it.  However, when I approached her after class to discuss testing modifications and to sort out the problem of the roll, she informed me that my name was on the roll.  She then proceeded to ask me if I wanted to be in this class.  She was not sure how I would observe a class or how I would ever be able to teach.  I explained to her that I was intending to be a teacher and that this course was required.  She said that she understood and the matter was dropped, or so I thought.

As the quarter progressed, I noticed that she would never call on me to answer questions or to discuss parts of the text.  I was not sure how to bring this matter up, so I let it go.  After the first test, matters improved.  I scored well on the test, and the teacher was shown that I could complete my work competently.  I noticed that after the test, she would walk by my desk and feel my Braille paper where I had used my slate.  As the quarter progressed, she began calling on me.  I delivered my article review in front of the class, like the rest of the students, and handed in quality work on time.   After awhile, she began to warm up to me. 

Toward the end of the quarter, my instructor asked to speak to me.  She wanted to know how I observed the classes and how I completed type-written notes.  She was no longer afraid of approaching me, and was beginning to believe that I wasn't a waste of her time.

When, at first, my instructor showed no belief in my ability to teach, I was hurt.  I knew that I could learn the material needed to become a teacher, but if I had not met other blind teachers, I may have been persuaded to drop the coarse.  The Federation and the center have given me the skills and confidence to follow my dreams.

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Tony's Story

by Angela Howard, Secretary, National Association of Blind Students

Most of us are sure of our commitment to the National Federation of the Blind, and to our smaller community of Federation students.  For most of us, Federationism is such an integral part of the way we think and the way we act that we do not question its importance in our lives.  We know it, and we live it everyday.  However, it is good to remind ourselves of just how much this community means to our own success and happiness, and how much it can mean in the lives of other blind people. 

During my first two years of college, another blind person inhabited our classrooms and hallways.  We shall call him "Tony."  I spoke with Tony on several occasions. and invited him several times to NFB conventions and seminars.  His answer was always, "No."  I asked him if was involved in any organizations of or for the blind.  He told me, "I have been to an NFB meeting, but find that stuff not worth my time."  I did not push him further, and our paths rarely crossed after that. 

Now, I have observed Tony on several occasions, and others have made comments reaffirming my observations.  Tony was not the poster child for independence and positive philosophy.  He was not a confident cane user and expected to have a sighted person's arm available, even when that method of travel was not convenient for either him or the sighted person.  He did not want to use Braille, relying instead on a combination of CCTV and pure memory to take class notes.  Tony had also been the victim of blatant discrimination by the school's choir teacher who refused to let him into the class because of his blindness.  He acquiesced to the teacher's prejudice without protest.  Yet, Tony insisted that he did not need the Federation.  What are we to make of it?

Those of us who are blind are not likely to find a community outside of the NFB that will have high expectations of us.  Sometimes communities will blatantly try to exclude us from participation.  But more often, they will expect that we will simply assume a marginal role in activities.  If we accept traditional attitudes about blindness, we will claim that things are as good as they can get, that the problem is blindness itself and not bad attitudes or even  blatant discrimination.  If we believe that blindness means incompetence and inferiority, we will probably want to avoid using tools such as Braille or the cane that are symbols of our condition.  And if we believe that blind people are inferior, we might be hesitant or ashamed to be associated with others who are blind. 

Some of us are lucky enough to meet a blind person or a group of blind people who introduce to us a new philosophy about blindness, a philosophy which says that blindness does not mean inferiority.  Some of us adopt this philosophy as our own.  We begin to expect more of ourselves than has been expected of us by parents, teachers, and others.  We come to understand the importance of using tools such as Braille and the cane in gaining the independence that we now believe we can achieve.  And we begin to expect more from others, that they will accept us as fully participating members of our communities. 

When our expectations are raised, we begin to understand the extent to which our confidence is diminished by the negative attitudes of others.  We come to realize that we need a community of people who share the same commitment to higher expectations and beliefs in the capacities of blind people.  Many of us talk about needing a shot in the arm of good philosophy, a boost in confidence which we can only get at Federation meetings.  When our confidence is raised and our negative attitudes about blindness reduced, we will not be ashamed to associate with other blind people.  On the contrary, we will take great joy in participating in a self-directed movement to collectively improve our own lives.

Should we treat Tony with contempt?  No, we should only pity him. It is true that we could use his help in making life better for all blind people.  But we can do Tony's work for him.  We will continue to make opportunities better for Tony, whether he recognizes it or not.  But only Tony can recognize his own internalized negative attitudes.  Only Tony can shed his own shame of blindness.  There are many Tonys in the world, blind people who benefit from our hard labor and refuse to acknowledge us or work with us.  This means that each of us will have to do a little more work.  But we are the fortunate ones.  We will have higher expectations of ourselves and will live up to them.  We will expect more from the sighted and they will eventually live up to it.  We will experience the deep love and joy of being a part of the Federation. 

We know why the Federation is important to us.  We live the philosophy  everyday, challenging ourselves, the public, and other blind people, to do better.  Let Tony's story remind us of our commitment to one another.  And let his story remind us of the great deal of work left for us to do. 

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Living the Movement

By Edward Bell, Second Vice-President, National Association of Blind Student

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following speech is a live recording delivered by Edward Bell at the 1999 Washington Student Seminar.

What is life? Does it simply mean having breath in your body and a strong heartbeat? Well, maybe, but to most of us it means a great deal more. It means learning, experiencing, loving, and finding a purpose in our existence. We all have life, but we don't all have the same opportunity truly to live.

I grew up as a pretty normal sighted child. My family lived in a poor section of Albuquerque, where my father worked in construction and my mother was a homemaker. My siblings and I did not have many material possessions, but we had a strong, loving, happy family. Life was pretty good until I reached age fifteen. In 1990 my father passed away after a long bout with cancer. Within a year my family was evicted from the low-income housing which had been our home. After some disagreements with my mother, I moved in with my brother, and our family kind of split apart. It was about this time that life started to seem discouraging and unpleasant. I began going through the motions of school and work but not really enjoying life. I started skipping school, partying, and generally going down the wrong path.

Then, in 1992, I was shot in a drive-by shooting, which resulted in total blindness. Knowing nothing about blindness except the negative stereotypes and misconceptions, I was in total despair. After leaving the hospital, I returned to my brother's house and waited to die. It was at this time that I stopped living altogether and simply continued existing. In 1993 my sister and nephew were in a horrible car accident, and I also lost several friends to street violence.

Not knowing what else to do, my mother began researching available services that might help me adjust to blindness. Fortunately she found the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. I attended the training center, where I spent seven months learning cane travel, Braille, and the necessary skills of blindness. More important, however, I found the National Federation of the Blind. Please understand me: I didn't run to this organization with open arms. I was skeptical and did everything I could to avoid becoming involved. I had never belonged to other organizations and saw no reason to begin with a group of blind people. Nevertheless, I attended my first National Convention in 1993, but the importance of the National Federation of the Blind did not strike me until I began attending college and obtained my first job.

I had no desire to return to college, but constant support and encouragement from friends in the National Federation of the Blind finally convinced me to give it a try. Beginning college forced me to start facing life again and finding purpose for my existence. Working for the Louisiana Center for the Blind in 1994 offered me my first opportunity to give back some of the skills, knowledge, and confidence I had gained. My early successes made clear to me that none of it would have been possible without the National Federation of the Blind.

Let me speak for a moment about vision. When we think of vision, most of us think of eyesight. What I am thinking about requires a much broader definition. I am talking about a vision of life, specifically, that which the NFB has helped me to regain. When I was a child, I had dreams of joining the military, raising a family, and acquiring money and status. In the early 1990's, however, I lost this vision and focused only on my blindness and limitations. Not only had I lost my eyesight, but I had abandoned my dreams and hopes for the future.

Slowly but surely I have regained my vision. My eyes are as blind today as they were six years ago, but I now have the vision that I had truly missed. This vision began returning only after I became active in the NFB--attending state and National Conventions, making new friends, succeeding in college, and gaining stability in my personal life. These have been the tools that have assisted me in rebuilding my hopes and dreams for the future. Because we are blind, we often spend too much time focusing on eyesight and convincing others that we are capable of normality. But by investing my time in the efforts of the NFB and focusing on my own plans, I have begun to regain the vision I was missing. Like many blind people I thought that only eyesight could improve my life. I now know that persistence and a wise investment in the National Federation of the Blind can give you more vision than any doctor or rehabilitation plan.

So what is a Federationist, and why am I one? I believe that a Federationist is someone who has devoted his or her life to the organization. I do not mean devotion simply because someone else said it was a good idea but because of witnessing firsthand its importance. In fact, many Federationists will tell you that they cannot conceive what their lives would have been like without the NFB, and I believe them.

Those of us who call ourselves Federationists with pride have found a niche in this organization and a common purpose that we believe is worth working toward. There is no secret initiation, no key to becoming a Federationist. Most of us have the capacity to be Federationists even if we don't know it yet. Everyone who seeks happiness, success, and a place where we fit and know we belong can find a home in the NFB.

Why am I a Federationist? Words are inadequate. I can say that the NFB has truly given me my life back and an even better one than I thought existed. You may be thinking, "But you're still blind. How can you think such a thing?" I can say it because I now have something much more important than eyesight; I have insight into my own potential and an accurate vision of the life that I am already acquiring. This realization has motivated me to dedicate my life to the work of the National Federation of the Blind and makes me proud to call myself a Federationist.

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