The Braille Monitor                                                                                       June 2003

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The Beach, Pretty Girls, and Dreaming

by Richie Flores

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Fall 2002 issue of the newsletter of the Texas student division. Richie Flores has been an active member of the Texas Association of Blind Students (TABS) for several years. He is currently a sophomore at Blinn College. In the following article he explains why he joined TABS, one of our most active affiliate student divisions. Here is what Richie has to say.

On the first day of third grade my teacher asked each student to stand up and introduce himself or herself and tell the class the three things they enjoyed most about life. When my turn came, I proudly stood up and said, "My name is Richie Flores, and my favorite things are the beach, pretty girls, and dreaming." I got a few snickers from my classmates, a couple of puzzled grumbles, and a teacher who was not impressed with my answer. After being a member of the Texas Association of Blind Students for over two years I laugh to myself when I think of my reasons for joining this organization. Some things never change. One way or another the beach, pretty girls, and my dreams have all played a vital role in my joining TABS.

When I was fifteen, I was approached by an agency for the blind. A seminar for blind students was to be held at South Padre Island, and I was invited to attend. According to the staff I would have a chance to meet other blind students, have a lot of fun, and perhaps learn something new about blindness. Enticed by the beach setting and also eager to meet other blind students my age, I agreed to attend the seminar.

Upon arrival I was delighted to learn that three other blind students and I would be lodging in a three-bedroom condo with cable TV and a hot tub on the balcony overlooking the beach, no less. After dinner was served in a pavilion on the hotel grounds, I got the chance to meet the other eleven students also attending the seminar.

The after-dinner activity was a scavenger hunt to familiarize us with our surroundings. The object of this activity was to locate items and landmarks specifically assigned to each pair of students. The first pair to finish would win a prize. I remember using my cane and my ears to locate the finish line, a bubbling creek in the center of the hotel's courtyard. My roommate and new friend David was not so lucky. As he and his partner rushed toward the finish line, eager to pass us and win first place, down tumbled David into the creek, clothing and all, soaked from head to toe, and above all embarrassed. Never mind who won the scavenger hunt; I can't even remember what the first prize was.

The point I want to make here is the reason for David's mishap. I learned later that David was not using his cane. Instead he was using the ever-popular sighted-guide technique. David was hanging on to the arm of his partner, another seminar attendee. I came to realize that each pair included one totally blind and one visually impaired partner. This was no coincidence. Those in charge of the seminar gave us to understand that we totally blind students couldn't get around without our partially sighted partners.

Poor David's experience did not seem to persuade anyone that we were all blind and really should not be depending on each other for safe travel. When the fundamental concept of independent travel for a blind person is not emphasized at a seminar for blind teens, you can imagine the other misconceptions and improper training methods I endured during those four days at the beach.

Let me compare that seminar with the one I helped organize for the Texas Association of Blind Students (TABS). In April of 2002 we conducted what I consider one of TABS's biggest accomplishments. We couldn't offer the luxury of South Padre Island or free hotel accommodation, but all in all it went well. The TABS seminar took place in Houston, Texas, at the Marriott Courtyard hotel. It was a day and a half long, and in my opinion it was very exciting. Over sixty students registered, which is an amazing attendance. Our attendees came on their own, bought their own meals, and rented their own rooms. A few even volunteered that they were leaving with a new perspective on blindness.

A tangible example of our success was the fact that two students decided to attend an NFB training center during the summer to enhance their blindness skills. One of these students told me that she owed her new attitude about blindness to the TABS seminar. Because of the information she received, she now uses her cane, has increased her appreciation for Braille, has gained cooking and cleaning skills, and has done it all proudly and independently.

Our seminar was filled with information and inspiration. It was not conducted by an agency for the blind convinced that the blind need charity. All our speeches and panels were composed of blind students who have already experienced what these attendees were about to face. Although we had no go-cart races, sand-castle-building contests, or scavenger hunts (with or without unfortunate endings), I believe these kids learned important truths, which was exactly what TABS wanted to happen.

As for pretty girls, my father once told me that the most beautiful women are the ones who can stand on their own two feet. This is true in TABS's parent organization, the National Federation of the Blind. When I received a state scholarship and was first introduced to the NFB and TABS, I was amazed to meet other students my age who were on the A honor role, held offices in student government, and used their canes and other blindness skills proudly. Kimberly Aguillard, Angela Wolf, and Yolanda Garcia all convinced me that not just being a young woman but being a blind young woman was respectable.

The beautiful-woman principle continues throughout the NFB. Our affiliate president Zena Pearcy and her board lead Texas. Dr. Joanne Wilson, a longtime NFB leader, is currently the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, a position appointed by President George W. Bush. This is a huge accomplishment for any person, man or woman, blind or sighted. Using these women as role models has helped me to believe in myself as a blind person and improved my attitude toward other blind people. All these women I have mentioned are independent, intelligent, and confident, which by my father's standard makes them beautiful people. They challenge me to step beyond my comfort zone and live independently as a blind person. So in this sense pretty girls have played a crucial role in convincing me that this organization has worthwhile purposes and dreams.

The student division's dreams were my main reason for joining this organization. Like the rest of the National Federation of the Blind, TABS believes in promoting equality, security, and opportunity for all blind people, particularly students. Obtaining access to courses and accessible textbooks, mastering independent travel, and acquiring adaptive technology are areas of the battle in which students are frequently engaged. The Instructional Materials Accessibility Act, a bill the NFB and virtually every other organization in the blindness field are urging Congress to pass, would ensure that all textbooks published are available in an agreed-upon electronic format, which would enable blind students or school personnel to use or prepare them in preferred media. If this bill passes, the dream of equality for blind students will be a long step closer to reality.

Blind students deserve the right to speak for ourselves and control our school careers. But achieving equal opportunity remains only a dream for many of us and is certainly a battle for us all. I have seen the Texas Association of Blind Students and the National Federation of the Blind taking action to change what is possible for the blind.

Federationists have established three training centers across the country that encourage students to work hard and develop healthy attitudes about blindness and high expectations for themselves. Other training centers are now beginning to adopt these principles as well. Training in such centers, families who believe in the ability of blind people, and positive blind role models all help blind people to succeed. TABS believes that students can and must take an active role in developing their own futures. We urge students to be self-advocates. We also offer a network of blind students to share their experience, knowledge, and friendship. In short, TABS has many dreams and the determination to see them realized.

A trip to the beach, beautiful and intelligent women, and powerful dreaming have played a huge part in my participation in TABS and the NFB. The castles we build together will never be washed away by the tide but will stand tall, proud, and strong. I will continue to believe and fight for equal rights for blind people around the world. I will continue looking to beautiful, intelligent women as role models to aid me in becoming a beautiful person myself. Finally, as a member of TABS I will continue to dream the dream of total independence, effective education, and training for Texas's blind students.

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