Future Reflections Convention 1999, Vol. 18 No. 4


A Report on the 1999 Annual Meeting of the National Organization
of Parents of Blind Children

The 1999 NOPBC session met all expectations and then some. The agenda topics were interesting and relevant; speakers were knowledgeable and entertaining; and the approximately 100 members and guests were enthusiastic, curious, and eager participants.

photo of group of parents with their hands in the air. fr99cv42.jpg (18595 bytes)
NOPBC members enjoy the sing-a-long
break led by entertainer Daniel Lamonds.

The meeting began in the usual way with the reading of last year’s minutes. Marty Greiser filled in for Secretary Christine Faltz, who, everyone was delighted to hear, had delivered a healthy baby boy shortly before the convention. Julie Hunter gave the Treasurer’s Report, and Lisa Mattioli, Chairman of the Nominating Committee, read the list of Board nominees: Tammy Hollingsworth, Indiana; Sally Miller, South Carolina; Sandy Taboada, Louisiana; and Brunhilda Merk-Adam, Michigan.

After the brief business session, Dr. Norman Gardner made an exciting announcement about the availability of inexpensive Braille books for beginning readers from the Braille Resource Literacy Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. He explained that the books were in Grade I Braille (or alphabetic Braille, as he preferred to call it) and had other format features especially helpful to young readers and their sighted parents: double-spaced lines; Braille on one side only (no interpoint); paper pages (no plastic); and a corresponding, word-by-word print page. Participants were thrilled to learn that Dr. Gardner had books with him at the convention to give away and to sell at a nominal cost.

While Dr. Gardner retired to the back of the room to do a brisk business in Braille books, 11-year-old Heather Hammond from Columbia, Georgia, made her way to the microphone. Heather, a Braille reader, charmed the audience with her reading of the winning essay she wrote for her school’s reading contest. The essay and the story about her successes in school are published elsewhere in this issue.

It only seemed natural to follow this example of Braille literacy and competency with a report from Ellen (Waechtler) Ringlein about the 1998-1999 Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. The top reader in number of pages this year was Angela Hubbard of Virginia who read 20,972 pages. The top five states in terms of participation were: 1st—Missouri, 2nd—California, 3rd—Maryland, 4th—Washington, and 5th—Kentucky. The Missouri School for the Blind was the $200 school for the blind award winner with 33 participants in the contest, and JoAnn Gatley, a teacher at the Washington School for the Blind, was selected for recognition for her outstanding promotion of Braille literacy. At the conclusion of her remarks, Ellen asked current and past contest winners (or their parents) to stand and be recognized.

Shawn Mayo, president of the National Association of Blind Students came to the podium next to talk about the division, and ways in which the NOPBC and the student division can work together. Many parents of teens were happy to hear that she had already established a mentorship program at the convention so blind high school students could connect with slightly older blind college students and young adults. Shawn also gave a report about the teen activity on Wednesday, which she conducted while parents were attending the parents seminar. Blind and sighted teens explored what they had in common by putting parents on trial (the parents won, by the way). This was an opportunity for the kids to discover that all teens share the struggle for independence, understanding, and self-confidence.

Parents who have had problems in getting mobility services for their children were very interested in the next agenda item. Dr. Ruby Ryles described the innovative Orientation and Mobility Master’s program she coordinates at Louisiana Tech University in cooperation with the Louisiana Center for the Blind. The program has a strong philosophical foundation, rigorous standards for its students, and is the only university program in the nation which aggressively supports and promotes blind people in the O&M profession.

The next program item was one parents have come to look forward to all year; the presentation of the year’s annual winner of the Educator of Blind Children Award. This year’s winner, Deborah Baker of Ohio, is a blind woman who has been teaching for 23 years. Her presentation emphasized the importance of attitudes, a solid foundation in academic basics, and independent daily living skills. As always, parents felt uplifted and encouraged after hearing from a competent teacher who cares, who respects parents, and who demonstrates the viability of blindness techniques in her own personal life.

As usual, scattered throughout the afternoon were impressive reports from our various state divisions. It was heartening to hear about the many dynamic and innovative programs and activities our divisions develop for parents and kids throughout the country. This year, we were especially pleased to hear from our two newest divisions: Utah Parents of Blind Children, Eve Bryant, President; and Kentucky Parents of Blind Children, Maria Jones, President.

By this time, two hours plus into the meeting, everyone was ready for the next item—a sing-a-long, stand-up, sit-down, hand-clapping, foot-stomping break led by Daniel Lamonds, a blind entertainer from South Carolina. Soon, with the heart pumping a little faster and the brain a little clearer, everyone was ready to concentrate on the program again.

Our special guest from Denmark, the remarkable Dr. Lilli Nielsen, made the next presentation. An educator, researcher, and inventor who has dedicated her life to the education of blind and blind and multiply disabled children, Dr. Nielsen gave an impelling talk about "The Hands of the Blind Child." Much of what she has learned about how blind children learn to use their hands effectively flies in the face of educational practice, but (not surprisingly) makes a lot of sense to blind people themselves. Her basic message was, "Hands off the hands of blind children." She believes that one should regard, protect, guide, and treat the blind child’s hands as one would the eyes of a sighted child. Blind children especially need the opportunity to develop their own strategies for exploration and problem-solving, and they cannot do this with someone grabbing and moving their hands for them—they must do it for themselves. Dr. Nielsen illustrated her points with fascinating stories from her experiences in growing up the sighted sibling of two blind sisters, and one blind brother.

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Georgia Parents Donna Jones and Miki
Causey solicited some wonderful door prizes.

The next reports were about two of our NOPBC programs: the Slate-Pal program, coordinated by Debbie Stein of Illinois, and the Homeschoolers Network, coordinated by Debbie Day of Washington. Slate-Pals is a pen-pal program for Braille reading children. Debbie uses the information from the simple application form (which is reprinted elsewhere in this issue), to find Slate-Pal matches, then sends the applicants the name(s) and address(es) of their match(es). The rest is up to the kids. This is a valuable service for blind, Braille reading children who often feel isolated and without someone to talk to who understands their unique problems as a blind person. It is also great for kids switching from print to Braille who need to be motivated to work on their Braille skills.

The Blind Homeschooler Network is a vital source of support and information for the small, but growing, numbers of parents who choose, for various reasons, to home school their blind children; or, conversely, for blind parents who choose to home school. Debbie Day helps parents network with each other and assists them in locating resources. For that purpose, she developed her own website for homeschoolers. However, word is out that it is an excellent resource for non-homeschoolers—including teachers looking for sources of textbooks and other materials. The website is: <http://members.home.net/ddays/blindkids.html >.

The next agenda item took us out of the classroom and away from the books to the golf course. The presentation by representatives of the United States Blind Golf Association (USBGA), Joe McCourt of Florida and Jim Baker of Tennessee, sparked tremendous interest among the audience; their enthusiasm for the sport was contagious. Jim Baker spoke from the perspective of a blind golfer who has found much pleasure and tremendous satisfaction in the sport. Joe, the Executive Director of the USBGA Junior Golf Program, talked about the commitment of the organization to get kids involved in golfing. Part of his responsibility was to recruit and train golf instructors willing to volunteer their time to teach blind kids. He took names and numbers of parents who were interested in getting golf lessons for their child so that he could help connect them to a volunteer instructor in their area. Joe and Jim then announced that they were, in cooperation with NFB Camp, providing a field trip to give golf lessons to NFB Camp kids on the last day of the convention.

The final three agenda items took us back to the serious business of education. Peggy Elliott, First Vice President of the NFB and Chairman of the NFB Scholarship Committee, challenged parents to think "outside the box" with her presentation about standardized tests, such as the SAT, for the blind. Given the fact that SAT scores are not reliable predictors of college success for blind students, and that blind students as a group score lower on the SAT than their sighted peers, she suggested that perhaps the best solution would be to exempt blind students from such tests. Other criteria, she said, could be developed and used for the same purpose the test served; which, in case of the SAT, is to help determine college admission.

Carol Castellano, First Vice President of NOPBC and President of the New Jersey Parents of Blind Children, and Brunhilda Merk-Adam, a parent leader from Michigan, wrapped up the afternoon with their presentations. Brunhilda described the education goals set by the National Agenda, a joint project of a coalition of agencies for the blind, and how they are being promoted from state to state. Professional groups in some states have worked harmoniously with the NFB and our parents division in interpreting and applying the National Agenda goals, but some states have been hostile to consumer involvement. Then Carol described the creation and operation of the Blind Children’s Resource Center in New Jersey (see the article elsewhere in this issue). This center is a shining example of what can happen when parent divisions and NFB state affiliates work cooperatively to fill a need in their communities.

At last we came to the final business of the day, the election of Board Members. The nominees were elected by acclimation, and the meeting adjourned. Once again, members left feeling revitalized and prepared, with the information and renewed hope needed, to go back home and continue the work that is so important to our children’s success.

NOPBC members enjoy the sing-a-long
break led by entertainer Daniel Lamonds.

Georgia parents Donna Jones (left) and Miki Causey solicited some wonderful door prizes for the NOPBC meeting.

National Organization
of Parents of Blind Children

Officers and Board

President: Barbara Cheadle (MD)

1st Vice President:Carol Castellano (NJ)

2nd Vice President: Martin Greiser (MT)

Secretary: Christine Faltz (NY)

Treasurer: Julie Hunter (CO)

Board Members:

Tammy Hollingsworth (IN)

Brunhilda Merk-Adam (MI)

Sandy Taboada (LA)

Sally Miller (SC)

For membership information and information about a parents group in your area, contact:

Barbara Cheadle, President
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314
e-mail: <[email protected]>
fax: (410) 685-5653

You may also check out the NOPBC information on the NFB Website at <www.nfb.org>.