Future Reflections  Summer 2006

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Are We There Yet?

by Carrie Gilmer

Reprinted from the Spring 2006 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Minnesota.

Editor’s Note: Carrie Gilmer is the President of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children and an emerging national parent leader in the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Carrie delivered the following message at the National Federation of the Blind Minnesota state convention this past October. In her address, Carrie Gilmer illuminates and gives perspective to the meaning of ‘Parent Power’ as we experience it in the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. I challenge you to consider her question--and her invitation--as you read the other articles throughout this issue. Here is Carrie:

Carrie Gilmer pictured with son, JordanEvery time we get ready to go on a trip my kids ask me, “How long will it take to get there?” Sometimes it seems we are barely out of the driveway and the questions of “how much longer” begin. Inevitably, fifteen to twenty minutes later, my youngest child, Maya, will ask, “Are we there yet?” and twenty minutes after that, “How long until we get there, Mom?” Although it is an annoying question at times, it is a reasonable one. It is difficult to endure a journey when you don’t know how far you have come or how much there is left to go. It is hard to be patient on a journey if where you are going doesn’t seem relevant to you. It is also hard to be patient on a journey if you really do want to get to your destination, and its relevance to you is clear. Those are the times you feel so excited you can’t wait to get there.

When getting ready for a journey you prepare yourself differently for a one-hour trip than you do for a whole day’s journey. If you are going for a whole day, or longer, you need rest stops and refueling--you need to stop for food, and you probably have to switch drivers too. You need things to keep you occupied along the way. Sometimes on a long journey delays can occur. The vehicle may break down; maybe a storm comes along. Time is spent repairing or just holding your ground.

I was thinking of all this as I was thinking about how the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Bind Children are vehicles for collective action. We are on a journey together. Our destination? Freedom for the blind! A day where it is well to be blind anywhere. A place where blind people are automatically and unquestionably considered normal and are expected to do normal things. A time when all blind children are expected to read, travel about independently, and be known--not for their blindness--but for their own unique contributions to the community around them.

Are we there yet? How long until we get there? I want to be there so very badly and I often feel like I can not wait. I feel this especially when I meet a child who has been denied the right to read, or pushed to use vision beyond all reason, or raised and educated with the very lowest of expectations because there is no vision at all. At these times I feel impatient. The journey seems long, the vehicle needs maintenance, storms have come and there are trees down in the road. On those days, it feels like we’ve barely gone a few miles on a journey I can not measure.

But then I think of someone like Marie Whitteker or Amy Virden or Larry Kettner or Georgia Bredesen--riding the NFB bus for fifty or sixty-five years--some of the first passengers on the bus. And here they are today--still helping in the collective, making time and effort to come to the meetings, and bringing items for the auction too. I think of all of us--how we love and encourage one another. How we feed each other and fight for each other. And then, the singing breaks out and we have joy together on the journey.

I talked with someone not too long ago. I have seen this person around for a number of years. I was very surprised to learn he wasn’t an NFB member. When I asked him why, he talked about the journey and how the NFB vehicle hadn’t gotten us there yet. He said he would join us when we got there! At first, I hardly knew what to say. Good grief, I thought! Then I told him how we might get there so much faster if he joined in and helped with clearing the road, or coming up with a song to sing, or paying for the gas, or pumping up a flat tire. Wait until we get there? No! We need every voice, every effort--and we need it today! And guess what. We are the ones who will get you there--even if you don’t help at all. When we arrive, all blind people will arrive. No one will be left behind. That is the destination--freedom for all, security for all, opportunity for all, equality for all. So you see; it is vital for all. It is not possible to truly attain these things and leave someone out; you are riding along whether you like it or not.

You heard the kids having a great time in Saturday School this morning. Do you know what they were excited about? They were writing little plays to practice educating others about themselves as blind people and the tools that they use. Then, they acted the plays out. They were applauding themselves and each other. They were so excited about who they are and the tools that they use. They had a great sense of humor! The scenes were woven with comedy and were realistic with a casual straightforwardness--not one was a tragedy. They also had some seriously amazing depth to their scenes that displayed how the public often reacts. They were excited to come up with words and to talk about it!

We have come a long way since I spoke of the present state of children’s education in Minnesota at the annual convention last October. We would not be this far without collective effort. I thank you with all my heart.

As I said this summer at the National Convention, if we really want to change things for blind people in the future, we must change the education, expectations, and opportunities for blind children today. If we change these things we will be very near the destination of our journey. I ask those who are listening to join us. We are the only ride to the true destination. We need you and whether you realize it or not, you need us. For all my co-passengers, thank you for picking up my family along the way and making the ride full of love, hope, joy and laughter.

All Aboard! Get on the NFB bus!

For information about how to contact the NFB parent’s division and/or NFB affiliate in your state, look on the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org>, or <www.nfb.org/nopbc.htm>, or call Barbara Cheadle, President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), at (410) 659-9314 extension 2360 or 2361.

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