Future Reflections         Winter 2010

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Kids' Talk

by Marc Maurer

NFB President Marc Maurer sits on the floor talking to a circle of attentive children.Introduction by Carol Castellano: We're now going to present what has become a wonderful tradition at the seminar - the Kid Talk! Please, any children who would like an up-close and personal chat with Dr. Maurer, come forward now and form a circle on the floor. We like to make Dr. Maurer sit down on the floor in his suit! While the children are coming up, I'd like to tell you that this is an exciting moment when Dr. Maurer, the president of the National Federation of the Blind, takes time to talk to the kids - and maybe sneak in a little information for parents and teachers while he's at it. The children can sit right in the center of the middle aisle in a circle. Please welcome Dr. Marc Maurer!

 Dr. Maurer: Oh . . . I'm supposed to sit down here? [Laughter.] There I am. You didn't think I could get down this far. [More laughter.] It's the getting up part that's hard. You guys, how are you doing this morning? What are we going to talk about? Usually when we get together like this, some of you have some suggestions.

I want to tell you something. My mother is here. [Applause.] And you know what she's doing? She's watching me! [Laughter.] Now, I'm a blind person. Should we start with that?

Child: Okay.

Dr. Maurer: Are you blind people? Good. There are some sighted people around here, but they're nice. [Laughter.] When I was your age - that was a long time ago, you know, I'm old - when I was your age, I didn't know I was a blind person. I found out sort of gradually. I remember the day I really found out. I found out because I was out in my front yard, and I went into the house and my brother (he was a sighted kid) my brother said, "There's Dad driving by," and he said something about the street that was half a block away. I had no idea people could see that far! I remember people always said, "Did you see that? . . . Will you look at that!" and I'd always try, but I could never make it. Then one time they took me to the doctor. Have you been to the doctor? They said that I was going to be tested. They were going to test me. When you get tested they want to find out if you're doing okay. You want to be successful at the test - and they were going to test me to find out if I could see. They put a big image on some kind of screen that had a light. I could tell there was a light, but I couldn't tell what the image was. The doctor said to my mother, "Does he know what that is?" and she said, "Yeah, he knows," but I couldn't see it. I tried, but I failed. And I thought, This is a bad thing! I'm not supposed to fail the test. I'm supposed to pass the test! If they had said they were going to measure my vision instead of test it, that would have been better. I was failing, and I hated that.

I found out it was okay to be blind, though. It took a while. When I found out I was blind it was a sadness for me. I learned that some people thought it was bad to be blind, and sometimes, when they said it, it sounded like I was bad because I was blind. It wasn't my fault! I hadn't done it on purpose! But I found out later it isn't bad to be blind, it's just what happens to some people. I've been blind all my life. It's lots of fun to go and do exciting stuff, and it doesn't matter whether you're blind. That's what I learned.

One time I came here and I said it was all right to be lost. I've been lost lots of times. I get found again. [Laughter.] It's not a bad thing to be lost. As a matter of fact, you meet some new people that way usually, and you find out new things.

Now I say it's okay to be blind, especially if you learn the things you need to know. Some people think you shouldn't learn to read Braille because they say it's slow. Well, it's not slow if you learn it. [Laughter.] It's lots of fun to know all the things you can find inside books. At this convention I'm going to read some things I've written, and I'm going to use Braille to do it. I've got a big package of Braille stuff. Some of it's very exciting! We're going to talk at this convention about space, about sending people into space! Maybe some of you will go into space some day. That would be fun! We're going to talk about building new things. One of the times I was here with you at convention I handed you my cell phone and showed you that it reads things. I have a reading machine in my pocket that's on my cell phone. This summer we're going to have some kids, kids around fourteen and fifteen, who are going to drive a vehicle around. It's happening this summer. Now, is this car finished? No, it's just the prototype. That means it's the first one, that's what a prototype is. It's not all done, but we're going to do some more work on it.

You have to learn enough so that you've got a way to write things down, and Braille is a great way to do that. And if you're going to do arithmetic . . . everybody likes arithmetic, right? What? You don't like arithmetic? I love arithmetic . . . sort of. Well, you can do arithmetic with Braille. You can write it all down. Do you have any questions for me? Except for the fact that I'm old, I do know some things, so if you have any questions you can ask me. You have a question? What's your name. Ashleya?

Ashleya: How old are you? [Laughter.]

 Dr. Maurer: How old am I? Ashleya, how old are you?

Ashleya: I'm ten.

Dr. Maurer: You're ten. Do you like arithmetic? I'm more than five times as old as you are.

Ashleya: Are you a hundred and fifty? [Laughter.]

Dr. Maurer: I'm not a hundred and fifty yet, no. I'm only fifty-eight. Do you have any other questions for me? A hand? I'm a blind person, so I can't see your hand. You have to shout out your name. Anna? What's your question?

Anna: How long has Braille been around?

Dr. Maurer: Braille has been around since about 1825. Precisely how long is unclear. Some people say it goes back to 1822. That means it's not quite two hundred years since it started. It's a hundred and eighty-eight years maybe. The first version of Louis Braille's code was published in 1829. That was when Louis Braille was twenty. He thought it up before he was twenty! You might think up something new that we can use maybe. Louis Braille did.

It's nice to talk to you guys. Some people who are blind get worried that they are not fun people. They worry that people won't think they're great to have around. I know you guys are fun people. I know you're really neat folks, and I know it's great to have you around, and I'm really glad you came to this convention. I know that some of your brothers and sisters are sighted, and they're nice, too. My brother's here. He's a sighted guy, but he's really nice.

Child: My sister's really picky on me.

Dr. Maurer: My brother was never picky . . . much. He was a good guy, and he still is. [Applause.] Now I'm going to stand up here, because I have one other thing to do. If you want to stand up, too, you can, but if you want to stay there, if you like it, that's all right with me. I want to meet all you guys at this convention - and most of the things you do will be all right with me.

I talked to the hotel yesterday and I told them you were going to be here, and I also told them that you were going to carry your canes. I hope that you do. I've got my cane. The reason it's fun to have a cane is that when you walk around the cane runs into stuff before you do. It doesn't hurt the cane, you see. If you bump into something with your nose it will hurt your nose. I know this because I did it before. [Laughter.] Now I'm about to stand up here. Let's see if I can get this done. [Applause.]

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