Future Reflections         Winter 2010

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Not Alone Any More

by Alice Engel

Joseph Engel, son of Alice and Darrold Engel, as the winner of an NFB scholarship in 2008.From the Editor: Alice Engel of North Dakota attended her first NFB convention in 2008 and returned in 2009. Though she found both conventions valuable, each was a very different experience.

My husband, Darrold, and I are the parents of a child who became blind right before he turned seventeen. Like most parents in this situation, we were totally unprepared for the change in our lives. When we were handed our son's diagnosis and prognosis, no one gave us a manual on how to deal with his blindness. One thing we knew for sure - somehow our son could still do the things he wanted to do. He just would need to be more creative than before, and would have to do extra planning around some of his activities.

 We attended our first NFB national convention in 2008 in Dallas, Texas. It was an overwhelming experience! We had never seen or been around so many blind people. That first year there was so much to take in that we didn't know where to focus our attention. We were trying so hard to absorb everything that we missed out on enjoying the moment. Despite our confusion, though, we were encouraged by the people around us who shared our belief and strengthened our hope.

The convention of 2009 was a very different experience for us. This time we were ready. Before we got to Detroit we reviewed the agenda online as well as the agenda provided by NOPBC. NOPBC offered an agenda in spreadsheet format that worked very well for us. We realized from the start that we could not manage to go to all of the activities, but we could enjoy the ones we attended. We decided which sessions we most wanted and needed to attend and laid out a somewhat flexible daily schedule. We made a point of including events that were strictly for entertainment, such as Karaoke Night.

In Detroit we were provided with two wonderful mentors, Jill and Brad Weatherd from Wyoming. We found that we had much in common with them. Like us, they were the parents of a blind teenager. We also shared the experience of coming from states that have few members of NFB and NOPBC. It was a great feeling to talk with people who really understood our situation. Having the opportunity to sit down for lunch and discuss our fears and hopes for our children was wonderful. We were not alone any more.

We attended several meetings for parents of blind children and developed a deeper understanding of the avenues open for our son through the use of technology. We were able to ask questions and make suggestions. At one of the sessions we heard a speech by a professor who had taught at our local university, North Dakota State. It was fun talking with him afterwards. We also saw the familiar faces of Carol Castellano, Barbara Cheadle, and Debbie Brackett, NOPBC leaders we had met in 2008. They were very friendly and remembered us from the year before, which was quite impressive. Their dedication to NOPBC is inspiring!

In the exhibit hall we discovered many devices that could help normalize our son's life. It was nice to have someone demonstrate these items before we made our purchases. We were thrilled with the "atomic" alarm clock and the Braille watch.

Karaoke Night was a very special treat. It was one of the purely fun activities offered at the convention. Everyone was encouraged to take part. We enjoyed the exceptional talents of many participants. Some of the singers had beautiful voices.

Overall, we took a much more active approach at the 2009 convention than we did in 2008. We knew what to expect, and we decided to participate fully. Our involvement ranged from speaking up at meetings to selling candy bars for our state affiliate. (Darrold was known as the Candy Man.) Through our participation we got much more out of the convention. What you put in is a measure of what you get back.

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