Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume 76, Number 4, Fall 2010
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
By Jennifer Dunnam, President
Over the many decades of our existence, this organization, at all levels, has produced a vast quantity of literature: to inform, to inspire, to challenge, to teach. For starters, we have our flagship publication, the Braille Monitor with 11 issues a year, perhaps 14 articles an issue. Future Reflections is our quarterly magazine for parents and teachers (but for us all, really). One doesn’t have to be a math whiz to deduce that over the decades long histories of these magazines alone, literally thousands of excellent articles about blindness have been generated—about personal experience, about questions of philosophy, reportage of issues from a more global perspective.
And then, of course, there are the nearly 45 important speeches delivered at banquets of our national conventions, the articles in the Minnesota Bulletin and other state newsletters around the country, the kernel books, and the national presidential reports. Many thoughtful people have set pen or stylus to paper or fingertips to keyboard to understand and build upon our individual and collective experience.
Obviously, the Federation has much to offer that cannot be gained simply through reading, but the reading can sometimes help us get to a mindset where we can better understand and learn from the rest. I can remember, in my late teens, when I first discovered our literature. For most of my growing-up years, I did not have access to many positive blind role models—being usually the only blind student in my schools, and not knowing many blind adults. Our literature was one of the primary ways that brought me into the Federation. It spoke to my everyday experiences and me. As an example, for the first time I found out that there were others in the world who got just as frustrated as I did when my peers who had some sight seemed to be viewed (and to view themselves) as superior to me and more able to be responsible, regardless of what their other skills and characteristics may have been. Beyond expressing frustration though, these writings helped me see that there was a cogent, sensible philosophy of blindness that could guide a person in how to do something about things that did not seem right. They also taught me how very much that I, as a person who had been blind my entire life, had yet to learn about the capabilities of blind people. Reading a description of how a blind person navigated independently through an airport helped me be better prepared for my own first experience with flying and showed me that it might be possible to do much more than I thought I could. Best of all, the writings connected me with a movement larger than my own life, a movement that truly was changing what it meant to be blind. Upon discovering that the banquet speeches were available all the way back to the 60s and earlier, I read them all in chronological order over a day or two; they made so much sense to me and were so compelling that I just couldn't stop.
We keep writing more as our world changes, as we work to make sense of it all, and to use our philosophy as our guiding light. Our means of communication have changed and continue to do so. Information flows more freely and rapidly than ever through our evolving communication tools. Yet our vast body of literature, spanning many decades, remains, and though some of it is specific to the period in which it was written, much of it is simply timeless. Because of the sheer quantity of our writing, it is possible that we can overlook many important gems.
Many of us find our state and national conventions a great opportunity to “recharge our batteries”—to get encouragement and new enthusiasm for our collective work and for the work we do every day around blindness in our individual lives. But conventions don’t happen all that often in the scheme of things, and sometimes we need more. Now that our literature is so easily accessible in electronic text (and therefore, audio and braille formats), it seems worthwhile to draw attention to some of the articles that have been important to people over the years.
So I’m asking you now—are there particularly outstanding NFB writings that have inspired you? Challenged you? Enlightened you? Had an impact on your everyday, real-world life? Please send me the article title and when and where it was published, if you know that information. If you are not sure but can send other identifying information, please do so. I would like to gather these important pieces as identified by our members, and perhaps we could have an “article of the month” that could sometimes be discussed in our chapter meetings, via our e-mail listserves and social media, and on our conference calls.
To get us started, here is a list of five pieces that had an impact on me—some of them still widely read today, some of them a bit more obscured by time. These are not all of the articles that have been important to me, but they are ones that stand out.
· "Between Kindness and Honesty" (From the kernel book Reflecting The Flame)
· "Independence: To Have and To Hold" (From the Braille Monitor, February, 1992)
· "Why Not Just Ask?” (from the kernel book When The Blizzard Blows)
· "The Cost Of A Gift" (the Braille Monitor, February-March, 1988)
· "Kids’ Corner: Advice To Teens" (Future Reflections, Summer, 1990)
Our philosophy of blindness is what sets us apart and makes our efforts effective in improving opportunities for blind people in a real way. Let us keep working together to support one another and to see that our message stays strong into the future.
By Steve Jacobson, Vice-president
There has been a good deal written lately in these pages about the help that we receive as blind people. Reactions to the article that Jennifer Dunnam and I wrote, articles printed in the Spring 2010 issue, and some other recent events have compelled me to revisit this subject. I have received a number of comments on our original article, not all of which were complimentary, but this has opened the door for some very useful and important discussion. This is an exceedingly important topic because it affects how we interact with, and are viewed by, the public and even affects positions we take on governmental programs.
In all that I write here, there are two basic assumptions that I am making that need to be clearly set forth as a starting point. As blind people, each of us has our own particular set of strengths and talents. This means, obviously, that areas where help might be useful will vary from individual to individual. In that sense, I am not claiming "one size fits all." Nothing here should be construed to mean that one should never request help when it is needed. The second point is that each of us is an ambassador for all blind people when we interact with the public. We cannot decide whether we will be an ambassador, we can only decide whether we care. Those who say that they don't choose to represent blind people when they interact with the public are simply saying that it doesn't matter to them that their actions may affect the rest of us. What being an ambassador means to me is that I do try to be patient when I am frustrated with the manner in which help is offered, and I view it as an educational opportunity. It also means that the help I accept will, unless I am careful, be seen as help that all blind people need. It is the nature of being a part of a minority group, whose lives are generally a mystery to the public at large. Therefore, it is understood that how we deal with the public regarding help will reflect upon all of us so we need to keep in mind how our reactions may reflect upon us as a group.
One area upon which I hope to forge some agreement is in the area of what I am calling "institutional help." I do not mean the kind of help one might get when confined to an institution of various types, though. I mean, rather, the kind of help that is institutionalized through policy or management decisions. Those who then convey that category of help to us do it with conviction because it fits into their image of blindness as well. Let us look quickly at several recent events to see how this category of help affects us.
Recently, an 18-year-old woman on a United Airlines flight was told that she should remain seated when the plane landed in Chicago and someone would come and assist her to exit. The airline staff forgot about her, and she felt she should wait as instructed. The plane completely emptied and was closed, and airlines maintenance personnel discovered her some time later. The publicity regarding this incident was very critical of the airlines for forgetting her. While I do not know if there were other circumstances that caused this woman to remain seated, the reasons given only mentioned blindness as the cause for this request. We live in a time when one thinks twice about not doing whatever the airlines say needs to be done, so each of us must consider what we will do when airline instructions conflict with what we know we need. It is therefore in that context that I ask why there is no questioning of her responsibility at least to make her situation known as the airplane became empty. The answer is very simple, of course. Those writing the news articles and United Airlines staff believe that being blind, even as an adult, means we are not responsible for ourselves. In their minds, they are responsible for us in the same way that they are responsible for children traveling alone. While being stranded on an empty plane is not a common occurrence, requesting that we remain seated and wait to be escorted off the plane is far more common. This very request has been made to me a number of times so I can speak from personal experience and my course of action is obvious to me. Even if the help being offered is done with my well-being in mind, it is not help that I feel I can accept in good conscience and I generally ignore the request and deplane with the rest of the passengers. The problem here isn't that the woman in question might have needed help; the problem is that she was expected to wait because she was blind. To choose to take an independent course as I do means I must go against the instructions of the airlines, but the statement is important to me to make.
A blind couple recently experienced some difficulties feeding their newly born child while in the hospital. They requested and received assistance and the feeding problem was resolved. However, the incident was reported to Child Protection Services and the baby was taken from the parents and placed in foster care. There were no general problems beyond issues faced by many first-time parents, blind or sighted. The assumption was not how can the social service agency make sure things are going smoothly; rather the assumption was that we as blind people can't parent, can't learn, and must therefore be helped while protecting the child by removing the responsibility of raising a child from us. We have seen similar cases where time has shown that the parents were good parents and that the decision to remove the baby from the home was made hastily and incorrectly. The basis for such decisions on the part of social service agencies is lack of information about blindness, and the assumption that closing one's eyes provides all the information needed to determine the capabilities of blind parents. There is again the additional assumption that these are blind people, not responsible adults. Sadly, once these parents get their baby back, will they dare ask for help if they need it? (Editor’s Note: This case was happily resolved for the parents. See the press release at the end of this article.)
This final event didn't make the news, but it offended me to such a degree that I asked Jennifer Dunnam if I could relate it. She recently traveled to a concert in Chicago that took place in a small theater. Part of the venue was that fans could choose to stand near the stage rather than be seated. Having communicated with others attending the concert, Jennifer chose to stand with others near the stage. Theater staff first asked, and then insisted that she take a seat in the “handicapped section.” Such language as "We'll put you in the handicapped seats" was used. Since different people approached her each time with progressively more insistence, it is clear that the theater’s management was administering the “help”. Yes, the word "put" was used, not "assisted", "aided", or "directed" to a seat, as if she were a piece of furniture. In their minds, she needed the handicapped seats because the loss of vision meant the loss of the ability to walk any great distance as well. No consideration was given to the fact that she had just traveled 400 miles by train independently to get to this concert. Accepting this "help" would have meant giving up some of the enjoyment she had anticipated, and it would have reinforced their distorted view of blind people. She finally responded firmly and remained standing, enjoying with others the live atmosphere being close to the stage. However, the experience detracted from her enjoyment of the evening, and why? Somebody at some level made some assumptions about her, and the stereotypes of blindness made the staff eager to act based upon those assumptions. They felt that, appearances to the contrary, Jennifer was blind and therefore was less able to stand, and that they knew better what was good for her than she did herself.
While lack of information about blindness and blind people is at the root of all three of the above events, I maintain that the issue of offering and accepting help is also very much involved. In most offers of help, there is an element of one human being reaching out to another. We need to nurture and grow that part of the help we receive, and we need to return it to others. However, there is often an assumption that we are not as responsible, that help is to be given whether we think we need it or not, and that we should be grateful for whatever help we receive even if it inconveniences us or is given without asking. Particularly when that kind of help is formalized in policies and management decisions, we need to do what we can to change the underlying assumptions.
There are connections between events like this and our daily lives. Do you suppose there might be a connection between the insistence that blind people should not stand when all seats are taken on a bus and that we should not stand at a concert? Could a theater employee have been asked to relinquish his or her seat for a blind person on the Chicago Transit system? Might it be that some United Airlines staff witnessed otherwise able-bodied blind persons being moved to the front of a check-in or security line so they wouldn't have to wait, fostering the notion that special help to leave the plane is required? Might a social worker have been affected by his or her experience with another blind person who expected to be helped with tasks that could have been accomplished independently?
We have a right to feel frustrated at times with how the public sees us. However, we must also realize that things won't change unless we think about the help we accept. As stated at the outset, each of us needs help at times. Even though blindness has some unique challenges, all people need help from others. However, we need to be careful not to accept help that someone feels is a necessity just for our convenience because, if we do so, it confirms the necessity of that help in his or her mind. We must try gently to educate as well, not just the public, but one another. This is the only way that things will change. This isn't always easy, but we can help one another by thinking about what is needed and what is convenient, and how to convey the right message to the public at large.
(Editor’s Note: The following press release explains the outcome of the case of the removal of the baby from her blind parents cited above. The happy ending to this misbegotten “help” does not diminish our need to remain ever vigilant.)
National Federation of the Blind Successful in Returning Infant to Her Parents
Family Reunited After Wrongful Seizure of Child
Independence, Missouri (July 22, 2010): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and its Missouri affiliate announced today that they have succeeded in a legal fight to bring a two-month-old infant, Mikaela Sinnett, home to her parents, Blake Sinnett and Erika Johnson of Independence. The NFB of Missouri hired an attorney to assist the couple after Mikaela was taken from them at Centerpoint Hospital almost immediately after she was born. For fifty-seven days the couple, both of whom are blind, were allowed to visit their child in foster care but were not allowed to bring her home. The sole reason given by Missouri’s Department of Social Services was that the couple was blind and could not properly care for Mikaela without the assistance of a sighted person twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. An evidentiary hearing was scheduled for July 20, but at the last minute the state of Missouri dismissed the case against the couple.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The National Federation of the Blind is pleased that the state of Missouri has dismissed its case against Blake Sinnett and Erika Johnson and returned baby Mikaela to their care. Despite the fact that blind parents are successfully raising children across the nation, blind Americans continue to find that misconceptions and stereotypes about the capabilities of blind people too often result in hasty and unwarranted decisions to remove children from the custody of blind parents. The worst nightmare of parents everywhere—having a child taken away—is sadly part of the lives of too many blind parents. The National Federation of the Blind stands ready and willing to help state officials across the country understand how blind people use alternative techniques to care for their children. But the blind of America will not tolerate our children being taken from us.”
"We were and are outraged at the action of Centerpoint Hospital and the state of Missouri," said Gary Wunder, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri. "Children's services have the job of protecting children from abuse and we have nothing but admiration for that work. Taking a child away because her parents are blind is an entirely different matter which violates state and federal law. We have gotten Mikaela back home, but we must fundamentally change a system that presumes the incompetence of blind parents and operates on a principle of guilty until proven innocent rather than the reverse. We cannot help but think that new parents who are blind in Missouri will avoid seeking medical and social services that they may need for fear that they will experience a similar ordeal. We can never give back the two months this family has lost, nor can we restore to Erika the joy of nursing her child that this separation has made impossible. What we can do is use their adversity to change the system that allowed this atrocity and educate the people who have mistakenly equated blindness with a lack of perception, intellect, and judgment."
On May 21, 2010, Erika and Blake went to Centerpoint Hospital, where Erika delivered Mikaela. When trying to nurse the baby for the first time, Erika asked for assistance from a nurse when she thought something was wrong. The nurse said that the baby was turning blue and helped reposition the baby, who then began to take nourishment. The nurse assured Erika that it was common for new mothers to need some instruction and that she was doing fine. Blake and Erika were therefore surprised when, some four hours later, they were met by a children's services worker who made inquiries about their vision; asked how they would feed, diaper, and supervise their child; and eventually decreed that Baby Mikaela would not be allowed to be discharged with her mother unless the social worker could be assured there would be constant supervision by someone with sight. On the recommendation of Missouri's Children's Protective Services, Mikaela was placed in foster care and one-hour visits were arranged for several times each week. When the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri determined that blindness was the only reason the child was taken by the state, the organization hired attorney Amy Coopman to handle the case. The National Federation of the Blind now has the option to file complaints with the Missouri Human Rights Commission and/or the federal Office for Civil Rights, as well as at least three options that can be pursued in the state’s courts.
(Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Apple Pickin’s News, the newsletter of Applewood Pointe Cooperative of Woodbury. Harry Kruger, 86, is vice-president of our Seniors Division and a very active member of our Metro Chapter.)
For many years, the national Presbyterian Church has recognized one Sunday in June as Disability Access/Inclusion Sunday.
On Sunday, June 27th, our own Harry Krueger, spoke to his congregation, as part of the recognition of that special day.
Those who know Harry well are aware of his love of poetry and his wonderful sense of humor. During his presentation he used both of these special attributes. He had no notes and spoke from memory and from his heart.
He gave the congregation a little of his history and experiences living with his ever diminishing sight. The loss of his sight began when he was a child. And it is truly remarkable the wonderful things he has done even with his physical disability.
Harry is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota and has attended several of its annual conventions. At first it was a bit scary and he didn't know whether or not it would be a successful experience. Because of his good nature and determination, everything worked out well and he did just fine.
He is looking forward to attending this year's convention to be held in Dallas, TX during the week of July 2nd.
When he completed his speech, he received an enthusiastic ovation.
Harry began his speech by telling the congregation what the poet and work of John Milton meant to him. He specifically referred to the poem by Milton written in 1655 and entitled On His Blindness. The last line of the poem is especially meaningful for him.
I asked him to interpret the line and he said, "God doesn't expect anyone to do anything other than to wait His bidding."
Harry does not let his disability handicap him unduly. He lives his life to the fullest and, although there are times when he needs and does receive a little help from his friends and neighbors, his attitude concerning people with disabilities is that "We don't need things done for us; we need help to do things for ourselves.” Fortunately, most of us here at Applewood Pointe realize that and act accordingly.
On His Blindness
John Milton 1655
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."
(Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development newsletter. David Andrews is a member of our Metro Chapter.)
David Andrews, chief technology officer for State Services for the Blind, received the 2010 C. Stanley Potter Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Audio Information Services (IAAIS). He was recognized during the group's conference in Dallas on June 3-6.
The award recognized Andrew's work in furthering the mission of IAAIS. The group supports services that make printed information available in audio formats to those who cannot read conventional print because of disabilities or health conditions.
Andrews has worked at SSB for the past 14 years, first as director of the communication center and more recently as chief technology officer and director of the adaptive and assistive technology unit. In addition, he is a mailing list and site administrator at the National Federation of the Blind.
Prior to joining SSB, he held a variety of positions that supported information access for disabled people. He has worked at the National Federation of the Blind's International Braille and Technology Center, the New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped, and the Audio-Reader Network at the University of Kansas.
The award was named for Stan Potter, a Minnesotan who was the longtime director of State Services for the Blind. Potter is best known for establishing Radio Talking Book, the first radio reading service in the country when it was created in Minnesota in 1969.
By Edie Grossfield, Rochester Post-Bulletin
As a rehabilitation teacher for the blind, Jan Bailey teaches people who have lost their sight how to live independently. That includes everything from how to read and write using braille to how to cook breakfast without seeing.
The Rochester resident was a rehabilitation counselor for the Minnesota State Services for the Blind for 31 years, retiring in December 2009 to start her own business. Recently, Gov. Tim Pawlenty reappointed Bailey to the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, which provides information and makes recommendations to the State Services for the Blind. This will be her fifth and final year on the council.
What were the primary issues you encountered working for the state agency?
I had probably anywhere from 50 to 70 customers in southeastern Minnesota, and they either wanted to retain their jobs, a few of them, and then most of them had lost their jobs because of loss of vision, or partial loss of vision.
How did you help your clients?
What counselors do is help them figure out "what am I going to do next?” I helped them adjust to blindness training. I helped them get adaptive equipment. Maybe they need a little vision services, or they may need some counseling to help them adjust to their vision loss.
Is it sometimes difficult to work with people who are struggling with having lost their sight?
It can be. A lot of a counselor's job is selling — selling a person on the idea that just because you lost your sight, or a lot of your sight, doesn't mean that you have to sit home and do nothing. And sometimes that's a hard sell. Because people are upset, and they're used to seeing, and they're used to doing things visually. It takes them a while to realize that you can do most of the same things you always did, but you have to do them in a different way.
Have you always been blind, or did it happen later in life?
Shortly after birth, I was in an incubator and given too much oxygen and it caused me to have what they now call retinopathy of prematurity. At first they didn't know, but a few months later, my mother noticed I wasn't looking around and took me to the doctor and they told her. This happened to about 50,000 babies before a doctor discovered you have to measure oxygen; you can't just give somebody a big dose.
And your own blindness made you want to help other blind people?
Yes. I've always been blind, and I'm used to it. But I do know from my own circumstances that I had good opportunities to get good training, and that made a difference in my life. So, that's why I wanted to go into this field, because I wanted to help other people have those same opportunities.
What is important for the general public to understand about blind people?
Mostly that we're normal people and that we don't have better hearing and we don't have any ESP or any of that kind of stuff. You know, a lot of people kind of think some things like that. But we are a wide cross of society, so we're just like all the other people, but we don't happen to see.
By Benjamin Dallin
(Editor’s Note: Ben Dallin is a junior at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, and this past summer he worked for Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND). He wrote this article for The Student Slate, the newsletter of the National Association of Blind Students division of the NFB).
Not long after I got on the plane that would take me to Minneapolis Minnesota, I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me. He was a college student, about my age, and was returning home to Minnesota from a vacation. As we told each other about our summer plans, I realized that I only had a slight idea of what mine would entail. I knew that I was going to be a counselor for the Buddy Camp at BLIND Inc., which consists of kids ages 9-14, all with varying degrees of blindness. Other than that, I was mostly in the dark. It was there on the plane that I began to realize I was embarking on an adventure. Although I had the usual feelings of nervousness and uncertainty, I recognized that I would most likely have many educational and rewarding experiences. Both my feelings of trepidation and my positive expectations proved to be completely justified over the next five weeks.
Although the actual Buddy Camp lasted for only three weeks, staff members arrived a week early for training. We also stayed one week after the kids left, for the purpose of writing reports on the classes and activities provided at the camp. The four counselors spent the first week getting to know each other and the rest of the staff at BLIND Inc., becoming certified in first aid and CPR, reviewing policies and procedures, and most importantly, learning a little about the individual Buddies. We learned there would be four boys and six girls, hailing from all parts of the country. We also visited the dorms at the University of Minnesota, where we would be staying with the kids. Ironically, my nervousness, which had been building as the week progressed, was lessened dramatically with the Buddies' arrival. After this, there was no time for abstract worries and concerns. We were plunged into our roles as counselors with full force.
One of the first things I realized about our group of kids was their resilience. No hardship throughout the camp seemed to faze them for long, including saying good-bye to their parents, adjusting to dorm life, or getting up at 6:30 in the morning to catch the bus over to BLIND Inc. Their behavior sometimes made me feel downright old. This was especially true after a long day of classes and activities, when I would have liked nothing better than to go to bed. The kids had other ideas. These included wrestling matches, video games, and pillow fights. Although sometimes frustrating, I now recognize this resiliency for the positive quality it is. It seems especially important for blind people to cultivate this attribute at an early age, as it is necessary to deal with the hardships of everyday life. The Buddies I had the privilege of working with this summer are off to a good start in that respect.
During the camp, there were many activities designed to increase the kids' confidence and improve their views of blindness. We had several pool parties, picnics, and dinners at the homes of blind adults and staff members of the center. Many of these opportunities also allowed the Buddies to interact with blind teenagers and adults, as students and staff from the other programs at BLIND Inc. also participated. One of the most memorable of these was a camping trip up near the Wisconsin border that occurred a week after the kids arrived. We slept in cabins, but all of our waking hours were spent outdoors. Everyone got to choose their preference from a list of activities including canoeing, tubing, fishing, and hiking. Based on our choices, we formed groups consisting of kids, teenagers, and adults. On the day after we arrived at the campsite, we split into our groups and embarked on our respective journeys. I went canoeing, and soon learned the importance of creative thinking as we struggled to stay together as a group in our canoes. Our efforts culminated in using a shoelace to tie two canoes together, but it was a great experience and the kids seemed to have a great time! When we had all returned from our respective adventures, they were eager to tell stories and compare notes from their days. The Buddies helped gather wood for a bonfire, and we spent that night singing songs and roasting marshmallows. When we packed up and prepared to catch the bus back to Minneapolis the next morning, the Buddies were responsible for helping clean up the campsite. On the way back, the kids expressed their unanimous enjoyment of the trip. Besides all the fun the Buddies had, the experience had allowed them to improve their skills and learn personal responsibility.
Some of our other activities presented an opposite environment to that of the two-day camping trip. Our visits to Wild Mountain Water Park and the Mall of America were both crowded and noisy, with ample opportunities to become separated. I'm still amazed at how well the Buddies were, for the most part, able to stay together as a group. They also kept a very positive attitude, which was helpful as we tried to navigate these urban environments and find the attractions. Indeed, when I was tempted to get frustrated, I would realize how much the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves despite the challenging circumstances. It goes without saying that their positive attitude is another quality that is important to retain in later years.
When we weren't venturing out into the city or participating in some other activity, we held five small classes at BLIND Inc. These included home management, braille, computers, travel, and industrial arts. These classes parallel those taught in the adult programs of the NFB training centers. It was sometimes hard for the kids to transition from seeing us as counselors and friends to viewing us as their teachers. Despite this, it was wonderful to see the kids make progress and better realize their potential as blind people. Whether it was making rubber band guns in industrial arts, or learning how to pour liquids and fold money in home management, we tried to emphasize that the alternative techniques of blindness are at least as effective as those used by sighted people. While teaching, I was often struck at how important it is for parents to have high expectations for their blind child or children. The intelligence and capabilities of the Buddies made it clear to me that childhood is the best time to learn basic skills and form positive views of blindness.
My experiences and observations from serving as a counselor could easily fill a book. When I think back to arriving in Minnesota, I didn't realize that besides being a counselor, I would take on many other roles including that of teacher, nurse, tour guide, housekeeper, and mediator. Sometimes I worry that I learned more than the kids did. After all, it was great to glimpse the NFB training centers from the perspective of a staff member rather than as a student. My experiences helped me sharpen my own skills as I tried to impart them to the Buddies, and I was reminded of the great importance of the NFB's mission. As I said good-bye to the kids after the dinner and talent show we held on the final night of camp for them and their parents, I hoped more than anything that they came away with more confidence and higher expectations for themselves. If they realize that blindness does not have to affect their potential to be happy and reach their goals, then our camp was truly a success.
By Patrick A. Barrett
I have been a member of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) for 24 years. Becoming a husband, father, valued co-worker, and church volunteer are some of the dreams I have made come true during that time. I know that our NFB philosophy that blind persons can be successful given proper training, great role models, and belief in oneself has been mortar for building those realities.
Inspired by our mentor, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, I understand that blindness should be a characteristic and not a handicap. Two other human characteristics nurtured by quality blindness-skills training and mentor motivation are risk and reason.
Public attitudes about the blind, past and present, discourage blind persons from taking risks. Society desires to protect the blind from further harm above being blind. In most cases, blindness cannot be undone. Yet to live is to risk. To participate rather than sit on the bench, to go and do, is a risky, rough, and rewarding business.
My capacity to risk, tempered with reason, grew during my training at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. The philosophy of the Federation is the bedrock of BLIND, Inc. I moved more out of the self-doubt zone and reached for opportunities that would boost my self-confidence.
Growing up, I enjoyed watching my dad and his teacher friends barbecue or cook over a campfire. I had always wanted to do it. Roasting marshmallows was as far as I got. Bo-o-o-oring! My family and their friends did not know about the NFB. At BLIND, I learned how to barbecue safely and how to check food for doneness. A few years ago, my wife and daughter got me a Weber grill for Father’s Day. I enjoy grilling burgers, brats, and steaks for family and friends.
Rock climbing was another risk I took at BLIND. With the confidence I had learned prior to the rock climbs, and the supervision of skilled rock-climbing instructors, I reached the top of a sixty-foot rock face at Taylor’s Falls. It was a rush! I felt like Spider-Man!
Now, if someone asked me to go skydiving with him or her, my reason would definitely overrule my ability to take risk. Bungee-jumping? Thumbs down on that, too! However, I have always wanted to try parasailing.
My employer, Express Scripts, Inc., (ESI) recently put on its annual Employee Appreciation Day event. I had heard about it, but did not know what day of the week it was going to be. The morning of the event, flyers were passed out, titled “ESI’s Got Talent”. There was going to be an Open House in the cafeteria from 1:00 to 3:00. Skits and musical numbers had been prepared, and folks could sign up for karaoke.
I had not planned anything, but I am a ham when it comes to karaoke. Besides, I had done a couple of public performances with some church friends of mine in a part-time band. I rescheduled a couple of meetings I had that afternoon, and made sure I was there as they were still setting up. I asked one of the Human Resources associates I knew where I could sign up. She said she would let someone know to check with me.
The person she had in mind must have got busy with something else, and I thought I would miss my chance. I asked another person, and he directed me to Brian. Brian said there was still space. I suggested a couple of songs I knew, but they were not in the book. I asked him if he could help me find something else, as I could not read the book. He said he would, and I suggested a couple more groups. He had “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (I knew all the words to that one so I would not need to strain my eyes to try to see the karaoke screen). He said he would let me know when it was my turn to perform.
I found an empty seat in the front row so I would be ready. The first act was a really funny comedienne. Then it was my turn. Brian handed me a cordless mike, and asked me if I wanted to be in front of the stage or on it. I said on it, and took my white cane and went up the couple of steps to the stage. I had taken the time beforehand to check for cords and the layout of the stage.
And there I was. Despite previous performances and experience in Toastmasters, I was still nervous. It was a crowd of about 400; some friends, some strangers. The music cued up, and I did “Proud Mary” proud!
In the middle of the song, there is a musical guitar break. I decided impulsively to grab my cane from behind me, walk down off the stage, in front of it to the crowd, and back up again. It was risky. If I tripped, the crowd would have remembered that more. If I succeeded, they would see a competent cane user. I said to myself, “Cane skills don’t fail me now.”
No problems. When I reached the stage again, I put my cane behind me, and picked up the chorus and the rest of the number. Applause. I bowed, descended the stage, and handed the mike back to Brian. My friend Ron later told me that the extra steps I executed in the middle were reminiscent of the Tina Turner strut for her version of “Proud Mary”.
Dr. Jernigan also taught me reason. In both his wise articles “Don’t Throw the Nickel” and “The Nature of Independence”, he said we need to know when to accept help or politely decline it. In the first article, an elderly woman insisted on giving him a nickel for the bus. He refused politely at first, equally insisted that he did not need the nickel, and finally threw it down the street. It left both him and the woman feeling ambivalent toward one another, and nothing was gained. For this situation, it would have been reasonable after the second decline of charity to accept it.
He wrote “The Nature of Independence” in response to thoughtful questions from students from the Louisiana Center for The Blind. This adjustment to blindness training center was also built on the foundation of Federation philosophy. Students had asked Dr. Jernigan why he did not independently travel all the time during conventions, and why he sometimes relied on a sighted guide.
Dr. Jernigan said that they were valid questions. However, independence should mean knowing when and how to apply reason to different situations. Dr. Jernigan said that he did travel independently for tasks that were not so dependent on time or many others relying on him. However, traversing a crowded convention floor with a sighted guide to avoid pockets of people and equipment to get to the podium quickly was reasonable, too.
At the end of that same week I did the karaoke performance, I went to get my hair cut. It was time to shear off a good deal of my long, naturally curly gray hair. I got my usual Number Three buzz all around, thanked the stylist, and went up to the counter to pay.
She said, “That’ll be $12.”
I had my haircut there many times before, and I remember it being more. I thought to myself, “Oh, brother, she is trying to give me a discount rate due to my blindness.”
I said, “I thought it was $13.95. Is there some special discount today?”
She hesitated for just a second, and then said, “Well, $12 is for the senior discount.”
I reasoned aloud with a chuckle, “Oh, yeah, I did get my AARP application earlier this year. “
I handed her the $12 and a $2 tip as well because she afforded me the senior discount.
Well-rounded senses of risk and reason have made me a happier individual. I still have more growing to do in other characteristic areas, though. The NFB will continue to be key to my life. I desire to help new members, and those not knowing about the Federation, to reach their dreams!
Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions. Keep these in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.
The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in April or May 2011 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members will received a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention will be the first week of July 2011 in Orlando, Florida. This is nearly a week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The full convention bulletin will be in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.
The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be October or November 2011 in the Metro area. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 2:00 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Monica Buboltz at 507-354-5680 for meeting location
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at Old Chicago Restaurant in St. Cloud
Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria
Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend. This group meets at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters at 100 E. 22nd Street in Minneapolis on the first, second, and third non-holiday Monday of the month from 4:30-6:30. Its purpose is to improve braille skills and get better acquainted with other NFB braille users. Attendees bring their own book or magazine or borrow one. Contact Melody Wartenbee at 612-870-9484 or e-mail email@example.com.
Night Transition Club —
Every third Friday of the month 6:30-9:30 p.m.
at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters at 100 E. 22nd Street in Minneapolis. Teen night is driven mostly by the teens! It is an opportunity for blind teens ages 13-18 to network and socialize with each other and with young adult blind mentors. Once they come, teens don't want to miss it! Contact Charlene Guggisberg at 507-351-5413 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Many people are involved in getting this issue to you. The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file. Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.
Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the compact disc edition.
Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.
Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print
and braille editions.
Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.
Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition and other tasks as needed.
Emily Zitek embosses and collates the copies for the braille edition and mails all editions.