Why I am a Federationist
How has the NFB helped you or changed your life? The following comes from members across the entire organization of the National Federation of the Blind, and not just from the Illinois affiliate.
I came to the Federation as a high school senior looking for free money. I was pretty sure I knew all about “those people,” they were crazy, radicle, all about independence, and I wanted nothing to do with them. But, I decided that applying for the scholarship couldn’t hurt, and when I was offered one it seemed silly to turn down a chance at free money and a weekend in a hotel. When my friend, who also happened to be a member of the scholarship committee, told me that she thought I should run for secretary of the student division, I was more than a little hesitant. But, since I wanted the free money, I decided to try to impress her by agreeing to run for office. Much to my shock, I won the election, which meant I was now committed, at least for a year. The next year I attended a student leadership seminar in Baltimore, traveled to my first national convention, and participated in Youth Slam. I began to realize that I was surrounded, not by the crazy people I had expected, but by an entire group of people who believed in me. They saw potential in me that I never would have imagined, and with their encouragement I began doing things I never dreamed were possible.
I have not always lived up to the high expectations my friends in the Federation set for me, but I have never felt shunned or rejected. During a time in my life when I felt like I was severely failing at pretty much everything, my friends in the Federation gave me the wake-up call I badly needed, and then helped me obtain the blindness skills that would allow me to be successful. Even on the hard days I knew they loved me, and that I had a whole organization cheering me on.
I have been a member of the Federation for more than ten years now, and it has helped shape me into the confident blind woman I am. Because of the connections I have made, I am employed, and spend my days sharing the encouragement and lessons in confidence I have received with other blind people. My hope is that they realize their potential and live the lives they want.
Once in a while I run to catch a light rail and I am still surprised and thankful for my confident travel skills.
I am a Federationist because the National Federation of the Blind actually gets things done.
My NFB story began before I even know about the organization. In the summer of 2006, just as I was beginning my senior year of high school, I was introduced to the first blind person I had ever known. Dacia quickly became an integral part of our social circle. It was like she had always been there.
In September 2011, Dacia’s mom, Cora, invited me to the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri- Columbia Chapter’s annual picnic. Cora offered to pay my dues since I was in college at the time. I haven’t looked back since that fall. I quickly became involved at the chapter level.
I attended my first state convention in 2012 and began to see things from a wider perspective. But the real eye-opener for me was when I attended my second Jefferson City Seminar at the state capitol. It was then that I realized that I had the power to effect change for the better.
When I joined the NFB, I worried that I wouldn’t be accepted because I was sighted. And while I occasionally get asked why I care because I’m sighted, I have never been made to feel like I don’t belong.
To answer the question, “Why am I a Federationist”: I have become part of a huge family who are working toward a common goal: equality, opportunity, and security for the blind. I have never wanted to change the world; I realized at a young age that it’s nigh impossible for one person to do so. I simply want to better one little corner of the world. In the Federation, I have found one little corner where I can make a difference. I hope that the work I do will leave a mark, however small, on the lives of blind and visually impaired people and their families in my community, in this state, and around the country.
I was born in to a family where blindness is no stranger. My mom, who happens to be blind, raised me with high expectations, gave me as many opportunities as she could, and was never afraid to let me try new things. There were many times when I told her about something I wanted to do. She never said no, but sometimes asked how I would do it. I didn’t always know, but I was determined to figure it out. When I got to high school, I began to have many questions about my future that my sighted peers didn’t have. My mom taught me to be as independent as she could, but there were some things she didn’t know how to teach me. I knew I could have a bright and successful future, but I also knew I needed more skills. As all of this was happening, some of my friends were talking about all the places they go, the people they know, the projects they were doing, and so much more. All of this talk was surrounding the National Federation of the Blind. In 2009 I decided to join our dynamic organization, Within six months I was hooked. My worries about my future were short lived. I found a family who believes in me, challenges me, encourages me, and shows me love every day. Because of this mentoring and guidance, I have become a graduate of the Louisiana center for the Blind and have received my undergraduate degree from Texas State University. Because of the federation, I learned that I can do more than I ever imagined. Words cannot describe my love for our organization. Not only has the federation given me so much and changed my life, I love giving back. Our organization has achieved many victories over the years, but our work is not done. I am a proud Federationist, and I am thrilled to be a part of what we will achieve in the future.
Growing up, I often wondered how I could accomplish my dreams while blind. With the Federation, I got my answer.
Because people like Jamie and the National Federation of the Blind are creating opportunities for blind children to learn science that I never had …That’s why I’m a Federationist.
As a first-generation Latinx Texan, the Federation has given me self-confidence, self-assurance, independence and passion. When I met the National Federation of the Blind, I instantly found mentors who challenged me to achieve more than I thought was ever possible. Those same mentors continue challenging me to be the best that I can be both professionally and personally. I am a Federationist because the National Federation of the Blind has played a major role in shaping me into the man I am today. And, because I love big families!
I love being a part of an organization that continues to push me to be the best that I can be. I am a longtime member of the national Federation of the blind because my NFB friends have high expectations for me. This is especially appreciated as my residual vision disappears and I need good mobility training.
Because I got one of the most important things all parents need. HOPE for my daughter’s future!
By meeting members of the National Association of Blind Students & the Texas Association of Blind Students I knew that my blindness didn’t define my ability to graduate from college. Due to the philosophy of the NFB, I know that I’m employed not because I’m blind, but because I’m qualified.
Watching my daughter know she can do whatever she desires in life. Her blind mentors lead the way!
I was 15 when I first heard about the National Federation of the Blind. Unlike so many students, I was blessed to have a fantastic TVI named Janet Bernhardt, who, despite my initial protestations, encouraged me to attend The Louisiana Center for the blind’s STEP Program. Though I have not been nearly as active in the Federation as I am now over a portion of those intervening 26 years, I am privileged to state unequivocally that the Federation has changed my life and that of countless thousands of blind people, their families, friends, and colleagues. Today, I am privileged to administer the very program I initially resisted attending. Standing on the shoulders of those intrepid men and women who have gone before, it is wonderful to pay it forward to future generations. Witnessing students raising expectations for themselves and seeing families transformed by the love, hope, and determination embodied in the Federation is an incredible blessing.
I first heard about the National Federation of the Blind in 2000 through friends who were involved in the organization. I attended my first New York state convention in 2000 and my first national convention in Philadelphia in 2001. At first I thought the federation was more of a social organization.
Many of the things the organization was working for didn’t really feel like they applied to me. However, while I was unsure about some things, and it took a while for me to understand some of the legislative issues and resolutions, I slowly grew to believe in the Federation.
Over the years, my relationships with Federationists, including my affiliate president and my girlfriend, brought me to a deeper understanding of the Federation, what it stood for, and the impact it has on blind people. I began attending chapter meetings more regularly in 2013. While enrolled in a structured discovery training program I had the opportunity to attend events like the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland’s Day in Annapolis, which helped me feel connected to the legislative issues we were fighting for at the time, as well as connecting me with other Federationists.
I’m a member of the National Federation of the Blind because we are fighting for equal rights & opportunities for blind individuals across the country.
The NFB supported me and gave me the tools I needed for success in college! Also, it helped me find my passion in law.
I am a Federationist, because the National Federation of the Blind, believes in equality, opportunity, and security for the blind.
Mindy Davis Lavern:
I was asked to write a post about why I chose to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind and here it is:
My first-born son was 4 months old when he was diagnosed with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. I was new to motherhood, and even less experienced with blindness. There was an unsettling fear in my heart and mind about what the future would hold for him, and the experiences he would miss out on. It was our Early Steps therapist, Mrs. Sandy Dunham, who first introduced us to NFB of Louisiana, and I thank God she did. The NFB has taught me not to be afraid, a productive and happy future is possible. Live the Life You Want, is their slogan. Fear is what cripples us from reaching our true potential. The blind are no different from the rest of the world, with ambition and an appropriate education, you can become anything/anyone you desire. My son’s eyes may not work well, but he is intelligent, creative, unique, and has a beautiful heart. Strider, you are the reason I am a Federationist!
Because of the NFB and the NFB Performing Arts Division, I am empowered to reach my full potential! Blindness does not hold me back!
I’m surrounded by brilliant people who know that I and other blind folks can be experts in our chosen fields. Both literally, and figuratively, I can count members as family.
I have a tremendous sweet tooth. Cookies, cake, pie, ice cream, you name it… if it contains enough sugar, I’m going to at least try it. At some point during my high school years, a teacher put a set of sleep shades on me, and taught me to bake a cake. Subsequent kitchen adventures have yielded equally delightful results. I love books. When I was growing up I would sit curled for hours over novels. They carried me to all new realities. I rode upon Aslan’s back with the Pevensies. I followed the Little Women on their Pilgrim’s Progress. I loved Black Beauty and Kaavik the Wolf-Dog for their loyalty to people, even when we didn’t always deserve it, and I learned that the funniest books have three chapter 19’s. Books were some of my best friends. When one night, I couldn’t force my eyes to focus… I wasn’t terrified that I had lost them. I was very upset, but my summer camp counselors (and their rowdy, awesome college friends, who let us hang out with them!!!) all read Braille. They left me believing that this was the obvious and logical choice for me too, so even though it was hard at first, I learned it, and am glad of it every day. I’m a (very) amateur singer. Karaoke was made for me. Two of my musically gifted friends went to a lot of effort to arrange and perform my favorite musical theater song with me at a most memorable talent show. I traveled to Kenya for college. I ran down a mountain and leapt a stream with my guide. I learned to cook Chapatti in a fireplace. I bathed in hot springs, outside. I wouldn’t have had the courage to tackle any of this if I hadn’t gone to Colorado first. My teachers there taught me to travel safely, efficiently, and finally with style. They pushed me past my fears, and to the tops of a few mountains while they were at it. I was once asked to help with a student seminar. Not knowing what I was agreeing to, I said yes. I learned more about dancing, hotel booking, and video editing than I would have ever guessed. I also learned that a bottle of Coke, some adrenaline, and a fairly new friendship are just enough incentive to keep me up all night long. I have cosplayed as Carmen Sandiego and “The Chief”. I’ve even sung Ke$ha in public. My friends have proof of it all. Finally, I get to teach all sorts of people about how blind folks use technology. Here’s the crazy part, they pay me to do it! Okay, I know that sounds like a lot of random facts, but I promise there’s a connecting thread. These aren’t just random vignettes. Each of these things helped to mold me into the person I am today, and directly, or indirectly, the National Federation of the Blind and its members were linked to each tale. Yes, that includes both Carmen and Ke$ha.) I won’t name anyone here, as I would miss as many as I would call out, but the people I mention in the above stories are all Federationists. My first blind friends and mentor’s in The Nebraska Association of Blind Students, and NFB of Nebraska, my off-the-record teacher of blind students, staff and fellow students at the Colorado Center for the Blind, my wonderful colleagues at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and all those others I’ve met along the way have changed my view of blindness, and myself. They’ve even given me opportunities to do the same for other blind people. This is why I’m a Federationist.
Growing up everything I did focused on the little vision I had left, even if it wasn’t reliable. I got good at faking it and trying to get by, not wanting to admit I couldn’t see something. Though I did have high expectations they were based on my remaining vision and not based on alternative techniques. It was not until college when I got involved with the National Federation of the Blind in Louisiana, did I truly understand that I should not have to fake it and that blindness was not something to be ashamed of. I first got involved through the scholarship program and though it took me a couple state conventions, I knew this was the organization for me. The NFB changed my outlook on many things, but particularly the use of Braille and a cane. After graduating from undergrad I decided to attend La Tech’s MAT program to teach blind students and then went on to receive my NOMC. Since graduating, I find joy in teaching blind students the skills and techniques they need to be successful whether that be Braille, cane travel, or any other nonvisual skill. I cannot thank the NFB enough for changing my philosophy on blindness and of myself, and for being a family who continues to help me be the best teacher I can be for my students.
The NFB confirmed my own belief that blindness is not what defines me or my future, happiness or success in life.
I once thought that being blind meant not being a productive citizen. I was terrified, depressed and unmotivated. I wouldn’t admit that I was blind or had a disability. This was until I found the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB and its philosophy have taught me to be proud of who I am. My NFB family puts challenges in front of me, not to hold me back but to push me forward. I now know that I can do and be anything I want. Those fears are not feared anymore. My future is wide open to anything that I put my mind to. I now stand tall with my white cane!
Growing up in the NFB, I know the importance of advocating, sharing and teaching my rights & abilities with my community.
I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind because I like to raise the expectations for myself and others who are blind. This is why I’m a Federationist. A man just called me at 9:46 pm and told me “I feel better about my blindness after talking with you.” Made my day!
As a child I was blessed with family that always encouraged me. There was never an outward hint of, “we have no idea how you can do that as a blind person.” Who knows what they were actually thinking, but the message was that of positivity and encouragement. Fortunately, as a general rule I embraced that philosophy. What I wasn’t always sure of was the actual how of doing certain things without sight.
In 2001, I was invited by then National Federation of the blind of Wisconsin president Mark Riccobono to attend the national convention in Philadelphia. This would be the first time I would travel without family or a school chaperone. My new federation friends assured me that they had it all under control and there would be no issues. In fact, they had it so under control that Mr. Riccobono challenged me to change planes, at O’Hare airport, wearing sleep shades. At this time in my life, I was still referring to myself as, “visually impaired,” so it was a bit of a step out of my comfort zone to try this. Nevertheless, with a small amount of trepidation, I took the proffered sleep shades and off we went. Sixteen years later, I don’t recall the details of the experience, except to say we successfully evaded an attempt to place us in the “holding area for people like you”. No cart for us, thank you very much. We walked. On our own. News flash: No one died. The experience was a positive one and left me feeling empowered. That feeling continued, and grew, throughout the week as I met, and was frequently put to work by, blind students, computer science professionals, teachers, parents, and every other label imaginable. No matter the differences, the one thing they all had in common was their blindness, and their unending confidence that blindness was a characteristic, not a limitation. I left that week in Philadelphia knowing that this organization was something I wanted to be a part of. That convention gave me the knowledge that there were other blind people that would be there if I ever needed suggestions or support.
I’m lucky, and thankful, that blindness hasn’t caused a lot of resistance in my life. From the support of family during my early years, to the encouragement of friends, to the emergency management director who I never saw blink an eye when I said, “I want to take the CERT class. You can teach me to get people out from under a collapsed wall too, right?” to all those who supported my gender transition. I’ve generally never felt that I couldn’t do something as a blind person. However, it’s the love, hope, and determination of my family in the National Federation of the Blind, that has given me the extra strength and answered the, ‘but how do I…” And that is why I’m a Federationist.
That NFB has brought many new friends into my life.
I was born just a few months after my parents and five older siblings came to the United States as Palestinian refugees. When I was 14 months old, my uncle noticed that “something wasn’t right” and convinced my mother to take me to the eye doctor. My family learned that I was legally blind, but we had come from a culture where people with disabilities are hidden in back rooms and don’t have opportunities to participate in society. And so “blind” is really a bad word. In the Arab culture, it’s not just not respectable to be blind, it’s something to hide because it shames the entire family.
My mother made it her mission to find every doctor who could suggest treatments. When she accepted that treatment wasn’t an option, she shifted her goal to finding every teacher who could teach me. She was going to make sure that I would live a full, meaningful, independent life regardless of blindness. She refused to hide me, even though we didn’t use the word blind. I learned how to read, how to write, and how to use what little sight I had to get along as though I were sighted. I used some alternative techniques related to cooking, construction, and non-academic tasks. I just didn’t know they were non-visual techniques—they were just the way that my mom or siblings taught me to do things. I did well academically, but I suffered from eye strain, headaches, and severe back pain from leaning forward to bring my face inches from the words. I remember thinking often: “There’s got to be a better way.”
And thus I didn’t really realize I was blind or that the word applied to me until one day in college when I was walking across the campus and dove out of the way of a drunk driver. I stumbled into a construction hole I hadn’t seen. I broke my ankle, and I thought: “There’s got to be a better way.”
I began attending law school where I had to read and analyze a great deal in a short time. I could not visually keep up with the assignments and I was falling farther and farther behind my classmates. Once again, I thought: “There’s got to be a better way.”
I stumbled across a scholarship program, figuratively this time, for the National Federation of the Blind. I applied and, though I was not chosen for the national program, I was chosen for a State scholarship. That is the first exposure I had to the myriad of better ways. I was invited to a State Convention, where my parents only allowed me to go if I brought a family member or family friend along to stay in the hotel room with me because where I come from, “Muslim girls don’t sleep outside of their fathers’ houses without a chaperone.” The NFB accepted my cultural idiosyncrasies even though bringing someone along to the hotel room was contrary to some of the goals of lodging winners at the convention in the first place.
I met lots of people who were successful blind people. I thought I had been successful, but when I attended that first NFB convention and met over 100 other blind people who were out in the world reading independently without eye strain and headaches, traveling independently and avoiding construction holes with long white canes, using technology, human readers, and other methods to access information simultaneously with the sighted world, and all of the other things to which I didn’t even know existed…I realized the NFB knew what I didn’t—not just that there was a better way, but how I could find all the better ways. And this is why I’m a Federationist.
To change the world we live in, one blind corner at a time. When we transform ourselves, we change the world. So that the blind may read, travel safely, vote privately and independently, and compete 4 jobs on terms of equality is why I’m a Federationist.
People often ask me why I belong to the NFB and my response to that is …the NFB is like a second family to me. There are members who I felt I have known my whole life without even knowing them yet. Because I can call one of them if I am having a assistive tech issue and they can walk me through it. Because I believe in what the message says you can live the life you want. I think that this organization is a life changer for so many and for many more in the future.
Jason Edward Polansky:
I was born in Gettysburg, PA with a very rare form of blindness called bilateral anophthalmia. Even though my mother was and still is a nurse by occupation and had seen just about everything imaginable, her, my father, and the doctors were in great shock when they looked at my eyes. They were not sure what I would be able to do and how I would learn to accomplish everyday tasks. We saw several different doctors until we were lead to an eye surgeon, an ocularist, and education services in Frederick County, MD. In a nutshell, our contacts led us to other contacts who introduced us to the National Federation of the Blind. During their first convention, they saw blind adults who had their own families, jobs, homes, and hobbies and who were living the lives that they wanted to live. Most of all, they learned to model a positive philosophy of blindness as a foundation as they raised me. I attended public school just like all other children my age, learned to read Braille, travel with a cane, and use technology as it became available. As my teenage years approached, I had responsibilities including cleaning my room, doing my laundry, taking out the trash, helping my father with yard work and handyman-work, just as many of my sighted peers did. I also swam all four years of high school and was very involved in my church youth group. After graduating high school with honors, I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind to increase my skills and confidence. While there, I gained more confidence to travel in unfamiliar environments on my own and improved my kitchen skills. I also built a cedar chest using power tools, went to New Orleans during Marti Gras, planned a weekend trip to Dallas, Texas, and cooked a meal for roughly 40 people. After graduating, I won a national scholarship and felt ready to start college. I am now in my sophomore year at Messiah College pursuing a bachelors of science in business marketing. I am involved in several campus organizations, have attended many networking events, held two summer jobs as a mentor to blind youth, and excelled both academically and socially during my time at Messiah College. I am also a member of the Maryland and Pennsylvania student divisions, on top of all of these things. I know that I would not be the person who I am today without the National Federation of the Blind.
Because I knew I had sparkling potential, but no one showed me how to shine.
When I can help a blind sister facing really awful discrimination, and hearing the powerful stories of other blind people like my friend Pam Allen.
My name is Teresa; most people refer to me as the blind girl’s mom or Naudia’s mom…
I walked into the doors of the National Federation of the Blind in 2008 when Naudia was three years old. I felt like I was the only parent who had a blind child which was worrisome as a parent. Ms. Farber from the infant and toddlers program was coming to my home at the time. She was teaching me how to teach Naudia certain tactical skills such as, potty training, walking, etc.
In December of 2008, I was told that Naudia was three years-old and it would be time for school. I enrolled her into my local school not knowing any better. The school began to ask me questions on how I wanted my daughter to learn. At that time I had no clue, but I attended an IEP meeting where I sat in front of a panel of four people that asked questions. The option to learn by audio seemed like the best option, in my opinion. I assumed that since they were teachers, they would know best. I also assumed this was routine. However, when they continued to question me I felt as if they were unsure about to teach Naudia everything she needs to learn/know before Kindergarten. I felt my expectations was fading away as I sat across the table it was overwhelming to say the least.
Summer time came by and the school said that a meeting for ESY would be held. What was ESY? They said it’s just summer school and to not worry because Naudia didn’t need to attend; great, I thought! When I attended the ESY, I found out that the county I lived in couldn’t afford the ESY program. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t need it, I just thought it was unfair. Someone attending that meeting whispered in my ear as if it was a secret society, and suggested I contact the NFB. I went on the internet to do my research. The next morning I was waiting at the NFB, waiting for them to open. As I pulled up to their beautiful building, I stared with amazement when seeing so many people with canes walking alone; it was an enlightening moment.
I approached the front desk receptionist and informed her that I have a blind child, what do I do? The lady said she would get someone for me. They put me in contact with Susan Polanski who is Jason’s mother. She said she wasn’t located in the building, but would be happy to talk and answer any questions or concerns that I may have. It was hard for me to open up initially, but a wonderful thing at the same time. It has been a joyous experience more than anything else. My mind was eased in knowing that I was doing what I thought was right for my daughter and the joy came from seeing my attitude towards blindness change.
Susan and I stayed in touch on a constant basis; she had so much information to offer. She gave me hope and shared her useful knowledge. She inspired me to be the parent I needed to be for my child. Within months, I looked at my circumstances in a new light and knew that I needed to prepare for my daughter’s future. The answer of “I don’t know” was not an answer any longer. I wanted her to grow up in a place where she felt “normal”, so I decided to get more involved with the NFB.
I learned that the more I reached out, the more they would respond about the various types of situations, but one that would change her life completely in knowing my rights and what an INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAM truly is; I no longer felt alone. I met countless families and other blind adults who I interviewed with and I still continue to do so. I met a man by the name of Marco Carranza at my first state convention and followed him around as he would interact and walk with his cane with such confidence. He appeared happy as if that was unheard of, and I can smile about that now. That was my “wow” moment and decided that’s how I want my daughter to be like Mr. Carranza. I encouraged my other kids to come along anytime and they too have learned so much.
Many people comment they could not do what I do as if raising a blind child with such high expectations was difficult, but I respond “I do what you do with yours and my other two”. Someone once said to me, “Why do I pretend that my child isn’t blind and why would I live in denial?” I can laugh about that now. This journey has not been easy, but whose to say raising children in general was going to be easy. Regardless of such, I thank God for guiding me to the NFB and meeting my NFB family. I feel the genuine love and they truly care and stand up for equality.
I once tried to function like I was still sighted. I struggled. The NFB taught me that it is respectable to be blind.
Because my parents showed me how blind people thrive in a sighted world… others should be able to also.
Advocacy, mentorship, friendship, volunteerism, equality, opportunity, and love.
Alison Dees Tarver:
My son was born in April, 2006. That was the day that my life took a complete turn from the direction I had paved out. When I entered the hospital, I was to become a new mom, but when I left the hospital I took on the role of a new mom with a special needs child. So, like most of us do, I needed to figure out how I was going to help my child and be the best advocate, teacher, therapist, cheerleader and mother for a boy with Cerebral Palsy. I will be honest and tell you my focus was on the developmental stages that all pediatricians focus on at your visits. I had no concerns about my child’s vision until he was three years old. As it drew close to pre-k time, I realized there was something going on with his vision but just couldn’t put my finger on it. In 2010, I was told that my child was legally blind even though he had some vision. So, I left the eye doctor thinking “well okay, so what does that mean?”
In June, 2010 my relationship with the federation began. I received a visit from a wonderful lady who works with the blind and visually impaired. She came to my house to evaluate my son and visit with me about blindness and the resources that are available through the federation for parents of blind children. She told me that my child needed Braille instruction. When she left, I’ll be honest, I was not 100% sold on braille. Like some other parents with children with low vision, I thought “what about magnification?” “Why is braille the way to go?” So, I kept looking into my options and talking with people trying to figure out what to do. And low and behold she came back to my house except this time with a blind adult who was also a federation member. This was the first time I had ever been around a blind person in such a personal setting. It was inspiring. Not only was this person competent but he was married with two children! Wow, I remember thinking this is the life I want for my child! He sat down with me at my kitchen table and we talked about why braille was so important as my child’s main reading and writing medium. After he left I was sold on braille and have never regretted that decision!
The Federation and its members continued to impress me every time I attend their activities. Through their State Conventions and BELL programs, I have been able to interact with so many competent blind people and can proudly call so many of them my friends. Through the Federation, I also got to meet other young adults who were blind but also had additional handicaps. I have had the privilege to interact with three amazing young ladies who have multiple hurtles that they deal with every day. These ladies are such an inspiration for parents of children who have blindness as well as additional handicaps. Every time I come in contact with the federation I think to myself “this is what I want for my child.” The Federation is living proof that being blind does not hold you back, and you truly can live the life you want.
Today, my son is main stream in the 5th grade. He is an honor roll student who was nominated for 5th grade student of the year! He is a testament to how the federation with their resources and support can open doors and lift barriers in providing your child with a wonderful, meaningful life. I am truly grateful to the federation for all of its support over the last seven years.
Because nobody treats me like I’m broken or in need of saving or requiring a cure. Because in the presence of my Federation family, I am seen for me and not my disability. Because we are strengthening the up-and-coming generation of blind people to be fearless and proud. Because when any of us need back-up, we can count on an army of thousands. Because I have forged bonds with people who are my support when I am weak and need to cry and my cheering section when I am celebrating a triumph. Because we are making our presence known, one cane tap (or tail wag) at a time. Because I am living the life I want. A life full of adventure, hope, love, dreams, opportunities, forward motion, and so, so many more reasons to be thankful.
One frequent topic of discussion in the National Federation of the Blind is why we joined, when we joined, and those things that pushed us towards and away from the organization. Very often we find ourselves trying to tell one unified story but, like most things in life, the reason for making significant decisions in our lives often is a culmination of events and maybe even an epiphany or two along the way.
If I really think hard about it, I believe there are at least three reasons why I joined and became an active member of the Federation, and let me emphasize that there is a tremendous difference between joining and being active, though one is necessary before the other. First and foremost I believe that I joined the National Federation of the Blind because I was loved into it. I met with a member or two of the Federation, not knowing that they were affiliated with any kind of organization of the blind. In fact I don’t think I knew that there were organizations of the blind, only organizations for the blind. It never occurred to me that there was any particular reason why blind people should unite for common action. The concept of an organization of the blind was not just something I was unaware of or neutral about; I actually thought the idea was stupid, a reflection of the admonition I got from my elementary resource room teacher that too closely associating with blind people would lead to isolation from those who could see, and the goal, after all, was to make our way in sighted society.
The only information I wanted from the blind people who turned out to be associated with the Federation was what it was like to own and use a guide dog. At age fifteen I thought that all dogs that did guiding for the blind were Seeing Eye dogs, and although the blind people I met with set me straight on the fact that the Seeing Eye was the name of the school, both had their dogs from the Seeing Eye, so it seemed to make little difference to me.
After getting all the information I could about how to work, groom, and feed a guide dog, I was ready to get off the phone until more questions popped into my mind, but my new friends were not so anxious to leave the line. They seemed to like it when I told them stories about me, and, to my great gratification, they remembered those stories and would ask follow-up questions in subsequent conversations. In turn I slowly gave up my selfish pursuit of information just for me, and I found that these people had a lot worth knowing about them. One man ran an office supply business – imagine that, a blind guy in his own business. Another man was in law school, a career I had been steered away from because doing legal work took a lot of research, the material to be researched was in print, and blind people could not see or independently read print.
At some point I realized that not only did I like the people with whom I was talking, but I admired them. Because they showed me love and attention, it felt good and right to do the same thing. Eventually I started to take seriously the issues that seemed to mean so much to them: discrimination in employment, unequal opportunity in education, discrimination in housing and transportation, abuse by government agencies whose job it was to serve the blind, the need for advocates when blind people went for financial assistance through Social Security or the Missouri blind pension. At first I was convinced that I would never need help in any of these areas, but I was certainly willing to help them. Later I learned that any blind person out in the world would face these issues, and I came to take seriously the work of the National Federation of the Blind, not just to make my friends happy with me but to make the world a better place for blind people who deserved justice, mercy, and an equal chance. In the bargain I got myself not a new family but a companion family, and I thank God for these people every day.
So as important as the philosophy, policy, and the programs that spring from them are in my Federation life, at least one of the three reasons I am a Federationist is that I was loved into it, and how can anyone do better than love?