Tagline of the National Federation of the Blind: “The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.”
Hello their readers and blog writers, for those who celebrate, I pray you had a restful, blessed Thanksgiving. Yesterday as I was reflecting on all the blessings I am thankful for, many of them revolved around my family, friends and the opportunity to put my social worker skills to use at my job. I pray I never take these gifts for granted, because sadly as a blind person, many are not provided these same options out of fear and ignorance. Many children are left functionally illiterate because they are not taught Braille since it is thought their diminishing vision they have will always be sufficient. Blind parents are denied the right to parent their children because it is erroneously believed by well-meaning professionals relying on nonvisual techniques is inferior to sight.
If it were not for the gift of being taught Braille as a child despite my usable troublesome vision, I highly doubt I would be an avid reader today. If I had not formed long-lasting connections and friendships with other blind parents when I found out I would be a single Mom, I do not know if I would’ve had the self-assurance to confront some of the battles we have faced.
The focus of this entry is to share my gratitude and reflections from the NFB of Pennsylvania convention held in State College I attended a few weeks ago with friends old and new. As in previous entries, I have written about how influential the NFB has been in helping to positively shape my philosophy of blindness.
As a short recap, the NFB is one of the two main nonprofit consumer blindness organizations who work to promote societal inclusion, raise expectations and advocate for legislative advancement for the world’s blind.
My involvement with the NFB began in high school after I went totally blind as a result of Glaucoma. I’ve attended multiple National conventions which are annually held during the summer. It’s a wonderful time to hear about happenings of what is going on in the blindness community, but for me what’s most invigorating is connecting with and meeting other blind people whether they be parents, students or professionals who hold similar ideas toward blindness. As an avid reader, I love the NFB supports Braille literacy and provides blind children and their parents with the tools and skills to read. The NFB advocates for students to be their own spokesperson and collaborator in their educational process. Sadly, all too often adults or those in authority roles become the voice piece for students of all ages, and even though the intentions are good, the sighted adult may not really know what is best or most suitable for the student.
When I attended the affiliate NFB convention, I had a similar scaled down experience to National conventions. I heard about what’s going on on the national and affiliate levels, however, more importantly I enjoyed having a fun time connecting with friends old and new who happen to be blind. After sessions, whether at the evening auction or the culminating banquet, I was able to catch up with friends. What I enjoyed most of all is when we were talking and laughing, whether with a group or a one-on-one conversation, blindness is no big deal. We could joke and tease each other and not feel awkward about using pithy blindness humor.
My prayer is someday blindness consumer organizations are no longer needed because society evolves to such a point that any disability is not feared, pitied or relegated to second-class citizen status.
While we are not quite there, I am thankful to all those who have gone before me to blaze the trail toward acceptance and inclusion. The founders who have shaped the blindness movement are to be commended for their forward thinking, because there was once a day not so long ago when blind children were segregated in schools for the blind, women with disabilities were sterilized to prevent pregnancies and the possibility of employment outside of a sheltered workshop making weaved baskets was preposterous.
If I do nothing else productive or noteworthy with the rest of my life, I hope at least I can convince one person who can pay it forward the truth that blindness is not what society portrays it to be. Yes, there are days when it is a pain in the ass and an inconvenience, however, using alternative nonvisual techniques by relying on assistive technology such as a screen reader to use an iPhone or computer or a white cane or dog guide as a mobility tool are just as equal to the sight you use daily.
No matter a person’s gender, sexual orientation, how much Melanin one has in their skin or their ability or inability to see, hear, walk, talk or process information, our common denominator is we are all precious, unique gifts made in the eyes of God. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I am thankful for the National Federation of the Blind as a whole and for my friends near and far, no matter your visual acuity who have become like family and do your part to change what it means to be blind. Whether you are actively involved with a blindness organization or want to stay as far away from it all, thank you for your acceptance, inclusion and belief blindness does not have to define me or my goals. If it were not for the blessing of being blind, I would have not met such unique dynamic people who have encouraged me to be the best I can be despite societies lowered expectations.
Until next time, from a thankful cane tapping, Braille reading person who happens to be blind,