Future Reflections Winter/Spring, Vol. 14 No. 1
[PICTURE] Margie Watson and husband Marc with daughters Katie (holding Mom's hand) and Elise at their first NFB Convention.
Reprinted from the Fall, 1993, issue of the Wisconsin Chronicle, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin:
Several years ago my husband and I attended a seminar for parents of blind children sponsored by the NFB of Wisconsin. Federationists shared their insights and personal experiences, and the supportive environment of that seminar affected us very positively. In the years to follow, however, our family often went it alone: resolving issues and addressing concerns as best we could. Increasingly, we came to feel a great deal of frustration that we were wasting our time reinventing the wheel. At this time I renewed contact with Bonnie Peterson, President of the NFB of Wisconsin. After I expressed my feelings of frustration and aloneness to Bonnie, she strongly urged me to attend the 1993 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind to be held in Dallas, Texas.
When Bonnie learned that, because of limited finances, I would be attending the convention alone for only a few days, she arranged for financial assistance. This meant that our family was able to attend the convention for the entire week. My husband Marc and I were astounded at this unexpected generosity. We were very interested to learn why Bonnie felt the convention was so essential that she would commit limited resources to see that we all got there. The answer became evident soon after we arrived in Dallas.
Like many other parents we felt great pleasure and satisfaction at the warm welcome we received. Certainly Bonnie had meant for us to network so that we could help our four-year-old daughter Katie learn good Braille and cane skills. To be sure, she also wanted us to be alert to the harmful and commonly-held attitude that blind children cannot be expected to keep up with and compete with their sighted peers academically or socially. This information and the availability of the National Federation of the Blind as a resource empowered us and undeniably made the convention extremely valuable for us. But I do not think that this was the only reason, or even the most important reason, that Bonnie had wanted us to attend. There was something more that was happening-a kind of magic that is a part of the National Convention.
This magic has to do with the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Throughout its literature the NFB repeats its conviction that it is respectable to be blind; that blindness is just one characteristic; and that when a person receives the proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a mere nuisance, enabling him or her to compete on equal terms with the sighted. As parents of a blind child, we said that we believed this philosophy, but I'm not sure whether we really did or whether we just desperately hoped that it was true. The convention changed that. At the convention we saw that these beliefs are undeniable realities.
There were well over two thousand Federationists in attendance at the National Convention. The sheer magnitude of this number made it impossible to stereotype people. Day after day for a week we observed confident, competent blind people successfully achieving their goals. This experience was invaluable in shaping our attitude toward blindness, and we now have no doubt that great things lie ahead for Katie because we now truly share the philosophy of the NFB.
The importance of an organization that promotes positive attitudes toward blindness became readily apparent at the banquet when the student scholarships were announced. The high aspirations of these students underscored the importance of the NFB. Federationists not only encourage students to dream big dreams; we also see to it that these dreams become realities by being successful role models, by promoting good attitudes toward blindness, and by providing financial support to demonstrate the confidence that students will attain these lofty goals.
In 1994 the NFB National Convention will be held in Detroit, and in 1995 it will be held in Chicago. This is a golden opportunity for families who live in the Midwest. When you attend a convention of the National Federation of the Blind, you can have no doubt that the NFB is changing what it means to be blind. Come and share in the magic. Being part of the NFB means that you and your child will never again have to go it alone.