Future Reflections Spring 1996, Vol. 15 No. 2



by Barbara Cheadle

[PICTURE] Enthusiastic participation was the order of the day at the 1995 Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
Pam Dubel, Angela Howard and Zena Pearcy (left to right) perform in the "Little Things Mean A Lot" skit.
Kathy Austin and her display of toys at the Toy Workshop.
Dr. Hilda Caton, winner of the 1995 Oustanding Educator of Blind Children award.
Soo Kee Reed of Alaska gets a convention orientation lesson from Maria Morais.
Briley Pollard of Virginia draws for the door prize at Family Hospitality night. Assisting her are Loretta White (right) of Maryland and Julie Hunter (left) of Colorado.
Ruby Ryles discusses the fine points of advocacy at the 1995 IEP Workshop.
NFB Camp is a great place to make new friends- just ask Amanda Jones (left) and Dacia Luck

Although there is only one blind member in our family of five-Charles, our seventeen-year-old son-the National Federation of the Blind became, early on, a family affair. We quickly discovered that each of us was welcome, and each of us had a contribution to make. All three of our children have sold NFB candy, attended monthly Federation chapter meetings, held a picket sign, and cheered the presidential report at NFB National Conventions. They've had lots of company in these endeavors, too. Hundreds of sighted children of blind members, blind kids, and sighted siblings participate in Federation functions with their families.

The theme of the 1995 Parents Seminar, "The Benefits of Growing Up in the National Federation of the Blind," focused on this unique characteristic of the NFB. Blind adults, sighted parents, blind kids, sighted kids of blind parents, and sighted siblings came together during the morning session to talk about the significant impact the National Federation of the Blind has had in their lives.

The seminar got off to an inspirational start with remarks by NFB President Marc Maurer and President Emeritus, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. They challenged parents to stay for the entire convention. They described how the actions taken at this year's convention, and the years that follow, will determine much of what their children's future opportunities will be. Therefore, they explained, it behooves parents to become active in the NFB so they, too, can help shape the future for the next generation.

Ramona Walhof led the formal agenda with a presentation called, "Blindness-What it Means in the Mind of a Blind Child" (see page 13 in this issue). In her speech, Mrs. Walhof examined the natural process by which a blind child comes to understand blindness and, ultimately, how they learn to feel about themselves as blind people.

Next were two panels, "But I'm not Blind...What can the NFB Mean to Me?" and "Blindness, the NFB, and Me." On the first panel Charles Brown, President of the NFB of Virginia, described the value of the NFB in his life as a partially sighted individual. Joanne Wilson, Director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind and the blind mother of five sighted children gave a lively account of the many values and skills her sighted children learned through their intimate association with the NFB.

The final panel of the day featured children and youth and was (as might be expected) enthusiastically received by the audience. Wayne Pearcy, an eight-year-old blind boy, gave a delightful speech. Angela Sasser, a blind teen from Louisiana, and Maria Wurtzel, the sighted daughter of blind Federationists Fred and Mary Wurtzel, expressed themselves with clarity and sincerity. The last youth on the panel, John Earl Cheadle, sighted sibling to blind Federationist Charles (Chaz), "spiced" his presentation with humor and a "wry" twist. Bill Cucco, the only adult on the panel, held his own with the youth as he described the role the NFB has played in life as the sighted father of a blind daughter.

The last item on the general session agenda was a skit performed by blind students and staff members of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Written by Braille instructor Jerry Whittle, "Little Things Mean a Lot" (see page 31) gave parents a lot of not-so-little things to think about concerning the ways they might be stifling their children's needs for blindness skills and independence.

During the lunch break parents had the option of buying a box lunch and attending a Toy Workshop moderated by Margie Watson, president of the Wisconsin Parents of Blind Children, and presented by Kathy Austin, a Discovery Toy dealer from Virginia. Both women are parents of blind daughters and are active in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.

Following lunch parents were presented with a choice of twelve different concurrent workshops. The three-hour "Beginning Braille for Parents" workshop was, as usual, conducted by Claudell Stocker, Braille expert and former director of the Braille Unit of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. There was also a "Questions and Concerns About Braille" session moderated by NOPBC First Vice President and 1992 winner of the Outstanding Educator of Blind Children award, Ruby Ryles. Dr. Hilda Caton, the 1995 winner of the award, was also on hand to answer questions about her "Patterns" reading series.

Blind Federationists Barbara Pierce and Gary Wunder handled the sensitive topic of "Social Skills, Personal Care, and Independence of Blind Youth" to a standing-room-only crowd. Loretta White, parent leader from Maryland and chairman of the NOPBC Committee on Blind Multiply Handicapped Children, also spoke to a record number of parents about techniques and resources for parents of blind multiply handicapped children. Two sessions of "Parent Power" was so well received that the workshop will undoubtedly be repeated in 1996. These sessions were conducted by parent leaders Carol Castellano, New Jersey; Barbara Freeman, Washington; Keri Stockton, West Virginia; Kathy Arthurs, Ohio; Dawn Neddo, Michigan; and Joe Larson, Nebraska.

Three different sessions were held on different aspects of cane travel and mobility for blind kids. Joe Cutter, a pediatric mobility specialist from New Jersey, and Doug Boone, an independent mobility consultant from Nebraska, gave generously of their time not only during these workshops (which they conducted) but throughout the convention in private appointments with parents. One of the most exciting events of the afternoon was the session for parents of deaf-blind children. Moderated by Sally Ruemmler, chairman of the NOPBC committee Parents in Partnership for Deaf-Blind Children, the workshop featured presentations by Sandra Andrews, a deaf-blind services consultant in Kansas; and Dr. Douglas Geenens, an adult and child psychiatrist with experience in the identification and assessment of psychiatric needs of individuals with dual sensory loss.

Throughout the afternoon parents also had the option of dropping into the "Show Time" room to view videos on a variety of blindness topics. Especially popular was the new NFB video about Braille literacy, "That the Blind May Read."

Blind teens had an opportunity to get together Saturday afternoon for a Convention Orientation session. Adult blind members of the NFB took the youth out in small groups to explore the hotel. The experience also gave the kids a chance to get to know each other and to meet blind adults.

While moms, dads, and older brothers and sisters were busy with these activities, youngsters from age 5 to 12 were having a great time on a field trip to a nearby kids amusement park. Carla McQuillan, who owns and operates a Montessori preschool in Oregon, organized dozens of other blind volunteers to chaperone some eighty children on this trip.

After a long day, parents and children were ready to relax and socialize that evening at the informal Family Hospitality night sponsored by the NOPBC. Children gathered around the piano, played games, and looked at books while parents chatted, compared notes, and exchanged ideas along with addresses and phone numbers. One exciting high point of the evening was a drawing for a $50 bill.

The next large gathering for parents was at the Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children on Monday afternoon, July 3, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. As usual, the agenda was packed with a combination of business, reports, presentations, panels, and election of officers. Dr. Hilda Caton, the 1995 recipient of the Outstanding Educator of Blind Children Award, described the background and development of the Patterns reading series, which she edited some years ago. Other speakers included Laura Felty and Dr. Christopher Craig. Laura was the top Print-to-Braille winner in the first annual National Braille Readers are Leaders contest about twelve years ago. She is now a certified teacher of blind children. Laura gave a compelling talk about how important and beneficial Braille has been in her life. Following this theme, Dr. Craig talked about the survey he conducted on the emerging literacy of blind children. Interspersed between speakers were drawings for new and used toys donated by members. This was so popular that a committee was formed to solicit toys and other items for next year.

The last item on the agenda was a panel of parent leaders who talked about the challenges of organizing local parent support groups. Joe Larson, Nebraska; Pat Jones, Tennessee; Margie Watson, Wisconsin; Lisa Mattioli, Pennsylvania; and Michael Wolk, also of Pennsylvania described different experiences and problems. All, however, persevered and succeeded in creating a stable organization where parents can work together to better the lives for blind children in their communities.

A report from the nominating committee followed by elections concluded the meeting. NOPBC officers and board members for 1995-1996 are: Barbara Cheadle, President; Ruby Ryles, First Vice President; Carol Castellano, Second Vice President; Marty Greiser, Secretary; Julie Hunter, Treasurer; Michael Wolk, Board; Joe Larson, Board; Pat Jones, Board; and Kathy Arthurs, Board.

On Wednesday evening NOPBC conducted an Individualized Education Program (IEP) workshop. Led by Ruby Ryles and Barbara Cheadle, the program explored the nuts and bolts of how the IEP works, what blind kids should have on their IEPs, and strategies for increasing the chances of getting a good IEP. One segment of the workshop specifically addressed the role of the parents' advocate in the IEP meeting. Following the pattern set at the workshops earlier in the week, the room was packed with enthusiastic parents and NFB members eager to learn.

The convention general sessions, which began Wednesday morning and concluded on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. (3-1/2 days-Thursday afternoon was left open for tours), was packed with speakers and topics of the utmost interest to parents. Parents who stayed for the entire convention had the opportunity to hear nationally known professionals from the National Center on Educational Restructuring and Inclusion, Dr. Alan Gartner and Dorothy Kerzner Lipsky speak on "Inclusion for all: Building on the Tools of Blindness." They also got to be part of an important dialogue with representatives from the publishing firms and associations regarding "Braille Literacy, Braille Texts, and Braille Bills." Dr. Sally Mangold, well-known for the materials she developed for use in teaching children fast, efficient Braille reading, was also on the convention agenda to talk about "The Importance of Braille Literacy in the Education of Blind Children."

Learning continued after sessions and meetings as parents gathered together in rooms, restaurants, and even in the halls or outside the elevator. Professionals such as Joe Cutter, Doris Willoughby, and Ruby Ryles volunteered their time and made appointments with parents and their children to give of their knowledge.

The 1995 NFB convention will be remembered for many reasons. Not the least of them will be the burgeoning group of enthusiastic parents and children who came to soak up knowledge about blindness from thousands of blind people who are committed to the positive philosophy and message of the National Federation of the Blind.