Future Reflections Convention 1992, Vol. 11 No. 5


by Donovan Cooper

     From the Editor: The experience recounted below by Donovan Cooper, a long-time Federationist and leader in the NFB Diabetic Division, is not unique or extraordinary. In fact, such episodes are downright common whenever blind children are given the opportunity to mingle with blind adults at Federation functions. And that is why it is worthy of our notice. Children's dreams of what they can be and do when they grow up are grounded in the very ordinary interactions with the adults around them. As you read this article, ask yourself these questions: Could a blind child ever learn from a sighted adult what this child learned in just seconds from an incidental meeting with a competent blind adult? How many times has my blind son or daughter had such a moment with a blind adult? This chance encounter happened at a National NFB Convention, but it could just as easily have happened at a NFB State Convention; or chapter meeting; or NFB parent seminar; or a local NFB picnic or holiday party; or any other NFB event which brings blind people together. There are many reasons why parents of blind children should get involved with the National Federation of the Blind, and this is as good a reason as any of them. Here, now, is Donovan Cooper's story.

     I have not had the pleasure of fatherhood. I was the younger of two male children in my family and I have seldom had the opportunity to act as a "big brother" to a boy. So, when that chance comes my way, and the interaction between me and the boy works well, I really appreciate it. At the July 1992 National Federation of the Blind Convention, I had one of these rewarding experiences.

     My hotel room was on the fifth floor of the Radisson Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina. One night I was returning to my room when I met a boy and his mother in the fifth-floor hallway. I didn't get the mother's name, and I regret this because I would like to congratulate her on the fine job she was doing in teaching the young boy to use his cane to find their room. At the moment, however, it didn't seem appropriate because, if I were to do something to help the situation, that help would have to be directed to the boy and not his mother.

     Although Mom was doing everything right, her son was whining (as children will sometimes do) and resisting using his cane. Again, Mom was doing a great job, but it seemed that the boy needed a good male role model. What a great opportunity for me to try and be that role model! So I gave it my best shot. As I said, I don't remember his name but for purposes of this article, let's call him Andy.

     "Hi. Who do we have here?"

     "This is Andy."

     "Andy, you're such a big boy and that's such a big cane."

     Andy paused and looked up at me.

     "Andy, come here. Look at my cane."

     Andy timidly walked the few feet to where I stood and reached out his hand to look at my cane. He touched it and began following the shaft of the cane upward until he could nearly reach the handle.

     "Andy, some day your cane will be as big as mine."

     Andy didn't say a word. He didn't whine. He didn't ask questions. He just turned and placed his own cane on the floor and walked directly to his room. It was clear that Andy liked the idea of his cane getting big. And it was clear that he associated the big cane of a blind adult with his own growing up and the use of his own cane.

     Although I was not a blind child and therefore did not relate to canes as a child, I remember similar associations from my own childhood and how much they meant to me. I remember the men who were positive influences on my life and how much I wanted to emulate their use of tools. My father, after all, was a carpenter, and as a boy I thought that the time spent with a hammer in my hand was time well spent.

     The lesson to be learned here is that our blind children need blind adults as role models. That boy's mother was doing two wonderful things. She was taking the time to teach her young son cane travel and giving him much encouragement in the process. But she was also doing something else of extreme value to the boy. She had taken him to a National Federation of the Blind Convention, where chance encounters with confident and skillful blind role models are commonplace. I was one of the lucky ones who got to be one of those role models in Charlotte. Andy was one of the lucky ones who experienced such an encounter as a child. I have never had a moment's interaction with a child mean more to me, and I am sure that it meant a lot to Andy. His reflections on such experiences as he grows will help him to understand that it is respectable to be blind.

      This is the Federation at work in ways that cannot be accomplished by any other organization. I am so happy that we do what we do. Bring your children to our conventions and help them to interact with us in every way you can. After all, some day their canes will be as big as ours.

     NOTE: If you would like to get involved with the National Federation of the Blind in your state and community, check your local telephone book for a listing. We have affiliates in every state plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, and chapters in most large communities. If you need help locating an affiliate near you, call the NFB National Office for information: (410) 659-9314; or call Mrs. Barbara Cheadle, President, Parents of Blind Children Division, National Federation of the Blind: (410) 747-3358.