Future Reflections         Convention Report 2008

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An Open Letter to Parents

by Carrie Gilmer, President
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children

Carrie GilmerIt was my great honor at the 2008 NOPBC annual meeting in Dallas to be elected to hold the office of the president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one….” Our purpose in creating a climate of opportunity for blind children is one I indeed consider a mighty one, and it gives me joy every day to see that purpose realized in the life of a child whose opportunities have been limited by a lack of accurate knowledge about blindness.
I have four children of my own; two are now adults. They all have their own unique personalities and needs as all humans do. My third child, Jordan, is seventeen and he is blind. Last year I had the opportunity to raise a fifth child (who became partly my own): a blind foreign exchange student from Ukraine. Raising all of them has required wisdom, love, and a measure of time devoted to their individual needs. My blind children needed the same things my sighted children did, and then something more. The something more was a lot of work, commitment, and self-education to ensure that those normal opportunities occurred. My involvement has created the potential for seemingly infinite learning and networking opportunities. I learn every day from NFB members and other parents how to further create a climate of opportunity for my son and for all our children. The reward is that my blind kids are living up to their potential, and have as many normal opportunities as my sighted kids. This is all we can do for any of our children: give them the best chance possible to make it on their own.

I have two great passions: one is children, the other is justice. For nine years I have been able to combine these two passions by working to improve the lives and education of all blind children, not just my own. I’ve done this in my professional life, as a volunteer member of the NFB, and I’ve done it at the local, state, and national levels. For the past five years I had the opportunity to work at BLIND, Inc, which is one of three national NFB training centers for the blind. At the local and state levels, I’ve established and conducted programs for blind kids and their parents--programs such as Saturday School and Teen Night. My experience at the national level has taken me around the country as an advocate and inspirational speaker. I’ve observed how hundreds of blind people of all ages adjust to blindness by learning the nonvisual, problem-solving, coping, and confidence skills necessary to succeed. And as an instructor, mentor, and facilitator, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of that process. I understand, deeply understand, exactly what it takes for a blind person to become fully integrated into society. I understand what that integration requires from the blind person and what it requires from society.

No child can be empowered if the parent is not empowered first. Yet, the strength of that empowerment is at risk if the teachers and the others in our children’s lives are not accurately informed about blindness. Barbara Cheadle’s phenomenal work and passions as the past NOPBC President were, for twenty-three years, the driving force in making our organization successful in empowering thousands of blind children, their families, and their teachers. The NOPBC is today (because of our integral relationship to the NFB) the largest and strongest parent-consumer force in the world for bettering the lives of blind children.

Yet, Barbara did not do it alone. There were many dedicated parents and NFB members along the way who helped grow us and make us into who we are today. And neither can I do it alone. It will take all of us to fulfill our purpose of changing the climate of opportunity in the world for our kids. None of our children will have the full measure of opportunity they should have until all of them do. This is what we strive for.

When we make the world a better place for blind people, we make the world itself a better place because of the incalculable contributions the blind can make. My Federation colleague, Dr. Edward Bell, ends his online signature with this quote from Stephen Jay Gould, “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” We cannot afford to let any blind child or adult fail in gaining opportunity to live up to his or her potential, not just for the benefit of the blind person, but also for the sake of all of us.

Jimmy Carter said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something…I’m free to choose what that something is, and the something I’ve chosen is my faith. My faith demands--this is not optional--my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to make a difference.”

Out of my faith in the normalcy of blind people, I have chosen to make a difference for blind kids. This is my pledge to you: to do whatever I can--wherever I am, whenever I can--with all the knowledge and heart and energy and resources that I have, for as long as I can, to make a difference. I ask you to join me. Join me in making a difference with all that you can and with whatever you have.

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