How has the NFB helped you or changed your life? The following comes from members across the entire organization of the National Federation of the Blind, and not just from the Illinois affiliate.
I came to the Federation as a high school senior looking for free money. I was pretty sure I knew all about “those people,” they were crazy, radicle, all about independence, and I wanted nothing to do with them. But, I decided that applying for the scholarship couldn’t hurt, and when I was offered one it seemed silly to turn down a chance at free money and a weekend in a hotel. When my friend, who also happened to be a member of the scholarship committee, told me that she thought I should run for secretary of the student division, I was more than a little hesitant. But, since I wanted the free money, I decided to try to impress her by agreeing to run for office. Much to my shock, I won the election, which meant I was now committed, at least for a year. The next year I attended a student leadership seminar in Baltimore, traveled to my first national convention, and participated in Youth Slam. I began to realize that I was surrounded, not by the crazy people I had expected, but by an entire group of people who believed in me. They saw potential in me that I never would have imagined, and with their encouragement I began doing things I never dreamed were possible.
I have not always lived up to the high expectations my friends in the Federation set for me, but I have never felt shunned or rejected. During a time in my life when I felt like I was severely failing at pretty much everything, my friends in the Federation gave me the wake-up call I badly needed, and then helped me obtain the blindness skills that would allow me to be successful. Even on the hard days I knew they loved me, and that I had a whole organization cheering me on.
I have been a member of the federation for more than ten years now, and it has helped shape me into the confident blind woman I am. Because of the connections I have made, I am employed, and spend my days sharing the encouragement and lessons in confidence I have received with other blind people. My hope is that they realize their potential and live the lives they want.
Once in a while I run to catch a light rail and I am still surprised and thankful for my confident travel skills.
I love being a part of an organization that continues to push me to be the best that I can be. I am a longtime member of the national Federation of the blind because my NFB friends have high expectations for me. This is especially appreciated as my residual vision disappears and I need good mobility training.
Because I knew I had sparkling potential, but no one showed me how to shine.
As a child I was blessed with family that always encouraged me. There was never an outward hint of, “we have no idea how you can do that as a blind person.” Who knows what they were actually thinking, but the message was that of positivity and encouragement. Fortunately, as a general rule I embraced that philosophy. What I wasn’t always sure of was the actual how of doing certain things without sight.
In 2001, I was invited by then National Federation of the blind of Wisconsin president Mark Riccobono to attend the national convention in Philadelphia. This would be the first time I would travel without family or a school chaperone. My new federation friends assured me that they had it all under control and there would be no issues. In fact, they had it so under control that Mr. Riccobono challenged me to change planes, at O’Hare airport, wearing sleep shades. At this time in my life, I was still referring to myself as, “visually impaired,” so it was a bit of a step out of my comfort zone to try this. Nevertheless, with a small amount of trepidation, I took the proffered sleep shades and off we went. Sixteen years later, I don’t recall the details of the experience, except to say we successfully evaded an attempt to place us in the “holding area for people like you”. No cart for us, thank you very much. We walked. On our own. News flash: No one died. The experience was a positive one and left me feeling empowered. That feeling continued, and grew, throughout the week as I met, and was frequently put to work by, blind students, computer science professionals, teachers, parents, and every other label imaginable. No matter the differences, the one thing they all had in common was their blindness, and their unending confidence that blindness was a characteristic, not a limitation. I left that week in Philadelphia knowing that this organization was something I wanted to be a part of. That convention gave me the knowledge that there were other blind people that would be there if I ever needed suggestions or support.
I’m lucky, and thankful, that blindness hasn’t caused a lot of resistance in my life. From the support of family during my early years, to the encouragement of friends, to the emergency management director who I never saw blink an eye when I said, “I want to take the CERT class. You can teach me to get people out from under a collapsed wall too, right?” to all those who supported my gender transition. I’ve generally never felt that I couldn’t do something as a blind person. However, it’s the love, hope, and determination of my family in the National Federation of the Blind, that has given me the extra strength and answered the, ‘but how do I…” And that is why I’m a Federationist.
Because I got one of the most important things all parents need. HOPE for my daughter’s future!
Because of the NFB and the NFB Performing Arts Division, I am empowered to reach my full potential! Blindness does not hold me back!
To change the world we live in, one blind corner at a time. When we transform ourselves, we change the world. So that the blind may read, travel safely, vote privately & independently, and compete 4 jobs on terms of equality is why I’m a Federationist.
Watching my daughter know she can do whatever she desires in life. Her blind mentors lead the way!
That NFB has brought many new friends into my life.
I once tried to function like I was still sighted. I struggled. The NFB taught me that it is respectable to be blind.
The NFB confirmed my own belief that blindness is not what defines me or my future, happiness or success in life.
The NFB supported me and gave me the tools I needed for success in college! Also, it helped me find my passion in law.
When I can help a blind sister facing really awful discrimination, and hearing the powerful stories of other blind people like my friend Pam Allen.
I’m surrounded by brilliant people who know that I and other blind folks can be experts in our chosen fields. Both literally, and figuratively, I can count members as family.
I have a tremendous sweet tooth. Cookies, cake, pie, ice cream, you name it… if it contains enough sugar, I’m going to at least try it. At some point during my high school years, a teacher put a set of sleep shades on me, and taught me to bake a cake. Subsequent kitchen adventures have yielded equally delightful results. I love books. When I was growing up I would sit curled for hours over novels. They carried me to all new realities. I rode upon Aslan’s back with the Pevensies. I followed the Little Women on their Pilgrim’s Progress. I loved Black Beauty and Kaavik the Wolf-Dog for their loyalty to people, even when we didn’t always deserve it, and I learned that the funniest books have three chapter 19’s. Books were some of my best friends. When one night, I couldn’t force my eyes to focus… I wasn’t terrified that I had lost them. I was very upset, but my summer camp counselors (and their rowdy, awesome college friends, who let us hang out with them!!!) all read Braille. They left me believing that this was the obvious and logical choice for me too, so even though it was hard at first, I learned it, and am glad of it every day. I’m a (very) amateur singer. Karaoke was made for me. Two of my musically gifted friends went to a lot of effort to arrange and perform my favorite musical theater song with me at a most memorable talent show. I travelled to Kenya for college. I ran down a mountain and leapt a stream with my guide. I learned to cook Chapatti in a fireplace. I bathed in hot springs, outside. I wouldn’t have had the courage to tackle any of this if I hadn’t gone to Colorado first. My teachers there taught me to travel safely, efficiently, and finally with style. They pushed me past my fears, and to the tops of a few mountains while they were at it. I was once asked to help with a student seminar. Not knowing what I was agreeing to, I said yes. I learned more about dancing, hotel booking, and video editing than I would have ever guessed. I also learned that a bottle of Coke, some adrenaline, and a fairly new friendship are just enough incentive to keep me up all night long. I have cosplayed as Carmen Sandiego and “The Chief”. I’ve even sung Ke$ha in public. My friends have proof of it all. Finally, I get to teach all sorts of people about how blind folks use technology. Here’s the crazy part, they pay me to do it! Ok, I know that sounds like a lot of random facts, but I promise there’s a connecting thread. These aren’t just random vignettes. Each of these things helped to mold me into the person I am today, and directly, or indirectly, the National Federation of the Blind and its members were linked to each tale. Yes, that includes both Carmen and Ke$ha.) I won’t name anyone here, as I would miss as many as I would call out, but the people I mention in the above stories are all Federationists. My first blind friends and mentor’s in The Nebraska Association of Blind Students, and NFB of Nebraska, my off-the-record teacher of blind students, staff and fellow students at the Colorado Center for the Blind, my wonderful colleagues at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and all those others I’ve met along the way have changed my view of blindness, and myself. They’ve even given me opportunities to do the same for other blind people. This is why I’m a Federationist.
By meeting members of the National Association of Blind Students & the Texas Association of Blind Students I knew that my blindness didn’t define my ability to graduate from college. Due to the philosophy of the NFB, I know that I’m employed not because I’m blind, but because I’m qualified.
I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind because I like to raise the expectations for myself and others who are blind. This is why I’m a Federationist. A man just called me at 9:46pm & told me “I feel better about my blindness after talking with U” Made my day!
Because my parents showed me how blind people thrive in a sighted world… others should be able to also.
Advocacy, mentorship, friendship, volunteerism, equality, opportunity, and love.
Growing up, I often wondered how I could accomplish my dreams while blind. with the Federation, I got my answer.
It seems like yesterday. Only yesterday that I lost my sight, and my family was left reeling. Confused, hurt, terrified of the future, but determined that their child, their grandson would be successful. I was lucky to have such strong-willed grandparents and a mom who was willing to advocate for braille and travel instruction. These figures in my life always pushed me to be as independent and strong as they thought I could be. I was marginally successful at fulfilling their expectations of me, pushing the limits for what we all thought a blind person ought to be capable of accomplishing.
Even so, as I entered college, I was concerned, a little bit afraid, and a lot bit unsure of what the future was going to hold. As a ‘vision impaired’ individual, I figured that I would graduate from college and do something…not sure what, but something. At the very least, if all else failed and I was unable to do the standard job a ‘vision impaired’ person could do—namely teaching—then I could default to social security–something I would rather not do if I could help it.
Three years ago, I attended my first National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind as a scholarship recipient. I figured I would take the money and move on with my education. After all, I was not like other blind people, I did what I wanted to do with little hesitation, and got around unassisted all the time! I never thought my life would be changed in that moment. During this convention, I heard lots of speeches from lots of different people, demonstrating how these blind people were changing the lives of blind people, and raising those expectations of blindness that others had for blind people. I was in awe, and shocked. I met my first totally blind person, who later became my best friend and my fiancé, Bre Brown, and was blown away at how independent someone with no sight could be. My perceptions about blindness were entirely turned upside down. I realized, that it was not only acceptable to be blind, but that it was respectable to be blind.
Since then, I have jumped all in with zero reservations. Some people ask me why I am a Federationists. My answer is simple. With love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality. Thanks to the work of the Federation, I can live a fully productive life, that I want to live, independently and confidently. No task is out of my reach with proper training and opportunity. I am now a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, where I have been granted opportunities to learn and grow. I have already, in my short time here accomplished tasks I never thought I would ever do. I have cooked easy meals and complex ones; utilized, with zero modification, several different power tools including a table saw, radial arm saw, and a bandsaw; I have travelled across the town under sleep shades with little to no trouble at all, and all of this has been possible thanks to those who have worked diligently in our organization. Thanks to those people who came before me.
I am a Federationists because I was granted my freedom, my confidence, and my independence through this wonderful organization of ours, and I hope to be able to give the same someday. I am a Federationists because the work has not concluded. I am a Federationists because I believe in the full capacity of blind people. I am a Federationists because I believe.
Growing up in the NFB, I know the importance of advocating, sharing & teaching my rights & abilities with my community.
I was born just a few months after my parents and five older siblings came to the United States as Palestinian refugees. When I was 14 months old, my uncle noticed that “something wasn’t right” and convinced my mother to take me to the eye doctor. My family learned that I was legally blind, but we had come from a culture where people with disabilities are hidden in back rooms and don’t have opportunities to participate in society. And so “blind” is really a bad word. In the Arab culture, it’s not just not respectable to be blind, it’s something to hide because it shames the entire family.
My mother made it her mission to find every doctor who could suggest treatments. When she accepted that treatment wasn’t an option, she shifted her goal to finding every teacher who could teach me. She was going to make sure that I would live a full, meaningful, independent life regardless of blindness. She refused to hide me, even though we didn’t use the word blind. I learned how to read, how to write, and how to use what little sight I had to get along as though I were sighted. I used some alternative techniques related to cooking, construction, and non-academic tasks. I just didn’t know they were non-visual techniques – they were just the way that my mom or siblings taught me to do things. I did well academically, but I suffered from eye strain, headaches, and severe back pain from leaning forward to bring my face inches from the words. I remember thinking often: “There’s got to be a better way.”
And thus I didn’t really realize I was blind or that the word applied to me until one day in college when I was walking across the campus and dove out of the way of a drunk driver. I stumbled into a construction hole I hadn’t seen. I broke my ankle, and I thought: “There’s got to be a better way.”
I began attending law school where I had to read and analyze a great deal in a short time. I could not visually keep up with the assignments and I was falling farther and farther behind my classmates. Once again, I thought: “There’s got to be a better way.”
I stumbled across a scholarship program, figuratively this time, for the National Federation of the Blind. I applied and, though I was not chosen for the national program, I was chosen for a State scholarship. That is the first exposure I had to the myriad of better ways. I was invited to a State Convention, where my parents only allowed me to go if I brought a family member or family friend along to stay in the hotel room with me because where I come from, “Muslim girls don’t sleep outside of their fathers’ houses without a chaperone.” The NFB accepted my cultural idiosyncrasies even though bringing someone along to the hotel room was contrary to some of the goals of lodging winners at the convention in the first place.
I met lots of people who were successful blind people. I thought I had been successful, but when I attended that first NFB convention and met over 100 other blind people who were out in the world reading independently without eye strain and headaches, traveling independently and avoiding construction holes with long white canes, using technology, human readers, and other methods to access information simultaneously with the sighted world, and all of the other things to which I didn’t even know existed…I realized the NFB knew what I didn’t – not just that there was a better way, but how I could find all the better ways. And this is why I’m a Federationist.
Jason Edward Polansky
I was born in Gettysburg, PA with a very rare form of blindness called bilateral anophthalmia. Even though my mother was and still is a nurse by occupation and had seen just about everything imaginable, her, my father, and the doctors were in great shock when they looked at my eyes. They were not sure what I would be able to do and how I would learn to accomplish everyday tasks. We saw several different doctors until we were lead to an eye surgeon, an ocularist, and education services in Frederick County, MD. In a nutshell, our contacts led us to other contacts who introduced us to the National Federation of the Blind. During their first convention, they saw blind adults who had their own families, jobs, homes, and hobbies and who were living the lives that they wanted to live. Most of all, they learned to model a positive philosophy of blindness as a foundation as they raised me. I attended public school just like all other children my age, learned to read Braille, travel with a cane, and use technology as it became available. As my teenage years approached, I had responsibilities including cleaning my room, doing my laundry, taking out the trash, helping my father with yardwork and handyman-work, just as many of my sighted peers did. I also swam all four years of high school and was very involved in my church youth group. After graduating high school with honors, I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind to increase my skills and confidence. While there, I gained more confidence to travel in unfamiliar environments on my own and improved my kitchen skills. I also built a cedar chest using power tools, went to New Orleans during Marti Gras, planned a weekend trip to Dallas, Texas, and cooked a meal for roughly 40 people. After graduating, I won a national scholarship and felt ready to start college. I am now in my sophomore year at Messiah College pursuing a bachelors of science in business marketing. I am involved in several campus organizations, have attended many networking events, held two summer jobs as a mentor to blind youth, and excelled both academically and socially during my time at Messiah College. I am also a member of the Maryland and Pennsylvania student divisions, on top of all of these things. I know that I would not be the person who I am today without the National Federation of the Blind.
I first heard about the National Federation of the Blind in 2000 through friends who were involved in the organization. I attended my first New York state convention in 2000 and my first national convention in Philadelphia in 2001. At first I thought the federation was more of a social organization.
Many of the things the organization was working for didn’t really feel like they applied to me. However, while I was unsure about some things, and it took a while for me to understand some of the legislative issues and resolutions, I slowly grew to believe in the Federation.
Over the years, my relationships with Federationists, including my affiliate president and my girlfriend, brought me to a deeper understanding of the Federation, what it stood for, and the impact it has on blind people. I began attending chapter meetings more regularly in 2013. While enrolled in a structured discovery training program I had the opportunity to attend events like the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland’s Day in Annapolis, which helped me feel connected to the legislative issues we were fighting for at the time, as well as connecting me with other Federationists.
I’m a member of the National Federation of the Blind because we are fighting for equal rights & opportunities for blind individuals across the country.
I was born in to a family where blindness is no stranger. My mom, who happens to be blind, raised me with high expectations, gave me as many opportunities as she could, and was never afraid to let me try new things. There were many times when I told her about something I wanted to do. She never said no, but sometimes asked how I would do it. I didn’t always know, but I was determined to figure it out. When I got to high school, I began to have many questions about my future that my sighted peers didn’t have. My mom taught me to be as independent as she could, but there were some things she didn’t know how to teach me. I knew I could have a bright and successful future, but I also knew I needed more skills. As all of this was happening, some of my friends were talking about all the places they go, the people they know, the projects they were doing, and so much more. All of this talk was surrounding the National Federation of the Blind. In 2009 I decided to join our dynamic organization, Within six months I was hooked. My worries about my future were short lived. I found a family who believes in me, challenges me, encourages me, and shows me love every day. Because of this mentoring and guidance, I have become a graduate of the Louisiana center for the Blind and have received my undergraduate degree from Texas State University. Because of the federation, I learned that I can do more than I ever imagined. Words cannot describe my love for our organization. Not only has the federation given me so much and changed my life, I love giving back. Our organization has achieved many victories over the years, but our work is not done. I am a proud federationist, and I am thrilled to be a part of what we will achieve in the future.
As a first-generation Latinx Texan, the Federation has given me self-confidence, self-assurance, independence and passion. When I met the National Federation of the Blind, I instantly found mentors who challenged me to achieve more than I thought was ever possible. Those same mentors continue challenging me to be the best that I can be both professionally and personally. I am a Federationist because the National Federation of the Blind has played a major role in shaping me into the man I am today. And, because I love big families!
I was 15 when I first heard about the National Federation of the Blind. Unlike so many students, I was blessed to have a fantastic TVI named Janet Bernhardt, who, despite my initial protestations, encouraged me to attend The Louisiana Center for the blind’s STEP Program. Though I have not been nearly as active in the Federation as I am now over a portion of those intervening 26 years, I am privileged to state unequivocally that the Federation has changed my life and that of countless thousands of blind people, their families, friends, and colleagues. Today, I am privileged to administer the very program I initially resisted attending. Standing on the shoulders of those intrepid men and women who have gone before, it is wonderful to pay it forward to future generations. Witnessing students raising expectations for themselves and seeing families transformed by the love, hope, and determination embodied in the Federation is an incredible blessing.
I once thought that being blind meant not being a productive citizen. I was terrified, depressed and unmotivated. I wouldn’t admit that I was blind or had a disability. This was until I found the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB and its philosophy have taught me to be proud of who I am. My NFB family puts challenges in front of me, not to hold me back but to push me forward. I now know that I can do and be anything I want. Those fears are not feared anymore. My future is wide open to anything that I put my mind to. I now stand tall with my white cane!
I am a Federationist, because the national Federation of the blind, believes in equality, opportunity, and security for the blind.
Because nobody treats me like I’m broken or in need of saving or requiring a cure. Because in the presence of my Federation family, I am seen for me and not my disability. Because we are strengthening the up-and-coming generation of blind people to be fearless and proud. Because when any of us need back-up, we can count on an army of thousands. Because I have forged bonds with people who are my support when I am weak and need to cry and my cheering section when I am celebrating a triumph. Because we are making our presence known, one cane tap (or tail wag) at a time. Because I am living the life I want. A life full of adventure, hope, love, dreams, opportunities, forward motion, and so, so many more reasons to be thankful.
Because people like Jamie and the National Federation of the Blind are creating opportunities for blind children to learn science that I never had… That’s why I’m a Federationist.
I am a federationist because the National Federation of the Blind actually gets things done.
Mindy Davis Lavern
I was asked to write a post about why I chose to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind and here it is:
My first-born son was 4 months old when he was diagnosed with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. I was new to motherhood, and even less experienced with blindness. There was an unsettling fear in my heart and mind about what the future would hold for him, and the experiences he would miss out on. It was our Early Steps therapist, Mrs. Sandy Dunham, who first introduced us to NFB of Louisiana, and I thank God she did. The NFB has taught me not to be afraid, a productive and happy future is possible. Live the Life You Want, is their slogan. Fear is what cripples us from reaching our true potential. The blind are no different from the rest of the world, with ambition and an appropriate education, you can become anything/anyone you desire. My son’s eyes may not work well, but he is intelligent, creative, unique, and has a beautiful heart. Strider, you are the reason I am a Federationist!
People often ask me why I belong to the NFB and my response to that is …
The NFB is like a second family to me. There are members who I felt I have known my whole life without even knowing them yet. Because I can call one of them if I am having a assistive tech issue and they can walk me through it. Because I believe in what the message says you can live the life you want. I think that this organization is a life changer for so many and for many more in the future.