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.