This past week my husband, daughter, and I were in Utah visiting my family there and attending the convention for the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. I have a soft spot for the Utah affiliate since this is my home and where I first got involved in doing advocacy work for the blind. My involvement in the Utah affiliate also helped start me on my path to really coming to accept my own blindness and gaining some much needed skills for more independence as a blind person.
For those of you who are not familiar with the National Federation of the Blind, it is one of the largest and most influential membership organizations of blind people in the United States. The organization strives to improve the lives of blind people through advocacy, education, research, and programs which foster independence. There are affiliates in every state, and a number of chapters within each state. You can learn more about the National Federation of the Blind and more about your state’s affiliate through the NFB’s homepage. Each state holds a state convention each year, so this weekend was the annual convention for the NFB of Utah affiliate.
I had the opportunity to give a presentation at the meeting for parents of blind children while at this convention. I want to say hi and welcome to those parents from that meeting who may now be reading this blog. I hope you will join us and find this blog to be useful to you. I really enjoyed meeting several of you and hearing your stories. It always gets me all fired up and recommitted to the cause of working to improve conditions for our blind children. We still have so much work to do to help our kids get the best education and opportunities they can. The presentation gave me an idea for a series of posts which I’m calling “Essential Elements for the Playground.” I’d like to share the first one with you now. By the way, I hope those of you who heard my presentation in Utah will not mind, especially since I have expanded on each element more than time allowed during my presentation.
It is my opinion that there are five essential elements needed for a successful playground: swings, monkey bars, a big toy (complete with slide), kickball field, and tetor-tautor. Without these elements a playground is just, well…not as great as it could be. Similarly, there are five essential elements for success which I believe help blind individuals to be great. They are qualities which parents and teachers should help foster in blind children to help them navigate life’s playgrounds as successfully as possible. So, without further delay, I’d like to introduce these five elements to you over the next few posts.
The Swings—“It’s Okay to be Blind.”
I chose the swings to represent the first element which is that it is okay to be blind. This sounds easier said than done, but having a positive attitude about one’s blindness is key to all the other elements falling into place. When we first start out on a swing, it takes a little bit of work to create momentum. We may swing low at first, and be a little slow, but eventually, with some work, we are able to raise ourselves up high into the air where we have a view of the whole playground around us. Just like swinging, it takes time to build up the momentum of having a positive attitude about blindness. But, with some effort, eventually we can raise our expectations which will give us a great view and ability to see increased capabilities of blind individuals.
Additionally, once our children and we ourselves develop an attitude of “being okay with blindness”, we then have a greater time seeing how all the other essential elements fall into place in helping our child in the big picture.
So often we fall victim to the stereotypes and poor attitudes of society which portray blindness is a tragedy or terrible fate. Blind individuals are viewed as individuals who should be pitied and cared for, and often seen as inferior, or less capable than someone who is sighted. Having a positive attitude about blindness means having high expectations for your child, and he or she for themselves. It also means re-thinking how we feel about blindness. This starts by telling ourselves that blindness is not a terrible thing, but merely a challenge to be overcome with some different techniques and abilities. . It is a characteristic of our children just like height or hair color. Blind people are just as capable, competent, diverse, etc. as anyone else is.
It is also important that we set high expectations for our blind and low vision children just like we would do if they were fully sighted, and that we provide them with the same experiences and opportunities as we would any other child. With the right kind of training, attitude, and opportunities, I truly believe that a blind or low vision person can compete equally and competently with their sighted peers. Hopefully you as parents and teachers will also come to this belief if you’re not yet there. Remember, it’s just like swinging and with time, experience, and a little work on your part, the momentum will grow and your understanding and belief of this statement will too.