Many parents of blind children first come to know of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) through its Parents’ Division, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). The NOPBC holds its annual conference during the NFB national convention each summer, this year, from June 30 to July 5 in Orlando, Florida. Without a doubt, the NOPBC Conference is impressive, boasting a full day of sessions reaching out to parents of blind children of all ages and abilities. The NOPBC conference also hosts important, enriching activities, such as the Cane Walk (where parents and their children learn about the independence provided by cane travel), Braille Book Fair (where you may pick up as many gently-loved Braille books as you wish and have them shipped home at no cost), and many more activities for children and teens.
With all of the wonderful offerings of the NOPBC, one might be tempted to think that’s enough. Some parents even wonder whether the non-NOPBC activities are even worth their time, “After all, my child is young. What do those (blind) adult activities have to do with us?”
I used to feel the same way, And, given that my daughter was the only blind person I knew, I was a bit nervous to interact with blind adults. Luckily, I soon found out that convention presents parents of blind children and their families with an unparalleled opportunity to learn about skills and tools of independence, to grow in acceptance and embracement of new ideas and ways of thinking, and, most importantly, to provide our children with positive, supportive blind role models.
I now set forth the Top Ten Tips for parents of blind children at the NFB national convention
1. Rookie Roundup
On the first night of convention, we hold a gathering called the “Rookie Roundup.” It is designed for first-time attendees of national convention. We know that coming in to a new group of people, most of whom you do not know, can be intimidating. Whether you’re blind or sighted, you are now part of the family.
2. Meet blind adults
the blind adults of the NFB are the heart and soul of this organization. Please make an effort to reach out and make new friends. You will find blind adults to be like any other diverse group of people—some are witty, some are quiet, and some are the life of any party. What makes the blind adults of NFB special is this: even though they do not yet know your child, many of them have traveled the road your child is on. They can reach our children in ways we cannot, and that’s ok. I think of NFB adults as my daughter’s extended family. From them, she has learned skills (like how to ride an escalator), possibilities (she knows blind scientists, attorneys, and parents—so she knows she can be one, too), and self-worth and belonging (being the only blind person in your family, school and town is terribly isolating—and NFB convention is beautifully freeing).
3. Experience “convention magic”
The term, “convention magic” refers to the metamorphosis of blind children at convention. In the nurturing chrysalis of blind peers and an environment FULL of blind people with canes tapping, laughter, and hugs, our children become butterflies. They walk with improved speed, posture, and confidence using long white canes. They find peers who actually understand them and speak their language. They find adults who care for them and hold high expectations for them. They are valued, not pitied.
A few examples of convention magic:
Children who have never been apart from their parents ask for money for lunch and run off with other blind children to eat—leaving their parents both bewildered and full of wonder.
Shy children who rarely speak to peers make seemingly instant friendships and ask to spend the night in the new friend’s hotel room.
Children and youth gather together and debate the positives and negatives of various technology options—building skills of advocacy and confidence.
4. Independence Market
At the NFB Independence Market, you will find a treasure trove of nonvisual tools for your child, many of which you may not have seen before. You will find accessible cards, games, balls, and even a Frisbee. You will find accessible sewing tools, measuring cups and spoons, and rulers along with helpful staff members who can show you how to use them. Many more goodies await, and they are priced quite reasonably. There is also a free literature section which offers materials in both print and Braille.
5. Exhibit Hall
Here, you and your child will have the opportunity to explore all kinds of technology and other devices which empower our students to have the access they need to achieve the success they deserve.
6. Evening activities
the fun never ends! From Karaoke Night to an Open-Air Outdoor Concert, from a play to a Mock Trial, from Salsa dancing to Ballroom dancing, and from a Trivia Night to games of chance at Monte Carlo Night, you have many choices for recreational fun.
7. Explore non-parent Divisions and Groups
Before becoming a parent of a blind child, I was an attorney. I am still, and will always be, an attorney, and I love the law. I enjoy getting to know blind adults who are members of the Lawyers’ Division of the NFB because we already have a connection. Similarly, other divisions can provide parents a link to blind adults; knowing that you have common interests can make it easier to get to know people. Please find a list of NFB Divisions and their leaders at: https://archive.nfb.org//divisions-and-committees#Divisions and a list of NFB Groups and their leaders at: https://archive.nfb.org//divisions-and-committees#Groups.
“What?” you may ask. “You want us to attend a banquet with hotel dinner food?” Yes, I do. NFB banquet is a culmination of the entire Convention. Essentially, it is our weekend family dinner. At the banquet, you will eat good food (I promise, it’s good), dine with members of your new, NFB family, and hear about our organization’s future from our leader, President Mark Riccobono, who is a blind parent of blind children. You will also help us celebrate our future leaders: the NFB Scholarship winners. These undergraduate and graduate students will receive cash awards, but they have also ben fortified with the love, strength, and determination of the Federation. You may well picture your own child on that stage one day.
9. Eat. Sleep. Stay.
Convention has been described as “drinking water from a fire hydrant.” There is so much to do and experience that one can easily feel overwhelmed. It is vitally important to keep fed, hydrated, and rested. You are not yourself when you’re hungry.
Yes, there will be folks selling anything from candy bars to raffle tickets. I never bought these before, but I do now. Fundraising is the lifeblood of a volunteer organization and participating is a great way to show appreciation for the organization.
There is much to discover every single day of Convention. Even topics which might seem relevant only to adults will impact your child—and sooner than you think. If at all possible, stay for the duration of the convention. You never know where or when you will come across pearls of wisdom which change your perspective and your child’s future.
See you in Orlando!
Carlton Anne Cook Walker is the Manager of braille Education Programs for the NFB Jernigan Institute. She is also the parent of a blind child. In this post, she passes along ten tips for parents attending national convention.