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Below please find the latest issue of The Federationist in Connecticut. It
is also attached as a Word document, if you prefer that. The Federationist
can also be found on the Connecticut Information Channel of NFB-Newsline.
Those of you who have requested issues in large print or on a thumbdrive
should expect their copies in the US mail soon.


Stay safe,





In Connecticut


Summer 2020


Executive Editor: Melissa Carney




111 Sheldon Road, Unit 420

Manchester, CT 06045



Table of Contents


1: From the Editor, Melissa Carney


2: White Canes, Guide Dogs, Education and Lots of Love


3: Journey into Blindness in the Last Green Valley


4: How the Deterioration of Sight Leads to Determination of Mind


5: Blending Connecticut Values and Expectations for the Blind


6: Tackling Blindness at the Roots


7: Steps towards Independence


8: Betty Woodward


>From the Editor

Melissa Carney

Executive Editor, The Federationist


When we read the last issue of the Federationist together, none of us could
have imagined the events that would unfold in the following months. I first
want to offer my sincere condolences to anyone who has lost a friend or
loved one to COVID-19. My heart is with you, as I, too, have been deeply
affected. Many of us have become fighters overnight, doing our absolute best
to give strength to those around us, despite the fact that we grow weary
ourselves. As a result, I felt that it was crucial to take a step back from
tragedy, and try to focus on what we are grateful for, the experiences and
memories we cling to in times of grief and unrest. This issue of the
Federationist spotlights individual journeys to blindness, the ways in which
our members learned about acceptance, perseverance, and raising the bar on
societal expectations. Each journey looks a bit different, but there is no
single correct approach to a unique situation.  Our members understand
struggles, but they also recognize that there is a way to combat the
"darkness" and appreciate life circumstances for what they are, rather than
what they are not. I will let each individual's piece speak for itself. I
hope that the summer issue of the Federationist in Connecticut allows you to
find the positivity in your own lives, and strive to continue to support
those in your local communities as we battle the uncertainty of the future


If you would like to submit your own piece of writing to the next issue of
the Federationist in Connecticut, send it my way. This publication cannot
exist without the support of our CT NFB family. I want to hear your ideas,
stories, successes, struggles, and everything in between. 


Feel free to direct any suggestions, questions, or concerns to Melissa
Carney, Executive Editor, at carne23m at mtholyoke.edu.





White Canes, Guide Dogs, Education and Lots of Love

By Pam Garde


I do not know who said this. But "Love is blind." What? What's this? Love
cannot see? No, this quote does not mean that at all. When you mix love and
blindness together, you get positive reinforcement. You find great people,
who show and teach you the ways of the world. 


I was born 3 months premature. I do not know why this happened. Perhaps, it
was because I was in a hurry to leave the womb? Anyway, I was born on
October 12, 1960, instead of January. I became the first 6-month born baby
at Manchester Memorial Hospital to live. My parents told me that I was even
given The Last Rights by a Catholic Priest after Baptism. But, God had other
plans for me.


I grew up in East Hartford. Like many other kids my age, I was punished when
I misbehaved, and hugged and kissed when I behaved. I'm the middle child of
3 siblings: 1 older sister and 1 younger brother. Both of them are sighted.
I spent 10 years at Oak Hill in Hartford. I cannot forget the time when a
social worker, Miss Witmore, came by my house. She brought some cool toys
with her. I had the time of my life playing with them. During my time at Oak
Hill, I learned Braille and became very proficient with it, as well as other
subjects identical to any other school course load: math, reading, history,
science, gym and even art. I also learned how to travel with a white cane.
Although I did well enough, I was a wise guy at times. A bunch of my friends
would goof off in the dining room, singing songs about the teachers we could
not stand. We paid the price dearly.


Then, something changed, drastically. In 1974, my parents and a couple who
were blind themselves, persuaded me to attend public school. My parents met
this couple from their time owning a clothing store. I was living in West
Hartford at the time, one of few towns in Connecticut which offered
mainstream schooling. Unfortunately, my grades at Oak Hill were not the
greatest. I went through a phase of fooling around, but my parents were
convinced that public school would fit me well. Despite my troublesome years
at Oak Hill, I was going to miss it. I spent 5 years there as a day student
and 3 years as a resident student. How would the sighted kids take to me in
public school?


>From 1975 to 1982, I attended public school. In a nutshell, public school
was exactly what I needed. The first 2 years were difficult at times and
served as an adjustment period. My first itinerant teacher, Anne, was very
strict. Sometimes, when I rocked by accident or even moved myself to be more
comfortable in my chair, she'd take a whistle out and blow it in my ear.
After a few times, I told her to stop. My ears felt violated. She taught me
advanced techniques of the abacus, expanding on what I learned at Oak Hill.
My next itinerant teacher, Gail was the complete opposite. She was more warm
and personable than Anne. She helped me with my homework so that I would not
have to do it at home. She gave me my quizzes and tests. Gail would be the
teacher I would have until graduation.


Despite the occasional bully, I made many friends in public school. I even
dated. Friends came over to watch TV and listen to music. I went to both
proms with a great guy. I did a lot better academically and made the
National Honor Society and National French Honor Society, graduating in 1982
with a good GPA.


>From 1982 to 1985 I attended Greater Hartford Community College and Eastern
CT State University. I did pretty well at both schools. Traveling around
alone with a white cane was good for most of the time, and allowed me to be
independent, although using the cane throughout the halls at school
presented some challenges. If I accidentally hit someone, the kid would be
offended even after saying I was sorry. While Greater Hartford was only in 1
building, Eastern was many buildings. One summer day in 1984, during a
mobility lesson, my instructor asked me, "Did you ever think of having a
guide dog?" Being as honest as I was, I said that my skills were not the
best. But Steve convinced me that a dog would do me good. So, I worked hard
to achieve this goal. I majored in Sociology with a concentration in Human
Services. Those classes were housed in portable classrooms and different
buildings which required walking to both sides of a large campus. I employed
walkers to help me get to class on time at Eastern, but I did get to some
classes on my own.


In 1988, I received my first guide dog, Chessie. She, along with Faith,
Vonda and Elcee, came from Fidelco. Then, I received Hildy from Guiding Eyes
and now, Ume. I may have issues at times, but for the most part, my current
guide, Ume, is a big hit.


I never used a dog in college but I wish I did. Then, I would not have had
as many mobility issues. I enjoy working with a dog. I can talk to her when
I'm down or sing to her when I'm in a good mood. She's so great!!

In closing, having great family, friends, teachers, employers and
instructors, made and still makes a big difference in my life.



Journey into Blindness in the Last Green Valley

By Justin Salisbury


On an evening flight between Boston and New York City, sighted passengers
can look down at a constant path of city lights until they think something
went wrong. For one stretch of the flight, there is a landscape emitting no
light, and the ground appears to have vanished. This is the Last Green
Valley, and this is where I grew up. 


As a sighted kid, I spent a lot of time on my schoolwork and dabbled in
sports because that was what I could do for a social outlet. I moved to
Willington in the third grade, a time when kids are developmentally
challenging the people around them. None of the kids who moved to Willington
that year developed a strong social network, but we somewhat bonded over
that shared experience. I took a lot of abuse from my classmates, and I
often wanted to disappear or escape. I think I was too quick to find ways to
escape social interactions, like using my frequent headaches to go lay down
with an ice pack at the nurse's office or maybe to go work on something
during recess. I had some friends, but I struggled. Over time, we all hit
our growth spurts, but I hit mine earlier than anybody else. By the time I
was in the seventh grade, I was the biggest kid in my grade, but the
bullying continued until I realized that I could fight back. By the end of
that year, I didn't have any more trouble. This gave me the confidence to
sign up for the local pop-warner football team, and I started to find some
semblance of confidence for something outside of academics. 


In Willington, middle school ends after the eighth grade, and we then choose
which high school we want to attend. The two most common choices are Windham
Tech, which could prepare me for a skilled trade, or Smith, which was
located on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs and made a habit
of preparing students for college. This was the point when I started to
learn what college was. My first instinct was to go to Windham Tech to pick
up a trade because that was what people in my family did. Nobody in my
family had ever been to college. I felt no connection to it. I eventually
decided to apply to Smith, with the general idea that it would give me more
options down the road. They took me, and I attended Smith. 


In that new school environment, I had a fresh chance at making friends, and
I did not waste it. Smith pulled students from Ashford, Columbia, Coventry,
Mansfield, Willington, and Windham. Since most of my classmates had
university employees as parents, being smart was a good thing, and I focused
on my studies. During the winter of my sophomore year, my stamina dropped,
my grades suffered, and I was having some trouble with my eyesight and
concentration. By March, we learned that I had problems with my brain
swelling. I had brain surgery and all kinds of excitement to go with it, and
I missed a lot of time from school that year. 


After brain surgery, I went through a lot of testing to determine how well
my brain was functioning. I was a bit unstable at first while walking, but I
think my muscles figured that out pretty quickly. I remember my first
mobility lessons in the hospital, where the therapist strapped a belt around
my waist, and she held the other end. It worked just like a choker collar
for a dog. When I went somewhere that she didn't want me to go, she tugged
on it, and I stopped. She was totally friendly and supportive, but this was
my introduction to what it would be like to walk around as a blind person.


I did not really get back into school in the normal sense until the
following fall, at the beginning of my junior year. I worried that I was no
longer good enough in basically every way, and I started acting out in ways
that undermined by academic trajectory. I started talking like I didn't like
school or learning. I started intentionally avoiding more rigorous academic
content, and I started asking for shortcuts. My school suggested that I
should learn braille and orientation and mobility, so I accepted the
instruction. My braille teacher had pretty good attitudes about what blind
people could accomplish, but I was somehow on a sequence that took me three
years to learn braille. I elected to take a second senior year, foregoing
normal graduation, so that I could learn braille before college. Since I
never integrated braille into my daily life or academic work, I did almost
nothing with it for some years after high school. With orientation and
mobility, my instructor was really nice, but I couldn't figure out what I
was gaining from the instruction. I remember the day that I had to teach her
how a blind person could use an escalator since she told me she didn't know
how to teach a blind person how to use an escalator. Someone told me about a
training center for the blind that offered summer programs. I had never had
the opportunity to go to any kind of summer camp before, so I jumped on it.
I got to know a lot of blind kids in my age group, and I got to know a few
blind adults who worked at the center. 


I remember learning that one of the blind men who worked at the center had a
second wife, as the center joked. I learned that he and his wife were blind,
and his "other wife" had been one of his readers during college. The story
was that she lived with them and basically took care of them while they went
out and worked. To me, this was a powerfully damaging form of role modeling.
I internalized the idea that I would not be able to live on my own as a
blind person, that I would need a sighted person to take care of me. I did
not know any blind people who were as independent as I am today. 


When it came time to choosing a college, I depended on the prevailing words
in society about public colleges being more affordable and where you go to
school not being important. I tried to find something that looked appealing,
a big school with lots of options for extracurricular activities and a low
sticker price. I later learned that families where people had been to
college understand the decision process quite differently. I was admitted
everywhere that I applied, but I chose East Carolina and took off. In some
ways, I think I felt like I was escaping the competitive atmosphere and
taking on something that would be more appropriate for me as a blind person.
After all, I was the most successful blind person I had ever met. 


Since I needed to pay for college, I applied for every scholarship I could
find. I told stories about how hard it was to be blind, and committees kept
rewarding those essays. I received a scholarship from a national blind
organization, and they were very hospitable to me. They taught me that the
most important thing I could do was hate the National Federation of the
Blind. I didn't know who the NFB was, but I knew that I had a group of blind
people giving me money and telling me to hate the NFB. Money talks. In the
fall of my freshman year of college, I received a call from Bruce Woodward,
who chaired the scholarship committee of the National Federation of the
Blind of Connecticut. We arranged for me to fly up to Connecticut for the
state convention, where I would receive a scholarship. 


I put on my mental hardhat and told myself that I would not let any of the
extremist and militant philosophy of the NFB affect me. I was determined to
get in, make friends, take the check, and leave, only to return if there was
more money available at another point. My parents sat through the sessions
with me, and they pointed out how they were surprised that there were so
many blind people who were happy. Blind people were doing things with their
lives. I kept waiting for it. Then, at the banquet, Parnell Diggs, our
national representative, got on the microphone and told his personal story.
I saw myself in that story, and I realized that I had suffered because of
the same kinds of attitudes that had affected him, as well. Then, he talked
about how the Federation was working to change those attitudes about
blindness, and I understood what people meant about the philosophy of our
movement. I was moved to say the least. After his speech, we presented the
scholarships, and I did my best to integrate all of my past messaging about
blindness with the new ideas that I had just heard. I talked about how
science was hard as a blind person, but I would do my best to succeed. I
still only half believed it, but that was far better than where I had been
only an hour beforehand. 


Immediately after our scholarship speeches, the banquet adjourned, and the
members of the affiliate were welcomed to come greet the scholarship
winners. I was immediately surrounded by a blind civil engineer, a blind
graduate student in environmental science and policy, and a blind PhD
chemist. They wouldn't pity me as a blind person studying science. In fact,
they wanted to help me succeed, and they knew how I could do it. That was
the first time that I had found myself in that situation, and it was one of
the most confusing moments of my life. How could all of my ideas about
blindness be wrong?


Those three scientists were my earlier mentors, and the Federation led me to
many more. I learned about the training offered at some real training
centers, with blind staff who lived on their own and took care of
themselves. After college, I decided to attend one of those training
centers, the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I learned that I did not need
to take painkillers every day for the headaches, neck muscle spasms, and
back pain that came from straining to see everything. I learned that, just
because I could see to use a computer without a screen reader did not mean
that I should try to use a computer without a screen reader. I learned that
nonvisual techniques were not inherently inferior to visual techniques and
that doing something that a totally blind person might do did not make me
inferior. Today, I am a social and extroverted person. I like engaging with
the world. The National Federation of the Blind has helped pull me out of
the shell that was once mine. The Last Green Valley is still my long-lost
home, but my feelings about myself and the world are so much better today.



How the Deterioration of Sight Leads to 

Determination of Mind

By Deb Reed


I remember getting my first pair of glasses at around six years old. I was
told that while looking out the front door of our family home, I
misidentified someone across the street. My parents began to notice that
things were getting worse. I always sat on the floor close to the TV set. I
can't tell you how many times one of my parents would say, "Debbie it's not
good for your eyes to sit that close."


I recall my first pair of eyeglasses were pretty thick. I'll never forget
the day in first grade as I did my schoolwork with my face about three
inches away from my paper, the teacher, grabbed a bunch of my hair and
pulled my head up! I was so humiliated. Did she think I was doing that
because I liked the way the paper smelled? Keep in mind this was in 1963.
What kind of person becomes a teacher that would do something like that?  By
the age of 10, with my vision continuing to get worse, the doctor decided to
try hard contact lenses. They definitely took some getting used to but it
was nice not to have those heavy glasses on my face. Unlike the soft lenses
of today, the hard ones could easily become detached from your eyes and then
the fun began. I remember losing one at recess, playing Chinese jump rope.
Tears came to my eyes as I knew how expensive these lenses were and money
was tight. I remember losing one at an eighth grade dance! The band was
playing and we were dancing and then it happened. The song finished and the
lights went up to find Debbie's contact lens. I mean there were so many
people moving around the chances of finding it in one piece, but WE DID!!  


Fast forward to high school and by then I was told that the glasses they
were going to make me were the strongest they've ever made. They were
supposed to serve as something to use around the house to rest my eyes from
the uncomfortable hard contacts. I was at a basketball game on one of the
bleachers pretty high up from the court, when it happened again. The lens
popped out of my eye and down in between the bleachers. After feeling around
where I was sitting and not having any luck, my friends and I decided to go
underneath the bleachers and again we found the lens. 


When I got to the point in my life when I had to give up driving, that was
the big change. After being diagnosed with glaucoma on top of the myopic
degeneration, the glaucoma doctor took one look at my file and said you
should definitely not be on the road. I loved the work I did and the people
I worked with as a homemaker companion. You become like family to these
people and know you're helping the quality of their lives. 


The first thing you're concerned with after surrendering your license is
transportation. At the time, fellow NFB member Cheri Duquette worked for the
Connecticut Regional Planning Agency. Both she and Paul had just gone
through all of these initial challenges after their motorcycle accident and
Paul's vision loss. Cheri proceeded to share with me their story and all of
the resources that they learned about. It was her office that certified
people to ride Paratransit. She also told me about the Central Connecticut
Chapter of the NFB. I was grateful for all this information and then to
become part of a group of people who had similar challenges. I have been a
member since 2010, and each year brings more knowledge, empowerment,
friendships and opportunities to fight for civil rights. 


Although blindness does change your life significantly, this organization
has shown me the important work that we are all involved in every day. The
NFB has given me so many positive experiences and courage to face whatever
the future holds.



Blending Connecticut Values and 

Expectations for the Blind

By Justin Salisbury


I am proud to say that I'm from Connecticut. When we move to other parts of
the country, as I have a few times, we tend to realize things that are
special to our home state that we always took for granted and never


In Connecticut, we have an undying belief in the human ability to learn,
grow, and change. This is not the case in many other places. It is part of
what has helped me as a teacher, and it is part of why we, in Connecticut,
value education so highly. In Connecticut, we don't become skeptical of
people who want to continue their education. We also believe that anyone can
know anything. It is perfectly normal for a carpenter who is mending a porch
to stop and have a conversation with a kid learning Shakespeare just inside
the window. We don't put up barriers on people's ability to contribute. Part
of this ability to grow and learn means that we give second chances better
than any place I've ever been. Whatever people do wrong, they can change so
that the problem discontinues. 


Another part of our culture in Connecticut is the emphasis on productivity.
Many of our cultural rules are based on the implications for productivity.
For example, if we have information that can help the group, that other
people do not seem to have, it is our responsibility to come forward with
it, not to quietly be seen and not heard. When someone is new in one of our
circles, we want to find out what skills and talents that person brings to
the table so that they can help the group and help us advance as a community
and as a state. I always appreciate the willingness of our people to step up
and contribute because we expect it. As a kid, I remember seeing a sign on
the way home from school every day that read "Let 'em work, Let 'em live."
That's what we do.


Unfortunately, societal expectations for the blind are still low. A negative
part of our culture ends up working in tandem against the blind, and it is
up to the NFB of Connecticut-no other organization-to fix that. We also have
a cultural value that, if a person cannot or will not contribute, they
should get out of the way. I would be lying if I said that I did not feel
that way toward some people sometimes, though I think it happens less often
as I age. I have learned it from our community and culture. The problem
really comes in when we assume that blind people cannot perform and cannot
learn to perform, so then we must get out of the way. I felt this a lot,
even as a kid. I think it has led me to have a fear of missing out, which
the college kids today call "FOMO." I think we all have that to some extent.
Now that I know I can be included, I always want to be included. Coming to
understand that required that I leave Connecticut, travel west of the
Mississippi River, and attend one of the training centers operated under the
direction of the National Federation of the Blind. If I had not done that, I
would likely still be holding back, for fear of getting in the way and being
less competent than the next person. 


One of my dreams for this organization is that all of our members can
overcome that toxic societal message and the feeling that lingers in us
until we drive it off. I dream that all of our members can come to the point
of truly being active so that we can achieve equality, opportunity, and
security for the blind in Connecticut and across the United States. I hope
that we can show the entire NFB what Nutmeggers can do and make Connecticut
a model state for strong expectations for the blind.

Tackling Blindness at the Roots

By Al Daniels


The thoughts of a blind gardener are subject to change as growing older, or,
experience is the best teacher. Basic things like turning over the soil and
enriching the soil with fertilizer are the same, but things can be done
differently as we learn year after year. This year, because of COVID-19, I
had more time to spend working in the garden. Naturally, the results are
evident.  The more time you spend watering, cultivating and harvesting the
more you will get out of the endeavor. That also goes for physical exercise
in all of the activity of gardening. In the spring, I planted only plants,
purchased from a local garden center. That was fine for lettuce, brussel
sprouts, collards, chard and maybe a few other things I can't recall right
now. These plants grew and were harvested in a timely fashion and were quite
good on the table.


But, then it was still early in the season, and I needed to continue garden
practice late in June. True, I said that planting seeds was a futile
activity for this blind man because they are so tiny when they come up and
weeds can fool you by touch. Well, I went against my experience and planted
seed. However I planted only things that are a large seed and produce a
large cotyledon or sprout. It worked; the squash was large enough to detect
when it came up and the same holds true for beans. I did manage to get a few
late cucumber plants from the center and they were of good size. Tomato
plants are good to plant, but I am plagued by an element, either fungus or
insect that decimates my plants when they blossom. I use insecticides and
fungicides very sparingly and sometimes not at all, therefore, I have to
suffer the consequences. Flowers like marigolds are supposed to prevent
those nasty aggressors, but I am not convinced, as they haven't been
infallible for me.


As far as planting next year, and that's always the saying at the end of
every season, I think I will start the smaller seeds early in the spring in
pots where I can nourish them until they are large enough to plant in the


Because I am home every day, I was able to cultivate around the plants
almost every other day. That, of course, means I was there to pull weeds and
stones out as a ritual. When you have a garden, any experienced gardener
will tell you, if you don't spend the time from the beginning, eliminating
weeds and let them get ahead of you, it's all over. To pull weeds and stones
is not that difficult if you can sit or kneel on a raised seat. An old
bucket works fine for me, but you can find all kinds of accommodating seats
in a garden center. Bending over is sheer torture. I once heard an editorial
comment that people's contortions while working in their gardens are most
fascinating and quite humorous. That also goes for apparel while gardening.
It's a pursuit that each person does in their own way. So grab your trowel
and cultivate, have a happy gardening experience.



Steps towards Independence

By Bri Rigsbee


Growing up completely blind, I was not always taught to do things on my own,
most blind children are not. It's always easiest for the sighted people to
do things because unfortunately, we are seen as incapable. Not on purpose,
but because we can't see, it's a knee-jerk reaction for them to want to
help; it's just instinct. Like me, though, a lot of people who are blind
have a glow-up, as us young people say, a time period in which we take steps
to better ourselves. We have these moments where we realize that
independence is not simply given to us, we have to take it. These are three
steps that I have taken to grow into my independence.


.Taking my first solo flight

Vacations with my family were always long and tiring. We would drive all the
way from Connecticut to North Carolina, which, on average, should take about
12 hours or so. Driving with my family, however, took us just a little bit
longer. I vowed to myself that if given the chance, I would definitely be
flying to where ever I had to go. And low and behold, that opportunity
presented itself. In January of 2018, I took my first flight to Washington,
D.C. From take-off, to touch-down, it was the best experience I'd ever had.
I got through TSA without a hitch, and boarded the plane. I sat next to one
of my very best friends, who is also blind, as she described to me
everything that was happening while we took off. Flying was one of my
biggest, but not so big, fears, and I'm so glad I did it.


.My first convention

November 2017 was my very first state convention. It was both nerve-wracking
and exhilarating to say the least. I arrived at the hotel on Friday,
November 1, 2017, and was instantly taken with all the NFB had to offer: new
friends within the student division, mentors within the more seasoned
Federationists, and more importantly, a community that I could count on for
support in the best way possible. From sharing laughs and stories, to
sharing trials and tribulations, I am happy that I was able to have such a
wonderful experience. It was so empowering to see the room filled with so
many dedicated, driven individuals who shared some of my struggles, hopes,
and dreams.


.Taking leadership roles within my community

Just recently, I started a creative writing group called the Wordsmiths.
Although I'd taken on leadership rolls before, such as the First VP of the
Connecticut Association of Blind Students, I had never done something like
facilitating a group all by myself before. I am very proud of myself, and
happy that I get to be creative with such innovative thinkers and writers.



Betty Woodward

By Lucia Lee


How would one define Betty Woodward? I can think of many good adjectives:
friendly, loving, intelligent, eloquent, dignified, gracious, tenacious,
competent, humble, funny; in other words, a true lady. She was also super at
advocating and networking. The world is a better place for people like
Betty. As Trudy Swenson put it, she was a treasure.


She made friends wherever she went.in the NFB statewide and nationwide, at
the office, in her neighborhood, at church, on the Hartford Transit bus, at
the various stores that she frequented, at Moosehead Lake in Maine,
everywhere. Betty thoroughly enjoyed meeting new members and seeing old
friends at state and national NFB conventions. She knew and loved many NFB
members from all over the country. 


Betty joined the NFB of CT and our Danbury Chapter in the 1970s, I think
around 1977. She was very active in that chapter. She and Helen Brennan
would organize the chapter hosting a table at the week-long Danbury Fair
each year. When she moved to East Hartford, she joined the Hartford Chapter
where she served in many board positions over the years. Once she and Bruce
married, they hosted the Hartford Chapter picnic each June. The chapter
invited everyone in the state affiliate, and each year, the picnic grew in
size until it had to be moved to Wickham Park in East Hartford. Betty &
Bruce enjoyed opening their home to many a Federationist.


I first met Betty when I took a temporary job at the NFB of CT in the
basement office at 135 Burnside Avenue in East Hartford. She worked in the
big room where in the evenings, our callers were busy making calls to
Connecticut residents to raise funds for us. During the day, Betty called
businesses trying to raise funds. One day, she called Coccomo Construction
in Windsor and talked to a guy named Dick Circosta. Based on his chat with
Betty, he recommended that John A. Coccomo, Sr, help support the NFB of CT,
thus beginning our relationship with the Coccomo Foundation that lasted for
many years. 


Betty and I would eat lunch together most days. It was during these lunches
that she talked about Bruce, her 5 kids and her grandkids; Bruce and Betty's
trips and good times with friends at Moosehead Lake; and enough bus stories
to fill a book. She became like family to me; my kids knew her well and
loved her. Diane, Betty and I would go out to lunch together three times a
year, for each of our birthdays. In more recent years, we would take lunch
to her house and sit out on their deck for lunch. This tradition continued
until Betty moved to NH to live with her daughter Maria.


In 1996, Betty retired from her job as business caller to enable her to seek
a board position with our affiliate. For several years, she served first as
Board Member, then as President, then as Board Member again, and in 2013,
became our President Emeritus. Betty continued to come to the office to
carry on Federation work whether or not she was a board member until 2010 or
so. She believed that one didn't need a position on the board to carry out
the work of the NFB.


Over the years, Betty's advocacy for blind people was unstoppable. She
attended meetings to ensure that blind kids learned Braille; she supported a
high school senior who wanted to operate a Business Enterprise Program food
stand; she advocated for a young man who wanted to attend tech school to
become a certified auto mechanic; in 2003, when then-Governor Rowland closed
BESB Industries for the Blind resulting in layoffs of all the employees, she
worked tirelessly to help create a plan to reinstate this employment
program; and then there were the efforts to keep BESB a stand-alone agency.
Many state legislators got to know her very well!


For many years, Betty was the Public Relations Chair for our affiliate. She
participated in many radio and community cable station interviews, talking
about the NFB of CT and our various programs.


Betty loved attending State and National NFB conventions as well as
Washington Seminars. She could tell you where each convention was and what
happened. Beth Rival especially remembers a particularly cold trip to
Washington DC for the Seminar. Despite the frigid weather, before their trip
home, Betty and Bruce talked Beth and Charlie into forging on to the
Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, laughing and freezing the entire way.


NFB-Newsline was another passion of Betty's. In the early years of
NFB-Newsline, she and Bruce worked tirelessly to raise over $100,000 that
was needed to start up and continue NFB-Newsline in Connecticut. These funds
enabled blind people to access NFB-Newsline in two areas of the state;
Hartford beginning in mid 1998 and Stamford beginning in early 2000. We can
all thank her for that initial drive to bring NFB-Newsline to our state.


She loved music, all kinds of music from church hymns to symphonies to rock.
She loved it when her son Phillip would get out his guitar, and she and her
kids would sing. She especially loved when her kids would sing Crosby,
Stills & Nash's "Teach Your Children". She so enjoyed going to the Bushnell
with Bruce for the symphony where they had season tickets for several years.
One of the highlights of our office Christmas party was when Betty would
pull out 12 slips of paper, one for each of the "Twelve Days of Christmas".
Each of us would be given one slip (or maybe 2 if there weren't twelve of us
present) and as we all sang the song together, each of us would pitch in
their day. No one wanted the first day!


Betty loved the National Federation of the Blind. She knew our history
through and through, she lived our philosophy about blindness on a daily
basis, and she loved her NFB family. She firmly believed in the capabilities
of blind people and worked to encourage blind people to live the lives they
want. She played such a huge part of our affiliate's story. We should all
strive to follow in her footsteps.


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