[Nfbmo] Why I am a Federationist

Benjamin Vercellone benvercellone at gmail.com
Thu Mar 30 18:59:27 UTC 2017

I have been totally blind since 1992, in my early childhood, due to a car accident. My parents raised me to the best of their ability, with the goal of me becoming a competent and independent person. They tapped into multiple resources, one of which was the National Federation of the Blind. I began to realize the NFB'S existence, purpose, and dynamics in 2004, when I was 16 years old. Since then, I became increasingly involved in this organization. The more I learned about the NFB and got involved, the more I experienced as truth the message of this organization.
I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind from late 2007 through mid-2008, and the training I received there was absolutely life-changing! The Louisiana Center for the Blind is a residential training center in Ruston, Louisiana, where the model of training is second-to-none. Committed students transition from LCB as confident and independent blind individuals, having done many things that society believes to be impossible for the blind. There are more than a few philosophical discussions that take place at NFB training centers. Fortunately, the rubber is applied to the road on at least an hourly basis!
All of the instructors at LCB, and at the other two equally great NFB training centers, are either blind or can perform all aspects of their job wearing sleepshades. At LCB, students with any remaining vision are required to wear sleepshades from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM and from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM. They also must wear sleepshades during the many training activities that occur outside these hours, such as the rock-climbing trip, the white water rafting, and Mardi Gras. I could write volumes about my training at LCB, but I'll keep it short.
I emerged from the Louisiana Center for the Blind armed with the knowledge that blindness is not the real barrier between me and my goals. The real barrier is constructed largely from low expectations. These low expectations are not only held by those with sight. Low expectations, as I have learned and frequently observed, are quite often accepted, internalized, and implemented by blind people themselves. Though most people are not out-to-get me, or anyone else for that matter, the good intentions of much of society regarding blindness are also part of the barrier to blind people achieving our dreams. And then there is the old-fashioned discrimination due to ignorance and apathy. Thankfully, the NFB has also succeeded in decreasing these elements quite a bit.
I am a fairly driven person. I know for a fact that if I wait around for equal access and equal opportunity in all aspects of life, I'll be waiting until the cows come home, unless other blind people have already pushed for this equal access and opportunity. The National Federation of the Blind has indeed pushed the envelope since 1940, and I am glad that I am a part of this great movement. It is only appropriate, and is quite beneficial, for me to join in the efforts of the NFB. If I don’t, the chain will be shorter, less multi-faceted, and more taxed. If I get involved, our efforts to make a difference are one person stronger.
After attending LCB, I went to Montclair State University in New Jersey and got my Bachelor's degree. Then I got my Master's degree at Louisiana Tech University, and also received my National Orientation and Mobility Certification. Since February of 2015, I have worked as the orientation and mobility specialist with Rehabilitation Services for the Blind of Missouri, Southwest District Office. I may not have sought a career as an O&M instructor and found this job without the invaluable help of the National Federation of the Blind.
I find it interesting that many people, at least in my area of the Midwest, find it quite fitting for a blind person to teach other blind people how to travel independently. Imagine that! I completely agree with this assessment! Even as recently as my childhood, a significantly higher percentage of society in the U.S. believed that sight is required to teach orientation and mobility. The NFB was pivotal in the positive change that has taken place, and is still quite revolutionary in this arena. I am thankful that Structured Discovery, problem-solving, Socratic questioning, transferable skills, and an internal locus of control are all discussed at length now. This has been the case for some time. This discussion greatly helps to flesh out how blind people effectively teach O&M. In fact, effective O&M training does not take place without these elements, even when the instructor is sighted. The bottom line is that if it were not for the work of the National Federation of the Blind, only a small percentage of society would believe that blind people can teach independent travel, or do many other things for that matter. Believe me when I say that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done on this front. I could write a volume on this too, but I won't right now. I want to be involved in this work.
I am somewhat of a geek, especially when it comes to theorizing how new or already-existing technologies may work or work together to help the blind. I am not a programmer or hardware designer, so I spend a lot of time sharing ideas with those who know much more, and I give feedback on existing technologies. Some people view me as the go-to person when it comes to technology. Technology is one of my big hobbies, but I’m glad it’s not my job! My motivation to get involved in the technology arena, despite my somewhat limited knowledge, has been enhanced by the “let’s make it happen” philosophy of the NFB.
In summary, if I wait around for society to believe that I am a competent individual, and that blindness does not define me or determine the length, width, height and depth of my life, I'll be waiting an awfully long time. I have seen the positive difference of the National Federation of the Blind in the lives of many blind people, both inside and outside this organization. Joining this organization and getting involved have brought this positive difference to my own life. Activity in the NFB is basically the embodiment of the American dream, but with an emphasis on overcoming the barriers related to blindness and perceptions about blindness. I have greatly benefitted from the many NFB members with whom I've worked and interacted. I trust that I have also benefitted some blind individuals. It is an honor and privilege to be serving as the president of the Springfield chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri. Let's go build the Federation!

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