[NFBOH-Cleveland] The Difference a National Convention Can Make, by Alex French

Suzanne Turner smturner.234 at gmail.com
Thu Feb 13 01:13:14 UTC 2020

The Difference a National Convention Can Make
by Alex French <>
Editor's note: The following article speaks for itself. I was one of the
people that Suzanne Turner asked to talk with Alex. It was clear that he
needed what he could learn from the national convention. We got to work to
make it happen for him. Here is his story of what he learned at convention:

It's June 25, and I'm in a dark place. I had recently had a doctor's
appointment in which I was told that there wasn't any noticeable improvement
in my eyesight. I had a brain tumor back in December, and the resulting
surgeries left me in the dark, literally and figuratively. I am now totally
blind after having perfect vision for twenty-nine years of my life. I was a
firefighter, expecting to buy my first home with my seven-year-old daughter.
Instead, I was moving back in with my parents, effectively unemployed, and
learning how to live as a blind person. Enter the National Federation of the

When I discovered that I might never have eyesight again, I began to do some
research to determine my best route to regain my independence. I discovered
the Louisiana Center for the Blind, BLIND Inc., and the Colorado Center for
the Blind. So I decided to contact each and gather some information. This
was how I learned about the National Federation of the Blind. I had decided
to contact the Cleveland chapter of the NFB since it wasn't far from my
home. In this conversation I learned that the national convention was just
two weeks away. Newly blind, I had no idea that this organization even
existed or that they had a national convention. Suzanne Turner, the
Cleveland chapter president, said that I should try to attend because it
would be a life-changing experience. She was absolutely correct. But, with
only two weeks before the convention, how would I pull this off? That's when
I learned how amazing this organization really is. Suzanne reached out to
some contacts within the organization, and they found me a room. Not only
did they find me a room, but someone was gracious enough to cover the cost
of the convention, because they believed the experience would be so
life-changing for me. Moreover, my mom happened to be off work that week.
The stars seemed to be aligning for me. My mom and I were able to find
flights and would be attending our first convention together.

As for the convention itself, it was life changing for me and also for my
mom. This was really our first time being around blind people. We live in a
small town and had never met another blind person. At convention we met some
amazing people. In line to check in, I met a guy my age living in Chicago
and attending school there. I also met a gentleman from Boston who lives in
New Jersey and works as a regional sales manager for a major company. We met
a school-age girl who was part of the CCB summer program. She was there
alone. These were just the people I met checking in.

I got to attend multiple seminars, including a Sports and Recreation
meeting, where I learned about blind baseball and blind hockey. I also
attended an empowerment seminar, where multiple speakers discussed how they
are able to overcome the low expectations of the general public. We met
blind lawyers, doctors, and teachers. I quickly learned that I could do
anything I wanted. My blindness didn't have to hold me back.

This was equally important for my mom to learn. To this point she had seen
me go from completely independent to learning how to navigate the house
alone again. There was a veterans' division, so I got in touch with them as
well since I had served 10 years in the Air Force. It was there I learned
about the veterans' ceremony, in which they introduce all of the blind
veterans. The blind veterans also did a presentation of colors, with a full
color guard. This ceremony left my mom in tears.

This was just the start. We decided to explore the exhibit hall, where we
learned about all the assistive technology available today. We also met a
lifelong guide dog user who gave me his number so I could contact him with
any questions if I decided to get a guide dog. Perhaps more important to my
mom, we met one of the owners of Two Blind Brothers, a clothing company
completely designed by and for the visually impaired. My mom was elated. As
we walked away from their booth, my mom turned to me and said, "I can
totally see you doing something like that." It was a truly powerful moment
for me. The next day was our last unfortunately; we had to leave early
because of a death in the family.

We decided to attend the LCB luncheon, where I met even more amazing people,
including Pam Allen, the executive director of the center, and half of the
staff. I also met Caroline, who has become my best friend and has even
started helping me learn Braille. We have grown very close and continue to
help each other grow stronger and spread the word about the NFB. Later that
night, we met with fellow Ohio people for dinner, including Ohio president
Richard Payne, the Cleveland chapter president, Suzanne Turner, and the
Akron chapter president, Dave Berch. It was an awesome way of ending my
first convention.

The experience overall was absolutely unbelievable. I would highly recommend
taking a trip to the national convention to anyone who could possibly make
it. It truly was life-changing, and this is only half of what I actually
wanted to share about the convention to further express how life-changing
the experience was. Since attending, I have learned to ride a bike as well
as race my daughter in the swimming pool. This organization is amazing, and
I'm happy to say that because of the connections I made at convention and
the help of its members I'm attending LCB this fall. This is just my first
experience with the NFB, but it will be one of many more to come. My mom and
I are already looking forward to next year's convention.


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