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2013 Conference - Toronto, Ontario - Keynote Address: Paul Edwards - The Man – The Teacher – The Advocate – The Friend

The keynote speaker at the 2013 conference is Paul Edwards, past president of the American Council of the Blind.  Paul is never afraid to identify his heroes but when it comes to his accomplishments, he prefers to keep them just out of the spotlight.

Paul was elected as ACB’s President in 1995 and served for six years.  Thereafter, he continued to serve ACB through his position as Immediate Past President and remained on the Board of Directors for the next six years. In 2007, Mitch Pomerantz, current ACB President approached Paul with a request that he lead the Board of Publications (BOP).

In 2004, Paul was elected as President of the Florida Council of the Blind (FCB). During that fateful term, Gayle Krause-Edwards, his wife and companion of 20 years passed away of leukemia and Paul made the decision to resign from his position.  Paul was again elected to lead FCB during the convention of 2010.

In 1986, he went to work for the Miami Dade College as the Director of Access Services for Disabled Students and retired in 2012.  Most of his students would remember him as someone with a fountain of knowledge, humorous and always able to bring a calming effect to students.

Paul shared the following with the AEBC.

I was born in San Francisco California and was one of the early users of an incubator after being very premature. I was left with a little light perception which soon went away. At the age of seven I moved to Calgary and went to school in Vancouver. Part of the time I was at the Jericho Hill School and part of the time I was at the Athlone School for Boys. At thirteen, my mother decided we were moving to Jamaica and I stayed there till I was 21.

I graduated from high school sort of and completed my Bachelor's SPECIAL Honors degree in History at the Mona Jamaica campus of the University of the West Indies. I was the first blind student to go there and ended up in Trinidad because I wanted to do a graduate degree in international relations which I successfully completed.

I met my first wife there and married during my degree and so was faced with the need to find a way to support her and my first daughter who was pretty quickly on the way. I taught at a small school in the rural area of Trinidad partly because there was no other job and partly because I was not sure if I could really teach. I really enjoyed that first year because all the girls I taught really wanted to learn. Yes, it was a girls' school. I was not making disparaging remarks about boys!

After one year I became the senior history master at Trinity College, the leading Anglican School for Boys in Trinidad and Tobago. Near the end of my teaching career, I got a graduate degree in Education from the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad.

When I left Trinidad ten years later I had three children: two girls and a boy. I moved to Florida where I went to work for the Division of Blind Services as a rehabilitation teacher. In this job, I went to people's homes and taught them skills that would enable them to adjust to visual impairment. After three years of this, I became a Rehabilitation Counselor and worked mostly with high school and college students. In 1983, I moved to Jacksonville to take over as Executive Director of an agency serving blind people there. In 1986, I moved to Miami as Director of Services to students with disabilities on the North Campus of Miami Dade College, the largest two year college in the United States. On my campus we served over seven hundred disabled students a year. I retired from that job in May of 2012.

While I certainly regard my working life as rich and varied, I have derived much more pleasure from the work I have done as a volunteer and advocate. I have worked at the local level, at the state level and at the national level to try to make things better for people who are blind. I currently serve on the Florida Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, the National Accreditation Council Board and hold several positions within the American Council and its Florida Affiliate. I have worked particularly on library issues, promoting braille and changing laws.

I absolutely believe that I have been given as much by the consumer movement as I have given it. Until I became associated with ACB, I saw myself as an inferior creature desperately trying to compete in a world where I could never do quite enough to be accepted. What the blindness movement taught me is that the only person I have to satisfy is me. That may sound  arrogant and overbearing but that is not how it is intended. I set high standards for myself and if I can meet them I am likely to meet the standards of others. I no longer worry about being accepted by society. I have rights and I will fight to see they are protected. Society does not need to accept me but they do need to include me. I am proud to be a person who is blind. I am proud of what I accomplish every day in spite of the barriers that are there. More than that, I am proud of what every blind person everywhere accomplishes every day. It isn't easy to be blind and anybody who says it is or who suggests that it's a walk in the park does not live in the same world I do!

I enjoy modern folk music, fantassy and science fiction and hope that, in due course, I will find some time to write. The one thing you can be sure I will not write is an autobiography. My three children are now grown up and I have ten grand children which is quite enough to keep me occupied and young. I still have a lot to do and many places where I think I can help. I have had a good life and only wish I had not been quite so busy. When you don't make time to smell the roses, they have often faded before you can enjoy them!

I look forward to meeting many of you in Toronto and to learning much more than I can teach! I am honored that I have been asked to come!

Paul

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