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Why Am I Involved With a National Organization of The Blind?--I'm Not Blind!

Editor's Note: Joyce Mainland is a long-time member of the NFB:AE, and currently serves as Secretary-Treasurer of our Central Okanagan Chapter.

As a single parent of a 12-year-old daughter who is blind, I was continuously searching for resources that could help me assist her. I was also interested in advocacy, as it comes with the territory when dealing with the school systems and making sure the needs of your child are being met.

When I happened upon this organization, I thought, "Who better to help me than those who walk the walk and talk the talk--the blind themselves, the consumers?" Thus, I got involved with the NFB:AE in 1995.

Back in the early 90's, the organization was closely aligned with a larger group in the States?the NFB. Our first meeting with the NFB:AE (the Canadian group)was when my daughter (aged 13) and I joined a small Canadian delegation to an NFB conference in Anaheim, California, in 1996.

With over 2500 people who were blind and vision-impaired all in one place, the experience was a little overwhelming. I had never before seen so many white canes and guide dogs all at once. People at every age and stage and all having a common bond--blindness.

I had never heard before what the blind had to say, and what they had to say began to make sense. They believed and promoted the philosophy that "blindness is just a characteristic--like the colour of your hair" and "blindness in itself doesn't or shouldn't define who you are?. They seemed to embrace their blindness and were proud of who they were and their accomplishments. I began to see a new side of blindness, and it felt good.

I wanted my daughter to connect and grow up among these people. Hopefully, they would become role models for her one day.

Besides meeting adults who are blind, I met with other parents of blind children from all across the States. It is in this sort of environment of commonness that one can relax and just be oneself. We talked about blindness, whined about blindness, and even joked about blindness without fear of sounding foolish. We compared notes and shared stories and experiences. The bonus for parents was that they were also in the company of adults who were blind, and we could also pick their brains for ideas and suggestions. I enjoyed listening to their stories of growing up and how much things had changed.

After returning from California, I got involved with the local Chapter in Kelowna. The membership was small, and attracting new members always proved to be a challenge. I learned about the frustrations and concerns of the blind, about specific issues or just their day-to-day issues. I gained a lot of respect for a group that was attempting to speak up for itself.

My daughter gained a mentor in the chapter, who spent time with her. I got to know her mentor too and was able to ask the questions a parent needs to know--you know--about dating and boyfriends. Both my daughter and I benefited by joining this organization. It was as much for me as it was for my daughter.

We moved away for four years, but even though I was not directly involved in a chapter, I was able to maintain contact through emails and the occasional phone call. When we finally came back to Kelowna, it didn't take long to get involved in the chapter again.

Well, it's been almost nine years since I became involved with this organization. My daughter has long since graduated from high school, and I am still here.

Why do I stay and remain involved? Besides just enjoying the people I have met, this group has taught me a great deal. There is so much injustice and inequity of service and opportunities for persons who are blind and vision-impaired. I would like to be a part of changing what it means to be blind in Canada. I'd like to give back to an organization that has helped me over all these years. I would also like to be a part of this organization and to encourage it to get more involved with children and families.

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