If you’ve been a member of a discussion group on social media, then you will recognize a familiar pattern. Someone will pose a topic. At first, respondents will stay on-topic. Eventually, someone comes along and hijacks the message thread. Then, the topic snowballs until the final comments bear little resemblance to the origins.
Such a case has happened on the Colorado Talk list over the past week. Therefore, I am posting the initial message that sparked discussion. I will then post my response, which came a week afterward. NFB members who read this will recognize many old arguments reborn here, though some of my comments may leave a bad taste.
Here is the original post:
Date: Sat 1/4/2020 8:37 PM
Subject: [Colorado-Talk] Thoughts on the motto living the life you want.
Dear Colorado talk,
Earlier in the month, Kevin asked us to write things about living the life you want. Yes, I could’ve answered this privately. However, I wonder though, if more people feel like I do then we know.
The national Federation of the blind motto is living the life we want. Which, is a great motto. But at my very first NFB convention. I soon discovered that living the life I wanted would never be laudedor celebrated or even acknowledged by The national Federation of the blind either within a convention, or, any other format.
Let me explain why I say that. I was born and raised in a time where if you had vision you had to use it whether or not it was viable or not. So, my education fell through the cracks even though I asked to learn braille repeatedly over my education. I taught myself braille in 1999 at a rehabilitation center for the blind in Daytona. By myself. With no help. Just me and my determination to learn but I wasn’t given the opportunity to learn as a child.
There are a lot of us out there in the same position. I’ve heard the stories. Oh you can do it, go back to school. Well, at 46 with maybe a six grade education, having taught myself braille. And don’t know Nemeth code. School is just not an option for me.
OK, that’s the backstory. Now, as a 46-year-old woman. I also have health issues. So working is not an option for me. Which means, no mobility training, no computer, no computer training, or anything else I might need because I’m not valuable enough to receive training because I’m not working or going to school or planning on doing either or.
So, now I come to my point. Though I have these challenges. And a lot of us do. I volunteer at the Humane Society here in Grand Junction. As far as I know, I’m the only blind person that I know anywhere in the country who was allowed by a shelter to volunteer.
My Specialty is working with cats or kittens that have been traumatized, or feral. Or for whatever reason that their behavior and trust and a human being is not there yet. Which, has helped several cats and kittens become adopted because I worked with them and taught them how to trust people again. Or even for the first time. That’s important right, that’s valuable right? But do we see that in our conventions. No.
We see John does a lawyer, we see DJane doe Jane doe has the most successful DEP vending in the state. Awesome, kudos, wonderful things.
However, those people were given way more opportunities than a lot of us are. What I do with the animals and others do for volunteerism is just as valid, and just as important, and should be celebrated just as much as a scholarship winner for college. I didn’t exactly get that option. A lot of us didn’t. So why do we feel like If we didn’t go to college, CCB, have a successful career, we are not as respected or validated within the national Federation of the blind community. And that includes nationally.
Bring in money and status does not make a person successful. It does not prove that blindness doesn’t have to be an obstacle. What proves that, or people who do the best they can with what they got. What proves that is the fact that for me, I’m the most well known volunteer at that shelter. I’m also the one they come to before cat is adopted to say farewell. I’m the one they come to when a cat is so Farrell or so frightened that it could lash out, and I’m the person that they know will spend hours with an animal to gain trust and make them adoptable.
The amazing thing is, people the shelter feel it’s valuable, people at the shelter see what a blind person can do, we are celebrated and appreciated. They even bought a braille label order to label the signs so that I would be more comfortable there The foster families for the animals, the people that come in and look at adopting a cat or kitten, I know the cats and kittens better than the adoption counselors do. Again, very valid, respected.
The question is, why isn’t that felt in the blind community within the national Federation of the blind. It just doesn’t.
I came out of that convention more depressed than I had ever been in my life. Well, in a long time 🙂 I felt like my life didn’t matter. Because all the kudos all the celebration went to people who are successful. Who don’t have the health trials I do, who didn’t have crap for education, who don’t even have a computer because we’re not valid enough within broke rehab to deserve one if we can’t work. Have no equipment. No mobility training since I went totally year and a half ago because I have too many health issues to work but not too many to get training.
I’m not trying to sound like a pity party, because that’s not it. I have a great life. I just wish my life At what I do with it in the parameters of health, lack of education, lack of computers, lack of equipment, lack of training Was just celebrated.
I knew a lot of blind folks who have tons of opportunities who sit on their butt and do nothing. And get everything they could possibly want as far as equipment goes. Fine, I’m glad they can. But when the most prominent and respected blind organization that works for equality only makes a huge deal about people who are bringing in the dough, and have a status, what is that exactly say to me as a blind person who is supposed to matter to the national Federation for the blind.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, you can live the life you want, you can also live the life you’re dealt. And handling that stuff for Grace doesn’t seem to matter. So, I just figured I would express it.
I will never go to another convention. I already feel like I’m not good enough sometimes, I most certainly don’t need it in the blind community. Much less and NFB. I am a member still, because I know that there are people like me too. We may not get the notice of a credit, but we’re here. I just don’t have to have it shoved in my face that I’m not important or valid in in the organization.
I hope the other people who feel the way I do will read this, I hope that you will know that you are important. You may not feel like it, you may not feel that the NFB feels like it, but you are. We all are.
Maybe if we help each other out more, instead of shoving everybody’s success in the faces of people who aren’t that fortunate People like me would Feel like we were An equal and respected part of it or like we matter.
Maybe the NFB needs to think about those of us who still need to function in life. Who still need a computer, who still need training, those things don’t disappear because you don’t work. So instead of spending a bunch of money on conventions that celebrate everybody’s good fortune and make quite a few people feel like crap. Maybe we should start helping those of us who didn’t have the opportunities and make the national Federation of the blind really the voice of the blind. I haven’t heard my voice yet
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That was Jenny’s message. I wrote her privately and told her that I applauded her for starting this dialogue; one that I think is important, as well as her work with cats. Over the following week, many replies came. A few were from the leadership in Colorado. Eventually, the conversation was redirected toward the Colorado Center for the Blind, which is the NFB training center located in Littleton.
Here is my response to Jenny and others, which I posted to Colorado Talk yesterday afternoon.
Greetings from Nebraska, where the temperature is 6 degrees and we just endured our first major snow of the season. Yes, I’m rubbing it in. You guys deserve it after stealing the Baldwins from us.
I still miss Denver and all of you terribly (except Kevan, of course) and long for the days when the climate and public transit were more temperate.
I’ve been following this thread for the past week with great interest. Frankly, I was glad to see that someone raised the issue. For many of us outside of the leadership ring of the Federation, there has been a growing perception of a widening disconnect between the leadership and the general rank-and-file movement. The Federation has always emphasized leadership, of course, and it’s top-down style has engendered criticism over the decades. Perhaps nothing has changed. Perhaps the leadership is the same as it has always been. Or, perhaps the emergence of social media as a dominant force has magnified the cracks that have always existed in the NFB armor. Or, perhaps it merely gives our critics a larger megaphone with which to shout at us.
I think that there is a kernel of truth in all of these possibilities. Whatever the case, this is a conversation that needs to happen.
I found Scott’s remarks on the branding process to be of particular interest. I shamelessly acknowledge that I am a free market capitalist. That said, I think it is a mistake for the NFB to take a corporatist approach to our messaging. We are a non-profit organization, not for-profit. The methods by which we recruit and motivate our membership should be entirely different than that of a for-profit enterprise.
My criticism of the slogan itself can best be summed up by a friend of mine (who shall remain anonymous) who said that our new slogan, “Live the life you want,” sounds like the tagline of an ad that you would see for a retirement community. His/her critique is profound. Even though a select group of people chose this slogan, there is nothing in it that really stands out as uniquely NFB.
I was a fan of our prior slogan, “Changing what it means to be blind.” I thought it was simple, direct, accurate and most important of all, it contained the word, “Blind,” within the slogan.
I have a larger point in bringing this up. This is the first time I’ve expressed my view about our slogan on any platform, or in any venue. No one asked me my thoughts when we adopted the slogan a few years ago. The first I ever heard of it was in the summer of 2014, when a group of us filmed a video singing around the piano in the CCB lobby for publication on the NFB YouTube channel. By then, it was already our official slogan. I don’t recall any discussion of it at chapter meetings, on list serves, at conventions or in casual conversations with NFB leaders.
This is why I was glad that Jenny wrote the message that she did. I believe that the leadership needs to hear feedback like this from outside of their comfort zone. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when like-minded people seem to congregate together, excising those with whom they disagree from their sphere of interaction. This phenomenon has created an echo chamber effect. If the leadership has always been this way, our recent shift toward further societal and cultural polarization has probably exacerbated the problem. This is why I think Jenny’s message was healthy and necessary.
Before I continue, I’m going to take a fit break in honor of Jessica and Maureen.
I’m back now. My fit break consisted of me getting up, stretching, then going to the kitchen for a root beer. If you ladies don’t feel that this was adequate, take heart in the knowledge that it’s a diet root beer.
Talking of comfort zones brings me to my next point. Jenny, while I applauded your initial message, I do feel that you and others have subsequently muddied it more than a bit.
It’s one thing to criticize the Colorado leadership for their approach to state conventions. These are conversations that the leadership has been holding for some years now. Like national, I think they need input from those outside of their comfort bubble. That said, criticizing a policy at the CCB is quite a different matter.
Here’s where I acknowledge a bias. While I am increasingly skeptical of our national leadership, I have great heart for the mission, the staff and the students at the Colorado Center for the Blind. I worked there for three-and-a-half months and it was enough to scar me for life. Unlike a random, superficial slogan, the CCB is transforming our high-sounding words into concrete action. They aren’t merely changing what it means to be blind; they are illustrating one course of action for doing so. The sleep shades are an integral component to this. Anyone can use their residual vision for everyday tasks, but it is quite another proposition to go outside of your comfort zone in order to experience an alternative, non-visual method of performing an ordinary task such as crossing a street, frying bacon or hammering a nail. The use of the shades is a compulsory means of pushing a student into that mode of learning.
Maryann kind of stole my thunder on this point. I will merely echo what she suggested and urge you to study your rights as a consumer; rights that the NFB was instrumental in defining. As blind consumers, choice is a right that we all have, but the choice of the CCB to implement a curriculum that aligns with its philosophy is just as important as your right to choose as an individual.
If you want to criticize the leadership for their messaging or their convention agendas, fine. More power to you. This is a relatively new conversation and it is worth having. If you want to take issue with the sleep shades, the long cane, the importance of braille, etc, just know that folks like Diane, Julie, Dan and Brent have been weathering storms of criticisms surrounding these issues for decades. Their arguments are well-honed and have withstood the test of time.
Finally, I will toss out the Nebraska state motto; a slogan that has proven somewhat controversial.
“Nebraska: It’s not for everyone.”
The simple truth is that the NFB could adopt this same slogan. The Federation approach is not for everyone. I know the leadership is resistant to this reality, but that doesn’t change it. Yet, our presence is vital as an option for those who wish to pursue their growth and independence as blind people living in the world. If choice is a basic human right, the NFB must be a choice.
On the other hand, if the leadership is not effectively communicating that choice, it is incumbent upon them to modify their outreach. I believe that such modification depends upon honest dialogue, not that which is manufactured and controlled by a mere few.
Sorry for the length of this message. I’m off now for another fit break; Sam Adams and a cigar. Love y’all.
… Except Kevan, of course.