Walk the Walk

Walk the Walk

By Nancy Burns

(Editor’s Note:  This article is reprinted from QUE PASA, the quarterly newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico.)

Membership recruitment is an ongoing and challenging problem for most any organization.  While working with membership growth and strengthening within the National Federation of the Blind, one might want to consider two questions.  First of all, why would any individual want to join such a local chapter, and secondly, why would one NOT want to join a group of blind or visually-impaired individuals?

The answers to these two questions are as varied and numerous as the
personality traits of those being considered for membership.  For many, particularly those experiencing recent vision loss, it is a matter of denial.  Such people have not realized the need for introduction to positive-thinking and active blind people.  These individuals may fall down stairs, run into obstacles, and may admit that they are unable to read the paper, but they are not "blind."  They just do not see very well.  Because of existing stereotypes and inaccurate perceptions of blindness which exist in society, the admission of blindness is painful for many.  It is an ongoing and constant effort of the NFB to erase or clarify these false impressions.  Such an endeavor is difficult.  So what is the solution and how do we reach those who are uncomfortable joining the ranks of thousands of people who believe that it is respectable to be blind?

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  In my opinion a single act by a confident blind person can have a long-lasting influence on one of these people who are not blind but just do not see well.  As blind people we are ambassadors of education, independence, and hope for such people.  My own introduction to the NFB occurred when I was just a teenager.  I reluctantly attended a local chapter meeting in Los Angeles and was taken there by a blind woman who used her white cane to navigate the two of us through the busy L.A. traffic.  Once we arrived at the home of the woman who was hosting the meeting, she greeted us, showed us to a seat and provided us with refreshments during a short break.  It was after the meeting that I learned that Dr. Isabelle Grant was blind.  The group was comprised of people who had varied talents and interests.  There were students who were working toward such goals that I had never considered possible.  There was a woman with a small child on her lap.  One gentleman repaired small engines and another was an auto mechanic.  All of these people had used public transportation, successfully traversing the busy Friday evening traffic.  This was prior to the days of paratransit.  What an eye-opening, no pun intended, experience this was for me.  As a totally blind high school student I had no idea of the possibilities that this one meeting opened up for me.  I was hooked.

Dr. Grant became a most influential person in my adjustment to blindness.  She was a tiny bundle of energy who referred to herself as Scottish, not Scotch, which she said is what one drinks.  She encouraged me to take the prerequisites for college; without her influence I doubt I would have attended college at all.  Recognizing the power of education in all aspects of life, she mentored and guided many blind and visually-impaired individuals. The introduction to her and the NFB at that first meeting I attended changed the direction of my life.

My advice to members and officers who are focusing on membership growth and strengthening is to inventory your own independence skills and determine if they would appeal to a perspective member.  You and your confidence hold the key to attracting new members.