REFLECTIONS: 2017 Washington Seminar

From the Editor:

Each year, we depart the National Federation of the Blind Washington Seminar with overwhelming emotions of empowerment, leadership, and commitment to level out the playing field for blind people. This year, the national student division and President Riccobono partnered, yet again, to bring new and old, bright, ambitious students to the conversations with Congress. NABS is proud to have gained new members and welcomed our veterans to our winter seminar, Great Gathering In, first study rally, and so much more! Below, we will read some impressive takeaways from student leaders as we marvel over successes of our largest legislative week in the National Federation of the Blind.

Alexus Blanding, President, South Carolina student Division

As an English major, it is imperative that I complete assigned readings. However, as a student with a vision impairment, I am unable to be successful in my courses without these readings being compatible with my screen reading software. The lack of accessibility inadvertently poses a threat to my ability to perform academically. On a local level, I felt alone in this battle, but attending the Washington Seminar gave me the opportunity to meet students across this nation who carry this burden with me. Being able to converse with them produced dialogue that led to the creation of better methods of self-advocacy. For example, a fellow student leader and I discussed the importance of an emotional appeal when discussing accommodations; we both agreed that emotions do not persuade every crowd and that merit and inability to perform is always a great basis for equality. Drawing from that one conversation, I took this path when on Capitol Hill.
If I had to name a few of the greatest takeaways from this week of legislative work, they would be the realization of the landmark impacts the NFB has had throughout history, the friendships I’ve made through the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), and the rejuvenated belief that I am capable of cultivating true change in this country. I always believed that the NFB was the driving force when it came to the rights of the blind, but the Washington Seminar showed me in detail just how much the NFB has done over the years to create a life worth living. The NFB has been the root cause of legislation that created rights in the classroom – rights that I once took for granted. The Washington Seminar gave me new friends that I firmly believe will turn out to be lifelong. We motivated each other and believed in each other’s goals, and at the core, that’s what real friends are for! Lastly, the Washington Seminar made one of my favorite quotes become true in my life: Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I always believed this quote to be true, but I always thought it took someone of stature and/or fame to cause real change. I never would have thought that I, a young woman from Sumter, South Carolina could be a voice for so many others who undergo the same plight as I, but I am eternally grateful to NABS and the NFB. The 2017 Washington Seminar showed me that I am the change.

Robert Parsons, President, Virginia Student Division

        I am unsure of how to even begin to create an account of what the attendance of my first NFB Washington Seminar felt like. The adjectives that could be used to describe the atmosphere; uplifting, empowering, empathetic, amicable, motivated, would be an understatement of the emotions I harbored for the three days that I was amongst hundreds of people with the same goal as mines. The three most memorable staples of the 2017 Washington Seminar for me was the student rally on capitol hill, the meetings my team had with our senate representatives, and the powerful messages that were conveyed during the NABS board meeting. These three pieces of Washington Seminar confirms my attendance at years to come.  

During the student rally at the Upper Senate Park, I did not know what to expect. I had only attended one rally prior to this one and it was not the most peaceful environment. Nevertheless, I arrived at the park after a meeting with a delegate and was pleasantly surprised to be surrounded by students, parents, and NFB members alike that all gathered to peacefully demonstrate the need for the passing of the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act. Aside from being inspired from the stories I heard from all the different speakers, I also was glad to have many friends that I could support when it was time for them to share their message. Listening to student division members and leaders like Kathryn Webster, Michael Osment, Vee Gaspa, and Derrick Manners showed me that I am not alone in the quest to assure that all students have an even chance at success and I was not ashamed to answer everyone’s “don’t deny” with a deafening “AiMHEA!” The most humbling part of that experience was climbing up to the podium to deliver my message and hearing so many students resonate with my message and return the favor. It confirmed that the Federation is truly family and that my fellow students are in my corner.