Student Advocacy: Why It Matters

By Michael Ausbun

In the national Federation of the Blind, we often discuss this notion of a “vehicle for collective action,” but what is that exactly and why is it so important? The first long term president of the National Federation of the Blind, Jacobus tenBroek once said, “Individually, we are scattered, ineffective and inarticulate, subject alike to the oppression of the social worker and the arrogance of the governmental administrator. Collectively, we are the masters of our own future and the successful guardian of our own common interests.” Reflecting on this year’s Washington Seminar—an annual gathering of approximately 500 blind Americans on Capitol hill—especially in the context of our legislative priorities conjoined with the words of Dr. tenBroek, creates implicit, and almost innate, clarity for my question. Where do I, as a student fit into the bigger picture, though?

This was my third Washington Seminar, but my first as a member of the national Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. I was afforded this opportunity through the generosity and investment granted by the scholarship I received at the state convention this past year–my gratefulness and humility cannot be expressed in a mere blog post. This year, more than any, reminded me why involvement from our students is vital to our success.

Students find themselves in the enviable position of being uniquely positioned to affect, and be affected by, all our legislative priorities. This year, we advocated on behalf of three pieces of legislation and a posed one.

The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education act (Aim High), will establish a purposed based commission comprised of all relevant stakeholders (people with disabilities, publishers and manufacturers, and representatives from higher education), who will then be tasked to draft voluntary accessibility guidelines that will assist institutions in complying with titles II. And III. Of the Americans with Disabilities act and section 504 of the rehabilitation act. When students attend college, there should be no discussion about whether educational materials are available and accessible for us. In most cases, universities do not say, “here is a student with a disability, let’s make sure they cannot compete on terms of equality!” What constitutes accessible and inaccessible is usually misunderstood. Therefore, eliminating clarity conflicts and increasing understanding of accessibility for those who are genuinely interested in inclusivity appears to be right and just.

The Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA) will create a refundable tax credit which can be applied towards purchases pertaining to access technology not exceeding $2500 over a three-year period. When we consider the technological revolution that has occurred in the last few years, and the dependency upon technology in both the employment and education sectors, the need for access technology becomes obvious. What is less obvious is the astronomical costs of the equipment. When you take into consideration the unemployment rate of blind people in the United States (approximately 70%) and the rising tuition costs across the board, the probability of students gaining independent access to access technology is low. That places us in a conundrum–to get a job and education, students need technology; to get the technology, students need funding. Therefore, like in the prior case, students are proximal to the focal point of this piece of legislation.

The next priority is one we have had for several years, the Marrakesh treaty, which will grant the cross-border dissemination of accessible materials. If countries can send accessible books across borders, then more students will have access to more materials. If more materials are available, then more students will succeed, because they will have the materials to do the work.

Finally, students have an important role to play in the opposition to HR620; HR620 places the burden of responsibility of ADA compliance upon disabled people. The efforts to pass the ADA 28 years ago required large-scale demonstrations and collaboration across the generations. To ensure that the ADA does not become weakened, an intergenerational approach is required. Without student participation, prohibitive action is impossible.

As I contemplate the role students can, and must, play in advocating for our legislation, I cannot but return to the quotation from Dr. tenBroek. Although the members of the National Federation of the Blind come together and truly influence widespread change through collective action, lacking student participation would merely reinforce perception of individualism that he cautioned against. Collective action takes every one of us–student and non-student, seniors and millennials, teacher and pupal, parents and children. The proximal nature of students to our movement, to me, emphasizes the role students must play.

To conclude, I leave you with the words of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan:

“When the members gather to celebrate the hundred-year anniversary of our movement, perhaps they will remember and once again recall these voices from the past. If so, let this be our message to you of that generation. We of the first fifty years worked to create a climate of public opinion and opportunity which would permit you to have equal treatment and full citizenship. We leave you a proud heritage, and a strong vehicle for collective action. Take this heritage, this vehicle, this National Federation of the Blind. Use it. Cherish it. And never forget your link to those of us who went before you, or your obligation to those who will follow. Remember, that no one can give you freedom. You must either take it for yourself, or not have it. This is a lesson that each generation must learn again. We speak to you from the convention of the fiftieth year, and we send you our love and our bond of union to last through the centuries.”



Touching Trucks and Touching Lives


On Saturday, October 15, 2016, the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana’s Greater Ouachita and North-Central chapters joined forces as part of a Saturday Club and Meet the Blind Month excursion. Individuals from each chapter attended the Touch-A-Truck Families Helping Families Event at the Ike Hamilton Expo Center in West Monroe, Louisiana. Seven young blind students from northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas and their families were encouraged to explore all manner of on and off-road vehicles and were given the opportunity to climb into the driver’s seat, blare the horn, and generally have a great time checking out machinery not always readily accessible to the general public.

“Our students are sometimes discouraged from exploring so-called ‘dangerous’ environments. Outings like these give them a great outlet to do just that and to have fun while using their canes to check out all the interesting exhibits,” said Greater Ouachita Chapter member and teacher of blind students Kristen Sims--who spearheaded our attendance at The Ike. Students were encouraged to dress in costume and received candy and other prizes from various exhibitors as they navigated the vast event grounds.
Greater Ouachita Chapter President and First Vice President of our Louisiana affiliate Jerry Whittle, along with volunteers from both chapters, Brailled children’s names on alphabet cards and invited them to take part in a game in which they were asked to identify objects nonvisually. “Society continues to hold certain misconceptions about the capabilities of blind people. It is great to be able to interact with so many children and their families and for them to see us living the lives we want on White Cane Safety Day,” enthused Mr. Whittle.

A very special thank you to all of our volunteers including role models, mentors, event coordinators, and those providing transportation. This gathering would not have been the success it was without your love, commitment, and leadership.

Our next Saturday Club will actually take place on a Tuesday, November 15, in conjunction with the Thanksgiving feast—jointly sponsored by the Louisiana Center for the Blind and the North-Central Chapter.

 A split picture of Jordan and Passion sitting in a helicopter. Both are wearing the helmet, complete with headset.  

A split picture of Jordan and Passion sitting in a helicopter. Both are wearing the helmet, complete with headset.  

 Bryson explores the fire truck!  

Bryson explores the fire truck!  

 Lindsay in the back of a police car: she sure looks happy considering where she's sitting!  

Lindsay in the back of a police car: she sure looks happy considering where she's sitting!  

Louisiana Students Take Part in Read across America

The National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana is committed to literacy for all--understanding that the development of true and lasting literacy is critical if blind children are to be equipped with the skills and attitudes necessary to living the lives they want! Watch Passion and Jordan put their skills into action as part of Read Across America 2016!



Passion reading

Jordan reading



 Jordan dressed up as the Blue Fish for Read Across America day

Jordan dressed up as the Blue Fish for Read Across America day

 Passion dressed as Thing 2 for Read Across America day.  

Passion dressed as Thing 2 for Read Across America day.  

2016 Washington Seminar

Please see below for a post courtesy of Parnell Diggs, Director of Governmental Affairs.

Dear Fellow Federationists:

The 2016 Washington Seminar is just ten days away, and we can hardly wait! We wanted to take this opportunity to pass along to you our latest YouTube video-Washington Seminar Jeopardy. You can access the video at Please use this video as a study tool to brush up on your facts before arriving in Washington, DC, and of course we hope you enjoy it.

Secondly, at the Legislative Workshop, we are planning to conduct a breakout session about tools for keeping track of our work on Capitol Hill. One such tool is the "Congress" app by Sunlight Foundation, which is free. This app is incredibly helpful for looking up information such as
* Who your Members of Congress are and their office phone numbers
* Where their DC offices are located
* Committees, Committee Chairs, and Committee members
* Bills and cosponsors of bills
* Hearings
* Social Media

We are asking that all Legislative Workshop participants get the app on their phones before the seminar starts so we can focus on demonstrating and using the app rather than trying to download it during the Workshop.

Finally, attached to this email is the 2016 Legislative Reception flyer. A copy of the flyer will also be inserted into the legislative packets that we all will be distributing to members of Congress during our appointments. Feel free to forward this to your contacts at the Congressional offices you plan to visit in Washington, DC as well. Thanks, and see you soon!

-NFB Government Affairs Team

Parnell Diggs, Esq.
Director of Government Affairs
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Office: (410) 659-9314, extension 2222
Mobile: (843) 267-2018
Twitter: @NFB_Voice

Lots Happening in 2016!

As we look back with gratitude on all that was accomplished in 2015, we can't help but look toward the future and the exciting promise of the year ahead. Please see below for links to important documents concerning our NFBL state scholarship program, the Federation's national scholarship initiative, Louisiana's state convention (to be held in Baton Rouge in mid-April), and the national convention in Orlando this summer. In this season of joy, we are thankful for all those who support the affiliate and its programs in myriad ways and wish everyone a healthy and Happy New Year!



National Federation of the Blind--National Scholarship Program



NFB of Louisiana General Information



NFB of Louisiana State Scholarship Program



NFB of Louisiana 2016 State Convention Flyer



NFB of Louisiana 2016 State Convention Preregistration Form



NFB 2016 National Convention Flyer

NFB BELL-ringing

As a mother of a special needs child The BELL program has it all—education, life skills, orientation and mobility, laughter and friendship. It instills confidence in the children who attend making them one step closer to reaching their potential in becoming competent, independent children!
— Alison Tarver, Mother of Nicholas

I love this time of year. Cooler temperatures and the festive atmosphere of holiday laughter and good cheer bring light-heartedness and smiles to young and old. Much has been written and sung about bells in association with the holiday season. But one need not think only of December when contemplating the ringing of bells. Summer bells have profound meaning for students, their families, and the instructors facilitating the National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy!

NFB BELL is a nationwide initiative, and it has grown exponentially thanks to the love, hope and determination exhibited by members of the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that the next generation possesses the skills and attitudes needed to live the lives they want.

Below, you'll find a link to our NFB of Louisiana BELL Academy video. Special thanks to our tremendous state president, Pam Allen, and the many contributors, volunteers, and other supporters who make NFB BELL a life-changing program each year. Thanks also to videographer Ryan Pierce for the hard work involved in producing what we hope is an enjoyable and informative video. Braille Rocks!

What BELL means for my student...
BELL is independence, opportunity, and normality!
He is the BLIND kid at his school. That is how everyone knows him. At camp, he is just a kid. He gets to be with other kids who are the “blind” kid at their school and that makes him more mature and a better advocate for his independence.
He is expected to do everything for himself in my class but when I leave, that expectation leaves as well. Most people can’t help it. They do not have the experiences to let blindness be just a characteristic. With the experiences he is given at BELL, he becomes his own advocate. He is quick to tell people, “I don’t need any help with that. I learned how to do that myself this summer.”
— Kristen Sims, TBS and NOMC

Roarin' and Snorin' in the Rainforest

On Friday, April 24, students from Lincoln, Ouachita, and Winn Parishes joined teachers, parents, and Louisiana Center alumni at Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe to take part in an overnight excursion aptly named "Roar and Snore." Everyone learned a great deal about the Amazon Rainforest including the many products (e.g., chocolate, citrus, brazil nuts, papaya, mango, cloves, coconut, coffee, etc.) found there. They were also invited to get up close and personal with various animals including a huge parrot.

The group didn't let a bit of stormy weather slow them down. A boat ride and tour was enjoyed by all--even when the weather started to look gloomy. They were encouraged to try various foods such as pineapple, papaya, and coconut found in this essential biome--which is disappearing at the rate of a football field every minute. Zoo staff delighted in the fact that the group wanted to make memories by naming a couple of newborn opossums. And, what better names than Louis and Braille!

Louis Braille Rocks, as do outings like Roar and Snore in which students and their families can experience the thrill of nature and take part in interesting hands-on activities vital to gaining greater spatial and environmental awareness and to just plain having fun! Special thanks to Kristen Sims for spearheading this Friday/Saturday Club gathering and to LCB's Pam Allen and PDRIB's Dr. Edward Bell for facilitating trip financing. We look forward to future collaborations with the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo as our students and their families live the lives they want through community involvement.

If you would like to see pictures and read about other Saturday Club events, visit the Saturday Club Facebook Page.