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Group for the blind seeking support

January 28, 2011

David Bouchard, left, his mother, Wingfield Bouchard, center, and Beverly Hammett, right, talk after providing details on the work of the National Federation for the Blind, along with its state affiliate and local chapter.

By PAUL SIMS
sdnnews@bellsouth.net

David Bouchard was born blind, through a recessive gene. Beverly Hammett’s loss of vision came about four years ago through a staph infection and her condition as a diabetic.
Though they came to lose most of their vision in different ways, they have at least one trait in common.
They’ve had training and learned alternative techniques of blindness, said David Bouchard’s mother, Wingfield Bouchard.
“The main obstacle we face is the misconceptions that sighted people have of the blind,” David Bouchard said. “And the fear,” his mother added.
At one point as she spoke, Wingfield Bouchard expounded on this thought.
“We who are sighted, if we start to lose our vision, we fear loss ... . They don’t know they can be trained in blindness skills,” she said. “Life goes on.”
Also, people “either think (the blind) are superhuman for doing the ordinary or completely helpless. Not all sighted people think that, but that’s a general attitude that’s very common,” David Bouchard said.
“When you are sighted and go blind, it can happen at any time,” Hammett said. “It can really be anything,” David Bouchard said.
“When a sighted person goes blind, it does something to the people around you. They don’t see you as the same person,” Hammett said.
“The only thing that changed is the way you see and do” things, she said.
“ ... A blind person has to be creative ... to meet the challenges ... and expectations of society. We’re not disabled. We’re just differently abled,” she said.
Hammett and the Bouchards represent the Starkville-Golden Triangle Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi.
The NFB “has already figured out a lot of these techniques. We want to get people connected to the members of the federation who can mentor them. The NFB is a family,” said Wingfield Bouchard.
If those who have lost their sight “have the opportunities to work in jobs and use their skills, they’re just like anyone else in the community they don’t require any special treatment,” David Bouchard said.
Information at the NFB website indicates there will be a demonstration of a “prototype non-visual interface that will empower a blind person to drive a car without sighted assistance” prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday.
Wingfield Bouchard says the key is education – regular K-12th grade, then independent training for blindness skills and the “sighted community’s acceptance of you and willingness to give opportunities of employment and participation in the community.”
She said: “Our children need to get their education just like our sighted children and we need teachers who are certified to teach braille and cane travel.
Wingfield Bouchard added: “I think the community needs to not lower their expectations for blind people and employers need to know a blind individual, who is properly trained and educated, can be as valuable an employee as a sighted person in the same field.”
They noted that there are blind doctors, scientists, engineers, architects and professors.
“There’s virtually no profession where a blind person could not be successful,” she said.
“As time goes by, the opportunities increase,” David Bouchard said.
He noted that technology is under development to allow the blind to drive.
Another matter Wingfield Bouchard – secretary for the Mississippi NFB affiliate and the president of the Mississippi Parents of Blind Children – addressed was that of children with low vision.
“I’m personally pained to see a parent in denial of their low-vision child’s need for braille. If they are struggling to keep up with their fully-sighted classmates, they probably need to be reading braille,” she said.
Hammett also said: “We do encourage low-vision individuals and the blind to get in touch with us for emotional support, companionship and camaraderie.”
Donations are accepted at any time but there is a specific goal of March 15 which will be used to help fund the state convention held March 25-27 in Meridian.
The convention funding will be used for educational and state and national convention scholarships, funding of speakers and training workshops.
Anyone who wants to donate a physical item for door prizes can do so.
Ongoing funding needs include workshops for the parents of and educational support for blind children and community and educator awareness.
Wingfield Bouchard noted that the first class in Mississippi set up to teach sighted parents braille is nearing its end, but that organizers would like to hold these courses regionally.
“The money you donate will help educate the community (and) the individual blind person and even the playing field for the blind to compete with their sighted peers. We want to be part of things. Don’t isolate us,” she said.
For general information on the NFB and the state affiliate, visit http://www.nfb.org/ and http://www.nfbofmississippi.org/. For specific information on the fund drive, call Beverly Hammett at 323-6229.

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