Interacting as Federationists we often find ourselves giving and receiving praise, suggestions, and sometimes tough love. Never do we want to push people beyond where they can go, but neither do we want to encourage them to shy away from going beyond their comfort zone and pushing themselves just a bit beyond where they think they can. As it is for our members, so it is for our staff—a real-life demonstration for those who work for us a bit of what it is like to be one of us, to encounter an obstacle and then to work around it.
On September 6 and 7, 2018, the NFB Jernigan Institute was closed for two days of staff development and appreciation. One day was for celebrating and saying thank you for a year of hard work. The second day was for team building in which the staff experienced the kind of adventure activities that our students and members get through many of our programs. Some of the activities took place on the ground: stand in a circle, hold the hands of people on your left and right, but not the people next to you. Then untangle the crisscross of hands and still remain in a circle. In a different circle pass a hula hoop from one person to the next without ever breaking contact.
One staff member said, “I really liked the five-finger bio activity and think chapters might find it fun and useful. We had to pair up and interview each other, getting the answers to five questions; the questions were represented by the fingers of one hand, which I guess is a memory aid. They were: Thumb: Name something you are good at; Index: A goal that you have; Middle: Something that frustrates you; Ring: Something you’re committed to (e.g. religion, family, Federation); and Pinky: Something few people know about you.”
Another said, “We had an activity where our group was divided into twos; a kind of obstacle course was set up with various shaped objects on the ground in a square-roped box. One teammate was blindfolded, and the other teammate had to direct them through the obstacle course without stepping on any of the objects. If you stepped on one, you would pretend there was an explosion, sound effects included. The first attempt we could say left, right, etc. The next time we were told to direct without saying left or right. Our teams came up with other directions. My partner and I used vegetables: radish-right; lettuce-left; spinach-straight. At the same time, our group leader would loudly drop objects within our path; you could hear them as they hit the ground. This would force you to stop, hesitate, then alter your route, but we were successful in making it through the activity. It was a lot of fun.”
“We were asked to do an activity where we had to line up by certain criteria, but we were not permitted to talk. We did fairly well with lining up by height—easily measured by touch—and by birth month, although we had a couple of issues with dates within the same month. Then we were asked to think of an animal, and then line up by size of animal from smallest to largest. Two in our group of seven were blind, and I started thinking about how I was going to communicate what I had in mind. One of my colleagues took my arms and began to demonstrate relative dimensions to me which I took to be the size of his/her animal. I then turned to the other blind person who was next to me and used the same technique. I had been spending all of my energy thinking about how I was going to communicate my animal to the sighted that I had given no consideration to how I was going to receive information—conditioning from society? I do not consider myself a sit and wait sort of person, but the experience surprised me because of my own thought process and, pleasantly, because my colleagues quickly created a nonvisual means of communication.”
My favorite quotation is taken from a person who is normally very quiet, but it is clear that when he speaks, he has much to say: “The course activities were a great learning experience for me, and I will share it with others. The high wire proved that any person or people, when confronted with adversity at the same time, can overcome the odds if they pull and stick together. The most outstanding thing for me was the two trees; it proved to me, as God said, He would use the foolish thing to shame the wise. He used the very nature that He created. The trees were different in shape and size. They were different in name, but could compromise their shape in order to grow together. In our group there were people of four or five different races, so what I am trying to say is: for me, God showed that no matter what else, just like the trees are all trees, there is one race, the human race. Just do it.” In this paragraph, our quiet friend has said a mouthfull, and we are all blessed by his words.
Activities like this are designed to test a group’s physical abilities, communication skills, and most of all its trust and cohesiveness as a group. While climbing the rope ladder or strapping into a harness to walk across a single-strand rope bridge high above the ground are more blatantly physical and difficult, the challenge of maneuvering adult bodies through the gaps created in the space of clasped hands carries its own difficulties and risks for participants. But no matter which activities our staff members chose to participate in or sit out of during this day, they put their whole heart and effort into that, just as they do daily in their work to help the blind of America live the lives they want.