Imagineering Our Future
Message from the President
When does a young person develop their passion for a career? How much exposure is required to ignite that passion? When do some people gravitate to certain subjects over others? These questions are ones that I think about as a parent and as the President of the National Federation of the Blind. In 2003 I came to be an employee of the Federation directing educational programs. Our President at the time, Marc Maurer, asked me to put together a science program for blind youth. I knew what not to do in such a program by reflecting on my own miserable experience in science classes when I was in school. In terms of what to do, I found that the only limit was our ability to think big, be imaginative, and put together the right combination of resources.
We are now thirteen years past my first experience building a science program for blind youth, and the difference is noticeable. Our first group of students is now out of college, many of them working in fields related to science, technology, engineering, or math, and some are working in other fields having made an informed choice that science was not for them. More importantly, through mentoring opportunities, these young blind professionals have given back to the blind students coming up behind, them further amplifying the impact of our work. Many resources have been created for blind students in STEM and many people have learned of its importance because of the National Federation of the Blind.
At one time I wanted to be an architect but I decided not to pursue that path because I did not know that blind people could compete in that field. I have now met blind architects, and we have even had a course of “blind design” in one of our STEM programs. I do not know if I would have ultimately pursued that career had I been equipped with my current understanding about the possibilities for blind people. What I do know is that we are raising a generation of blind youth that can make more informed choices based on their capacity and interest rather than on the artificial barriers that stand in their way. Considering that STEM careers are increasingly important in the twenty-first century economy, we can say with certainty that the next generation of blind youth will be better equipped to compete because of the ground-breaking work that we have pursued during the past decade.
Next time you come across an innovative technology or an interesting interface design, take a moment to
consider that a blind engineer, programmer, or materials scientist might have had a part in putting that technology together. Then remember that we do not yet know all there is to know about how to ensure that blind students have equal access to all of the elements of studying science, technology, engineering, and math. We will continue to need your support, ideas, connections, and contributions to empower the next generation of blind
scientists to live the lives they want.
Mark A. Riccobono, President National Federation of the Blind
Youth Slam Shatters Misconceptions
The National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam is a weeklong learning opportunity that gets blind students excited about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subject and careers in STEM. Hundreds of blind students have attended NFB Youth Slams, and one student returned to the NFB National Convention in 2016 to share her experiences.
Jordyn Castor attended the 2007 NFB Youth Slam, where her “perceptions and expectations of what a blind person could achieve as a career were absolutely shattered” as she got hands-on experience in computer science with instruction from strong blind mentors. Jordyn not only learned how to program a chatbot to read news, weather, and dictionary definitions, but she learned that “with the right tools, technology, resources, and support from our friends and family in the NFB, we could go anywhere and do anything we set our minds to.” Since her time at NFB Youth Slam, she has graduated from Michigan State University and is now a software engineer at Apple.
National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam: A STEM Academy’s Tenth Anniversary
Getting students excited about science, technology, engineering, and math is critical for helping them pursue science education and careers. This is particularly true for blind and low-vision students who might have the perception that these topics are not for them. They are! And the NFB Youth Slam shows them just that.
One hundred blind or low-vision high school students spend a week living on campus at Townson University in
Baltimore. There they are taught and mentored by blind and sighted instructors who have successful careers in STEM fields. Students have the opportunity to run experiments in chemistry labs, build robots, learn programming languages, or get dirty dissecting dogfish sharks. The fun and learning do not stop there.
Think this sounds like fun? It is! Not only do we need students to apply, we need volunteers to make this incredible program run seamlessly. Visit blindscience.org to learn more.
Youth Slam: A STEM Academy takes place in Baltimore from July 23 to July 29, 2017.
Take Action This Month
What can you do to support the tenth anniversary of Youth Slam?
Volunteer! Visit the blindscience.org volunteer page to learn how you can help. Applications are due February 15.
Encourage a student to apply! Students from all over the country attend. Share this link with a high school student you think would enjoy this experience: https://nfb.org/YouthSlamApplication. Applications are due May 7, but the sooner, the better.
Follow the NFB on social media and share with your followers. Use the hashtags #NFBYouthSlam and #STEM on Twitter.
News from around the Federation
Thank you for reading Imagineering Our Future.
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place Baltimore, MD 21230 United States