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Winter 2008 Table of Contents
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Preparing Young Texans for a Successful Future

By Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, DARS-Division for Blind Services

Abstract: This article describes Division for Blind Services activities to promote self-confidence and self-empowerment in young Texans who are blind or visually impaired.

Key words: blind, visually impaired, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-empowerment, self-advocacy, Texas Confidence Builders, American Council of the Blind (ACB)

Over a number of years, the DARS-Division for Blind Services (DBS) has developed a philosophy known as Texas Confidence Builders. This philosophy is the backbone of planned activities designed to help our consumers acquire the skills necessary to develop positive self-confidence and self-empowerment, and it represents an especially critical component for younger consumers as they explore the world around them and begin making personal decisions that will have a lasting impact on their future.

The principles incorporated into the philosophy include the development of strong independent living skills such as personal communication and self-advocacy skills, orientation and mobility skills that allow the individual to travel safely in different environments, and the daily skills we all use in everyday life to prepare nutritious meals, select and take care of our clothes, make new friends, and develop a healthy lifestyle through a balance of work and recreation.

At the core of all these skills is the development of positive self-esteem and self-confidence, traits every young person needs to cultivate to be a truly independent adult. If you are a parent, you are keenly aware that these can be very difficult traits for teenagers to acquire. For that reason, DBS services for youth and young adults include workshops, conferences, and other functions to help young consumers participate in the kinds of experiences that create a solid foundation for their future goals.

One such activity, the Carolyn Garrett Legislative Leadership Conference, is an ongoing collaboration between the DBS Transition Program and the Texas Chapter of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). Fourteen young consumers from across the state independently traveled to Austin to attend the 2007 conference, based on the theme Advocacy Builds Leaders. Events included a keynote address by Secretary of State Roger Williams on the importance of exercising the right to vote as well as a discussion about the responsibilities and tasks involved in his duties as an elected official; a presentation by Vince Morvillo, based on his many successful accomplishments as a blind sailor, encouraging the youngsters to always work toward making their individual dreams a reality; and several breakout sessions that focused on self-advocacy skills in different situations such as ARD meetings, workplaces, and local communities. The conference participants also enjoyed a tour of the state capitol building and a visit with Representative Sylvester Turners legislative aide, who discussed a range of current legislation and provided an overview of the duties performed by legislative aides.

Another very successful conference, the Fourth Annual Texas Confidence Builders Foundation for Life Conference, was held in Corpus Christi and attended by over 50 consumers from across the state along with their parents and siblings. The core theme at this years conference was that families should have the same high expectations for a child who is blind or visually impaired as for any of the childs siblings. A variety of presentations covered diverse topics like the importance of acquiring solid independent living skills, developing a resume for college or work, and the value of community volunteer work to gain experience and promote self-confidence. The consumers and their families were also offered numerous hands-on activities and opportunities to hear from gifted speakers who shared their personal perspectives about blindness. As one parent observed, The entire program was important to my family. It gave us a shot of confidence that will help us focus on what is important for a successful life.

These types of activities help our young consumers internalize the belief that success is an achievable goal. Being a young adult is never easy, but developing a sense of self-confidence and self-empowerment through positive experiences helps open doors, creates a solid foundation for each youngsters dreams and goals, and begins preparing our young Texans for the very successful futures they deserve.