Helen Eckman was born blind in the early 1960’s in Alaska. She was several months old when they discovered she had some vision. Her parents had no advocacy organizations or role models to help guide them in raising a blind child. However, they did an amazing job or rearing an independent, competent child. She was taught from a very early age that “If it’s too hard for anyone else, it’s just right for you!” Consequently it never occurred to her, or her parents, that her life should be limited because of her vision loss. Her parents were provided with a lot of poor advice, which they routinely declined to follow. “Don’t move the furniture as it will disorient and confuse her.” Needless to say, the furniture was reorganized intentionally and often. She was the first blind child to be mainstreamed in the small school district in which she lived. Because she had residual vision, her parents were told she should not be taught Braille because “She will cheat.” She says they tried to set her up for failure even before she started school. Never one to conform to low expectations, she moved through school and graduated in 1981. Her favorite pursuits were choir, drama and language arts.
Her first association with the NFB was in 1978. At that time she was assisted in raising money so she could tour Europe for a month with “America’s Youth in Concert.” Her NFB contact suggested she use a white cane so that if she was hit and killed while traveling, her parents could receive a hefty settlement. Rejecting this flimsy rationalization, she did not learn to travel with a cane for several years. At the age of 23 she attended the Alaska Center for Blind Adults in Anchorage with James Omvig as its director. There she learned skills that would assist her moving forward. Additionally, she learned the philosophy of the NFB and became an active member from that time to the present. She was a member of the State Independent Living Council (SILC). She has held offices in the NFB including affiliate president, secretary and board member in Alaska and elsewhere. She was named to the Board of Directors then “Merchant’s Division” in 1990. She currently serves as President of the Red Rocks chapter. She worked as Project Coordinator for Alaska’s Business Program for 7 years during which time she helped to expand the program from 6 to 13 facilities, including making Alaska’s first advances in working with the military to create new contracts.
She is the mother of three and grandmother of 9. The NFB guided her in the beginning. She has been working to extend similar support to others for the past 40 years and she will continue to do so.”