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Jonathan Franks serves as a board member for the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, First Vice President of the Austin Chapter since 2014, works as an NFB-NEWSLINE® Ambassador and is a board member of the NFB Diabetes Action Network. He promotes self-advocacy for the blind and hopes to further educate those with diabetes about maintaining their health.
When he was 22 years old, Jonathan lost his sight from diabetic retinopathy over a 10-month period. He was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of eight but didn’t think his sight would be affected until he was in his 40s. He grew up in San Jose, and he did not have any positive blind role models around him.
Jonathan had to be resilient throughout his childhood to reach his full potential.
“I grew up in a broken home,” Jonathan said. “I fully believe in what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Despite what happens, I can achieve what I want. I might do it in a different way now, but my dreams are still attainable to me.”
Jonathan briefly attended college in 2002, but he was forced to drop out because of family issues. He worked at a restaurant before losing his sight, then moved to Austin in 2004 shortly after becoming blind. He enrolled in the Chris Cole Rehab Center in 2007 where he learned to use the essential tools of blindness, including a long white cane, braille and assistive technology.
In 2010, Richie Flores and a few others introduced Jonathan to the Federation, and they invited him to the Austin Chapter holiday party. He felt a true sense of family and camaraderie that inspired him to advocate for the rights of the blind with the organization. Jonathan continued to attend chapter meetings and worked as a mentor in the first Austin NFB-BELL Program in 2011.
Jonathan won a scholarship to attend the Federation’s national legislative event, called Washington Seminar, in 2013. There, he discovered his passion and his eventual field of study through the Federation’s work on Capitol Hill.
“That set the fire for what I’m doing today,” Jonathan said. “That legislative advocacy was so heartfelt for me. It’s fascinating to see how involved Texas is in NFB as a whole. Seeing 500-plus members together in D.C. for the same cause, hearing Dr. Maurer speak and hearing our government affairs staff’s passion for what we were doing.”
Jonathan attends the University of Texas at Austin with a major in Social Work and a minor in Psychology. He wants to give back to others through educating and understanding.
“I’ve even realized that especially with NFB, we’re all doing a little social work as we advocate in D.C.,” Jonathan said. “Social workers value advocacy for their clients, so it directly connects for me as I help other blind people get whatever they need to be successful.”
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