In 1938 Priscilla Pacheco Ferris was born in Dighton, Massachusetts. From the time she was a small child, she knew she had weak eyesight, but she and her family did not know that the condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa, would deteriorate into total blindness. During her early school years Ferris used print, but three years later, when her brother (who had the same eye condition) entered school, the staff refused to teach two blind children. So the Pacheco youngsters enrolled in the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.
When Ferris entered Perkins, she was beginning the fourth grade, and she was expected to learn Braille immediately even though she could still read large print. She remembers that it took her about a month. She didn't feel put upon; it was simply a challenge. Today she recalls this when she must deal with debates about whether a blind child should read Braille or print.
"Teach both," Ferris says unequivocally. "Low-vision children were not too stupid to learn both when I was a kid, and things haven't changed that much since."
After high school graduation in 1956, Priscilla Pacheco worked in a curtain factory for a year. She would have liked to go to college but did not have the money. Then she worked for five years in a cookie factory, doing whatever needed to be done, including assembly line work, packaging and packing. She married Jack Ferris in 1961, and in 1963 she resigned to begin a family. The Ferrises now have two grown daughters.
In 1977, Priscilla Ferris finally had an opportunity to attend business school, where she earned a degree and graduated with distinction. Then she found a job as secretary for the Fall River Public Schools. By the time funding cuts eliminated her position, she was too busy with community activities and work for the Federation to look for another job.
Ferris led her first Girl Scout troop while working at the cookie factory in the 1950's. From that time until her own daughters were in Scouts she led troops from time to time. In 1974 she began fourteen years as town Administrator for the Girl Scouts in Somerset, Massachusetts, a job in which she was responsible for the entire scouting program for the city. She quips that, not only can she light a fire in the rain, raise a tent in a storm and dig a latrine almost anywhere, but she can teach anyone else to. In 1986 she was elected to the Board of Directors of the Girl Scout Council of Plymouth Bay, and she has recently been elected to another three-year term. Ferris's contribution to scouting was recognized by the Council when it presented her with an award as the Outstanding Adult in 1986.
Ferris first heard of the National Federation of the Blind when a new chapter was formed in her area in 1961. She was mildly interested, but she did not join the Federation until 1974, shortly before losing the remainder of her eyesight. In 1976 Ferris was elected president of the Greater Fall River Chapter of the N.F.B. of Massachusetts. She has been re-elected president every year from that time until the present.
In 1977, Ferris was elected second vice president of the N.F.B. of Massachusetts and in 1981 first vice president. In 1985, she was elected President of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, and she has been re-elected for succeeding two-year terms ever since. She was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in July of 1987.
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