Braille Monitor April-May 1985
The relationship of the state rehabilitation agency to the individual blind person is much more complex than many people think or say. Some (especially, the top management of the agencies) oversimplify it. They insist, in effect, that there are only two schools of thought concerning agencies and that all of us must necessarily belong to one or the other-no complexity, no mixed reactions. We must, according to this view, either be in favor of more money for the agencies, more staff, and service to people-or smaller appropriations, reduced staff, and no service to people. But this is not the way it is. This is not the way we as blind people experience it in our daily lives.
More money for the agencies does not necessarily mean more or better service to blind people. In fact, it sometimes means less. As the agency payroll increases, there is a tendency for the members of the staff to turn inward-to talk to each other, to hold conversations and conferences among themselves, and to write memos and do paperwork. This can mean fewer actual contacts with blind clients and decreasing focus on their problems. As the agency grows in size, there is more and more emphasis (although not stated and overt) on preserving and perpetuating the structure and the program, and less on giving service to the people the agency was established to benefit in the first place. When looked at from this point of view, it is not hard to understand why a growing number of blind persons say that if there is no real hope for reform, they are not certain that the olind would not be better off with no rehabilitation agencies at all.
When this proposition is advanced, there is usually a shocked silence. Then, in hushed and horified tones these questions are asked: 1) If there were no agencies, where would the blind go for training? To which the answer comes in the form of another question: Where can they go now? 2) If there were no agencies, how could the blind get help? To which one replies: How can they get it now?
With all of this in mind perhaps the following letter is particularly worthy of study. Ron Chilton is a regional supervisor for the Texas State Commission for the Blind, which is one of the largest and best financed agencies in the nation. The Texas Commission receives millions of dollars from the federal government and bountiful appropriations from the state legislature.
Some of this money does, indeed, go to improve the quality of life for blind people, but some of it does not. The same can doubtless be said of all of the other state agencies in the country. Is the percentage of the budget of these agencies which is actually helping the blind increasing or decreasing? What can we as blind people do to up the odds? The legislators and the members of the public believe that they are meeting our needs by giving money to the agencies. To the extent that this belief is unfounded all of us suffer and are shortchanged. Moreover, the public and the governmental officials (thinking that they have already given us assistance) are likely to give a less favorable hearing to our requests for help on other issues in direct proportion to the amount of money and attention they are giving to the state agency. This might be tolerable if the agencies were doing what they claim and what the public believes, but when they are doing very little, we get the little end of the stick both ways.
If Lola Pace were not a member of the National Federation of the Blind, she probably would never have written her letter--but she is, and she did. Whatever else she may be, she is not docile. She keeps herself informed and believes that she has rights. To some this means that she is "uppity" and militant. To an increasing number of us it means something else entirely. It means that she, along with tens of thousands of other blind people, is coming to believe that she can be a first-class citizen, and that she has the right to be one. She also believes that the actions of the state agency established to give service to her and other blind persons should make sense and be reasonable:
Iowa Park, Texas
October 20, 1984
Dear Mr. Chilton:
I am writing in regard to the typewriter which was issued to me by the State Commission for the Blind.
You had asked that it be delivered to me in the fall of 1982. However, due to neglect and procrastination on the part of my counselor, Mr. C. A. King, Jr., it did not arrive until early in 1983. At that time I was unemployed. The purpose, as I understand it, was to give me an opportunity to develop better typing skills and possibly some computer skills.
After receiving the typewriter, I was assisted by George West in getting some typing tapes from the state library. I worked on those alone and did improve some.
Later, in April I believe, Mr. King took me on a job interview with a local newspaper. It was to work as a correspondent for Iowa Park. The newspaper is located in Wichita Falls and covers many smaller towns surrounding that city. I did that for almost a year. It did not pay much of anything, but I loved it. It gave me the chance to really put my typing to work and to meet people whom I probably would not have been able to otherwise. Even now, the newspaper's regional editor has given me permission to write for them anytime I can and want to. I still do from time to time when I can. I turned in one story last week and two the week before.
In March of this year, as you know, I took a position with Civil Service at Sheppard Air Force Base. It is full-time, but at this time I am not required to type there. However, many nights at home I type some things which are helpful to me on the job, such as telephone numbers for a file that I maintain for work. I have also been given permission to bring the typewriter to work and use it if I want and if I have time. In other words, I am trying to do as good a job as I possibly can, and now you want to stop that. Why are just the good things put into your reports and not all the things you start and then stop them just about the time a person gets going better?
Of course, this is not nearly everything. You people want to talk about what excellent jobs you do. That's fine, but let's talk about how you could do them better.
It is very difficult to get employers to talk to blind people about employment without contact with your agency. Yet, until I applied and had many conversations with Joyce Martin and Mr. James Smith at Sheppard Air Force Base, did they even know anything about the State Commission for the Blind? They knew about the Texas Rehabilitation Commission because they had made themselves known to them.
You asked me to let you have a photograph of me at work for your biennial report. I really did not want that but consented so you could make yourselves look good that you had found employment for a blind person. Of course, I am thankful for the job, but why did it take you so long and cause so much frustration for us before you did anything?
Now you have your report and want to put a stop to my progress by taking the typewriter away. If I purchased all the equipment suggested, it would take more than I earn. The typewriter, according to you, was in a warehouse in Austin before you issued it to me. That is probably where it will go if you take it back. Or it will probably be destroyed instead of letting somebody use it and learn more. For the budget next year there will probably be machines purchased so that your appropriations will not be cut. This is such a waste. Why not let people utilize their skills and machines when you have funds set aside for it and never hesitate to tell and even sometimes exaggerate to make yourselves look better. Why not think more of the time of the people you are supposedly serving instead of concentrating on just holding on to your own jobs? There are always going to be blind people, and there are enough to go around for all of you.
At one time, Mr. Chilton, you had considered putting this typewriter into my permanent equipment. It seems to me that that is the thing you should do. Since I use it for a part-time job and need it to continue to increase my abilities, it should be justifiable. I wish that the State Commission for the Blind would have policies that would allow us to complete and continue on to further goals instead of starting something and then just dropping us and say something like "good luck."
I am not saying that you are not doing some good things, but it continues to plague us that you have so much control over our destinies, and that is serious business. You should be thinking about us first and yourselves later. I realize, Mr. Chilton, that you are also blind, but you are not always thinking of the overall blind population. At least, that appears to be the way it is.
I do plan to keep the typewriter I will also do all the work I can with whatever equipment I have available. I want to support myself and do as many things as I can. The experience with the newspaper has been very good for me, and that is another reason I want to continue to write for them when I can. I have at least two stories waiting for me right now.
I would have called you, but when you are in your office, I am at work and cannot call long distance.
By the way, I was about to forget this. There was another piece of equipment I was issued shortly after I got the typewriter that was snatched away from me before I was able to master it, too. It was a dictaphone. I have not mentioned that before, but I wanted to work with it also. As a matter of fact, there have been others. One was a light probe for this job I have. It was taken away before I even had a chance to experiment with it, and I have requested that it be returned and it has not. I could probably buy one of them without it breaking me, and more than likely I will. I hate depending on other people for anything if I don't have to. However, sometimes there is no choice. The State Commission for the Blind should not make us feel as if we are begging. We need you, and you need us.