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The Braille Monitor December, 2000 Edition
by John & Tom TeBockhorst
From the Editor: John TeBockhorst is now President of the Bix Beiderbecke Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, and his brother Tom serves as the chapter's Secretary. It is all too easy to sit back and expect other Federationists to step in and fight our discrimination battles for us. Sometimes the know-how and expertise of more experienced colleagues is necessary for a successful outcome, but often we are perfectly capable of doing the job for ourselves. That's what John and Tom TeBockhorst discovered, and they found that the experience made them stronger people. Here's how they tell the story:
Most people never have to worry about being discriminated against. They don't think it can happen to them, but if it does, they either ignore or deny it. As blind people we had never been faced with blatant discrimination until an incident occurred that made us realize it really could happen to us, whether we were blind or not.
Several members of our local NFB chapter had gone to Des Moines to work our booth at the Iowa State Fair--we hand out NFB literature and Braille people's names on Braille alphabet cards to demonstrate how blind people write. When we arrived at the booth, our group decided who would work the first shift. The rest went to enjoy the fair. Since we weren't scheduled to work until later in the afternoon, we decided to buy tickets for several of the rides on the midway and have a good time. How wrong we were!
We first decided to ride on the ferris wheel. This seemed harmless enough. We got in line with our tickets ready to hand to the operator before boarding the ride. When we approached him, he saw our long white canes and asked us, "Do you have a waiver to ride this?"
We said, "What waiver?" He told us that we had to have a special waiver from the office of the company running the midway. Since we were blind, the company would not be liable in case we were injured on any of the rides. Now both of us had been to a lot of amusement parks, and such a thing had never before happened to us. We believed we didn't need any special waiver to ride, that we had already purchased our tickets just like everyone else at the fair. We simply wanted the chance to ride the rides. We decided that something needed to be done to prevent this from happening to any other blind people, whether they were working our booth or simply attending the fair.
We first talked with our affiliate president, who was working at the booth, and asked her advice. She suggested that we go talk to someone in the fair administration office. Once we found the right office and explained what the problem was, they referred us to guest services in a different building. Off we went again. At guest services they told us we needed to talk to someone in the office of the company running the midway, preferably the manager. Off we went again, traipsing halfway across the fairgrounds, until we finally found a small trailer serving as the office for the company running the rides. We talked with the manager, explained our problem, and told him that Iowa had a White Cane Law. What had happened was blatant discrimination. We explained again that being blind didn't mean we were more likely to get hurt on any of the rides. We would have no problems getting on and off. After some hemming and hawing, the manager wrote a letter saying that we didn't need to sign a waiver to ride the rides. He then told us that, if we showed this letter to the ride operator, there should be no problem. He also apologized for the poor treatment that one of his employees had given us.
We wanted to see if his solution worked. We went back to the scene of the crime--the ferris wheel. We got in line again and waited to see what would happen. When we approached the operator, he said "Do you have a waiver to ride this?" We simply said that we had a letter from his boss saying that we didn't have to sign a waiver, just give him our tickets and get on the ride. That is exactly what we did.
In checking with other NFB members working the booth, we discovered that no one else had been asked to sign a waiver or hassled the way we had been. We wondered why. Did the ride operator have a grudge against us, or was it simply a case of random discrimination? We have concluded it was the latter. The thing that really annoyed us was that on one side of the fair we were working to promote a positive view of blindness by staffing the NFB booth. But on the fair midway we had an experience like this. It really made us think hard about the importance of the NFB's teachings about the capabilities of blind people.
Both of us are very glad we are members of the National Federation of the Blind. By handling this situation ourselves, we reinforced the spirit of the Federation. We must all continue to work to eliminate discrimination towards blind people, but the work started in 1940 by Dr. tenBroek and the others who first organized the NFB won't be complete until we eliminate all discrimination. We are both more aware of discrimination after this event, and it has made us both better people.
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