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The Braille Monitor,  November 2001 EditionThis is a line.

A New Day Dawning: The NFB Breaks Ground for the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind

by Barbara Pierce

White Cane Safety Day, October 15, 1998, was beautifully sunny with a deep blue autumnal sky and gentle breezes lifting the hair of the mourners as we walked from St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church to Dr. Jernigan’s grave site. That day we promised him and each other that somehow we would find the strength and creativity to build the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind (NRTIB), which had been his final and most ambitious dream for the organized blind movement. Almost exactly three years have passed since that day when we said good-bye to our beloved friend and leader, and they have been three busy years of planning and working. Neither the work nor the plans are finished; in fact we will probably look back and recognize that in many ways they are just beginning.

Yet many of those gathered at the National Center for the Blind on October 19, 2001, strongly felt Dr. Jernigan’s presence with us and his influence on us as we stood again in the bright October sunshine and took part in the ground-breaking ceremonies for the NRTIB. An audience of some three hundred stood along Wells Street, at the south boundary of our property. Part of the floor of the dismantled building had been preserved to serve as the stage for the various presentations. Print and Braille programs were, of course, available, and at 10:30 a.m. precisely President Maurer opened the program. A number of dignitaries and contributors spoke briefly, and Dr. Maurer presented each with a gold shovel with which to take part in the actual ground breaking.

The following sample of remarks captures the spirit of the event:

Carl Jacobsen (at the podium) and Dr. Maurer
Carl Jacobsen (at the podium) and Dr. Maurer

The first speaker was the President of the NFB of New York, who reported on the situation of blind New Yorkers following the terrorist attack of September 11.

Carl Jacobsen:

I bring you greetings from New York. We are down, but we are not out. Not a day went by that someone didn’t call me, or, if I was talking with someone, that I was not asked, “How are you doing in New York? Do you know people who were hurt?”

To everyone we say, “Thank you, America, for caring.” Likewise I got a call from Dr. Maurer a couple of days after September 11—I don’t remember exactly when—and he said, “I’m going to send you some money. We know blind people have been affected by the tragedy. Find them; help them, and, when you need more, call me.” Dr. Maurer, we have found plenty of people who have needed that help for technology replacement. Not only blind vendors—seventeen Randolph-Sheppard facilities have been affected by this, a good 15 percent of New York’s program. A lot of it is missing; a lot of it will never come back. And a lot of vendors are seriously damaged. We have been assisting them as well as other blind people who were displaced from their jobs. We have gotten portable technology and have been meeting their technological needs. For that we thank Mr. Chong as well.

It’s safe to say that other help will be on the way. Our state agency is committed to make whole the Randolph-Sheppard vendors and other people who were hurt by this attack. However, it needs to be said that, while our state agency has responded in what is a timely response for a state agency (and it is still responding—we have the word of our agency director, Tom Robertson, that he will do everything that he can—and he is rather creative and a good guy—to make everyone whole) the first one on the scene with direct help to the blind people of New York was the National Federation of the Blind. And for that, Dr. Maurer, every blind person in New York thanks you.

The people who launched the attacks on New York underestimated Americans. They didn’t know what they let themselves in for. Time will tell. The news every day tells us more about what they have unleashed. Those people certainly did underestimate Americans.

Likewise society at large has underestimated blind people. As long ago as sixty-one years and as recently probably as yesterday, people have said that blind people can’t do X, Y, or Z. Two years ago, when we launched this project, there were those who doubted—probably a few who didn’t even think it was a good idea—but a lot who doubted that we would do this. We are here today to tell them that they were wrong too.

Just as our opponents have underestimated Americans, society has underestimated blind people. We will build this building. It is fitting that, as New York begins to rebuild, we will be building also for a better future for us and for the next generation of blind people.

We appreciate your help, and New Yorkers will stand behind the Federation to help build this building. I remind us all that we are as good as our determination lets us be. I believe that we have the determination to build this building, and we have the determination to rebuild America. God bless the National Federation of the Blind, and God bless America.

Michael Hingson is the long-time member of the NFB whose office was on the seventy-eighth floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower One.

Michael Hingson
Michael Hingson

Questions and Choices

by Michael Hingson

September 11 was a day of change for the entire world. It was a day of destruction. It was a day of terror. It was a day of questions. Also it was a day that offered choices for us all.

Some of us were involved personally in the events of that day. I was on the seventy-eighth floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York when an aircraft slammed into the building. I faced personally the terror, the destruction, and the challenges of a rapid building-evacuation. I experienced first-hand debris falling around me as I fled for my life during the collapse of Tower Two.

Since the Center’s destruction I have asked many questions as have all of us. For example, what kind of being would plan and carry out such a campaign of mass death and destruction against innocent bystanders? How can I possibly help console those who lost loved ones? Finally, where do we go from here?

The media have taken notice of me and my guide dog Roselle because our story is different. The question asked of me most often is “How did you get out of the building?” My immediate reaction is to answer that I walked down the stairs, of course. I know there is also a question which is never asked. This question is “How can any blind person be working in the World Trade Center?” My real answer to both questions is the same. It is this:

The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind is that blindness is not our handicap; poor attitudes and misconceptions about blindness are the largest barrier we face.

Long ago I adopted the Federation’s philosophy that it is OK to be blind. I made a conscious choice to live my life to its fullest. I adopted the reality that I can use alternative techniques to sight in order to go about my business.

In this light getting out of the World Trade Center was the same for me as for the others who escaped except for my employing the technique of using a guide dog. I would also add that, due to the incredible volume of dust and smoke, no amount of eyesight helped those near the buildings as they collapsed.

I know that having a strong positive attitude about myself as a blind person helped me to focus and thus to survive the terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, not all blind persons have had the opportunity to embrace the upbeat philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

The ground we break today will open new opportunities for blind persons to climb their individual mountains even in ways not yet conceived. The creation we begin today is more than a physical place. It is the embodiment of the ideas and ideals nurtured by tens of thousands of blind persons. It will be a place where we can remember and ponder our past. It will provide an environment to learn as well as to teach. Here blind people will move forward on their own life journeys.

People everywhere are still asking their questions about September 11. It remains to be seen whether or not we as a world community will learn and grow from the tragedy. For years we who are blind have been asking questions and seeking answers about ourselves. This new institute will represent the choices we make. I pray that all of us, blind and sighted, will find ways to move forward past our own personal roadblocks. God bless you all.

President Maurer, who acted as the master of ceremonies, next made his own brief remarks.

Marc Maurer: Several months ago, as the leader of the National Federation of the Blind, I traveled to Beijing, China, to work with other organizations throughout the world to promote opportunity for the blind. During the time I was there, I rented an automobile and driver, and I drove through the countryside. That trip was instructive. In the United States a construction site for road building or the erection of a structure will contain workers and heavy equipment. In China there are many workers, but the tools are frequently picks and shovels rather than earth-moving equipment. There are fewer machines but more hands.

The National Federation of the Blind, the leader in work with the blind in the United States, working with the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund and the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, breaks ground today for the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. We are building a facility which will conduct research and undertake training. How can blind people best be taught to read? How can the brainpower of the blind be most effectively harnessed? What is the optimal multi-media environment for information-transfer to the blind? What is it that unlocks creativity?

The facility is essential, but the brick and mortar and steel cannot by themselves do what must be done. For this we must have hands—the instruments of human endeavor that carry out the imaginative essence of our being. The hands are those of researchers who will create products to expand access for the blind to information, to the transportation system, to the business community, and to other elements within our society. The hands are those of teachers who will inaugurate training programs that broaden the horizon for the blind and for others. The hands are those of contributors who have had the faith to join with us to dream of a brighter tomorrow.

Then there are the hands of those who are blind in America—the hands of those who have done the work in big and little ways to bring us to this event—who have sold the chocolate bars and met with public service clubs and studied the Braille and written the letters and prepared the agendas and encouraged the newly blinded and never stopped believing in what we might become. Many of the blind you observe here today, but there are others—thousands of others. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who founded the National Federation of the Blind in 1940 and led it until his death in 1968; Dr Kenneth Jernigan, who established the National Center for the Blind and whose imaginative genius conceived the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind; and the thousands of others who are here with us only in spirit. They worked and planned so that we might build, and they would glory in what we inaugurate today.

Those who are blind know the world through sound, through scent, and through taste. But much of what we know comes through touch. Very often our hands are the instruments for gaining knowledge as well as devices for teaching others or the tools for implementing change. We invite all who wish for positive improvement to join with us. If we have enough hands, we can move the earth, build a research institute, or alter our world for the better.

We come today to build an institute for the blind, but the blind are not alone—we live alongside our sighted colleagues and friends. We want to contribute to the larger society, and we want the recognition that comes with full participation. We have brought with us our capable hands. We have, as you know, the ability to imagine and to dream; but we also know how to work. Our job today is to move the earth at our building site. Our job in the years to come is to move toward greater opportunity for the blind so that we can build together the nation that will serve us all.

 

Senator Barbara Mikulski
Senator Barbara Mikulski

United States Senator from Maryland Barbara Mikulski: Well, Brother Patriots and Sister Patriots, are we ready to fight for America? Are we ready to fight for America’s future? This ground breaking is one of the tools to get our country ready for the future so that we are fit for duty to make sure we have national recovery and national security and to empower all of our people. I am so glad to be here with you today.

Dr. Marc Maurer, thank you for being the President of the NFB and for the leadership you are providing. To Jim Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs, what a great job you have been doing. And your wonderful Betsy Zaborowski, who is at every meeting, everywhere there are two or three gathered together, she’s out there pushing for this institute and insisting that blind people have a future today and tomorrow in this country.

Wow! to my colleagues in government, I’m so glad to see all of you here today, and also the private philanthropic givers like the Marriott Foundation, and others who are here. To my dear colleagues who once served in the Congress but now find other ways to serve: my old pal, who was once head of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, Pat Schroeder. She is as feisty and outspoken as she was then. With her job in the American publishing industry, I know what a great job she is doing for you. Bob Livingston, who once headed up the Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives, is now here working with you to make sure that you have a future and that it’s not only in the federal law books but in the federal checkbook. God bless you, Bob, we love working with you. We’re all here, and we’re Team Maryland, and we’re Team USA.

Why are we here? Because we believe in you, and we believe in the possibilities in the future that this [building] represents. I know that over the last sixty years the Federation has committed itself to be an advocate for the nation’s blind and visually impaired—whether those people were born with birth defects, whether they faced horrific accidents, or whether they bear the permanent wounds of war. The NFB has been there for them, inventing new ways to provide tools for self-sufficiency and opportunity. Right here in our own town of Baltimore since 1978, the Federation has committed itself to Baltimore. They took an old building that didn’t have a use anymore and not only recycled it for a new use but for a new opportunity. We Baltimoreans thank you for picking this as the headquarters since 1978 and into the future.

The NFB has done a great job of bringing information and resources and training, and now it’s on the brink of even greater opportunity with this ground breaking for the National Research and Training Institute. What will this Institute do? It will be focused on technology. It will mean that blind people and those who are visually impaired will cross the digital divide. Bill Gates says that you are either on one side or the other. If you’re on the right side of the divide, meaning that you have access to technology and access to those who can teach you how to use the technology, your future as an individual, a community, and a country is bright.

We want to make sure that blind and visually impaired people are on the right side of the divide. We want to eliminate the 70 percent unemployment rate among the blind. We want to help to empower our children. We want blind people to enjoy the same technological advances that sighted people do. These are the tools for the future. I believe that everyone here who has that opportunity will make an enormous contribution. We also know that the Institute will create lots of jobs here in Baltimore, but what we are so excited about is that giving people the tools of empowerment will create jobs for blind and visually impaired people throughout the United States of America.

We are on your side. As your Senator I am very hard at work. During the last week Senator Sarbanes and I have been under particular stress. Our offices are right there near Senator Daschle’s: my office is right above Senator Daschle’s; Senator Sarbanes’s is right below it. The news looks good for our staff, for our offices, and for ourselves. But I will tell you that Senator Sarbanes and I did not flinch from our duty, nor did the people who work for us. We had to shut down our offices, but we immediately moved to the Capitol and found little cubbyholes in which to work.

I want to tell you what Senator Sarbanes is doing. He is working for you on the Housing and Banking Committee, and he is working with President Bush to make sure we have a money laundering bill so that terrorists can’t get to their checkbooks or to their bankbooks. Senator Sarbanes has been leading the fight against money laundering and leading the fight to make sure that you have housing opportunities in the United States of America.

My job is to fund FEMA. I am working with Tom Ridge and President Bush with Homeland Security to make sure that we have the Federal Emergency Management systems in place so that, no matter what happens, we’ll be prepared and ready to respond. We have been working out of these little cubbyholes with cell phones (and with one computer, I might add) to be able to do this. So we are on the job, and we are there.

Working together, Senator Sarbanes in the Budget Committee and I in Appropriations, we were able to put in place $500,000 to help contribute to the funding of this building. It is in on the Senate side, but we are now working in the House to get them to agree. That’s why we’re working in those little cubbyholes, and I will meet with my House counterparts any place, any time. I’ll meet them in Starbucks; I’ll meet them in Little Italy; I’ll meet them anywhere. I want you to have this $500,000, and we are going to do it. As our dear friends and brave neighbors from New York said: They couldn’t stop us. They might have figured out our airline schedules, but they didn’t figure us out. They did not realize how tough we are, how strong we are, and how we will work together.

The people in New York, who are our heroes (even two sitting up here today) show three things: they had character, they had competence, and they had a sense of community. That’s what we need to be able to do: keep America strong, not only fight the terrorists, but make sure that our country is strong and stay on track for education, a prescription benefit for seniors. We have many agendas, but I will tell you that, because we do have character, because this country has competence, and because we also have commitment, we are going to make this century not only the safest century, but a century of hope and opportunity for everybody. God bless you, and God bless America!

Senator Paul Sarbanes
Senator Paul Sarbanes

United States Senator from Maryland Paul Sarbanes: I am delighted to be back with you. The significance and importance of this occasion cannot be overstated. This is an incredible leap forward for the Federation: to have the world’s finest and most complete research facility. But in an important sense it’s an incredible leap forward for our society. I was with Ken Jernigan at the Canadian embassy shortly before he passed away, when he received an award. He spoke so movingly on that occasion with respect to the National Federation of the Blind and its work. As Marc Maurer pointed out in the paper this morning in a very perceptive observation, it’s the National Federation of the Blind, not the National Federation for the Blind. It’s not people doing things for the blind; it’s the blind doing things themselves to build a better world.

I was struck that day, as Ken spoke so movingly, and I thought to myself: what a magnificent vision this man has had all through his life, a vision that was more profound, more clear, more focused than that of sighted people. Ken Jernigan had a vision of what could be accomplished. The fact that we are standing here today is a reflection of that vision, carried forward under the magnificent leadership which Marc Maurer has provided to the Federation, after succeeding Ken.

So I am very pleased to come and be with you today and to recognize that this Institute, added on to the already existing work of the Federation, will help America realize the strength that our society can gain by the full participation of the blind in the life of the nation. Now that we are challenged as a nation in a way that we have never experienced before so that we need to reach down and draw on that strength and character of mind and heart, which has made this a great country, we should look to the blind as a resource that can come forth and help to strengthen our nation. That is what this Institute will help to do , and that is why I am so pleased to be here today with you for this ground breaking.

Barbara Walker
Barbara Walker

Indeed every speaker who addressed the audience during the ceremonies spoke to the point of what this ground breaking meant and seemed to grasp the significance of this new endeavor. One of the most moving speakers was Barbara Walker, President of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. This is what she said:

Life brings us many opportunities when memories and dreams intersect. Today is one of those, and it reminds me of several others I have witnessed in my lifetime. On October 12 of 1998 I received word that Dr. Jernigan, my mentor, colleague, friend, had died. As the grief washed over me, I thought about the events of that day in my life. One that kept recurring was that that morning, the very morning that he was dying, I began to work with a nine-year-old blind child. I had met him ten days previous to that, but that morning we sat in a library, and I began to mentor this boy in the use of Braille. One of the techniques we have used is that, when I have read aloud to him—he earns that once in a while by reading aloud a specific amount himself—I have asked him to place his hands on top of mine so that he can learn the motion, the touch of efficient Braille reading.

A couple of weeks ago, as he was reading part of Black Beauty, he stopped in mid-sentence to say to me, “Something feels different. My hands are gliding across the page; I’m not getting every word, but it almost feels as if your hands are under mine. But they’re really not; my own are doing it.” It felt like a kind of ground breaking for him.

The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults wants to make this kind of ground breaking possible for children throughout the country. We know, as Dr. Maurer pointed out, that it will take many hands, many minds, many people working together to make this a reality. But when I think of this day and Dr. Jernigan’s dreams and our work currently going on and how much more efficiently we can do it with the Research and Training Institute, I am very pleased to be a part of this day, this event, and what it means for our future. We truly will be able to change what it means to be blind for all blind people and for our society. Thank you.

Listening to Barbara speak, we were all caught up in the sense that Dr. Jernigan’s hands were somehow supporting ours as we moved forward into this new adventure and challenge.

Chief Judge Robert Bell addresses the audience.
Chief Judge Robert Bell addresses the audience.

Here are the names of the others who addressed the audience: Benjamin L. Cardin, United States Congress; Robert Ehrlich, United States Congress; Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge, Court of Appeals of Maryland; Sheila Dixon, President, Baltimore City Council; Major F. Riddick, Jr., Chairman, Governor’s Information Technology Board; Patricia Schroeder, President, Association of American Publishers; Joanne Wilson, Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration, United States Department of Education; Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, Member, Maryland House of Delegates; Walden W. O’Dell, President and CEO, Diebold, Inc.; and Stephen Marriott, The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation.

As Steve Marriott was finishing his remarks, members of the NFB, Action Fund, and Jacobus tenBroek Fund Boards of Directors quietly picked up their own shovels and spread out along the front of the platform, where a seventy-five-foot strip of softened ground had been prepared. They were joined by the speakers and President Maurer. On the count of three everyone inserted shovels and threw the dirt forward.

The crowd listens to the speakers.
The crowd listens to the speakers.

President Maurer’s shovel struck a large object that was buried in the dirt, and several of the dignitaries helped to unearth it far enough to enable the track hoe to pick it up and place it on the stage. It turned out to be a box measuring forty-eight inches wide, thirty inches long, and thirty inches high. It was painted to look like brick and had a picture of the new Institute on the front. The box was opened with much fanfare, and a number of items were withdrawn. Each represented a program or project that we may well tackle during the years ahead, once the Institute is in operation.

With that the ceremony ended, and everyone went back to the large dining room at the National Center for the Blind to enjoy a delicious lunch.

The row of dignitaries prepares to let the dirt fly.
The row of dignitaries prepares to let the dirt fly.

Late that afternoon some six hundred NFB members and supporters from Baltimore and across the country began gathering in a fifth-floor ballroom at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel in downtown Baltimore for a black-tie gala evening, for which Steve Marriott was the honorary chairman. A small reception began at 5:00, and a silent auction with hors d’oeuvres took place from 5:30 to 7:00 when the dinner began.

 

 

 

Congressman Ben Cardin, Jim Gashel. and Congressman Bob Ehrlich clear sand away rom the top of the buried box.
(Left to right) Congressman Ben Cardin, Jim Gashel, and Congressman Bob Ehrlich clear sand away from the top of the buried box.

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Gala guests mingle and enjoy the hors d'oeuvres during the silent auction.
Gala guests mingle and enjoy the hors d’oeuvres during the silent auction.

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The track hoe lifts the box out of the ground before lowering it onto the stage.
The track hoe lifts the box out of the ground before lowering it onto the stage.

Dr. Fred Schroeder served as the master of ceremonies for the evening and did a wonderful job of keeping the program moving. Ana Maria Ugarte, Past President of the National Association of Blind Students and a professional soprano, sang “America the Beautiful” a cappella, and every word could be heard in the silent room. Then three Federationists, representing the Muslim and Jewish faiths and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, provided invocations. A number of people spoke briefly, including Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor. Adalius Thomas and James Trapp, players on the Baltimore Ravens Football Team, helped announce the winners of the various silent auction items. A multi-media presentation about the Institute was also shown. Here are the remarks that President Maurer made:

It has frequently been said that nobody is indispensable to the future of an organization, an enterprise, or a nation. Yet we revere great leaders for their sagacity. The reality is more complex than the old saw suggests.  Nobody who possesses the wrong temperament is indispensable. All others are absolutely vital. Those who have the talent, the drive, and the dedication to a cause are essential to its continued progress.

Ana Ugarte singing "America the Beautiful"
Ana Ugarte singing “America the Beautiful”
Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend at the podium.
Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend at the podium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Federation of the Blind was founded in 1940 by Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and a handful of others, sixty-one years ago. Thirty-eight years after its founding the Federation acquired the National Center for the Blind, and we have now had it for twenty-three years. Today we have broken ground for the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind.

Ehab Yamini Norman Gardner David Stayer

         Ehab Yamini, Norman Gardner, and David Stayer each offer an invocation.

History is no predictor of the future, but it gives an indication of a method of approach for an individual or an organization. So what have we done since the founding of the National Center for the Blind, and what will we do in the time ahead? In the twenty-three years since the founding of the National Center for the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind has created training centers for blind adults in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Colorado. We have established the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and begun the circulation of Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children. We have established the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, and we have initiated training classes in technology.

President Maurer addresses the gala audience.   The band can be seen behind him.
President Maurer addresses the gala audience. The band can be seen behind him.

We have distributed more than two million dollars in scholarship funds to blind students throughout the United States. We have published twenty-one Kernel Books and distributed nearly five million copies of them. We have created the NEWSLINE® for the Blind Network and brought more than forty newspapers into the homes of blind people throughout our nation. We have invented the Jobline Network®, which offers access to hundreds of thousands of job listings in America’s Job Bank to blind and sighted people in every part of the United States. We have mailed more than a hundred million items of information to thehomes of Americans describing the innate capacity and normality of the blind, and we have provided leadership to others to instill the greatest harmony and cooperation that have ever existed in the history of work with the blind. But perhaps of most importance we have continued to do what we have always done—provide hope and belief for those who become blind—provide encouragement and support for people who wonder what their lives might be worth.

Both my wife Patricia and I are blind. Less than twenty-three years ago I held in my hands a newborn baby—the first in the Maurer family. He was tiny, weighing a little more than three and a half pounds, but he was ours. I knew as I held him that giving him sustenance, opportunity, and a spirit of independence would be in large measure my responsibility.

Years later I held the hand of a man, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who had been my teacher and who had contracted a fatal illness. I knew that the work to which he had devoted his life would, in large measure, become my responsibility. He knew that he would not be at the ground breaking; he knew that he could not stand with us at the ribbon cutting to open our new facility. But he also knew with absolute certainty that the ground breaking would take place and that there would be a ribbon cutting.

New life is our business, from the newborn baby to the new program to the new institute. Sometimes we encourage blind parents to know that blind people have the talent to raise children. Sometimes we teach that the blind can gain a new kind of life by engaging in enterprises they had believed were beyond them. Sometimes we establish new programs or create an entire institute.

 How many blind people have felt that for them there was no future? How many have known only loneliness and the despair associated with isolation? How many have felt that the trials, the pain, and the joy of having a family to nurture were beyond them? The longing to possess the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, to acquire the skills essential to participation in the workplace and other activities of society, and the urge to be recognized as fully integrated citizens have brought us together in the Federation family. We have not always known what was possible for us, but we have accepted the challenge to explore new frontiers—a challenge which has come from the hopes and dreams of the blind at the time of our beginning and has remained with us ever since. Ours is a faith in ourselves and in our sighted colleagues and friends.

Can the blind serve food in a restaurant? Can we learn computer programming? Can we become entrepreneurs? Can we muster the talent for higher education and the professions? Can we manage far-flung enterprises? Can we wash dishes, shovel snow, plant a garden, operate a chain-saw, or use an ax? Those of us in the National Federation of the Blind take these things for granted, but we are not satisfied. In our research and training institute we intend to undertake programs that will challenge the assumptions that others have about us and sometimes challenge those we have about ourselves.

Sometimes we engage in adventure; sometimes we climb the highest peaks; sometimes we scale the ivory towers of academe; and sometimes we apply our inventive imagination to the everyday problems confronting us all. If we expect the blind to achieve in ways defined by the most exalted standards, we must demand excellence. Those who believe the blind have little capability expect little, and they get it. However, this is not our approach. We expect productivity, and productivity is what we get.

So far as I have been able to determine, no blind person has ever won the Nobel Prize. However, not long ago a blind marine biologist, Geerat Vermeij, won the MacArthur award known as the genius award. Will a blind person win the Nobel Prize? I feel confident that it will happen.

How can we foster creativity? Nobody knows for certain. However, some of the elements are obvious. We must believe in our talents, and we must demand first-class performance. We must not accept excuses, and we must never quit trying to be all that we can be.

Most of us will never make it to the top of a mountain or to the winner’s circle in the competition for the Nobel Prize. However, each one of us has a contribution to make. If we expect excellence in ourselves, we will create the environment for excellence in others. I am not talking here only of intellectual pursuits, though that is a part of it. If we believe in each other, support each other, dream of a brighter tomorrow, and work to bring it into being, we will ensure success for ourselves and those around us. Nobody, we are told, is indispensable. However, we need everybody with determination and the right spirit. We cannot change the past, but tomorrow is ours, for we will never stop trying, never stop working, never stop believing until it is. This is the reality of the National Federation of the Blind and the reason for the creation of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind.

Despite Mrs. Maurer's broken ankle, she and President Maurer enjoy a dance together.
Despite Mrs. Maurer’s broken ankle, she and President Maurer enjoy a dance together.

 

 

The evening ended in a shower of balloons and a dance. Many members of the Federation family and our friends and supporters had shared a memorable day and had grown in understanding of the historic importance of our new Institute. Now the real work begins.

Guests took to the dance floor as balloons drifted down.
Guests took to the dance floor as balloons drifted down. Board Member and NFB of Oregon President Carla McQuillan is in the foreground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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