The Braille Monitor                                                                                       March 2003

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Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind?

From the Editor: Periodically we revise and reprint in the Braille Monitor a document we have used for years now. It includes profiles of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and members of the current NFB board of directors. It is high time to provide it again, so here it is:

Introduction

The National Federation of the Blind has become by far the most significant force in the affairs of the blind today, and its actions have had an impact on many other groups and programs. The Federation's president, Marc Maurer, radiates confidence and persuasiveness. He says, "If I can find twenty people who care about a thing, then we can get it done. And if there are two hundred, two thousand, or twenty thousand, that's even better." The National Federation of the Blind is a civil rights movement with all that the term implies.

President Maurer says, "You can't expect to obtain freedom by having somebody else hand it to you. You have to do the job yourself. The French could not have won the American Revolution for us. That would merely have shifted the governing authority from one colonial power to another. So too we the blind are the only ones who can win freedom for the blind, which is both frightening and reassuring. If we don't get out and do what we must, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We have control of the essential elements."

Although many organizations and agencies for the blind exist in the United States today, there is only one National Federation of the Blind. This organization was established in 1940 when the blind of seven states--California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin--sent delegates to its first convention at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Since that time progress has been rapid and steady. The Federation is recognized by blind men and women throughout the entire country as their primary means of joint expression; and today--with active affiliates in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico--it is the primary voice of the nation's blind.

To explain this spectacular growth, three questions must be asked and answered: (1) What are the conditions in the general environment of the blind which have impelled them to organize? (2) What are the purpose, belief, and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind? (3) Who are its leaders, and what are their qualifications to understand and solve the problems of blindness? Even a brief answer to these questions is instructive.

When the Federation came into being in 1940, the outlook for the blind was anything but bright. The nation's welfare system was so discouraging to individual initiative that those forced to accept public assistance had little hope of ever achieving self-support again, and those who sought competitive employment in regular industry or the professions found most of the doors barred against them. The universal good will expressed toward the blind was not the wholesome good will of respect felt toward equals; it was the misguided good will of pity felt toward inferiors. In effect the system said to the blind, "Sit on the sidelines of life. This game is not for you. If you have creative talents, we are sorry, but we cannot use them." The Federation came into being to combat these expressions of discrimination and to promote new ways of thought concerning blindness. Although great progress has been made toward the achievement of these goals, much still remains to be done.

The Federation believes that blind people are essentially normal and that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap. It can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. Legal, economic, and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that the blind are somehow different from the sighted must be abolished, and equal opportunity must be made available to blind people. Because of their personal experience with blindness, the blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems, but the general public should be invited to participate in finding solutions. Upon these fundamentals the National Federation of the Blind predicates its philosophy.

As for the leadership of the organization, all of the officers and members of the board of directors are blind, and all give generously of their time and resources in promoting the work of the Federation. The board consists of seventeen elected members, five of whom are the constitutional officers of the organization. These members of the board of directors represent a wide cross section of the blind population of the United States. Their backgrounds are different, and their experiences vary widely; but they are drawn together by the common bond of having met blindness individually and successfully in their own lives and by their united desire to see other blind people have the opportunity to do likewise. A profile of the leadership of the organization shows why it is so effective and demonstrates the progress made by blind people during the past half-century and more‑‑for in the story of the lives of these leaders can be found the greatest testimonial to the soundness of the Federation's philosophy. The cumulative record of their individual achievements is an overwhelming proof, leading to an inescapable conclusion.

Dr. Jacobus tenBroek

Author, Jurist, Professor
Founder of the National Federation of the Blind

Jacobus tenBroek
Jacobus tenBroek

The moving force in the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, and its spiritual and intellectual father, was Jacobus tenBroek. Born in 1911, young tenBroek (the son of a prairie homesteader in Canada) lost the sight of one eye as the result of a bow‑and‑arrow accident at the age of seven. His remaining eyesight deteriorated until at the age of fourteen he was totally blind. Shortly afterward he and his family traveled to Berkeley so that he could attend the California School for the Blind. Within three years he was an active part of the local organization of the blind.

By 1934 he had joined Dr. Newel Perry and others to form the California Council of the Blind, which later became the National Federation of the Blind of California. This organization was a prototype for the nationwide federation that tenBroek would form six years later.

 The same year the Federation was founded (1940), Jacobus tenBroek received his doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of California, completed a year as Brandeis Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, and was appointed to the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School.

Two years later he began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, becoming a full professor in 1953, chairman of the department of speech in 1955, and professor of political science in 1963. During this period Professor tenBroek published several books and more than fifty articles and monographs in the fields of welfare, government, and law--establishing a reputation as one of the nation's foremost scholars on matters of constitutional law. One of his books, Prejudice, War, and the Constitution, won the Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science Association in 1955 as the best book of the year on government and democracy. Other books are California's Dual System of Family Law (1964), Hope Deferred: Public Welfare and the Blind (1959), The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment (1951)--revised and republished in 1965 as Equal Under Law, and The Law of the Poor (edited in 1966).

 In the course of his academic career Professor tenBroek was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto and was twice the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1947 he earned the degree of S.J.D. from Harvard Law School. In addition he was awarded honorary degrees by two institutions of higher learning.

Hazel tenBroek
Hazel tenBroek

Dr. tenBroek's lifelong companion was his devoted wife Hazel. Together they raised three children and worked inseparably on research, writing, and academic and Federation projects. Until her declining health prevented travel, Mrs. tenBroek continued as an active member of the organized blind movement.

In 1950 Dr. tenBroek was made a member of the California State Board of Social Welfare by Governor Earl Warren. Later reappointed to the board three times, he was elected its chairman in 1960 and served in that capacity until 1963.

 The brilliance of Jacobus tenBroek's career led some skeptics to suggest that his achievements were beyond the reach of what they called the "ordinary blind person." What tenBroek recognized in himself was not that he was exceptional, but that he was normal--that his blindness had nothing to do with whether he could be a successful husband and father, do scholarly research, write a book, make a speech, guide students engaged in social action, or otherwise lead a productive life.

Jacobus tenBroek died of cancer at the age of fifty‑six in 1968. His successor, Kenneth Jernigan, in a memorial address, said truly of him: "The relationship of this man to the organized blind movement, which he brought into being in the United States and around the world, was such that it would be equally accurate to say that the man was the embodiment of the movement or that the movement was the expression of the man.

"For tens of thousands of blind Americans over more than a quarter of a century, he was leader, mentor, spokesman, and philosopher. He gave to the organized blind movement the force of his intellect and the shape of his dreams. He made it the symbol of a cause barely imagined before his coming: the cause of self‑expression, self‑direction, and self‑sufficiency on the part of blind people. Step by step, year by year, action by action, he made that cause succeed."

Kenneth Jernigan

Teacher, Writer, Administrator

Kenneth and Mary Ellen Jernigan
Kenneth and Mary Ellen Jernigan

Kenneth Jernigan was a leader in the National Federation of the Blind for more than forty‑six years. He was president (with one brief interruption) from 1968 until July of 1986. Even after Jernigan ceased to be president of the Federation, he continued as one of its principal leaders until his death on October 12, 1998. He was loved and respected by tens of thousands‑‑members and nonmembers of the Federation, both blind and sighted.

Born in 1926, Kenneth Jernigan grew up on a farm in central Tennessee. He received his elementary and secondary education at the school for the blind in Nashville. After high school Jernigan managed a furniture shop in Beech Grove, Tennessee, making all the furniture and operating the business.

In the fall of 1945 Jernigan matriculated at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Active in campus affairs from the outset, he was soon elected to office in his class and to important positions in other student organizations. Jernigan graduated with honors in 1948 with a B.S. degree in social science. In 1949 he received a master's degree in English from Peabody College in Nashville, where he subsequently completed additional graduate study. While at Peabody he was a staff writer for the school newspaper, co‑founder of an independent literary magazine, and member of the Writers' Club. In 1949 he received the Captain Charles W. Browne Award, at that time presented annually by the American Foundation for the Blind to the nation's outstanding blind student.

Jernigan then spent four years as a teacher of English at the Tennessee School for the Blind. During this period he became active in the Tennessee Association of the Blind (now the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee). He was elected to the vice presidency of the organization in 1950 and to the presidency in 1951. In that position he planned the 1952 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, which was held in Nashville, and he then planned every NFB national convention through 1998.

In 1952 Jernigan was first elected to the NFB board of directors, and in 1953 he was appointed to the faculty of the California Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland, where he played a major role in developing the best program of its kind then in existence.

 From 1958 until 1978 he served as director of the Iowa State Commission for the Blind. In this capacity he was responsible for administering state rehabilitation programs, home teaching, home industries, an orientation and adjustment center, and library services for the blind and physically handicapped. The improvements made in services to the blind of Iowa under the Jernigan administration have never before or since been equaled anywhere in the country.

In 1960 the Federation presented Jernigan with its Newel Perry Award for outstanding accomplishment in services for the blind. In 1968 he was given a special citation by the president of the United States. Harold Russell, the chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, came to Des Moines to present the award. He said: "If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than anywhere else in the nation or in the world. This statement," the citation went on to say, "sums up the story of the Iowa Commission for the Blind during the Jernigan years and more pertinently of its director, Kenneth Jernigan. That narrative is much more than a success story. It is the story of high aspiration magnificently accomplished‑‑of an impossible dream become reality."

Jernigan received too many honors and awards to enumerate individually, including honorary doctorates from four institutions of higher education. He was also asked to serve as a special consultant to or member of numerous boards and advisory bodies. The most notable among these are member of the National Advisory Committee on Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (appointed in 1972 by the secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare); special consultant on services for the blind (appointed in 1975 by the federal commissioner of rehabilitation); advisor on museum programs for blind visitors to the Smithsonian Institution (appointed in 1975); special advisor to the White House Conference on Library and Information Services (appointed in 1977 by President Gerald Ford). In July of 1990 Jernigan received an award for distinguished service from the president of the United States.

To date he has been the only person ever to be invited to deliver keynote addresses to the primary gatherings of the two worldwide blindness organizations in a single year: the fourth quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union in August 1996 and the annual meeting of the International Council for the Education of the Visually Impaired in spring 1997. In 1998 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the first ever International Leadership Award from the American Foundation for the Blind, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's Winston Gordon Award for his leadership in establishing NEWSLINE® for the Blind.

Kenneth Jernigan's writings and speeches on blindness are better known and have touched the lives of more blind people than those of any other person writing today. From 1991 until his death he edited the NFB's immensely popular series of paperbacks known as the Kernel Books. On July 23, 1975, he spoke before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and his address was broadcast live throughout the nation on National Public Radio. Through the years he appeared repeatedly on network radio and television interview programs.

In 1978 Jernigan moved to Baltimore to become executive director of the American Brotherhood for the Blind (now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults) and director of the National Center for the Blind. As president of the National Federation of the Blind at that time, he led the organization through the most impressive period of growth in its history to date. The creation and development of the National Center for the Blind and the NFB's expansion into its position today as the most influential voice and force in the affairs of the blind stand as the culmination of Kenneth Jernigan's lifework and a tribute to his brilliance and commitment to the blind of this nation.

From 1987 to 1997 he played an active role internationally as president of the North America/Caribbean region of the World Blind Union. He traveled widely and spoke frequently before international groups about blindness and the NFB's positive philosophy that changes lives and society.

Jernigan's dynamic wife Mary Ellen remains an active member of the Federation. Although sighted, she works with dedication in the movement and is known and loved by thousands of Federationists throughout the country.

Speaking at a convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Jernigan said of the organization and its philosophy (and also of his own philosophy):

"As we look ahead, the world holds more hope than gloom for us‑‑and, best of all, the future is in our own hands. For the first time in history we can be our own masters and do with our lives what we will; and the sighted (as they learn who we are and what we are) can and will work with us as equals and partners. In other words we are capable of full membership in society, and the sighted are capable of accepting us as such‑‑and, for the most part, they want to.

"We want no Uncle Toms‑‑no sellouts, no apologists, no rationalizers; but we also want no militant hell‑raisers or unbudging radicals. One will hurt our cause as much as the other. We must win true equality in society, but we must not dehumanize ourselves in the process; and we must not forget the graces and amenities, the compassions and courtesies which comprise civilization itself and distinguish people from animals and life from existence.

"Let people call us what they will and say what they please about our motives and our movement. There is only one way for the blind to achieve first‑class citizenship and true equality. It must be done through collective action and concerted effort; and that means the National Federation of the Blind. There is no other way, and those who say otherwise are either uninformed or unwilling to face the facts.

"We are the strongest force in the affairs of the blind today, and we must also recognize the responsibilities of power and the fact that we must build a world that is worth living in when the war is over‑‑and, for that matter, while we are fighting it. In short, we must use both love and a club, and we must have sense enough to know when to do which‑‑long on compassion, short on hatred; and, above all, not using our philosophy as a cop‑out for cowardice or inaction or rationalization. We know who we are and what we must do‑‑and we will never go back. The public is not against us. Our determination proclaims it; our gains confirm it; our humanity demands it."

Dr. Marc Maurer

President, National Federation of the Blind
Attorney and Executive

Born in 1951, Marc Maurer was the second in a family of six children. His blindness was caused by overexposure to oxygen after his premature birth, but he and his parents were determined that this should not prevent him from living a full and normal life.

He began his education at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, where he became an avid Braille reader. In the fifth grade he returned home to Boone, Iowa, where he attended parochial schools. During high school (having taken all the courses in the curriculum) he simultaneously took classes at the junior college.

Maurer ran three different businesses before finishing high school: a paper route, a lawn care business, and an enterprise producing and marketing maternity garter belts designed by his mother. This last venture was so successful that his younger brother took over the business when Maurer left home.

Patricia and Marc Maurer
Patricia and Marc Maurer

In the summer of 1969, after graduating from high school, Maurer enrolled as a student at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and attended his first convention of the NFB. He was delighted to discover in both places that blind people and what they thought mattered. This was a new phenomenon in his experience, and it changed his life. Kenneth Jernigan was director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind at the time, and Maurer soon grew to admire and respect him. When Maurer expressed an interest in overhauling a car engine, the Commission for the Blind purchased the necessary equipment. Maurer completed that project and actually worked for a time as an automobile mechanic. He believes today that mastering engine repair played an important part in changing his attitudes about blindness.

Maurer graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. As an undergraduate he took an active part in campus life, including election to the Honor Society. Then he enrolled at the University of Indiana School of Law, where he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1977.

Maurer was elected president of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind in 1971 and reelected in 1973 and 1975. Also in 1971 at the age of twenty he was elected vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana. He was elected president in 1973 and reelected in 1975.

During law school Maurer worked summers for the office of the secretary of state of Indiana. After graduation he moved to Toledo, Ohio, to accept a position as the director of the Senior Legal Assistance Project operated by ABLE (Advocates for Basic Legal Equality).

In 1978 Maurer moved to Washington, D.C., to become an attorney with the Rates and Routes Division in the office of the general counsel of the Civil Aeronautics Board. Initially he worked on rates cases but soon advanced to dealing with international matters and then to doing research and writing opinions on constitutional issues and board action. He wrote opinions for the chairman and made appearances before the full board to discuss those opinions.

In 1981 he went into private practice in Baltimore, Maryland, where he specialized in civil litigation and property matters. But increasingly he concentrated on representing blind individuals and groups in the courts. He has now become one of the most experienced and knowledgeable attorneys in the country regarding the laws, precedents, and administrative rulings concerning civil rights and discrimination against the blind. He is a member of the Bar in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Maryland and a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Maurer has always been active in civic and political affairs, having run for the state legislature from Baltimore. Through the years he has also served on the board of directors of his apartment complex's tenants association, the board of his community association, and the school board of his children's school. From 1984 until 1986 he served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.

An important companion in Maurer's activities and a leader in her own right is his wife Patricia. The Maurers were married in 1973, and they have two children--David Patrick, born March 10, 1984, and Dianna Marie, born July 12, 1987.

At the 1985 convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan announced that he would not stand for re-election as president of the National Federation of the Blind the following year, and he recommended Marc Maurer as his successor. In Kansas City in 1986 the Convention elected Maurer by resounding acclamation, and he has served as president ever since. From 1997 to 2000 he also served as president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, and he chaired the WBU Committee on the Restoration of the Louis Braille Birthplace in Coupvray, France.

Maurer was honored with the Maryland Black Caucus's Leadership Award in 1985, the United States Presidential Medal for Leadership in 1990, the 1990 Heritage Award from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and the Baltimore Business Journal's 1999 Innovation Award for Excellence in Workplace Technology. Recent honors include the 2002 VME Robert Dole Award and the Daily Record's 2002 Innovator of the Year award. He joined President George W. Bush in the Oval Office in July of 2001 to celebrate the success of the NFB Everest Expedition and once again when President Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002. He received honorary degrees from California's Menlo College in 1998 and the University of Louisville in 1999. In 1987 he delivered an address at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and in 2000 he was invited to deliver addresses on civil rights at Oxford University and Birmingham University in the United Kingdom. He is now editor of the NFB's Kernel Book series of optimistic paperbacks written by blind people about blindness.

As president of the National Federation of the Blind, Maurer is leading the organization boldly into a new test of its resolve, beginning with the visionary expansion of the National Center for the Blind--the National Federation of the Blind Research and Training Institute. The facility, to be located on the grounds of the National Center, will add 170,000 square feet to the NFB's headquarters complex. The Institute, which will be the first of its kind, conceived and built by the blind for the blind, will develop innovative education, technologies, products, and services that support independence for the world's blind. His unswerving determination to succeed and his absolute conviction that the organized blind are the best-equipped people to solve the problems facing them has set the tone and is guiding the organization into this exciting new period of growth and accomplishment.

Joyce Scanlan

Teacher and Blindness Training Program Director

Joyce and Tom Scanlan
Joyce and Tom Scanlan

Joyce Scanlan was born in Fargo, North Dakota, at a time when blind children were automatically referred to the state residential school for the blind for elementary and secondary education. This meant spending nine months of the year 160 miles away from home and family. The academic education received was strong, and the basic skills of blindness, Braille reading and the use of the slate and stylus especially were emphasized; however, white canes were never seen, and attitudes toward blindness and expectations for blind people ran along traditional lines: blindness means helplessness and inferiority; and a person's value in life is directly proportional to the amount of eyesight he or she has. Despite the seeming hopelessness of these views, students came away with a hard crust of self‑confidence and a strong inner drive to succeed.

Having a deep love of reading and theater, Joyce went on to earn a B.A. in English, social studies, and Latin and an M.A. in English and history at the University of North Dakota. She taught these subjects in high schools in North Dakota and Montana for five years. Then glaucoma suddenly took the rest of her vision, and Scanlan lost her self‑confidence. She says, "I had learned early in life to fake vision I didn't have; now that option was gone. I found myself totally alone, without support and without positive information about blindness and my rights as a teacher. I quickly fled from my job."

Scanlan had trouble finding another job, but as she points out, her own attitudes were as much in need of adjustment as those of prospective employers. The rehabilitation system was not helpful either. Scanlan says, "The training center I attended emphasized the limitations of blindness. Although I had lost considerable vision and could see only through a pinpoint in one eye, the center staff told me, `You're not blind; you don't look blind. If you lose more eyesight, then you can come back for more training.' I was far beyond the point of believing that I wasn't really blind." Scanlan says, "I was terminated from the center after just one month, and I actually felt that my situation was even more hopeless at that point than it had been prior to the training."

In 1970 the National Federation of the Blind convention was held in Minneapolis, and Scanlan attended several sessions, including the meeting of the NFB Teachers Division and the banquet. She says: "I met many teachers there who were blind. In fact, I met blind people from all over the country who were engaged in a great variety of occupations. I learned what the NFB was all about and began to realize what blind people working together could do." At that convention she also met Tom Scanlan, whom she married four years later.

Joyce Scanlan immediately became active in the NFB of Minnesota. In 1971 she helped to organize a statewide student division. She was elected vice president of the NFB of Minnesota in 1972 and president in 1973. That same year she was appointed by the governor to a newly created Minnesota Council on Disabilities‑‑she was the only representative of a consumer organization on the council. Until 1988 she served on the advisory council to State Services for the Blind, a body established in large measure because of the persistent advocacy and hard work of the NFB of Minnesota.

The most exciting undertaking of the NFB of Minnesota, however, has been the establishment of its own orientation‑to‑blindness training center, with Joyce Scanlan serving as its executive director. BLIND, Inc. (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions) admitted its first class, consisting of two students, in January of 1988. This center is establishing a new standard for rehabilitation services in the Midwest and throughout the country. It is easy to understand why the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota enjoys both respect and prestige. It is also easy to understand why Joyce Scanlan is regarded as able, tough, and determined.

Scanlan was elected to the NFB board of directors in 1974 and has continued to serve in that capacity ever since. In 1988 she was elected secretary of the organization, and in 1992 she was elected first vice president. She says: "The Federation has made a great difference in my life. Attending that first national convention in 1970 was a real turning point. If I had known the Federation before that, my early life would certainly not have been such a struggle. I still try to spend time attending the theater and reading, but I want to give as much time as possible to working in the NFB. I want to make sure every blind person hears about the Federation. If I have any skill as a teacher, I'll use it to spread the word about the Federation."

Peggy Elliott

Attorney, Political Activist, and Community Leader

Doug and Peggy Elliott
Doug and Peggy Elliott

Born in 1953 and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, Peggy Elliott attended regular schools until the middle of the ninth grade. When her eye condition was diagnosed as irreversible decline into total blindness, her father cried for the first and only time in her life‑‑at least as far as she knows.

Elliott then spent what she characterizes as two and a half unhappy years at the Iowa school for the blind. Academically she learned nothing that she had not already been taught in public schools. The students were discouraged from learning to use the white cane and were never allowed off campus unless they were accompanied by a sighted person. But most soul‑destroying of all, the students were discouraged from aspiring to success or from setting themselves challenging goals. Elliott resisted the stifling atmosphere and drew down upon herself the wrath of the school administration, which refused to permit her to complete high school there, forcing her to go back to public school.

Knowing that she was not prepared to make this transition, she and her parents sought help from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, then director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Elliott enrolled at the Orientation and Adjustment Center, where she mastered the skills of blindness and explored for the first time the healthy and positive philosophy of blindness that has subsequently directed her life.

Elliott went on to Iowa's Cornell College, where she achieved an excellent academic record and edited the Cornellian, the school newspaper. She then completed law school at Yale University, receiving her J.D. degree in 1979.

After graduation from law school, Elliott passed the Iowa Bar in January, 1980. She then began a difficult job search. Although her academic standing at Yale was better than that of most of her classmates, she did not receive a single job offer despite the intensive interviewing she had done during her final year of law school. Virtually all Yale‑trained attorneys leave the university with offers in hand. The inference was inescapable: employers were discriminating against Elliott because of her blindness. She was eventually hired as Assistant County Attorney for Woodbury County in Sioux City, Iowa, where she prosecuted defendants on behalf of the people. In 1985 she moved back to her hometown of Grinnell, where she established the private law practice she has worked in since that time.

Elliott's lifetime interest in helping to improve the world around her has been expressed in politics as well as in Federation activity. In 1976 she was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, during which she appeared on national television and in a national news magazine, acquainting the public with the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and the real needs of blind people. At the end of the convention she seconded the nomination of Senator Robert Dole to be the Republican candidate for vice president of the United States.

In 1986 she ran unsuccessfully for the Iowa State Senate as a Republican in District 27. Her interest in community service has continued through her election to the Grinnell City Council and in other community organizations. She is now completing her fourth four‑year term and is the second most senior member of the council. She chairs the public works and grounds committee, which manages building, repair, and snow removal from streets, parks and cemetery, and the jet‑ready airport; provision and expansion of water and sewer service; and (of particular interest to her) handling of solid waste and recycling.

Elliott's work in the National Federation of the Blind has been as impressive as her professional career. She held office in the NFB student divisions in Iowa and Connecticut and then served as president of the national student division from 1977 to 1979. In 1981 she was elected president of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, an office which she continues to hold. Elliott was first elected to the NFB board of directors in 1977, and in 1984 she was elected second vice president.

Since 1984 Elliott, a 1976 winner herself, has chaired the National Federation of the Blind's Scholarship Committee. Every year approximately thirty scholarships, ranging in value from $3,000 to $10,000, are presented to the best blind college students in the nation.

On December 28, 1993, Peggy Pinder and Doug Elliott were married in Grinnell, Iowa, where the couple continue to live happily in their hundred‑year‑old home. Before their marriage Doug was president of the NFB of Nevada. He is a medical social worker by training and now manages the couple's real estate holdings.

Gary Wunder

Programmer Analyst-Expert and Electronics Technologist

Gary Wunder was born three months prematurely in 1955, the oldest of four children. His family lived in Kansas City, Missouri, and Wunder remembers that, since he was blind from birth, he managed to persuade everyone in his family except his father to do precisely what he wanted. It would be many years before Wunder could appreciate his father's instinctive understanding that Gary had to learn to do things for himself.

Gary and Debbie Wunder
Gary and Debbie Wunder

Wunder tells with amusement the story of his dawning awareness of his blindness. When he was quite young, his home had sliding glass doors separating the living room from the patio. When those doors were closed, he could not hear and therefore did not know what was happening on the other side and assumed that no one else could either. One day he found several soft drink bottles on the patio and broke them. His father then opened the doors and asked if he had broken the bottles. Gary said he had not and that he did not know how they had been broken. His father then astonished him by saying that both his parents had watched him break the bottles and that his mother was now crying because she had thought surely her baby couldn't tell a lie. Gary's response was to say, "Well, she knows better now."

Wunder attended grades one through five at a Kansas City public school. When he was ten, a boy who attended the Missouri School for the Blind persuaded him that he was missing real life by staying at home. At the school, his friend told him, kids rode trains and buses. They could bowl and swim and didn't have to listen to parents. As a result Wunder did some persuading at home and was on hand for sixth grade and some necessary but painful lessons about that real world.

At the close of seventh grade Wunder returned to public schools, having learned several vitally important lessons: he knew the basics of using a white cane; he recognized that his father's demands on him had sprung from strong love and eagerness for his son to succeed; and he understood that people beyond his own family had worth and deserved his respect. But he had also learned that the school for the blind was not the promised land, and he was delighted to be once more in public schools for eighth grade and high school. He was elected to the National Honor Society his senior year but struggled with the mechanics of getting his work done. Braille was not readily available, and readers were hard to recruit without money to pay them.

Wunder planned to attend the University of Missouri at Kansas City in order to live with his grandmother, but, after a taste of freedom at the orientation center in Columbia, Missouri, the summer before college, he decided to enroll at the university's Columbia campus, where everyone walked everywhere and where he could contrive as many as three or four dates an evening if he hurried from place to place.

Wunder enjoys recounting the adventure which persuaded him that a blind person should always carry a white cane: "I was having dinner with a young woman who lived near me, so I had not brought my cane, figuring that I wouldn't need it. To my consternation and her distress, my plate of liver and onions slid into my lap. She asked if I wanted her to walk me home so that I could change. I was already so embarrassed that I assured her I would be right back and that I did not need her assistance. The busiest intersection in Columbia lay between me and clean slacks, and after I successfully survived that street crossing, I swore that I would never again be caught without my cane."

Wunder decided to major in political science and philosophy because he felt compelled to avoid the science and math that he loved but feared to take. During his sophomore year he met a professor from Central Missouri State University who suggested that he was ducking the challenge. Together they explored the question of whether or not a blind person could follow schematics and read voltmeters. The answers seemed to be yes, so Wunder transferred to Central Missouri State, where he graduated in 1977 with a degree in electronics technology.

He had done well with the courses, but he did not see how he could run a repair shop with its responsibility for mastering hundreds of schematics for appliances. He could teach electronics, but the professors from whom he had learned the most were those who had firsthand experience. He didn't want to be the theory‑only kind of teacher.

Wunder looked for interim jobs after graduation while he tried to decide what to do, and he discovered the hard way that blind job‑seekers have to be better than the competition in order to be considered at all. He vowed to become so well trained at doing something that would-be employers could not ignore him. He enrolled in a ten-month course in computer programming offered by the Extension Division of the University of Missouri. No blind person had ever entered the program before, but Wunder completed it successfully and was hired immediately (in the fall of 1978) by the Pathology Department of the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics in Columbia. Years and promotions later Wunder is successfully working at the hospital and is now a programmer analyst-expert in the Information Services Department.

Wunder first learned about the National Federation of the Blind the summer before his senior year of high school. He says, "In the beginning I thought this talk about discrimination was a pretty good racket. No one did those things to me, and I assumed that all this Federation talk about jobs being denied and parents having children taken away from them was an effective way of raising funds. I didn't realize that my father's name and reputation in my hometown were protecting me from the worst of real life. So far I had gotten what I wanted, including a motorcycle to ride on our farm and my own horse. It was some time before I recognized that these talented and committed blind people whom I was getting to know in the Federation were trying to teach me about the world that I was going to inherit. They frightened me a little, but more and more I wanted to be like them."

In late 1973, several months after Wunder started college in Columbia, Missouri, a Federation organizing team arrived to establish a new chapter, and he took an active part in the preparations. Wunder was elected president, and when he transferred to Central Missouri State two years later, he organized a chapter in Warrensburg. In 1977 Wunder was elected first vice president of the NFB of Missouri, and in 1979 he became president. Except for one two-year term he has continued in that post ever since. Wunder was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1985 and in 2002 was elected secretary of the organization.

Looking back over the years of his involvement with and commitment to the Federation, Wunder says: "Despite all I learned from my parents about honor, responsibility, and the necessity to be competent, what I could never get from them was a sense of where blind people fit in a world composed mostly of sighted people. Friends and loved ones had always told me how wonderful I was (wonderful for a blind person, that is), but until I came to know members of the National Federation of the Blind, no one had the experience or knowledge to say how I could expect to measure up alongside the sighted. The NFB was the first place where I didn't get a round of applause for performing the routine activities of life. If I wanted my Federation colleagues' recognition and admiration, I had to merit them.

It sounds contradictory, but while I was learning that I wouldn't be applauded for insignificant accomplishments, I was also learning that I didn't have to possess special compensatory senses or talents to make my way in the world. When you believe that your only opportunity for success lies in being a musician but you know that your only musical talent is in listening and then you suddenly find that you are capable of doing the average job in the average place of business, your sense of freedom, hope, and possibility knows no bounds."

Gary now lives with his wife Debbie in their new home in Columbia, Missouri. Debbie is the president of the Columbia Chapter and serves as the corresponding secretary for the affiliate.

Charlie Brown

Attorney and Federal Official

Jacki and Charlie Brown
Jacki and Charlie Brown

With a bachelor's degree from Harvard and a law degree from Northwestern, Charles Brown should have found the job market both exciting and receptive in 1970, a year of expanding economy and bright prospects, but this was not the case. Even though he had impressive credentials and good grades, his job search was difficult. He was blind. It was not the first time he had observed adverse and extraordinary treatment of the blind, but it was the first time he had personally faced such serious discrimination. It took an entire year and more than a hundred interviews before he found a job.

In 1971 Brown became a staff attorney in the solicitor's office at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and earned regular promotions. He eventually became the DOL's counsel for special legal services. After twenty years Brown left the DOL in 1991 to join the legal staff at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as assistant general counsel. He is the NSF's designated agency ethics official, responsible for managing the foundation's ethics counseling, conflict of interest prevention, and financial disclosure programs.

Brown has received numerous awards. DOL presented him with achievement awards five times--in 1979, 1985, 1986 (twice), and 1987. In 1982 he received the Distinguished Career Service Award, one of the Department of Labor's highest honors--often presented at the time of retirement. But Attorney Brown was chosen for this honor after only eleven years of service. He capped his DOL career by receiving the Secretary of Labor's Recognition Award in 1991. NSF has so far presented Brown four merit awards--in 1994, 1995, 1998, and 2002. He has also received two awards from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics--an Outstanding Ethics Program Award in 1998, and an Outstanding Service Award in 1999 (for his work as an officer of the federal Interagency Ethics Council).

 Born blind in 1944 with congenital cataracts, Charlie Brown entered a family that expected success from its members, and he met the expectation. He attended Perkins School for the Blind until the eighth grade. He then attended Wellesley Senior High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and graduated in 1963, going immediately to Harvard. When he applied to Northwestern Law School, questions were raised about blindness. He answered them satisfactorily and believes he was one of the first blind law students ever to study there.

During summer jobs in 1966, 1967, and 1968 at agencies serving the blind in Chicago, Brown learned firsthand of the abuses of the sheltered workshop system for the blind in this country. Also at that time he met Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and made his initial contact with the National Federation of the Blind. Jernigan was speaking at a national conference which, among other things, was considering ways of improving methods of instruction and increasing the availability of Braille. After the meeting Brown talked with Jernigan and began to subscribe to the Braille Monitor, the Federation's magazine. It was not until 1973, however, when he received a personal invitation from a chapter member in northern Virginia, that he went to a Federation meeting.

 Through a chapter in northern Virginia Brown officially joined the Federation in 1974 and later that year was elected to office. In 1978 he became president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and has been reelected to that position for successive two‑year terms ever since. He was first elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1984 and was elected NFB treasurer in 2002.

Brown believes in serving his community. He is a member of the Kiwanis Club and of the Arlington County voter registrars' advisory committee. He also serves on the Governor's Task Force on implementation of the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision. 

Brown has always taken an active part in the life of the United Church of Christ. He has been a deacon, has taught Sunday school, and serves energetically on committees at the Rock Spring Congregational Church. He has served generously at the church's national level. In 1979 he was elected a corporate member of the United Church Board of Homeland Ministries (the body that oversees the missions work of the United Church of Christ). Within two years he was named chairman of the prestigious Policy and Planning Committee and a member of the Executive Committee, both positions that he filled with distinction for four years. He continues to be active in the board's alumni group.

 Brown met his wife Jacqueline during law school, and the couple has two sons, Richard (born in 1974) and Stephen (born in 1978).

 Brown says: "I used to believe that one had to overcome blindness in order to be successful, but I have come to realize that it is respectable to be blind. Our challenge as Federationists is to persuade society of this truth."

Pam Allen

Agency Director and Community Leader

Pam and Roland Allen
Pam and Roland Allen

Pam Dubel was born in 1970 and grew up in Lancaster, New York. She became blind when she was approximately two years old as a result of retinal blastoma, a type of cancer. Although her parents were shocked by her loss of sight, they fortunately realized that she was still the same child except that she could no longer see. Through love and high expectations, they instilled in Pam a sense of pride and confidence in her ability to succeed. Growing up as the youngest of six children also helped her learn to be independent. Since she was the youngest, nobody, especially the brother a year older than she, let her get away with anything.

Pam attended a private Catholic school, where she was the only blind student. Her itinerant teacher provided her a sound foundation in Braille, which helped her excel in academics. Her parents expected her to do her best and to engage in activities that would make her a well-rounded person. She participated in horseback riding, skiing, and cheerleading during elementary school. During high school her interests shifted to performing in chorus, doing community service, and having fun with her friends. While growing up, Pam had limited contact with other blind people her age. In general she had no desire to associate with people who were blind. She understood that every high school senior experiences some trepidation about the transition to adulthood and independence. However, as high school graduation approached, she began to grapple with questions that her sighted peers couldn't answer. She planned to attend college, and she hoped that she would eventually find a job, but she secretly wondered if she would truly be able to obtain employment. After all, she had had difficulty finding part-time work during high school. She had also never lived on her own, and she wondered how successful she would be at that.

Although she entered college with some apprehension, she was determined to achieve her best. Her small liberal arts college provided an exciting environment in which to learn and grow. But those unanswered questions continued to nag at her. If people were so amazed that she could accomplish the most insignificant tasks, would they ever treat her as an equal? She realized that she had to meet other blind people with more experience than she who could serve as role models.

Her search exposed her to a wide variety of groups and organizations of and for the blind. However, not until she attended a student seminar hosted by the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio did she begin to find the answers for which she had been searching. Although she didn't realize it at the time, the seminar marked the beginning of a new chapter of her life. At the seminar she met Barbara Pierce, president of the NFB of Ohio, who told Pam about the Louisiana Center for the Blind. More than that, she spoke with Joanne Wilson, the director, and arranged for Pam to complete an internship at the center the following May. As soon as that was completed, Joanne invited her to work as a counselor in the children's summer program that year.

Pam was a 1991 National Federation of the Blind scholarship winner when she was a senior at Denison University, where she majored in psychology and minored in women's studies. Throughout college she worked summers for Joanne Wilson at the Louisiana Center for the Blind with the Children's Program. She served as vice president of the Ohio Association of Blind Students and a board member of the National Association of Blind Students.

After graduation from college, Pam decided to become a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She recognized that she still needed to gain some confidence in her skills and in her ability to be a successful blind person.

Today Pam Allen is director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind after having been the director of youth services there for many years. In that position she worked with blind infants and toddlers and their parents and also supervised the training of classroom aides to teach Braille throughout Louisiana. She coordinated summer camps and developed programs for blind children and teenagers.

People often ask her what makes the Louisiana Center for the Blind such a special place. She responds, "What sets our alumni apart from those of other kinds of rehabilitation facilities? The answer is that, by attending our center and the other centers conducted by Federationists, students are exposed to the National Federation of the Blind and its philosophy. The NFB is more than an organization; it is a loving family. Regardless of where you are, you can find members of the NFB who can give you support and encouragement when you need it. The NFB also provides a constant supply of role models who challenge you to set goals for yourself."

Allen recalls that she used to believe that she did not need other blind people. She thought that being independent meant succeeding without the help of others. Her involvement with the National Federation of the Blind has taught her that this is not true. She has learned that she needs reinforcement from her blind colleagues and friends.

Pam lives in Ruston, Louisiana, with her husband Roland Allen, an orientation and mobility instructor at Louisiana Tech University, whom she met at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She is currently the president of the NFB of Louisiana and secretary of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals. In July of 2002 she was elected to the National Federation of the Blind board of directors. Allen is also involved in a variety of community and professional organizations. She says, "Being elected to the national board has allowed me to give back and to spread the message of our movement."

Stephen O. Benson

Teacher, Administrator, and Press Assistant

Stephen O. Benson, a distinguished leader of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois for many years, was born in 1941. Eighteen months later doctors informed Benson's family that his vision would be permanently impaired by retinitis pigmentosa. His eye doctors predicted that Benson would always have some vision.

When he entered first grade, Steve was placed in what was then called sight-saving class, in which he was expected to read large print, a task he was never able to do efficiently. With each passing year his vision deteriorated, but not until fifth grade did school officials decide that Braille would be a more appropriate learning medium and authorize his transfer to Alexander Graham Bell School. Six months later, at eleven years of age, for the first time in his life Benson borrowed a book from the library and read it--a biography of Andrew Jackson. It was in Braille.

Peg and Steve Benson
Peg and Steve Benson

At the time Benson transferred to the blind class, he was apprehensive about the move. He still had some vision and did not regard himself as blind; however, his concerns soon melted away when he realized that blind kids did the same things as everybody else. As part of his social studies curriculum he mastered geography through puzzle maps, raised-line drawings, and three-dimensional globes. In gym class he learned to use the side horse, still rings, and other apparatus. He and his classmates were required to perform calisthenics. Benson enjoyed sports and participated in swimming, softball, football, basketball, and track. As an active Boy Scout he earned a swimming merit badge and worked toward the lifesaving merit badge. During the summer between eighth grade and high school Benson learned to travel independently using the long white cane.

High school presented new challenges. In biology and physics Benson was required to perform all experiments. However, he wasn't prepared for the reality of discrimination; blind kids were prohibited from taking physical education (PE). The position of the PE department was that the blind kids might get hurt. Benson and his fellow blind students, instead, took the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) courses, which covered marching in formation, the manual of arms, field stripping an M-1 rifle, driver education, physical training, and other requirements. There were no exclusions. Moreover, the ROTC classes swam in the same pool as the PE classes. In Benson's mind the whole business of physical education being off limits to blind kids made no sense.

In 1965 Benson graduated from DePaul University with a major in English and minors in social studies and education. When he enrolled at DePaul, he planned on becoming a lawyer; however, by his junior year it became clear to him that teaching at the high school level was the appropriate field for him. When Benson announced to the state rehabilitation agency that he planned to teach high school English, they threatened to cut off financial assistance because, they said, blind people couldn't teach. Benson remembers that his attitude was "I dare you to try." The agency backed down.

As his senior year at DePaul drew to a close, Benson prepared for what he anticipated would be the long and difficult task of finding a job. He was astounded when, at the second interview, he was offered and accepted a position as a tenth grade honors English teacher at Gordon Technical High School in Chicago. While the classroom work was both challenging and rewarding, the mountains of paperwork eventually caused Benson to look for another field. After selling insurance briefly in 1968, he took a position, in 1969, with the Veterans Administration Hospital at Hines, Illinois, teaching Braille and daily living skills.

In 1984 Benson became assistant director of the Catholic Guild for the Blind in Chicago, where he designed educational programs, managed publicity, and coordinated corporate and foundation fundraising. He wrote an introduction to independent travel using the long white cane called "So What About Independent Travel?" and two instructional Braille texts.

Since 1991 Benson has worked at the Chicago Public Library, for the first nine years as a press assistant, doing promotional publicity for the largest free municipal library in the country, and more recently as manager of the library's assistive technology center. For seven years Benson hosted a monthly hour-long author interview program on Chicago's municipal cable television station.

Benson married Margaret (Peg) Gull in 1984. Their son Patrick Owen was born in 1985. Peg and Patrick have both played important roles in the Federation's work.

Benson joined the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois as a charter member in 1968. He was elected to the affiliate's first board of directors. From 1974 to 1978 Benson served as president of the Federation's Chicago chapter. In 1978 he was elected president of the NFB of Illinois, a post he held until October of 2002. Benson has also been elected to the Federation's national board of directors each term since 1982.

From 1976 to 1981 Benson served on the governing board of the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. He has also served on the statewide advisory board of the Illinois Library for the Blind and on the advisory board to the Illinois Attorney General's Disabled Persons' Advocacy Division. In addition, he has served on the school board of his son's elementary school and as president of the band booster club at Patrick's high school.

In the early nineties Benson was appointed to a national task force to design an entirely new Braille curriculum for adults. Benson's and the task force's effort can be seen in The Braille Connection, published by the American Printing House for the Blind. This monumental effort took three years to develop, and it is distinguished by its flexibility and focus on writing and reading. "Although I have had good blindness skills for many years," Benson says, "my involvement in the NFB has imbued me with confidence and perspective on life and on blindness that have focused my activities and energized my effort on behalf of blind people. As I reflect on my experience as a student, as a teacher in a large high school classroom and in a rehabilitation setting, as an agency administrator, as a writer feeding the media print and electronic stories about the programs and activities of one of the largest public libraries in the United States, and as an advocate for blind people--all accomplished as a blind person--I must assert that collective action is the only means by which the quality of life for blind Americans will improve.

"There is no question in my mind that the unified, collective action of the National Federation of the Blind is the best hope blind people have to change their position in society. The Federation has changed what it means to be blind from overwhelming tragedy and dependence to independence, dignity, self-respect, and freedom from the burden of paternalistic custodialism. The Federation has made enormous progress changing attitudes toward blindness, but much work remains to be done so that all will know that, when blind people have proper instruction and genuine opportunity, we lead fully independent, productive lives on the basis of complete equality with our sighted neighbors."

Ron Brown

Businessman and Advocate

Ron Brown
Ron Brown

Ron Brown was born in Gary, Indiana, the first of eight children, to Marzette and Myra Brown on May 15, 1956. When he was a senior in high school, he became blind after he was shot on his way home from a basketball game. At the time he knew nothing about blindness and was overwhelmed by the feeling that his entire life had been radically changed in an instant. One of the first painful lessons he learned was that many of his friends could not deal with his blindness and stayed away from him. Luckily he began to make new friends, members of the National Federation of the Blind. They became inspiring role models for Ron, teaching him that it was respectable to be blind and that he could continue to strive for the goals he had set himself.

Armed with this newfound freedom, Ron graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor of science degree in health science. He then went to work at Tradewinds Rehabilitation Center in Indiana, where he met his wife Jean, who was on the staff. Eventually he was offered a job in the Business Enterprise Program. He had always wanted to own his own business, and this gave him the opportunity to do so. He has now been in business for himself for twenty years. Recently Ron returned to school and earned a master's degree in educational psychology with a certification in orientation and mobility from Louisiana Tech University. He now owns a second business, teaching cane travel to blind people in the state of Indiana.

Jean Brown
Jean Brown

As Ron Brown developed and matured in his personal life, his commitment to and service in the National Federation of the Blind deepened as well. In the early years he was a chapter president and was then elected to the NFB of Indiana's board of directors. He was first elected president of the affiliate in 1996 and has been reelected every two years since. In 2001 he was elected to serve on the NFB board of directors.

Looking back, Ron Brown says, "Becoming a member of the national board is the fulfillment of a life dream. I have been an advocate for blind people for more than twenty-five years, and with every passing year my commitment to serving the blind of this nation increases. My life indeed changed the night I became blind, but with the perspective I now have, I must say that it was for the better."

 

 

 

Donald C. Capps

Insurance Executive and Civic Leader

Few more compelling examples of personal independence and social contribution can be found among either sighted or blind Americans than Donald C. Capps of Columbia, South Carolina. Since the inception of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina in 1956, he has served fifteen two-year terms as president, retiring from this office in the year 2000. He has subsequently served as president emeritus of the affiliate. Capps was elected second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind in 1959 and served in that capacity until 1968 when he was elected first vice president and served in that position until 1984. For health reasons, that year he asked that his name not be placed in nomination. In 1985 Capps (restored in health) was again unanimously elected to membership on the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, a position which he still holds.

Don and Betty Capps
Don and Betty Capps

 Born in 1928, Capps was educated at the South Carolina School for the Blind and later in public schools. Following his graduation from high school, he enrolled in Draughon's Business College in Columbia and after graduation joined the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company in Columbia as a claims examiner trainee. By the time of his retirement, he had risen to the position of staff manager of the claims department.

 Capps first became interested in the organized blind movement in 1953 and the following year was elected president of the Columbia Chapter of the Aurora Club of the Blind (now the NFB of South Carolina), before assuming the presidency of the state organization. Under Capps's energetic leadership the NFB of South Carolina successfully backed thirty-six pieces of legislation affecting the blind citizens of the state, including establishment of a separate agency serving the blind. Capps edits the Palmetto Blind, the quarterly publication of the NFB of South Carolina. In 1960 Capps directed a campaign leading to construction of the NFB of South Carolina's $230,000 education and recreation center, which was expanded in 1970 and again in 1978. He now serves as a member of its board of trustees. He has been instrumental in establishing full-time daily operation of the Federation Center.

In December of 1972 the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company presented Capps with an award for "twenty-five years of efficient, faithful, and loyal service." In 1985 Don Capps retired after thirty-eight years of service to his company.

Through the years Don Capps has received many awards and honors. In 1965 he was honored as Handicapped Man of the Year by both the city of Columbia and the state of South Carolina. He has held numerous appointments on community and state boards and bodies and has been a leader in Rotary, church, and civic organizations. In 1977 he was elected vice chairman of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind Consumer Advisory Committee. Also in 1977, at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Don Capps received the highest honor bestowed by the organized blind movement, the Jacobus tenBroek Award. In 1981 he was appointed by the governor of South Carolina to membership on the board of commissioners of the South Carolina School for the Blind, where he serves as vice chairman.

Other awards and honors Capps has received include the Outstanding Leader in Education Award in 1994 (given by the National School Public Relations Association). In 1999 he received the Colonel Sanders Colonel's Way Award. Also that year the CBS television affiliate in Columbia presented him the Jefferson Award for community leadership. In late 2000, in appreciation for his contributions to the school and to the lives of blind South Carolinians, the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind dedicated to Capps its book celebrating its 150 years of service to the community.

In 2000 he also received the Order of the Palmetto, the highest honor conferred by the state of South Carolina. In 2001 the University of South Carolina awarded him an honorary doctorate in public service. Also in 2001 Capps was honored by the South Carolina General Assembly with the adoption of a concurrent resolution by the house of representatives and senate for his outstanding service to the blind.

In 2003 Betty and Don celebrate their fiftieth anniversary of service to the blind. Betty Capps has been an active Federationist as long as her husband has. The Cappses have two grown children, Craig and Beth, and three grandchildren. Although Don has retired from business, he continues to be as active and effective as ever in the Federation, exemplifying leadership and confidence. His ongoing dedication to the NFB provides inspiration and encouragement to his many colleagues and friends both inside and outside the Federation.

Priscilla Ferris

Homemaker, Girl Scout Administrator,
and Community Activist

In 1938 Priscilla Pacheco Ferris was born in Dighton, Massachusetts. From the time she was a small child she knew she had poor 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.

Priscilla Ferris
Priscilla Ferris

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 which method a blind child should use to read, Braille or print. "Teach both," Ferris says unequivocally. "Low‑vision children were able to learn both when I was a child, and things haven't changed that much since."

After high school graduation in 1956 Priscilla Pacheco worked first in a curtain factory and then 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 from her job to begin a family.

Then, in 1977 Priscilla Ferris attended business school, where she earned a degree and graduated with distinction. Then she found a job as secretary for the Fall River Public Schools, where she worked until funding cuts eliminated her position. Priscilla Ferris now has two grown daughters and four grandchildren (one granddaughter and three grandsons). After a brief illness Jack Ferris died in July of 2002.

From her curtain factory days until her own daughters were involved in scouting, Ferris led Girl Scout 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 do the same. In 1986 she was elected to the board of directors of the Girl Scout Council of Plymouth Bay and served two consecutive three‑year terms. She continues to volunteer her time and experience to help the Scouts.

Ferris first heard of the National Federation of the Blind when a new chapter was formed in her area in 1961, but she did not join the Federation until 1973, shortly before losing the remainder of her eyesight. In 1976 she was elected president of the Greater Fall River Chapter of the NFB of Massachusetts and served in this capacity until 1991.

In 1977 Ferris was elected second vice president of the NFB of Massachusetts and in 1981 became first vice president. In 1983 she became affiliate president and has been reelected for successive two‑year terms ever since. She was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind in July of 1987.

Today she serves on numerous advisory councils and boards in the blindness field and volunteers as an outreach educator throughout her community.

Sam Gleese

Businessman and Ordained Minister

Vanessa and Sam Gleese
Vanessa and Sam Gleese

In 1947 Vicksburg, Mississippi, was not an ideal place for a black child to be born with congenital cataracts. For years no one even noticed that little Sam Gleese had difficulty seeing, least of all Sam himself. He simply assumed that everyone else saw things with the hazy imprecision that he did.

One day, when he was in the second grade, the teacher in the segregated school he attended sent a note home, asking his mother to come to school for a conference. To the Gleese family's astonishment she told them that Sam had significant difficulty seeing to read and do board work. By the fourth grade the bouts of surgery had begun. Glasses (which Sam hated and forgot to wear most of the time) were prescribed. But none of this effort enabled young Sam to glimpse much of what his friends could see. Then, in 1962, when he was fifteen, Gleese underwent surgery that gave him enough vision to show him by comparison just how little he had seen until that time.

 He graduated from high school in 1966 and enrolled that fall at Jackson State College, where he majored in business administration. Looking back, Gleese is sure that he was legally blind throughout these years, but he never considered that he might have anything in common with the blind students he saw on campus. His struggle was always to see, and that made him sighted. Occasionally he was forced to deal with his difficulty in reading, particularly when a fellow student or teacher pointed out what he seemed to be missing, but for the most part he denied his situation and resented those who tried to make him face his problem.

 After graduation in 1970, Gleese joined a management training program conducted by K‑Mart. Everyone agreed that he was excellent on the floor and dealing with employees, but, though he did not realize it, he was extremely unreliable in doing paperwork. He consistently put information on the wrong line. His supervisor confronted him with the problem and told him he had vision trouble. Gleese hotly denied it, but within the year he was out of the program.

 During the following years Gleese applied repeatedly for jobs that would use his business training. When he supplied information about his medical history and his vision, would‑be employers lost interest. Finally in late 1972 he got a job as assistant night stock clerk with a grocery chain. He had a wife to support--he and Vanessa Smith had married in August of 1970--and he needed whatever job he could find. Gradually he worked his way up to assistant frozen food manager in the chain, though it wasn't easy.

 Then in 1979 his retinas detached, and within a few weeks late in the year he had become almost totally blind. For a month or two he was profoundly depressed. His wife, however, refused to give up on him or his situation. Gradually Gleese began to realize that she was right. He could still provide for his family and find meaningful work to do. He just had to master the alternative methods used by blind people.

Early in 1980 he enrolled in an adult training center in Jackson, where he learned Braille, cane travel, and daily living skills. He is still remembered in the program for the speed with which he completed his training. By the following summer he was working as a volunteer counselor at the center, and in the fall, with the help of the state vocational rehabilitation agency, he and his wife Vanessa were working in their own tax preparation business.

 It was difficult, however, to maintain a sufficient income year round, and the Gleeses had a daughter, Nicole, born in 1976, to think about. In 1983 Gleese decided to try taking a job making mops in the area sheltered workshop for the blind. He worked there for two years until a staff member pointed out that he could do better for himself in the state's Randolph‑Sheppard vending program, which had finally been opened to African Americans in 1980‑81.

 In January of 1985 Sam Gleese was assigned the worst vending stand in the state of Mississippi. Because of his degree in business administration, his phenomenal record in personal rehabilitation, and his work history in the grocery business, officials decided that he needed no training but could learn the program in his own location. He spent two years in that facility, mastering the business and improving his techniques. Then during the next several years he had somewhat better locations. But in 1992 he bid on an excellent facility and then appealed the decision, which awarded it to another vendor. Though the appeal decision, which eventually came down, did not give him personal redress, it did correct unfair practices that had plagued many vendors in Mississippi for years. In April of 1994 Sam, with the help of his wife Vanessa, became the manager of one of the largest food service operations in the state vending program.

 Gleese has always been active in the Missionary Baptist Church. From 1973 to 1990 he taught the adult Sunday school class in his own church, and in 1980 he became a deacon. He was ordained to the ministry in November of 1992 and is now senior associate minister at the College Hill Baptist Church. He headed the scouting and the taping ministry. Currently he heads the members ministry and works with several other ministries.

 Gleese first heard about the National Federation of the Blind in the early 1980's and attended his first national convention in 1983. He reports that from that moment on he has been a committed Federationist. Vanessa has worked steadily beside him through the years as he has struggled to improve the lives of Mississippi's blind citizens. He became president of one of the state's local chapters in 1985, and the following year he was elected state president. He has continued to serve in that office ever since. Under his leadership the number of chapters in the Mississippi affiliate has nearly tripled.

 In 1992 Gleese was first elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, where he continues to serve with distinction. He has dedicated his life to educating the public, blind and sighted alike, about the abilities of blind people. According to him too many people in Mississippi believe--as he did for many years--that blind people can do nothing and belong in rocking chairs and back rooms. Sam Gleese is making a difference everywhere he puts his hand.

 In May of 1999 the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, chose Sam to serve as chairperson of the newly formed Mayor's Advisory Committee on Disabilities. In September of that year he was appointed and confirmed by the city council of Jackson, as the first blind person to serve on the Jackson-Hinds Library administrative board. This board oversees the services of public libraries in each of the seven towns in the Hinds County area.

 In August of 2000 Gleese retired from the vending program for health reasons. He served one year in the AmeriCorps volunteer program. The project with which he was associated encourages and enables people with disabilities to become fully involved in the community. The program is the only one of its kind in Mississippi and is staffed by disabled people. Sam explains that other AmeriCorps programs are designed to assist in education--tutoring and the like--but this program allowed him to increase his outreach to blind people and the general disability community. It provided him yet one more way of living his Federationism and ministering to the people he has been called to serve.

In August of 2001 Gleese accepted a position as an Independent Living Specialist with LIFE (Living Independence for Everyone) of central Mississippi. This position provided opportunities to work with adolescents with special health care needs in Mississippi between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one. The project is called Healthy Futures and is funded by a four-year grant through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In January of 2002 Gleese became the statewide project director for the Healthy Futures grant. This position enhances Sam's opportunity to serve all adolescents with special health care needs, including blind people.

Sam Gleese makes it clear by word and action that each advancement he has made through the years has been in large measure the result of the hope and determination the NFB has instilled in its members.

Cathy Jackson

Advocate, Braille Specialist, and Mother

Mary Catherine Brothers (Cathy) was born on October 25, 1949, in Louisville, Kentucky, to Charles and Catherine Brothers. She is the third of nine children, four girls and five boys.

Cathy was born with congenital cataracts. In 1949 few resources were available to parents of blind children. The National Federation of the Blind was only nine years old, and the Kentucky affiliate was only two years old. The Brothers family had not heard of either. Her parents had never known any other blind people and couldn't imagine what the future might hold for their daughter. However, they decided that a common-sense approach was their best avenue. Luckily for Cathy, they never considered any approach to raising their blind daughter other than the methods they were using to raise their two older boys.

Cathy Jackson
Cathy Jackson

After several eye surgeries Cathy gained some usable vision in her right eye. At age five she was enrolled in a Roman Catholic school. Her parents chose this educational setting since the school offered a sight-saving class, where she would have access to large-print books and other materials that would make classroom work easier. Then in the fall of 1960 Cathy was enrolled at the Kentucky School for the Blind, where she remained until graduating from high school in 1967. Her parents and teachers decided that it would be more beneficial for her to attend school where she would have access to all of her textbooks in large print and, perhaps more important, where she could learn Braille.

This was Cathy's first exposure to totally blind peers and adults. Although she had been around other visually impaired students at her elementary school, the majority of them could see considerably better than she. Cathy and her parents soon learned that blindness was simply a physical condition, certainly not one that would keep her from achieving whatever goals she set for herself. During these seven years while attending the Kentucky School for the Blind, Cathy began to learn not to be ashamed of her blindness. She learned to advocate for herself and others. Being student council president during her junior and senior years launched her political career.

During the summer of 1967 Cathy attended the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. An ill-advised rehabilitation counselor thought this training would be the crowning touch to prepare her for college in the fall. That summer school Lighthouse class of 1967 was comprised of very bright, outgoing, normal young adults, who turned the tables on the Lighthouse staff and teachers. As Cathy remembers the experience, the adults were the ones to get the education when the students refused to be bound by the low expectations and negative attitudes of the staff. At this point in her life Cathy still had not heard about the National Federation of the Blind but was already preaching and practicing NFB philosophy.

 Upon graduation from high school Cathy attended Spalding University, formerly Catherine Spalding College in Louisville, Kentucky. She majored in psychology, minored in sociology, and took an active part in academic, student government, and social organizations. The blindness skills and attitudes she had learned at the Kentucky School for the Blind and even the negative attitudes she had been exposed to at the Lighthouse the summer before college were beginning to pay dividends. Cathy was growing into an adult with increasingly resolute convictions and positive attitudes.

In 1972 Cathy met Betty Niceley, the longtime leader of the Kentucky affiliate and for many years a member of the NFB board of directors. The rest is history. This friendship began her formal Federation education. Although Cathy was slow to join the Federation, Betty never gave up on recruiting her. In 1975 Cathy became a member of the Louisville Association of the Blind, the former name of the local NFB chapter. Through the years Cathy eventually served as secretary, vice president, and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Greater Louisville. She was also treasurer of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille of Kentucky. In the Kentucky affiliate she has served as board member, treasurer, first vice president, and now president. At the 2002 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind held in Louisville, she was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

Cathy has held a variety of jobs through the years. During college she was employed at the Kentucky Industries for the Blind (now New Vision Enterprises for the Blind) to do seasonal contract work. For a short time after college Cathy worked for the state of Kentucky as a social worker in the Food Stamp Office. After staying home to raise her daughter, Cathy has worked successively as the program coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky Braille Service Center, a clerical support staff member in a law office, and the Braille clerk for the Jefferson County school system. But her favorite job of all was stay-at-home mom to her daughter Dana Nicole. She volunteered as a classroom aide, did substitute teaching, and worked as a secretary in the principal's office. She served as president of the school Parent Teacher Association, secretary of the athletic club, and member of the parish council. In addition she coached both the peewee basketball team and the cheerleading squad.

Cathy has received a number of awards for academic and athletic achievement, but the two awards she cherishes most are the Susan B. Rarick and Harold L. Reagan awards presented to her by the NFB of Kentucky. Cathy comments that her roots and commitment to the NFB go deep and that the past twenty-seven years are just the beginning.

Diane McGeorge

Medical Secretary and Agency Director

Diane McGeorge was born in 1932 and grew up in Nebraska. Blinded by meningitis at age two, she eventually graduated from the Nebraska School for the Blind. After that she learned that no blind person‑‑regardless of how well‑qualified‑‑has an easy time in the job market. She enrolled in a Denver business college to learn typing and transcribing before going on to the University of Colorado to train as a medical secretary, her profession for a number of years, with time away to raise her family.

Ray and Diane McGeorge
Ray and DianeMcGeorge

McGeorge spent eight years as a full‑time homemaker and mother, including stints as den mother, Sunday school teacher, and PTA officer. Throughout these years she was a passive member of the Federation. She served on committees and prepared refreshments, but she did not consider that she had any part in the struggle of the blind against discrimination. Her husband Ray was much more active in the Federation. She ignored or overlooked the instances when she had been turned down by landlords or barred from restaurants because of her dog guide, describing her actions as "looking on the bright side."

However, McGeorge attended the 1973 NFB convention in New York City and discovered for herself the power and commitment that derive from shared experience and determination to alter the status quo. From that moment her life began to change.

 In 1976 Diane McGeorge assumed the state presidency of the NFB of Colorado, and she served in that office for fifteen years before deciding to step down in September of 1991. She was again elected to the presidency in 1995. Under her leadership the NFB of Colorado became one of the strongest affiliates in the Federation. In January of 1988 the NFB of Colorado took a giant step forward in serving the blind of the state when the Colorado Center for the Blind, an adult rehabilitation center, opened for business, with Diane McGeorge as executive director. She left the post of agency director in 1999 and now chairs the agency's board of directors.

In 1977 McGeorge was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, an honor and responsibility which she continues to hold. From 1984 to 1992 she served as the organization's first vice president. In 1982 Diane and Ray McGeorge received the Jacobus tenBroek Award for their work in improving the lives of the nation's blind.

McGeorge says of her life since 1973, "These years have been more stimulating and rewarding than any previous period in my life. I don't wish to imply that I was unhappy prior to becoming active in the Federation‑‑quite the contrary. I was busy, and the things I was doing were important. But they were not as important as the Federation's agenda. Each thing the NFB does affects tens of thousands of people. Part of what I have learned is that what each of us does matters."

Carla McQuillan

Montessori Teacher and Business Owner

Carla and Lucas McQuillan
Carla and Lucas McQuillan

Carla McQuillan was born the youngest of four children in Orange County, California, in the spring of 1961. When she was eight years old, one of her older brothers complained of a significant loss of vision. Unable to diagnose the cause of such a serious condition, the ophthalmologist referred the family to a psychiatrist. When a year of psychiatric counseling proved an ineffective treatment for the child's problem, the family sought out another eye‑care specialist. Within months of her brother's diagnosis of juvenile macular degeneration, McQuillan experienced a sudden loss of vision that left her legally blind as well.

Determined that her blindness would not adversely affect her life, McQuillan engaged in elaborate efforts to hide it from the world‑‑a charade that would dictate her every action for the twenty years to follow.

Carla attended a local community school. She received no training in the skills of blindness, even though she was unable to read print without significant strain and difficulty. Because her parents had no notion of how to raise blind children, McQuillan and her brother were expected to compete with their peers: an attitude and approach to which she attributes her subsequent success and determination.

Throughout high school and college McQuillan competed on the forensics team, memorizing all of her speeches and the literature that she performed. In 1981 Carla married Lucas McQuillan, the captain of her college debate team. At that time she left college to support him through graduate school.

In looking for work, McQuillan targeted jobs that didn't require acute vision. Still pretending to have normal sight, she was able to secure a job in the field of childcare. In the spring of 1982 McQuillan received Montessori teaching certification and taught in Montessori schools until 1988, when she returned to college to complete her bachelor's degree. By this time the McQuillans had a five‑year‑old daughter and a plethora of student loans.

McQuillan learned of the Federation in 1988 as the recipient of the first Frank Walton Horn Scholarship, awarded by the NFB of Illinois. When she discovered that it was respectable to be blind, she immediately dispensed with her charade. She served as the Illinois student chapter president and treasurer and also as a member of the state board of directors.

In 1990 the McQuillan family moved to Oregon. During her first year in Oregon she organized a chapter in her local community and was elected to the board of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon. In 1992 she was elected president of the NFB of Oregon and has served successive two‑year terms ever since.

In 1993 she opened Children's Choice Montessori School, where she served as director of a forty‑five‑student preschool. In 1996 she purchased an acre of land and had a building constructed to accommodate a growing preschool and elementary program. By 1998 the enrollment had exceeded the facility's seventy‑student capacity, and two new classrooms were built.

Today McQuillan is the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association, operating two school facilities with a combined enrollment of 125 students. In addition, the association hosts an annual professional Montessori conference, at which McQuillan has presented many workshops and a keynote address.

Carla was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1998 and has been returned to the board every two years since. She serves as the director of NFB Camp, a program that provides care and activities for over a hundred children during the national convention each year. Her husband Lucas and their two children (Allison, born in 1983, and Duncan, born in 1989) are all active members of the National Federation of the Blind.

Carla says, "My parents had high expectations, but it was the Federation that instilled the confidence and provided the tools necessary for me to become a successful blind person."

Noel Nightingale

Attorney, Rehabilitation Manager, Wife, and Mother

Noel Nightingale was born on August 22, 1964. When she was a senior at Whitman College in Washington State, she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Since her father, who was also blind, had put himself through law school and married, Nightingale knew intellectually that blind people could be successful. But she found it difficult to pull the entire package of blindness skills together.

Noel Nightingale and her husband Jim Peterson holding their children Cosmo and Leila
Noel Nightingale and her husband Jim Peterson holding their children Cosmo and Leila

The summer of 1991, as she was getting ready to return to graduate school, she won an NFB scholarship and for the first time got to know other students and young professionals who traveled efficiently and independently and who used Braille as an integrated tool in their work. Even so, she entered law school that fall still using large-print books and the ZoomText computer screen enlargement program. However, as she continued her studies at the University of Washington law school, Nightingale realized that she needed to acquire the alternative techniques of blindness before entering the profession of law.

 Three very important events occurred in Nightingale's life in 1994. She graduated with honors from law school, became engaged to Jim Peterson, and enrolled for adult rehabilitation training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB), one of the programs conducted by members of the National Federation of the Blind based on NFB philosophy. At LCB Nightingale learned more than the skills of blindness. She began to internalize and personalize the belief that she could be successful.

 Successful Nightingale has certainly been during the years since. In 1995, after she graduated from the LCB program, she accepted a job practicing environmental law with the Seattle firm of Heller Ehrman White and McAuliffe. She found the work challenging, and she proved to herself that she could compete effectively in the rough and tumble of a big-city law firm.

In 2000 Nightingale's career took a new direction. While her mind had certainly been engaged in her law firm job, her heart had not been. She became the blindness skills development director at Washington State Services for the Blind, the state's vocational rehabilitation agency for the blind. This position allows her to combine her personal life as an advocate for blind people, her first-rate rehabilitation training, and her legal experience to help improve the state's services to its blind citizens.

 Nightingale has also held a number of leadership positions at the local, state, and national levels of the National Federation of the Blind. From 1991 to 1993 she was treasurer of the NFB student division, the National Association of Blind Students. In 1991 she also became a member of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, was elected to the board in 1995, and in 2001 became second vice president. She was the Seattle Chapter president from 1996 to 1998, and she has chaired the NFB's Pre-Authorized Check Plan Committee since 1997. She has been the Washington state affiliate president since her election in 1998, and in 1999 she was elected to the NFB's national board of directors. She is now a member of the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals and serves as second vice president.

In addition she has found time to volunteer for other important civic service. She served on the Advisory Council of the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind from 1988 to 1994. From 1995 until its recent closing she served on the board of directors of the Westside Place School, a nonprofit school for children with learning disabilities. She was appointed by Washington's governor to the board of trustees of the Washington State School for the Blind in 1997, and she continues to serve on that board.

Noel Nightingale lives in Seattle with her husband Jim and their daughter Leila, born in November of 1999, and their son Cosmo, who was born in November of 2002. She says of the National Federation of the Blind: "The National Federation of the Blind is like no other nonprofit organization. The NFB is its members, and we dedicate our lives to helping improve the lives of blind people everywhere. NFB members are a family of people with like minds, the determination collectively to improve the lives of blind people, and the discipline actually to do it. Our members work day and night. We use our vacation time; we use our leisure time; we do what it takes to help blind people. And we have the results to show the effectiveness of our work over the past sixty years. I am grateful to those who were working on my behalf when I didn't even know it, and I intend to repay my debt by helping future generations of blind people."

Joseph Ruffalo, Jr.

Massage Therapist, Community Leader, and Activist

Born July 6, 1949, in Montclair and raised in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Joseph Ruffalo, Jr., had already graduated from Bloomfield High School, attended Montclair State College, and served America in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star, before he learned in 1976 that retinitis pigmentosa would slowly claim his vision. For six years he continued his work as a manager in a Thom McAnn shoe store, but by 1983 he began looking for guidance about how to achieve greater proficiency and control over his life as a blind adult.

Joe and Judy Ruffalo
Joe and Judy Ruffalo

The staff at the Joseph Kohn Rehabilitation Center (JKRC), then located in Newark, told him he should not learn to use a cane, read Braille, or master any adaptive devices because he still had enough vision to do without them. Though eager to obtain the necessary skills, at the time Ruffalo believed he had no recourse but to adhere to the advice of the only professionals he knew. Not until 1986 did he learn to use a cane–-and he accomplished that by teaching himself. While at JKRC, Ruffalo discovered a talent for baking, which led him into a successful nine-year career as the owner of a pastry business.

In 1988 Joe tentatively attended his first NFB chapter meeting in Newark. He reports that after ten minutes he knew that his life was about to change dramatically. Realizing that the NFB was a place of fraternity and empowerment, empathy and accomplishment, Ruffalo says, "I saw blind people doing things I wanted to do. They were holding jobs, volunteering, and achieving in every pursuit." This was the beginning of Joe's own growth and achievement. In 1990 he became second vice president of the New Jersey affiliate; two years later he was first vice president; and by 1993 he was president of the NFB of New Jersey, a position he maintains tirelessly to this day. "It is a tremendous honor and responsibility to promote positive attitudes about blindness and the abilities of blind people," Ruffalo comments.

But Joe's community involvement has not been limited to the National Federation of the Blind. He has been a leader in the Lions Club for over twelve years, serving as president for three. In the Knights of Columbus Ruffalo has held the positions of guard, warden, and deputy grand knight, while in the Cub Scouts of America he has been both a den leader and cubmaster. As past president of the Special Education Parent and Professional Organization and past chairman of the board of trustees of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Ruffalo further works to assure the full integration of people with disabilities into society.

Ruffalo attended the Therapeutic Massage Center to obtain certification in massage therapy and from 1998 to 2000 provided massage for staff, patients, and visitors at the Clara Maas Medical Center in Belleville, before moving his practice to a private office. He recently served as a consultant to the Somerset School of Massage, making recommendations to staff and students and answering questions about training methods for blind students.

Ruffalo also works to smooth others' transitions from dependence to independence as a leader in two programs sponsored by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He is employed by the First Occupational Center of New Jersey as a program specialist in the SCILS Program (Senior Community Independent Living Services). The SCILS program identifies people over age fifty-five in Essex County who have experienced vision loss, with the goal of teaching independence skills so that these seniors can remain active in the community and independent in their homes. As state program director and northern region coordinator of the LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy, Determination) Program, administered in partnership with Heightened Independence and Progress, Joe provides mentoring activities for blind teenagers and their families.

Joe Ruffalo's many contributions to the community were recognized in November 2000 when he was honored with the Partnership for Progress Award at the New Jersey Commission's Believe and Achieve 90th Anniversary celebration. In July 2001 his leadership in the blindness community was again acknowledged when he was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind. In October of 2002 the state of New Jersey honored Ruffalo by presenting him with the New Jersey Vietnam Service Medal.

Joe has always been encouraged and supported by his wife of twenty-five years Judy; his son Joseph, who with his wife Bettina attends San Francisco State University; and his son James, an Eagle Scout currently furthering his education in graphic and Web design.

Joseph Ruffalo's life and work express his commitment to the blind and their struggle for equality in society. Joe's achievements stand as an example for others, like those of the Federationists who deeply impressed him at his first chapter meeting. He achieves and grows, facing every challenge with energy, enthusiasm, and common sense. In so doing, he exemplifies his belief that "one of the most important things for members of the blind community to do is to teach the public that blindness is only a characteristic. With the proper training, skills, attitude, and techniques, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance."

Carlos Serván

Catalina and Carlos Servan
Catalina and Carlos Servan

Carlos Serván is originally from Peru. He was born in Lima on February 5, 1966. After graduating from high school Serván was accepted at the National Detective Academy (a four-year training program), which, in addition to investigation, prepares trainees to combat guerrillas and conduct counter-terrorism activities. In April of 1986, while Serván was in military training, a grenade exploded in his right hand. He lost that hand and was immediately blinded. He reports that one of the first things he learned was how differently people treat the blind. He was no longer included in social events or in family decisions. People felt sorry for him, and his girlfriend left him. His family began overprotecting him. His brother wanted to take him up and down stairs, shave and bathe him, and dress him.

He remembers that neighbors and colleagues started to talk to him differently too, as if he had lost his intelligence along with his eyesight. He tried to get a communications job in the police department but was told that a blind person could not work for the police. People suggested that he become a wine taster or taste chips to determine whether or not they had enough salt.

In an effort to restore his vision, the Peruvian government sent him to the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He arrived in the United States in April of 1989, had surgery the same month, and was immediately told that the surgery had been unsuccessful. He recognized that in Peru he would not be able to find training because there were no opportunities for the blind. So he searched for help in North America.

Not knowing much about this country (only what he saw on TV, including the way blind people were treated), and with little English, he went to church. He prayed that he could find help, that he could muster the desire to start all over again, and that he could work in a sheltered workshop and live in a residential home for the blind, where people would take care of him.

After some research his church discovered the National Federation of the Blind, and a volunteer took him to the National Center. There he was met by Mrs. Maurer, who, since she did not speak Spanish, handed Serván a long white cane and a cassette tape of NFB literature in Spanish. That's when he first heard Dr. Jernigan's ideas in "A Definition of Blindness" and "A Left-Handed Dissertation." For the first time Serván was hearing another blind person telling him that blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance, that with proper training and opportunity blind people can compete on terms of equality, and that the real problem facing blind people is public misunderstanding. Dr. Jernigan was not talking about sheltered workshops; he meant regular jobs.

These words helped Serván regain his dignity. He learned that it is respectable to be blind. After three years of uncertainty and misleading information, Serván heard the truth about blindness for the first time and took his first step toward success by adopting NFB philosophy.

An NFB member fluent in Spanish assisted Serván in making arrangements to enroll at the Orientation Center at Alamogordo, New Mexico, for training. There he met Federation leaders under whose guidance he had the privilege of growing in the NFB. He began training in July of 1989. At the Orientation Center he worked hard to learn Braille, cane travel, and independence skills, while becoming fluent in English.

In 1990, during an interview at the Albuquerque Community College office of special services, he was told that becoming a lawyer was very difficult, especially for a blind, non-English speaker. The counselor told him that he seemed intelligent but needed to remember that he was blind. She said, "For a blind person you are doing great, but you have to be realistic." What she meant was that he could not expect to compete with his sighted colleagues, implying that blind people should be measured by different standards. But this time he was prepared for such a challenge and had the tools to deal with it.

He recognized that he could determine what would happen in his life. By July of that year he had learned enough English to pass the English examination for international students and was ready to start college.

He became president of the NFB of New Mexico's student division in 1991. This position had a great deal of responsibility, which he was eager to face. He once told Dr. Maurer that he had been lucky to find the NFB. Dr. Maurer responded: "Luck is the corner where preparation and opportunity meet."

As an active member of the NFB Serván was determined to make a difference in his own life and the lives of other blind people. In 1990 the University of New Mexico did not permit blind students to choose their own readers, and university-prepared books were recorded on two tracks and normal speed. Serván questioned these policies and was told that, if he wanted readers and recorded texts, he would take what they provided. He found this answer unacceptable. The student division organized seminars to empower blind students and educate university officials. He invited the director and counselors of the university's special services office to discuss issues of concern to blind students. The staff were persuaded, and the students were permitted to choose their own readers.

University officials sought student division help in finding funds and resolving other problems facing blind students. Serván was elected to the student senate, a position that gave him visibility and the power to acquire the funding for more efficient recording equipment. Eventually the victories won at his university were extended to other institutions across the state.

Serván received a $10,000 NFB Scholarship at the 1992 national convention. He completed bachelor's and master's degrees and a law degree in seven years and graduated with distinction and honors. In addition, while attending school, he worked for the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and was active in his community. He served as president of the NFB's National Association of Blind Students from 1996 to 1998 and has been president of the NFB of Nebraska since 2000. He is currently deputy director of vocational rehabilitation at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In July of 2002 Serván was elected a member of the NFB's board of directors.

Serván lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife Catalina and their two children Carlos and Doris.

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