THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 47, No. 7July, 2004
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 47, No. 7 July, 2004
From the Hierarchy of Sight to the Hierarchy of Truth
by James H. Omvig
Education: More Than Academics
Blind Parents, Child Protection Agencies,
and the Courts
by J. Michael Jones
Stepping Out in All Weather
by James Baxter
Florida Man Has Vision of His Own Role in Society
by Jay Arrington
When Blindness Mattered
by Daniel B. Frye
Parents Fight to Keep Blind Teacher
by Jennifer Farish
Story of a Paperboy
by Dan Ryles
Of Canes and Misconceptions
In Touch with the Written Word
by Tiffany Shaw
Blind Lady Coming Down!
by Aloma Bouma
Pumping Gas and Reaching for the Fans
by J. Webster Smith
The Ties That Bind
by Kevan Worley
Copyright© 2004 National Federation of the Blind
[PHOTO/CAPTION: On May 20, 2004, the third annual NFB-sponsored senior fair took place at the National Center for the Blind. This year for the first time the setting was Members Hall on the fourth floor of the new Jernigan Institute. Pictured here, the crowd is seated at tables to consume 420 box lunches and enjoy a lively program.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Alan Walden, WBAL radio personality, speaks from the podium. He told his audience that he uses two hearing aids because of age-related hearing loss. He urged seniors not to be discouraged by complications like vision loss but to get on with their lives.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Connie Connolly from Louisiana keynoted the event. As a senior she attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind and now serves on its board.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Pictured here before the crowd arrived is the NFB Store's popular display, Gadgets and Gizmos. On the front table are items that many newly blind people know nothing about: talking clocks and calculators, raised-dot and large-print timers, games, and sewing aids. Behind is the stock table to replenish supplies as items are sold.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Bililynn Savage, Special Customer Liaison, and Christine Bradley, Special Groups Market Manager, from the National Aquarium in Baltimore sit at their exhibit table. The Byrd Street balcony and window are visible behind them. They attended the senior fair to sign up senior volunteers and explain their just announced audio wireless tour for blind and visually impaired aquarium visitors. On the table are frisbees, a stuffed dolphin, and fact sheets.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Answers for the Aging display board prepared by Catholic Charities of Baltimore.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Many family groups attended the fair. Here are three generations: Evon Brunson (standing left) and her daughter Monica Brunson, an assisted living specialist (right). Seated in front is Evon's mother Marion Jackson.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Pictured here are Jaimie Jacobs, election reform deputy director of the Maryland Board of Elections, showing Jim Courtney of Monkton, Maryland, how to use the new Diebold accessible voting machine. Jim's daughter Holly Snyder of Pennsylvania examines the keypad.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ray McGeorge, vice president of the National Organization of the Senior Blind, and Ruth Sager, coordinator of senior services for Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, chat at a table. McGeorge and Sager, along with Duncan Larson (Colorado), Frank Lee (Alabama), Virginia Mann (Ohio), Janice Frost (Connecticut), Annette Grove (Illinois), Kyle Parrish (Washington State), and Hilda Jones (Kansas) attended the event and stayed for discussions to learn how their states could host similar senior fairs.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: James Omvig]
From the Hierarchy of Sight to the Hierarchy of Truth
by James H. Omvig
From the Editor: Jim Omvig is a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind and an experienced attorney and rehabilitation professional. In the following article he talks seriously about the absolute necessity for rehabilitation counselors to cultivate their own high expectations for their customers. This is what he says:
One of the most devastating things that can happen to any human being is to be trapped in the prison of low expectations, but for the vast majority of blind people this condition has been the norm rather than the exception throughout recorded history. President George W. Bush has referred to the problem of lowered expectations as "soft bigotry," and I think he is right. Usually, of course, when we think of bigotry, we also assume a wrong. In the case of lowered expectations, however, we are looking at an unintended consequence rather than an intentional wrong. Perhaps President Bush was alluding to unintended bigotry when he used the word "soft."
As we discuss lowered expectations concerning blind people, just whose expectations are we talking about? Is it the blind themselves? How about parents and other family members? Perhaps we are talking about educators? Or could we be talking about blindness professionals employed in the vocational rehabilitation (VR) system? Is it members of the general public, or might it possibly be all of the above?
The fact is, of course, that it is all of the above. While there are exceptions to every rule or to every declarative statement, it is commonly understood that throughout history blind people have been thought of and regarded as inferiors, incompetent, inept, and virtually irrelevant. They have been thought of as wards and as people who need to be taken care of. They have not been expected to do for themselves or care for themselves, and they have certainly not been expected to participate fully in or contribute to society.
Recently I was asked to devise some method for measuring expectations, a daunting task. However, I have thought of at least one possibility: I call it "the hierarchy of truth."
Before turning to a discussion of this hierarchical approach, however, let's examine some cases of low expectations--of soft bigotry. Dr. Ronald J. Ferguson is a senior research fellow at Louisiana Tech University. In his recent book, We Know Who We Are,1 Dr. Ferguson tells the following disturbing true story about a young, totally blind teenager:
When Jessica [fictitious name] was in ninth grade, she underwent two weeks of vocational and academic assessment in conjunction with the writing of her rehabilitation plan. A number of tests were administered to determine her vocational interests as well as academic achievement and potential for college. The results on all of the academic assessments showed that Jessica, although only in ninth grade, had scored in the 90th percentile or higher on tests normed for high school seniors as well as those normed for first-year college students.
Jessica's parents permitted an informal survey to be conducted in several classrooms at three different universities. Jessica's test scores were shown to upper level undergraduates majoring in education or graduate classes of rehabilitation students. The professor asked the students to give their impression of the young woman's academic potential (a fictitious name was used). In addition, class members were asked to suggest possible careers that this person could pursue based on the test results. Overwhelmingly, class members noted the student had outstanding academic potential. Some of the suggestions for a career included engineer, medical doctor, scientist, and lawyer.
Jessica's parents had not told the university students who participated in the informal survey that she was blind. These university students were mystified when they learned that, reviewing these same test results, Jessica's rehabilitation counselor had suggested that she consider careers not as an engineer, but as a secretary, not as a medical doctor but as a receptionist, not as a scientist but as a customer service representative, and not as a lawyer but as a computer operator.
Just consider: The blindness professional, who had been trained to serve and help the blind, expected about what the average person on the street might have expected of this bright blind teenager. No one would suggest that this professional intentionally tried to hurt the young blind woman or do her wrong in any way. The motive would have been the exact opposite--to help. It was the counselor's understanding of blindness--or lack of understanding--which led to the problem and the soft bigotry. One is tempted to wonder how the VR counselor's expectations could vary so markedly from those of the college students who looked at the same test scores. Obviously the counselor did not know the truth about blindness.
Consider another case. A student working on a master's degree in orientation and mobility (O and M)--another blindness professional--tells her classmates that she has just met the best blind traveler she has ever encountered. She is working with him in the San Francisco area to teach him how to manage the BART rapid transportation system.
A classmate, a blind person named Fred Schroeder, asks innocently, "If your student is such a great traveler, why does he need you to help him?"
The O and M student responds, completely oblivious to the implications concerning lowered expectations of her reply, "He needs me because a blind person cannot learn to manage BART without help."
The young Fred Schroeder asks, "Who do you believe taught me to handle the BART?"
The sighted student replies, "I don't know. Who did?" This young woman was in a master's class to learn to teach blind people, and I am certain she believed that she held high expectations of the capabilities of the blind in general and her students in particular. She didn't! The fact is that Schroeder had taught himself. The problem was that the sighted student did not understand the true nature of blindness and therefore did not understand the true capabilities of blind people.
The question of lowered expectations is complex. Blindness professionals today all discuss the need for raising expectations, and they give the impression that this is routinely happening. I am sure they believe that the issue has been addressed and, since it is so prominently discussed, that the historic problem has been fixed. I should point out here that, when we are talking about the problem of lowered expectations, we are not implying that an intentional wrong has occurred. In work with the blind, people almost universally intend to do right. However, even though we are dealing with good intentions, expectations remain too low, and therefore the problem for blind people continues to be soft bigotry.
The Interpersonal Expectancy Effect2
A Harvard researcher, Robert Rosenthal, showed the remarkable effects of expectations in a study conducted in 1964 and 1965. Rosenthal was concerned that "one person's expectation for another's behavior could come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy."3 He conducted his study in a California school which operated under an ability-tracking system whereby each of the school's six grades was divided into three groups: fast, medium, and slow. After the principal of this California school had read a Rosenthal article on "investigator expectancy effect," which discussed the fact that the bias of the researcher was reflected in the outcome of certain studies, she wondered if the expectations her teachers had for their students had anything to do with the level at which they performed and their resulting placement in one of the three tracks. Because of this concern the principal had invited Rosenthal to conduct the study at her school.
Rosenthal began his study by administering IQ tests to selected students. He then lumped students into two groupings--those who were expected to improve at an average rate and those who would be expected to improve at a superior rate. He told the teachers who would be working with the youngsters which students were expected to be average and which were likely to be superior.
Rosenthal returned to the school several times over a two-year period, retesting the students on each visit. His findings confirmed his worst fear: the self-fulfilling prophecy had come true. The average students functioned at an average rate, and the so-called superior students improved at a superior rate. In fact, the tests showed that IQ increases actually tracked with teacher expectations for each group.
After the study was completed, Rosenthal revealed the startling truth. When he had split the students into two groups, he had done so randomly. However, he had led the teachers to believe that those in the average group were students who had tested at an average level, and the ones in the superior group had tested superior. The teachers' expectations for the members of each group correlated precisely with the students' achievement. No doubt the teachers who were involved in this study believed that they held not only fair but also high expectations for all of their students in both groups--no doubt they were people with good intentions.
Since this problem of soft bigotry could arise among teachers who assumed they were teaching normal children, just imagine the impact of lowered expectations on an entire group of people perceived by society as something less than normal. Among other things this study shows clearly that people who believe they have high expectations for those with whom they are working often don't, and good intentions alone don't cut it.
The Hierarchy of Truth
Federationists may express some skepticism if I introduce a hierarchical approach to the issue of expectations for an appropriate level of achievement among blind people. In the past, for example, those of us who have been involved in the orientation and adjustment process have disavowed and debunked the myth of the hierarchy of sight. Those who adhere to this hierarchical approach believe that the degree to which a blind person can be competent and successful rises or falls in direct proportion to the amount of vision he or she has. Those who hold this view are dead wrong. The fact is that the amount of vision--if any--a blind person possesses has nothing whatever to do with competence, happiness, success, or anything else.
But I believe that the hierarchy of truth is another matter altogether: that is, the level of expectation an individual has concerning maximum achievement and success for the blind as a group--or for a particular blind individual--rises or falls in direct proportion to the level of emotional--not just intellectual--understanding and acceptance he or she has regarding the truth about blindness. This is true regardless of whose expectations are being examined--those of the family, society in general, the blind individual, or most especially the blindness professional involved.
And what is the truth about blindness? It may be stated quite simply in a few sentences. First, (as Dr. tenBroek was fond of saying) blind people are normal human beings or, at least, as normal as human beings are. That is, we are ordinary people who just happen to be blind. The physical condition of blindness is nothing more than a normal human characteristic, no different from all of the others which, taken together, mold each of us into a unique person. We are merely a cross-section of society as a whole, and, given proper training and opportunity, the average blind person--not those perceived as the super-blind--can participate fully in society and can compete on terms of absolute equality with their peers. The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight itself but is rooted in the public's misunderstandings, misconceptions, and superstitions about it. In short, the blind are a minority in every sense of that term, and service providers must come to understand this significant fact and focus their blindness services accordingly. Simply put, it is respectable to be blind. This is the truth that should be adopted by schools and agencies as the defined philosophy they teach regularly to their customers.
From all of the above, it naturally follows that, if a blindness professional truly understands blindness and believes that blind people are normal people who can do what normal people do--that is, if the blindness professional knows the truth about blindness--then proper (normal) expectations will be set for blind customers. Further, the blindness professional, whether educator or rehabilitator, will arrange for services which will raise the expectation bar for the blind customer to the level at which it should be, and the customer will be empowered as a result. In general the expectation level for a particular blind customer should be precisely the same as it would be for that same individual if blindness were removed from the equation.
Here is a true story concerning a proper level of expectation. When Joanne Wilson was directing the Louisiana Center for the Blind, she had high expectations--expectations of normality--for her students. When one young male student left the center, he went on to college at a major university. Five or six other blind young men were in his dormitory. They had not experienced National Federation of the Blind center training and empowerment.
A couple of years later Joanne encountered this young man at a meeting. He thanked her profusely for "making me different." Joanne asked him what he meant, and he recounted the following story:
On a Sunday afternoon, when he had some extra cash, he grabbed his cane, left his dorm room, went to the bus stop and took a bus to the local K-Mart, purchased a TV, rode the bus back home, and connected his new treasure. That evening he invited his blind friends in to watch his new TV.
To a person, they were shocked. "How did you do that?" "You mean you took a bus and went to the store by yourself?" "How could you find the store?" "How could you find the TVs and decide which one to buy?"
Joanne Wilson knows the truth about blindness and sets expectation levels in accordance with this truth. Then she routinely passes her knowledge on to those around her. As a result they have great (normal) expectations for themselves and are not prisoners in the very system that was intended to set them free.
I pointed out above that the problems of lowered expectations are very nearly universal. They are shared by members of the general public, employers, family members and friends, and all too often by the blind themselves--they have bought hook, line, and sinker into the myth of the hierarchy of sight. Ultimately, of course, the general public will come to understand the truth of the normality of blind people--the blind themselves have the primary responsibility for making this happen. So too family members and friends will get it, but this will probably happen only when blind people themselves have come to know the truth and can share it with others: that is, when their success and happiness have risen to a level commensurate with their comprehension and internalization of the truth about blindness.
This brings us to the ultimate question: how then can blind people learn the fundamental truth about blindness and thus become empowered? There can be but one answer--the duty rests with blindness professionals. It is their obligation to give their blind students or customers inspiration, optimism, and the golden gift of hope. It is their obligation to raise the level of expectations to that which is normal for each of their blind customers. It is not the function of blindness professionals to tell their customers what cannot be done. The main function of the genuine professional is to help his or her customers raise expectations and do what to them, in the beginning, may seem impossible. Enough obstacles stand in the path of the blind person without having the blindness professional or the blindness system itself add to them.
The NFB has discovered the truth about blindness, and this truth is routinely shared with blind students who attend NFB centers. Similarly, this truth is presented as a part of our master's degree programs at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. One of the most exciting developments to occur in recent years has been the acceptance of this truth by more and more educators and rehabilitators. There seems to be only one way that people--either blind individuals or blindness professionals--can internalize this truth universally and raise the bar: that is, through immersion into blindness. Full immersion is what happens at the NFB training centers, and it is also what happens for students of the Louisiana Tech program. This practice must become the norm across this nation.
Therefore my urgent plea is that blindness professionals take advantage of the information available for the asking and learn the truth about blindness. By so doing, you will be empowered to raise the level of your own expectations for your customers to what will be normal levels for each of them. In turn, you can guide them to raise their expectations accordingly. Give them inspiration! Give them the truth about blindness! Give them hope, because where there is no hope for the future, there is no power for the present! If you give your customers all of these things, they will have appropriate expectations for themselves and therefore they will be encouraged to do all of those things which normal people do. For the blind great expectations are nothing more than normal expectations held up to the truth about blindness.
1. Ronald Ferguson, We Know Who We Are: A History of the Blind in Challenging Educational and Socially Constructed Policies: A Study in Policy Archaeology (San Francisco: Caddo Gap Press, 2001), p. 22.
2. Robert Rosenthal and D.B. Rubin, "Interpersonal Expectancy Effect: The First 345 Studies," The Behavior and Brain Sciences, 3 (1978): 377-386.
3. Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, Pygmalion in the Classroom (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1968).
Education: More Than Academics
From the Editor: At the National Association of Blind Students midwinter conference on January 31, 2004, the final panel presentation of the morning focused on the educational value of various kinds of nonacademic student activities. The opportunities open to today's students and the stories these three told about their personal experiences were fascinating and inspiring. Anyone looking for proof of the impact that the National Federation of the Blind and its positive philosophy of blindness are having on a generation of young people need look no further than the following article, taken from the presentations made. Here they are:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Stacy Cervenka]
Stacy Cervenka, University of Minnesota: I walked into my judo class full of trepidation. My stomach was tied in knots, and I could barely breathe. All the nightmares I had had for the last few months were now a few seconds away from coming true. I just knew what was going to happen right after I walked in. I would be in a room filled with big, bad, ripped guys, who ate tiny little girls like me for breakfast. They'd take one look at me, and after a long, awkward silence someone would finally pipe up saying in an uncertain voice, "Are you lost?" But I continued anyway, thinking of the long months I had spent wanting to take judo and all the semesters I had put it off.
I walked in, put my cane down near the wall, and sat down on the mat. The teacher began talking to us. He said, "Please stand up," obviously speaking to one member of the class. I didn't realize it, but he was talking to me. You would have thought after this incident that he would have recognized that I couldn't see. After all, he gestured at me, and I didn't stand up. So someone nudged me, and I stood up. He said, "Come over here." He put his arm around me and walked me to the front of the class.
I thought, "Surely he knows I'm blind. It's probably just his crazy way of sighted-guiding me."
Then he said, "I'm going to give you an application and a marker and I want you to take down everybody's judo size and whether they need a book or not."
So in front of the entire class I had to explain--what a wonderful way to tell the instructor that you can't see. He just started walking away. I said "Ah, sir, could somebody else please do it; I can't see."
Screech, halt, he turned around, "You can't see? You mean like you forgot your glasses?" (This is dead truth, ya'll.) Then he walked back to me. I was expecting macho gym teacher posturing: "Well this is not adaptive phys-ed." But what he said was, "Wow, that is so cool. I used to be the coach of Jim Mastro, who was a blind world champion." I can't tell you how relieved I was.
That semester began a wonderful time in my life. I have gotten to meet many, many awesome people. People who take martial arts are often some of the most dedicated, interesting, and intelligent people you will ever meet. I cannot imagine now what my life would have been like had I truly been afraid and let my fears stop me from taking judo. I can honestly say it would be much less rich than it is now.
In contrast I have another story to tell you. This last semester I decided to take a horseback-riding class. I knew that a blind student had tried to take it before and had dropped the class because the instructor was uncomfortable with her blindness. I confess to having a bit of arrogance sometimes. I told myself, "Yes, but I have skills. The other student was not as skilled as I am. Surely the teacher and everyone else will like me." So I went to the first class, and we were grooming our horses. Just in passing I mentioned that the next week I wanted to ride Buddy. "That will never happen," said a voice behind me.
In surprise I said, "It won't?"
"There is no way I will ever put you on that horse."
I was flabbergasted. Finally I suggested, "How about you get to know me, then we can decide that later in the semester."
His response was, "Absolutely not."
Thus began probably the worse ten minutes of my life. We were in front of the class, and I had never before experienced such a horrible verbal tirade filled with discrimination. I never expected to have such an experience. Part of me assumed I was safe because of all the public education the NFB has done since 1940, and, if I am honest with myself, part of me really thought I was too good to have it happen.
We have all sometimes thought that way. Discrimination, we half believe, happens to those who deserve it at least a little more than we do. Maybe they are not as motivated or as ambitious as we are. Actually, I am almost glad that he did it in front of the class. Otherwise I would probably have let go a scream of expletives. His behavior actually kind of kept me clean. He said, "I have been teaching horseback riding for twenty years, and I have never seen a sight-impaired rider."
I said, "Sir, do you know how a blind person crosses a street?" He did not. I said, "I cross streets every day. Just because you don't know how a blind person does it doesn't mean that blind people don't do it."
Without replying, he walked away, and I continued grooming my horse. He returned and said, "Yeah, you know what? Maybe I should put you on a race horse. Is that what you want? Do you want me to put you on--a race horse? I know some girls who do that." I tried to explain that I didn't want to race because I was just learning to ride. I just wanted to learn what everyone else in the class was going to learn. He just got madder and madder. Finally he said, "Well, you know what I am going to do? I am going to call disability services and have them send someone down to lead your horse around."
By this time I was frustrated at his threats, so I said, "Actually, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, I have the right to refuse an accommodation, and that is an accommodation I want to refuse." Throughout this conversation I kept pleading with him, "Please just open your mind."
He responded, "My mind is open. Otherwise do you think you would be in this class?"
I pointed out that I had the right to be in the class. He said, "Yeah, you have the right to be here, but you don't have the right for me to put you on a horse." It was awful. I tried to tell him about Diane Starin, president of the NFB's agriculture and equestrian division. I explained that she is a rancher and has dealt with horses for longer than I have been alive. His response was, "Why don't you take classes at her stable then?"
I said, "Because she lives in California." Later that day I got on a horse, and he came up to me and asked if I was going to stay in the class. I told him I was. Then the tears that I had been trying to hold back spilled over, and I was mortified. I did not want this man to see me cry, but I just couldn't help it. His reaction was completely beyond my experience. I said, "Sir, honestly I am not this way. I get along well with my professors. You're an expert on horses. I'm an expert on blindness. If we pool our knowledge, surely we can come up with a workable way for me to take this class."
He said, "Well, we're in class, so I'll be nice, but I will be honest. I don't want you here."
I was still crying and feeling pretty desperate. I suggested that we talk about the impasse after class. I offered to give him some resources and names of people to contact."
He said, "I can tell you're a real hothead."
I said, "I can tell you're stubborn too, but why don't we channel our stubbornness in a positive direction? We could find a way to make this work." He just walked away.
He did go to the head of the department of kinesiology and told him that he wanted me out of the class. Luckily the department head had a friend who was a blind professor in Japan. The department head, who is plainspoken himself, told him in no uncertain terms to fudge off. And I understand that he didn't use the word "fudge."
Though these two experiences were markedly different, they both shared a common denominator: a blind person had gone before me and had blazed a trail so that things were easier for me because of the things that had been done.
Now I want to ask you guys in this room a question. How many of you can honestly say that you think you have been such a blind person? One thing we like to talk about in the NFB is overcoming the fear that we're not able to do things because of blindness, fear that we don't have the skills or that something is not feasible for us to do as a blind person.
I am here to talk to you about a different kind of fear. It's the kind of fear that even Federationists have to deal with. Those of us who do have skills know other blind people who are doing challenging things, but sometimes we are still afraid.
One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain, who once wrote, "One who can read great books and doesn't is no better off than the man who cannot read at all." I would say for us that means the blind person who does have skills and is capable of going out and blazing new trails for other people but doesn't do it is no better off than the person who doesn't have good skills at all.
This conference today and the Washington Seminar are a wonderful shot in the arm, but in the outside world being a blind person can be scary when you are the only one. I happen to be a theater major, and often, when I go to auditions, the director has never even spoken to a blind person before. The situation is often somewhat uncomfortable, and I need to be the one to put the director at ease. That is very scary for me. I am not always the most confident person. I mean, God didn't give me all the confidence in the world, but if you're going to be successful as a blind person, you really have to step outside your comfort zone.
Wayne Gretsky once said that 100 percent of the shots you don't make don't go in. That is very true. If I had not taken judo class, I would have failed. I would not know judo now. My life would just not be as good as it is now. But because I did, my life is very much better. Because I completed that horseback-riding class and was able to do every single thing the other students did in that class, including jumping, I can only hope that the next blind person who comes along will have it just a little bit easier than I did.
Many blind students attend the University of Minnesota, and it's very common for me to walk into a class and talk to a professor and for him or her to say, "Oh, I had so-and-so in my class last semester. He was amazing. He could tie his shoes; I saw him do it once." This happens often in biology classes and in many other classes, but it almost never happens in phys-ed classes. I wonder why. Surely I cannot be the only blind person in this room who likes sports. I cannot believe that. Am I the only blind person in this room who likes theater? I think not. But how many of you have taken a phys-ed class through your university? What about drama? How many have taken a drama class? [noticeable response] Awesome. College is one of the few times in our lives when we have so many opportunities. So many things are just laid at our feet.
We have the opportunity to learn how to fence. As a twenty-three-year-old person I am learning how to play the piano for the first time, and I am proud that I can play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with both hands. It is awesome. Before, I have always contradicted the stereotype that all blind people are musical, because all I could play was a pot and a spoon, and even that was kind of lame.
I want to leave you today with the idea that many of us have the skills, and we know that things are possible, but we let fear stop us from doing the extracurricular things that are an important part of the college experience. College is about academics--that's a very important part. No one is arguing with that. But life is not just about getting by. Academics, of course, are the foundation, but college is about expanding your world and making the most of your opportunities. Honestly, sighted people aren't as scary as we think they are. Often they are just as afraid of us as we are of them.
I hope to inspire you all today to go back to your campuses and to try something new because we want to be the next generation of blind people to go beyond all the frontiers that have stopped everyone else before. We want to be the giants whose shoulders the next generation can stand on. We want to be their mentors. How can we do that if we are just getting by? That's not what the NFB is about.
I hope you will remember what you learn at this seminar. You can do things as a blind person, and though you may have the skills and you may worry about awkward silences and uncertain glances, honestly it's not going to be as bad as you think. It will be as bad as you think, despite your skills, if you don't try. Regret is a lot worse than embarrassment. We've all done stupid things. Does anyone in this room not have a dumb blind story they could share? What's worse, that or regret, saying, "I could have done this, but I chose not to. I wonder what would have happened if I had taken this class?"
Enjoy the rest of the Washington Seminar, and when you get back to your colleges, I hope you're able to use what you have learned here and not just use the skills, but also the confidence. Remember, the people who have gone before us and who have done great things have had to deal with the same challenges we do--the same fear, the same anxiety, the same social blinders, and they have made it. So can we.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Arielle Silverman]
Arielle Silverman, University of Arizona: How many of you have filled out a scholarship application some time in the past year? How many of you have applied to college or a graduate school program in the past year? These are just two examples of situations where inevitably you are asked to demonstrate community service experience. Am I right? There are many other examples, different organizations on campus, different job opportunities in which community service is definitely a benefit, if not a requirement for acceptance.
As your sighted peers are applying for those programs and are required to demonstrate their community service, we are being held to the same standard. That is just one reason to become involved in community service, but I believe that the most beneficial service is one that is not performed directly to satisfy a requirement.
Today I'm going to talk about three main reasons that you may not have thought of for performing community service, and I'm going to give two very different examples of my experiences with community service. The three reasons I can think of for blind people to be doing community service are to give back to the community; to educate the agencies we're serving about the capabilities of blind people; and to educate other volunteers about blindness.
After my junior year of high school I decided to go through an extensive training program to become a peer counselor for a teen crisis hotline. In order to do this work, obviously I had to interact with telephone callers, so my blindness was not even a factor. In fact, I wasn't allowed to tell them who I was or anything about myself. They didn't even know that I was blind. I did run into a bit of anxiety and doubt within the organization. I remember when I first indicated that I wanted to train with them, I called to ask about something else, and they happened to learn that I was visually impaired. I was happy because the first question I got was whether I was going to be able to do everything? That was really cool.
The only thing that got in my way and was a little frustrating was that in the course of the training, when I was doing role playing with phone calls, the supervisors had to pass notes to indicate if they wanted the peer counselor to do something differently or if they wanted to ask a question. If I had questions, I was supposed to write notes to them. I didn't think it was a problem. I just figured that I would type the notes on the computer, and if they had something they wanted to say to me, they could just whisper it in my ear. It took them a long time to get used to that method. I was in training for longer than most of the other peer counselors, but once I got on, I was really happy.
The point I am making is that this was a service project that I was doing for no particular requirement, and my blindness was not a factor at all in talking with the callers. I believe that while I was on the teen crisis hotline, I must have educated everyone who was working there so that if they ever have to deal with blind callers or similar situations, perhaps they will be more constructive because they have had this first-hand experience. I would encourage all of you to do something like this just for the benefit of teaching other people that you are volunteering with about blindness.
If you are doing community service and look at a list of charities or agencies, you have probably noticed at least one agency for the blind on the list of social service agencies. The blind have historically been considered appropriate recipients of community service. That brings me to my second point. By doing community service--even if it takes time, even if you don't want to get up early on Saturday morning to pick up trash or do something else boring, even if you are not getting paid or getting any direct benefits from it--doing community service will help turn around that image of the blind collectively as a group deserving and requiring charity.
Earlier Dr. Maurer was talking about the fact that some people take the attitude that society owes them something and it better pay up. But our goal in the future is to reduce that attitude. Inevitably we must depend on other people sometimes; we depend on drivers and public transportation, and we seek out special services like the National Library Service that require funding from other people. That's another reason why it's our responsibility to pay back society by doing community service.
The project I just talked about was a service that did not involve other blind people. But I think there is also great benefit to getting a bunch of blind people together and going out to do a community service project.
Last year I started an organization that's not part of the Arizona Association of Blind Students. It's a different organization of blind students in high school and college who do a variety of things, including community service. I spend a lot of time calling different agencies around the Phoenix, Arizona, area asking them if they have any service projects they would like us to do for them.
Last October I contacted the Ronald McDonald House in Phoenix, which is part of a national organization. It serves families of children who are getting out-patient or in-patient medical treatment at hospitals. It provides food and lodging for parents so that they don't have to drive back and forth from their homes every day to be with their children. It also supports the children if they are getting out-patient treatment. I know of this organization because I was in the Key Club in high school, where I learned about it.
So I called and told them about my student organization. The members range in age from sixteen to twenty-four--basically all young adults. The woman I talked to agreed that she wanted us to cook dinner for them. About five of us went out and spent probably about $150 on food. We were making tacos, so we had to buy ground beef. One guy bought twenty pounds of ground beef. At first I thought he was crazy, but we ended up using all of it. We had to buy vegetables and cheese and everything else. We had a driver drop us off at the door, and we went in and did our thing.
I didn't think there was any problem. A guy from the Ronald McDonald House insisted on staying in the room with us the whole time, showing us around, getting things out, and turning on the stove. He didn't complain about it, so we didn't think this was a big deal. That was Saturday. I got a phone call on Monday from the manager, with whom I had made the arrangements and whom I had never met. She said, "Our weekend manager was very upset because you guys came in without any supervision, and you put us in a bind."
I admit that one of my first impulses was to get mad and demand that they reimburse us the $150 we had spent on the food. In the course of our conversation about what had happened, I explained that only one volunteer was under eighteen; everybody else was an adult. At one point she said something like, "Well, this is really naive, but I kind of figured that, because you were setting this up, you were going to be the sighted supervision for everybody else." I explained that I was blind and that, yes, I was still the president of the organization. I was making the arrangements, but I was blind. God forbid that those two should be the same person.
By the end of the conversation I think I actually changed her attitude. I don't know if it will be permanent, but I think by the end of the conversation she had learned something. At the beginning she was going on about its being a liability for us to be in the kitchen--you know, if we burned or cut ourselves. I said that I didn't think there was anything in the law about that.
The point I am trying to make is that, when I thought about the particular agency and what it does, probably it serves a lot of children with medical problems; probably some of them are blind, deaf, or mentally retarded. Those disability groups somehow get blurred together in people's minds. And I believe that unfortunately a lot of the agencies that we serve have low expectations of the blind because they are serving blind people whom they consider very disadvantaged.
That brings me to my third point. We really need to educate those agencies. If they see us do service projects, help them out with necessary maintenance, if they see us give them money or give them food or give them anything else, eventually, if we do it enough times, they are going to realize that blind people can be capable and successful; and hopefully they will start transmitting that attitude to their patients or clients. Maybe if the patients and clients at those places can watch what we are doing, they will learn independence and confidence directly from us.
So I implore you guys to go out. If you see an ad for a community service club in one of your student newspapers or online, if you hear of an opportunity to volunteer and it fits into your schedule, please go ahead and do it. In the process you will be giving back to your community and doing something that your peers are doing. You will be educating those around you about blindness just by doing the same positive things that they are doing or might do. And you will be educating those agencies you serve so that they can in turn pass on this positive view of blindness to their clients and other people for the future. Only if we get involved in the community and start volunteering is our future going to be bright with promise.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Brian Quintana]
Brian Quintana, University of New Mexico: I just got a bachelor's degree in political science. A couple of years ago I thought it was appropriate, a necessity, to get some job experience in my field of study. The high percentage of unemployed blind people is no secret. It is crucial to get experience before graduating from college. I hate to break it to you--I am sure a lot of you already know--everybody and his grandmother these days have a bachelor's degree. So if you go to get work after you graduate and all you have is a degree and no experience, you are going to have an even harder time getting a job than blind people already do.
I first went to the congresswoman in my district in Albuquerque and interned for her for three months. It went real well; just a few accommodations had to be made. I installed JAWS on my computer. I had to do a lot of letter writing, phone calls, mailings, just very boring stuff, but still work experience, and important at that.
There was also some fun. The congresswoman's office sent me to represent the office at a grand opening of a new theater downtown. A couple of months later, close to Christmas, I was asked to be in a public service announcement. It was just a holiday greeting with the congresswoman. Anyway, after that summer internship I decided to try to get an internship in D.C. I had already had the Republican congresswoman's district office experience, so I wanted the Democratic senator experience in Washington. I applied and, lo and behold, I got the position. It was a five-week internship here in D.C., where I lived on the George Washington University campus. It was great. I really had a good time. They had a lot of fun activities planned for the interns. If any of you are political science majors. ... Actually a couple of interns had random majors like biology, so you don't have to have a political science major to get internship experience.
But since we are here in Washington, D.C., and will all be meeting with our congresspeople next week, I encourage you to inquire about an internship if you are interested. Get an application. Most of these are summer experiences for college students, but they have semester experiences as well.
I had a great time. Everybody learned a lot, of course, about government and about blindness since I was an intern working in the office. Giving tours was really fun. I was asked to go on all the tours because I had all the information on the architecture, who did this, and what year the first elevator was installed. I had a great time. When I got home, they sent a certificate of completion for the internship. The intern coordinator attached a note saying that they had gotten compliments from constituents who had been there earlier this summer. It made me really happy that I could shine, so to speak.
In 2002 I got a call from the governor's office in New Mexico. They said that they had a vacant seat on the Board of Regents for the New Mexico school for the blind. They had gotten my name and asked if I was interested. I told them that I was definitely interested but that I was going to be leaving during the 2002-2003 school year for the University of Massachusetts on a domestic exchange. They said that they could work something out. I thought that was fine. Then they told me that I had to have an interview with the governor. I was really nervous. I got my résumé together and met with him. He said, "Yes, I will definitely appoint you; just keep your grades up." I said that I would, and I was appointed.
I can tell you that, if I had gone in there with just my résumé and no work experience, I doubt he would have appointed me. It is crucial to get work experience before you get out of college, and your career will be much better for it.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mike Jones]
Blind Parents, Child Protection Agencies,
and the Courts
by J. Michael Jones
From the Editor: Mike Jones is president of the NFB of Alabama. He is working on his doctorate at Auburn. In recent times he has been busy protecting the rights of blind parents who were in danger of losing their children to over-zealous and uninformed social workers. This is what he says:
The following article from the April 12, 2004, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia, tells the story of a blind couple who had their newborn daughter taken away from them. The paper gives the details of this human drama, but it also describes a pattern that is all too familiar to blind people everywhere.
The National Federation of the Blind preaches and demonstrates the message that blind people can compete in every area of life with the same competence (including supervising, educating, and nurturing children) as our sighted neighbors. Unfortunately the general presumption has been that blind people cannot adequately handle everyday parental activities. This presumption often begins with and is perpetuated by employees of the state child protection agency. Alabama alone has seen six cases of blind parents losing custody of their children over the past four years. In every case the NFB responded and successfully resolved each of these cases for the blind parent.
In every case President Maurer demonstrated his leadership and belief in the fundamental abilities of blind parents by responding to each request for assistance. That type of national leadership helps to ease the work of a state president and increase the chances for success. But the national organization cannot respond to every case, which is why the NFB of Alabama backed the introduction of legislation this year in the state legislature that would prevent our state child protection agency from using a parent's disability as part of the criteria for determining child abuse or neglect. This legislation has passed at the committee level and is awaiting its fate in floor debate. Regardless of how this piece of legislation fares, Federationists everywhere may want to examine legislative protection for blind parents in their own states and strengthen it if necessary.
The following story from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer points to some prevalent attitudes among social service employees. The age-old presumption of incompetence on the part of the blind parent seems always at the heart of these conflicts. The judicial system in Alabama is weighted in favor of the state agency. When a child is removed from the home, a court hearing must take place within seventy-two hours of the removal. The court proceedings are hidden from the public, witnesses are not called, and the state agency is permitted to present hearsay evidence. Later in the process the parents get a fair hearing, but not until their child has been separated from them for sixty or ninety days or even longer. Here is the story of the most recent battle in Alabama. We can only hope that the current bill will pass and that blind parents will then be treated with justice and good sense and will not be subjected to the overt superstition this family faced.
Advocate Says Disabled Parents Stripped of Rights
by Jack Stripling
When Pyanne Jordan's first daughter was born Tuesday, she could barely see the infant. Now she can't see her baby at all.
Jordan and her husband are both blind, a fact they say prompted the Department of Human Resources' Thursday decision to place their newborn in state custody.
"It's unfair. It shouldn't have happened," said Jordan, a twenty-year-old Talladega resident. "And I feel that it happened because we're visually impaired."
The scenario the Jordans describe has a familiar ring to Michael Jones, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama. In the course of four years, Jones said, he's seen six cases where he felt parents were accused of abuse or neglect solely because they were blind.
"What the hell did they do? The only thing they did was what they were, which was blind," said Jones, a blind parent and Auburn resident.
Jones's frustration led him to send a complaint upstream to the state legislature. He found a sympathetic ear in Rep. Joseph Mitchell, D-Mobile, who is now sponsoring a bill to address what Jones views as outright discrimination.
Mitchell's bill would amend a section of Alabama code, adding a clause that forbids courts from ruling that a disability "in and of itself" constitutes abuse or neglect.
Mitchell will be the first to say disabled parents are just as capable of parental failures as anyone else. But in cases where a blind parent abuses a child, Mitchell says blindness isn't what's at issue.
"The disability there happens not to be one of sight or hearing, but one of compassion and education," Mitchell said.
DHR officials say social workers examine behavior--not disability--when determining whether a child should be removed from the home. There are no policies that equate disability and neglect or abuse, said Shirley Scanlan, program manager for the Office of Child Protective Services.
"We don't have policies like that," Scanlan said. "They're written in terms of the impact on the child."
But do the policies and practices always coincide? Or have social workers recommended children be removed solely because a parent is disabled?
"I can't say that for fifty-seven counties," Scanlan said. "But I can say that our policies are around what is occurring in reference to the child."
John Hardy of DHR's Office of Constituent Affairs provided input from DHR as the Mitchell bill was crafted. The bill's language mirrors policies already in place at DHR, Hardy said.
"Since I've been working with the legislature, I've found that a lot of people like our policy, but they would rather have it in law," Hardy said.
Jones speaks favorably of his dialogue with Hardy but says major systemic problems keep DHR in the business of discrimination. When blind families have called on him for help in these cases, Jones said DHR officials root their arguments in "ignorance and fear" of the blind community.
Social workers are simply not trained to understand that parents like Jones have to use different methods of supervision, Jones said.
DHR officials stand by social worker training but admit dealing with disabled parents isn't a specific part of the curriculum.
"We don't have any written part of the curriculum for child welfare workers," said John Bradford, DHR spokesman. "There might be some discussion, but there's no written part."
DHR officials cannot discuss abuse and neglect cases, but the Jordans concede that some of the changes DHR has recommended are reasonable. Both parents are unemployed and drawing disability, and Tyrone Jordan said he shares DHR's concerns about a ten-inch-wide hole in the floor of the family's home. He fell through it recently himself but has since covered it with wood.
Jordan has been ordered to find a new home before his daughter will be returned, and he says he will comply.
Jordan is less than enthused, however, about the suggestion that he needs a seeing adult to supervise his family around the clock--a condition he'll have to go along with to get his child back.
"As of this weekend, after that we have no more privacy," he said. "They're going to be around all the time."
The family also was ordered to get rid of their cat, which Jordan says they will do.
"They say the cat takes the baby's breath away," said Jordan, fifty-one. "Of course, we are responsible enough not to have the animal around the child."
Unlike his wife, Jordan has been a parent before. He has a twenty-seven-year-old daughter, and Jordan said his parenting skills shouldn't be a subject of debate.
In reality, Jordan says, parenting isn't even part of the DHR equation. In Jordan's view this is a fundamental debate about whether blind parents can adequately supervise children. "They are not going to admit that of course," Jordan said, "because they know that would be a discrimination charge."
Pooled Income Gifts
In this plan money donated to the National Federation of the Blind by a number of individuals is invested by the NFB. Each donor and the NFB sign an agreement that income from the funds will be paid to the donor quarterly or annually. Each donor receives a tax deduction for the gift; the NFB receives a useful donation; and the donor receives income of a specified amount for the rest of his or her life. For more information about the NFB pooled income fund, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: James Baxter]
Stepping Out in All Weather
by James Baxter
From the Editor: This story won the 2003 essay contest conducted by the Metro Chapter of the NFB of Minnesota. It was first published in the Spring 2004 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin. Jim Baxter lives in Pennsylvania, where he has returned now that he has successfully completed his training at BLIND, Incorporated. Readers will be interested to know that the man in the white shirt described in this article was Jim Antonacci, president of the NFB of Pennsylvania.
At one time I would have expected some escape from traveling in the cold winter months. I thought that, because I am blind, I couldn't or shouldn't go out in the snow. Cold and blindness were my two fears before I acquired an NFB mind. I am sure you're saying to yourself, "What is an NFB mind?" Okay, sit down, make yourself comfortable, and grab a cup of something you like to drink. An NFB mind teaches you how to adjust to learning and living with independence (mind you now, I said "living"), by making yourself open to change, by believing that life can be as fair as you want it to be. Having an NFB mind means believing that, when you give your best, you will receive the best in return. Having an NFB mind means finding enough confidence to help others learn how acquiring an NFB mind could change their lack of confidence to independence. When I talk about confidence here, I mean the deep-down confidence that comes from hands-on experience. There's no substitute for proving something to yourself by really doing it.
My story is about the cold. To me the cold is like blindness--something that used to be a convenient excuse for avoiding what I didn't want to do. When winter comes, it's easy to stay inside and not go places, blaming the cold. I used to tell myself, "I am blind." When I did this, I felt guilty, as if I had done something wrong. But after a while I became a pro at making excuses. I like to drink milk, but when it came time to go out and buy the milk, I had a raft of excuses: I can't see; I might get hurt; or, my favorite, I might get lost and not find my way back. The effect was pretty much like, "Hey, it's too cold."
One day my brother said to me, "You've got to change. Not for anybody else, but for yourself. If Mommy was alive she would make you do for yourself, not asking help from anybody." It was then that I decided to go see a doctor. So I went downtown to a retina specialist.
"Yes, your eyes are failing," he said. "There's nothing we can do but monitor the progression of the deterioration." I suddenly felt cold all over. I shrank back into a corner and huddled up as if it was ten degrees outside. When the doctor's office started to close, I decided to walk to the visual services office to see what I could do. When I reached the front of that building, I saw a bunch of blind people being helped on to a paratransit van. I suddenly felt cold all over again. I said to myself, "No fricking way am I gonna be an object of pity; I already know how to make myself feel useless." As I was standing there looking at the van, I saw a guy in a white shirt come out of the building with a long white cane and go dashing down the street. He was moving with care and not running into anything. I began to smile. I started to follow him, but in doing so I kept bumping into people and walls. He got onto a bus as if doing that was nothing at all, and I thought, "Even I with my remaining vision have trouble getting on the bus and finding a seat." The bus pulled away, and I wanted to speak to him, but I was too embarrassed and ashamed of my blindness.
Every day for a week I went downtown around rush hour to see if I could spot this guy again. I had no success, so the next week I decided to ask the paratransit driver who the guy was. I described him--the guy with the long white cane who was walking by himself and got on the bus. He knew exactly who I was talking about. The driver said to me, "That is one of them NFB guys." I felt good all over. Suddenly it was not as cold as it had been, and I became motivated to find out how this NFB guy had learned how to do what he did so well. It was all new to me. I had never seen a blind person move freely and go anywhere independently, and I was determined not to depend on anybody for anything that I could do myself.
After months of research and determination, I met the guy with the long white cane, and he invited me to come learn how I could get this training--the same training he had gotten at an NFB training center. We talked about commitment and the will to be independent, about no longer feeling cold and blind when you accept the situation for what it is. He gave me a list of centers to choose from. I was invited for a tour by a number of centers. That made me feel good. I was starting to get the feeling that I was not alone in my desire to change.
I chose Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated, in Minnesota because I used to like fishing and wanted to go to the state of 10,000 lakes. I was told that blind people fish all the time. When I heard this, I started to smile. I said to myself, "This I gotta see; no way can a blind person catch fish." But I just kept remembering the guy with the white shirt and the long white cane.
I arrived in Minnesota in May of 2003. I felt nervous but somehow not alone. While waiting at the airport for someone from BLIND, Incorporated, to pick me up, I heard sounds that appeared to be canes. It was four blind students coming to greet me; I was excited. They amazed me. They greeted me with a warm welcome, and I began to tell them how amazed I was at their travel skills. They seemed somewhat reluctant to hear me go on about how amazed I was. I wasn't trying to embarrass them. I just had never seen anything like it.
So I finally got to the center and met the instructors who were going to assist in my training. I know you may not believe this, but many of them were blind. The travel instructor, the Braille instructor, the computer instructor, the director, and even the secretary were blind. "I must have been locked up in my room for a long time," I said to myself. "This cannot be happening." Oh, but it was! I felt apprehensive but curious. No way was I going back to my cold room. No way!
So then I was introduced to the long white cane. I said to myself with a smile, "There are many canes like this, but this one is mine. I am on my way back to feeling like I belong." After class a student was to show me how to get home on the bus--another student like me, someone who was blind! Once again I could not believe this was happening. But all the while I was remembering that guy in the white shirt and the long white cane.
I have now completed my training, and you will not believe how much independence I gained at the center. I am again one of the independent people on this earth. So now when I am cold, I put something else on or turn up the heat. When I am feeling blind, I accept the fact that I am blind and do what I can to make a difference. I deal with my blindness without expecting special treatment. I remember that being independent is going to keep me out of my cold room. I am now that guy in the white shirt with the long white cane. I am not walking into people and things. I am walking into the places I want to go.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Rick French buffs out the wax that he has applied to this car.]
Florida Man Has Vision of His Own Role in Society
by Jay Arrington
From the Editor: The following article appeared March 11, 2004, in the Jackson Independent newspaper.
Rick French has a vision for his future--return to his home state of Florida, get more training in the field of auto body repair, get a job, and become a productive member of society. But the twenty-two-year-old will never get to see the fruits of his labors because a bullet took away his eyesight three years ago.
As part of a program with the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, French is currently working in Hodge at Smith's Wrecker and Body Shop, doing what he enjoys, working on cars. "I was going to school to be an auto body technician when I lost my sight," he said. "I am really happy that (Wayne Smith) gave me a chance to work. I was at another body shop, and they wouldn't let me do anything."
"He is doing really well," said Smith. "We've been impressed. All of the body shops in Ruston turned him down, but we put him right to work."
Smith said French works by touch. He sands damaged cars and trucks, applies Bondo, and tapes areas for painting. "He has a great attitude," Smith said. "He was here two days, and he could find anything in this shop. In fact his first job was sanding a truck. And he reached over and felt the truck and told us what make and model it was. We were amazed."
"Instead of looking at dents and things through my eyes," he said, "I have to look at them through my hands. The idea of the program is to find out exactly what kind of work he can do," Smith said. "Every day is a challenge for the student, because he sees just how much more he can do."
Smith said he learned about the Ocala, Florida, native through a woman at his church. She was telling him about the problem she was having placing French in a work environment as part of his studies at the center.
Smith said he told her he was interested, and they contacted him back saying that the program was free to him and that they were fully insured. "We were skeptical at first," he said, "because we do so much with sight. But we have learned about the things that he can do."
Smith said at first all the other shop employees didn't want to work with French because they were just not sure what he would be able to do. After a couple of days, however, everyone wanted to work with him. "His attitude is just so good," Smith said. "He came in saying, `what can I do?' and `put me to work.'"
French said it has been hard at times, especially after he went blind. But it didn't take long for him to realize that there was more to life than being disabled. "When I woke up in the hospital," he said, "I was just happy to be alive. Being able to see was the last thing on my mind. They told me I was blind, but I was alive."
After getting out of the hospital, he said he sat around his house trying to get his life together. It took him a while to make that decision. "You can only walk around and listen to music for so long," he said. "I decided I needed to learn my Braille and sharpen my computer skills," he said. "Being blind is like starting over. It is like being a child. Everything is a new experience."
French has been at the school for nine months. In a few weeks he will complete his education and head back to Florida. He will try to re-enroll in the auto tech school, graduate, and get a job.
"I want to work," he said. "Seventy percent of blind individuals are jobless. I want to work in the auto body field. It is something I enjoy. I want to be a productive individual in society. Getting a Social Security check is not my idea of a life. You have to be working. The day goes by so much faster. I also want a normal lifestyle. A person with sight is expected to get off his butt and work. It should be the same for a person without sight."
The work has had a positive impact on French. But has French had an impact on his coworkers at the Hodge shop? He believes it has. "I think I have changed their opinion of blindness," he said. "They are still kind of leery, but they are positive about it. In three weeks, when I am finished, I will have completely changed their minds."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dan Frye]
When Blindness Mattered
by Daniel B. Frye
From the Editor: Dan Frye is a longtime Federationist now living and working in New Zealand. He discovered the NFB as a student living in South Carolina. The following story about Dan's boyhood evokes the hot South Carolina summer and the struggle of a young blind boy to live a normal life. In recognition that even in the summertime the livin' is not necessarily easy for a blind child, here is Dan's story:
My sister Debbie and I were sent to live with our paternal grandparents in the Low Country of South Carolina following the death of our father in July of 1980. Our mother had succumbed to critical injuries two years earlier after a serious car accident. Our flight from Texas to South Carolina during the early hours of that summer morning represents my first vivid memory of travel on an airplane. To this day the sunrise I saw during that flight remains the most spectacular phenomenon I have ever seen: a brilliant orange-red ball of flames sitting alone on what appeared to be an infinite field of deepest, coldest blue sky. We were served French toast and given a packet of Eastern Airlines playing cards. After a few hours we landed in South Carolina to start our new lives in the country.
We lived with our grandparents in their two-bedroom house on an acre of farm land in the Cedar Creek community, some ten miles outside of Nichols, a small town of about 10,000 people. In addition to the house my grandparents owned an old tobacco barn; a wash house, where laundry was done; a pump house for the well; and a chicken coop to mark the property line at the back of the farm. They had a garden in which they grew everything imaginable, including peanuts and the largest watermelons I have ever seen. The front of the house had a conventional raised porch with gray rotting planks of wood, a large evergreen tree that offered abundant shade across the circular dirt driveway, and a set of black and red rusting lawn chairs that kept the shade tree company year round. Our place was about a quarter of the way down the wandering four-mile dirt road that ran in front of our property. Only several years after I left my grandparents' custody was the road assigned a name by local officials in order for the Cedar Creek community to become part of the 911 emergency system.
The Cedar Creek Baptist Church and Mr. Stanley's country store sat at the two ends of the dirt road, and both places were frequently a destination for my little sister and me, since getting lost was virtually impossible if you faithfully followed the side of the road until it ended. Despite the considerably longer distance from our house, Mr. Stanley's store was our favorite destination. We would buy two bottles of Pepsi-Cola and two Moon Pies for a dollar. We'd temper the stifling heat and forget the clouds of gnats that perpetually inhabited South Carolina's Low Country by drinking our Pepsis and dipping our toes in the creek at the side of the dirt road half way home from the store.
The aroma of simple home cooking, animals at pasture, and the diverse scents of nature were prominent among my first impressions of our new neighborhood. On the first Sunday morning of our permanent residence with our grandparents, for instance, my grandmother took my sister and me out to the chicken coop to be unwitting witnesses to the summary execution of that day's dinner. She exhibited a calm, matter-of-fact attitude as she efficiently wrung the necks of two birds and then undertook the smelly and distasteful process of removing their feathers. Later, though, more pleasant odors of frying chicken and weekly baking wafted through the house and onto the front porch, which attracted my attention and diverted my mind from the recent violent encounter to which the Sunday birds had been subjected.
Across the yard a large pile of rotting potatoes lay, easily identifiable from a distance by smell, waiting to be carted across the road by the two newest members of the household and dropped into the adjacent woods to be returned to nature. In the garden we would seek cleansing refuge from that task by inhaling the natural scent of freshly tilled ground and ripening strawberries. Finally, I particularly remember the distinctive sulfuric taste and smell of the water that came from the well and that could be mitigated only by chilling in the refrigerator for several hours. Suffice it to say, we had been installed in an entirely new world, quite different from the suburban childhood we had spent in the outskirts of Austin, Texas.
After about a week our status as visiting grandchildren changed, and our routine began to reflect our new position as part of the family. Unfortunately for me, this development made it abundantly clear that my grandparents, being part of the broader society, had limited expectations about the abilities of a blind child. When the family rose at 6:00 to harvest butterbeans from the garden, avoiding the heat of midday, I was expressly told that I could not join in the chore. I protested mightily but was led to believe that I was slow and would inhibit productivity. Instead, I was told to sit under the evergreen and shell beans as they were brought to me, an enviable duty for one who disliked physical exertion. Nevertheless, I knew it was an unfair privilege, and I felt dispirited at the assignment.
Similarly, I was prohibited from performing most domestic chores, with the exception of rinsing dishes and scrubbing the bathroom. My sister, on the other hand, was asked to assume work responsibilities for both of us. The sibling resentment that this unfair treatment created became palpable, and my ten-year-old sister did not fully understand or believe that I did not enjoy the privileges I was receiving. During these times I spent alone, either in guilty proximity to our window air-conditioning unit in the house or out under the evergreen tree, I first realized that blindness mattered.
The disparate treatment that we received from our grandparents was not limited to the performance of household and farming tasks only; it also had recreational implications. My grandfather established the tradition of taking each of his grandchildren fishing for a day. The two would leave at four in the morning, carry the boat down to the river, and fish until late afternoon. They would share a lunch of Vienna sausages, crackers, and water. Most of all, though, they shared time together. Debbie had her turn; so did everybody else. I frequently inquired when it would be my turn and was always promised that we would manage the trip sometime.
Ultimately, when Debbie and my grandfather were making their second trip, my grandmother confided that he didn't want to be responsible for a blind person on the water. In retrospect I am not persuaded that I ever really yearned to spend a day on a smelly boat with a limited diet and the prospect of getting my hands dirty, but at the time it seemed a special opportunity denied. At that moment blindness mattered.
In September, my grandmother took me aside and explained that I would be going to the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg, some 300 miles north of home. Oh, how I cried. I argued that I didn't want to leave Debbie alone so soon after coming to a new home. I explained that my parents had enrolled me in public schools since the third grade and that I had been coping well. I swore that I'd be a good boy if they'd just let me stay at home. Despite these petitions the decision was made, and we drove to the red hills of the upper state, where I resumed my education. Again, with the objective counsel of time and distance, I can see that this arrangement had advantages for me, but they were not the advantages that my grandparents perceived, and ultimately it was clear that blindness mattered.
Finally I remember telling my grandmother that I wanted to be a lawyer since my father had told me that being a policeman wasn't practical if you couldn't drive a car. I told her that Dad, a policeman himself, had told me that I'd have to work really hard and save lots of money in order to go to college. She lovingly but firmly doused these dreams with cold water, suggesting that I'd better plan to make brooms or, if I were lucky, hope to be a preacher in the Baptist church, where you could find jobs without formal theological training. My grandfather's pessimism about my academic aspirations was more brusquely conveyed when he observed with exasperation that all I did was read "those damn Braille books"--an ironic complaint since I wasn't allowed to use my hands for harvesting, fishing, or other meaningful contributions towards the well-being of the family. By summer's end, I was certain that blindness mattered.
One of the unanticipated advantages of going to the school for the blind was my immediate exposure to the work of the National Federation of the Blind. South Carolina affiliate leaders established the nation's first junior chapter of the NFB on the campus at Cedar Springs, and I quickly took an interest in the chapter and also in the activities and philosophy of our national movement. I cannot fully convey the self-confidence and emotional security I absorbed from reading the empowering banquet speeches of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan given to me by organization leaders. I benefited immeasurably from the indulgent mentoring of older blind men and women who cared enough to devote time to affirming my dreams. I began to seek permission to stay away from home on the weekends and ultimately managed to emancipate myself from my grandparents' custody. The NFB had given me the gift of belief in myself and the promise that hard work could yield unlimited personal accomplishment.
Upon reflection, I feel a measure of pride that I was gradually able to persuade my grandmother of my capacity to help the family. When my sister and grandfather went on yet another fishing trip, incidentally an activity that Debbie never really enjoyed, my grandmother asked me to help her pick butterbeans in the garden. She was pleasantly surprised that I could effectively empty the bushes, even finding beans among the leaves that she had missed because of relying on her vision. I never minded aching muscles or being drenched in perspiration. I wished only that my grandmother had possessed the courage to allow me to help in these basic ways with my grandfather present, but that was probably a more complicated request than simply sorting out the truth about blindness.
Emboldened by the philosophy and programs of the NFB, I learned that my early conclusion that blindness matters was correct. More important, however, is the fact that our collective efforts are helping to make certain that blindness matters less and less in the larger scheme of things.
Today I am employed as the National Advocate for the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand (ABC NZ), where I am professionally charged with making sure that blindness doesn't matter quite so much. Occasionally I recollect that first remembered flight and believe that the freedom I felt seeing that amazing sunrise and limitless sky has largely come to fruition in my life. I have no doubt, though, that blindness will always, to some extent, influence my experiences and color my perceptions. I have learned that, for those of us who cannot see, blindness is an integral part of our character as human beings. I have come to understand that blindness will always matter but that what matters most is the way we come to understand blindness.
Parents Fight to Keep Blind Teacher
by Jennifer Farish
From the Editor: The following story first appeared in the March 10, 2004, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. Both the family and the fired teacher are members of the NFB of Mississippi. What a sad irony it is that a school board would fire a successful Braille teacher with fifteen years of experience when many, many school systems across the country have no Braille instruction available to their blind students at all. We can only hope that reason prevails. Here is the story:
The parents of an eleven-year-old North Pontotoc School student are fighting to restore the position of her blind teacher.
Matt and Laina Fieldses' daughter Kelsey was born premature and as a result had a brain bleed at birth. The bleed caused Kelsey to lose her sight and caused several learning disabilities.
For two and a half years Kelsey was taught Braille by a blind teacher with the special education program at North Pontotoc High School. Matt Fields said they were amazed at the progress Kelsey made under the tutelage of the blind teacher. The teacher had been teaching Braille for fifteen years and is certified with several schools for the blind.
In December, the Pontotoc County school system terminated that teacher. A letter from Director of Student Services Terry Larabee said the termination was an "effort to streamline Braille services to the visually impaired student in our district and to correlate and coordinate Braille instruction."
The system put another teacher in the position after she underwent a three-month course in Braille. The new teacher has a degree in elementary education and has served as an assistant teacher and teacher with the Pontotoc County school system.
Fields argues three months is simply not long enough for a person to learn Braille well enough to teach it to others. For example, the online course for level 1 Braille that the Hadley School for the Blind offers is an eight month course. The second level can take as much as one to two years to complete.
"And that's just to get a certificate to say you know how to read Braille; that is not certifying you to teach it," he said. "So that is just a comparison of what we have and what we had and what should be."
The Fieldses said Kelsey has come home with papers that were incorrectly Brailled and as a result asked the school to continue teaching Kelsey but to discontinue her Braille lessons.
Tuesday the Fieldses addressed the issue at the Pontotoc County School Board's monthly meeting. The board declined to make any decision on the issue of discontinuing Kelsey's Braille instruction or rehiring her blind teacher, citing an upcoming due process hearing on the matter.
The Fieldses said they filed the motion for a due process hearing after the board refused to take action one way or the other. "We can't send her back to school if she is being taught incorrectly," Laina Fields told the board. "Y'all wouldn't do it, and I can't do it."
Fields added they are planning to withdraw Kelsey from school today. Although no action was taken, Board President Kenneth Roye said the board will rehire the teacher if the hearing officer for the due process hearing recommends such action. "If the hearing officer says to hire her back, we will hire her back," Roye said, adding he understood the Fieldses' frustration.
The system is doing the best they can for Kelsey, he added. "We want her to have the best, and the district is telling the board that she's getting the best she can get," he said. The due process hearing on the Fieldses' case is set for March 30.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dan Ryles]
Story of a Paperboy
by Dan Ryles
From the Editor: Dan Ryles is a member of the first generation of blind people who actually grew up quite naturally absorbing the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and learning the skills of blindness as they went along. The following story is proof of the positive results of such opportunities. The story appeared in To Reach for the Stars, the twenty-fifth in our Kernel Book series. It begins with President Maurer's introduction:
Dan Ryles grew up in the National Federation of the Blind. He started attending meetings of the National Federation of the Blind at a young age, and his mother was active in our organization for parents of blind children. When he got to the point of wanting a bit of extra cash, he decided not to let his blindness stop him from being a paperboy. Here is his story:
I have been blind since birth, but this affected my childhood very little. My family was very supportive. I was encouraged to be curious about things, to explore the environment, and to get out and have fun with other kids. I was not held back by any undue concerns for safety. Sledding, building a tree house, climbing trees, engaging in pillow fights, wrestling, playing on the monkey bars, and riding a bicycle (usually a tandem, or two-seated bike) were all a part of growing up.
As the years passed, I started to consider how I might get more discretionary cash. Like most other children, I wanted money to buy candy bars and cassette tapes, go to movies, and other such things. When I was twelve, my brother Tom and I decided to split a paper route. This posed certain questions. How would I know which houses to deliver to and which ones to pass by? When collecting money at the end of the month, how would I keep track of which houses I had collected from and which ones I hadn't? How could I keep track of the checks and different denominations of money that the customers paid me? For that matter, how could I guard against anyone short-changing me?
But all of these questions were secondary to the fact that I wanted some money. In order to earn that money, I would just have to find a way around any problems that I might encounter. Going without the money was not an option. So, with that in mind, I contacted James Gashel, a member of the National Federation of the Blind. He is blind himself and had a paper route as a boy.
One of the many benefits of being a member of the National Federation of the Blind is that you have ready access to a nationwide network of blind people from all walks of life. If someone tells you a blind person can't do something, the odds are very high that somewhere, at some time, a blind person has done it or is doing it.
The odds are also high that such a blind person is a member of the Federation. In fact the individual may have learned how to do the activity in question from another blind person in the Federation. That's the nature of our organization: we share experiences, problems, and solutions. So, after consulting Mr. Gashel, I simply found ways to do what was required of a paperboy. I memorized which houses were on the route and which houses weren't. This didn't take long.
As a side note I might add that we lived in Anchorage, Alaska, at the time, where winter lasted the majority of the year. Snow covered the ground, and that snow was often piled very high as a result of being cleared off the roads and pushed to either side. Since it had always been like this, why should it bother me any more on the paper route than it did while walking home from the bus stop? I had good cane skills. The driveways were usually shoveled or plowed to permit access by cars. Because of this it was easy to tell where the driveways were.
With my mother's help I Brailled the receipt cards for each subscriber. Once this was accomplished, keeping track of which customers had paid and which ones hadn't was no problem at all. When customers paid me, I tore off a receipt slip from their card. When they gave me cash, I asked which denomination was which, and I kept them in separate pockets of my wallet, putting the checks in a Ziploc bag.
Although I could not immediately verify that a particular customer was giving me the cash he or she claimed to be giving me, I would know I had been short-changed when I tried to use the money later. Was there a certain degree of trust involved? Yes.
To my knowledge I was never short-changed. Most people are honest. Of course all it takes is one who is not. There are devices that have a voice chip in them to tell you what bill you're holding. If I were to get a job as a cashier, I would probably want to get such a device. Meanwhile it makes sense to take what precautions can be taken. But as I said, most people are generally honest.
We kept the paper route for nine months. In no way did Tom assist me with my half of the route; we were both just as eager to deliver our halves and get out of the cold. This would have taken longer had he helped me with my half as well as delivering his half.
In May of 1987 we left Alaska for Seattle. A year and a half later Tom and I got another paper route. He delivered the papers Monday through Thursday, and I delivered them Friday through Sunday. Eight months after that Tom decided he didn't want to be a paperboy anymore, so I took over his half of the route.
This meant I was making twice as much money, which provided twice as much incentive to keep the route. I also wanted to keep each customer as satisfied as possible; more satisfied customers meant more tips at the end of the month. Tom complained that he never got tips, claiming people gave them to me because I'm blind. For all I know, he may have been right, but I wasn't about to turn down extra money for that reason. I worked just as hard as he did.
I continued doing the route for nearly four years after Tom quit. Over those four years I met a few interesting people on the route. In addition I saved up enough money to buy a very nice stereo and an extremely high-quality musical keyboard. Both of these things I still enjoy to this day.
As I mentioned earlier, I was not raised to be held back by any undue concerns about safety, and I am very glad for this. I was not taught to be afraid, at least no more than other children. When a child is born blind, he is not afraid of things because of his blindness; this fear is taught to him by others, much to that child's detriment. There is no real evidence to support the idea that blind people (children and adults alike) are injured at any greater rate than sighted people. The idea that blindness causes greater injury to oneself or others is a widely held assumption, but it is simply not true. I challenge anyone reading this to find any actuarial or statistical evidence to the contrary. But, as Dr. Jernigan (the former president of the National Federation of the Blind) so often said, we accept the attitudes of others and do much to make those attitudes a reality. But I was taught to believe in the problem-solving abilities which we all have.
I'm not sure my mother knew how to overcome certain things related to the paper route, but she knew that I would figure it out. After all I did want that money at the end of the month, and money can be a powerful incentive.
Today more paper routes are being done by adults in cars, and I think this is sad. Having a paper route gives an adolescent some experience with what it's like to run a business. It teaches you not to spend more money than you have, how to work with people who are not always easy to work with, and the necessity of going to work regardless of how you feel or what the weather happens to be like that day. These lessons are just as important for the blind as for the sighted. Having a paper route also lets you experience the satisfaction that comes from honest toil and knowing that the money has been earned, not charitably given. This is something that is more often denied to the blind than to the sighted.
But it doesn't have to be that way. We of the National Federation of the Blind are changing what it means to be blind. Some of the changes are dramatic: a new center being established or an important bill finally being signed into law. But more of the changes are far less dramatic: a blind woman getting an unrestricted childcare license or a blind person teaching class in a public school--or a blind teenager having a paper route.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dianne Hemphill]
Of Canes and Misconceptions
From the Editor: I recently received the following exchange of letters from Susie Stanzel, president of the NFB of Kansas. She thought that they articulated the ongoing objections that some people have to using the long white cane in training facilities and the reasons why a number of facility administrators have decided to require their use. I agreed, so here are the letters, beginning with a biographical note about Dianne Hemphill, written by Susie Stanzel:
I have known Dianne Hemphill since we both attended the Kansas Rehabilitation Center in Topeka for a college prep course. We saw each other occasionally during college in Emporia. Then we didn't have any contact for several years until she joined the NFB of Kansas South Central Chapter in Wichita. Dianne became the chapter president and the affiliate second vice president. Her passion was employment for the blind. Consequently she was very active in the Job Opportunities for the Blind program (JOB). The Kansas affiliate ran several JOB seminars. When the position of administrator of Kansas Services for the Blind program became available, her selection for the position was unanimous.
Dianne Hemphill currently serves as the administrator of Kansas Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (KSBVI). Since she began her job in May of 2000, the Kansas agency has undergone many positive changes including a relocation, face-lift and technology enhancement of the residential center in Topeka; curriculum refinements and use of measurable outcomes for participating clients; a renewed emphasis on employment with seminars, work trials, and weekly group discussions focusing on what it takes to become employed; programs advancing diabetic knowledge; evening mentoring programs; monthly assistive technology-training programs for the community; and focus on and expertise in serving those with deaf‑blindness. KSBVI has also partnered with the University of Kansas School of Medicine to add curriculum and training to the ophthalmology residents' program.
The following article is an exchange of correspondence in which Ms. Hemphill responds to a letter she received following imposition of a new policy which mandates the use of the long white cane for clients participating in the center-based training program in Kansas. It is useful to keep in mind the fears and misconceptions some blind people still have about using the long white cane, and it is reassuring to know that some agency officials are helping to spread the truth. Here are the letters:
KSBVI Advisory Committee
September 20, 2003
September 17, 2003
Hi, my name is _____. I am writing this letter in response to the decision that has been made by Dianne Hemphill, the administrator of the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Ms. Hemphill is a member of the National Federation for the Blind, otherwise known as NFB. It is NFB's belief that a blind person who uses a cane should use a straight cane. These canes are outdated, and they are not used by a lot of blind individuals. Even though a few companies are still making the straight cane. The straight cane was the first cane made for the blind but since then there has been improvement to the cane world. A big majority of cane users have and use folding canes.
Ms. Hemphill, as administrator of the RCB, has abused her power by exacting her personal views into her professional life by forcing the O and M Instructor and other staff members at RCB to teach and support her in having all of the clients use straight canes. The enforcement started this month, September 2, 2003.
Both types of canes should be introduced equally to the clients, and it should be up to the client to decide on which cane they will want to use. Any information about the two types of canes should be answered honestly and without any type of personal views.
The straight cane is much harder than the folding cane, so when you hit someone with the cane, it will hurt him or her more.
The straight cane is not flexible in any way.
Where are you going to put the cane when you are out eating at a restaurant without it being in someone's way? So that they do not fall over the cane. No matter how you put the cane under the table, it will stick out.
Where and how will you put the cane up when you are either in public transportation or private transportation, without you hitting someone or a window with the cane?
These are only a few examples that I could come up with off the top of my head. I know that there are other downsides to the use of straight canes.
Unfortunately, NFB feels that if a person that is blind is using a folding cane, they are hiding or denying their disability. I would like to know how that is.
There you have the consumer's letter. Here is the administrator's response, which was circulated to the advisory group members who received the first letter.
October 8, 2003
Thank you for your letter of concern dated September 17, 2003, and, as requested, presented at the September 20, 2003, KSBVI Advisory Committee. Your concerns about using the long white cane were discussed. However, the ongoing consensus of the Advisory Committee is that the long straight cane will continue to be used for training while clients are attending the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (RCBVI). The Advisory Committee is composed of members from both the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Kansas Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (KABVI) as well as others with expertise in the blindness field.
I assure you that I too have heard horror stories of blind people having terrible accidents while using the long, straight canes. I have also heard such horror stories when the individual was using a folding cane or guide dog. The worst of all scenarios, however, is not using a cane at all. Accidents do happen occasionally, and we work diligently to maximize the safety of each RCBVI client participating in orientation and mobility.
A number of factors led to the decision to use the straight cane during rehabilitation at the RCBVI. It is commonly agreed that the straight cane provides much more tactual information than does the folding cane. Becoming comfortable and confident gathering and using the information the cane provides is critical to making progress in traveling in one's environment. Thus using the tool that provides the most information makes good sense, particularly during the RCBVI training program.
Another critical element that supports this decision is choosing the best method to facilitate gaining self-esteem. Many of those who come to us for rehabilitation have some useful but relatively unreliable vision. Typically those with some remaining vision struggle with this new reality, that is, that their vision no longer provides the information they need to function as a sighted person. Many simply fold their canes and hide them in their lockers or purses or leave them in their rooms in order to pretend that they are sighted.
Despite the short time clients have to develop skills at the RCBVI, we want them to leave with the greatest gift of all, self-esteem. We promote this by having clients use their canes at all times. This is much easier when they cannot fold them up and hide them away as one can easily do with a folding cane. Getting past the common embarrassment of using the tools employed by the blind and visually impaired is a significant step in people's becoming comfortable in the new skin they are now wearing.
Finally, many misconceptions about client choice surface when differences of opinion arise, particularly when such issues unsettle the "way it's always been done." When clients receive rehabilitation services, just as when educational programs are in question, students are expected to take on the challenges of the program they have decided to enter. College students are not allowed to avoid courses that are part of the curriculum leading to a particular degree. Likewise, rehabilitation clients do not get to make most of the decisions about how they will participate in the rehabilitation program they have selected. Both educational and rehabilitation institutions are charged with providing programs that allow participants to develop to their greatest potential.
Following the completion of either an educational or rehabilitation program, the student or client has the information on which to base future choices. Our greatest concern is building self-esteem while maintaining safety. Once the long, straight cane has been mastered and its benefits recognized, the client can then make personal decisions based on the information provided and the experience gained.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Martha Harris]
In Touch with the Written Word:
Braille Helps Blind People Lead Independent Lives
by Tiffany Shaw
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Tuesday, January 20, 2004, edition of the Altoona Mirror. Martha Harris and her mother Catherine are both members of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. Here is the article:
Sophomore Martha Harris succeeds as an honor student at Altoona Area High School because of her hard work, intelligence, and a little help from Braille.
Martha, sixteen, has been blind since birth, but she started to read when she was in preschool, thanks to a teacher who instructed her in Braille.
The system of Braille revolutionized the way blind people could read and learn when it was created, and it maintains a vital role in helping the blind lead independent lives, says Peg Taddy, a social worker with the state Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. Even though technology has overtaken the older ways of reading in many cases, the hands-on approach remains very important, she says.
"Braille is like a foreign language. If you use it all the time, you get quite fluent in it." Taddy says. "Some groups have begun to feel that Braille wasn't being considered in school because technology was taking its place. They felt the need to educate people about it so they would see there is still a need for it. Braille is like pen and paper. You can always use them when technology fails. It's a basic reading and writing tool."
Martha, the daughter of Catherine Harris of Altoona, agrees. "I think it's very important. Even though there's technology, without Braille, reading would not be possible," she says.
She uses a Braille Lite machine to take notes in class, transposing what her teachers say into notes on what resembles a laptop computer. She takes that home and can reread the notes and do homework by printing them on a Braille printer or by having the machine read them back to her. Coupled with a scanner that can vocalize any printed page, Martha excels in school.
"She's a very bright little girl," Taddy says of Martha, whom she's known since Martha was three years old. "She works hard and does well. To me she's really a good example of the independence a blind student can achieve."
Using the combination of technology and Braille doesn't faze Martha. "I first learned Braille when I was four, in preschool," she says. "I didn't think it was very hard."
Martha first learned grade I Braille, which uses the regular alphabet to spell out words, she says. She then learned grade II Braille, which is more like shorthand and shortens the words to just a few letters, she explains.
According to the International Braille Research Center, the code to enable blind people to read and write was invented by a blind Frenchman, Louis Braille, in 1829 . Braille is made of a rectangular six-dot cell, with up to sixty-three possible combinations using one or more of the six dots.
The cells are embossed onto thick paper and read with the fingers moving across the top of the dots. Braille characters take up three times as much space as print, meaning that a Braille dictionary consists of volumes that would fill a room, Taddy says.
The method of reading doesn't detract from Martha's pleasure in the hobby at all. "I love to read. Reading is one of my favorite things," she says. She also participates in a reading club at school that takes part in reading comprehension competitions.
Since Taddy has worked with Martha for so long, she often has Martha speak at group meetings for parents who have young children who are blind. Hearing the teenager talk about going to regular classes and seeing how independent she is can alleviate some of the parents' fears, Taddy says.
"She's really good at talking to them, and she tells them helpful things," Taddy said. "She's a really good role model and mentor for little ones."
Martha took time out Saturday to read to children at Altoona Area Public Library, reading a storybook in Braille to them. She will also take part in a blindness awareness event Saturday at the Logan Valley Mall, writing children's names in Braille as well as demonstrating some of the equipment she uses in school.
The event is designed to educate people about the importance of Braille and show how blind adults can live independent lives, Taddy says. Part of that comes by learning Braille at a very young age, like Martha, in preschool, Taddy says.
Parents of even younger children with serious vision loss can encourage their children to develop their sense of touch by getting used to identifying things by touch, she says. "If they start early, they can have good success," she says.
Agencies can assist parents in getting equipment for children in school so they keep up in the classroom and later enjoy reading just for pleasure, like Martha. Reading will also play a huge role in Martha's plans for the future. "I want to be a journalist," she says. "I like writing, too."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Aloma Bouma]
Blind Lady Coming Down!
by Aloma Bouma
From the Editor: Aloma Bouma has recently returned to school to earn a master's degree. This story appeared in To Reach for the Stars, the twenty-fifth in the NFB's Kernel Book series of paperbacks. It begins with President Maurer's introduction:
Aloma Bouma grew up in Nebraska and now lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where she has been a leader in the National Federation of the Blind for many years. Her blindness has never prevented her from pursuing her love of travel. Here she tells of her experiences while visiting the British Parliament:
One of the minor regrets in my life is that I did not choose to study and work in the fields of anthropology and archeology. Too long after college and too late to develop a successful career in either of these fields, I discovered my love for them. This failure has deprived me of travel in the areas of the world most closely associated with human development--travel I would have thoroughly enjoyed and still hope to do some day. This does not mean, however, that I have not traveled. I love traveling and make special efforts to fit visits to other countries into my life whenever I can.
During one visit to London I found myself with some free time for sightseeing. Everyone who visits London looks forward to hitting the usual tourist sites: the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, a visit to St. Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, a ride on the top of a double-decker bus, a trip to Windsor Castle or Hampton Court, a ferry ride down the Thames, or a stroll along Oxford Street for some power shopping. Having done all those things on previous trips, I decided to check out Trafalgar Square and visit the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
As a member of the National Federation of the Blind, I have spent some time visiting my senators and representatives and the U.S. Capitol. Additionally I have observed Congress in action both on C-SPAN broadcasts and from the congressional observation seating for visitors, and I have seen bits and pieces of American broadcasts from England's Parliament. None of this, however, prepared me for what I found at the Houses of Parliament.
As I entered the large and impressive building with Big Ben sounding from its tower above, I was immediately struck by a sense of history, power, and solemnity. The area was hushed, with very few employees or visitors around. I approached a visitor information desk and asked about visiting hours and opportunities to observe the Houses in session.
I learned that I was welcome to observe the House of Lords from balcony seating. Someone would be happy to show me the way immediately. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Very soon someone accompanied me through the corridors toward the entrance to the Lords visitors' area. The atmosphere remained quiet, and, even though my sense of anticipation was building, I continued to be awed by the dignity that surrounded me.
After passing through the maze of ropes and enduring security screenings, intensive by any standard, I was shown where to enter the balcony. Just before I slipped quietly in, I was ever so properly and politely reminded to remain silent and to demonstrate respect for the work that was being conducted. I spent about an hour watching with fascination and respect, even though I cannot now tell you what the discussion was about.
The members behaved exactly as I had expected them to: very dignified, quiet, and soft-spoken, respectful to one another, and moving through their business with courteous precision. I felt my overwhelming good fortune as I recognized not only that I, an American visitor, could share this moment but also that as a blind person I had had the ability and confidence to travel alone to London, seek out historic sites, and participate in the things countless other tourists do every day.
After a time I decided to inquire about visiting the House of Commons. At this point things began to change. As I walked back through security upon leaving the House of Lords, I asked if someone could direct me to the House of Commons visitor seating. I was told that someone would be happy to show me, and off we went. However, my experience at the Commons was quite different from the routine at the Lords visitor entrance.
As we approached, I noticed no visitors, ropes, security screening, or large entrance area. I was conducted through a relatively small door leading to a winding staircase. When I inquired where we were going, I was told this was the entrance to the Commons viewing area.
Something was clearly wrong, but with no previous experience of the area, I wasn't sure precisely what. I asked again if this was the usual way for visitors to reach the observation area for the House, and I was once again assured that this was the proper path. But we were ascending a narrow stairway obviously not meant for the public. I asked to be shown the public entrance, explaining that I had not wanted special treatment or opportunities different from those provided to other members of the general public.
I found myself facing a real dilemma. The philosophy I had learned from the National Federation of the Blind has taught me to believe both in myself as a blind person and in the importance of participating in society the way my sighted friends do. However, here I was, in a foreign country, unfamiliar with many of the customs, and especially unfamiliar with parliamentary staff attitudes about blindness. How could I make my point without offending them and appearing to become a rude, impolite, ungrateful American tourist?
Not sure I was making the right choice, I decided not to make a scene by arguing. I chose to comply with the requirements but to make a point of discussing the matter with someone before I left the building. Perhaps I could provide a little public education and make it easier for future blind visitors. I was shown into the balcony through a door leading to an aisle behind the back row of seats. Along that back wall, under a speaker, a man placed a wooden chair.
Leaving the House of Commons, however, turned out to be just as frustrating as arriving had been. I bid the gentleman good day and stepped toward the winding stairs. Before I could descend, though, the ushers stopped me. Wouldn't I please take the elevator down so that I wouldn't hurt myself? Apparently in their view going up the stairs is not as dangerous for the blind as going down.
No, I said, I would be fine on the stairs. I simply said no thank you, and took off alone down the long staircase. When I reached the halfway point, I heard one of the men bellowing from the top of the stairs. "Blind lady coming down!" he yelled to his colleagues at the bottom. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
For a long time I reflected on my experiences in Parliament--the contrast between my House of Lords visit, which went so smoothly, and the one to the Commons, which went so differently.
Mostly, when I think about it now, I am grateful for the National Federation of the Blind and for what I have learned of the strong self-confidence and ability that ground us. We have each other to turn to when we do not know all of the answers or find ourselves facing situations in which no answer seems the perfect choice. I wouldn't trade my experience in Parliament for anything. It strengthened my need to hold to personal convictions under unfavorable circumstances, and it taught me that sometimes diplomacy and cultural differences must be balanced against individual philosophy and principles.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: J. Webster Smith]
Pumping Gas and Reaching for the Fans
by J. Webster Smith
From the Editor: Dr. J.W. Smith is first vice president of the NFB of Ohio and Associate Professor in the School of Communication Studies at Ohio University. In the following story he recounts an important moment in the life of every blind person--the moment when we face the unrelenting fact of blindness. When the individual is secure enough to accept that truth and make it simply a part of who he or she is, not apologizing, not making excuses, but also not waving the fact like a flag, that person is on the high road to maturity and independence. Here is J.W.'s story of discovery and acceptance:
I was born to a typical black family in a predominantly black neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. When I was born, I could see out of only one eye because of glaucoma. At the age of three I had a terrible accident, which caused me to lose the sight in my so-called good eye. I was raised by my grandparents, who had migrated from Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid fifties to the south side of Chicago in search of the promised land--better jobs, better living conditions, and better overall opportunities.
My grandfather Carl and my grandmother Sarah were entrepreneurial in that my grandmother worked as a hairstylist in several large beauty shops on the north side of Chicago, and my grandfather worked usually physically intensive jobs in the trucking and the baking industries. They were two very different people. My grandmother Sarah was a no-nonsense, extremely take-charge individual whose view of her blind grandson was that he could be whatever he wanted to be, and she would do whatever it took to make that possible.
In many ways this was the attitude of my grandfather as well, but his response to me was somewhat more schizophrenic. For example, sometimes he would not allow me to assist him lifting heavy furniture, but other times he walked into my bedroom and, upon seeing me sitting in the dark, said something like, "Why don't you turn on the lights so you can see better in here?" He had honestly forgotten that I could not see. This was a pattern he repeated often in his life.
We are all products of our environment, and as a child my environment was shaped by the attitudes of my grandparents and by my neighborhood as well. And what a neighborhood it was. In my block alone we had lawyers, doctors, bankers, school principals, and Chicago police officers. I remember what a wonderful, safe place that neighborhood was. The sounds and smells were a delight to the senses. As was the case in many Chicago neighborhoods, the houses were so close together that you could almost reach out of your bedroom window and touch the house next door. You could hear almost everything going on in your neighbors' homes, and of course you could smell the delicious aromas wafting from their kitchens. I can still remember those festive summer days: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day with their fragrances of ribs, sweet potato pie, greens, and fried chicken wafting on the warm summer breeze from every house along the street. It was wonderful. You wanted to stop at every home for a taste.
In the sixties every neighborhood of this kind had its own barbershop, where the men would gather and talk about whatever interested them. I was too young at the time to recognize or understand the significance of the barber shop. But my neighborhood included one other gathering place for the men, one other rite-of-passage location: my grandfather's gas station. In 1965 or '66 my grandfather decided to buy a gas station. At the same time my grandmother built and began operating a restaurant. They were both demonstrating their entrepreneurial strength; one was cooking and one was pumping gas and fixing cars.
The gas station was about a block from my home, so I enjoyed walking there, always without a cane, feeling proud of myself. You see, my family's intention was to downplay my blindness. In fact our goal was to make people say, "Oh, I forgot that he was blind." Little did I know how destructive that attitude was to me. I consistently ran around the neighborhood, rode my bike, and did all kinds of things without using a cane or any kind of appropriate alternative skills.
One of my fondest memories is of walking down to my grandfather's gas station, especially on Saturdays, and smelling the gas; I still love that smell. I remember hearing the sound of the tools as my grandfather worked in the body shop, hearing the bell ring when a car drove in, and playing with the candy machine, trying to get more candy than a quarter would dispense.
Sometime around the age of seven I said to my grandfather, "I'd like to help you pump gas some time."
In his usual manner he said, "Let's go and check it out." He took me out to the pump and showed me the dials and the controls and let me feel the gas hose. I would stand there with him as the cars came and went. Those were the days of full-service stations, when he routinely pumped the gas, wiped down the windshield, and checked the oil. Gas was only twenty-seven cents a gallon. My grandfather always had trouble finding help, so I volunteered to work with him.
Little by little I increased my assistance to him until we eventually became a great team. Pieces of tape on the dial helped me to know where to turn it, and a certain number of clicks of the pump indicated that a given number of dollars worth had been purchased. If activity at the station got too loud, the tape also helped me to keep track of the number of clicks. This ensured that I would give customers the right amount of gasoline. I would insert the gas hose into the cars while my grandfather wiped the windshield and checked the oil. I became a regular fixture around that gas station. People in the neighborhood used to talk about the blind boy who pumped gas, and they thought it was outstanding, in fact. Things were going well.
My grandfather always collected the money from the customers so that nobody would be tempted to cheat me. This seemed like a smart thing to do. One day, feeling cocky and self-assured, I decided not to wait for my grandfather to collect the money. While he went into the gas station to check on something, I approached the driver of the car and informed him that his gas purchase totaled three dollars. He handed me a five-dollar bill. I had some one dollar bills in my pocket, so I gave him change for the five, and he drove off. When my grandfather returned, he asked me if the man had paid. Beaming with pride and accomplishment, I said, "Sure." But to my dismay I quickly learned that I had been duped. This man was not a friend from the neighborhood. He said he had given me a five dollar bill when in fact it was only a dollar. I had given him two dollars in change. After that incident my grandfather was hesitant to let me help again. I think it also served as a reminder to him that I was really blind, and, although he often tried to pretend I was not blind, that incident made it crystal clear to both of us that I was. My own confidence was shaken by that incident, and I learned a valuable lesson that day. I also learned something about my grandfather. Sometimes he treated me as if I weren't blind and was proud of that fiction. Other times he would do something painfully obvious to remind me that I was blind.
Throughout my life I have had similar experiences. Eventually I realized that it was respectable to be blind and stopped trying to be someone I was not. I am now married and have a family of my own. My wonderful wife Regina and I have two beautiful daughters, who in many ways remind me of my grandparents.
My older daughter Ebony is no-nonsense, very serious, and in many ways reminds me of my grandmother Sarah. My younger daughter Joshelyn reminds me of my grandfather and the way he watched out for me. Our house has several ceiling fans, which can be operated by a wall switch or a pull chain attached directly to the fan. Often, as I reach for the chain on the fan Joshelyn reminds me, "Watch out, Daddy! You'll cut yourself! You'll hurt yourself because you know you can't see." Her repeated warnings remind me of my days of pumping gas in my grandfather's gas station.
Today it pleases me to say that, as a result of being a member of the National Federation of the Blind, I don't have to pretend that I can see. I don't have to pretend that I am not blind or pretend to be someone I am not. I am blind and very proud of who I am. I can't imagine traveling through life without my cane, and I am not as trusting of others, especially about money transactions, as my gas station experience indicates. Sometimes it takes a humbling experience to bring us to the realization that we don't have all the answers, nor should we try to have them. And furthermore, isn't it interesting the way those little incidents can teach us some big, valuable lessons about life and coexisting with our fellow human beings.
I have now been teaching speech communication at the university level for over twenty years. I have met thousands of students, and in those years of teaching in the classroom I've only had one incident in which I thought that some students attempted to take advantage of my blindness. I addressed the issue immediately, and it has never happened again. After joining the NFB in 1990, I soon realized that I could be myself and that people were people, meaning that they might try to pull the wool over some sighted person's eyes as well as mine. Recently I spent an entire day with my daughter Joshelyn, and it is clear now that she fully understands that, although Daddy is blind, he is quite capable of taking care of himself and her. And, by the way, she no longer frets when I reach to turn off the ceiling fan.
I am not visually impaired; the NFB has taught me that I am blind. So whether it's pumping gas or reaching for the fans, I live my life with confidence. Things will inevitably happen that remind me and those around me that, yes, I'm blind, but that's okay.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Kevan Worley]
The Ties That Bind
by Kevan Worley
From the Editor: Kevan Worley is first vice president of the NFB of Colorado and a successful businessman. He and his wife Bridget have recently adopted a young son. The following story is reprinted from To Reach for the Stars, the twenty-fifth in the NFB's Kernel Book series of paperbacks. It begins with President Maurer's introduction:
Kevan Worley lives in Aurora, Colorado. He is president of the National Association of Blind Merchants. In his story, "The Ties That Bind," Kevan shares with us a vivid picture of the loving family environment in which he grew up. We come to see, however, that something more than the richness of his family's love was needed. He found that something in the National Federation of the Blind. Here is Kevan's story:
It's funny the things you remember from your childhood. Sitting in my office comparing long-distance rates, I found myself daydreaming about a family trip we took when I was five or six. We were always on some sort of adventure, vacation, outing, or transfer.
My father, Sergeant Jim Worley, was transferred every year or two, and no matter where we were, he made sure we saw the sights: Arizona to France, Kansas to Germany. This particular trip was to South Bend, Indiana, to visit my father's parents--loving people, who adopted him from an orphanage when he was five. They were members of the same Protestant denomination as my mother's family, and both sets of parents raised their children with a strong sense of family and church. If there were relatives within three hundred miles, there was no way we would miss seeing them.
My mom and dad met at a church camp when they were in their late teens. They married not long after high school graduation. My dad then joined the army and was sent to Bad Kreuznach, Germany, where I was born in 1956. My mother endured sixteen hours of labor in a hospital far from any family except her husband. When I finally entered the world after a difficult delivery, I was totally blind. But that is the start of another, longer story. This story is about a daydream and the way memories tie your life together and make you whole.
We were traveling from Ft. Hachuca, Arizona, to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, when Dad decided to detour to South Bend to see his parents. The detour itself meant little to me. What was important was the new suits my brother and I were wearing and the chance for others to see us in them. My parents had bought them for us to wear to church, but these were no ordinary church suits. These were western outfits, complete with bolo ties.
The bolo string ties were the neatest things my little hands had ever seen. I was fascinated by the metal-feeling tips and the way the round turquoise bolo moved up and down like a pulley. Better yet was the way my relatives would ooh and aah over my appearance. I was stylin'. But perhaps the coolest part of all was that I could put the tie on myself. The knots on my father's ties remained a mystery to me despite my best efforts, but the bolo tie was mine to put on or remove as I wished.
It's funny the things you remember--the way memories seem tied to one another, connecting people and events in ways you never quite expect. Years after I had outgrown the western suit, while I was attending fourth grade at the Illinois residential school for the blind, my grandfather on my mother's side passed away. He had been a wonderful man, and I was very sad.
The social worker called me to his office to give me the news. He kindly explained that Mrs. Bishop, my favorite housemother, had packed my suit and would take me to the bus station. I would catch a bus to Lincoln, where my relatives would meet me and take me to the funeral the next day. My ears perked up at the mention of my relatives, because I knew I would get to stay at my Aunt Betty's house. I was very sad, but fourth graders have their priorities, and my Aunt Betty made the best French toast of anyone in the world.
The next morning, after ten slices of French toast, I had to put on my suit and prepare for the funeral. Well, somehow Mrs. Bishop had found and packed a regular long men's tie, not a clip-on tie. I was confused. I wanted to look nice for the funeral to make my mom and grandma proud of me, but I didn't know how to tie a tie. I was all mixed up and embarrassed, fumbling with this long tie and thinking of my grandpa and how much I would miss him.
When I was four, he and my grandma had driven me from their home in Ottawa, Illinois, to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. They were hoping the great doctors at that world-famous clinic could restore my sight. I don't think I cared very much about being able to see. What I remember was the trip in my grandpa's Nash, wrestling with him at the motel every night before bedtime, and his buying me a cup of coffee. My grandma said, "Don't you give my Kevie-Dale coffee! It will stunt his growth!"
My grandpa was a union man, a shop steward at Libby Owens Ford. He got up very early to go to work at the factory. When I was visiting them, he would leave me something to find in his lunch pail when he came home from work. Then we would watch "Highway Patrol" or "Wagon Train" together.
When I was very little, about three, he took me by the hand to run around the backyard. While we were running, I stepped on a bee. I've heard family stories that he felt terrible about it. I always figured it was all right to feel a little bad about your grandson stepping on a bee. After all, it was a painful experience. But I learned that he was upset because I was a little blind boy, and he thought he should have been more cautious with me.
Knowing that hurt, because I wouldn't have wanted him to be any more cautious. Roughhousing with Grandpa was when I forgot about caution and lost myself in the fun of being alive. Those were the times I was free to be fearless and unrestrained and full of laughter. Caution was something I experienced from most of the adults in my life, but with Grandpa I could just be a playful little boy.
My Aunt Betty eventually found me a clip-on tie. After she handed it to me, she mumbled, "That school! Why would they send a blind kid home with a regular tie?" I remember thinking that a clip-on tie was good enough for a nine-year-old, and I wanted to mumble back, "Why don't you let me cut my own French toast? They do at school."
It's funny the way one recollection leads to another as I sit here daydreaming. In high school I once got my father to show me how to tie a tie. Now my dad, the gung-ho first sergeant that he was, truly believed that I should be able to do anything and that blindness should not stop me. This time, however, his impatience or mine kept the lesson from going very far. I took the tie he tied, pulled the knot down, and kept it tied all the time. Eventually the knot became grungy looking and crooked, but it served my purpose.
Teenage sons and their fathers have peculiar relationships, so I never asked him to show me again. I realize now he would gladly have taken the time. I guess I always thought there was a huge gulf between my dad and me--the two-tour Vietnam soldier and his war-moratorium son. It's a funny thing though; Dad flew out to see me wrestle many times.
Once during my freshman year of high school he was in transit to a new duty station and popped in to visit me at the school for the blind. We went to see Alice's Restaurant, the Arlo Guthrie anti-draft film. He said he liked it and even laughed in a couple of places, but I doubt he really liked it very much. In fact I'm not sure that I would think much of it now, thirty years later. Maybe I should have spent that time with him learning to tie a tie.
No, that would not have been cool. As a young man I sometimes found myself all tied up inside, masking my deficiencies by acting cool. I had difficulty untangling my high expectations from the lower ones set by family, friends, and teachers. I don't know how much of that confusion was part of growing up blind and how much was normal teenage angst.
Many years later, after I found the National Federation of the Blind and attended one of our great training centers to untangle those insecurities, I had a conversation with Dr. Marc Maurer in his office at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. He mentioned that he wore a necktie to school every day when he attended Notre Dame University.
By the time of this conversation, I had found some success as a businessman and community activist, but even so I remember thinking, "You wore a tie in the early seventies, every day at college? What a nerd!" But then I caught myself and thought, "No, what strength of character. What sense of self not to be distracted by a false need to impress, to cover up, to fit in."
Maybe that's why Dr. Maurer is now the president of the largest, most dynamic organization of blind people in the world. Perhaps that is why he became a successful lawyer and why he is well known as a teacher, advocate, and role model. While some of that strength of character must have come from inside himself and from his family, I suspect he would give much of the credit to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, his mentor and teacher. I imagine Dr. Jernigan helped Marc Maurer untangle his doubts about what a blind man could become with brains, drive, pride, and humility. Maybe Dr. Jernigan taught the young Marc Maurer how to tie a tie. I don't know. I've never asked.
I know who finally taught me: Ray McGeorge, a founding member of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. I met him at the Colorado Center for the Blind, an adjustment-to-blindness training center for adults, founded on Federation philosophy. It was blind people training blind people--the kind of role modeling that has made our NFB training centers so successful at changing lives. Ray's wife Diane, founder of the Colorado Center, reached out and persuaded me to give the center a try.
Up until that point I'd bounced around quite a bit--from radio job to rock-and-roll band, from short attempts at college to long stretches of unemployment and occasional part-time telemarketing. It wasn't until I was thirty-two years old that the NFB's Colorado Center gave me the opportunity to confront my failures, my self-doubt, and my lack of understanding about myself as a person who happened to be blind.
At the center I learned alternative techniques of living as a blind person. But even more than that, I was made whole by those who, through their example, showed me it was respectable to be blind. They taught me I could have a full, competitive, and happy life if I chose to go after it. Whether I was rock climbing or making a quiche, job shadowing or teaching blind high school students to light a campfire, even cooking a turkey dinner for thirty all by myself, they were there to support me. They built me up when I doubted my ability and got me going again when I faltered. And Ray McGeorge made me tie a tie.
A group of students and I were heading out to the bus stop, talking about the things we wished we had learned as blind children. I casually mentioned wishing I had learned to tie a tie. Ray McGeorge overheard and said, "I can teach you to do that right now."
As I hurried away from the center, I told him I would appreciate the lesson. Perhaps we could get together sometime before I graduated. Ray replied slowly, drawing out his words as he always does, "I don't see why we can't get started right now." It was past 4:30 in the afternoon, and I was ready to get back to the apartment. Ray was saying, "I'll see if we can't find a tie around here, and we'll just fix you right up." He's retired now, but at that time he had been a machinist for about thirty-five years. I was sure he must be tired from a hard day at work and certainly he would not be able to find a tie. But as I stepped up to the bus stop on Broadway, I heard Ray's distinct low voice behind me. "Come on, Kevan, this shouldn't take long. Let's get to it."
With busses going by every ten minutes, Ray stood behind me, patiently showing me how to make the knot. He had me do it until I not only got it right but could do it again and again. "We need to do it so you will never forget this time," he said. And then he added, "Maybe someday you will show some other young man how to tie a tie."
It's funny the way the people, events, and lessons of a life fuse to create the person you become. I am now the project manager for M & K Food Service in Aurora, Colorado. I wear a tie everyday. In fact, over the past six or seven years in the food business, I have collected over a hundred food-related ties. I enjoy collecting them, tying them so the knot is just right. It's a matter of pride and self-respect in a simple, very basic way.
It's good to look back and discover that the bonds you've made with others are what tie your life together--bonds like those with my parents and grandparents, and the teachers and house parents at the school for the blind, who did have love and expectations. And I'll never forget Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and Dr. Marc Maurer, who each took a personal interest in me, counseling me and helping me set standards.
Of course there's Diane McGeorge, the dynamic blind lady of my parents' generation who set out to teach us to know and accept ourselves. And then there's Ray McGeorge, who said, "We are going to teach you to tie this tie, no matter how long it takes, and even if you would rather get on the bus."
I find myself thinking of Ray almost every morning as I tie my tie and head out the door for work. Ray reminds me of my grandpa, a man of quiet strength, wit, and patience. Ray was a factory man, too. Not long ago I taught two young boys how to tie a tie before their first job interviews, sharing some of Ray's knowledge and confidence, passing along to others a little of the love, self-esteem, and zest for life the Federation has so generously given to me.
The NFB, through all of its people, teaches lessons big and small about what blindness is, what it is not, and what it can be. Whether changing society's misconceptions or inspiring a young man through the act of teaching him to tie a tie on a street corner as the next bus rolls by, that's how a family of blind and sighted people work together to share the ties that bind.
Postscript: At the 1999 NFB National Convention in Atlanta there was a fund-raising auction. At that auction I had the good fortune to be high bidder on the bow tie Dr. Maurer wore to the convention banquet in 1986, the year he was elected president. I was proud to purchase this memento, not only making a contribution to our national organization, but claiming a symbol of my own coming of age. The trouble is, I never learned to tie a bow tie. Ray!
This month's recipes have been contributed by members of the NFB of Utah.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Norm and Maggie Gardner]
Chocolate Eclair Pie
by Maggie Gardner
Maggie Gardner is a member of the Utah Valley Chapter of the NFB of Utah. Her husband is longtime Federation leader Norm Gardner.
1 small box graham crackers (2 to 3 waxed-paper packages)
2 3-ounce packages instant French vanilla pudding
3 1/2 cups milk
1 8-ounce carton frozen whipped topping
Method: Line bottom of 9-by-13-inch pan with a single layer of whole, dry graham crackers. Mix pudding with milk according to package directions, though using this reduced amount of milk. When mixture is thickened, fold in the thawed whipped topping. Layer one half of the pudding mixture over graham crackers. Add another layer of crackers and cover with the rest of the pudding mixture, and end with a last layer of graham crackers. Refrigerate to set while preparing frosting.
Two 1-ounce packages liquid baking chocolate (softened 10 to 12 seconds in microwave)
1 tablespoon white corn syrup
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
Method: Mix all ingredients together until smooth. If desired, heat for a few seconds in microwave to make it easier to spread. Quickly and carefully spread this chocolate glaze over the top layer of graham crackers in pan. Cover and chill for twenty-four hours before serving. May freeze slightly for easier removal from pan when cutting into squares. Serves sixteen, depending on how many want seconds.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ron Gardner]
Russian Dressing Chicken
by Ron Gardner
Ron Gardner is president of the NFB of Utah and director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. He spends a lot of time on airplanes, but this recipe demonstrates that he also does some cooking.
1 cup Russian salad dressing
1 envelope Lipton's onion soup mix
1 20-ounce jar apricot or apricot/pineapple preserves
6 to 8 boneless chicken breasts
Method: In a bowl blend all ingredients, except chicken pieces. Pour mixture over chicken arranged in a single layer in a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees until chicken is cooked thoroughly (approximately forty-five minutes). Sauce can be transferred to a pitcher and passed at the table.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Karl Smith]
by Karl Smith
Karl Smith is secretary of the Utah affiliate. This recipe is great for summer barbecues. For those who are curious about the title of this recipe, Manti is the name of a town in Utah where thousands of turkeys make their homes at least briefly.
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups 7-Up
8 ounces prepared horseradish
4 tablespoons garlic powder
4 pounds of boneless turkey or chicken pieces
Method: Mix first five ingredients well in a large bowl. Add the meat, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for twenty-four hours. Cook meat on the outdoor grill. The amounts of marinade ingredients can be adjusted to taste once you have some experience with this recipe. It can easily be doubled.
by Ray Martin
Ray Martin is second vice president of the Utah affiliate. He used this recipe when he taught home ec in Idaho.
3/4 pound minced clams (2 6-ounce cans)
1 cup onion, chopped fine
1 cup celery, diced
2 cups finely diced potatoes
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1 quart half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Method: Drain juice from clams and pour over vegetables in sauce pan. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer covered over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about twenty minutes. In another saucepan melt butter, add flour, and blend, continuing to stir with a wire whisk to prevent lumping. Cook a minute or two. Add half-and-half, stirring constantly until liquid thickens. Add undrained vegetables and clams. Heat chowder through before ladling into bowls. Serves eight.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Cheralyn Creer]
Best Chicken Marinade
by Cheralyn Creer
Cheralyn Creer is first vice president of the NFB of Utah.
1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup peanut oil
1 cup soy sauce
6 to 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Method: Combine marinade ingredients. Place boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a shallow container. Pour the marinade over the chicken and refrigerate for two to four hours. Barbecue over medium heat until chicken is done.
Colonial House Fudge
by LuWana Martin
LuWana Martin is the NFB-NEWSLINE® facilitator for the Utah affiliate.
4 cups sugar
1 large can evaporated milk
1 pound real butter
1 pound milk chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or other flavoring
Method: Place sugar, evaporated milk, and butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cook over low heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add chocolate and flavoring. Stir to melt chocolate and make certain that fudge is homogeneous. Pour hot fudge quickly into a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet and let cool.
To make a wonderful peanut butter fudge, use white chocolate, 2 cups peanut butter, and 3/4 pound butter instead of 1 pound butter. The other ingredients and cooking time remain the same.
by Wendy Carter
Wendy Carter is an NFB of Utah board member. "People are surprised when they taste this salad with its odd combination of ingredients, but it's delicious."
12 slices bacon
2 heads fresh broccoli, florets only
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 cup seedless green grapes
1 cup seedless red grapes
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
Method: Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble, and set aside. In a large salad bowl toss together the bacon, broccoli, celery, green onions, green grapes, red grapes, raisins, and almonds. Whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves eight.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Jan Gardner]
by Jan Gardner
Jan Gardner is the wife of affiliate president Ron Gardner and the person who gathered this delightful collection of recipes.
8 slices bread, cubed
2 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 pounds bulk sausage
2 cups grated cheese
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 soup-can of milk
Method: Butter a 9-by-13-inch pan. Combine eggs, milk, and dry mustard and set aside. Brown sausage and drain off grease. Layer ingredients in this order: cubed bread, cheese, and sausage. Pour egg mixture evenly over other ingredients in pan. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
Mix topping ingredients together and spread over casserole just before baking. Bake for one-and-a-half hours. If using a glass baking dish, bake at 275 degrees. If using a metal pan, bake at 300 degrees. Serve immediately.
News from the Federation Family
The North San Diego County Chapter of the NFB of California recently elected new officers. They are Paul Price, president; Dave Faiman, first vice president; Beth Kats, second vice president; Karmalynne Rios, secretary; Shirley Bailiff, treasurer; and Denise Bravell and Eleanor Sass, board members.
At its convention April 23 and 24, 2004, the NFB of South Dakota conducted elections. After many years of faithful service, Karen Mayry was unable to stand for election as president. This was a sad moment for everyone in the affiliate, and every state official who addressed the convention made a special point of paying tribute to Karen and explaining her impact on their lives and the quality of her service to the blind community. These tributes were deeply felt and gratefully received by those present.
Elected this year were Bob Brown, president; Bob Riibe, secretary; and Deb Nefler, treasurer.
American Diabetes Association Annual Expo:
Kristina Lawrence, president of the Seattle Chapter of the NFB of Washington, reports as follows:
On May 15, 2004, the National Federation of the Blind of Washington staffed an information booth at the annual Diabetes Expo conducted by the American Diabetes Association. Volunteers from the Sno-King Chapter (Gary Mackenstadt, Denise Mackenstadt, and Chris Micelli) and Seattle Chapter (Kay Burrows, Jessiaca Evans, and Kris Lawrence) handed out copies of the Voice of the Diabetic, numerous Kernel Books, and general information about the NFB.
The Expo opened at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 4:00 p.m. Attendees were nurses, doctors, those dealing with diabetes, other medical professionals, and the general public. The Expo offered many kid-friendly activities, which brought in entire families. About three thousand people attended the Expo.
Many of the medical professionals were gathering information for patients who were becoming blind. Others were collecting information for friends and family members. One young child picked up a Kernel Book just because it had a picture of a dog on the cover. I was amazed at the number of people who had never heard of the NFB.
We also spoke with people who were losing their sight. One couple stood out from the rest. The woman had been a nurse in the critical care field for thirty years. Due to complications her vision became drastically restricted fairly quickly. She expressed her fear that she would fall down the stairs whenever she left home and her feelings of helplessness as the things she loved seemed to be slipping out of her reach. She has a cane but doesn't use it when her husband is with her. We talked for a long time. We gave her Kernel Books and other literature. But, most important, she said that she would like to be contacted so that she could join a chapter of the NFBW.
Those who volunteered at the booth all agree that it was a great experience. Not only did we get our literature into the hands of people who need it, but we showed by example that the National Federation of the Blind of Washington is changing what it means to be blind.
The Snack Pack Is Back:
From Kevan Worley: In the April issue we explained that, due to circumstances beyond our control, the National Association of Blind Merchants would be unable to sell our popular Snack Packs at the upcoming national convention in Atlanta. But wait, hold everything, our hosts at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis have agreed to allow us to sell our traditional twenty-item goody bag after all. Stop by the National Association of Blind Merchants booth anytime the exhibit hall is open to purchase your snack pack for only $5.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Audio Darts Tournament:
The Harold Schlegel Audio Dart Tournament will be held the weekend of October 8 to 10, 2004, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The tournament will begin with 301 singles on Friday evening at 7:30 p.m., earlier if possible. The events Saturday will be 501 doubles, 301 doubles, and count-up. Sunday's events will be 501 and 301 triples, both luck-of-the-draw. The Saturday and Sunday events will start at 8:30 a.m. When possible, afternoon and evening events will be moved forward for more efficient time management. The total prize money will be $4,550.
Registration for all six events is $75 or $15 per individual event. To register for the tournament, mail your name, contact information, and registration payment to Louis Wassermann, 2503 Silver Oak Drive, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15220 by no later than October 1, 2004. No refunds will be available unless substantiated emergencies occur. For additional information or questions, call Joe Wassermann at (412) 687-5166. The tournament will be held at the Best Western located at 3401 Boulevard of the Allies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For overnight accommodations phone the hotel directly at (412) 683-6100. The room rate is $80 a night plus 14 percent tax for up to four occupants. Reservations must be made by September 17 in order to guarantee this great rate. Come one and all to have fun for the weekend.
Learning Music by Ear:
This summer learn to play a musical instrument without using music or Braille. Bill Brown has introductory courses for the guitar, piano, bass, banjo, and drums that teach the basics using only CD's or tapes. This is the easiest way to learn your favorite instrument quickly. The courses are available through the National Library Service, or purchase your own copy for $39 by calling Bill Brown at (229) 249-0628. To order online or to obtain information on other teaching materials, go to <www.musicvi.com>.
Director of Blind Services, E.H. Gentry Technical Facility, Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind.
* Minimum of masters degree in rehabilitation and/or education
* Experience as administrator preferred
* Knowledge of blindness and rehabilitation process
* Ability to communicate effectively orally and in writing
* Knowledge of program and curriculum development in rehabilitation services for the blind and visually impaired
* Knowledge of various methodologies of residential rehabilitation programs for the blind and visually impaired
* Must demonstrate competency in reading and writing Braille by scoring 80 percent or better on AIDB Braille Skills Assessment
* Inventory within the first thirty months of employment
* The successful applicant must submit to a criminal history background information check including, but not limited to, FBI and ABI record repositories
* Direct center-based and community rehabilitation program for the blind or visually impaired
* Develop and implement a core curriculum, which builds confidence and independence and leads to employment
* Maintain positive relationship with organizations of the blind
* Research latest strategies for services leading to independence and employment
* Work closely with Director of AIDB Field Services.
* Supervise all staff who serve persons who are blind or visually impaired
* Evaluate personnel
* Improve professional competence of staff through in-service education and training activities
* Maintain relationship in and participate in the affairs of professional societies, vocational rehabilitation conferences, and consumer groups for persons who are blind or visually impaired
* Work in partnership with Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired
* Perform other duties as assigned
Salary: $37,711 to $66,484 (Scale A1 Rank 04)
Submit applications to P.O. Box 698, Talladega, Alabama 35161.
Deadline for application: open until filled
R 995 Position ID #403105
Update on Utah:
In the May 2004 issue we reported on recent events surrounding the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind (USDB). On May 19, 2004, a memo from several state education officials was circulated to USDB administrators, teachers, parents, legislators, and other interested parties. In it a number of decisions were announced. Here is the section of the memo of most interest to members of the blindness community beyond the borders of Utah:
During the past week Dr. Lee Robinson submitted his resignation as superintendent of USDB, effective immediately. Dr. Robinson has been appointed as the director of blind services in the Northern Region to take the place of Dorothy Smith, who is retiring at the end of June. The human resources department at the Utah State Office of Education is working with the human resources department at the USDB to immediately publicize the position opening of superintendent of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. It is the intention of the Utah State Office of Education that applications will be accepted for a period of thirty days or until the position is filled by a qualified candidate.
Linda Rutledge, who has been serving as assistant superintendent at USDB, has been named as the interim superintendent of the USDB by the Utah State Board of Education while a search is conducted to find the new superintendent. She has been authorized to perform all the duties of the superintendent during the interim period. She will work with program directors and finance personnel to develop budgets for the 2004-2005 school year. She will also work with the USDB Education Association in contract negotiations for the coming year. These efforts will be performed under the supervision of the Utah State Office of Education and Karl Wilson, state director of special education.
Natural History Newsletter Available:
NHEST (Natural History Education, Science, and Technology) <www.nhest.org> is a nonprofit organization that provides educational and recreational opportunities for blind and visually impaired people of all ages. Sign up for our free newsletter, WilderNHEST News, about the outdoors, science, technology, what NHEST offers and much more. Send a blank email with the word "Subscribe" in the subject line to Chrissy Laws at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
Keyboard for Sale:
This is a Korg Triton Classic Pro, 76 keys. It has a sequencer and a sampler. It also has 64 polyphony note voicing. It does have a touch screen, but you can still use the buttons to get to different sounds. It is also compatible with JAWS, especially for sequencing and sampling. Asking $1,600 or best offer. Email <Rickcorey00@hotmail.com>, or call his home phone (203) 729-1508 or his cell phone (203) 525-5887. Call the home phone number before 9:00 p.m. EDT, or leave a message any time on the cell phone.
* 1 DoubleTalk Lite Synthesizer--In excellent condition; asking $195 or best offer
* 1 Blazie disk drive--rarely used and in excellent condition; asking $395 or best offer
* Kurzweil Reading Edge with 2.0 and 3.0 software modules with carrying case and cables. Speaks with DEC talk Synthesizer; needs minor repair; asking $2,500 or best offer
* Optelec 20/20 CC-TV--In excellent condition; asking $1,800 or best offer
* HP 4P large scanner--rarely used--in excellent condition; asking $195 or best offer
For above prices I will ship anywhere in the U.S.A., accepting money orders only. Call Rose after 9:00 p.m. at (678) 249-5251 or email <email@example.com>.
Telesensory Atlas 610 Video Magnifier with 20-inch color monitor and autofocus camera. Magnifies from four to fifty times. It has both true-color and custom-color modes. There is a transferable two-year warranty that expires in July of 2005--the machine was purchased in July of 2003 and used until December of 2003. It was purchased for $2,995 and is now selling for $2,595. We are asking $1,900 or best offer. Contact Chris and Ann Clark, (703) 768-6680.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.