by Barbara Pierce
Friday afternoon, June 26, I was shocked to learn that Harold Snider had died that morning of a massive heart attack. In many ways Harold was larger than life. He knew almost everyone in the international blindness field and the political world, or, if he did not know the person, he knew someone who did. The result was that he heard news and could pass it along well before it was public information. This network held the NFB in good stead many, many times.
Back in the days when the National Accreditation Council (NAC) was a force to be reckoned with in the blindness field and we were gathering outside its annual meetings to register consumer dissatisfaction with agency old-boy-network control of our lives, education, and rehabilitation, we forced NAC to permit a consumer observer to attend its official meetings and record the proceedings. Year after year that representative was Harold Snider, weighed down by a formidable array of reel-to-reel tape recorders and microphones so that he could be sure of getting a complete recording. I remember one year being assigned to attend the NAC Saturday night banquet as part of a group of about four people. Happily we were completely ignored by NAC attendees. But I still remember my dismay at the number of snide insults and digs that the speakers aimed at each other. It was nastiness masquerading as humor, and at the end of the evening I left feeling the need of nothing quite so much as a bath. I commented to Harold that I could not imagine how he could stand to do his job year after year if that was the way these people treated their friends and colleagues. His response was that the evening had been nothing out of the ordinary and that observing NAC at work was pretty grim duty, but it had to be done and was something he could do, so he was happy to do it.
Harold’s life as a Federationist stretches back to the 1960s when he was an undergraduate at Georgetown University. His philosophy of independence and personal responsibility and his commitment to the National Federation of the Blind remained at the center of his character through all the years to come. In the mid-1970s he became the Smithsonian Institution’s first blind employee as a handicap program coordinator for the fledgling National Air and Space Museum, where he saw to it that blind visitors had meaningful access to the collection. In 1978 he founded Access for the Handicapped, a District-of-Columbia-based consulting company providing guidance on policy, technology, and resources for people with disabilities. Through his company he worked on projects for people with disabilities in Ecuador and South Korea, and he gathered several blind people and a number of white canes and took them to Zambia, where the group handed out canes and taught as many blind people as they could to travel independently.
Harold was a lifelong member of the Republican Party, and in the late eighties he worked on disability issues for the Republican National Committee. In 1990 President George H. W. Bush appointed him deputy executive director of the National Council on Disability, where he had a hand in drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the early nineties Harold worked with the NFB to develop and implement NFB NEWSLINE, our nationwide newspapers-by-phone program. He remained an enthusiastic user and supporter of NEWSLINE for the rest of his life.
Internationally Harold was active in the World Blind Union. He traveled widely and spoke compellingly in support of education and independence for blind people around the world. He did consulting with the World Bank, and through the years worked with the United Nations on various projects.
Harold and his second wife Linda were married by Federationist the Rev. Robert Eschbach following the noon recess of the Wednesday, July 6, convention session of the 1994 NFB annual convention. Harold and Linda tirelessly hosted international visitors at conventions and in their Rockville, Maryland, home.Harold served for several years as president of the District of Columbia affiliate, but mostly he was a Federationist who was content quietly to live out his philosophy of blindness as well as he could. Behind the scenes he had a significant impact on the NFB and what we have accomplished. His many friends will miss him deeply, and we extend our sympathy to his wife Linda, former wife Gail, his daughter Ellen, and his son David.