Braille Monitor                                                 March 2011

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A Misguided Question from a Student Gets an Interesting Response

by the staff of the Jacobus tenBroek Library

Jacobus tenBroekFrom the Editor: The following is another in our series of historical documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Library. While exploring Dr. TenBroek’s correspondence files in search of a document that could answer a reference question, the staff chanced upon this amusing and insightful letter, written in 1960, to a recently blinded college student. Known as a powerful and intelligent public speaker who happened to be blind, tenBroek was asked how he prepared for and delivered his speeches and addresses. Using a quotation from 1936 Olympic gold medalist, Jesse Owens, tenBroek's response is witty, forthright, and a great example of NFB philosophy. Here is what he wrote:

October 31, 1960

Mr. Richard Norton
Ouachita Baptist College
Arkadelphia, Arkansas

Dear Mr. Norton:

I have your recent letter and shall do my best to answer it, although I have very little to say about methods of delivery of any significance.

In many ways I would adapt to my case the famous speech of Jesse Owens when he was asked his technique for breaking the world record in the broad jump—"I get back to about here, move forward to about there, and then take off."

Formal speeches for state occasions I write out in Braille. Sometimes I read them; other times simply use the manuscript as an elaborate system of notes; still other times I prepare a few short notes on a card; and often I use no notes whatsoever.    

I do a tremendous amount of public speaking, frequently in connection with my function as president of the National Federation of the Blind, or chairman of the State Social Welfare Board. Much of this speaking is extempore or impromptu.

A blind person who acquires facility with Braille has no problems in public speaking that are not common to speakers with twenty-twenty vision acuity. If you can't read Braille, or can't read it rapidly, I can see that you would enter a range of very considerable problems.

You might write to Kenneth Jernigan, John Taylor, Professor Kingsley Price, and Professor Mumford Boyd. All four of these are totally blind, all are excellent speakers, and all use Braille with facility. Kenneth Jernigan and John Taylor can both be reached at ______. Professor Price may be reached at the Department of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; Professor Boyd may be reached at the University of Virginia Law School, Charlottesville, Virginia.

You should, by all means, join the Arkansas Federation of the Blind which, in turn, is affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. Why not get in touch with Richard Nelson, who is the President of the Arkansas Federation of the Blind? His address is _____.

Cordially yours,
Jacobus tenBroek, Chairman
Department of Speech


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