Braille Monitor February 1985
by Gerald Paice
The 1975 convention of the National Federation of the Blind was held in Chicago. All fifty states plus the District of Columbia answered the roll call. This was the first national convention at which all of the states and the District of Columbia were represented by affiliates.
When representatives of the National Lisrary Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped appeared before Congress seeking the library's annual appropriation for fiscal 1976, their request was for $15,941,000. The actual ar.ount granted on that occasion was $15,872,000. Such grants, of course, are for the purpose of providing library services for all blind people throughout our nation, young and old. It is our im source of reading materials. Nevertheless, the NFB was the only blind-oriented organization in the land that took part in those hearings.
The National Federation of the Blind's Job Opportunities for the Blind program, conducted in partnership with the United States Department of Labor, was launched in December of 1979. It started off with a bang and has been noisy ever since. In its first eighteen months of existence it registered well over 1,100 blind job seekers and assisted 113 individuals in locating competitive employment.
Section 904 of the Higher Education Act reads: "No person in the U.S. shall, on the grounds of blindness or severely impaired vision, be denied admission in any course of study by a recipient of Federal financial assistance for any education program or activity provided, however, that nothing herein shall be construed to require any institution to provide any special services to such person because of his blindness or visual impairment." Twin Vision, the technique of combining identical texts in print and in Braille on pages facing each other, makes it possible for books in this format to be read in tandem by individuals with and without sight. The American Brotherhood for the Blind began the production of such books in 1962. As the use of Twin Vision has increased, parents and educators have hailed it as a truly significant advancement in the education of blind children and of sighted children with blind parents.
Library services to blind Americans on a nationwide basis began with the passage of the Books for the Blind Program on March 31, 1931. This legislation was amended on July 30, 1966, to include those who, because of a physical handicap, are unable to enjoy the privilege of reading printed material in the normal manner. The amendment does not cover all individuals with physical handicaps unless said handicaps nullify the ability to read conventional periodicals or books. The same ruling applies to the procurement of talking books and talking book machines on loan from the federal government.
In the 1960's the Iowa State Education Association passed a resolution encouraging qualified blind persons to prepare themselves for entry into the teaching profession and urging schools in that state to hire them.
In his address at the July, 1982, AAWB Orlando conference, Charles A. Harris of IBM informed the gathering that as of that date the IBM work force included almost 10,0 00 handicapped employees, 471 of whom were legally blind.
The following quotation pertaining to the training and employment of blind individuals at the Pacific Missile Range in California is taken from a letter to the Admiral of that facility signed by the then Governor Ronald Reagan: "I am pleased to extend my congratulations to the officers and staff of the Pacific Missile Range for the award you are receiving for your work in the training and employment of the blind. This program is a shining example of what can be accomplished by men and women with purpose and determination. All of the citizens of this great state have some talent and ability to contribute for the betterment of our society. They must, however, be given the opportunity to develop that ability and put it to use. The placement of blind persons in jobs at this base not only provides a needed service but also gives these handicapped people an opportunity to be self-sufficient."
In 1972 the Connecticut Board of Education and Services for the Blind conducted a Civil Service examination to recruit a person for the position of rehabilitation counselor. Five qualified blind individuals attempted to take that examination and were refused. All held master's degrees and all but one had several years' experience either teaching in schools or engaging in welfare counseling. In the opinion of the board, their blindness rendered them inadequate for the position. In view of this attitude, one cannot help but wonder how such a board could arrive at such a conclusion. Also, how could it possibly be effective in assisting people in whom they had no confidence?
The first back payment award made to a blind person under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act went to Federationist Charles Hutchinson, a qualified blind social worker who was denied permanent employment in his chosen field by Macon County, Alabama, Department of Pensions and Security. The complaint was filed by the National Federation of the Blind, and the amount involved was approximately $3,000.
For a good many years, perhaps forty or more, an impressive number of blind individuals have participated in the hobby of amateur radio, many being licensed first-class radio telephone operators. One in particular, Robert W. Gunderson, was a first-class operator for upwards of thirty years, and earned his living in the radio and electronics industry. He is credited with the development of numerous auditory measuring instruments,which enabled blind engineers, technicians, and service people to perform their duties with accuracy. In the 1940's Gunderson became an instructor for the U.S. Signal Corps Reserve in which position he taught radio theory to new applicants.
The international competition for authors with visual handicaps, sponsored by the Jewish Braille Institute of America, was first held in 1941 with Eleanor Roosevelt as one of its sponsors. In 1958 the competition drew 729 entries from blind individuals in the fields of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry from 39 countries in 27 different languages.
It has been estimated that at the present time there are substantially more than 300 blind computer programmers employed by industry in the U.S. and that at least as many more are in the process of preparing to become programmers.
Dr. Walter Jacobs, widely recognized for his accomplishments in the field of chemistry, earned his appointment as Assistant Research Professor in Ceramics at Rutgers College of Engineering after having lost his sight as the result of an accident. During the intervening years he attended evening classes at Rutgers, making the dean's list on three occasions and earning three degrees: his bachelor's, his master's, and his Ph.D.
California was one of the first states in the union to offer opportunities to qualified blind teachers. It has also been fertile territory for blind individuals conversant with the law. The late Herbert W. Slater served in its Upper House from 1915 to 1957. Ernest C. Crowley, another blind Californian, represented his district from 1930 to 1952.