Braille Monitor                                                                April-May 1985

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Independent Mobility and Other Matters

by Hazel Staley

(Introductory comments by Kenneth Jernigan: I first became acquainted with Hazel Staley over fifteen years ago. Since that time most Federationists have come to know her. She is one of the most dedicated leaders of our movement. She knows what she thinks, and she usually says it. Above all, she has integrity. After reading the January, 1985, Monitor she wrote to Steve Benson to thank him for his article on travel. She sent me a copy of her letter, and I want to share it with Monitor readers.)

Charlotte, North Carolina
February 3, 1985

Dear Mr. Benson:

I am writing to commend you and thank you for your article on travel, which was printed in the January issue of the Braille Monitor. I feel impelled to let you know that it has already helped me tremendously.

From kindergarten through high school I attended the residential school for the blind in North Carolina. During all that time, although it was never stated openly, we were made to feel that blindness was a bad thing and that we should do all we could to cover it up, to pretend that we were just like everybody else. There was one elderly blind professor there who carried a cane. I don't know how much help it was to him in traveling, but he did carry it. I remember hearing some of the teachers making snide remarks about him and tittering among themselves. We got the distinct impression that carrying a cane was a bad thing to do. When you live with that kind of attitude from early childhood to young adulthood, it becomes absorbed into the very fiber of your being. I felt deep down within me that it should not be like that and experienced anger and frustration for years, but didn't know how to express my frustrations or who to express them to.

In August, 1969, Don and Betty Capps came to Charlotte and talked with a group of us about organizing a chapter here of the Federation; also a state affiliate. As I listened to them, I realized that they were saying the very things that I felt-they were answering the frustrations I had felt through the years. At the close of the meeting I literally ran to the front of the room to place my name on the list of those desiring to join the Federation. I was elected president of our new chapter.

I attended my first national convention in Houston in 1971. I was utterly amazed to see blind people going all over the place without any assistance. Shortly after that I was elected president of our affiliate. One of the first things I did was approach the director of our state agency for the blind and the director of the Department of Human Resources (our state agency is under that department) and request that they employ some mobility instructors. They acted as if they thought I had lost my mind. They said that blind people had no business running around by themselves; that it was dangerous and completely impractical. I continued to try to reason with them. Our sessions became very stormy and finally erupted in open warfare. One morning in December, 1973, I turned on my radio and was shocked to hear that the director of the state agency for the blind had committed suicide. I hope I was not a contributing factor, but, at any rate, his departure was a blessing to the blind of this state. He was succeeded by a blind man who did begin to get a few mobility instructors in. However, by that time we were so far behind (and the state being rather large, too) that we still haven't caught up with the need.

You will recall the discussion we had last summer in Phoenix regarding mobility and orientation skills. I believe that that discussion more than anything else at the whole convention spoke straight to my need. I talked with Dr. Jernigan about it later. He said that if I could come to the Center, that Mrs. Anderson would teach me to travel. My husband is sighted and for years he had been wonderful about seeing that I got where I needed to go. However, in 1977 he began having heart attacks and has developed other health problems since then and can no longer act as my guide. You just can't imagine the frustration that I have experienced as a result. I plan to go to the Center in April for instruction. I may never be able to travel as well as some of you; but, by golly, I'm going to give it my best shot. I hope never again to have to wait to go somewhere until it suits somebody else. Even after I planned to go to the Center I felt a little apprehensive. Your article has given me confidence and determination. Thank you again for writing it. Please forgive me for being so longwinded. I felt that I had to let you know how much your article has meant to me.