Braille Monitor April-May 1985
by Joanne Fernandes
(Note: Joanne Fernandes is the dynamic and capable President of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. The following article appeared in the January, 1985, Pathfinder, the organization's newsletter. It illustrates graphically the raising of consciousness which is occurring throughout the state and the reasons for the explosive growth of the affiliate.)
Discrimination still exists concerning the blind. On Tuesday, November 20th, 1984, Ivan Merritt, Joseph (my husband), four of our children, and I entered the Tiffin Inn on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge. Ivan was accompanied by his dog guide, and the waitress refused to serve us, saying that it was against the restaurant's policy to allow dogs in their establishment. We informed her of the Model White Cane Law. She still refused to serve us. We decided to use this experience to make the public aware of still-existing discrimination against the blind. I phoned the Attorney General's office and spoke to Jim Herlicka, the Assistant to the Attorney General. Mr. Herlicka, in turn, phoned the restaurant and informed them of the law and of the penalties which could be enacted if they continued to violate the law.
The restaurant owner still refused to serve us. I then phoned Channel 2 and Channel 33, and the Baton Rouge newspaper, The Morning Advocate, to inform them of the discriminatory situation.
We wanted to use this opportunity to educate the public about dog guides and the rights of the blind.
The story was covered in the six and ten o'clock news on both t.v. stations and in the newspaper that afternoon.
After these publicity interviews, three hours after entering the restaurant, we were served our breakfast. The response of the other patrons in the restaurant was overwhelmingly positive. Many of them offered to leave their names and addresses with us in case we needed witnesses to this injustice.
We could have gone to another restaurant to have our breakfast that morning. But then the issue went much deeper than having our breakfast that morning. Black people reached their destination just as quickly by riding in the back of the bus as they would have by riding in the front of the bus. This minority fought for their rights to be treated equally. The blind, as an emerging minority, must also work, through legislation and public education, for first-class citizenship and equality. We were instrumental in getting the "Civil Rights" legislation, the Model White Cane Law, passed in Louisiana. We now need to insure its enforcement by educating the public about the rights of the blind.