Braille Monitor July 1985
New York, New York
April 13, 1985
Ms. Alice Weil
Assistant to the Secretary General
Office of General Services
New York, New York
Dear Ms. Weil:
I am writing to bring to your attention a series of incidents involving one of our members, which have taken place in recent weeks on the grounds of the United Nations Headquarters complex, in New York City.
Dr. Edwin Lewinson, a dog guide user, has for some time been conducting research in the library of the United Nations. He has reported to us that United Nations security personnel have systematically prohibited him from leaving the visitors' area in the company of his dog guide and have required him to be escorted instead by a sighted person.
Ms. Weil, as you know, a blind person's dog is a working animal, a "tool" used by its owner to maintain independence, self-reliance, and dignity. To take away this "tool" from any blind individual is to impose upon him/her dependency and a sense of helplessness. It seems to us that this is hardly the attitude and image that the United Nations would wish to promote, particularly in view of the International Decade of Disabled Persons, whose professed theme is equal participation by people with disabilities in the economic and social life of their communities.
Although it is Dr. Lewinson's recent experiences at the United Nations Headquarters complex which have triggered this letter, may I take this opportunity to tell you that many blind people, including myself, have, in the past, been subjected to unequal and somewhat condescending treatment by U.N. personnel, in other respects. For example, on a number of visits which I have made to the U.N. Headquarters, it has always been suggested to me by the staff on duty that I take a separate tour of the building, away from the regular tour party--a tour which would avoid the need to use escalators and which would move along at a slower pace. Again, this type of "special" segregative treatment, although unarguably well-meaning, is obviously fraught with negative implications for the blind person involved and seems to run counter to broader United Nations' philosophies and objectives.
On behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, may I suggest that we meet with you at an early date in order to discuss these issues more thoroughly and explore ways in which U.N. policies and procedures, as they pertain to blind visitors and users of its facilities, may be made more positive, enlightened, and receptive. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Rami Rabby, Chairman
Cultural Exchange and International Program Committee
National Federation of the Blind