Braille Monitor                                                                                April 1986



Federationist Named One of Ten Outstanding Young Americans

Curtis Chong is a very dedicated Federationist. He serves in several elected positions: President of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science; Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota; and Immediate Past President of the NFBM Metro Chapter. He can be found at any hour of the day or evening conferring with blind people about the latest technology in the computer industry or testing the most recent speech software. He writes articles for Federation newsletters, the Braille Monitor, and Future Reflections. He is available to do public speaking about blindness and the Federation, and he travels nationwide to NFB conventions, Marches on Washington, and NAC Trackings.

Besides all this, Curtis holds down a responsible job as Systems Programming Specialist for IDS Financial Services in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On January 16-18 Curtis and his wife Peggy traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Curtis was honored as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans by the U.S. Jaycees. It was a weekend of banquets, receptions, and press conferences, in which Curtis, together with nine other leading citizens of the United States, received recognition for his achievements.

At the award ceremonies held on January 18 Curtis received a replica of two hands reaching toward each other on a marble base with the inscription: "The hope of mankind lies in the hands of youth and action; Curtis D. Chong--one of ten Outstanding Young Americans for 1986--presented by United States Jaycees--January 18, 1986." The 1986 TOYA award which Curtis received was preceded by two 1985 honors also presented by the Jaycees. In January of last year Curtis was given the Distinguished Service Award by the Minneapolis Jaycees, and one month later he became one of Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans for 1985.

All of these awards were surrounded by extensive press and media coverage, both locally in Minnesota and throughout the country. All Federationists are proud of Curtis, who is highly deserving of the honor bestowed upon him by the Jaycees. Too often awards are given to blind persons who regard themselves as "exceptional" or "amazing." They accept the. award as recognition of their personal accomplishments, never giving credit to other blind individuals or any organization that may have helped make it possible. Not so with Curtis. He proudly acknowledges the role of the National Federation of the Blind in making his life the success it is. He also accepts responsibility for trying to help improve the quality of life for other blind people. Of course, that's what makes Curtis a Federationist. He speaks and lives the philosophy of the Federation, and the publicity concerning his award showed it, too. Here are a few excerpts from news coverage of the TOYA award:

Curtis Chong works with computers. He also works for the independence of blind people. "There are too many blind people who, after losing their sight, come out of rehabilitation agencies convinced there's nothing for them but to sit at home and do nothing. That's a real tragedy, because they can go on and lead productive lives," said Chong, computer systems programmer for IDS Financial Services in Minneapolis.

At first sheltered from the sighted world by Hawaii's school for the blind, Chong learned to be independent when he entered the more competitive public schools. After attending the University of Minnesota for a short time, Chong applied to a Minneapolis computer training institute but was turned down because of his blindness. But Chong persevered--he was accepted at Brown Institute and finished at the top of his class with a 98.6 grade point average. Since his teens, Chong has candidly spoken out on issues concerning blind people. In 1972 he spearheaded the campaign against sheltered workshops in Hawaii, leading to an open hearing. The Minneapolis Jaycees is currently developing a computer speech output system with the National Federation of the Blind. With it, he hopes to enhance blind job seekers' marketability...

Under a picture of Curtis at his computer at IDS Financial Services is the caption: BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS OF BLINDNESS--For his vision of making computers more accessible to the blind, Curtis Chong has been selected by the U.S. Jaycees to be among the Ten Outstanding Young Americans for 1986...

These are typical examples of the press coverage. During numerous interviews Curtis spoke of the seventy percent unemployment rate among working-age blind people and of what the Federation is doing to reduce that figure. He sopke of the real problems faced by blind job seekers when at an interview they are asked more questions concerning their blindness than their abilities to do the work. He explained the problems blind people are having with the airlines and how this discrimination is harmful to the image of blind people when it happens in the presence of coworkers.

Indeed, it is encouraging and refreshing to see this change in the approach to a blind person's winning an award. None of the melodrama and pity-invoking anecdotes which tell of how this "unusual" person "overcame" his "severe handicap" in the publicity surrounding Curtis' recognition.

Congratulations to Curtis on receiving the award, on the achievements which made the award possible, and on his personal attitude and handling of the news coverage surrounding the event.