Braille Monitor                                                                                April 1986

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Reclamation at its Best

by Diane McGeorge

Long-time Federationists will remember well the formation of the International Federation of the Bilnd. It was Dr. tenBroek's strong desire to share our philosophy with the blind people around the world, and he was instrumental in the formation of the IFB. Dr. Jernigan and he, along with Dr. Isabelle Grant, worked with blind leaders throughout Europe and Southeast Asia to bring about an organization which was to have given a new direction to lives of people in countries where welfare agencies had dominated them completely. What an unfortunate path the IFB followed, and instead of becoming the vehicle for collective action for blind people around the world, it became just another agency-dominated group of blind people with a "me, too" philosophy. The action taken by us in withdrawing from the IFB last year was the only course we could reasonably have taken.

It is important for Federationists to know about one of the most positive aspects which grew out of the IFB and our involvement in it. We spread our positive philosophy about blindness and along with that philosophy embarked upon what is commonly called in and around Denver, Colorado, the "Braille Book Project."

Dr. Isabelle Grant was an energetic, very caring member of the NFB, who lost her sight when she was in her fifties and found the NFB shortly afterward. She was a teacher in the Los Angeles public schools. In 1960 Dr. Grant took a sabbatical to do extensive traveling throughout the world to study the education of the blind. She came back to Dr. tenBroek saying that there were very few schools for the blind, practically nothing in Braille, and virtually no opportunities for the majority of the blind who wished to do more than mere begging for a living. She wanted to establish more schools for blind children and spent a good deal of time in East Pakistan teaching Braille to blind adults who could then become teachers in those schools or in the few established schools.

It was in 1961 that she first came to Denver and met members of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. She spoke at our state convention, and following that convention Federationists gathered in the McGeorge's home to learn more about her efforts to establish schools in East Pakistan. Ray McGeorge was particularly fascinated with the ideas she presented to the NFB of Denver concerning collection of discarded Braille textbooks which could then be shipped to a school.

The project began with the collection of a few discarded books and Ray, along with his two small sons, spent evenings sorting and packing these books, which were then mailed to a school which the NFB of Denver had adopted in East Pakistan.

Word spread throughout the country; and Federationists started contacting libraries for the blind, schools for the blind, and special education departments which were discarding textbooks. Textbooks started pouring in. It wasn't long before the project had outgrown the McGeorge's basement, and Ray rented a garage in the neighborhood.

In 1967 he contacted the Telephone Pioneers, who became interested in working on the project with him. By this time the project had outgrown the neighborhood garage and was moved to the NFB of Denver office and is now primarily handled by the Telephone Pioneers under the able supervision of Lou Parker. In 1985 Lou submitted a report which showed that the Pioneers mailed thirty seven tons of Braille and large print books. Along with the Pioneers (sorting, packing, and mailing), some of our own NFB of Denver members help when they are available. Richard Moon, a longtime Federationist who is now retired, comes to work on the project two or three times each week.

We try to meet special requests. For example, a student in Africa wrote to ask if we might have a Braille book containing writings by famous American authors since he was studying American literature. Fortunately someone had sent a number of volumes of a collection of essays by American authors, and it was mailed to the student. When we receive special requests from students in the United States, the books are sorted to see if we can send the material. All of the books may be sent as Free Matter for the Blind. However, the costs of packaging rise steadily.

The project which started in the McGeorge's basement has now reached proportions which are almost unbelievable. Last year 27,600 books were mailed. We can all take pride in such a major accomplishment. Federationists have made it successful by contributions of books and also have helped make it possible through PAC donations, which have helped keep it alive and growing.