Braille Monitor May-June 1986
(The National Federation of the Blind of Maine is becoming increasingly active. As a result, things are happening. Patricia Estes--who lives in Auburn, Maine--'s President of the Central Maine Chapter. She is also articulate and perceptive. When the members of the state legislature decided recently to play at being handicapped for a day, Mrs. Estes was not pleased--and she let people know about it. Here is what she said on March 6, 1986, on the editorial page of her local newspaper, The Sun.)
One week ago members of our state legislature observed Handicapped Person Day, or some such thing. State representatives who participated became 'blind" for a while, then "deaf," then spent some time in a wheelchair. In every case, of course, the "handicap" could be discarded at the end of the day. WCSH-TV in Portland carried the event and covered it as a very positive thing. At the end of the experience the conclusion drawn by the legislator who was interviewed was that, "We have to remember that handicapped persons need our help."
What a waste of a day to come up with such a pathetic conclusion! But what else can one conclude from pretending to be disabled for a few hours? With no training and practice with the use of a wheelchair, white cane, or sign language, one could necessarily become extremely dependent on other's assistance in order to communicate or get around.
As handicapped people, we are fighting personal and public battles for the right to independent living styles, for equality in employment, and against discrimination based on inaccurate information and stereotypes. Prevailing prejudices and attitudes apply the perception that we need the rest of the public to become our caretakers. This is an erroneous and unfortunate belief.
I view this practice in the legislature as a step back in our fight against discrimination and feel it to be very nearly a slap in the face! I don't want my state legislators to come away with the misleading notion that handicapped people can only survive through some benevolent attitude bestowed upon us by a generous public! We have a right to be here. We have a right to use our canes and our wheelchairs and our signing and Braille, or whatever it takes to maximize our independence.
What we need from our state legislature is that our rights as citizens, equal in the eyes of the law, are protected. We need real opportunities, equal opportunities to employment, education, and access. We do not need legislators play-acting for a day. We need consistent support born of a sincere belief that we are real people, not freaks to be pitied. We are normal. We want what the rest of you want. It really doesn't take that much effort to understand us!
My question is this: Where were these handicapped people, these legislators and the media, on February 11? There was a very important public hearing conducted by a special education committee appointed by the legislature. The issue was state certification standards for teachers of the hearing impaired and of the blind. It seems that our state agencies have accepted federal monies for certified teachers in these areas when they had neither the standards nor the system to certify. This is in direct violation of federal law. The scheduled hearing in Augusta was the consumers' chance to have input and was very important. It was sparsely attended. There were a handful of professionals, three legislators, a representative from the Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, and an agency head. On the consumer side, there was no representation from the hearing impaired, but the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) had ten members there--most of whom testified.
I'll admit that the hearing wasn't the easiest thing to find out about. Agency heads were tight-lipped and the notice in this newspaper was obscure and miniscule, having been put in smaller than usual type. Although reporters were notified, there was no coverage from this paper, never mind television!
I believe that attendance and participation in hearings and activities such as this will do far more to help our cause and to deliver a positive message about handicapped persons. On the other hand Handicapped Persons Day is not only a waste of time to all those involved, it is a detriment to the position and public acceptance of Maine's handicapped.
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit Corporation, the sum of $ (or "percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds:") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."