Braille Monitor May-June 1986
(Reprinted from the December 15, 1985, Kansas City Star.)
Stockholm, Sweden--Bengt Lindqvist, Sweden's new Deputy Minister of Health and Social Affairs, has been blind since he was 15 years old but says he has taken the Cabinet post to show that the handicapped can get the job done. "Someone told me early on that it is in fact easier for a blind man to be in a top post than to be a hotel busboy," Mr. Lindqvist said.
He uses electronic equipment that turns written documents into synthesized speech or into Braille.
"Some things simply take longer for me than for others, but I cope," he said.
He was appointed by Prime Minister Olof Palme in October as part of a Cabinet shuffle following the Social Democratic government's narrow election victory.
The appointment came as a surprise because Mr. Lindqvist, 49, a long-time spokesman in Parliament for the handicapped, had been a harsh critic of government policy.
"I was taken aback when asked by Palme, but I did not hesitate long before accepting this challenge," Mr. Lindqvist said. "It means a breakthrough for us handicapped that one of us receives such trust." But he feels that he should not be held up as the "shining exception to the rule that the handicapped are second class citizens."
"Only four out of 10 handicapped in Sweden are employed and my chief concern is to get more and better jobs for them," he said.
Mr. Lindqvist, who became chairman of the National Association for the Handicapped in 1977 and was elected Sweden's first blind member of Parliament in 1982, said he prefers to be known as a government minister rather than a blind minister.
"It is not easy to overcome a handicap like blindness. It is a great strain, but in a few years and with adequate support it is possible to live a worthwhile life.
"There is a tendency to put too much emphasis on the handicap and too little on the personality. A blind Swedish author has said that the blindness is only a small part of the blind man." For his daily work, Mr. Lindqvist has an assortment of chiefly U.S. and Japanese electronic devices, including a "compressed speech" tape recorder that enables him to "read" twice as fast as most people with normal sight.
He also can take notes as fast as anyone with the aid of a special metal pad and pencil.
The tape recorder transforms his official documents into synthetic speech via digital data on tape cassettes or into Braille.
He can play the tape recorder at normal speed to listen to the synthetic voice or at double speed, making it sound like Donald Duck to an ordinary listener. But he can understand it because of years of training, he said, describing it as "about like skim reading,"
For taking notes he uses a metal pad on which he jots down Braille dots with an awl as fast as anybody does with pen and paper. He writes fast but reads slowly, he said.