Braille Monitor May-June 1986
Director of Governmental Affairs
National Federation of the Blind
(The following article is reprinted from the March, 1986, issue of Que Pasa the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. The article is preceded by this editorial note: "Mr. James Gashel will be the national representative at this year's annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. For this reason, we are profiling Mr. Gashel so that Federationists throughout the state will know a little about him and his accomplishments prior to the convention.")
James Gashel was born in Mason City, Iowa, in 1946. He attended the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, graduating in 1964. Then he went to the Commission for the Blind. He has said about this period: "When I was a youngster coming up in school, I wouldn't carry a cane. I was ashamed to be blind. I tried to hide it, which of course was impossible since I always got proved the fool. I wanted to work; but I didn't know what I could do; and the superintendent at the school for the blind had told me I couldn't be a teacher (he said there were discipline problems); so he dashed my only dream.
When I visited the Iowa Commission in June, 1964, I was a mighty depressed and hostile fellow. Two weeks before, I had graduated from high school; and the future was closing in on me. I didn't want any more counseling; and I didn't want to admit I was blind. I think I , just wanted to be left alone. Dr. Jernigan knew this the minute he met me. That day was our first meeting. Thank God it wasn't our last. I agreed to go to the center--something I thought I'd never do. It changed the course of my life."
After the Commission Jim went to college at the University of Northern Iowa. During college he was active in intercollegiate debating, as well as student government and intramural athletics. He was also active in the Federation, as President of the Black Hawk County Association of the Blind, in the Waterloo, Iowa, area and as First Vice President of the national NFB Student Division, an office which earned him election to the NFB Board of Directors.
After graduation, Jim Gashel moved to Pipestone, Minnesota, to teach speech and English in the public school system. Jim taught a heavy schedule of speech classes, in addition to coaching the debating team.
In 1970 Jim Gashel returned to Iowa to work at the Iowa Commission for the Blind. He and his wife, Arlene, who is also a graduate of the Commission's program, lived in the center building to provide counseling to students at the center around the clock, if need be.
A year later, in 1971, Jim was made program supervisor of the orientation center; and in 1972 he became Assistant Director of the Commission in charge of orientation. In 1973 Jim Gashel went back to school, this time at the University of Iowa, for graduate study in public administration. But when John Nagle retired as Chief of the NFB Washington Office, Jim Gashel left Iowa to take up the job.
Beginning in January, 1974, Jim and Arlene Gashel worked together as representatives of the Federation in Washington. In 1975, however, their daughter Andrea was born; and Jim shouldered the work of the office alone. Since then, he has become an effective spokesman for the organized blind movement. His energy and knowledgeability, as well as the fact that he represents a coherent and sophisticated constituency, have made his a respected voice in government bureaus and the Congress. It is not too much to say that in the federal government the National Federation of the Blind not only is regarded as a consensus of the grass roots opinions of the nation's blind people; it is regarded as the source of well-directed and innovative programs for the blind.
Acting as liaison with the government is only part of Jim Gashel's job. He travels to conventions of state affiliates or other groups within and without the NFB. He works with members or other blind people on Social Security or discrimination problems. In general, he is available--as are the officers and board members--to Federationists throughout the country for discussions of plans and problems.
"The personal growth and progress I have made," says Jim, "are directly attributable to the philosophy of the NFB I found at the Iowa Commission. I often wonder what would have happened to me if I had been born just ten years earlier. As a blind boy in Iowa, I had been persuaded to expect very little of life. Today I hold a satisfying and important post which itself symbolizes the ascent to national leadership of the National Federation of the Blind." Jim Gashel now works as the Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind. He is based in Baltimore, which gives him immediate access to our nation's capital. In all respects both personally and professionally, Mr. Gashel symbolizes the finest in Federationism.