Braille Monitor                                                                                August-September 1986

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Diabetic Division Launches Newsletter

With publication of the first issue of a quarterly newsletter early in 1986, the Diabetic Division of the National Federation of the Blind took a major step toward becoming the support network its founders dreamed it would become. Since diabetes is now the leading cause of new blindness among adults, the significance of this undertaking is obvious.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that about 12,000,000 Americans are diabetic, with some 60,000 new cases being diagnosed every year figures that make the potential work and impact of the NFB Diabetic Division seem downright staggering!

The ADA defines diabetes as "a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food into the energy needed for daily life." Complications can develop that involve nearly every tissue in the body. When high levels of sugar build up in the blood, heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, and leg and foot amputations from gangrene may occur. Medical research has resulted in Improved treatment and care of people with diabetes, but a cure has not yet Deen found.

The most severe form of diabetes, known as insulin-dependent diabetes, attacks children and young adults. The insulin-dependent diabetic requires daily injections of insulin to stay alive. While the insulin controls the disease, it does not cure it or prevent its life-threatening complications. Warning signs of this type of diabetes include: frequent urination accompanied by unusual thirst, extreme hunger, rapid weight loss with easy tiring, weakness and fatigue, irritability, nausea, and vomiting.

The majority of diabetics have a less severe form of the disease known as noninsulin-dependent diabetes. It usually develops in persons over forty. Since obesity is a major contributing factor in the development of this form of diabetes, proper diet and exercise are stressed in its management, though oral medication or insulin may be required. The onset of this type of diabetes is often gradual and undramatic, so many people do not know they have it until life-threatening complicatiosn such as heart disease, kidney disease, or eye problems develop. Anyone over forty who is overweight and has relatives with diabetes is at risk. Warning symptoms include: blurred vision or any change in sight; tingling or numbness in legs, feet, or fingers; frequent skin infections or itchy skin; slow healing of cuts and bruises; and drowsiness.

Volume 1, No. 1 of the NFB Diabetic Division newsletter contains far more informative material on diabetes than that summarized here. The issue also contains personal experience articles-- firsthand accounts of experience with kidney failure, transplants and amputations, as well as blindness. Dr. Ronald James, a physician who has been diabetic for thirty-five years, conducts a question and answer column, expressing strong no-nonsense opinions on a variety of matters.

Ed Bryant, newsletter editor, is a blind diabetic who has experienced kidney failure and undergone a transplant. He describes the purpose of the Diabetic Division thus: "To offer support, knowledge, and assistance to all diabetics. Our goal is to reach all diabetics. Our doors are open to all interested parties. We shall stay abreast of the effects of diabetics and the current status of diabetes research." He sends this message to fellow diabetics: "This newsletter is vital to your lifestyle. We can offer support, hope, and information presented as nowhere else. We are unique. " He emphasizes that the NFB Diabetic Division is not "replacing the American Diabetes Association or the doctors who deal with diabetes."

A description by Joyce Miller of the treatment--or mistreatment--she received from the physicians who attended her when she lost her sight due to diabetic retinopathy clearly indicates that the doctors could have benefited from reading a newsletter such as this. She writes in part:

"In 1973 I went totally blind from my diabetes. By 1974 my eyes were completely closed. This was due to shrinkage and dehydration of my eyeballs. "People acted like I was not in the room. If I went with a friend to a business, the receptionist would always talk to my friend and ignore me. If I was sitting in a room with people, nobody would say a word to me unless I spoke first.

"This lasted for ten years. I had numerous illnesses during this time. I was under the care of nine different kinds of specialists. None of them ever told me about scleral shells or prosthetic eyes.

"In 1984 Ed Bryant told me about these wonderful eyes. I went to Kansas City, Missouri, to an eye doctor. He told me where I could get my eyes...The doctor I have now didn't know anything about prosthetic eyes until I got mine.

"I wonder what my doctors thought about my closed eyes. Did they think I did not care what I looked like because I could not see myself? Maybe they didn't think anything about it at all! Whatever the reason, our doctors must be educated about this."

In his lead article, President Jernigan charged not only members of the Diabetic Division but all Federationists with responsibilities toward blind diabetics requiring commitment of a high order: "If the diabetic who becomes blind is to have real opportunity and a meaningful life," said President Jernigan, "it is the Division and its newsletter which must point the way and help make it happen. The responsibility is that encompassing and that imperative....If this Division does its work imaginatively, effectively, and conscientiously, no blind diabetic will ever have the same kind of life in post1985 that he or she would have had before....The launching of this newsletter is an event not only of substantial but also of symbolic significance. It signals the beginning of a new era for the blind diabetic.

"What does this mean for the rest of us in the Federation," President Jernigan continued--"those who are blind or, for that matter, not blind, but who are not diabetic? It is important for us, too. With the coming of the Diabetic Division a gap in our range of activities and awareness is closed. A subtle realignment of balances and shifting of emphasis is achieved; for nothing can affect a major segment of the blind population without impacting upon us all--and certainly the diabetics constitute a major segment of our population. It will be the responsibility (and, yes, the pleasure) of the rest of us in the movement to support and encourage your division--to learn from you (and through you) to reach out to blind diabetics who have either not known about us or not known enough about us to realize the vital importance to them of joining the movement and taking an active part in its programs.

"In turn, you have a responsibility to the rest of us in the movement--to the blind of the group, to those who are not diabetic. You must find the diabetic who is legally blind and help him or her understand that it is not enough to cope with the medical aspects of blindness and diabetes. Unless there can be an improvement in public attitudes and, indeed, an evolution of our own abilities, there can never be full life and equal citizenship. As deadly as is the imbalance of insulin, it is no more lethal than the imbalance in society's perception and treatment of the blind. Each, if unchecked, will destroy you, and in either case the destruction will be slow, not always easy to recognize, and viciously insidious.

"An important truth, which some ignore and many have never learned, is the fact that the blind as a group have common interests which can only be addressed collectively--in our capacity as a group and not as individuals. To those who do not believe this, or do not know what it means, I can only say: Read our literature; attend our meetings. You will understand.

President Jernigan concluded by saying: "May the Diabetic Division of the National Federation of the Blind accomplish the purposes for which it was established. May it grow and flourish--and may this newsletter be its voice, its call to conscience, and its symbol of hope for the blind diabetic. What you have undertaken in launching your venture is this compelling and this significant."