Braille Monitor October 1986
JULY 1, 1986
The past year has been one of the best which the National Federation of the Blind has ever had. It has been a time of accomplishment and a time of challenge. We have probably done more public education and had more public recognition than ever before in our history. We have had harmony and unity of purpose. All you need do to verify these facts is to look around you at this convention. It is a suitable climax for a wonderful year.
A good place to begin in talking about the past twelve months is with what happened immediately after last year's national convention. Art Schreiber, who is here today, manages the most influential radio station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is also a Vice President of the Hubbard Broadcasting Company, a past board member of the Associated Press, and a man with broad contacts in the radio and television industry. Art, Fred Schroeder, and I went to New York July 10 of last year and met with the Presidents of CBS and NBC Radio and the Vice President in Charge of Operations of ABC. It was a most productive meeting, resulting in increased airing of our public service radio and television spots and giving us valuable contacts.
In August a representative of the British Broadcasting Corporation visited our headquarters at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore to study our programs for the BBC, and on the same day six visitors from Japan toured our facilities.
On August 16 I spoke to the Section of Libraries for the Blind of the International Federation of Library Associations at the Library of Congress. The way that meeting came about is illustrative of the increasing recognition which the Federation is receiving. The Section of Libraries for the Blind of the International Federation of Library Associations is a group representing libraries for the blind throughout the world. It had never met in the United States before 1985, and the program planners said they wanted to hear from blind consumers, from the people who use library services in this country. They made it clear that this meant they wanted to hear from the National Federation of the Blind and its President.
On October 18 a group of foreign journalists visited the National Center for the Blind for a tour and luncheon. They were from England and West Germany, and ours was the only facility for the blind they visited.
Increasingly the dedication of our members, their ability to perceive and take advantage of opportunity, the worthwhileness of our cause, and our ability to act decisively and with dispatch are coming together to advance our cause. Last fall Bob Hope was in Louisiana, and he visited the training center which Joanne Fernandes and our other Louisiana members run. He was so much impressed that he asked what he could do to help us. Joanne asked him whether he would be willing to make radio and television spots for us. He said that he would and that he would contact us. One day shortly before Christmas I was in my office working late when I received a phone call from Joanne. She said that Bob Hope's representative had called to say that Hope was taping his Christmas show and if we could prepare suitable copy and phone it to him in fifteen minutes, he would use it. Otherwise he wouldn't. The opportunity was too good to miss--so, of course, I could and did. You know the results. Our Bob Hope radio and television spots are being heard and seen throughout the nation. Our other television and radio announcements are also being aired, and scarcely a day goes by without evidence of their effectiveness.
For the past several years an increasing number of governors and mayors have been proclaiming National Federation of the Blind Week or Day or Month. The trend continues to accelerate. Since the last convention mayors of cities (large and small) throughout the country have issued proclamations, and the governors of at least six states have done likewise. Of course, all of this publicity and recognition has no meaning unless it results in better lives for blind people--and it has and does. We cannot change society's attitudes about us unless we can take our message to the public. In fact, the proclamations and the other publicity are as much an indicator of how far we still have to go as of how far we have come. Blind people are no longer hidden away in the back streets and the back rooms. We are coming to the center of the stage, and we are speaking with a clear voice--our own voice.
As you know, we have had a tremendous battle during the last year trying to save the federal subsidies which permit free reading matter for the blind and reduced postage rates for non-profit third-class mailings. Some time early in September the head of the Nonprofit Mailers Federation came to our headquarters in Baltimore and talked with me about setting up a breakfast meeting on Capitol Hill for Congressional leaders and members of interested organizations. He said that the stature and influence of the National Federation of the Blind were such that the group wanted me to chair the meeting. I agreed to do so, and the meeting took place on September 19. Besides the Nonprofit Mailers Federation and the National Federation of the Blind, the other organizations involved were the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Society of Association Executives. Federationists from around the country were present. In fact, we had the largest and most active delegation there. I am convinced that our presence at that breakfast and our actions throughout the remainder of the day, plus the other steps we have taken in succeeding months have been a key factor (perhaps the key factor) in saving the postal subsidies and preserving Revenue Foregone.
Our breakfast (which was held at the Rayburn House Office Building) was attended by Senator Ted Stevens, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Civil Service, Post Office, and General Services. He was obviously impressed. Only a week later we were on the way to passing legislation in the Senate which delayed further postage rate increases. Senator Stevens introduced the bill and attributed his efforts to the meeting which I have just described. In his statement on the floor of the Senate he mentioned us by name and spoke of our needs.
Later in the week you will hear more about the battle to preserve Revenue Foregone. For now let me say only this: Last year as we met at Louisville, it appeared we were in danger of a complete cutoff of the appropriations to subsidize postage rates. If this had happened, our activities would have been severely curtailed. It did not happen, and we are principally responsible. Although there have been some postage increases during the past twelve months, they have been relatively small, and they appear (at least, for the moment) to be stabilized.
One of the most difficult problems we have faced in recent times has been our confrontation with the airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration has tended to duck the issue of discrimination against the blind, and the air carriers have behaved with the whim and caprice one would expect in the circumstances. As we move from second-class status to first-class citizenship, our expectations and awareness naturally increase. Unfortunately so do the hostility and resentment against us--not permanently, of course, and not from everybody but from those who feel insecurity within themselves and need somebody to bully, and from those who have a vested interest in putting us down and keeping us out.
Last year, going home from the national convention in Louisville, Steve and Nadine Jacobson (fresh from the discussions and reinforcement) were harassed and bullied without cause or reason on a United Airlines flight. They were ordered to move from their assigned seats, and when they refused, they were arrested and taken to jail like common criminals. They were physically abused, partially strip searched, and kept in a cell. Some of their belongings were stolen by the very police who were sworn to uphold the law--and why? Because they insisted on acting like free American citizens. We went to court, and the jury said that the Jacobsons had done no wrong; but this does not erase the humiliation. It only speaks to the work we still must do to establish the right of the blind to travel where they please on lawful business throughout the country without interference. It is a right we intend to establish--by negotiation and persuasion if we can, by court action and legislation if we must, and by confrontation and action in the streets if we have no other alternative. We have organized for collective action, and we will do what we have to do. We are simply no longer willing to be second class citizens.
There is more, much more, to the airline battles of the last year. Our members have been arrested, carried off of planes for doing nothing more than sitting where they were assigned, browbeaten and publicly abused, ordered to give personal information about themselves which other passengers were not required to give, ridiculed, and threatened.
Later today and throughout the rest of the week you will hear detailed discussions concerning the airline battle and what we are doing about it, but the broad outline is quickly given. It is not just the leaders of this organization who are now aroused and determined. It is individual blind people all over the country. To put it bluntly, we have had enough. It is not that we go to airports and plan confrontations. It is simply that we have been humiliated and harassed to the point that those of us who formerly submitted to indignities without outward resistance have reached the end of our endurance. This means that every blind man and woman who flies on a plane this year is more likely to say no to second class treatment than would have been the case last year.
We are also taking action collectively. Last October Ellis Reida (who edits NINNESCAH, a magazine written specifically for the airlines) came to the National Center to interview me. We talked at length, and the substance of our conversation was the feature article in the January issue of NINNESCAH. It was read by airline officials throughout the country. Increasingly those officials are also reading and discussing the BRAILLE MONITOR. All of this has its impact.
Of course, we are also continuing our court cases, but we have shifted much of the thrust of our effort to Congress and the federal Department of Transportation. This spring the chairman and the ranking minority member of the House Aviation Subcommittee sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole expressing concern about the treatment the blind are receiving by the airlines, and on May 22 of this year, 44 members of the United States Senate did likewise. Here is what the senators said:
Dear Secretary Dole:
We are writing to express our concern about reports of discrimination against blind air travellers by commercial airlines. It has been brought to our attention that the airlines' policies regarding treatment of blind passengers vary greatly, and there are reports that some airlines subject blind individuals to humilating treatment. For example, in some cases blind people have been told that they must sit on blankets or be seated next to people of the same sex. Other instances of discrimination include reports that some airlines single out blind passengers and force them to attend a special briefing and to answer questions about it. On other occasions, blind air travellers have been forced to preboard even if they don't want to and have been told that in an emergency they will have to wait until the end of the evacuation line.
We are informed that these are not isolated incidents but instead reveal a systematic pattern of abuse. These practices do not appear to enhance airline safety and are an affront to the capabilities and dignity of blind people.
We are writing to request that DOT investigate this issue and, if necessary, revise current regulations. We further request your response to the enclosed questions which were drafted by the National Federation of the Blind.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Such a letter cannot go unanswered and cannot fail to make an impression. Moreover, formal complaints by individual blind people are now being submitted to the Department of Transportation. We have filed complaints on behalf of Marc Maurer, Steve Hastalis, and Peggy Pinder; and a complaint from Mary Ellen Reihing is now in the works. Without such complaints the Department of Transportation would probably not take formal action--but with them such action is automatically triggered. We are hopeful that the decision will be favorable.
That the Department of Transportation is now gearing up to deal with the problem is indicated by the visit on March 14 of this year of two of its top officials to the National Center for the Blind. We talked in detail, and I believe the talks were productive. One of those officials, Ira Laster, is with us today, and the very fact of his presence is evidence of the progress. There were no firm commitments at our March meeting, but I believe we will hear things today from Mr. Laster which will show that the tide is turning.
Yes, the battle with the airlines has been long, but I am convinced that the end is approaching. What we ask is simple: It is only that the blind be treated like other adult, responsible citizens. We are not seeking special favors--we are only asking for what is ours by right--and we intend to have it. We neither beg nor bluster--but we will do what we have to do. We are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens.
At last year's convention I talked to you about the contracts which the Department of Defense had signed with the fast food chains and about the threats to the Randolph-Sheppard Program posed by the actions of GSA and the post office. With respect to the fast food contracts our problem was not to prevent an action but to try to undo it. Against our advice, the American Council of the Blind and certain agencies took the matter to court, using the RandolphSheppard Act as the vehicle. We told them that the risks were too great and that there were better ways to achieve the objective. Congressional oversight hearings could be stimulated, and negotiations could be carried on with officials of the Executive Branch.
As you know, the results of the ACB court case were disastrous. In January of 1985 summary judgment was given in favor of the Defense Department and the fast food chains. Moreover, the court went beyond the question at issue and made pronouncements jeopardizing the entire Randolph-Sheppard Program. An appeal from the lower court decision was made by ACB and the others who brought the ill-fated case, and we were faced with a dilemma. If we entered the case, we risked losing credibility by keeping such company, and if we did not enter, the appeal might be handled so badly that every blind vendor in the country would suffer the consequences. Under the circumstances we had no choice. We filed a motion to enter the case as an amicus. The American Council of the Blind and the fast food chains stood together in opposing our entrance into the case, but the court decided against them. We presented our brief and are now awaiting the court's decision. I understand that during the past few days the appeals court has made a decision along the lines which we requested, but I have not had the opportunity to study the order.
As we told the American Council of the Blind at the outset, there are times when court cases are appropriate and times when they are not. A perfect example is what we have accomplished with the General Services Administration. We have now achieved a solid and final victory concerning the issue of cafeterias to be operated by the blind in buildings controlled by GSA. You will remember that top officials of GSA attended our 1985 convention to discuss the Randolph-Sheppard Program. At that time it was agreed that we would make a formal written proposal that they change their policies with respect to the awarding of cafeterias to blind vendors. We presented the proposal immediately after the convention, and under date of December 23, 1985, GSA replied, giving us what we had asked. According to its official procedures GSA will not in the future offer for commercial bidding any cafeteria contract until the State agency for the blind has first officially turned it down or failed to respond within a reasonable time. In short, the blind will get the first crack at the cafeteria without any competition. Also, no cafeteria contract that is now in force with a commercial food operator will be extended until the blind have been given the opportunity to take the location if they want it.
As the correspondence will demonstrate, these decisions are the direct result of our negotiations with GSA in response to its effort to bring fast food chains into federal buildings.
Last fall at our request Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska held a special Congressional hearing on these issues. The outcome was extremely positive and was a major factor in the victory I have described. Until the blind have had the first right of refusal, there will be no more bidding for cafeterias in GSA buildings. This is Federationism in action.
Last year we were asked by the state of Arizona to assist with an arbitration involving the United States Post Office. Jim Gashel served on the arbitration panel as Arizona's representative. The case is over, and Arizona won. The postal service agreed to provide free space for a cafeteria operated by a blind vendor at the new main post office which opened last summer in Phoenix. Also, as a result of the arbitration, the cafeteria contract is made permanent. Moreover, the blind vendor at the post office is receiving forty percent of all vending machine income throughout the building rather than the thirty percent which the law requires. This is only one case, but it has nationwide implications. It helps set a tone and create an atmosphere. It is why the Federation is what it is and gets the results which it gets.
Don Hudson, Richard Jack, and the Colorado Committee of Blind Vendors have obtained an injunction against the Colorado State Agency for the Blind with our assistance. The case involves a vending location at the United States Postal Service, Denver Terminal Annex. The business was being operated by one vendor, but the state agency decided to split it up among two or more. We went to court, and we blocked the splitting of the location. An administrative appeal is pending, and there will probably need to be an arbitration eventually. Meanwhile, the Terminal Annex location remains as one business--and we intend to see that it stays that way. It is an old story for the agencies to decide that a blind vendor is making too much money and that the income should be split among two or three. Although the agencies have no problem in feeling that this is appropriate for blind vendors, they never seem to feel that it is equally appropriate as a procedure which should be followed with respect to their own salaries. If the agency can divide the income from a single location among several vendors, it can get credit for a greater number of rehabilitations; its task will be made easier; and the clients will have an appropriately modest income and be kept in their places. But that is not the way we intend to have it.
Betty Tetzlaff was operating a vending facility at the main post office in Evansville, Indiana. She started in May of 1981. From the beginning, the Indiana agency required Betty to pay a percentage of her gross income to the postal employees' recreation fund. We started an administrative appeal and advised Betty to stop making the illegal payments. There were hearings, and finally an arbitration. As is our custom in such matters, we won. The payments were illegal, and with our help Betty recovered $6,447.01. Marc Maurer was our representative, and we recovered the whole amount--including the one cent.
Jelene Kennedy is a blind vendor at the post office in Indianapolis. She has been there for four years. Even though she is entitled under the Randolph-Sheppard Act to receive the net profits of the business, the state agency has only been paying her the minimum wage, $3.35 an hour--no more. This has been going on throughout her entire period as a vendor. Although Jelene Kennedy does all of the work and runs the vending facility (a fairly large business, incidentally), the agency has diverted all of the proceeds to another vendor. And when we learned about it, what do you think we did? We are beginning an appeal, and we intend to win it.
Helen Bryan and Effie McClanahan are vendors in West Virginia. Last July they filed a civil rights complaint against the West Virginia Society for the Blind and Severely Disabled. We helped from the very beginning. Both Helen and Effie had been in the West Virginia vending program for many years. They had a combined seniority of forty one years, but neither of them had ever been promoted. In fact, Helen had been demoted at least once. Both are totally blind, or very nearly so. As we looked at the situation, we found that vendors were getting better locations in proportion to how much sight they had. Also, there were issues of sex discrimination. Earlier this year a hearing was held before the West Virginia Human Rights Commission. Both Dick Porter and Jim Gashel have been working on this case. The decision is now in, and the hearing officer has ruled that Helen and Effie are each to receive back pay from May of 1985 in the amount of $1,080 per month. Each of them will receive the payments until she is promoted into a vacant location. In addition, Helen and Effie are each given compensation of $2,500 for embarrassment and humiliation.
A discussion about vendors would not be complete without a few words concerning the Jessie Nash ease. As I have reported in almost every Presidential Report since 1977, we are still working on the Jessie Nash case. It has taken a long time, but we have won every battle so far. Three years ago Jessie was returned to the vending facility that was illegally taken from her. She still successfully operates it. Now, we are dealing with the money which is owed to her as a result of the unlawful action of the state of Georgia in allowing her vending facility to be closed in the first place. Almost two years ago there was a supplemental arbitration award that Jessie is entitled to recover about $35,000 from the state, but the state has never paid it. We have been patient, but there comes a time when patience is not a virtue. We are going back to federal court (arbitration order in hand) to get a judgment for the money which is owed. I have said it before, and I say it again. We never quit, and we never give up--and the Jessie Nash case is about the best evidence you could have to prove it.
The decision in the case of Robert Albanese vs. Delaware is beyond a doubt the most important court ruling ever made affecting the rights of blind vendors under the Randolph-Sheppard Program. Our argument and brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit made the difference. Our opponents were the State of Delaware and the United States Department of Education. We beat them both. The ruling says clearly that blind vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard Program have the right to collect monetary damages from a state agency which has violated the law. The court says that the relationship between vendors and the state agencies is contractual in nature and must be treated accordingly. Once a state has entered into the agreement, it cannot "welch" on the deal. The Albanese decision has put teeth into the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and the National Federation of the Blind was the dentist.
Even though we have succeeded in the courts and in negotiations with the federal agencies, major perils still lie ahead for blind vendors. Two states (Wyoming and Montana) have now officially withdrawn from the program. In Wyoming the General Services Administration cooperated with us in negotiating a private agreement for Melanie Rudell, the only blind vendor in the state, to continue in her business. As you know, Melanie is the President of our Wyoming affiliate. She is here at the convention.
As for Montana, the four blind vendors on federal property were out of work as of the end of June. Four more vendors (the remaining ones) will lose their locations as soon as the program can be phased out. At this point it is hard to know whether we can find a way to revive the vending program in these states, but if we don't do it, I doubt that anybody else will. Every vending location in the country is now in danger, and we must take the strongest possible action to see that the vending program in the remaining states is not destroyed. Of course, much depends on the willingness of vendors throughout the country to stand with us and help fight for themselves. Many vendors are already members of the National Federation of the Blind, but it is hard to see how any can fail to join.
We continue to fight to better the conditions of blind sheltered shop workers. Most of the laws pertaining to wages and conditions of employment in the sheltered shops were passed before the National Federation of the Blind was even organized. It has been a long battle to reverse the negative and bring positive changes. Moreover, there are new attempts to make the conditions of blind shop workers worse. Legislation is currently pending in Congress to allow workshops to have increased discretion in paying subminimum wages. The bill has been introduced in both the House and the Senate. It would remove the provision which guarantees most blind shop workers at least fifty percent of the minimum wage. According to testimony from the Labor Department, if this legislation passes, the workshops could pay: "Anything above zero." I emphasize that this is a direct quote. We were there to testify against the bills, and I think we were successful. I believe these bills will not pass.
Meanwhile the workshops are also trying to obtain small business set aside contracts. On the one hand, the workshops want to be called rehabilitation centers (that is, when they want to avoid paying the minimum wage or having to deal with labor unions); but on the other hand, they want to be called small businesses when they want the small business set-aside contracts. In our testimony we told the Congress that if workshops want to be treated like small businesses, they should behave like small businesses and have the responsibilities of small businesses. Let them pay minimum wages; let them acknowledge that their employees have the right to be represented by unions; and let them make other needed reforms. The workshops are not rehabilitation centers. We know it; they know it; and Congress is beginning to know it. I can tell you this: There will be no small business set-aside contracts for the workshops unless they agree to major reforms. We have made certain of that.
We continue to defend the rights of the blind across the whole spectrum of everyday life. Last October Wanda Pecher attempted to rent a safety deposit box from the Bank of Delaware. She was told that if she wanted the box, she would either have to sign a paper holding the bank harmless from any loss or agree to have a sighted person authorized to open the safety deposit box for her. That, of course, is a totally unreasonable and outrageous requirement. We have negotiated with the bank, and they have agreed to change their policy. However, they have not yet done so. We will see that they do.
Nancy Albright is from Sacramento, California. She applied for a job at McClelland Air Force Base, but her application for employment was not just turned down--it was not even accepted. There was a medical disqualification on grounds of blindness. This was not a military but a civilian job. We are appealing through Equal Employment Opportunity procedures.
Ken Harrington is a Federationist from Oregon. He worked for a lumber mill until he became blind. Then, he was told that he could no longer work there. His employers said that they knew he could do the work, but they were concerned about liability. What if a log accidentally slipped? What if something else should happen to injure a blind employee? In concert with the Oregon affiliate, we helped Ken Harrington find one of the best-known civil rights lawyers in the state. We are making an appeal. In the meantime (and best of all) Ken Harrington's employment at the mill was not terminated in April as scheduled.
Amy Williams is a Federationist from Pennsylvania. Last July she was offered a course at the Philadelphia Handicapped Training Center. She was supposed to be trained as an information specialist. The work involved using computers. Amy is totally blind. Two other students in the class were also totally blind. The other students in the class had some usable vision. And what do you suppose? At the end of the orientation period (the first thirty days of the course) the three who were totally blind were told that they could not complete the class. With our help Amy has filed a federal discrimination complaint. The complaint is now under investigation.
Connie Leblond is our state president in Maine. Her preschool-age son, Seth, is also blind. He is now the subject of a federal civil rights complaint filed against the Lewiston, Maine, School District. As you can see, Seth is becoming a Federationist early in life. The problem arose when the Lewiston schools refused to allow Seth to attend headstart classes on any day that the regular teacher was absent. There were concerns (you guessed it) about safety. How would Seth function in a classroom with a substitute teacher? The school district has sought to reserve the right to make Seth stay home on any day when the regular teacher is not in attendance. The complaint is going forward, and we intend to prevail.
Mark Haring is a maintenance worker with the Indiana Department of Highways. He is also blind. Late last year the Highway Department tried to terminate his employment. That's where we got involved. We helped commence a court action, and we secured an injunction to block Mark's termination from employment. The state Attorney General tried to have the injunction overturned but lost. Mark Haring is still on the job. As might be expected, the Indiana Highway officials are engaging in tactics of harassment, hoping that Mark will give up and go away. We think he won't, and we think that Ron Matias and the other Federationists in Indiana will see that he gets the support he needs.
We continue to deal with Social Security appeals. Wayne Miller of Colorado was charged with receiving an overpayment of close to $40,000, dating back to 1977. As we looked at the law, we thought the Social Security officials had not interpreted it correctly. In fact, we said that Social Security owed money to Wayne rather than Wayne's owing $40,000 to them. Diane McGeorge was heavily involved in this case. As it turned out, the Social Security Administration owed Wayne almost $20,000, which he has now received.
Blind parents continue to have their children taken from them--not because they are bad parents but because they are blind. Patsie Morgan is a blind mother whose children (two of them) were taken from her by Pennyslvania authorities near Harrisburg. The authorities said that before they would permit Patsie to keep her children, she must demonstrate that she could travel independently. A neighbor had filed a complaint with the county. This story does not have a happy ending. It shows what can happen to blind people when the pressures build. For no valid reason, Patsie was being forced to prove her fitness as a blind mother. In the face of the pressure she decided not to continue to fight. As long as this sort of thing can happen to any blind person in this country, not one of us is safe, and not one of us is totally free.
Anita Alston is a Federationist in our Northwest Indiana Chapter, located in Gary. Anita has not been blind very long. She is now engaged in a custody battle with her former husband. He is claiming that as a blind person, Anita is not fit to raise the youngest of their two children. The issue before the court is clear-cut. It is strictly Anita's blindness. We are helping with testimony, legal advice, and moral support--and we intend to win.
There is also a custody case in Colorado, and there are a number of others in various parts of the country. Whatever the cost and whatever it takes, we simply cannot permit children to be taken (without cause or reason) from blind parents. We must fight it with all that we have and all that we are.
I am pleased to tell you that we have helped Sandy Kelly become a court reporter. To the best of my knowledge she is the first totally blind court reporter who uses the standard stenographic methods, the same methods used by sighted court reporters for making transcripts. We have helped develop a special computer program which translates the print characters into Braille. This means that Sandy can immediately read back testimony. This is an absolute first. It was designed by our member Curtis Willoughby.
We continue to have good relations with the Social Security Administration. Patricia Owens, Associate Commissioner for Disability, came to last year's convention, and she will also be present on Thursday afternoon this year. When she was with us in Louisville, she promised that she would work with us to develop new approaches to the rehabilitation and training of blind people. She has kept her word. On two occasions during the past year she and her top staff have come to the National Center for the Blind to see our programs and discuss actions we might jointly take. The plan has not yet been finalized, but I believe it will be. I think it will be successful and that Social Security will work in partnership with us to bring a new day in rehabilitation and job possibilities for the blind.
In New Mexico we have taken the initiative in establishing a separate agency for the blind, the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. You will hear about it later in the week. Federationist Art Schreiber is the Chairman of the three-member Commission board, and Federationist Geatha Pai is a member of the board. Fred Schroeder has just been appointed Executive Director.
As was the case last year we are giving bigger and better scholarships to blind persons at this convention than ever before in our history. Twenty-four of the nation's best blind students will receive scholarships which (including travel expenses) will amount to almost $100,000. This is a tangible expression of our faith in the future and our belief in the coming generation.
The circulation of the BRAILLE MONITOR (in print, in Braille, and on disc) continues to increase. I believe that no one can challenge the statement that the MONITOR is the most influential publication in the field of blindness in the country. We also continue to publish FUTURE REFLECTIONS, our magazine for parents and educators of blind children; and we circulate on cassette the AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION JOURNAL. Our distribution of literature and of aids and appliances continues to grow at an astonishing rate. During the past year we have sent out more than three-quarters of a million items. We continue (in partnership with the United States Department of Labor) to operate the program of Job Opportunities for the Blind. It is one of the most successful efforts we have ever made.
Our facilities at the National Center for the Blind are the best in the nation, and they are serving the purpose for which we established them. More and more Federationists come to the Center each month to study, exchange ideas, get information, and plan for joint action.
As I bring this report to a conclusion, I necessarily think back through the years of my presidency. When I assumed the office in 1968, we were a much smaller and less powerful organization than we are today. During the past eighteen years we have strengthened our movement and brought new opportunity to the blind of the country. We have worked together, comforted each other in sorrow, and shared our triumphs.
As President I have led this organization as firmly, as wisely, and as lovingly as I have known how to lead. I have never asked any of you to do what I have not been willing to do myself, and I have tried to lead with my head as well as with my heart, avoiding tasks which were impossible but taking risks that were necessary and justifiable I have tried to be mindful of the heritage we received from Dr. tenBroek and the other founders and of our obligation to protect and cherish that heritage--the obligation to build it and to pass it on to the coming generation. We have kept faith with the early leaders and founders, and I know that we always will.
We have also kept faith with each other--you with me, and I with you. You have repeatedly given me the highest honor and the greatest responsibility which you can bestow, the Presidency of our movement--and I have repeatedly taken risks and stood in the front of the battle, knowing that you would support me and not permit me to fall.
Yes, you have given me unqualified support, but you have given me more than that. You have given me your trust and your love. As long as I live, I will participate actively in this organization and devote to it such talent and ability as I possess. That is what it means to be a Federationist. Our movement is worth the very best that each of us can give to it and because of our commitment and what the movement means, we will not fail in the years and decades ahead. We go together into the future to build an even stronger organization than we have today, one which will complete the task of bringing freedom and first-class status to every blind person in the nation.