Braille Monitor November 1986
(The following items appeared in the Summer, 1986, Barricades, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa.)
What Goes Around Comes Around:
Her own staff recently took Mrs. Nancy Norman, the Division for the Blind Administrator, to task for purchasing yet another Xerox Memorywriter for the agency's Field Operations Department. At least a year ago staff members recommended that Mrs. Norman not purchase any more of the devices, and she promised not to do so. It turns out that the Memorywriter, a word processor, can't be adapted for either speech or Braille output, and Xerox has shown no inclination to make it more adaptable. This caused a crisis for a local blind typist, who argued against purchase of the device by her employer, only to be overruled because "the Commission for the Blind just bought a number of these, and they should know." (The literature of public administration teaches us that a major characteristic of a good administrator is the ability to judge long term, as well as the short-term consequences, of an action.)
"Is Anybody There?"--Part 1:
Visitors to the Division for the Blind these days are frequently met by an empty switchboard, containing a sign (useless to blind visitors) directing them to the front office. In days past this highly visible position was staffed by a blind switchboard operator, who greeted visitors, answered their questions, and directed them to the agency's various departments, thus making an important statement about the capacities of blind people in employment. Now, sighted clerical personnel take turns staffing the switchboard--when it is staffed, that is.
"Is Anybody There?"--Part 2:
Visitors to the Division for the Blind will notice that the glass-walled administrative office historically occupied by the agency's deputy director is vacant. We hear that it will be made into the file room for the administrative office. In the past the deputy director was seated in that high visibility office for good management and security reasons--to keep track of who was entering and leaving the building, assist visitors, and solve problems (sometimes before they occurred). Recently the office was occupied by the administrative assistant to the agency's administrator, who could perform similar functions, but she's now moved to the back office. With switchboard and glass-walled office vacant, it's now possible for a thief to walk out the front door with an expensive piece of office equipment, unhindered (it's been tried before); and the visitors--what about them?
They'll Be There--With Bells On:
Earlier this year the U.S. Postmaster in Des Moines, ignoring 26 years of safe mail delivery to the Division for the Blind building, threatened to discontinue service unless the Division stationed staff to warn approaching blind cane travelers of the mail truck parked at the loading dock and extending across the Keo Street sidewalk. We hear that staff were originally assigned for that purpose but were withdrawn, and negotiations with the Postal Service opened, after a number of blind people and Orientation Center staff strongly objected. We also hear the Postal Service eventually reduced its demand: A staff person now has to watch while the truck is backed in--the truck itself will now have bells to warn approaching blind persons. It would seem that the former Commission for the Blind's unshakable belief in the capacities of blind people has now been exchanged for a reliance on bells and whistles.
Another Principle Set Aside?:
Some disturbing news regarding the Division for the Blind's Business Enterprise Program (BEP): Blind persons managing the agency's food vending operations may face "set-asides," money taken from their earnings to pay for management and other services provided by BEP staff. There's also been some consideration given to a separate "nominee agency" to manage the program. Several other states have recently decided to abandon their vending programs and use the money for other purposes. We fear such a trend to abandon blind vendors might take root in the fertile soil of the Division for the Blind, where the administration has not been personally committed to blind persons for years. Of course, blind Iowans will remember that the former Iowa Commission for the Blind prided itself on not charging "set-aside" to blind vendors and in providing remunerative employment for many blind entrepreneurs.