Braille Monitor December 1986
On Tuesday, September 30, 1986, an article appeared in the Dallas (Texas) Times Herald headlined: "Blind Librarian Asks for Chance in Face of Complaints to DISD." It brought into the open a case of blatant discrimination based on nothing more than superstition and a generalized public belief that the blind are not capable of performing competently.
In August of this year Cheryl McCaslin (armed with credentials and good references) was employed as media center coordinator in a public school in Dallas, Texas. Cheryl is totally blind. School administrators say that parents are now protesting that a blind person cannot do the job and that consequently their children are being shortchanged. According to the article in the Times Herald there is no specific allegation of any shortcoming or inadequacy, merely the generalized expression of prejudice and fear of the dark--not their words but ours.
As one studies the Times Herald article, it is not difficult to read between the lines. If school officials publicly express the belief that the librarian is incompetent and put her under constant surveillance, how is it possible for her to do the job? In such circumstances how can parents resist the suggestion that they protest and criticize? After all, are they not invited to do so? Indeed, are they not virtually told that if they do not criticize, they are demonstrating callous disregard for the welfare of their children? By their actions the school officials are insuring that their predictions of failure will become a reality. If there was ever a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy, this is surely it.
This is not simply a local Dallas situation, nor is it merely a case involving Cheryl McCaslin. It involves all of us who are blind or who believe that the blind can compete on terms of equality and be first-class citizens. If these insidious attacks continue, the blind of the nation must respond. We are now strong enough through the vehicle of the National Federation of the Blind to resist such attempts to return to the days of medieval superstition and ancient concepts. One of the principal purposes for the existence of the National Federation of the Blind is to see that the blind have fair treatment and equal opportunity. It is not pity and charity which we seek but justice and equal protection under the law. We are taking this opportunity to alert the blind of the nation to the threat which the McCaslin case poses and the action which may be required. We will not sit passively by and permit Cheryl McCaslin's career to be ruined by people who have nothing more than ignorance of blindness to justify their behavior. Even if specific charges were now to be made, one would have to wonder whether those charges had not been trumped up to accomplish a predetermined objective. The article in the Dallas Times Herald underscores the urgent and continuing need for the National Federation of the Blind. Here it is in its entirety. It was brought to our attention by Doris Henderson, President of the Progressive Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas:
Blind Librarian Asks for Chance In Face of Complaints to DISD
by David Fritze
After the slow, traumatic failing of her eyesight, Cheryl McCaslin went completely blind in 1977 at age 29. But the Iowa school librarian persisted in her chosen profession and this August accepted a job as media center coordinator at C.F. Carr Elementary School in West Dallas.
Her presence has sparked a flurry of complaints from parents whose children attend the school. A blind person cannot adequately handle a school librarian's job, they say.
Administrators of the Dallas Independent School District find themselves caught between parental opinion and federal laws requiring special accommodation for disabled employees.
School officials fear that removing or transferring McCaslin to another position may result in a civil rights action--a move McCaslin took against the Clarion, Iowa, school district after administrators fired her as a high school librarian.
Administrators are attempting to determine whether McCaslin, even with the help of a full-time library aide hired specifically to assist her, can handle the job.
Some have their doubts.
"I just can't help but think those young people are being shortchanged," said Kathlyn Gilliam, Dallas school board member, who said she 's received several complaints about McCaslin. "When you walk into the library and the person in charge doesn't even know you're standing there. . . I just wonder how effective that person can be," Gilliam said.
McCaslin, 38, holds degrees in elementary education and library science, and says she can perform the job better than many people who are not blind. "I hope to be able to make (people) realize that just because I have a disability, that's not going to stop me," McCaslin said.
School officials acknowledge McCaslin has sound references and good credentials, yet contend "it's very difficult for her to perform her duties. . to do," said Assistant Supt. H.B. Bell. "We're talking about a school with a lot of critical needs, and I don't know how to go about satisfying those needs with this person they've hired formed."
Bell said parents of children at C.F. Carr have called administrators and the principal questioning whether "someone who is blind is capable of doing the job." He listed no specific complaints related to McCaslin's blindness. "It's a general perception," he said.
Administrators have periodically visited the school at 1952 Bayside St. to observe McCaslin at work. Gilliam said during a visit she made two weeks ago, the aide hired to assist McCaslin appeared to perform most of the work and direct the students in activities.
School officials also view the placement of McCaslin in C.F. Carr as a disregard for heightened educational needs of poor, minority students, who comprise the majority of the school.
"I bet we wouldn't ever have attempted (to hire McCaslin) in a school in North Dallas, because folks wouldn't stand for that," Gilliam said.
If McCaslin is transferred, "I'll just have to face the wrath of any group that comes down on me but the parents are coming down on me now," Bell said. McCaslin, who began losing her sight in 1973 because of diabetes, denies that she has allowd the library aide to do most of the work. "There are just certain things I want done, and she's the eyes," she said.
McCaslin has started stamping library book cards and pockets with Braille titles, and claims that when she gets to know her surroundings she'll be able to retrieve books off shelves without the aide's assistance. She hopes to use English and Braille, as well as video recorders and other equipment, for teaching.
"It may take me a while, but I'm going to do it," she said.
From 1971 to 1982,McCaslin headed the media center at the Clarion Elementary and Junior High School, where "she had a pretty good program, really," said Kurt Weithorn, Clarion Elementary School principal.
"As far as taking care of the library, getting materials out to the teachers and teaching classes, she was able to do that," he said.
"I think it worked because students were familiar with her from the time she entered into the elementary school" and she held the job several years before losing her sight, he said.
In 1982, the library position became part-time, and McCaslin filed a civil rights complaint with the Iowa State Education Association, claiming the school was trying to get rid of her because she was blind. The complaint went before the Clarion school board, but McCaslin later dropped the matter and took a full-time job at the Clarion High School's media center.
Weithorn said the high school principal opposed the transfer, however, and after McCaslin began working, "it was just felt she couldn't do the job."
McCaslin was fired after a year and filed another civil rights complaint, which "got to be kind of a nasty thing," Weithorn said.
McCaslin, who moved to Texas in 1984 after receiving a fellowship to study library science at North Texas State University, contends she was dismissed because the principal disliked her and tended to treat her and other teachers unfairly.
DISD administrators are afraid if they remove McCaslin from her position, she will file a similar lawsuit.
"According to the law, when you hire the handicapped, you must make reasonable accommodation for the performance of a specific job," said Deberie Gomez, head of DISD personnel. "If in fact she's unable to perform, then we need to do something else."
Jeff Pearcy, vice president of the Texas Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, warned that if DISD officials attempt to remove McCaslin, "they better have some very good evidence against her."
McCaslin said she hopes a civil rights complaint will not be necessary but doesn't intend to resign.