32, No. 10 November
Kenneth Jernigan, Editor
in inkprint, Braille, on talking-book disc,
and cassette by
National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
NFB Net BBS: (612) 696-1975
Web Page Address: http//www.nfb.org
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National Federation of the Blind
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND IS NOT
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 32, No. 10 November 1989
CONVENTION 1990: TEXAS GOLD
SCHOLARSHIPS FOR 1990
MAKING GOOD USE OF AN MBA
by Eileen Rivera
BRAILLE LITERACY: ISSUES
FOR CONSUMERS AND PROVIDERS
by Susan Jay Spungin, Ed.D.
THE DILEMMA OF THE SHELTERED
by Kenneth Jernigan
TEACHING MATHEMATICS: ONE
CAREER FOR THE BLIND
by Abraham Nemeth, Ph.D.
THE BLIND APPLICANT REJECTED:
WHY NOT DIPLOMACY FOR THE BLIND?
by Rami Rabby
BLIND PERSONS IN THE U.S.
FOREIGN SERVICE: A VIEW FROM CONGRESS
by Congressman Gerry Sikorski
LOUISIANA CENTER FOR THE
BLIND STUDENTS ATTEND CLASS IN THE SCHOOL
OF HARD KNOCKS
by Barbara Pierce
THE VOICE OF THE FOURTH GENERATION: BLIND KIDS EXPRESS THEIR VIEWS
THE BLIND IN ELECTIVE OFFICE: MY EXPERIENCE AS A BOULDER
by Homer Page
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION PROGRAMS AND THE BLIND
PLANS FOR WORK INCENTIVES AND REHABILITATION
by James Gashel
AHEAD IN LEGISLATION FOR THE BLIND: A REPUBLICAN LEADER'S PERSPECTIVE
ON SOCIAL SECURITY, WORK INCENTIVES, AND REHABILITATION
by Congressman Hank Brown
SECURITY INCOME: THE CURRENT PROGRAM AND PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
by Rhoda Davis
REFLECTIONS ON THE PERKINS BRAILLER
BRAILLE READERS ARE LEADERS CONTEST
OF BLIND CHILDREN AWARD FOR 1990
by Sharon Maneki
THE BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE
YEAR AWARD FOR 1990
by Patricia Munson
by Barbara Pierce
Copyright, National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1989
The time has come to plan for the 1990 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Chicago in 1988 was the largest meeting we have ever had, and Denver in 1989 was certainly among the most successful. Glenn Crosby, President of next summer's host affiliate, has been making Texas-sized promises about the 1990 convention. Here is what he has to say on the subject:
As you may already have noticed, Texans are a particularly proud group of people, and the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas are especially proud to have the honor of hosting the Golden Anniversary convention of the organized blind movement. We know that on occasion Texans have been accused of being boastful, but we don't think it would be bragging to say that we are planning the best convention ever. As this issue of the Monitor arrives at your door, we are arranging spectacular tours, collecting fabulous door prizes, and laying plans to show you so many kinds of hospitality that you are bound to be pleased.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Hyatt Regency is the site of our 1990 convention, and a fine facility it is. Located on the premises of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the Hyatt boasts more than 1,300 guest rooms and a grand ballroom that should contain ample space for the record number of convention attendees we are sure will be present. As Federationists know, we registered over 2,400 people in Chicago in 1988. At the Golden Anniversary convention next year we will beat that number going away. Twenty-five hundred registered or bust. The hotel's twin towers are separated by a quarter-mile-long corridor through which one may walk. However, if walking presents a problem for you, don't worry. Electric carts are available for anyone who needs or wants to take a ride. This is a regular service offered to any hotel guest. There are four outstanding restaurants inside the hotel: an Italian trattoria, which specializes in Northern Italian cuisine and has singing waiters and waitresses; a barbecue restaurant, which serves only the finest steaks and brisket; an American restaurant, which serves a variety of seafood and steaks; and a Fifties diner, which offers homestyle dishes and even allows you to have your fill of hamburgers and shakes. For lighter dining the bar in the East Tower also has sandwiches and snacks available during much of the day. As you can see, the 1990 convention promises to be the biggest and best we have ever had, and if you make your plans to share this special celebration with us, it will be even better. So come on down and join us, and together we'll make the 1990 convention (like the Alamo) something to remember.
As you can see from what Glenn Crosby says, the NFB of Texas is planning an exciting array of tours and hospitality, and the program agenda will be vintage Federation. Make your reservations early. Also remember that we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Please remember that prizes should be relatively small in bulk and large in value. Cash, of course, is always acceptable. In any case we try to have no prize of less than $25 value. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the meetings, and the prizes will aggregate many thousands of dollars. In Denver in 1989 the grand prize, which was drawn at the banquet, was $1,000 in cash. We are not certain what Texas will give for the grand prize in 1990, but you can be certain that it will be worthy of the affiliate and the occasion. If you have door prizes, bring them with you to the convention or send them to: Doris Henderson, 505 Heyser Drive, Dallas, Texas 75224; home telephone (214) 942-2612. The displays of new technology, the meetings of special interest groups and divisions, the hospitality and renewal of friendships, the solid program items, and the general excitement of being where the action is and where the decisions are being made all join together to call the blind of the nation to the Dallas-Fort Worth Hyatt Regency hotel in the summer of 1990. Come and be part of it.
In recent years we have sometimes taken hotel reservations through the National Office, but for the 1990 convention you should write directly to: Hyatt Regency DFW, Post Office Box 619014, International Parkway, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Texas 75261; or call (214) 453-1234, or toll-free (800) 233- 1234. The hotel will want a deposit or a credit card number. Our hotel rates continue to be the envy of all who know about them. For the 1990 convention they are: singles, $27; doubles, $30; triples, $33; and quads, $37. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at the time we made the contract was twelve percent (12%). There will be no charge for children in the room with parents.
Since the Hyatt Regency DFW is on the grounds of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, transportation between the terminals and the hotel is free. At the time we made the contract hotel parking was also free, and we have not heard of any change. To help you in making your convention plans, remember that the Parents of Blind Children Division and other groups usually conduct seminars of general interest on the first Saturday of the convention (this year June 30) and that Sunday and Monday, July 1 and 2, will be filled with division and committee meetings, including the public meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors, held Monday morning. The general convention sessions extend from Tuesday, July 3, through Friday, July 6; and if things go as they usually do, there will probably be a Job Opportunities for the Blind seminar on Saturday, July 7. As you can see, Texas in '90 will be the best we have ever had. Come and enjoy the Texas Gold.
In recent years the National Federation of the Blind has devoted substantial effort and resources to its scholarship program. This has been done in the belief that if the blind are to achieve first-class status in society, they must have the opportunity to compete with others on terms of equality. This is another way of saying that the blind must be able to attend institutions of higher learning. To that end we continue to strengthen our scholarship program.
In 1990 twenty-six outstanding blind students will receive scholarships from the Federation, totaling $71,000 in cash plus payment of their expenses to attend the National Federation of the Blind convention in Dallas during early July. Twelve blind scholars will receive awards of $2,000; ten will receive awards of $2,500; three will receive awards of $4,000; and one (the student judged to be the most outstanding blind scholar in the nation) will receive a $10,000 scholarship award.
The Federation's commitment to excellence and achievement is long-standing. We have made this commitment real through our many Federation programs and projects. No Federation activity spotlights excellence and achievement more than our scholarship program, through which we honor and encourage America's distinguished blind students.
The Scholarship Committee for 1990 (their terms expire December 31, 1990) consists of the following twenty-nine people: Peggy Pinder, Iowa, Chairman; Adrienne Asch, New York; Steve Benson, Illinois; Jacquilyn Billey, Connecticut; Charles Brown, Virginia; Sharon Buchan, Alaska; Norma Crosby, Texas; Joanne Fernandes, Louisiana; Priscilla Ferris, Massachusetts; Sharon Gold, California; Michael Gosse, Connecticut; John Halverson, Missouri; Allen Harris, Michigan; David Hyde, Oregon; Tami Dodd Jones, Michigan; Christopher Kuczynski, Pennsylvania; Scott LaBarre, Minnesota; Mellissa LaGroue, Alabama; Melody Lindsey, Florida; Sharon Maneki, Maryland; Homer Page, Colorado; Barbara Pierce, Ohio; Ben Prows, Washington; Eileen Rivera, Maryland; Fred Schroeder, New Mexico; Heidi Sherman, Minnesota; Zachary Shore, Pennsylvania; Ramona Walhof, Idaho; and Gary Wunder, Missouri.
The Scholarship Application Form (copy reproduced at the end of this article) consists of a single legal-sized page with printing on both sides. We are making an initial printing of 50,000 of these forms. They will be sent to every college and university in the country, every agency doing work with the blind, every congressional office, every NFB state president, and every member of the Scholarship Committee. They will also be sent to anyone requesting them. These are worthwhile scholarships, which will be of real assistance to blind students.
The news about our scholarship program should be disseminated as widely as possible. To receive forms or to obtain further information, contact: Peggy Pinder, Chairman, National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee, 814 - 4th Avenue, Suite 200, Grinnell, Iowa 50112; phone (515) 236-3366. Forms can also be had by writing to: Scholarships, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. Here is the Scholarship Form.
National Federation of the Blind 1990 Scholarship Program
Each year at its national convention in July the National Federation of the Blind gives to legally blind persons pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time post-secondary course of study a broad array of scholarships. The following scholarships will be given at the National Convention in 1990:
1. Ezra Davis Memorial Scholarship; $10,000; endowed by Ezra Davis and given by the American Brotherhood for the Blind, a nonprofit organization which works to assist blind persons. Applicants must be studying (or planning to study) at the post-secondary level. No restriction as to gender, graduate or undergraduate level, or field of study.
2. National Federation of the Blind Merit Scholarships; nineteen to be given; three for $4,000; seven for $2,500; and nine for $2,000. Applicants must be studying (or planning to study) at the post-secondary level. No restriction as to gender, graduate or undergraduate level, or field of study.
3. Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship; $2,500. Applicants must be studying (or planning to study) law, medicine, engineering, architecture, or the natural sciences. No restriction as to gender or graduate or undergraduate level.
4. Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship; $2,000. Dr. Isabelle Grant endowed this scholarship in memory of her daughter. Limited to female students. May be studying (or planning to study) at either graduate or undergraduate level.
5. Frank Walton Horn Memorial Scholarship; $2,500; given by Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Barnum, the mother and stepfather of Catherine Horn Randall. No restriction as to gender, graduate or undergraduate level, or field of study, but preference will be given to those studying architecture or engineering.
6. Francis Urbanek Memorial Scholarship; $2,000; given by Joe Urbanek in memory of his brother Francis, who died in January, 1986, at age eighteen; limited to blind high school graduates entering their freshman year of college.
7. Ellen Setterfield Memorial Scholarship; $2,000; given in memory of Ellen Setterfield by Roy Landstrom, who says: During the course of her life, she gave of herself to defending the dignity and self-respect of those around her. Restricted to students at the graduate level in the social sciences.
8. Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship; $2,500; given in memory of Melva T. Owen, who was widely known and loved among the blind. She and her husband Charles Owen became acquainted with increasing numbers of blind people through their work in the Voicepondence Club. Charles Owen says: There shall be no limitation as to field of study, except that it shall be directed towards attaining financial independence and shall exclude religion and those seeking only to further general or cultural education.
Criteria: All scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic excellence, service to the community, and financial need. Membership: The National Federation of the Blind is an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for all blind persons. Recipients of Federation scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind.
Deadline: Applications for National Federation of the Blind scholarships must be received by March 31 of the year in which the scholarship is to be awarded.
Making Application: To apply for National Federation of the Blind scholarships, complete and return the application on the reverse side of this sheet. Multiple applications are unnecessary. Each applicant will be considered for all scholarships for which he or she qualifies. Please provide all the applicable information requested and attach to the application all the additional documents requested on the application. Send the application to:
Miss Peggy Pinder, Chairman, National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee, 814 - 4th Avenue, Suite 200, Grinnell, Iowa 50112; (515) 236-3366.
Re-Application: We have often awarded scholarships to persons applying for the second or third time. Even if previously submitted, current applications must be submitted to be considered for current scholarships. Those who have previously applied are encouraged to apply again.
Winners: The Scholarship Committee reviews all applications and selects the scholarship winners. These winners, the same number as there are scholarships to award, will be notified of their selection by June 1 and will be brought to the National Federation of the Blind convention in July at Federation expense. This is in addition to the scholarship grant. The winners are America's finest blind students. The National Federation of the Blind Convention is the largest gathering of blind persons (more than 2,000) to occur anywhere in the nation each year. You will be able to meet other blind students and exchange information and ideas. You will also be able to meet and talk with blind people who are successfully functioning in your chosen profession or occupation. Federal officials, members of Congress, and the makers and distributors of new technology attend Federation conventions. Above all, a broad cross section of the most active segment of the blind population of the United States will be present to discuss common problems and plan for concerted action. It is an interesting and exciting week.
Awards: The day before the convention banquet the Scholarship Committee will meet to determine which winners will receive which scholarships. The scholarship awards will be made during the banquet.
National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Application Form
Read reverse side of form for instructions and explanation. Form may be photocopied but only if reverse side is also included. To apply for a scholarship, complete this application form and mail completed application and attachments to: Miss Peggy Pinder, Chairman, National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee, 814 - 4th Avenue, Suite 200, Grinnell, Iowa 50112. Form must be received by March 31, 1990.
Name (please include any maiden or other names by which you have been known):
Date of birth:
School phone number:
Home phone number:
Institution being attended in spring semester, 1990, with class standing (fresh man, senior, etc.):
Cumulative grade point at this institution:
Institution to be attended in fall of 1990, with class standing.
Send by separate letter if admitted to school after submitting completed application:
List all post-secondary institutions attended with highest class standing attained and cumulative grade point average:
High school attended and cumulative grade point:
State your major:
Awards and honors (attach list if necessary):
Community service (attach list if necessary):
Attach the following documents to completed application:
1. Send us a letter: What schools have you attended? What school do you plan to attend during the coming year? What honors have you achieved? What have you done to deal with situations involving your blindness? What are you like as a person? What are your goals and aspirations? How will the scholarship help you?
2. Send two letters of recommendation.
3. Provide current transcript from institution now attending and transcripts from all other post-secondary institutions attended. If you have not yet attended such an institution or have not completed one year of study, send high school transcript.
4. Send a letter from a state officer of the National Federation of the Blind evidencing the fact that you have discussed your scholarship application with that officer. We prefer that you discuss your application with the Federation state president, but a letter from any Federation state officer will suffice.
President's address provided upon request.
by Eileen Rivera
Those who have attended recent conventions of the National Federation of the Blind know that one of the highlights of the program each year has been the panel composed of members of the organization who talk about their jobs. The remarks of two of this year's participants are reprinted in this issue of the Braille Monitor. President Maurer introduced the final panelist by saying:
The last person on the panel this morning is a lady whom we in the Federation have come to know well. Eileen Rivera received a scholarship from this organization a few years ago, and she used it to complete her education. Since that time she has become the Director of the Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is helping to spread the word about the capacity of blind people into areas where it has previously not been well known. Here to talk with us about her work is Eileen Rivera.
Good morning. Isn't this a wonderful convention! Well, let me tell you about dinnertime at the Rivera home. We would gather around the table, and I would ask my dad questions about life. And we'd talk about careers. Dad was partial to medicine, law, and engineering. We were just beginning to learn English at the time. So at age seven I asked him this question: What does `administration' mean? He paused, and then he said, Administration is not really much of anything, and you should just forget the word. And that shows you children don't always listen to their parents.
Each of my college summers I worked in a different setting a bank, a district attorney's office, a gift shop, a hospital, then in a community health center. These jobs gave me excellent exposure to the way organizations work and, in some cases, how they shouldn't work. I was particularly intrigued by health care organizations.
Upon graduating from Harvard I entered the Masters of Business Administration program at the Wharton School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I found my niche in health care management.
My interest in management stems from my childhood. As the oldest of seven children, I got very good at solving others' problems, at giving orders, and at getting others to do what I wanted them to, while making them think it was their own idea. Isn't that what management is all about? That's the secret. Managing money was also one of my favorite pastimes. I spent hours counting and budgeting my allowance twenty-five cents per week. About my job for the past year, at age 26, I've been the administrative director for the Vision Research Center at Johns Hopkins University. How did I end up here? Well, let me explain how I found a job that did not exist. In March of '88 my husband Jeff was assigned to Johns Hopkins for his medical residency. I was sad to leave my friends in Philadelphia, but I knew that in Baltimore I already had a number of NFB friends. My job-hunting strategy was to network like crazy. I wrote lots of letters. I wrote to every single one of the health care alumni from Wharton. I also wrote to Harvard alumni. I sent them my resume. I met with them, and they gave me the scoop on the health care market in Baltimore. Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, a friend mentioned to me that at Johns Hopkins they were starting a low vision program. Well, nothing could interest me less. I wanted to work in primary health care management not in a hospital, not in ophthalmology, and not in blindness. But Steve Lipstein, the Vice President for Planning at Johns Hopkins, called me. He had received my resume from three different people. He figured I must be pretty good, so persistence pays off when you send out lots of letters. At the interview Mr. Lipstein asked me where I wanted to work. Then he suggested three different jobs in the Department of Medicine. My blindness didn't seem to worry him much. He seemed convinced by my employment record, by my summer jobs, that I had what it took to do the job. In passing I asked Mr. Lipstein about the low vision program at Wilmer. We discussed then my dissatisfaction with existing services. Then I described to him the ideal program one that focuses on options, independence, and good attitudes; one that responds to the consumers.
I thought I had made it clear to him that I wasn't interested in working for Wilmer in low vision. But he forwarded my resume anyway.
So days before the 1988 convention, a Dr. Robert Massoff, Director of the center, called me for an interview. I had serious reservations, but he was enthusiastic, and I wanted to meet him. He sparked my curiosity. At the interview Dr. Massoff described four components of the Vision Research Center. One lab is researching glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, and age-related macular degeneration. Another lab studies vision performance: reading, mobility, and face recognition. My ears really perked up when he mentioned technology transfer. Its activities include development of new low vision products, a collaboration with NASA scientists, and the development of businesses supported by venture capital. This was real business. At the time, the clinical low vision service had yet to be established. It was to include optometrists, social workers, and rehabilitation teachers. The research program was growing fast, and Dr. Massoff needed a manager to facilitate the process. Was this for me? After all, I didn't want a career in low vision. But I recognized a rare opportunity to come in at the ground level and help develop a program that works. Last year at convention it dawned on me: Wilmer would build a program with or without me. The only way to encourage them to build a first-rate program was to become one of its architects. Well, now that I wanted the job, I had to create it. There was no existing position. My first assignment (before my first paycheck) was to write my own job description. I took my resume and wrote from there. It was very challenging, and nobody else qualified for my job. So what specifically do I do? First of all, I hold the purse strings for the Center six million dollars a year. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. I negotiate contracts; I hire and train the staff; I write grant proposals; I prepare financial analyses; I manage the two research labs; and I work on business plans. I prepare presentations for investors and donors, and I work with the Dean to facilitate technology transfer. And I started the clinic of low vision program from scratch. I developed management systems for our clinic, directed the construction of a brand new facility, and hired a clinical coordinator. And by the way, as part of the training for my clinical coordinator, I had her read NFB literature and attend local chapter meetings. One of my most important assignments is to develop legislation that will improve reimbursement for low vision services and devices. Now what better training could I have than to work with the NFB for the Washington seminar? Through the NFB and with the help of Jim Gashel, I learned the nuts and bolts of legislative action.
Each day brings a new challenge at Wilmer, and I'm constantly learning new ways to be more effective and to make things happen. One of the hazards in working in a research setting is being classified by the researchers. Once they called me a high-functioning low-vision person. I felt sick. I cringed, and I wanted to tell them: I'm not a high-functioning low-vision person. I'm just an average Harvard and Wharton School graduate. I said: I'm not an anomaly or a quirk in the system. I'm a product of good training and good attitudes someone who has shared with my fellow people and one who has grown through the fine example of the NFB.
So how do I go about teaching these very learned professors about blindness? I hired the best blind caterer in the state when we opened our clinic: Mrs. Cobb. I invite competent blind people to participate in our research studies. I introduce the faculty to successful blind professionals totally blind people doing things deemed impossible for low-vision patients. I arrange tours of the National Center for the Blind. To those researching reading, I bring them articles about Braille. I share anecdotes about our boot camps for the blind in Louisiana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Minnesota. If the faculty has a question about technology, I refer them to our experts like Curtis Chong, and I casually leave highlighted copies of the Braille Monitor on their lunchroom table. I discuss cane travel with them. Sometime we would like to do research on mobility. We will go down to the Inner Harbor and compare the effectiveness of the long white cane with orientation and mobility lights huge flashlights which are prescribed for people with night blindness. And what do you think we're going to find when we do that study?
Impressed by the NFB members that he met, one of our scientists asked me if the NFB was a bunch of type-A congenitally blind people. That was a good one! I assured him that we were actually just a cross-section of society. But if he thought we had our act together just a little better than the rest, it was because we were a part of the most effective and responsive group of blind consumers in the world.
At times our social worker calls me about patients who want to learn Braille and cane travel. Understanding the weakness of vocational rehabilitation in Maryland, she asks me how the NFB can help our patients. She understands the importance of our blindness network.
So how specifically do I do my job? I use readers. An adaptive computer has been an important tool. I use Lotus 1- 2-3 to prepare budgets. I do a lot of writing on my word processor, and I use a long white cane. And now, finally, I am having the opportunity to learn Braille. Since May, I have learned to read and write Grade 1 Braille using a slate and stylus. Upon beginning my job at Wilmer, I discussed Braille with the faculty. They used to think that only totally blind people should learn Braille, that it was too bulky and too difficult, that visual scanning had to be faster. I diplomatically presented them with the facts. And just to show you that things do change, in May when I announced that I was learning Braille, my boss responded enthusiastically that this was a great idea. On a more personal note, I want to thank my friends in the NFB for encouraging me as I studied at school and as I sought this job that did not exist. I want to thank you for teaching me about the importance of alternative techniques, about Braille, about cane travel, and about good attitudes. I've learned that a good low vision program the best low vision program will integrate these items into its agenda. Only a program that has these components can actually help the blind to become all that they can. And as I go about developing the best low vision program in the nation at Wilmer, I know that all of you stand behind me, ready to advise and encourage me on those difficult days. And together we are changing the future for blind people who come to the Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and for blind people throughout the nation. Thank you.
by Susan Jay Spungin, Ed.D.
On Saturday afternoon, July 8, 1989, Dr. Susan Spungin spoke to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Denver. In introducing her Dr. Jernigan said:
Our next speaker is Dr. Susan Jay Spungin, Associate Executive Director of Program Services for the American Foundation for the Blind. Before I give the microphone to Dr. Spungin, I want to say a few words about the American Foundation for the Blind, our relations with the Foundation, and why we have asked Dr. Spungin to come here today and speak to us. As all of you know, we have had sharp differences with the Foundation over the years and we still have such differences. Perhaps the item which has been the subject of the greatest contention has been and is the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). Recently one of the highest officials at the American Foundation for the Blind told me that the Foundation was dissatisfied with NAC and that it had decided sharply to limit and decrease its support of NAC. Specifically, I was told that the Foundation's contribution to NAC last year was $235,000, that this year it is $215,000, and that next year there will be a very drastic reduction. I was informed by this official that the Foundation's Board of Trustees had voted that a maximum contribution of $100,000 would be made to NAC next year and that how much (if any) of that amount would be given would be determined by the Foundation's executive committee, based on NAC's ability to get more agencies to identify with it and on its getting its act together. Yet, in a June 12, 1989, press release the Foundation said (and these are its exact words): The Board of Trustees of the American Foundation for the Blind has unanimously approved additional financial support to the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC), reflecting renewed confidence in the organization's work.
Now, if you take into account the language of diplomacy, the information I was earlier given and the sentence I have just read from the press release are not necessarily in conflict, but this sort of behavior on the part of the Foundation is the kind of thing that has caused us to have mistrust and misgivings. With respect to NAC, I think the Foundation is in an awkward spot, and I think we must simply accept the fact that the blind of this country and the agencies that are committed to what we regard as quality services on the one hand, and the American Foundation for the Blind and certain others on the other hand are simply going to be on opposite sides of the NAC issue until we can either kill NAC or reform it.
There are also other issues on which we differ with the Foundation. The question then arises as to why we have asked Dr. Spungin, a high official of the American Foundation for the Blind, to come here at all. Why not simply intensify the conflict, fight it out, and be done with it? The answer, I think, is clear-cut and compelling. It is in our best interest and in the best interest of the blind of the nation for us to do otherwise.
While there are issues about which we and the Foundation will continue to disagree and about which (let us say it candidly) we will continue to fight, there are other considerations. The facts of life are that today in the United States the National Federation of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind are the two strongest forces in the blindness field not the only ones but the strongest. If we can find areas of agreement and cooperative effort, the long-term benefits to the blind and the blindness system can be incalculable. And in recent months there have been such areas of agreement.
Let me give you just two: Not long ago the Foundation wanted to make a survey in Illinois, and we sent their material to our membership list in that state some 1,000 copies. They could not have contacted that many blind people and parents of blind children without our help. On the other hand, there may be some reciprocation.
Next year is the fiftieth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind in short, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the organized blind movement in the United States. In recognition of the importance of that milestone we will (among other things) ask Congress to issue a commemorative postage stamp with Dr. tenBroek's picture on it. Both Bill Gallagher, the Executive Director of the American Foundation for the Blind, and Dr. Spungin have told me that the Foundation as an organization and they personally will do everything possible to help us get this accomplished.
The fact that they have promised to do this (and I assume that regardless of other circumstances they will keep their promise) does not mean that they agree with everything Dr. tenBroek did, that they will support us on every issue, or that we will not oppose them when we feel we must. Likewise, the same can be said concerning our mailing of their literature. These acts represent gestures of good will or, if you prefer, recognition of reality. We tell anybody who cares to know (and quite a few who don't) that we are today the strongest force in the affairs of the blind of this country. If that is true (and all you have to do to test it is to look around you at this convention), we must recognize the responsibility which goes with such clout and behave accordingly. We must attempt to build positive relationships where we can and work with others to achieve positive results when that is possible.
To that end and fully realizing the significance of it, we have asked Dr. Spungin to come here today and appear on our program. I personally and we organizationally have not always agreed with Dr. Spungin, but we may find it possible to have increasing areas of joint effort and cooperative action. At least, this should be the goal. In this context Dr. Spungin's appearance on our platform is as much symbolic as substantive. Dr. Spungin is a woman of ability. In the meeting of the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore in March, she very strongly supported the proposition that there must be an increased emphasis on the teaching of Braille to blind children and that all teachers of blind children should be expert in the use of Braille. Consequently, we have asked her to talk today on the subject: Braille Literacy: Issues for Consumers and Providers.
In view of all that I have said, we will not take questions at the end of Dr. Spungin's remarks, and we will confine ourselves to the topic listed on the agenda. Dr. Spungin, I want to welcome you to this convention and say to you that we are glad you are here. Here is Dr. Spungin:
Good afternoon. I appreciate those warm remarks. I am also very honored to be on the same platform with Dr. Nemeth. In 1889 a person was judged literate if he could sign his name enough for the farm and buggy economy. In the machine economy of 1939 it meant completing the sixth grade. Today the information age of computers and high technology assumes for some a bare minimum of reading and writing skills at the high school graduate level. However, because changes in the workplace are so dramatic and unpredictable, many people must be ready to adapt to jobs that did not even exist when they were in school. There are twenty-five million Americans who cannot read or write at all. An additional forty-five million are functionally illiterate, without the reading and writing skills to find work, and that number is growing by more than two million a year. Unfortunately, it seems only natural that the problems of our total society are frequently the sum of the parts. Although I do not believe that the causes of Braille illiteracy are necessarily based on the causes of the illiteracy epidemic in the United States, in general I do believe our concerns over the lack of use of Braille have been sensitized by society's concerns in this area. There clearly is a growing awareness and concern about the decrease in Braille reading and writing in the United States, both from consumers using the Braille system and providers of service teaching or producing materials in Braille. This is not a new problem but a growing one that can no longer be ignored. It appears to be an issue that we all agree exists that is, both consumers and providers of teaching or producing Braille have consensus in their respective outrage or concern. Where these groups of individuals break down is in their belief as to why the situation has been allowed to develop and what to do about it. My presentation this afternoon will attempt to detail some of the common reasons offered as to lack of Braille usage, others that I believe are closer to the mark, and some final discussion as to potential solutions.
The more frequent explanations as to why we have increased numbers of illiterate blind people seem to fall in one of eight categories of reasons why.
1. The changing population of children born blind with other disabilities due to medical advances saving children has diminished the number of potential Braille users. This population of multiply handicapped children is often quoted as being fifty percent of the total population of visually handicapped children with varying degrees of disabling conditions. However, there are no documentable statistics or prevalence rates or even demographics to support this suggestion. However, it is stated that this population for the most part is made up of non-readers with retardation and learning disabilities as the most frequently cited additional impairment.
2. The work of Dr. Natalie Barraga and others in better use of residual vision, initiated and more fully implemented in the decades of the seventies and the eighties, have encouraged educators and parents to strive for visual utilization when possible as opposed to the more historically common practice of teaching Braille to all students regardless of individual need or visual acuity measures. Consequently, there are fewer Braille users.
3. Positive attitudes toward the use of Braille have diminished, and potential Braille users are given second-class status and attention.
4. University training programs for teachers of the visually handicapped have given lip service to teaching Braille and have over the years graduated less-than-proficient Braille instructors as teachers.
5. The complexity of the Braille code causes illiteracy among blind students and should be changed in one way or another.
6. Audio dependency in tapes and speech output devices has helped to minimize the perceived necessity for Braille.
7. The existing service delivery models in schools serving blind children has, through the concept of the least restrictive environment found in Public Law 94-142, favored itinerate and teaching consultant models of service, limiting time spent with students due to large case loads and geographic regions served.
8. The Individualized Education Program (the IEP of Public Law 94-142) process is not working and favors what is available in the school district where the blind child resides rather than the needs of that child. This approach is often the result of professional rather than parental concerns as well as critical shortages in teachers of the visually handicapped.
Those are the eight areas that in my opinion are the most frequently cited as explanations to the problem of lack of Braille usage. I agree on the surface with many of them but believe they are only surface and often miss the mark as to the details that make up each of the eight categories.
1. Yes, there is no doubt that the multiply handicapped population has grown tremendously since the forties with the number of RLF's as a result of high levels of oxygen in incubators (now known as ROP) and the fifties and sixties with the rubella epidemic. However, the multi-handicapped/visually handicapped population has been sold down the river. When wishing to child count and serve this population as required by Public Law 94-142, we are told that their primary handicap is other than vision and they become lost to us and unserved or underserved by others with no knowledge of the effects of visual impairment or sensory, motive, and cognitive development. Consequently, our numbers decline along with justification for funding programs and training teachers. Until we are ready to fight the growing generic model of service, this issue will grow and affect service in general to all children, whether they are multi-handicapped or visually handicapped.
2. We have for too long been a nation looking for a quick fix a country that problem solves bilaterally, yes or no, right or wrong, sighted or blind. I truly believe that Dr. Barraga and her close colleagues never intended work in vision stimulation and vision efficiency to be unilaterally applied to all visually handicapped children with some remaining sight. But that's what we did and do suggesting, of course, to the system and the child that to see is better than not to see, to encourage the visually handicapped child to use remaining vision at all cost. This bandwagon mentality for the quick fix (to be more like seeing than blind) has short-changed many visually handicapped children and adults in our country's illiterate, to be added to twenty-five million Americans who cannot read or write at all. The pendulum has swung too far. It must be brought back and centered.
3. Negative attitudes toward blind people and the communication skills they need are indeed present and truly unintended. That's what makes them so insidious. Because without perhaps realizing it, how we as educators of blind children and adults perform and interchange with our students or clients and other professionals makes a statement of attitudes toward the blind person. Depriving blind students of the right to Braille over print when clearly they read at a less-than-functional speed is to deny them equal access to life. It can't help but to suggest that perhaps Braille is inferior and therefore print, or having sight, is superior. Do we positively reinforce a blind child to learn Braille with the same enthusiasm we do to learn print? Another negative attitude I find is more of a function of human frailty. That is, one does not often support an activity about which he or she is not fully knowledgeable. Therefore, if a teacher of the visually handicapped is not comfortable in the knowledge and teaching of Braille codes, the necessity for doing such can't help but be diminished.
4. The inadequacies of teachers of the visually handicapped in knowing Braille is not all of their making. The attitudes toward Braille instruction at the university or college preparation level is uneven, to say the least. Some programs are truly strong with equal emphasis on Braille code acquisition and the teaching of reading and math intrinsic to imparting Braille instruction in these areas. Others give the whole thing lip service, some believing it should be a prerequisite to college or graduate course work needing only an independent or correspondence course type of approach to learning. This varies with the coordinator of each preparation program some excellent and some not, and some leaving the Braille instruction just to the level of a transcriber's knowledge, omitting anything specific to reading or the teaching of math in Braille.
5. There has recently been a rash of articles placing the reason for illiteracy of the blind person at the foot of the Braille code as being too complex. Moon type, Morris Code, etc. revisited, only reminds me of the waste of the War of Dots. Let's not sing that tune again. Let's not choose to believe the Braille code is archaic or too complex. In a recent article, it stated that a blind honor student couldn't read a novel or write a paper. This is, of course, inexcusable. But to say that his illiteracy is due to the complexity of the Braille code is unfounded. There is no research supporting the notion that the Braille code, in and of itself, causes illiteracy among blind students, thereby limiting the career opportunities available to them.
6. The concerns that technology of any form will diminish the need for and use of Braille goes back as early as the forties with the beginnings of the talking book program. This either-or attitude seems to permeate the field of services to the blind. Throughout the years of technological development (ranging from talking books, records, cassette players and tapes, and computer and speech technology) I have yet to meet a proficient Braille user who has put this communication skill away but rather treats this advance in print accessibility as one of several options available and, in point, complementary to each other. In fact, the ability to do word processing in Braille and edit Braille text accurately and convert to hardcopy print represents for some one of the most significant advances in communication available to blind persons in this century. The potential concern over competing technologies in terms of diminishing the need for Braille is, in my opinion, minimal when one considers the problems of location and production of titles due to multiple listings within various organizations lacking any source for acquisition information. The number of blind students waiting for Braille texts in school is unconscionable. If we believe in equal access to print (in this case, via Braille) and have now the technology to allow for this easily, why are Braille users waiting, receiving books half way through the year? How many books go undone and how many books are physically transcribed unknowingly more than once, more than twice? What type of statement does this make?
7. The issue around service delivery models and their effect on Braille instruction is crucial. We have so encouraged community educational placement for visually handicapped children that in many states we have restricted the alternative of residential school placement, which has become mostly schools serving the more multiply handicapped blind child. This would not be a problem if, at the same time, we assured families of visually handicapped children itinerant and consulting programs of reasonable case load size, permitting teachers trained in working with visually handicapped children actually the time to do so. In more cases than not, we have promoted an outward appearance of a physical setting of least restrictive alternative with an academic program representing the most restrictive environment. What we all need to do is ensure the most enabling learning environment for visually handicapped students, insuring appropriate teacher/student ratios according to individual need rather than administrative mandates. No child can learn anything from a teacher from any academic area that comes to school only once a week.
8. The IEP process of Public Law 94-142 is indeed the most important part of this historic legislation, the Education of All Handicapped Children's Act.
It is a time when experts, parents, and (where appropriate) students come together to chart the academic course of the visually handicapped student for the year. This process is so critical that its application for all school age children, handicapped or not, seems obvious. However, where it falls short is that the IEP process relies heavily on the following assumptions:
1. The IEP team is equally able and willing to assess the visually handicapped child's need and plan a program accordingly.
2. All parents are committed to the process and work hand in hand with the school district and the professionals that work with their child.
3. The school district has desire, access, and money for trained visually handicapped teachers and orientation and mobility instructors and any necessary books and equipment.
4. The IEP team and parents will work toward problem solving and use as a last resort due process.
5. Finally, they all agree on the definition of appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. Believe it or not, there are some cases where these five points are in place, and programs and children flourish. However, there are other instances where this is not the case, and limitations shape the results rather than need and expectations. To assure the efficiency of this process, consumers and providers of services must join forces to insist on trained teachers with more than two or three courses (as required by some states) for state certification be present, as well as informed parents. Together we need to recruit teachers from our respective friends and colleagues in order to insure adequate personnel. There is indeed much to be done, but I believe it is doable. In my concluding remarks let me offer some possible solutions that attempt to take into account the various positions of Braille illiteracy issues and its causes. There are no winners in this controversy nor simple answers. The real tragedy is the ones who lose the most not us here today, but the blind children themselves.
Of greatest concern in this issue is definition the definition of visually handicapped children we serve and many multiply handicapped/visually handicapped children we do not serve but should serve. The most tragic error we have made as a field has been to agree to primary versus secondary handicap labels to define our population. We have lost children to the generic cracks found in the system, espousing individual need for unique program development. The issues of economy of scale have sent costs of service delivery skyrocketing, compounded by allowing ourselves to lose many children to other areas of disability. These children are educationally crippled by receiving generic services. We need to define what we mean by blind and Braille users and develop appropriate reliable assessment measures that allow for decisions made on use of Braille or print or use of both. Measures such as work distance from the page, portabilities of reading skills, reading rates and accuracy, visual fatigue, and proper interpretation of assessment results are all assessments lending themselves to objective measure and could easily serve as a basis for a uniform assessment tool. Those children who do not fit neatly into Braille or print users deserve the option of learning both Braille and print until such time as the child himself can make an informed choice. Instruction in reading and writing of Braille should be based on what we know about teaching of reading and writing. Many good teachers do this. However, this approach addresses the issue of development versus adaptation of material. I believe we have faulted on the side of adaptation when we consistently adapted the Basal reading and math books from the sighted curricula for the blind. We need to bring into balance efforts in curriculum development specific to the needs of the Braille reader. To insure quality Braille instruction, national standards should be developed and applied, perhaps with the Library of Congress, to insure a minimal level of competence in the knowledge of Braille. The teaching of this skill should remain in the curriculum of teacher preparation course work as a required course. But slate and stylus must not be ignored either, and this skill also could receive national standards for excellence. To change the Braille code in any major way is pointless and only confirms the lack of understanding of the Braille system by the individuals who make such a suggestion. But we have not used the standard-setting body of the Braille Authority of North America as much as we should to insure that the Braille code is adequate for the times in which we live. BANA has many subcommittees in literary, math, music, and others. By assuring that consumers and teachers are present in each of these committees is to insure the reality of need for any proposed change. We need to re-evaluate the nation's visually handicapped service delivery models in public schools around the country and demand lower case loads as well as an appropriate trained teacher in vision and other related professionals. We can only succeed in doing this through assuring that the IEP process works not only to guarantee the proper teaching of Braille but for orientation and mobility, activities of daily living, and many other skills as well.
We have in place a potentially good system in Public Law 94-142. Let's commit ourselves to making it work for all visually handicapped students in need as well as those using Braille. To legislate or mandate by law any system of human service always creates problems problems of interpretation, problems in monitoring, problems in funding. I believe we have seen the reality of this since 1977, when Public Law 94-142 was implemented. To create new legislation state by state to address the problem of a federal law seems redundant. Let's work together to insure that the meaning and spirit of Public Law 94-142 is implemented, which can happen if we use our respective influences together as one voice demanding the individual rights for blind children demanding access to the world, through reading and writing, through independent travel, and through access to the written word.
The lack of a centralized source of information for easily locating books in special formats for blind and visually handicapped persons in this day and age is incomprehensible. Data base systems are growing like wild fire, yet the reading needs of blind or visually handicapped people for the most part rely on an informal system of literature search, usually dependent on the help of a sighted person. However, agencies that serve the recreational and educational reading needs of visually impaired children and adults have now formed the Coalition for Information Access for Print Handicapped Readers to focus on developing and implementing a computerized central listing system and to act as a conduit for networking. Hopefully, in time, with speech technology, blind persons themselves can access the system. To summarize, I would like to quote my friend and colleague, Fred Schroeder, who stated at a recent meeting: Braille has been proven time and time again to be the way to literacy for blind people. It can be produced more easily and more cheaply than ever before in history. With Braille and the other skills of blindness, we as blind people can fulfill our potential and take our true place as contributing, participating, taxpaying members of society. To achieve this goal will take concerted and collective actions. I, too, wish to achieve this goal, for Braille is an assertion of equality between blind and sighted persons with respect to written communication. With one voice, I have no doubt that equality can become a reality. Thank you.
Dr. Jernigan: Thank you very much, Dr. Spungin. As I said in my introduction, I'm glad you came. What the future holds for cooperative relations between our two organizations probably depends on whether we have so many areas of disagreement and especially an increasing number of them that the overall climate kills what is possibly a flowering growth of understanding and working together or whether we can diminish areas of disagreement and begin to find more and more areas of joint work. That is the way trust is engendered or the way it is killed depending on what we do. As you can see from being here, we have some two thousand-plus people here. This will be the largest gathering of blind people to be held anywhere in the world this year. And we are not simply speaking for ourselves but for the people back home who elected us and who sent us here as representatives of the blind of this country. Again, I say, we're glad you came. I understand you'll be with us tonight at the banquet, and we're pleased that you will.
by Kenneth Jernigan
It is common knowledge that most of the workshops for the blind in the United States have substandard working conditions and pay shamefully low wages to their blind employees. They can get away with this because of a provision in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act which says that blind shop workers may be paid less than the minimum wage if they cannot produce as much as a sighted worker similarly situated in private industry. Of course, sighted workers in private industry cannot be paid less than the minimum wage regardless of their productive capacity. And then there is also the question of how productive capacity is measured and who is similarly situated.
Presumably tests are made, but we have repeatedly demonstrated that many of those tests are rigged. What would happen to the average factory worker in the United States if there were no federal labor laws, no unions, and no governmental mechanisms for inspection? All we have to do for an answer is to look at what happened during the last century. But with the blind it is even worse. Nobody believes that the average sighted person is incapable of working competitively, but the traditional wisdom is that the blind are substandard and only able to work if they are given charity and special consideration. Attitudes are changing, but the outmoded notions are still far too prevalent. In the circumstances it is not surprising that sheltered workshop managers take advantage of the situation and exploit. It would be remarkable if they did not. There are budgets to meet, administrative salaries to pay, and little likelihood that the managers will have to pay penalties (and certainly not personal penalties) if they stretch the law or cheat. Therefore, they say that their employees are not really workers at all but just trainees, that most of them are mulitply handicapped, and that the workers (no, trainees) like the conditions at the shop, and wouldn't have them otherwise.
So what do you do if you are a blind employee in a sheltered shop in the United States today? If you complain, try to help form a union, or contact government authorities, you are likely to get fired, have your wages cut, or be told that there just isn't enough work to keep you on a full-time basis. It may be done with big words and professional terminology. It may even be documented and supported by studies but it hurts just as much, and the message is just as clear. On the other hand, if you remain silent, you are likely to continue with starvation wages and substandard conditions for the rest of your life. It is not easy, and it is not pleasant; but it is the everyday experience of many blind shop workers throughout the country. Here is where the National Federation of the Blind comes in. Unlike labor unions, we are knowledgeable about the Fair Labor Standards dodge and the ways of the professionals, and we cannot be bamboozled. Moreover, we are strong enough to resist pressure, and we cannot be intimidated. Through our division for shop workers (the Blind Industrial Workers of America) and through local chapters, workshop employees are joining the Federation in growing numbers. They are beginning to have heightened expectations and to feel their strength. President Maurer recently received a letter from an NFB chapter officer concerning conditions in the local workshop. The letter and President Maurer's response are indicative of what is beginning to happen in the shops, and I want to share them with you. For obvious reasons the name and locality are being omitted. These letters should cause each of us to do soul-searching and to ask ourselves what action we can take to help the shop workers in our local areas. Regardless of our financial situation or social position, each of us has a stake in what happens to the shop workers. Their struggle is our struggle; their hope is our hope; their dream is our dream. Here is the correspondence:
Dear President Maurer:
At our last chapter meeting we discussed at length the workshop for the blind here in our city. As I am sure you know, this is a sheltered workshop that employs many handicapped persons, including a few blind, and some of our chapter members. Most of these people, including myself, are paid less than the minimum wage. Last July there was a ruling by the board of directors of the shop that they were going to pay each worker what he or she produced and no longer have any make-up pay. In the past each person was guaranteed a base rate and also received more than that if his piece rate was above this rate. Since only about fifteen percent are blind, it is next to impossible to get a union in there. Many of the workers are slow learners and would not understand the benefits of the union. Often we are put on jobs where we do not make close to the minimum wage, and the shop management assures us that soon new time studies will be made but they never are. The employees are hesitant to file a complaint with the Labor Board because we are fearful that if a hearing were held, we would still not get the higher wages.
It was mentioned at our last chapter meeting that the Federationists who are working at the shop should sign a petition, stating the complaints, and circulating it to the suppliers of contracts for the shop, thus making them aware of the problem. Our chapter is wanting to help in any way it can, but we do not want to do the wrong thing. We have thought of going to the press or the news media, but the local stations have been doing advertising for the workshop. Any advice you can give is appreciated by all of us.
I have your recent letter describing problems of blind workers at your local workshop. In 1986 a law was adopted by Congress at the urging of the National Federation of the Blind. This law said that any person working in a sheltered workshop for the blind who was being paid less than the minimum wage had the right to file an appeal with the Department of Labor. The Department of Labor is responsible for conducting a hearing to determine whether the wages paid to the blind employee are proper. The employer must demonstrate that the wages are fair. If the employer fails to do this, the blind worker is entitled to receive at least the minimum wage. The burden of proof is on the employer. The employee does not have to show that the wages paid are unfair. Subminimum wages are presumed to be unfair unless the sheltered shop administrator can show that they are reasonable. It is not necessary to establish a union before the complaints are filed with the Department of Labor. The complaints may be filed whether there is a union established or not. If workers want to file such a complaint, the National Office of the Federation is ready to help. If a workshop is to receive contracts from the federal government through National Industries for the Blind, seventy-five percent (75%) of its direct labor hours must be performed by blind employees. If your local workshop is using very many sighted laborers, it may be in violation of those standards. A complaint may be in order on these grounds as well.
If there are workers who want to raise these questions or others before the Department of Labor, please let me know. Part of the reason for the National Federation of the Blind is to help with problems like these.
Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
This is the letter from the local chapter and President Maurer's response. Is it any wonder that the managers of the sheltered shops resent the Federation and call us names? Is it any wonder that they have voted to give up to $200,000 a year to NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped)? Is it any wonder that NAC is willing to take the money and to accredit these organizations? The answers are obvious, and they speak for themselves.
by Abraham Nemeth
One of the most lively and charming presentations on the 1989 convention agenda was an address by Dr. Abraham Nemeth, the creator of the Nemeth code of mathematical Braille notation and an active member of the Federation's Research and Development Committee. Dr. Nemeth wrote the code for the new scientific calculator program, which is now available exclusively from the Materials Center of the National Federation of the Blind at a cost of $40. He has been sharing his expertise in mathematics for more than forty years now, and the blind, as well as the sighted, have been the beneficiaries. As Dr. Jernigan said in introducing him: I know that Dr. Nemeth is the most eminent blind mathematician alive, that he is an all round good fellow, and that he is a Federationist. What more does one need? Here are Abraham Nemeth's remarks as he delivered them to the convention in Denver:
Good afternoon, fellow Federationists. I remember the days when I was teaching. If I walked into a classroom, sometimes I said good afternoon, and I noticed that the students wrote it down in their notebooks. That was a graduate class.
I want you to know that the other day my wife and I were walking outside the hotel on the street. We stopped at a street corner waiting for a light. And like all good Federationists, we were wearing our badges. A lady was standing alongside us waiting to cross the street, and she said, I see that you are attending a convention. I said, Yes, we are.
She said, What convention are you attending? I said, We are attending the NFB convention.
She said, NFB, please tell me what does that stand for?
I said, Well, NFB stands for National Federation of the Blind. Oh, she said, that's wonderful, and I would like you to know that I, too, am attending a convention. I said, That's lovely. What convention are you attending? She said, Well, I am attending the DAM convention. I said, DAM, could you please tell me what that stands for? She said, DAM, that stands for Mothers Against Dyslexia. I came here with a message, to tell you a little bit of what love and care and commitment and attitude and the vagaries of fortune can do to a person. The best way I can tell you about it is by highlighting some aspects of my life, and then you will see what forces came to influence and forge me into the person that I am. I was born congenitally blind, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. And I want you to know that my parents raised me in a very close and loving family. I had a brother and a sister and two sets of grandparents and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins.
We led a very happy life. And although my parents were both immigrants and lacking in any kind of formal education, they instinctively knew not to over-protect me on account of my blindness. So I became street-wise in a tough neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at a very early age.
Without knowing it, my father taught me what today would be called mobility and orientation. Whenever we walked to a familiar destination, he would take me there by a different route. As we talked, he would tell me such things as We are now walking west, and in a moment we will be making a left turn, and then we will be walking south. We are passing a luncheonette, and after that we will be passing a bakery. Now the traffic on this street is one way going west. On the next street the traffic is one way going east, and there is a fire hydrant at the corner. Across the street there is a mailbox. So he instilled in me a very good sense of direction.
He also taught me the formation of printed letters by letting me touch the raised letters on mailboxes and on police and fire call boxes. He bought me wooden blocks with raised printed letters to play with, and he got me large rubber stamps on which I could feel the printed letters.
My elementary education began at Public School 110. Now you know that New York is such a big city that we run out of eminent people's names, so we just put numbers to the schools. The one I went to was Public School 110, which happened to be within walking distance of my home. One of my aunts walked with me every day to and from school. PS 110 had a resource room staffed by a blindness resource teacher. There were five elementary schools in the city of New York operated in the same format, one in each of the five boroughs. The fact that my school happened to be close to home was fortuitous. Other blind students who came to the school required transportation to and from home. In my daily activity, I attended regular classrooms with all the sighted students for general curriculum subjects like arithmetic, spelling, and reading. But when the sighted students were engaged in activities like art, penmanship, and things of that kind, I returned to the resource room for training in specific blindness skills like Braille, typing, and even geography. There was a very large globe of the world with raised land masses and even more highly raised mountain ranges. Braille reading and writing skills were very strongly emphasized by the resource teacher for all students, even for those who had some useful vision and who could read large print. I functioned in what today could be called a least restrictive environment.
Because of family circumstances, I went to live and continue my education at the New York Jewish Guild for the Blind in Yonkers, New York. In September of the year that I went there, I transferred to PS 16. This was the Bronx school of the New York City Public School System with a resource room and a blindness resource teacher, just like the ones in Manhattan. I was bussed back and forth to school every day. I entered the fourth grade in that year and again functioned in the least restrictive environment, going to class with all the sighted students. Braille skills continued to be emphasized. At the Yonkers Home children were encouraged (although not required) to engage in activities like music, handcrafts, light sports and athletics, and religious education after school. While I was there, my father came to visit me almost every Sunday, no matter how severe the weather was. My mother would come whenever her busy household chores would allow about every other week, I would say. They would bring me my favorite foods, and they were refrigerated and dispensed to me during the week by kindly kitchen staff.
In the spring and summer months many of my uncles and aunts would also come to visit me. We would all go to a picnic area in a nearby park and enjoy the food they brought as well as such activity as the park provided. My father's favorite was rowing. On many weekends and holidays I returned for a visit to my parents' home, and even during the summer, I spent extended periods of time with my family at a vacation setting in the Catskill Mountains near New York City.
One of my grandfathers was particularly attentive to me, and he gave me the religious training that I now possess. He would try to find messages that would be encouraging to me and that would serve as a guide for me as a blind person. One of those messages, which has stayed with me and which has had particular impact on me during all the years that I was growing up and by which I am still guided, is: It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark.
Now you may not believe this, but at school I experienced particular difficulty with arithmetic. When I reflect on that circumstance now in later years, I conclude the reasons were two-fold. First, I was taught to use the Tailor Code, which was then in use. But it was inadequate to the task of representing mathematical concepts in Braille. Second, I had to use what I now guess is a museum piece: the Tailor Arithmetic Slate. Someone once saw me operating that thing, and he wanted to know if I was taking an aptitude test. I was required to do my computations on that slate, and it was very slow. I didn't realize that a Tailor slate was intended to simulate print practice because I was never informed what print practice was to begin with. I graduated from the eighth grade of PS 16 deficient in mathematics, but with my father's earnest and sincere promise to the school that he would see to it that the situation was remedied.
So I enrolled in the fall at Evanderchild's High School in the Bronx, to which I was also bussed back and forth from the Yonkers Home. This school, too, had a resource room and a very good resource teacher, who also taught some of the regular math classes at the high school. He took a particular interest in me, and as soon as he discovered that I had this deficiency in arithmetic, he made sure to remedy it. He insisted that all my computational work must be done on a Braille writer so that I would not be using one notational system while reading (Braille) and another notational system while writing (the Tailor Code). In one year's time, I not only caught up with all the arithmetic skills I should have had in elementary school, but I also received top grades in a first year algebra course in which I was enrolled.
I continued to do well in all my high school courses, and during this period I became keenly aware of an ambition to be a teacher particularly, believe it or not, to teach mathematics. One of the boys at the Yonkers Home was a good friend, but he was one grade behind me in school.
As I learned algebra, I shared with him my knowledge and my enthusiasm on that subject. When he entered high school a year later, he was able to pass an algebra exam with honors and was thus exempted from first year algebra. This was an instance of what today would be called advanced placement, which had occurred before its time.
In due course I graduated from high school and returned to live at home with my parents and my brother and my sister, who by now had moved to Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Then it was time for me to go to college. By that time I had already acquired independent travel skills. I knew the routes of all the New York City subways and most of the Brooklyn bus lines. Equipped with this skill and with a high proficiency in Braille, I entered Brooklyn College. In those days there was still no formal campus. The administrative and classroom buildings were converted factory lofts and warehouses, and they were scattered about a wide area in the traffic-filled downtown Brooklyn area. In two years we moved to a beautiful campus, although it was by no means finished when we took occupancy there. I knew that I wanted to major in mathematics, but my guidance counselors were not at all supportive of this goal. They insisted that mathematics was too technical a subject for a blind person, that notation was specialized, that there was no material available in Braille, that volunteer or even paid readers would be difficult to recruit, and that no employer would be likely to consider a blind person for a position related to mathematics. Counselor after counselor told this to me. You know, my wife told me that her mother said if three people tell you that you are drunk, you better lie down. So after several counselors told me this, I obediently declared psychology to be my major a subject more amenable to the abilities of blind people, my counselors told me.
I took as many psychology courses as I could fit into my schedule. Nevertheless, whenever there was an opening for an elective course, I always chose one from the Math Department. In taking these courses, there were two things that I did which were, I would say, decisive in my later career. When I found that there was no way of putting mathematical notation down in Braille, just as my counselors warned me, I began to improvise Braille symbols and methods which were both effective for my needs and consistent from one course to the next. So this was the beginning of the Nemeth Code. The other important skill I developed was the ability to write both on paper and on the blackboard. Acquiring this skill was made much easier for me because of my father's earlier attention to this matter in my formative years. Sometimes it was the only method I had of communicating with my math professors. And although I was certainly no calligrapher, my handwriting was perfectly adequate for these purposes, and it was surely far superior to the alternative of shouting and arm waving. In this way I graduated from Brooklyn College in 1940 with a B.A. degree and a major in psychology. Nevertheless, I succeeded in having completed courses in analytic geometry, differential and integral calculus, some modern geometry courses, and even a course in statistics. I knew that a B.A. degree in psychology was not a sufficient credential for anyone intending to enter that field professionally. So accordingly, I applied for graduate admission to Columbia University. My grades were adequate to ensure my acceptance at that prestigious institution, so in 1942 I graduated from Columbia University with an M.A. degree in psychology.
Meanwhile, it was time to begin looking for a job. The only work I could find was of an unskilled nature. At one time I worked at a sewing machine, where I did seaming and hemming on pillowcases at piece-work rates. I worked for seven years at the American Foundation for the Blind, and there I counted needles for Talking Book phonograph records. I collated Talking Book records. I loaded and unloaded trucks in the shipping department. I typed letters in Braille to deaf-blind clients of AFB, transcribing incoming Braille letters from these and other clients on the typewriter. I also designed and organized itineraries in Braille so that they could be read by Helen Keller. After graduating from Columbia University with a Master's degree in hand, I began to look earnestly for work more suited to my training. The employment environment for the blind is never too hospitable, as you well know. But in those days, it was more inhospitable than it is today. In 1944 I was already married to my first wife Florence, and as time went on, she perceived my growing frustration. After working all day at AFB, I would find relaxation in taking an evening course in mathematics. By 1946 I had already taken all the undergraduate math courses offered by Brooklyn College, and my wife perceived that I was much happier in mathematics than in psychology. So one day she asked me if I wouldn't rather be an unemployed mathematician than an unemployed psychologist.
Well, I began to wonder how we would support ourselves if I quit my job and went to school full-time, working toward a graduate degree in mathematics. Florence suggested that I give up my job and do just that. She would go to work while I went to school. If I couldn't find work as a mathematician even after completing my training, I could always get an unskilled job like the one I was currently holding at that same skill level, she pointed out. By 1946 the war was over. Men were returning to civilian life. At Brooklyn College there was a large contingent of men who had taken a first semester course in calculus, and now (a war later) they were returning to enroll for a second semester course in calculus. I leave it to your imagination how much of the first semester they remembered. So I offered to be one of the volunteers in a corps that was organized to assist those men. I offered to be one of their volunteers after classes were over in the evening. Each student was stationed at one panel of a blackboard which ran clear around the room. Each wrote on the board as much of the problem as he could do, and the volunteers circulated helping the students to complete their work. I would ask the student to read me the problem from his textbook and then read as much of the solution as he was able to put on the blackboard. You know, many times the blackboard panel was blank. I would do my best to show the student how to proceed. Unknown to me, I was being observed by the chairman of the Math Department. One Friday night I received a telegram from him. He informed me that one of his regular faculty members had taken ill and would be disabled for the remainder of the semester. He asked me to report on the following Monday evening to assume that professor's teaching load. Over the weekend I got the textbooks, boned up to know just enough to teach the following Monday evening, and launched my teaching career. My ability to write on the blackboard, I believe, was the difference between continuing as a mathematics teacher and finding some other work to do. I continued this way, doing part-time teaching at Brooklyn College. In 1951 I again applied to Columbia University and was admitted as a doctoral student toward the Ph.D. degree in Mathematics. My wife went to work.
In the summer of 1953 I registered with an employment agency for teachers. I received a call from that agency to report to Manhattan College the following Monday, there to conduct a course in the mathematics of finance a course I had neither taken nor known anything about. But anyway, I made sure I knew what to do. Manhattan College is a school run by the Christian Brothers. Brother Alfred was a little dubious when a blind man showed up, but he really had no choice. Classes began in an hour. However, when the summer course was over, Brother Alfred naturally assumed that I would return to teach in the fall, and he handed me my teaching schedule for the semester, beginning in September. When January came, I received another call this time from Manhattanville College to fill in for a professor who was on sabbatical. Now Manhattanville College is a very elite girls' school run by the Order of the Sacred Heart. As a matter of fact, Jacqueline Kennedy attended that school, although not in the time that I was there.
Dean Mother Brady received a glowing letter of reference from Brother Alfred, and so I had no difficulty securing the position at Manhattanville College. Commuting to Manhattanville College was an entirely different matter, however. To do that commuting, I had to walk six blocks from home to the local BMT subway station, take the train to Fourteenth Street in Manhattan, and change at Fourteenth Street from the BMT to the IRT line through an intricate maze of stairs and tunnels which, however, I was already familiar with. Then I had to take the IRT to Grand Central Station. I had to negotiate a complicated route through the New York Central Railroad, and that took me to White Plains, New York, where finally I was picked up by the school bus for the final fifteen-minute ride to the school in Purchase, New York. And of course I had to do this in reverse at the end of the day.
The Sunday before reporting to work, I went alone to Grand Central Station; and there, all day long, I practiced negotiating the route between the IRT subway station at 42nd street and the Grand Central Railroad Station. The most important landmark on that route was the New York Central Railroad Station Information Booth. Every morning I would stop at that booth and inquire on what track the 8:02 for White Plains would be leaving. It was a two-hour commute each day, and I was surely glad when the semester ended.
It was time to begin to search for permanent employment. By 1954 I was becoming tired of part-time work. The search for employment is stressful for anyone, particularly for a blind person. So I embarked on a campaign of letter-writing with a view to securing permanent employment. I consulted hundreds of college and university catalogs in the local library to determine which ones offered a math curriculum in which my teaching skills would be valuable. I arranged my choices in the order of geographical preference you know, by section of the country. I composed a master letter, tailoring it from time to time as circumstances dictated, and I sent out about 250 letters and resumes. I felt it necessary to inform a potential employer in advance about my blindness. Most replies were negative. They went something like:
At present we have no opening for a person with your training and experience. Many of them were noncommittal: Thank you for inquiring about a position at our institution. We will keep your letter on file and will contact you if any opening should materialize in the future. Sound familiar? Some were downright hostile: We do not feel that a person with a visual impairment can effectively discharge the duties required of professors at our institution. Nevertheless, I did receive two letters inviting me to appear for an interview: one from the University of Detroit and one from the university right here in Boulder, Colorado. Since, however, the University of Detroit offered a position leading to eventual permanence and tenure, I responded positively to the invitation from that institution first. My wife and I both appeared at the university's request. I was interviewed for a full day, and at the end of the interview we were told to return home and that we would be informed of the outcome within a week. So I mentioned in passing that we were going on to Boulder, Colorado, for another interview. The University of Detroit is a Jesuit university. The following day, early in the morning, I received a call from Father Dwier. He told me that the position was mine if I wanted it. He was calling early so that I could cancel the trip to Colorado if I so desired. I accepted on the spot.
I went to work at the University of Detroit as an instructor in 1955. And in due course I progressed through the ranks to become an assistant professor, an associate professor, and finally a full professor. Along the way I was awarded tenure, and I also completed the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in mathematics and got it from Wayne State University. I received that degree in 1964. For fifteen years I taught all kinds of courses in mathematics at the University of Detroit. But it was becoming increasingly evident to me that my training and skills would soon become obsolete unless I acquired knowledge and skill in computer science. Accordingly, I applied for, and was fortunate to receive, a grant from the National Science Foundation to spend two summers at Pennsylvania State University in State College to train in computer science. Each session was nine weeks long, and all the students in this program were also college teachers. The pace of instruction was, to say the least, quite lively. My wife and I gave up the comfort of a nice home in Detroit to live in a dorm room for nine weeks of a hot summer during two consecutive years. These were 1968 and 1969.
When I returned to the University of Detroit in the fall of 1969, I designed and implemented a graduate curriculum in computer science, and I taught most of the courses. They included elementary courses like FORTRAN and ALGOL and more advanced courses like data structures, artificial intelligence, non-arithmetic programming, automata theory, systems programming, and so on.
In 1970 my wife Florence died.
In 1971, however, I was married to my present wife Edna, and she is here with us today.
So although I taught mathematics almost exclusively during the first fifteen years in my career, I taught computer science almost exclusively during the last fifteen years. Meanwhile, the neighborhood which surrounded the University of Detroit campus was deteriorating. In the course of my work it was necessary for me to have expensive and specialized computer equipment. In the time of my residence near the university, we had several break-ins, and finally, in 1985 I decided it was time to take early retirement even though I was neither emotionally nor physically in need of retirement at that time, nor do I feel I am ready even now.
So we moved to our present residence in Southfield, Michigan, and I have been retired ever since September of 1985. I tell my friends that looking back on my working days, I reflect that work wasn't that hard. But it took a whole day. Now as I told you, during the time that I spent in the early years of studying and teaching mathematics, I perfected the private system that I had devised until it became a very efficient tool. There was a Doctor Clifford Wichert, now deceased, who was a friend of mine. He was blind, and he was studying theoretical physics at Columbia University. He was also on the Mathematics Sub-Committee of the Joint Uniform Braille Committee, which is the grandparent of today's BANA. One day, he asked me if I knew of a good table of integrals in Braille. I told him that I had one, but it was a private Braille code which he would be unable to read unless he was instructed. Would I show him the code so that he could borrow my table of integrals? I agreed.
He was so impressed that, at the next meeting of the Mathematics Sub-Committee, he proposed the study of my code with a view to eventual adoption. He asked me to write a short report, setting forth the principles and symbols of my code, and I complied although the report turned out not to be as short as he wanted. I was asked to present it first to the Sub-Committee and then to the Joint Uniform Braille Committee, and in 1952 I did so. With hardly any debate or any discussion, the code was adopted. It was named the Nemeth Code for Braille Mathematics, 1952. Before I knew it, it was published with all of its rough spots and bugs and printed by the American Printing House for the Blind, and it became the official code.
In 1956 APH undertook to rearrange the code by putting all the rules and all the symbols pertaining to elementary and secondary mathematics at the beginning of the Code, and all the arcane and esoteric symbols at the back of the book. This rearrangement was then published in 1956.
As the Code began to be more widely used, all of its bugs and flaws began to surface. In 1965 a more extensive and complete code was published. I am often asked when the Code will be complete. To this question I ask questions in return. When will the encyclopedia be complete? When will a dictionary be complete? As long as mathematicians invent new signs and insist that those new signs be used to facilitate precise formulation of newly discovered mathematical phenomena, so long will the Nemeth Code continue to evolve and change. The changes when they are made, however, are not capricious. They are in response to a need which was not previously present.
Accordingly, another update was published in 1972, also by APH; and this is the one in current use. It is used in the United States, in Canada, in New Zealand, and possibly in other countries of which I am not aware.
Along the way (in 1954) I also wrote a dictionary of Braille musical symbols, which was also published by APH; and two years later, a committee was convened to get a new music code. That was the shortest time in which any book became obsolete. When my code was published in 1972, the Soviet Union became aware that such a code existed and invited me and my wife (at their expense) to attend a conference which they conducted in an endeavor to achieve a worldwide uniform mathematics code. I want you to know that at that time, another well-known Federationist was also invited: Chuck Hallenbeck. Although their effort to achieve a worldwide uniform code was not realized, the experience was extremely instructive. There were representatives from seventeen countries, and in each case it became abundantly apparent how a Braille code reflects the expectations a society has of its blind citizens. In 1976 my wife and I were again invited by the Soviet government (under the same conditions) to attend a conference dealing this time with computer access by the blind.
The Nemeth Code features very close simulation of the printed text, and it is that feature which has made it possible for me to communicate with my students just as if I were holding the printed text in my hand. Very complicated formulas I put on cards which I arranged in a small card file in my left jacket pocket in the order in which I planned to present them. At the right moment, I casually walked up to the board and put my left hand into my pocket, read the formula from the top card, and copied it with my right hand onto the blackboard. I gave the students the impression of what a big genius I was and also what mental acumen I possessed, and I tried not to disillusion them. After completing that formula, I transferred the card from the front of the pile to the back in preparation for the next one. Exam papers, projects, and other assignments were corrected for me with the help of a graduate assistant. The University provides this assistance not just to me but to all their senior professors. They feel that a professor should not be required to do clerical tasks at professorial salaries.
In conclusion I would like to say the following: I hope that the experience that I have had in my lifetime and that I have described here demonstrates how important are the early acquisitions of Braille skills, facility in mobility, a knowledge of print practice, and good attitudes. Equipped with these skills, a blind person can progress as far as his motivation, his ingenuity, and his talent will permit. Without them, a blind person is restricted to semi-literacy and lack of independence. I thank you all very much.
by Rami Rabby
Saturday afternoon, July 8, delegates to the 1989 convention of the National Federation of the Blind were privileged to hear two stirring speeches addressing the U.S. State Department's absolute refusal to consider the candidacy of blind applicants to the Foreign Service. The first of these speakers was Avraham (Rami) Rabby, a long-time leader in the Federation. Here are his remarks as he delivered them to an enthusiastic audience:
President Maurer, Dr. Jernigan, and fellow Federationists: As you heard in President Maurer's first-class Presidential report on Thursday, for the past three and a half years I have been engaged in the process of applying for a position as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) in the U.S. Foreign Service. Prior to November, 1988, it was the State Department's practice to assist blind candidates for the Foreign Service with the written examination by providing them with examination papers in Braille, and with the oral assessment by providing them with the necessary readers/notetakers. At the same time, the State Department would automatically disqualify blind candidates in the medical examination. Under this set of policies and procedures I had passed the written examination three times and the oral assessment twice, had received the necessary security clearance, and of course, been disqualified because of my blindness at the medical examination. Since the recruitment process for FSO's is so lengthy, all candidates sighted and blind are encouraged to continue taking the examinations each year, in an effort to improve their scores, until such time as their names are selected from the Foreign Service candidate register and they are actually hired. This was my situation when, on November 10, 1988, as I was about to take the oral assessment for the third time, I was notified by the State Department that: It has been decided that, henceforth, the Foreign Service selection process will serve not only to test a candidate's knowledge and intellectual skills, but, as well, to test a candidate's ability to work effectively and independently with original source documents. As a consequence the Board of Examiners will not offer the written examination in Braille nor will it provide the services of a reader for visually impaired candidates at any stage of the selection process, including the oral assessment. This letter, however, did not reveal the amazing complex of prejudicial attitudes and negative assumptions about blindness and the blind which actually led to this change of policy regarding examination logistics. These only came to light in the November 30, 1988, broadcast of Good Morning America, during an exchange between John Lunden, the show's co-host, and George Vest, the Director-General of the Foreign Service, as follows:
Lunden: Ambassador, what you and the Department are really saying, of course now, is that blind people are not suitable for Foreign Service. Why do you say that?
Vest: Because people who serve in the Foreign Service must be prepared to serve overseas, do a diversity of jobs which we think are either incompatible with being blind or dangerous to the blind person him- or herself.
Lunden: And what would constitute incompatible or unsuitable or dangerous?
Vest: A person who is blind is asked to move into a foreign community in an area where he or she is not familiar with the locality, will have to deal with people who may be very hostile (because there are many parts of the world that are hostile to us), and will have to, as well, deal (among other things) with classified documents and have no way on his or her own to know what classification that is. And it's similar in this country. You don't ask a blind person to drive a bus or be a bank teller. There are jobs which are dangerous or unsuitable for them. And in the Foreign Service, we are full of jobs like that. Rarely have so much ignorance, prejudice, and twisted logic been packed into so little air time! Is it any wonder that, as Vest says, many parts of the world...are hostile to us? These parts of the world may soon include the National Federation of the Blind!
A little later during that Good Morning America confrontation, George Vest touched on one of the main rationales for the State Department's opposition to blind Foreign Service Officers: The fundamental rule which is in the Foreign Service Act is anyone joining our Foreign Service must be worldwide available not just with extraordinary qualifications to serve in one country or another country be worldwide available and that is in the law. Vest implies that, while sighted FSO's can be expected to serve worldwide, blind FSO's can't be expected to do so. The National Federation of the Blind totally rejects this lowered expectation of blind candidates for the Foreign Service. By consistently regurgitating its principle of worldwide availability, the State Department would like us to believe that, with no more than a moment's notice, all Foreign Service Officers are typically and routinely uprooted from their present locations and flown, willy-nilly, from Brussels to Beijing or from Ouagadougou to Ottawa. In reality, however, Foreign Service Officers are not inanimate objects manufactured on some mythical State Department assembly line according to some fixed scientific formula, and are not perfectly interchangeable with one another. Each FSO has unique strengths and weaknesses and highly individualized assets and liabilities. One may have a degree in East European Political History, while another may not; one may have years of on-the-job experience in Saudi Arabia, while another may be a complete novice in Riyadh; one may be fluent in Hebrew, while another may be fluent in Japanese; one may be married and the mother of three children, each with his/her individual educational needs, while another may be single and much more flexible in his/her assignability; one may have a life-long passion for the culture and mores of the Far East, while another may not be so wedded to any one region of the world. Does the State Department really pay no attention to any of these individual characteristics? Does it really switch its Foreign Service Officers like so many identical pawns, from one embassy or consulate to another, across the world's diplomatic chessboard? Of course it pays attention to these and other individual FSO characteristics! Although it theorizes glibly about worldwide availability, in reality it behaves it must behave like any intelligent manager of people who recognizes that not all jobs are the same, not all work environments are identical, and most importantly, that every Foreign Service Officer, blind or sighted, is an individual in the fullest sense of that term. How do we know that this is, in fact, how the State Department behaves? We know it, believe it or not, from the State Department's own admission which it is happy to publicize, whenever it is not engaged in flim-flamming blind candidates about worldwide availability.
In a profile of George Vest yes, that same George Vest of Good Morning America fame published in the February 10, 1988, issue of the New York Times, we read the following:
His daily tasks are more likely to involve matching the needs of ordinary diplomats with available postings: `I have to reconcile an enormous variety of preferences with service needs,' he said.... 'They come to me and say: The wife is ill and they have a difficult kid in high school, or I don't like hot weather, or I did Africa, now I want Paris.' The unhappy diplomat can air his problems confidentially with his career development officer who either deals with them directly or, in grave cases, takes them up with Mr. Vest.
Well, well, well! Worldwide availability, indeed ! Given this more than realistic and accurate process of assigning Foreign Service Officers to locations and circumstances around the world, a Foreign Service Officer's blindness and his/her individual handling of it would naturally become just one more characteristic in the mix of characteristics some of them advantages or limitations in some situations, others assets or limitations in other situations which the FSO brings to the diplomatic task and which determines his/her assignment. So, in the real-world Foreign Service, blind FSO's could be as world-wide available as any sighted FSO and could function perfectly happily within the strictures of the Foreign Service Act.
As a matter of fact, unfortunately for us but fortunately for Dr. Euclid Herie, the Canadian Foreign Service does employ a full-fledged blind Foreign Service Officer who, so far in his career, has served in Japan a modern industrial state of the first order and in India perhaps the best example of a still-developing nation. An experienced U.S. Foreign Service Officer who had an opportunity to work with this Canadian in Tokyo has attested to the fact that he is extremely effective and successful in his work.
The second main rationale used by the State Department to support its opposition to blind Foreign Service Officers has to do with the Department's attitude toward readers and the impact which the use of readers may have on one's ability to read classified documents independently. With independence high on the State Department's order of priorities, J. Edward Fox, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, wrote as follows to Congressman Benjamin Gillman of New York: Any person, blind or otherwise, could take the test using any mechanical device which allowed them to work independently from the original exam book. Incidentally, in a letter to the editor of the New York Times , on January 16, 1989, our friend Bill Gallagher, Executive Director of the American Foundation for the Blind, tossed his opinion into the public debate about the State Department's discriminatory policy. While clearly well-intentioned, Gallagher played right into the hands of the State Department and demonstrated how out of touch the agency establishment is with the real problems facing blind people in the work-place. I read with concern, Gallagher says, that the State Department has ruled that blind people are not suited to be United States diplomats because they are unable to work with printed documents without resorting to Braille or sighted readers. State Department officials have not kept abreast of new technologies that enable the blind and visually impaired to work with materials in print. Not very helpful, Mr. Gallagher! Rather than attacking their discriminatory policy, you told the State Department exactly what they wanted to hear and promoted the myth that it is technology, rather than a change of attitude, which will solve the employment problems of blind people. It is true that mechanical means do exist which enable blind people to read print independently, such as the Opticon and the Kurzweil Personal Reader. However, these machines have serious limitations as to portability, versatility, speed, efficiency, or all of the above. The fact is that our overriding objective is for all Foreign Service Officers to work not so much independently, but rather, effectively and with speed. While technological reading devices can serve a useful purpose in certain reading situations, we recognized long ago that in terms of overall versatility, flexibility, efficiency, and speed, nothing can beat a competent human reader. By the way, the Canadian Foreign Service Officer mentioned earlier has been given exactly that.
In his letter to Congressman Gillman, Mr. Fox continues as follows:
We have also determined that Foreign Service Officers must independently perform certain tasks that blind persons could not perform without assistance. For example, our security procedures bar out-loud reading of classified materials at posts abroad, except in specially designed acoustical rooms. Again, this may be either wishful thinking or what the Foreign Service policy manual says. But what about the real world of the Foreign Service? Is out-loud reading of classified materials barred at all posts abroad? Are all posts electronically bugged? Do all Foreign Service Officers have to read classified materials?
And why should not the specially designed acoustical rooms be occasionally used by blind FSO's and their readers? These are all fair questions, but they are not likely to be asked as long as the State Department persists in its global and arbitrary exclusion of the blind from the Foreign Service. But that's not the end of it! Is the State Department honestly telling us that no out-loud reading of classified materials ever takes place at posts abroad? What about the out-loud interpreting of classified materials written in a language not understood by a particular Foreign Service Officer? And, if classified materials are never read out-loud, are they never discussed out-loud either? It simply does not make sense! If sighted FSO's have their interpreters, blind FSO's by analogy should have their readers. Three other negative assumptions about the blind complete the system of prejudice and discrimination constructed by the bureaucrats at the State Department. First, the assumption that, if one is blind, one is necessarily slow, inattentive to one's environment, and hopelessly vulnerable to any international terrorist who is intent on doing harm and for whom a blind diplomat would be an easy mark. Where is the statistical evidence to support this kind of assertion? Blind people are not robbed, raped, killed, or otherwise harmed in any greater numbers than their proportional number in the general population. This was the case when we successfully argued the safety issue against the insurance industry; this is the case when we now argue it against the airlines industry; and this will be proven to be the case when the State Department finally dismantles the arbitrary, exclusionary barriers against the blind in the Foreign Service. Second, the assumption that, just because one is blind, one can't function effectively in unfamiliar territory. In his letter to Congressman Gillman, Edward Fox says: We have not been able to hire blind applicants because of anticipated problems in moving blind persons into unfamiliar settings and cultures. What unadulterated nonsense! Just look at Eileen Rivera! Just look at Homer Page! If the State Department met Eileen Rivera and Homer Page, the talk would not be of the Foreign Service moving blind persons into unfamiliar settings and cultures but rather of blind persons moving bureaucracies, moving voters, changing societies, and changing what it means to be blind! But the State Department would not even have to go that far! It need only have looked for leadership on this issue to the positive experience of the Peace Corps which has hired and effectively used blind volunteers in vastly unfamiliar settings and cultures for years, and many of them are in this organization and probably at this convention! Third, the assumption that, during diplomatic discussions and negotiations, blind FSO's would be unable to interpret visual cues and signals communicated by the parties across the table. This assumption is the result of a highly exaggerated and over-romanticized view of the diplomatic life! The fact is that we have, in this country and elsewhere, blind judges, blind lawyers, blind psychiatrists, blind administrators, blind politicians (working and otherwise), and all of them have developed effective means for interpreting cues and signals, both visual and non-visual, and doing what they have to do! The results are there, and, if that is the case, the State Department has no business getting bogged down and paralyzed into inaction by a hysterical concern about non-existent problems and manufactured issues.
The double standard practiced by the State Department in its pursuit of international relations, on the one hand, and its internal personnel policies on the other, is glaring. It is unconscionable for it to grant full access by Chinese students to American territory in the United States while refusing access by blind candidates for the Foreign Service to the American territories of our embassies and consulates in the People's Republic of China! It is intolerable for it to lecture the Republic of South Africa for its policy of Apartheid between whites and blacks, while, at the same time, practicing segregation between blind and sighted, within the State Department itself! The yearning for freedom of choice is the same! The struggle for equality and opportunity is identical!
Those of you who may have joined our movement within recent years only may believe that our campaign against State Department discrimination is but a few months old. Such is not the case. Here is a letter sent to a Federationist by a United States Senator on August 19, 1975: I am awfully sorry to have to disappoint you further in your quest to become a Foreign Service Officer despite your particular disability. Frankly I know of nothing else I can do. The Foreign Service (and, I think, rightly so) requires extremely high physical qualifications for a variety of reasonsnot the least of which is the element of risk involved while stationed in literally hundreds of posts throughout the world under conditions (which simply put) are substandard to those we are used to here at home. Qualified medical care is not always at hand. Living conditions (except in the capitals of the world's developed nations, where assignments are at a premium) often are seriously substandard, where even the absolutely fit often find it hard to make adjustments and to maintain adequate levels of personal welfare. Further, I am told paperwork unfortunately comprises a large amount (perhaps too much) of diplomacy. And one must have considerable visual acuity in order to function adequately. In view of that I would be at a considerable disadvantage were I to petition the Department of State to alter its physical requirements sufficiently to accede to the desires of a single person no matter how qualified and motivated.
Again, please understand when I say I am sorry I cannot offer you much encouragement at this particular time.
John V. Tunney
United States Senator, California
I bring this letter to you for two reasons. First, as a reminder of what Dr. Jernigan has told us time and time again: namely, that although we may occasionally lose a skirmish or a battle, we need never give up the fight until we have won the war. Second, the letter is indicative of a very positive change that has taken place between 1975 and today. While in 1975 former Senator Tunney saw no alternative but to concur with the State Department's position, in 1989 we have found in Congress a true friend and ally, Congressman Gerry Sikorski of Minnesota, who with superb counsel and advice from his congressional district director (our own Judy Sanders) will fight the skirmishes and the battles with us until we do win the war. With Congressman Sikorski we say to the State Department: We are not looking for a kinder, gentler Foreign Service. We are not seeking charity from you. We believe unequivocally that blind people can serve in the U.S. Foreign Service on an absolutely equal footing with the sighted. All we want from you is the willingness to sit down with the National Federation of the Blind and in one session finalize the details. Thank you very much.
by Gerry Sikorski
Immediately following the remarks of Rami Rabby, delivered on July 8, 1989, during the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind, which are reprinted elsewhere in this issue, Congressman Gerry Sikorski addressed the convention. He has been a good friend to the blind of this nation, and his views on the State Department's policy of denying blind people access to the Foreign Service as a career were certainly made clear during the briefing he arranged before the Civil Service Sub-Committee of the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service (see the February, 1989, edition of the Braille Monitor. On the Saturday afternoon of the convention, however, Congressman Sikorski was not required to be the dignified, even-handed chairman of a Congressional committee. He was among friends with whom he shared a deep sense of outrage and injustice. His remarks were unequivocal, blunt, and to the point. Quite simply, he intends to see that the State Department changes its ways. Here is what he had to say:
The loud group up here in the front is from Minnesota. We're very very proud of our contribution to America over the years. We don't have to go back to Judy Garland or Bob Dillon or Hubert Humphrey. Just in the last four or five years we've given America's culture tremendous contributions. We've given America: Prince, Jessica Lang, Fritz Mondale, the Minnesota Twins, and Tammy Fay Baker; and none of you can make that claim. Thank you for welcoming me. It might be a hundred and five degrees outside, but it's about a hundred and fifteen in here with all your energy and spirit.
I put some time into my work today. I'm developing somewhat of a reputation (Judy Sanders will tell you) back home in Minnesota. I'm called to speak a lot. I was at a congregate senior citizen dining program the other day. I over-heard two ladies in the back before I was called up to speak. One lady whispered to the other, You know, I'd rather hear Gerry Sikorski speak than eat. And the other one said, Me too. I've heard him eat.
I asked Dr. Jernigan, What should I say? What should I say? He said, Just the usual congressional expression, you know, the usual congressional expression.
So I did some quick research and came up with a description by Mark Twain over a hundred years ago of a lizard in a South African hotel courtyard. He said, A couple of skinny cones project from the sides of this lizard's head with a wee shiny bead of an eye set in the apex of each. And these cones turn bodily like pivot guns, pointing every which way. Each has its own exclusive machinery. Mark Twain said, When I'm behind this lizard and someone's in front of him, he whirls one eye rearward and the other forward, which gives him a most congressional expression. So, I've done the job already. Not too long ago we got the same kind of expression, but not from Congress from the State Department. On February first of this year I had a briefing of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee titled the State Department's Policy Regarding Blind Applicants to the Foreign Service. Rami Rabby, who was just here, and a number of other individuals (including representatives of the State Department, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and your President Marc Maurer) testified. Let me tell you about that, but first, a little history.
In recent years the State Department has provided readers to assist blind applicants for the Foreign Service Officer position. Exams were also provided in Braille. However, as we learned from Mr. Rabby and other witnesses, blind individuals who successfully passed both the written test (and he passed it three times) and the oral test (he passed that all the times he took it twice) and the security clearance (he passed that as well) were nevertheless denied entry into the United States Foreign Service for failing the Department's physical examination requiring visual acuity. We know that concerns about these policies have been raised at least since 1975. In fact, in 1982 a complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the State Department. In 1987 the EEOC completed a staff report highlighting the State Department's contradictory hiring and testing policies. Opening the door to opportunity and equality and hope with one hand and closing the door with the other, the EEOC report concluded that It would be unwise for the Department of State (and I'm quoting) to conduct a recruitment program that would raise false expectations of handicapped individuals hoping to enter the Foreign Service. It went on to say: Recruitment that leads to exclusion based on handicap will increase the possibility of discrimination complaints. The report strongly recommended that the Department modify its recruitment program to comply with the laws of the United States that it seeks to represent abroad: the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 regarding the hiring, the placement, and the advancement of handicapped individuals. It already by this time had settled the claim (for over a hundred-and-fifty thousand dollars) by a blind applicant who was turned down.
Well, what happened after this EEOC report came out? Instead of opening doors to the Foreign Service, the State Department installed a deadbolt. Instead of changing the medical requirements or examining the practical application of the State Department's vaunted world-wide availability policy, which has been used to turn down blind applicants, the Department decided that it would no longer provide the exam in Braille. Blind applicants would not be permitted to use readers, and any blind people who made it through the test would still be washed out on the physical exam even though blind people have honorably served our government and the citizens of the United States in highly sensitive intelligence areas, in the Peace Corps, in the civil branches of the armed services, and even in the Foreign Service. This is the kinder, gentler nation the President was talking about?
I found out that these thousand points of light the President talked about were light beer, light salad dressing, and a light Vice President.
Well, at our hearing we heard a lot of buts. We heard a lot of howevers. We heard a lot of We're studying the issue. We heard a lot of rationalizations and excuses and so sorries. We heard about worldwide availability, about the need for reader assistance in embassies. We heard about security and personal safety issues. We heard about unfamiliar settings and unfamiliar cultures. We heard about important visual cues and diplomatic indicators' being missed by blind people. Well, we know that blind people can be just as available worldwide as anyone that's in the Foreign Service today. In fact, in the Foreign Service today we have blind people serving honorably who became blind while currently working under the operation of worldwide availability. We know that other countries have blind Foreign Service Officers. There are disabilities, and there are things that prevent people from functioning in a job, and they are not automatically the same in fact, in many cases they're not the same at all. We also know that blind people are just as trustworthy, just as protective of national security as sighted people. We know that blind people can fend for themselves anywhere in the world today, and they do so without any more difficulty than sighted people. We know that blind people served in the Peace Corps, which is more demanding than the Foreign Service and for a lot less pay. And we know that blind people are no less capable (and probably far more capable) than the sighted in dealing with unfamiliar settings, unfamiliar cultures, and unfamiliar ways of life. One of the State Department's own studies showed that blind people had much higher safety records in factory situations than sighted people. We know that blind people are more than capable in picking up non-visual communication. People are doing it here today, doing it throughout America, probably doing it right now. At the hearing we heard the State Department tiptoe dance all around the issues raised. Now I want to be respectful of the State Department's position, But it's hard. They're just so wrong and so stubborn. These issues are not new. They've been raised now for over a decade, and it's only reasonable to expect from the State Department full answers, a full defense of their position, or changes and promises to change. Yet we received no answers, no defenses, no promises, and no changes. We did get a lot of We'll get back to you on that. Three weeks after the hearing the State Department got back to us with, in part, this statement: Since 1985, the State Department said, the Department has employed a full-time coordinator to establish programs for employment of persons with disabilities and to assist with policy development. Since then the Department has steadily improved its record for hiring and advancing employees with disabilities. End of quotation.
Well, the coordinator the Department referred to was one of the witnesses at the briefing. The coordinator was the official who made the following response to one witness who called and challenged the new examination ruling precluding reader aids. This coordinator for equal employment opportunity for the Department of State explained why no reading aids were available with this quote: Would you like to ride a bus where someone was standing beside the driver having to tell him to turn left, to turn right, to do this, to do that? How's that for an equal employment opportunity coordinator?
I'm reminded of Moe Udall's story about the guy that hadn't been to church for a while. One Sunday morning he finally got up and spruced up, drove over to the church, got out, and walked up to the church. And outside was a sign that said Tired of sin? Come on in. If not, call 8227 ... (the State Department's telephone number). Well, a few days after we got this letter Congressmen Dymally and Campbell; Senators Harkin, Simon, and Wirth; and I sent a letter to the State Department, expressing our concern about the Department's hiring policy again and telling them that their responses were inadequate again. We asked the State Department again to revoke its ruling, re-examine its worldwide availability policy, and re-examine its medical standards so that they provide some flexibility to ensure that people with disabilities could be accommodated. The Department's reply to that letter was quite diplomatic, very rhetorical, but very noncommittal.
Oh the Department did agree to continue studying these issues. But while the Department is content to sit and wait it out, we're not going to let 'em.
Moe Udall told about the prospector who came down one Saturday night about this time. He had been up in the hills prospecting for a long time. He was a little stiff, moved a little slow, riding a mule into town. The cowboys were having a good time whooping it up and carrying on and feeling their whiskey. And they picked on this old prospector and said, Old prospector, get down from that mule. So he got down, and one of them took out his six-shooter and said, Mr. Prospector, I'd like to see you dance, and started shooting bang, bang. And the prospector was dancing, and he said, I want you to dance a little higher, bang, bang, bang. Dance a little higher, bang, click. While he was reloading the gun, he looked up and saw that the prospector had his shotgun aimed right at the cowboy. And the prospector said, Well Mr. Cowboy, have you ever kissed a mule's hind end? The cowboy said, No, but I've always wanted to. Well, we're working with the members of the Appropriations Subcommittees with jurisdiction over the State Department to help the State Department to do some... to meet with the mule and restrict funding unless the examination... We're also looking at chances to legislate some changes in the personnel system. As my subcommittee on civil service examines the two reports recently completed, which are very critical of the Foreign Service personnel system, and a new GAO study that was just released this week, very critical of the widespread discrimination against women in the Foreign Service, we'll continue putting pressure on the State Department. The rights at stake are too important to be ignored.
Well, let me conclude. The United States of America was born and washed and nurtured in the blood of human rights. That's the beginning, the essence, and the very soul of America. And wherever you go abroad, our embassies and consulates stand as monuments to human rights, to freedom, to democracy, to justice. The United States of America stands for something special in this world something special called human dignity for all people, not black or white, or rich or poor, or educated or not, sighted or unsighted. We lecture other countries repeatedly and freely about democracy, about freedom, about the human spirit. We have Foreign Service Officers around the world who spend full time they're human rights officers working with other countries, cajoling them, pushing them, pinching them, pulling them, asking them, pleading with them to adjust their policies on human rights, on human justice, on freedom, on democratic ways, on dignity. And when governments balk or become nasty, we work with pro-democratic groups in those countries. Think of it: Poland, the Philippines, China. It's just inconceivable to me. It's so wrong, so stupid, so cruel, and inefficient for us then to bar the door of the Foreign Service Office to people who have a visual problem and to people who have any handicap or disability from serving in these offices where they could do so much absolute good by being there. As Congressman Campbell told us in our hearing, it's a tragedy that in choosing the representatives of our country to foreign nations, we would apply such a prejudice. The message that America should be sending is that individuals are chosen on the basis of their intrinsic worth and that any obstacle (including blindness) can be overcome in the United States of America what a powerful message to send!
I know a little of this myself because my district director, Judy Sanders, is an active member of your organization, right behind me on this speaking platform today. She started in my office on the lowest rung and is now serving on the highest rung, walking over all kinds of people on the way up there I might add. Judy is more than capable at running an entire district office, managing a host of troublesome problems, supervising eight other staff members, a budget of over a quarter million dollars each year, covering all kinds of events and meetings and conferences around a sprawling suburban and rural district, including in the middle of Minnesota's cold, frigid, snowy Januaries. She has gone into foreign territories Republican areas in my district. And she has convinced people that what we do as a congressional office is worthy of their knowledge and support. She has dealt with every kind of person from the most comfortable to the most distraught and dispossessed people with incredible problems: no money, no family, no home, no place to go. She has helped them. She has dealt with chief executive officers of some of the biggest corporations in the world, and she has handled everything in between.
And there is Rami Rabby with two degrees from two metropolitan universities one abroad, one in the United States. He speaks like a diplomat. If President Bush had had him call Lee Ping, maybe President Bush's call would have been returned. He's lived in New York City for over fourteen years. If you can live in New York City for one year, you can live in any place in the world. Well, let me end by saying, we know that to bar the doors of the Foreign Service to people with these talents, these resources that God has given them simply because of old biases and old prejudices is contrary to American law and American tradition. It is wrong. With your help, we're going to change it. I talked about Mark Twain in South Africa. Twenty-two years ago, Robert Kennedy was in South Africa, and he told young blacks there that every time a human being stands up against injustice, strikes out to better the lot of others, stands up for an idea, he or she sends out a tiny ripple of hope which, joining a million other ripples of hope from a million other centers of daring and energy, can together form a mighty torrent which can break down even the greatest walls of injustice. Ladies and gentlemen, with your energy, your daring, your hope, we're going to break down this wall of injustice. Thank you.
by Barbara Pierce
Many things distinguish the training centers for blind adults run by the National Federation of the Blind affiliates in Colorado, Minnesota, and Louisiana from the run-of-the-mill programs offered in most states.
But two of the most distinctive elements are the wide-ranging extra-curricular activities in which the students participate and the staff's insistence upon their learning in all situations and profiting from everything that happens. Sixteen students and staff at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) probably got more than they bargained for on June 2, 1989 (but not more than they could handle), when they walked into Sugie's bar after dinner that evening to dance for the hour and a half they had to kill before returning to the Center.
There aren't a lot of inexpensive places in West Monroe, Louisiana, where the group could have gone to relax and enjoy music. They chose Sugie's because rumor had it that a blind man, who was not very well adjusted to his blindness, played in the band, and they thought they might be able to strike up a conversation with him and offer him some help. Groups from the Center had come to the night spot before without incident. The owners did not seem to mind that the blind folks were not there to drink, and the students came and went in the building without mishap. When he was interviewed after the adventure of that Friday evening, however, Ron Lunceford, one of the owners, began (in the words of Joanne Fernandes, LCB Executive Director) making up past incidents in which he said students had been found wandering in the street while attempting to find the men's room and had been saved from attack by drunken patrons only through his quick action. Fernandes assured the Braille Monitor that no such adventures had ever befallen her students in Sugie's. She puts these tales down to Mr. Lunceford's assumptions about what happens to unaccompanied blind people. His experience with the blind band member, who does not use a cane and cannot move independently around the building when customers are present, has no doubt helped to shape his preconceptions.
In any case, the group from LCB had just been seated when they were informed by management that they could stay only if they would consent to being escorted to and from the dance floor and rest rooms by Sugie's employees. Preliminary discussions with management indicated that this ruling could not be ignored, so Fernandes led the group outside where they could discuss their options in peace. About half decided to retire to the van to await developments. The rest tried to return to their tables. They discovered, however, that in the meantime Mr. Lunceford had called the West Monroe police, and almost immediately the group was escorted outdoors again by the law. There the LCB group attempted to explain Louisiana's White Cane Law to the officers, pointing out that if anyone deserved arrest, it was Mr. Lunceford, who was denying them their legal right of access to a public place.
The group finally began to move back into the bar, and the police arrested the first four people they could grab, according to the students. These were Joanne Fernandes; Michael Baillif, a student at the Center who will be entering Yale Law School in September; Karl Smith, a student who is the Past President of the NFB of Utah; and Harold Wilson, another Center student. Baillif was handcuffed and thrown into a separate car for the trip to the police station. All four were charged with remaining on the premises after being asked to leave, and Fernandes and Smith were also charged with aiding and abetting others to remain on the premises.
The four were fingerprinted, booked, and then released to return to the Center and spend the weekend coming to terms with the irrefutable fact that, even though they were adult citizens of the United States of America, they had been denied free access to a public place, and the police had been unable to understand the injustice and illegality of the situation. Everyone at the Center worked long and hard that weekend because it is rare that blind people face such clearly undeniable examples of discrimination as this one had been. Some of those arrested had to come to terms in a new and personal way with the fact of being a member of a minority group to whom these things happen. Several of those who had waited in the van were asking themselves if they had feared to be counted. Self-examination is never a comfortable exercise, but as so often happens, the LCB students came through the experience stronger and more certain of their rights and responsibilities as competent blind adults. They had been demeaned and insulted because of ignorance and prejudice, but the result was personal strength and conviction that such behavior must stop.
This new resolve was to be tested in the days that followed. On Monday, June 5, the story of the arrest in the Monroe, Louisiana, paper was picked up by the Associated Press and published widely around the state and even by USA Today . It was what one might have expected from the pen of an uninformed reporter. Here is the story as it appeared in the Shreveport Journal :
The man who had some blind students arrested for staying in his nightclub after they refused to accept escorts to the bathroom says he just wanted to help the students. Joanne Fernandes, 42, the director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and three students Karl Smith, 33, Harold Wilson, 22, and Michael E. Baillif, 22 were booked Friday night with remaining at Sugie's, a West Monroe nightclub, after being asked to leave. Ron Lunceford, one of the bar's owners, said Saturday that the group was told at the door that its blind members would have to accept bathroom escorts because of problems during previous visits. They won't use the aisle. They bump tables and spill drinks, he said. Last month one of them bumped a table and this guy jumped up like he was going to kill one of them. If I hadn't been there to break it up, he would have.
Ms. Fernandes said students are taught to use canes to avoid accidents.
We don't go around crashing into stuff, she said. The problem of being blind is not the loss of eyesight. It's the misconception and stereotypes that people have. We felt like this was a matter of civil rights and we need to take a stand on this issue. Lunceford said he wasn't discriminating, only offering help. Why would I discriminate now? They've been there before, he said.
He said one student who refused help on a previous visit had gone through the wrong door. He was plum going out the back door into the street.
That's the way the papers reported the story on Monday. The phones at the Center rang steadily. A few callers took the Center to task for allowing blind students to enter a bar (Ruston, where the LCB is located, lies in an area in which many people deplore alcohol and believe that it is particularly damaging for blind people to be exposed to such temptation), but most people who called were rallying around in the face of negative publicity. Fernandes and the Center's attorney decided to call a press conference for 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 6, to tell the Center's side of the story and to explain the White Cane Law that should have protected the group. Every reporter or news crew invited came to the conference. Fernandes outlined the situation, and then the students spoke about their experience and the effect it had had on them. The impact of this testimony was obvious in the stories that appeared afterwards. Here is an example from the Ouachita Citizen of June 7:
Blind Center Director Claims Civil Rights Violation
by John DeGiovanni
Last Friday night, Joanne Fernandes, director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, gathered up 16 students for an evening on the town.
Fernandes, who is also blind, and the group first stopped for dinner at a Monroe seafood restaurant. During dinner, some of the students who had recently lost their sight mentioned that they wanted to go dancing because they wanted to get back into the mainstream of life.
Fernandes and the group proceeded to Sugie's on Trenton Street in West Monroe. As Fernandes explained, she and others connected with the Center for the Blind have visited Sugie's several times in the past.
This trip, however, would become somewhat dramatic. Fernandes and four of the 16 blind clients on the outing were arrested by West Monroe Police when they refused to leave the premises at co-owner Ron Lunceford's request.
Fernandes claims the incident began when Lunceford announced some rules when the group entered the crowded club. We went to Sugie's three times before and we always had a good time, she said. But as soon as we walked in the door, he (Lunceford) said that we'd have to be escorted to the bathroom and that we'd have to pay for any drinks we spill. He also wanted us to sign an insurance waiver if any of us got hurt. Although the group had already paid their $2 cover charge, Fernandes brought her students outside to discuss the situation. I told them that the staff at the Center could teach them skills but that there was also a need for them to deal with the public's attitude toward blind people, Fernandes recalled. They had to do that on their own.
Some of them felt real crummy and said that they didn't want to be anywhere they weren't wanted, she continued. The others said they wanted to go back into the bar. They wanted the public to know that even though they are blind, they can take care of themselves. They wanted to educate by example. By Fernandes' account, the group paid a second cover charge. One couple in the group proceeded to the dance floor. Then the police arrived.
They (the police) asked us to come to the front of the building, Fernandes said. They told us we couldn't go back into the club, and that if we did we would be arrested. They said the owner called them.
The arrests were made shortly afterward. The four were charged with refusing to leave the premises after being ordered by the police to do so and aiding and abetting others to not leave. Those arrested were released shortly afterward on their own recognizance. An arraignment will be held June 28. Fernandes called the incident a real injustice and noted that civil rights for the blind are ensured through Louisiana's White Cane Law.
She also noted that according to the law, blind people cannot be denied access to public domains.
I admit that we refused to leave the premises, Fernandes added. But they don't have the right to forbid us to enter. This whole incident was wrong and we feel we need to take a stand to educate the public. It's a matter of principal and we feel our civil rights have been violated.
Lunceford, meanwhile, said the group is welcome to return to his club but that an incident last month forced him to set down some rules.
I never had a big problem with them until last month, Lunceford said. A couple of guys in the group were walking between tables and knocking over drinks. There is a matter of liability here if one of them gets hurt.
According to Lunceford, when the group arrived Friday night, he requested that they let a waitress or myself escort them to the bathroom. They just wouldn't listen to reason, he added. And when the police arrived, they told the group 'he's just asking a simple thing.' But (Fernandes) said that was discrimination. Ironically, one of the regular performers at Sugie's country musician Talmadge Wells is blind. Wells, who was playing keyboards last Friday night, also needs assistance to find the restroom, according to Lunceford.
Lunceford recalled a conversation he had with Wells following Friday night's incident. Their talk concerned how the club's layout changes often when there's a large crowd. Chairs are often moved to different places by customers and tables are pushed together to accommodate large gatherings. Talmadge told me, 'Ron, I know every inch of this club but when the tables and chairs are moved around every few minutes, there's no way I'll go walking through there,' Lunceford said. And that was the case Friday night. We had 210 people here. Talmadge is real upset by what happened, Lunceford continued. He told me that these people just want to make an issue out of this deal.
Lunceford said he would welcome back the students from the Center for the Blind but he suggests that they return on less crowded Wednesday or Thursday nights so we can give them more personal attention.
That's the way the Oauchita Citizen told the story after listening to the students and staff at the Louisiana Center. The editor of The Ruston Daily Leader also had some personal thoughts after attending the press conference. Here is his editorial which, in addition to a full story about the arrests, appeared on June 7:
Incident Has Educational Value to be Gleaned
Since 1985, Ruston has been home to the Louisiana Center for the Blind. On most any given weekday morning, it is customary to see blind students walking from their apartments through downtown to class.
To watch students practicing their cane travel skills is also commonplace here, as is the interaction of blind individuals with sighted citizens.
Much to its credit, our community has accepted the students as regular men and women who can think, feel, and work just like sighted persons. That acceptance, however, is not universal, and Center Director Joanne Fernandes is trying to use a recent incident to help both her students and the public overcome stereotypical images of blind persons and the limitations of blindness.
By now, the chronology of the incident is well known. In brief, a group of the students went to a West Monroe nightspot last weekend, and when they would not agree to a list of admittance conditions presented them by one of the establishment's co-owners, they were asked to leave. Some did; others went back into the club. Four, including Fernandes, were arrested for not leaving the premises after being asked to do so and for aiding and abetting others. Few situations are totally one-sided. However, we agree with Fernandes' assessment that old notions that blind individuals as well as other persons with various infirmities are less than whole and less than normal still exist.
We also agree with the Center's staff that those stereotypes need to be shattered once and for all.
Kenneth Jernigan, in a paper entitled, Blindness Concepts and Misconceptions, writes ...the real problem of blindness is not the blindness itself not the acquisition of skills or techniques or competence. The real problem is the lack of understanding and the misconceptions which exist. The blind are able to compete on terms of equality in the full current of active life, Jernigan says. It is not our place to make a judgment on the charges involved in Friday's incident. That is a legal matter now. But it is our hope that educational value can be gleaned from the incident, that the attention called to the Center and its students will be in a positive vein, accenting the full ability of blind people to be productive participants in society.
That's what The Ruston Daily Leader had to say, and it's clear that its editor has understood what the Center staff is trying to accomplish. One Shreveport television station even conducted an interview with a woman in a wheelchair who came forward to say that she had been thrown out of Sugie's last year based on the same sort of argument about her alleged safety. She had swallowed her anger until she saw what had happened to blind people who would not lie down meekly and be walked on by Mr. Lunceford. Thursday, June 8, Fernandes and the Center's attorney met with the West Monroe City Attorney. By this time, having received legal advice, the city was clearly fearful that the four blind people would sue the police under the provisions of the Louisiana White Cane Law. West Monroe was happy to drop the charges against Fernandes, Baillif, Smith, and Wilson. In addition its attorney agreed to provide each member of the police force with a copy of the White Cane Law and to arrange for training about blindness for police officers. Here is the text of the statement released by the West Monroe City Attorney on behalf of himself, Mrs. Fernandes, and her attorney:
Joanne Fernandes, Director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, her attorney, E. Frank Snellings, and Murphy Blackwell, attorney for the City of West Monroe, met Thursday afternoon. After a full review of the facts and merits of the matter, the City of West Monroe agreed to drop its charges, and Ms. Fernandes agreed that no lawsuits would be filed against the City of West Monroe. In addition Mr. Blackwell agreed to distribute copies of the Louisiana White Cane Law to the West Monroe Police Department for informational purposes. The Louisiana White Cane Law provides that the blind shall have the same right as the able bodied to the full and free use of the streets, public facilities, and other public places.
Ms. Fernandes stated at the meeting that there was no ill will towards the Police Department and that she appreciated the willingness of the City of West Monroe to resolve the matter amicably. She said she believed the West Monroe Police Department was enforcing the law as they knew it and that they acted in a responsible manner.
This statement was circulated widely to the media, and it admitted clearly that West Monroe officials recognized that the police had been in the wrong. The net effect of all this publicity has been positive. The students have learned first-hand that blind people are members of a minority group with all that the term implies. The police of West Monroe now know about the White Cane Law and will not soon allow themselves to assist in the oppression of responsible blind adults who wish only to do what all adults are permitted to. The public has learned about the Louisiana Center for the Blind and what it is doing to enable blind people to take their proper place in society. Those who were already supporters of LCB have closed ranks more solidly than ever, and new enthusiasts have come forward to be counted. In fact, one wealthy woman who has financed activities for blind youngsters for years in an effort to help them gain self-confidence read the first stories published about the arrests and grasped immediately that here were blind people with courage and purpose. She has contacted the Center to learn what she can do to help. On June 11 the chairman of The Monroe News-Star , in West Monroe, Louisiana, apparently responded to the West Monroe city fathers' anxiety that they would look foolish because of the way the police had treated the blind students. In his column he wrote a nasty little article lambasting the Center. It is a clear reminder that a little learning is a dangerous thing. The author grew up with blindness in his family. He explains that his mother eventually regained some of her sight and was then able to function routinely. There it is in a nut shell. Having been a child in a family including blind adults, the writer considers himself more of an expert on the capacity of trained blind people than a blind woman who has built and directed a rehabilitation center for blind adults. People will engage in astonishing intellectual gymnastics to protect their prejudices, and still some wonder why members of the National Federation of the Blind take every opportunity offered to demonstrate the truth of our contention that blind people have been denied and now deserve equal treatment. Here is the editorial:
Bar Incident No Boost for Blind
by Bodie McCrory
Oh, happy day.
We all can stop wringing our hands. No more guilt trips, wondering if our thoughts are pure about handicapped people, blind persons in particular.
Joanne Fernandes, director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, has stepped forward once again and saved the day. You read about Fernandes and three blind persons from the Ruston center being arrested Friday a week ago for a disturbance at a West Monroe bar.
Well, Friday of this week, the West Monroe police dropped the charges they didn't want to file in the first place, and Fernandes issued another statement, her third since the incident. She said she had distributed copies of the White Cane law to West Monroe police, and they had agreed to read it, and she agreed not to sue the city.
Again, oh, happy day.
See what can be accomplished when we reason together? For Fernandes to have involved blind people in a hassle in a bar over whether or not they had a right to find the bathroom by themselves is nothing short of asinine; nothing more than a push for publicity, a self-serving farce.
Was she actually concerned about the civil rights of the blind? Who was concerned about dignity? Or lack of it? Where did plain ol' common sense come into play?
I think the whole scam was demeaning as hell to blind people. Fernandes was quoted at the time of the arrest as saying, We don't want special privileges, and we don't want to be denied any rights either. We have the right to do things other sighted people can do.
Shouldn't a little respect for the dignity of the blind be considered? Where is the dignity (or reason) in loading up a bunch of blind people, white canes in hand, and hauling them 30 or so miles to a bar to demonstrate their rights to find their way to the bathroom? Then agitate until police are provoked into making arrests?
It's admirable that handicapped persons, including the blind, seek to become as independent as possible. But to take, and agitate for, the position that they don't need, or want, special attention, sorta turns me off.
To say that blind people are normal is about as absurd as...well, expecting a blind person to read this article. Or drive a vehicle from Ruston to Sugie's. I respect the rights of the blind as much as anyone including Fernandes and understand the problem better than most, maybe even Fernandes.
My grandfather was blind. My mother was blind, for a time. Poppa Broadus (from whence the name Brodie [and Bodie] was prostituted) was diabetic and lost his eyesight when he was somewhere in his 40s. He used a white cane for years, until he lost his leg and didn't need it any more. My mother (also diabetic) lost her eyesight when I was a little boy. After a period of time I don't remember how long she recovered some of her vision and could function routinely. No, I don't need Fernandes to tell me about blind people. Or their rights.
Maybe she needs to be told that blind people also can be reasonable and responsible. And that blind people can use a little help every now and then. And, that blind people can function with dignity. Now, we come to the guilt trip. About this civil rights thing.
I confess that I must have helped my mother and Grandpa thousands of times. But please understand, I was young and didn't know any better. I'm now afraid Fernandes will find out and come after me. I surely didn't intend to violate the civil rights of my dear mother and grandfather, and I realize ignorance of the law, according to Fernandes, is no excuse.
Maybe it will help if I reveal I never helped my mother or my grandfather to find the way to the bathroom. But, then again, we never hauled them around to bars, either. No, we're not talking civil rights here. We're talking about an understandable incident that was fanned into a self-serving confrontation at the expense, not for the benefit, of blind people.
Don't roll over, Grandpa. Everything's gonna be all right. Fernandes decided if we'll all read the White Cane law, she'll go away.
If she will do that, I'll read it twice.
This unprovoked attack was totally unexpected, and the LCB staff were shocked and perplexed at its ferocity. The LCB attorney, who has personal contacts in the political power structure of West Monroe, explained to Fernandes his theory that McCrory was simply trying to use his column to make West Monroe officials look less foolish. The attorney told her to leave it to him. He would put a stop to this gratuitous sniping at the Center. The final chapter of this adventure was published by the Monroe News-Star in its Letters to the Editor section on June 18. Here it is:
McCrory's Comments Were Unnecessary
The savage and self-serving article by Chairman McCrory on the director and students of the Louisiana Center for the Blind was very unnecessary. It not only was unkind, but you would think a man in his position could be more objective in his remarks. I've known Joanne Fernandes for a number of years, and I find her to be a dedicated, hardworking person whose goal is to educate and to enhance the lives of all the students at the Center; therefore, the adverse publicity and the editorial attacking her are not justified. This lady deserves an apology and a thank-you for the fine job she is doing.
By this time the dust has settled, but things in Ruston and Monroe, Louisiana, will never be quite the same again. Until there is a change in management, Sugie's will probably continue to be a hostile place for independent blind people, but the LCB students can surely find another place to dance. The students and staff who went to Sugie's on June 2, 1989, are certainly different people today because of the self-examination and soul-searching they did as a result of this experience. It seems clear that the public, as well, is more aware of the struggle that the blind are engaged in to win civil rights protection. It may seem a foolish exercise for those like Mr. McCrory who think they know that the blind are incapable of competence and adult conduct, but those with open minds and good intentions have been exposed to active blind people who are not afraid to stand up for their rights and who are gracious in victory. These confrontations (though never pleasant in the doing) are the very stuff of freedom. They strengthen all of us engaged in the struggle, and they prepare the public for our inevitable emergence as first-class citizens.
From the Associate Editor: Our opponents are inclined to dismiss the National Federation of the Blind as a bunch of type A over-achievers with half-baked notions about how the blind can compete on terms of equality if given an even break. When confronted with the evidence of ordinary blind people successfully living normal, productive lives, they mutter about our philosophy's being nonsense but the training we advocate being sound.
It is not clear how these apologists would explain away the crop of youngsters who are emerging now as products of the NFB's philosophy as expressed and lived by the members of the NFB's Parents of Blind Children Division. Informed and reinforced by the Federation, these parents are demanding that their children receive (often for the first time) appropriate and necessary instruction in Braille, keyboard skills, and cane travel. These parents are coming to understand that their children can live normal, fully productive lives if and only if they learn to believe in themselves and equip themselves with the skills they need to compete with their sighted peers. Two young men, products of the NFB philosophy so disdained by these experts, took part in a panel discussion during the parents' seminar preceding the 1989 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored jointly by the Parents of Blind Children Division and the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program. Their remarks are inspiring and highly instructive. As the mother of three sighted youngsters, the youngest of whom is older than these two teen-agers, I am tempted to ask whether most sighted teens could have written and presented talks as interesting, well-constructed, and inspiring as the two reprinted here. Most of us would agree that blindness, while it does not confer special powers, certainly does provide extraordinary opportunities for growth. The remarks that follow illustrate this point.
Dan Ryles, son of Ruby Ryles, First Vice President of the Parents of Blind Children Division, is fourteen. He is now a sophomore in high school. Here is what he had to say to parents of blind children when given a chance to tell it like it is. This was his first real public address, and he delivered it from a Braille text: G ood morning. My family moved to the Seattle area the summer before my eighth grade year. I was, and still am, the only blind kid in my school district, and the teachers and students had little or no experience with blind people before I enrolled. The kids' preconceptions about blindness, along with the normal junior high mentality, made the first semester exceptionally difficult. Not many people spoke to me or had much to do with me. Of course, there were those few who constantly hung around me wanting to know exactly how I did everything. I could live with that, but what hurt me were the times spent getting dressed and undressed for gym class in the locker room. Surely most of you remember what eighth grade locker room talk is like. Much of it is obscene and very cruel. My blindness seemed to make me the perfect target for insults and ridicule. I couldn't cry in front of the kids, but I did cry on occasion at home. Even my new girl friend had lots of negative attitudes, which were painful to me.
The science teacher took it upon himself to decide for me what assignments I could and could not do, never considering the possible adaptations I might make. I knew his attitudes were not good when on the first day of class he assumed I would need to tape his lectures instead of Brailling notes with my slate and stylus. Those were hard times, but my mom helped me through them with the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. She told me that the things the kids said weren't really true. Junior high kids will find something wrong with everyone, and they will greatly exaggerate it. My blindness was the most obvious characteristic they could see.
I have come a long way since then. The kids have gradually come to accept me. This last year (my ninth grade year) I took algebra, Spanish, chemistry, American history, English, and symphonic band. I would never have gotten to where I am today if my mom had not had the necessary reading and writing skills to teach me when everyone else was learning them in print. I also learned basic cane skills in first and second grade. That may seem early when compared to some kids' experience, but not as early as I should have been taught it. If I had had a cane in preschool, things would have been a lot easier. The earlier you teach a kid cane skills, the sooner he can travel independently.
Now I can travel as well as anyone and have a daily paper route, which brings in $120 a month. I do the route entirely on my own, including collections, for which I Braille the receipts. I was lucky. I had a mom who didn't over-protect me. I did, and still do, occasionally scrape a knee or bruise an elbow. I once even had stitches in my head, but that's just a natural part of growing up. It has nothing to do with my blindness. What is not natural is for blind kids to have reading and writing skills taught to them later than sighted kids. This may sound a little crude, but if you'll be as mean as my mom, your blind kid will be okay.
Darrell Shandrow, son of Betty Shandrow, President of the Parents of Blind Children Division of Arizona, is a junior in high school. He has taken public speaking, but speech class was never like this. Here is what he had to say:
Good morning everybody. I have congenital glaucoma. I lost my left eye when I was little, and I have very little usable vision in the other. I was also born deaf, but I have been able to hear since age five. My parents and the National Federation of the Blind are helping me to live independently. My parents felt that it was important that I learn cane travel and other orientation skills at an early age so that I would be independent. By doing so I have been able to participate in public service events and communicate using amateur radio for the last four years. My parents said that I could do anything I set my mind to. I was raised as a normal person who cannot see. I was not over-protected, and this is the major reason I can function normally.
My parents always felt that I should be allowed to function on the same grade level in school as that of the sighted. My mother took classes at the University of Arizona in Grade II Braille, Nemeth Code, abacus, structure and function of the eye, and daily living skills. With this knowledge my mother helped me learn how to read and write and to have a normal life. By tutoring me at home, she made sure that I was not held back. Due to my experiences with amateur radio, my parents felt that I was ready to use high-technology equipment. They got me an Apple II-E computer, an Echo III synthesizer, a printer, a Braille 'n' Speak, and computer software that is written for the blind. This technology makes things go much easier in school. I can take notes on the Braille 'n' Speak at school, and when I get home, I can send the notes to the computer, where they are printed and saved onto a disk.
The National Federation of the Blind has reinforced my independence. I can't help but get that feeling of independence when I'm around people like Jim Omvig, Norm and Bruce Gardner, Ruth Swenson, and the other Federationists. I feel that the NFB promotes independence in many ways. I feel that one of the major ways is through the national convention. It's great to be around so many independent blind people. I also feel that the Braille Monitor gives ideas of independence through its informative articles. This is the key to Federation philosophy. We must be independent to fight discrimination. We are the blind speaking for ourselves. That's what makes the National Federation of the Blind unique.
The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind has caused me to decide that I want to fight against discrimination. The National Federation of the Blind hired Richard Arbach and Ruth Swenson as my attorneys in my case against the Moranna School District to be allowed to attend public school. The case was settled in my favor, and the Moranna School District pays for transportation and tuition for me to attend Pallaverty High School in the Tucson Unified School District. I am now a junior and have a 4.0 grade point average. I would like to thank Ruth Swenson, Richard Arbach, and the National Federation of the Blind for helping me to get into public school. Now I have a famous quote from the Braille Monitor that I feel goes along with what I've said about the Federation, and I'm sure you can guess which one it is. It's in the front, I guess on the masthead. It goes like this: The National Federation of the Blind is not an organization speaking for the blind it is the blind speaking for themselves, and that's it for me. Thank you.
by Homer Page
Homer Page, First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and a long-time Federation leader, took part during the Saturday morning session of the 1989 convention in a panel discussion entitled The Blind at Work. Eileen Rivera's remarks from that program item are reprinted elsewhere in this issue. Homer Page served for a number of years as a member of the Boulder City Council, and was elected in 1986. as Deputy Mayor of Boulder. Earlier this year he resigned his position as Director of the Office of Services to Disabled Students at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He had just been elected County Commissioner and could not hold down two full-time positions simultaneously. He continues, however, as a member of the faculty of the School of Education at the University, teaching occasional courses. Here are the remarks he made at the forty-ninth annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
Good morning, Federationists. I come before you this morning as a working politician, which leads me into a story about a working politician that I heard the other day. It seems that a loyal supporter of one of my colleagues came to him and said: Sir, I need to tell you about a problem you've got. There's a fellow up in the northern part of the county who is going around telling a lot of lies about you. So the politician said: Well, I appreciate that a lot. Your support means a lot to me. But I've got a priority I've got to take care of. There's a fellow down there in the southern part of the county who's telling the truth about me.
Dr. Jernigan said earlier at a meeting at this convention, Don't apologize and don't brag just tell it like it is. And I think maybe that's how it is. We'll see.
On January 10, 1989, my life really underwent a significant change. For on that day I was sworn in as a Boulder County Commissioner. In part, my remarks to Diane McGeorge and the students of the Colorado Center for the Blind and other Federationists at the time were these: This office is at least in part yours. And I want to make that same statement to you because over the years you have supported me with funds; with your work; and, more importantly, with your faith; and with your encouragement. For that I will always be grateful. I never really thought about running for the office of County Commissioner. I had a job that I enjoyed. I was Deputy Mayor in the city of Boulder. But one day in April of 1988, I started receiving phone calls first from a County Commissioner; then from the District Attorney; then from the chair of the Boulder County Democratic Party; and, finally, from another Commissioner. All of them asked me if I would consider running for the seat of County Commissioner. The task which I was asked to take on was a difficult one. It involved overturning a seated County Commissioner, who was popular, had not made any mistakes, and was going to have the support of most of the major newspapers in the County.
Marcie and I walked and talked and thought about it, and we decided that it was worth a try that in fact, if we were to be able to move into a full-time political commitment, this was the best time, and this was the right office. So I ran. It was a hard race. I did not have the support of the newspapers. They went with the incumbent. However, I did have the support of the news coverage. And the reason that I had that support was that I was able to shape the coverage of the news. News comes from two places: first, it comes from interviews with the candidates written by the reporters, and second, it comes from the speeches and appearances that the candidates make. Throughout the campaign I was able to set the tone, define the issues, and shape the news coverage in a way that I thought would help me win; and it did. It is more important to shape the news than it is to get the editorial endorsements of the news media. On January 10 I took office. There were a number of issues that concerned both the general public and staff of the county. One of the issues involved reading getting access to large amounts of material and covering it. I have used readers and a lot of Braille. We have in Boulder what we call the Computer Braille Center, which is run by a good Federationist, Priscilla Simmons. And we've kept Priscilla very busy. I also have an Artic Vision program which gives me access to all internal memos produced by the county. We have to keep up with four major daily newspapers and four weeklies that cover the news in Boulder County. So there's a lot to do. But that hasn't been a major problem. Each Commissioner also has access to an automobile. We need it because we have to travel extensively throughout the County. The County involves 750 square miles ranging from the Continental Divide far out onto the plains in the eastern part of the state. I contracted with the local cab company instead of having a driver. We found it to be much more efficient. As a matter of fact, the question was raised in the local newspaper about these things. Would it cost more to employ a blind person in the position of Commissioner? My response to them was clear and, I think, correct. From an economic position, the citizens of Boulder County would be much better off if all the Commissioners were blind.
So what is a Commissioner, and what is the job that a Commissioner has to do? Well, we have over a thousand employees and a budget of 75 million dollars. I'm responsible for overseeing that budget and, through those whom I supervise, supervising those one thousand employees. We also meet two days a week in public hearings, considering everything from land use to building subdivisions, from paving roads to issuing fireworks permits on the 4th of July. The County Administration includes the Social Services Department and the Health Department. It administers the JPTA and Headstart programs. We are responsible for all the roads in the county. We administer the jail and the sheriff's office. The District Attorney's office is a part of county government as is the County Clerk's office, which deals with all deeds, marriages, auto licenses, drivers licenses, voting and voter registration. It really is a major operation. We must perform what I think is probably a very difficult task to run a county government: not only to make policy, but to direct employees to administer the county government by consensus.
There are three members of the Board of Commissioners, and it takes two votes to get anything done. But in fact, if you don't find a way to work together, it really does get very difficult. Boulder County is made up of some 225,000 people. The assessed value of property in the county is three billion dollars. The major industry there is the University of Colorado and related scientific research facilities. There are a major IBM installation and many other high tech facilities, including biotechnology. We are concerned with the continuing economic health of the county and must be involved throughout the county to ensure that it actually takes place. Over the next three years (and perhaps longer) I need to be concerned, as a working politician, about the next step. What happens? For in politics you really need to move, or you go backward. A few months ago there was some concern about who would run for Senate on the Democratic side next year.
There was some talk that Congressman David Skaggs, who appeared here earlier, might run. Congressman Skaggs is the Representative in my district. One of the things that we needed to consider was whether or not to make a run for that seat if he in fact did relinquish it to run for the Senate. Politics is a game of chance and opportunity and being in the right place at the right time. I enjoy very much being a County Commissioner, and I may be a County Commissioner only one term or the rest of my life. But if the opportunity comes for higher office, I will take it. There's something about being blind and being in the political arena that I think is important. Political people are leaders. They're recognized as leaders in their communities and in their states, and sometimes it's hard for members of the general public to acknowledge that a blind person is capable of being their leader. Such an idea runs counter to the stereotypes. This fact will always be there, and people will always raise questions. There was a letter to the editor in the local paper, The Boulder Camera, a few months ago, some three months after I had taken office. The letter said something like this: I am really embarrassed by the voters of Boulder County. They have elected an assessor who was just arrested for being in a fight, a sheriff who got drunk and got into a fight, and a District Attorney that lets people off when they should be sent to jail.
Now they have elected a blind man who couldn't possibly keep up with the reading. I am really embarrassed by the voters of Boulder County. Well, a good friend of mine wrote a strong and wonderful letter in response to that one I did not solicit but that I did appreciate. The point is this. That kind of letter and those kinds of feelings are going to be expressed. Now what I really believe is that my opposition generated that letter to discredit me because they thought that I would be vulnerable along those lines. My public remark was: To show you how incompetent that campaign really was, they waited until four months after the election to engage in dirty politics. But the truth is that it hurt. I've worked ten years in the public arena to demonstrate that as a blind person I really can do the work. I was elected to the City Council of Boulder, for which candidates run at large. The first time I was the second highest vote-getter. When I ran for re-election, I was the top vote-getter, and in 1988 when I ran for County Commissioner, I overturned a popular incumbent by over 3,500 votes. Yet there are people out there who will write that kind of letter. What one learns in the public arena is that no matter how successful you are or how much you demonstrate that you can do it, for some people you're still just a blind man. That is an important lesson to learn, to hold close, because really what it means is that no matter how much you try to escape from being identified as blind, you can't. But then who would want to? It is the solidarity I feel with you that allows me to let those kinds of letters and comments roll off my back like water off a duck. On the other hand, I keep winning, so there must be some people out there who believe in me. And if they believe in me, they'll believe in you. And that's what it's all about. Thank you very much.
On Friday morning, July 7, the 1989 convention agenda included an important series of items, all concerning Social Security programs of interest to the blind. The following is the entire portion of the morning session which was devoted to Social Security.
by James Gashel
President Maurer. The next item on our program this morning is an important one. Very often this law is misunderstood. Because of this portion of the law, blind people may have careers and develop opportunities that we didn't expect we would be able to, and if we know about it we'll be able to do even more. The next item is Social Security: Plans for Work Incentives and Rehabilitation. To present this item on the program is James Gashel, the Director of Governmental Affairs of the National Federation of the Blind. Before I put him on, let me say that I believe that Mr. Gashel knows as much about the provisions of the Social Security laws dealing with blindness as anybody in the country, and I think that we have made the progress that we have because of the knowledge of these provisions and care in applying them that he and we have together garnered in this organization. So here to talk about work incentive plans is James Gashel.
Mr. Gashel. Thank you, Mr. President, and good morning, fellow Federationists. We have a song in the National Federation of the Blind don't worry, I'm not going to sing it I'm going to say it, or at least, part of it. It says: I've been working in a workshop/All the live-long day/And with the wages that they pay me/It's just to pass my time away/And when I ask about more money/ They give me the big lie/We'd like to give you lots of raises/But you'd lose your SSI.
Many thousands of blind people have been told exactly that, and many have believed it. All too many still believe it. We'd like to give you lots of raises, but you'd lose your SSI. Well, this is the big lie more often than it is not. Today we're going to try to dispel that myth at least a little bit. The problem is that all too many blind people have been taken in by the big lie, and they fail to increase their income as a result of believing it. We've said at this convention that as many as 70 percent of the employable blind population is either unemployed or under-employed. Congressman Brown is going to speak next, and I want to be sure he hears that, that as many as 70 percent we're not talking 7 percent or 5 percent or whatever the current unemployment rate is in America for all citizens but 70 percent of the employable blind population is either unemployed or substantially under- employed.
That is a tragedy. That's a national tragedy. We seem to care an awful lot about it, but the rest of the country doesn't in many cases. Certainly part of the reason for that high unemployment rate among the blind is job discrimination. There's no question about it: discrimination is a factor. But the Social Security programs themselves (and even more particularly the way those programs are administered) are also a big part of the reason why that 70 percent of the employable blind population is either unemployed or under-employed.
Let me begin this discussion by giving you an example of how the Social Security programs themselves contribute to the under-employment of blind people. At this convention one example comes to mind. I talked to a man from Mississippi, and I'll just outline the situation. He said to me something like this: You know, I just got a notice from Social Security, and they tell me I owe them $232 back. And the reason is that I worked some overtime, and they say that I owe them a month of disability benefits. So I guess I'm going to have to pay them back. Well, I told him how he could probably avoid paying them back. But think about it. The notice he received was for him nothing but punitive. He was trying to better himself by working overtime. He was trying to make more money. And what did he end up doing but losing? Because he got a notice from the Social Security Administration that said: You owe us $232 back. Now he's going to have to pay it, unless we help him so he won't. Now here's how a situation like that could be remedied. He said to me: I went down to the Social Security office, and they said there really wasn't any alternative. I'm just going to have to pay the money back. I think that this case should have been handled in an entirely different way, and I'd like to tell you why. I think it illustrates what we as a Federation can do, and what often the Social Security Administration just does not do. I said: All right. Tell me about your income situation. So we figured it out. He makes $713 a month gross pay in a sheltered workshop. That's not a very princely sum, but it will at least enable a person in that situation to continue eligibility for Social Security disability benefits since the amount you can earn is $740 a month. The gentleman in question earned $713 a month. His disability benefit is $232 a month, so that makes his combined income before taxes $945 a month. The Social Security Administration sends him a letter just because he went over one month saying they want $232 back. I think that's punitive, and I think that's wrong. And furthermore, I think the law agrees with me.
I said to him this: Have you considered the fact that you really could work more and earn more and still receive at least some of the benefits you now receive without having to pay the Social Security Administration back? He said: How could that be? I said: Let's take a simple example. Let's say that instead of earning $713 a month in a sheltered workshop, you increased your work activity and earned $900 a month. Would you lose all of the benefits you now receive? He said: Well, of course! If they said I was overpaid when I earned just a little more than $713, then I'd really be overpaid. I said: Not so. Consider this:
Many people in a situation such as we're discussing here could, rather than receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, shift over and receive Supplemental Security Income. In a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program the earnings limits are not so severe, and that's especially the case with respect to blind people.
What would the situation be with an income of $900 a month? Remember, we're talking about a state that does not supplement the SSI Program. It's a state where the maximum that you can receive on SSI is the federal payment amount. Let's just take as an example a single individual. The SSI payment would be $368. Let's say the gentleman earned $900 rather than $713. The net effect is that he will still be eligible (considering the deduction of all his work expenses) for $217 in an SSI benefit. Not quite as much as his disability benefit, but look at his combined income now. It is not $945, but $1117. That's a considerable improvement. He increased his work activity, shifted over from the Disability Insurance Program to the SSI program, rather than getting Medicare he now gets Medicaid as a means of covering his health insurance, he didn't lose all of his benefits, and his income is considerably higher than it was before.
Just think of that example and the contrast. When the gentleman in question went to the Social Security Office, he was simply told he'd earned too much money and now had to pay some of it back. But when he came to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind, he learned that he could earn more money and not have to pay any of it back.
That's only the beginning. If he had lived in California, he could earn a lot more money and not have to pay any of it back. California is a state that supplements the SSI program to a very great extent.
I recently attended a conference sponsored by the Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C. The people there from the Baltimore headquarters of the Social Security Administration were struggling with the problem of how to get people to take more advantage of work incentives. I listened to this discussion for a while but finally decided I had something to contribute. I said to some of the people: Think about what really motivates people. Why do they ever contact the Social Security Office at all? There's one word that I can think of; it's money. That's the only reason to contact Social Security. You certainly don't want to get a hold of the government for too much of anything else. But if you can get money, you'll make the call and try to figure it out. If the Social Security Administration really wants people to take advantage of work incentives, what they really ought to do is what's been done at this convention. Teach people how to use the work incentives so they can earn more money. That we can do, and that we know how to do. How many of you have ever received a letter from the Social Security Administration that said: You've earned too much money, and now you've got to pay us back? Say aye. [Loud affirmative from audience] How many of you have ever received a letter from the Social Security Administration that said: We've been looking at your income situation and your work potential, and we have some ideas about how you can earn more money? Please say aye. [jeers] I'll tell you, I don't think you're going to get very many of those letters, but I think we could reverse that by reordering our thinking about work incentives. The Social Security laws and the SSI laws truly provide opportunities if we know how they work. I've only given you one example with the gentleman from Mississippi. We can truly give blind people opportunities to earn more money and not have to pay back.
We in the National Federation of the Blind spend a lot of our resources, as you heard yesterday in the Presidential Report, trying to help people who get these letters that say: You've earned too much money. You now owe us $31,000. Please put your check in the enclosed envelope, and send it back to us in the next thirty days. That's punitive! That's not the way to encourage blind people to work, and it causes the National Federation of the Blind to go to the Social Security Administration, make appeals, get those payments waived, or prove that there never were over-payments at all. How much better it would be if we could combine our resources with the Social Security Administration and, given proper funding of such a program, grant blind people the opportunity truly to earn more money and benefit from the work incentive. We can do that, but making it happen is a two-way street.
Now I have a few comments on rehabilitation. The current Social Security Law says that to obtain rehabilitation services if you're a Disability Insurance or an SSI recipient, you've got to use the state vocational rehabilitation agency. I understand what that means. It means that there is still a 70 percent under-employment or unemployment rate among the blind. We know what the Social Security Administration has just begun to learn that the exclusive use of the state vocational rehabilitation system (especially in the case of blind people) simply does not work. The rehabilitation system doesn't want to work for them. We have proposed an alternative in the form of H.R. 855, introduced by Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee. Once again it is the National Federation of the Blind that is on the cutting edge of change, making people challenge old ideas and old ways of doing things, and thinking about new ways of doing things. The provisions of H.R. 855 would still allow the use of state vocational rehabilitation agencies for blind people if anybody still wants to use them. However, the provisions of H.R. 855 would also allow any blind person who received Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income to choose, design, and pursue their own rehabilitation programs through agencies that they, not the government, select. We don't take college students and tell them where they have to go to college in order to get their student loans or student financial aid. We don't tell Medicaid patients which doctor to go to, just that it be a doctor who is a Medicaid participant. We don't take people on Medicare and tell them they can't go to certain doctors. You choose your doctor, and he bills Medicare. Why not let blind people obtain their rehabilitation from the agencies they choose, not the ones the government chooses?
The Social Security Administration is waking up to the fact that that might actually be a good idea. We had a session at last year's convention which truly tells the story. We had the Colorado Center, the New Mexico Center, the Louisiana Center, and the Minnesota Center all presenting the kinds of programs and opportunities that we, blind people working with and for ourselves, can make available to each other. The programs of those centers are true landmarks of success for the rehabilitation of blind people. They prove that when the system will not work for us, we can create a system and make it work for ourselves.
Once again, as in the case of work incentives, it's time that the National Federation of the Blind and the Social Security Administration get together. There's no point in our fighting each other over the idea of whether or not we should use state vocational rehabilitation agencies exclusively. We agree that we should not. Now we should get on with the future and truly provide a rehabilitation system that will put blind people to work and end this seventy percent employment rate that we have. Just think about it! With the work incentive counseling that we know how to do under Social Security without much change in its laws, and with the techniques and the knowledge and particularly the philosophy that we have in rehabilitation, there isn't any reason why a concerted effort by the National Federation of the Blind working in concert rather than in competition with the Social Security Administration cannot put an end to that seventy percent unemployment rate. Thank you very much.
by Congressman Hank Brown
President Maurer. The next item on the program is called What Lies Ahead in Legislation for the Blind: A Republican Leader's Perspective on Social Security, Work Incentives, and Rehabilitation. To present this item is the Honorable Hank Brown, who is the ranking minority member on the Subcommittee on Social Security of the Committee on Ways and Means in the United States House of Representatives. Congressman Hank Brown is from Colorado, and he has been a good friend. I would like now to welcome Congressman Hank Brown. Congressman Brown. Marc, we are proud as Coloradans to have the National Federation of the Blind come to this state to share this convention with our citizens in the great city of Denver. We are proud, not just because you have chosen us, but because of the mission you perform and what you do for countless citizens around this nation. You not only lobby for laws, you not only help each other, you not only speak out for the blind in this nation, but you provide an inspiring example of what men and women can do when they work together in a common cause, of how they can help themselves, and of how they can work and fight for a brighter world. So it's a particular pleasure for all of us in Colorado to have you join us.
We have been astounded, I think, as a nation in the last few years by the incredible changes that appear to be taking place in the Soviet Union and, until the last few weeks, even in the People's Republic of China. What's incredible to us, I think, has been the shifting away from the socialism and the centrally planned economies that so dominated their thinking in past years. But when you think about it, those changes are only logical. I want to share with you a perspective on that because I think it relates not only to their experience but to ours. The fact is that the Soviet Union and China are changing, not because they didn't believe in the government-dominated, centrally planned economy, and not because they weren't dedicated Marxists. They certainly were. They're changing because what they have done doesn't work. They believed in it, but they found it to be a failure. There's a lesson in that. One looks out from mainland China at the island of Taiwan, where the same people live Chinese people with the same background, the same ethnic origin, the same race, similar creeds (not exactly the same). But there's a difference.
The difference is that the Chinese in Taiwan have fewer resources and a denser population, and yet they produce eleven times as much as do the Chinese of mainland China. The same people, the same language, the same culture, the same background, with fewer resources and less land produce eleven times as much per capita. The difference is freedom. The difference is incentive. The difference is a reward. The difference is allowing them to keep a fair share of what they produce. Taiwan is not perfect, but what is astounding is the difference that can come about where there is an incentive. Incidentally, the Chinese who live in Hong Kong produce forty times as much as the Chinese who live in mainland China: an incredible difference in the human productivity that can come from a free and open society and real incentives to work and produce and create. It can astound even the most violent critic; it can even change a Marxist into someone who understands the need for freedom. That's the lesson that has occurred in the latter half of this century.
We see the Soviet Union changing. The fact is that two years ago, one hundred and twenty-five million Japanese were producing more goods and services than two hundred and eight-five million Russians. The Japanese live on a set of rocky islands in the northern Pacific with no resources (or almost none); the Soviet Union enjoys more resources, more than two-and-a-half times as many people, and has more resources than any country in the world. The difference is freedom, and the difference is incentive.
Now why should we talk about those examples here this morning? I think we need to talk about them because we need to understand what makes America strong. We are a strong country, not because of our resources (although we are blessed). We are a strong country, not because of one ethnic group or another, but because we are a mixture and proud of it. We are a strong country because Americans have done one thing better than anyone else. Because we have believed in economic and political freedom, we have been given a system that provides incentive and creativity, where we have allowed people to keep a fair share of what they produce. Our secret is a belief in the creativity of the individual and often a willingness to let people keep a fair share of what they produce. I mention that because I think there's something terribly wrong, terribly wrong with federal programs. You've talked about it this morning. James, I thought, did a beautiful job of pointing out some of the problems that have existed in our Social Security programs and others. The Earnings Test (or, as I believe it should be called, the Earnings Penalty) is just plain wrong.
It's not just bad policy; it is bad philosophy. We need to give people rewards and incentives for making this country stronger and more productive and more creative. A mentality that says we're going to take it all away from you if you produce and create is not the kind of mentality that ought to run this nation. America can be at the start of the greatest economic contribution of any nation in history, but whether we are at the start or the end depends on us. It depends on whether we build back into the system those incentives that call for a stronger, more creative America.
What can we do? The Earnings Penalty levied under the disability program and on those over sixty-five should be repealed. The Penalty should be eliminated. It was passed during the thirties when we had large unemployment, and the folks who put that into the statute were not evil people, but they didn't understand. They didn't understand human nature, and they didn't respect the creativity that I think is so important for our country. We've fought a constant battle in Congress to try to eliminate this penalty. I've introduced legislation to eliminate the Earnings Test. I've introduced legislation to dilute it. Two weeks ago we won an amendment that increased the limit before the penalty begins to apply. So the good news is that by 1991, under the Disability Insurance Program and for those over sixty-five, you will be allowed to earn $10,440 rather than the $8,880 you can earn right now. That's not enough. That's not far enough. That still keeps the same sick idea in the law. It should be repealed, and it should be repealed in its entirety. I want to tell you one thing because I believe it. People who favor the Earnings Penalty keep coming up with estimates of how much it is going to cost. I don't think it is going to cost anything. I think it is going to help this nation, not harm it. I think it will improve the treasury, not dilute it. Let me tell you why. As you encourage more work, every dollar that is earned pays income tax, it pays state income tax, it pays Social Security tax. Every dollar that comes in pays tax dollars as well. When you get the marginal tax rate to the 94, 95, or 96 percent bracket, which is what happens with the Earnings Penalty in Colorado (and in some states that marginal tax rate goes above one hundred percent), when you do that you simply discourage people from being productive and creative and make this economy worse off, not stronger.
Secondly, we need to take a new look at the SSI test. The fifty percent marginal rate (that is, the fifty cents of every dollar that is above the limit) is simply not the right ratio. It needs to be dramatically changed so that we can build a real incentive into the system. Thirdly, with regard to vocational rehabilitation, you spelled that out clearly. We need to develop options that give you options for the best training, the best vocational education, options that will develop programs that are valuable to you, and ones that you can use. The purpose of those programs has to be to provide greater opportunity to you in this country, not to force you into a program that you may or may not like. So the bottom line (and I believe the message of this convention and the message for Congress in the coming year) is to build in options and opportunities and incentives. The factors of human creativity that made America great can make us survive and thrive in the years to come. But it will only come about if you take the time to speak out and stay involved. I salute that involvement. Thank you for having me here today.
President Maurer. Thank you very much for coming and talking with us this morning. Congressman, you speak our language.
by Rhoda Davis
President Maurer. The Social Security system is important to the blind. We have heard from Jim Gashel, who is our Director of Governmental Affairs. We have also heard from the Congress of the United States. We have a third element this morning. To discuss that, we have with us Rhoda Davis, who is Associate Commissioner of Supplemental Security Income of the Social Security Administration. The title of her remarks is Supplemental Security Income: The Current Program and Plans for the Future. Therefore, we have heard from the blind, from Congress, and now from the Social Security Administration. Here is the Associate Commissioner for Supplemental Security Income, Rhoda Davis.
Mrs. Davis. Good Morning President Maurer, Dr. Jernigan, Jim Gashel, Congressman Brown, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for having me at your national convention. I think that the Social Security Administration's presence at your meeting every year is a good sign of our working relationship. It says that we have a good working relationship, even though there are bumps along the way. It says that we have mutual respect, and President Maurer was quite right when he talked about Jim Gashel's knowledge of Social Security programs and his ability to know all of the details that are so important. I do enjoy working with him. I am especially pleased to be here at your convention because your turn-out is so impressive, and I hope that a lot of you will be interested in what we have to say this morning about the Supplemental Security Income program. In my remarks I will focus on the Supplemental Security Income program today, what it does and doesn't do, and how the Social Security Administration is working to improve access to the program, as well as what I see us doing in the near future.
Let's start out with the basics of SSI. Many of you know these, but I want to say them out loud again this morning just in case some of you have questions and just in case some of you know somebody who might be eligible who hasn't applied. Let's look at these basic rules. You have to either be blind, disabled, or over sixty-five. You have to have limited income. You have to have limited resources. You have to be a citizen, a lawful alien, or a legally admitted alien under certain rules, and reside in the United States. You have to apply for other benefits to which you may be entitled, for example Social Security insurance benefits. These are the five basic requirements. They have not changed since the program began in 1974, but a lot of things have changed about the program. The benefits are higher, and how much you can have in the way of income and resources has changed a lot. The law also says that states can supplement the SSI program. This makes it kind of a unique program in which money paid out by Social Security is sometimes both federal and state money. Now almost all of the states supplement (some not very generously, but almost all do). Some states have Social Security pay the supplement in the same check with the SSI benefit, some make you apply separately to the state, some pay everyone who qualifies for a federal benefit, and some pay limited groups of people. There is a lot of variation in what the states do. In getting ready to speak to you, I noticed particularly differences in how they deal with the blind. For example, in Connecticut they pay a supplement for blind children. They do not pay a supplement for other disabled children. In Florida they pay a benefit for disabled children who are in long term care residential programs, but they do not pay a benefit to blind children. So the states go about the business of supplementing SSI in a lot of different ways. That's America for you, and that's state's rights for you.
The problem it causes us is that it gets very hard to tell you exactly what amount of money you can get in your state and exactly how much income you can have in a state before you don't get any SSI. It makes it hard to answer a very simple question:
How much SSI can I get? In 1989 if you have no income that we would count against your benefit, the federal amount of SSI, as Jim mentioned, is $368.00 but remember now that in most states it can be more for at least certain groups of people.
I want to talk for a minute about the income rules because it is important to remember how complicated they are in one sense. In another, though, the idea of the income rules is very simple, and Congressman Brown alluded to this. If you have earnings (that is, money from work), these are treated more favorably than other money that you might have coming in each month. Right now for each two dollars earned, one dollar of SSI is reduced. If you get a Social Security benefit, for each dollar of Social Security, one dollar of SSI is reduced. So earnings are treated more favorably. But it is important to remember that not all earnings count, and that most blind people who are working can deduct things from their income before that money counts to reduce SSI. There's a session on your agenda this afternoon that is a workshop at which there will be Social Security people to explain how you can deduct your work expenses from your income so that they don't count against your SSI. If you don't know about those provisions in detail, I urge you to sit in with us this afternoon from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. We also count property you own; we call it resources. Like income, it is a simple idea, but I want to make sure that everybody knows that we don't count everything you own. The limit is two thousand dollars, but we don't count the house you live in, we don't count the vehicle you use for essential transportation, we don't count most personal and household effects, we don't count money you have set aside for a burial fund up to a certain limit, we don't count some life insurance, and lots and lots of other things. Well, why am I reviewing all of these rules with you? To make the point that people who don't know that they are eligible might be. There are lots of twists and turns to the resources and income levels. For those people who feel that they don't have enough income and they don't have enough resources, I would hope that they talk to Social Security about whether they could get on SSI. The National Federation does a great job in making sure that blind people know about SSI. So I may be preaching here to the converted, but we do know that there are a lot of folks out in this country be they blind, disabled, or over sixty-five who could be eligible if they would only come in and apply. Social Security is hoping that by working with organizations like the National Federation, we can get the word out. Each of you who leaves this convention this week I would hope will help us to get the word out to your friends, family, and neighbors who might be eligible but who just haven't inquired.
I also want to talk about all the income and resource rules because we want to make sure that people who are eligible and who are working (or trying to work) do know the kinds of things that Jim Gashel was talking about. We do want people to take advantage of the work incentives in the law. I would hope that when the next Social Security representative speaks to your convention next year, a lot of you will answer yes to Jim's second question about hearing from Social Security about how you can work and what we can do for you. So I accept your challenge, Jim, and we will be looking forward to getting that message out too.
It is a two-way street in terms of the problems that arise. We don't like to deal with people's over-payments any more than the National Federation likes to find itself in the middle of dealing with people's over-payment problems. So I would say to you: while we do want to reach out, and we will do everything we can to make sure that you know about work incentives, we want you to reach back to us and make sure you tell us when you are working, and how much you are making. And when those amounts change, tell us promptly. When you do, we can make sure that your benefit record is correctly representing what you are earning, so tell us and we'll tell you.
Let me make another important point about SSI that those of you who know the program know well. This is important too. Those of you who don't get SSI and may be eligible, and those of you who know someone who might be eligible: sometimes people say that it isn't worth talking to those people at Social Security because I know all I will get is ten or fifteen dollars. Well, that may be so. Maybe all you will get is a dollar. In most states, though, if you get a dollar of SSI from the Social Security Administration, you will also be eligible for Medicaid. That makes that one dollar of SSI very valuable, and we want to be sure that folks know that. For people who work and get SSI, there is a very good provision in the law now that says that even if your income makes it impossible for you to get the SSI benefit because you have too much earnings, you can still get Medicaid as long as you are working. So it is important to know that when your earnings get too high to receive the SSI check, you can get and still will have Medicaid protection. That provision is awfully hard to remember. It is known by its law reference 1619-B. That's how you know I am a bureaucrat when I talk in numbers like that (Section 1619-B of the law). So if you have a question about whether you can keep your Medicaid when you work, you call Social Security and ask them to explain to you how this provision will work for you to keep your Medicaid under Section 1619-B. In order to do what Jim invited us to do and get our message out, we're talking to a lot of organizations. We were very pleased that Jim was at our kick-off meeting last month in Washington, in which we talked about working together to get the message out about how SSI can be a safeguard for persons when they can't work and a springboard to work when they can.
Let me tell you a few facts which will also let you know that I am a real bureaucrat. In 1989 about five million people will get SSI checks some time during the year. This number is growing every year. While the number of people who get a benefit because they are over sixty-five stays about the same, the number of people who get benefits specifically because they are disabled or blind continues to increase. The number of people who are getting benefits because they are meeting the definition of blindness in the law has grown less than that of those who are disabled. In 1978 there were 77,135 people. In 1988 there were 82,864. Also, if you don't know too much about SSI, it's important to know that a lot of people get both SSI and Social Security benefits. In fact, about forty percent of those people who get SSI because they are blind also get a Social Security benefit. Let's talk about how many people get SSI and still work. That's a small number. Right now it is about seven percent. Seven percent of the 82,000 or so people who get SSI because they are blind are working at any one time. It is better than the general disabled group, but we would hope that more and more people will be willing to try work and that the seventy percent unemployment rate that Jim referred to will go down and our number of people who are working will go up. Clearly we have a lot to do to help you as you try to get into work. Again, a little plug for our workshop this afternoon to tell you more about how those work incentives work in detail and let you ask questions about your situation or cases that you might know about.
Another way that Social Security is helping people to work is to fund demonstration projects. Jim and Congressman Brown referred to the need to change the law. The law has to be changed before we can reimburse private V.R. providers other than states, but we can do some things under current law to fund demonstration projects, to try different ways of getting rehabilitation services available to people. We have been doing that for the last two years. In fact, the Louisiana Center for the Blind has one of those demonstration grants. They are looking at ways of educating employers and providing technological assistance to the blind to secure jobs that would otherwise not have been available to people who are blind or visually impaired. I recently read their first annual report, and they seem to be coming along very nicely with a number of job placements. That's true for a lot of our demonstration projects, and as they wind up their second year, I think we will have lots of documentation for Congress to consider as they look at this legislation to change the way Social Security can fund V.R. programs.
What about the future? Well, I would not be the one to predict what is going to happen to legislation. There is a package of legislation that the Congressman alluded to, a very interesting package of changes with respect to SSI. Almost all of them deal with the how's and the why's of income and resource measuring. But with or without legislation, we are committed to doing more to help people learn about the program. Going beyond that, making it easier to do business with Social Security offices, we will continue to be there.
We are planning ways of making it easier to deal with us on the telephone. We continue to invite you to deal with us through the mail. We will still be there in person in the local Social Security offices. If you want to visit a Social Security office, we hope that you will call ahead and get an appointment. With our appointment system, we hope that you will get prompt service without long waits. Finally and this is hard for everybody whether they are offering Social Security benefits or manufacturing anything is the question of giving you quality when you deal with us whether it's on the phone or in person or by mail. The quality of our service, we know, must meet the highest standards. As always, we continue to do what we can to make sure that our personnel who answer your questions and take your claims give you the best possible service.
Here's something really boring. Ready? In my office and in a lot of our central offices that deal with other parts of Social Security programs, we have been rewriting the manuals that the people in the local offices refer to when they answer your questions. Boring. Thousands and thousands of pages of instructions. Why should you care? You should care because we said to ourselves: Boy, that manual is poorly written, and if it is poorly written, those people in the local offices can't answer questions right. So we have spent a lot of time giving them the materials that will help them make sure they give you the right answers. It sounds like a little thing, but I assure you that it is a big, big job; but we hope it will go a long, long way to making quality better. Likewise, we are doing a lot to make sure that our automated system can get answers quickly for the people in our local offices and get claims processed quickly. So the future I see for us at the Social Security Administration whether it is SSI or Disability Insurance or Retirement or Survivor's Benefits that future I summarize by saying: service service to those who could get benefits but don't now, service to those who are trying to work and understand what the law can do for them, and service to all who inquire or get benefits in whatever way best meets their needs. We look forward to working together with you, our customers, as we work on ways to achieve this service. My hope for next year, as I have said, is that you will answer yes to Jim Gashel's second question. Thank you.
President Maurer. I want to thank you for coming and talking to us, and I would invite you to take a microphone at the table along with Jim Gashel. I should say that the Associate Commissioner for Supplementary Security Income has worked in the Social Security Administration in local offices as well as in district offices and consequently knows first-hand some of the things that happen in those offices and can speak from some personal experience about the questions and frustrations in dealing with the people in those offices. I should also say to you that when you say rewriting the manual seems to be a little thing, we know that it is in fact not a little thing, but a big thing. We know because we very often run into misunderstandings about what is available to blind people. From time to time we have assisted by offering to write a document which has been distributed to those very Social Security offices so that some of the perspective on the Social Security law may be transmitted in language that can be understood. Therefore we think it is a good thing to rewrite it, and if you'd be of a mind to have us do so, we would be interested in looking at the provisions dealing with blindness to give assistance there.
We have time for some questions.
Jim Omvig. I first want to make several comments in the nature of a speech, as information for our members, and then I have a question for Rhoda. For those of you who are talking with your Congressmen and Senators about sponsoring the National Federation of the Blind's proposal to let blind people collect quality rehabilitation services wherever they can find them, you ought to know these things. By the way, I don't know what kind of official position Social Security is taking on that issue, but these things happened when I was at Social Security. As you know, in the old days Social Security, wanting to help rehabilitate people for two purposes to get people back to work and to productive lives and also to reduce the insurance or SSI payments got into the rehab program, and that was a fine thing to do. We paid the states money up front in order to use that money for rehabilitating SSA recipients.
In 1980, however, three or four things changed, such as paying after the fact. I say all of this as background, because when you talk to your Senators and Congressmen, you should know this. When Social Security did a survey to find out what percentage of the people whose cases were closed as rehabilitated with Social Security funds really had gone to work and were therefore no longer receiving Social Security payments, they found that less than eight percent of the people rehabilitated actually were working sufficiently not to receive Social Security money. That made SSA officials so unhappy about the rehabilitation programs in the states that their first effort was to try to close the rehabilitation program altogether. The states were simply not effective. Then the change came to pay after the fact. I tell you all of that because I think when you talk to Congressmen and Senators to try to get people to help sponsor this legislation, that if they really knew that Social Security itself understood the defectiveness of many of the state programs, it might help to stir the Congress along.
Secondly, just a quick question. I don't know whether you deal with the state rehabilitation programs, but when I was working for SSA and represented SSA at these conventions, I always took back little memos about issues about which I learned, and I hope that you do the same. I have learned what I find to be a remarkable thing in the state of Arizona. It is one of the states with one of the poorer service to the blind programs in the country. It does bill Social Security for people after the closures are made, but the money received from Social Security as a result of the closure does not get returned to the agency providing services to the blind. It goes to the larger agency and is distributed to other programs. Then when blind people need equipment, services to the blind says it doesn't have enough money. Something about this does not seem right to me. It seems to me that the money that was used to rehabilitate blind people should be paid back to services to the blind so that it can be used for other blind people.
Ms. Davis. I don't have much to say in response to that. I am not responsible for the area that deals with rehabilitation reimbursement, but I will certainly take that concern back.
President Maurer. The Social Security Administration has been very responsive to this organization. We appreciate that, and we appreciate your being here, and we appreciate Ken McGill's being here.
Brian McCall. Why isn't there a better program geared for college students on SSI? Specifically, college students can sometimes earn small amounts of money through temporary work, such as private tutoring, selling sandwiches during finals week, or sometimes work-study programs, which I understand might be considered unearned income.
Ms. Davis. You raise an interesting question, and I would like to give you an answer quickly and then go home and think about it some more. It seems to me that some of the things you are talking about would traditionally be considered self-employment. To the extent that it is self-employment earnings, it is treated just as earnings from an employer. I would also like to mention that certain kinds of loans and scholarships do not count as income. Did you have a specific experience?
Brian McCall. Well, I was told that work-study or campus jobs would count.
Ms. Davis. I think that you might want to pursue that with us in detail. We are doing a lot to make sure that people understand the difference between earnings and non- earnings, and I wouldn't want to generalize and say that it all counts because some of it would likely be counted as earnings or self-employment. One thing you might want to do we are trying to reach out to this group in particular, and Ken McGill and I were discussing this at breakfast we have been trying to get to people in college financial offices to make sure that they know about Social Security and SSI because they are often in a position to answer questions. So anything you can do to help us get that organization attentive to knowing about SSI and Social Security will help us all.
Jim Gashel. I'd like to comment on this because I think that the question that is being raised is a good one. I think that work-study counts against SSI just as any other earnings do that is, just as though you went out and got a job anywhere when you are not in school. In think that in the case of a person who is in school and earning money as part of a work-study program (and in many cases those earnings are related to carrying out the person's ultimate goal), part of that could be done as a deduction under a plan for self-support. So there is a mechanism, the plan for self-support, that might allow the disregarding of all of those earnings. That might be a limited mechanism. I think that we might want to think of a way that Social Security could disregard some work-study income altogether. A lot of times, work-study income is related to whether or not you are going to get a job when you get out of school. There is no question about it, a student with a good work record has a better chance of becoming employed and getting off of SSI than the student with a non-work record. It is particularly true of blind people. If you just go to school and have no work record to demonstrate, it is a lot harder to get a job when you get out of school. That is another way the SSI program could work with us to encourage employment.
Dr. Jernigan. Mr. President, I believe that Congressman Brown is here, and I would like to speak directly to him. I also believe that Congresswoman Schroeder is here, and I want to speak to both of them and to some extent Ms. Davis. I want to go beyond the specifics of any given question about Supplemental Security Income or Social Security. I want to talk about something else for a minute, which is the mechanism for dealing with problems. It is illustrated by what happened in 1981 when the administration then in power and Congress were considering a rehabilitation bill.
I got a call from one of the members of the committee saying:
Would you like to come over and testify on the budget for rehabilitation? I said: Not unless you can assure me that there is going to be some reform of rehabilitation. The Congressman acted as if I had insulted motherhood and said, Wouldn't you rather have rehabilitation with the problems it has and have it funded, rather than not have it at all? I said, Congressman, it may surprise you, but the answer is quick and simple: No, I wouldn't.
A lot of us have become relatively weary of finding ourselves in this situation. When administrative agencies of government consider who speaks for the disabled, or when Congress considers it, they blur the difference between agencies (even at the state level) and organizations of the blind. What they do is to say: We're talking to the advocates of the disabled or the blind, and what do they do but talk to the agencies? These agencies do not advocate for us, they are advocating for their positions.
If government wants to talk to government and say that they are talking to an advocate for the disabled, that is all right, but it is Micky Mouse, and it is game playing. That's not who advocates for us. You see here in this room or at least some of them are in this room about three thousand people, and we are not all of the organization. We are the delegates representing tens of thousands of people back home. When you have the federal government wanting to know what the blind think, or what the blind feel, or (whether it be Congress or whether it be the executive branch) wanting to appoint someone to represent the blind on this or that national council, I wish that for once they would really understand the distinction between a government agency (or for that matter a private agency) and the organized blind themselves. I don't mean to be insulting or presumptuous, but it really doesn't take a lot of thinking to understand the difference. It is not blurred. What we are saying is this: agencies may very well be interested in what happens to us as blind people, but they also have a vested interest in the way of a program to run, money to get, and jobs to keep. We are not paid. We are the blind themselves coming together through our own organization and speaking with our own voice, and we want Congress and the Executive branch of government when they talk about who can advocate for the blind and who speaks for the blind to understand that they mean the National Federation of the Blind.
I understand that the people from Congress and the Social Security Administration here probably know that almost as well as we do because they are here, but what we really are asking is that they take it back to the bodies they are part of and that they have leadership positions in, and that they help us to see that this distinction is understood and not blurred by the people in those bodies. I would like Congressman Brown to comment on that and later on Congresswomen Schroeder, and if she feels like it, the Associate Commissioner.
Congressman Brown. That is as articulate and forceful a description of the problem as I have ever heard. I must tell you that it goes far beyond your experience. It affects almost every facet of every federal program, that is the built-in biases that are present and are presented to legislators, and it has an awesome impact. I will be happy to carry that message back. Let me also ask, because you are perhaps the most able spokesman on the subject I have ever heard, that you be willing to continue to carry that message as well. Let me just suggest to you how extensive this problem is. The fact is that government agencies have the money to pay people to come to Washington. They have the money to provide expenses to make that trip, and they have them on the payroll for the purpose of influencing legislators. It is very difficult for individuals to compete with paid government lobbyists who may or may not properly represent the persons they are working for and with. That is simply a way of emphasizing how important this organization is, because without an organization of this kind, your message does not get through as forcefully as it should.
Dr. Jernigan. You however, Congressman Brown, have access in a unique way to the administration now in power because you are of the same party. What I am saying to you, among other things, is this: although there are advocates for the disabled on all kinds of national councils, advisory councils, and other things, this organization, which is the largest organization of the blind and probably the disabled in this country, has not a single representative on any of the national councils set up to advise and advocate for the handicapped, and that is disgraceful.
Congressman Brown. Well, let's do something about it. Let's change it.
President Maurer. We think we know who we would like to appoint. We have time for only one or two more questions.
Dorothy Olson. I appreciate the presence of the Social Security Administration, but I question the quality. I have yet to get the same answer from two Social Security representatives. I get letters every week that seem to contradict each other letter for letter or line for line. I would welcome any improvement of quality whatsoever, and I know I am not the only one who says that. It really makes our lives more frustrating when we can't count on people in your organization for help. I now have a job, and I am told in one letter that they are taking money away and in the next that they are giving it back. My employer has to fill out my payroll information repeatedly, which is not my problem but is Social Security's problem.
President Maurer. Dorothy, I know of a situation where after a person found a job, they were told that no longer would the Social Security money be coming and that an over payment of $105 was made and was paid back. A few months later, a check came in the mail without comment of $700. That is an experience that hundreds of people have had, that is, that you just can't tell what the Social Security Administration is going to do. It seems so dangerous to tell them anything, except that it is so dangerous not to tell them anything, so we are caught.
Ted Young. I would like to emphasize the importance of the plan for self-support for college students and persons preparing for work in a number of ways. I have had to represent people to as high a level as an administrative law judge to justify their plan for self-support. Almost all earnings as college students and almost all earnings while in a rehabilitation program can be exempted. What we find, though, is that Social Security office personnel, when they know that the person is a college student or when they know that the person is a rehabilitation client, don't even mention the plan for self-support. It seems to me that this is certainly an area that sets forth what Jim Gashel was talking about in terms of getting the word down to those field offices so that they are helpful rather than a hindrance to blind people. Thank you.
Ms. Davis. President Maurer mentioned after I finished my remarks that I have been in a local office. I started my Social Security career that way, and I continue to visit local offices. I was in the Denver downtown office while I was here and in the Seattle office last week. They have a tough job out there. It is my job to make their job less tough, like I said before, and we are doing everything we can to make it that way: a rewrite of our manual, our systems, and so on, but it is still very complicated, and I won't deny that. I don't know that either we or the Congress can change it. So we're just going to have to work together, and I can't change it tomorrow, but I do remind you that I accept your challenge, and we'll be back next year, and I hope it is a lot better.
Allen Daniels. I have qualified for the SSDI under blindness, and I have heard many different things about what the qualifications are between SSI and SSDI. I am confused, for example, whether the $750 per month that can be earned is figured consecutively or whether each month is viewed separately.
President Maurer. What I would suggest is that you attend the workshop this afternoon. The people there would be informed about the law and can answer that type of detailed question. Allen Daniels. I was hoping that Ms. Davis could give me an answer.
President Maurer. My belief is that the answer to your question is quite complex, that is, it is not yes or no. There are disregards of earnings, for example.
Jim Gashel. It is more complex than we can answer in a simple yes or no. You may very well continue to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance depending on what all of that income is. But if you are not eligible for SSDI, you may still be eligible for SSI depending on income and resources. With income of $750 per month, there is no question that you would be eligible for Supplemental Security Income with not much being reduced from it, given work expenses. That is an example I was trying to get at where the Social Security Administration should, rather than talk about regulations so much, which just ends up scaring people, say: Here's how you can earn more money. It's pretty simple, I think. In an example like yours, there is no doubt in my mind that you could be told how you can earn more money and not lose.
President Maurer. I would urge you to keep one thing in mind. The National Federation of the Blind has been working on the Social Security question probably since the forties, certainly since before I joined the organization, and that was twenty years ago. Some of us have been in the organization that long, and some of us have been looking at Social Security. The people at Social Security offices have often not been able to concentrate on the portions of the law that deal with blind persons with anything like the concentration that we give to it. Therefore, if you believe that somebody has given you the wrong answer, talk to us at the National Office, and we can help you get the right answer. Also, you can get some of the right answers this afternoon at the workshop.
Blanch Payne. I want to ask about my granddaughter...
President Maurer. I don't mean to cut you off, but I wonder if we couldn't deal with individual cases either during the break or this afternoon in the workshop.
Blanch Payne. I think this would help many other Federation members. She lost both her medical assistance and her SSI. She was asked to return $3,000, but Mr. Gashel won a waiver on that. Yet Ms. Davis mentioned this law 1619-B that would let her get medical assistance, can someone explain that? Jim Gashel. I can deal with that question since I know the case. Blanch, in this case it wouldn't apply because Sierra is a child, and her mother's earnings are too high for the child to receive medical assistance. There isn't anything that Rhoda Davis can do about that, I'm afraid, the law is the law.
Blanch Payne. But $800 is not enough for two people. She is just slightly above the guidelines, and there should be some provision for people just above that guideline.
Jim Gashel. You should tell it to the Congressman.
President Maurer. I think Congressman Brown has expressed his willingness to help us to change the law for greater work incentives so that people will not be penalized for being slightly above the guideline. I know that we have many other questions, but we have the workshop this afternoon. I am sorry that we don't have more time for questions. I want to thank you, the Associate Commissioner, Congressman Brown, and thank you Mr. Gashel for coming and presenting this item. It is directly involved with the money blind people can get to find a way to become self-sufficient in the long run. Thank you all again for coming.
August 31, 1989
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
I am writing to you about the Perkins School in Watertown, Massachusetts. As of September first a Braille writer will cost $475. Isn't that unbelievable? When a friend of mine in Broomfield, Colorado, purchased hers in 1968, the cost was $90. I just received a price list of their products, and I got so mad that I threw it away. Do you know that they receive public contributions, and they charge these outrageous prices to blind people? For example, a bracket that holds dymo labeling tape costs $21.50. It is just a flat piece of metal that fits into the Brailler and holds the tape steady while you type. I would have bought it, but I was lucky enough to examine one that a friend had purchased. A machinist estimates the cost of the bracket to be about $3 maximum.
How about a slate for $25 or a paper holder for $30? I understand from my friend that Perkins doesn't even have certified repair people working on the Braillers. If you send a Brailler to be repaired, you have to prepay and if the Brailler is ten years old or over, the charge would be anywhere from $50 to $100. Most of the time a Brailler needs a good cleaning and no replacement parts.
Now, I feel that Perkins is taking advantage of the blind community. And to receive public contributions and charge these prices! The people who run the school should be ashamed of themselves. We as the blind community must not let this go on any longer. Perkins is the only place that makes a Braille writer, so they have us by the short hairs. I really think they are going too far.
Please look into this matter and see what can be done. They need to be reported to some type of consumer affairs board. Thank you very much.
From the Editor: As the price of Perkins Braillers has skyrocketed through increase after increase in recent years, the chorus of complaints from the blind community has crescendoed to a roar. Assuming that the ninety dollar 1968 price was fair (which we have no way of determining), it is hard to understand why today's cost is what it is. According to official government statistics, you need almost (but not quite) four dollars to buy what would have cost you one dollar in 1967. Ninety times four is three hundred and sixty. Beginning September 1, 1989, Howe Press (the vehicle at Perkins from which one orders the Braillers) is putting its latest price increase into effect.
And it is not just the cost. There is the fact that prepayment must be made and that there are long delays in receiving the merchandise, usually several months. There are those who say that this is so because Howe Press wants to regulate the supply to insure a steady and uninterrupted source of employment for its staff, which can be kept smaller by the tactic of limiting the supply and not expanding the production capacity. The monopoly permits these practices and also allows the price to be whatever Howe Press pleases.
But there may be changes in the wind. The patents on the Perkins Brailler have expired, and presumably anyone who pleases is free to make the molds and produce the product. The problem is that the tooling up would probably cost several hundred thousand dollars, and there is also the fact that alternatives are now beginning to be available. Therefore, until recently nobody had taken the plunge.
However, a company in India has now begun to produce a Brailler which closely resembles the Perkins. It has the same keyboard configuration and also the same other features. Some of its casing is made of hard plastic instead of metal, but this may prove to be an advantage instead of a shortcoming. Something over a year ago the NFB bought and distributed a few of these Indian Braillers to test their acceptance, and the response was largely positive. There are still a few remaining problems, but if (as seems likely) these can be solved, the Indian Brailler may soon be on the market at something like half the price of the Perkins. The decision as to whether to market the Indian Brailler is not an easy one. In today's climate of balance of payments and competing economies, one would prefer to deal with an American firm, and there is also the question of reliable service when something goes wrong. But even if one makes every allowance even if some of the Perkins profit from the sale of Braillers is used to pay for other activities (a questionable practice at best) Howe Press has still created most of its own problems, plus the fact that monopoly is about as un-American and objectionable as buying from a foreign firm. Beyond the question of whether the Indian Brailler or the Perkins will ultimately prevail, there is the broader issue of whether any such Brailler will continue to hold the position of primacy which has heretofore been the case. It is increasingly easy, more rapid, and less expensive to produce Braille by computer than by Brailler, and alternative devices are proliferating. In this category the Braille 'n Speak and a host of others come to mind.
If the Perkins (which is universally acclaimed as a quality product) is not to go the way of the horse and buggy and the dinosaur, its makers and marketers must reassess, and do it quickly. The Perkins has unquestionably made a tremendous contribution to the betterment of the lives of the blind, but its future viability will not be determined by its past performance. Many factors will play a part in the outcome, but chief among them may be the attitudes and behavior of the people at Howe Press, not to mention the resources which they are willing to invest.
Postscript: Under date of September 8, 1989, we received a news release from Perkins, which said in part:
Perkins School for the Blind Receives $15 Million Grant From Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Perkins School for the Blind Director Kevin J. Lessard announced today that the school has received a $15 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation of Los Angeles, California. The grant, to be distributed over the next five years, is one of the largest ever received in the area of blindness and special education. It is the largest grant ever received by the Perkins School.
The Hilton Foundation, established in 1944 by Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels Corporation, has provided Perkins with funding for the development of new programs designed to support the multi-handicapped blind and their families in the United States and in many different countries around the world.
During the past several years the winter months have been marked in the homes of blind children across the nation by the sound of fingers whisking across pages of Braille. Is this the manifestation of the unquenchable love of learning being born? Perhaps. It is certainly an indication of young readers honing a skill that will serve them for a lifetime. What we are seeing increasingly is enthusiastic participation in the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, which officially began November 1, 1989, and runs until February 1, 1990. This is a competition in which everyone is a winner. Every blind child who hears about the contest can improve his or her Braille skills by taking part and reading as much as possible in the time available. Each of us should do what we can to encourage blind children and their parents and teachers to participate in this exciting competition. Here is the entry information:
The Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille are pleased to announce our Sixth Annual Contest for Braille readers, kindergarten through twelfth grades.
The purpose of the NFB's Annual Braille Reading Contest is to encourage blind school children to read more Braille. It is just as important for blind children to be literate as it is for other children. Good readers can have confidence in themselves and their abilities to learn and to adapt to new situations throughout their lifetimes. Braille is a viable alternative to print for the blind child. Yet, many blind children are graduating from our schools with poor Braille skills and low expectations for themselves as Braille readers. They do not know that Braille readers can be competitive with print readers. The NFB's Braille Reading Contest helps blind children realize that reading Braille is fun and rewarding. They discover that Braille Readers Are Leaders.
WHO CAN ENTER THE CONTEST
School age children from kindergarten through the twelfth grade are eligible to enter. A student can choose to compete from among five categories. The first category is the print to Braille beginning reader. This is for children who have been print readers, but who have begun learning and using Braille within the past two years. This includes:
Formerly sighted children who became blind after they had learned to read print.
Partially-sighted children who are, or have been, print users but have begun to learn and use Braille in addition to, or in place of, print.
Again, this only applies for children within the first two years of learning and using Braille. After the first two years, she or he must then enter one of the other categories. The other categories are: grades K-1; 2-4; 5-8; and 9-12.
PRIZES FOR THE CONTEST
First-, second-, and third-place winners will be selected from each of the five categories. All winners will receive a special certificate and a distictive NFB BRAILLE READERS ARE LEADERS T-shirt which will proclaim to the world that they are winners. Cash prizes are also awarded. In each category first-place winners will receive $50.00, second-place winners $25.00, and third-place winners $10.00. Prizes will be personally awarded, whenever possible, by representatives of the National Federation of the Blind. Schools are encouraged to schedule the presentations during the yearly school awards ceremony.
Because we believe all the children are winners and deserve recognition for their efforts, all contestants will receive a Braille certificate and a special token for participating. We also encourage schools to arrange public presentions to honor these students. Again, members of the NFB will participate in these activities whenever possible.
MOST IMPROVED BRAILLE READER
Special recognition will be given to the top five contestants, regardless of category, who demonstrate the most improvement over their performance in the previous year's contest. To be considered for the Most Improved Braille Reader award the contestant: must enter the contest for two consecutive years; cannot be a winner in the current contest or in a previous NFB Annual Braille Reading Contest; cannot have won this award before.
Winners of the Most Improved Braille Reader award will receive five dollars ($5.00) and a letter of commendation.
RULES FOR THE CONTEST
Contest first-, second-, and third-place winners will be selected within each of the five catagories. Winners will be chosen based on the number of Braille pages read. The one who reads the largest number of Braille pages will be the first-place winner; the second largest the second-place winner; and the third largest the third-place winner. The contest entry form MUST be COMPLETELY filled out and received by the judges no later than February 10, 1990.
Contestants MUST submit with their entry forms BOTH a Braille and print list of the books and magazines they have read. That list must contain information in this order: 1. Name of Student and student's contest category; 2. Name of book or magazine; 3. Author of book or magazine volume and date; 4. Number of Braille pages read in each book or magazine; and 5. Total number of Braille pages read. Both Braille and print lists MUST be signed by the certifying authority.
The Certifying Authority is responsible for: verifying that the student has actually read the Braille material that he or she reports reading, and that the material was read between November 1, 1989, and February 1, 1990 (contestants may NOT count material read before the contest begins); filling out and sending in the contest entry form in an accurate, complete, and timely fashion; assisting the student in finding Braille materials to read for the contest.
Teachers, librarians, and parents may serve as certifying authorities. The certifying authority must also be prepared to cooperate with the judges if the judges have any questions or need additional information about an entry. All decisions of the judges are final.
Please use this form when turning in the print list of books/magazines read. If additional paper is needed, be sure to put the name of the student and his/her contest category at the top of the page and number the page (i.e. page 2 of 2). The Braille list should follow the same format. NOTE: Please list the author's name for books and list volume and date for magazines. Mail entries to: Mrs. Nadine Jacobson, 5613 Oliver Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55419.
For more infomation, call Mrs. Jacobson at: (612) 927-7694; or Mrs. Barbara Cheadle at: (301) 659-9314.
by Sharon Maneki
(Note) Sharon Maneki is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. She also chairs the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 1990. Other members of the committee are: Jacquilyn Billey, Connecticut; Allen Harris, Michigan; Joyce Scanlan, Minnesota; and Fred Schroeder, New Mexico.
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 1990 convention June 30 - July 7, at the Dallas-Fort Worth Hyatt in Texas. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $500, an appropriate plaque at the banquet, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Federation of the Blind Parents of Blind Children Division early in the convention. Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind children or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the national convention. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or friends.
The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.
The nominee must meet two additional requirements: write a one-page letter describing his or her beliefs and approach to teaching, and answer the following ten questions.
1. List your degrees, the institutions from which they were received, and your major area or areas of study.
2. How long and in what programs have you taught blind children?
3. In what setting do you teach? (Example: classroom in school for the blind, special education classroom, itinerant program, etc.)
4. How many students do you teach regularly this year? What subjects do you teach?
5. How many of your students read and write primarily using: a)
Braille, b) large print, c) closed circuit television, d) recorded materials, e) small print?
6. How many of your students use both print and Braille?
7. At what age do you recommend that your students begin: a) reading Braille, b) writing with a slate and stylus, c) writing with a Braille writer?
8. At what age do you recommend that your students begin to learn independent cane travel?
9. How do you determine which children should learn cane travel and which children should not?
10. a) At what age do you recommend that students begin typing? b) When do you expect them to be able to hand in typed assignments? Send all material by April 15, 1990, to: Sharon Maneki, Chairman, Teacher Award Committee, 9736 Basket Ring Road, Columbia, Maryland 21045; telephone: (301) 992-9608. The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher's experience by affording the opportunity to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this announcement and encouraging teachers to submit their applications. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to nominations from many well-qualified educators.
by Patricia Munson
The National Association of Blind Educators is an organization devoted to encouraging blind persons to enter the field of education. Throughout history there has been a succession of blind men and women who have been recognized for their superior contributions as professional educators and leaders in the organized blind movement. It is not surprising that the founder of the National Federation of the blind, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, was universally acclaimed as an outstanding scholar and teacher at the University of California at Berkeley and elsewhere. It is, therefore, appropriate that the National Association of Blind Educators has created a special award to recognize the achievements of blind professionals who have demonstrated superior ability in their work as educators. This award, known as the Blind Educator of the Year Award, is presented during the annual business meeting of the National Association of Blind Educators. This meeting takes place in conjunction with the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must be present to receive the award. The honoree will be presented with a plaque appropriately inscribed to reflect the significance of the recognition being bestowed. Selection of the Blind Educator of the Year will be by the recommendation of a committee comprised of three members of the National Association of Blind Educators. Each member of the committee is an outstanding educator in his or her own right. The chairperson of the committee is: Mr. Fred Schroeder, who can be reached at: 1434 Wellesley, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106. Also serving on the committee are Maria Morais and Lev Williams.
Anyone wishing to recommend an outstanding blind educator for consideration should submit the following information in writing to Fred Schroeder at the address given:
1. A letter of recommendation must be submitted to the chairperson of the selection committee by April 15, 1990. The nomination letter may be submitted by the nominee or on behalf of the nominee by a friend or colleague. The letter should include a professional profile of the nominee as well as information on community service or other distinguishing activities.
2. At least one letter seconding an individual's nomination must be submitted to the selection committee chairperson by April 15, 1990. This letter may also be from a friend or colleague and should affirm the nominee's qualifications. This letter may also be used to expand upon or provide additional information which the committee may find useful in making its selection. Additional letters seconding a nomination may be submitted on behalf of an individual nominee.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award represents a real opportunity to honor a blind educator who has made significant contributions both in his or her professional work and to the organized blind movement. Please submit your nominations early so that the selection committee will be able to give each recommendation the careful attention it deserves.
by Barbara Pierce
Thanksgiving is almost always a memorable day. Sometimes one would rather forget the recollections, but more often the holiday provides a time for friends and family to gather together in appreciation of the blessings that surround us. Until 1977 all of my Thanksgiving memories from earliest childhood through the never-ending adventures of raising my own three small children are full of good food, loved ones, candle light, sterling silver, and fine china. In the early years my worry was to avoid breaking or spilling something in the weakness of acute starvation. Later the anxieties focused on my children's doing the same thing and on whether or not my repast would live up to my mother's past extravaganzas.
But no more. In 1977 the Pierce family was spending the year in London, England, where my husband was teaching in Oberlin's semester abroad program. When we began thinking about Thanksgiving, we fifteen students and five Pierces were the only people we knew who would be celebrating the holiday. We did find three more American students who were looking for a port in the storm, so it was twenty-three yanks who gathered that day for the oddest feast I have ever boss-dogged.
The day did not begin well. True, the man from the Gas Board did arrive early in response to my frantic phone call after I discovered that the oven would not heat regardless of the number of lighted matches I held under its nose. And he did produce some magic that got the thing to behave. But I sent my husband and the children out as soon as the shops were open to collect the turkey that the butcher had specially ordered for me. I had taken him the largest pan I could buy that would fit into my small oven, and he undertook to order me a bird that would sit in my roaster. He agreed to keep it in his freezer for me and to defrost it properly beginning on Wednesday. I reminded him of his promise that morning when I went in to shop, and he assured me that he would take the bird out of the freezer right away, ducks. But he didn't! I heard my youngest child crying while the returning crowd was still at the end of the street. The bird felt like a turkey-shaped stone, and at age four, Margy was certain that the end of the world was at hand. It wasn't. As a matter of fact, at that moment things began to look up. I stopped worrying about having things turn out right and started praying that there would be food to serve. The turkey was superb, and the twenty-three of us, who sat down wherever we could find a space all over the house, shared the best Thanksgiving I can remember. Everyone who came brought his or her own plate and utensils, and those who could brought a dish to share. The student who kept kosher and the one vegetarian caused a few complications, but these were more by way of being challenges than problems.
We had such a good time that we repeated the celebration the following November when many of us were back in Oberlin, and most of the rest traveled from all over the country to join us. Of such adventures as these are Thanksgiving memories made. Enjoy creating your own collection this year. Here are three of the dishes that I serve every Thanksgiving, including the one in London, along with a wonderful traditional Thanksgiving dessert and a couple of ideas for those delicious leftovers.
Never-Fail Thanksgiving Turkey
For best results choose a fresh hen turkey. If you must use a frozen bird, avoid the pre-basted ones, and never depend upon the inserted thermometers to tell you when the bird is cooked. I order the largest fresh hen turkey my butcher can get. Early Thanksgiving morning thoroughly wash the neck and giblets. Place these in a large sauce pan with an onion (cleaned, trimmed, peeled, and having four or five whole cloves stuck into it); one large carrot, cut in chunks; one or two ribs of celery, cut in chunks; one teaspoon allspice berries; ½ teaspoon sage; ½ teaspoon thyme; ½ teaspoon poultry seasoning; 1 bay leaf; ½ teaspoon peppercorns; and seasoned salt to taste. The whole berries and larger spices can be placed in a tea ball or tied in a square of cheese cloth to keep them contained in the stock pot. Fill the sauce pan with at least one quart of water. Cover the pan tightly and bring to a boil, allowing the stock to simmer for at least one half hour, but ideally up to two hours. This much of the operation may be done the night before. If doing so, refrigerate stock overnight.
Rinse the body cavities of the bird and stuff lightly with your favorite dressing, if desired, skewering closed the neck cavity whether or not you have stuffed it. Fold wing tips behind the bird to secure them.
Before closing the body cavity with skewers or thread prepare the herbed butter for self-basting. With fingers kneed together one stick of softened margarine or butter, chopped leaves from two ribs of celery, finely chopped onion to taste (one or two teaspoons should be sufficient), two teaspoons grated lemon peel, ¼ teaspoon thyme, ¼ teaspoon ground allspice, and ¼ teaspoon poultry seasoning. The mixture should resemble a smooth paste. Divide the butter mixture in half and insert half under each side of the breast skin. You can lift the breast skin away from the meat by inserting your fingers under the skin on the top edge of the body cavity. After you have inserted the butter mixture, you can work it up toward the neck by pushing on the outside of the skin with an upward motion. Close the body cavity, tie the feet together, sprinkle the bird liberally with soy sauce, and place in an open roasting pan. I tuck squares of foil paper under the wings and over the drum sticks to keep them from browning too quickly.
Roast turkey at 275 to 300 degrees. Calculate the length of roasting time by multiplying the weight of the bird times fifteen minutes per pound, unstuffed, or twenty minutes per pound, stuffed. Baste the turkey frequently, using a measuring cup or poultry baster. For the first two hours or so you will have to use the stock made from the giblets for this purpose. After that the pan juices will be sufficient to baste with. A slice or two of bacon placed over the breast for the last half hour of roasting will give the bird a beautiful finish (the cook deserves to enjoy the bacon). The turkey is done when the juice runs clear after a skewer or cooking fork has pierced the thickest part of the meat between the leg and the body. Remove the bird to a warmed platter. Remove foil, string, and skewers, and garnish with parsley sprigs and spiced fruit if desired. Keep bird warm while making the gravy.
Strain the stock from the sauce pan into the roaster and loosen the browned particles from the bottom of the roasting pan. Transfer the stock to a sauce pan for making the gravy. An easy way to remove the fat is to pour the stock through a colander of ice cubes. The fat will cling to the ice. You can then make gravy in your favorite way.
Do-Ahead Refrigerator Rolls
1 cup water
½ cup shortening or 1 stick margarine
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
¾ tsp. salt
1 large or 2 small beaten eggs
1 package active dry yeast
3 ½ cups flour
Method: Melt the shortening or margarine in a large bowl. Add water, sugar, salt, and (when the temperature of the liquid is comfortably warm but not hot) the yeast. Stir to dissolve. Add the beaten egg, and then stir or beat in the flour to make a soft dough. Knead until the dough is elastic, but avoid adding enough additional flour to make it smooth. It will not look like bread dough because this is a finer bread than the standard loaf. Turn the dough into a well-buttered bowl, and brush the top with melted margarine. Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and either set the bowl in a warm place to rise (if you are planning to use the rolls right away) or refrigerate for up to one week in a bowl with a tight lid.
When the dough has doubled in bulk or on the day the rolls are to be used, grease up to thirty cups in muffin tins. Knead the dough to release the air. Pinch off a piece of dough the size of a large olive. Roll it and form a ball with a smooth top and place it on one side of a muffin cup. Add another ball to the cup. Together they should fill the bottom but should not reach the top. Repeat with the rest of the cups to be filled. Brush the tops of the rolls generously with melted butter. Cover them and allow to rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 ½ to 2 hours if the dough has come from the fridge). Uncover and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. They reheat well in a microwave.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Method: This recipe has no amounts because they vary so widely depending on how many you are feeding and how you like your sweet potatoes. Begin with drained cans of New Jersey sweet potatoes. For best results rice these using a food mill, ricer, or other mechanical means of getting rid of all the lumps. Then place potatoes in a mixing bowl and begin to beat with an electric mixer or a very strong arm. Heat light cream (skimmed milk will do for the pure in heart) and butter or margarine. How much? I start with a stick of margarine and about a quarter of a cup of cream. The more liquid you add, the runnier will the potatoes be on the plate, so suit yourself. Beat in this mixture. Add orange juice concentrate (at least 2 tablespoons), grated orange peel if available, grated fresh nutmeg, salt, and brown sugar to taste. Turn the potatoes into a well-greased casserole dish and cover. Heat through before dinner. This part can be done in a microwave if you are pressed for time or oven space. When the potatoes are hot and bubbly, top with marshmallows (lots if you have small children or their equivalent to feed) and return to a hot oven until the marshmallows are melted and browned.
by Barbara Smith
Barbara Smith is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia. Her husband, Mike, serves as president of that affiliate and testifies to the excellence of this traditional favorite.
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark Karo syrup
½ cup evaporated milk
1 cup pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
Method: Mix sugar, flour, and salt together. Stir in syrup. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in pecans, milk, and vanilla. Pour into 9-inch pie shell. Bake 50 minutes at 375 degrees. Pie is done when table knife inserted in center comes out clean.
by Joyce Porter
Joyce Porter is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia. As Federationists know, her husband Dick was President of the West Virginia affiliate for many years before his death.
1 unbaked 10-inch pie shell
3 cups cooked turkey
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup milk
Method: Lightly toss the turkey, cut in bite-sized pieces, and onions together. You may add sliced mushrooms, green or red pepper, sliced water chestnuts, celery, or other vegetables at this point. Sprinkle this mixture on the bottom of the pie shell. Mix the cheddar cheese with the flour and sprinkle on top of the turkey. Combine the eggs, milk, and seasonings and pour evenly over the quiche. Bake it in a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes. Quiche is done when custard is set and knife inserted in center comes out clean. This dish freezes well. It can be reheated in the microwave.
by Florence Wood
Florence Wood is an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. She is also a professional caterer.
1 turkey carcass plus 2 legs or thighs
½ cup bacon grease
½ cup cooking oil
1 cup flour
8 ribs celery, chopped
3 large onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic (optional)
½ cup chopped parsley
1 pound okra, sliced
1 cup to 1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
½ cup Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce to taste
4 large fresh tomatoes or one 12-ounce can
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
4 slices bacon cut into 1-inch pieces
2 bay leaves
cayenne pepper to taste
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cups uncooked rice, cooked
Method: Break the turkey carcass into several pieces. Place it in soup kettle with legs or thighs and 3 quarts water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 1 hour, then cool. Discard bones and other wastes from pot when it is cool enough to handle. Set stock and meat aside. Over medium heat in a heavy pot heat grease and oil. Add flour, stirring constantly and cook until the roux is a dark golden brown. Add celery, onion, pepper, garlic, and parsley. Cook 20 minutes, stirring constantly. Add sausage and okra and continue to cook for 5 additional minutes. Add turkey stock and enough water to make four quarts. Add Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, tomatoes, salt, bacon, bay leaves, and cayenne. Simmer covered over very low heat for 2-1/2 hours stirring occasionally. Add the meat and simmer for thirty more minutes. Just before serving, add lemon juice and brown sugar. Serve in heated soup bowls over rice.
**A Federation Wedding:
If there ever was a Federation wedding, it was the one which occurred at the Garden Villa in Baltimore on the afternoon of August 5, 1989, when Sandra Kelly and John Halverson were married. The Reverend Homer Page (who, among his many other accomplishments, is an ordained Baptist minister) officiated. Cynthia Towers, Secretary to Mr. Gashel, attended the bride and read from The Prophet ; Marie Cobb baked the wedding cake and managed the serving of the food; the Monitor Editor read from The Prophet ; Gerald Yeager of Virginia was the best man; and Federationists from throughout the country came to witness, congratulate, and see it properly done. It was a gala occasion. The Halversons are making their home in Kansas City, Missouri, where Sandy is now a medical secretary and John continues to work as Deputy Director of the Office for Civil Rights in Region VII. All of us offer congratulations and best wishes.
We recently received the following announcement from Ned Godfrey:
The Capital District Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of New York is proud to announce that on Saturday, May 20, 1989, our treasurer, Bill Schultz, and his wife Ema became the proud parents of an eight-pound, five-ounce baby girl, Ashlee Rose Schultz. The birth was very successful. Both parents and baby are well. We wish Bill, Ema, and Ashlee Rose the best of luck!
Jim Scott, husband of Nancy Scott of Easton, Pennsylvania, died suddenly August 2, 1989. Nancy Scott is currently serving as secretary of the Writers Division of the National Federation of the Blind. She is one of those who stimulated formation of the Division, and she was one of its first presidents. Jim was a staunch Federationist who worked closely with Nancy to improve conditions for the blind and to bring Federation spirit to blind people from throughout the United States. Never flashy or flamboyant, Jim did his part quietly. When there was a need, he responded.
**Surely There Is Not Still A Mystery:
First Person: In the September issue of the Braille Monitor an article appeared entitled Conundrum. It referred to the first Miniature in the July issue. Are you still in doubt as to what it means?
Second Person: Perhaps you can give me another clue. First Person: A flour maker is a miller. And the word floral rhymes with another word. Surely there is not still a mystery.
**Employees Complain of Racism:
The following article appeared in the August 19, 1989, Greenville [South Carolina] News:
Racial Discrimination Alleged At Commission for the Blind
by Tim Smith
COLUMBIA The State Human Affairs Commission is investigating allegations that black employees of the state Commission for the Blind have been discriminated against, officials said Friday. William K. James, the director of the Commission for the Blind, confirmed the Human Affairs Commission is investigating allegations. Certainly there is a problem, James said. He said the investigation began after he asked for the Human Affairs Commission's help to reduce racial tensions at his agency. He said about a quarter of the 110 employees are black. According to a letter sent to James last week by Jim Clyburn, the director of the Human Affairs Commission, employees at the Commission for the Blind outlined 15 charges of racial discrimination by officials of the agency. The allegations summarized above are quite serious, Clyburn wrote. Many of them allege violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the South Carolina human affairs law. Clyburn, according to the letter, said there are allegations that one white employee made racial slurs without being disciplined. Racial slurs appear to exist with your tacit approval, Clyburn said in the letter.
He also said, Black employees have been told they cannot get certain supervisory positions and raises because white emloyees might not like it.
Clyburn said there is an allegation that James once said he would hire five white persons for every black person. James denied both allegations involving him.
He said he has never condoned any racial slur and made that clear in writing to agency employees. He said that while he has tried to set quotas to hire more blind workers, he as never said he would hire more whites than blacks.
There are also allegations, Clyburn wrote, that white employees of the Commission for the Blind have been pre- selected to fill vacant jobs and job postings are omitted. He said white employees have been promoted even when black employees are more qualified.
Postscript: As we go to press, we have learned that William James has been allowed to resign as director of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind.
Gail Coppel, President of the Columbia Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, has asked that we run the following: I have an Optacon model RD for sale. It has been serviced recently and is in excellent condition. I am asking $1,350 for it. If interested, please contact Gail Coppel, 847 Jefferson Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; or call (803) 796-8662.
On August 26, 1989, California Federationist Bob Woods died. He was an active member of the Diabetics Division of the National Federation of the Blind, and Ed Bryant (Editor of the Voice of the Diabetic) says: Bob was thirty- four. In the past he has served as state representative of our Diabetics Division in California. He was a long-term diabetic, and although an autopsy has not been performed, from the reports I have received, the probable cause of death was a heart attack. Bob's fiance, Adonna Frankel, is an active member of our Diabetics Division and the Federation. Bob and Adonna had already purchased a house in anticipation of their future lives together. I conversed with Adonna on Sunday, August 27, and she was trying to `come to grips' with the situation so she could make arrangements for the funeral and take care of other details. Ed Bryant speaks for all of us when he says that Federationists everywhere reach out to Adonna to express our love and support.
From the September, 1989, Wisconsin Chronicle , the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, we read the following:
We send our very best wishes to NFB-W board members Kathleen Sullivan and Larry Sebranek for their upcoming wedding and their future together. Kathleen and Larry will be married on Saturday, September 23, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Kathleen's new name will be Kathleen Sebranek. By the time this issue of the Braille Monitor is in the mail, the wedding will be an accomplished fact. Congratulations to two wonderful people. May their lives together be long and happy.
In a recent letter to the Monitor Editor Sandy Jo Hansen, one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota, said: I am having foot surgery September 15 for bone fragments and will be off my feet for a while. By now, we hope that Sandy is fully recovered.
**Perchance to Dream:
Jim Canaday is a blind Federationist who is working on his doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Kansas at Lawrence.
Recently he wrote as follows:
Recently my wife, Susan, and I were saddened to learn that my dog guide, Ethel, was rapidly becoming blind. Retinal Atrophy was identified, with no options for helping it. We are learning much about attitudes toward blindness through Ethel's becoming blind herself. Last May she was diagnosed then retired because of her significantly reduced sight. And some biases expressed in response to this news have simply appalled us. We were told that Retinal Atrophy is a completely painless condition. And if we kept Ethel at home, she would have a happy life with the people she knows. In these first months of her retirement Ethel has indeed been content and playful, accepting my new dog guide and spending more time with my wife. Yet, some people (all sighted) upon learning that Ethel was rapidly going blind asked, `will you have her put down,' or `will you have her put to sleep?'
When a friend asked this of Susan, from her surprise she replied, `Well, should we have Jim put to sleep, too?' This was an insightful response. I believe these reactions illustrate a common view of blindness: better dead than blind.
Robbie McClave writes as follows: The National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky held its state convention September 8-10, 1989. Elected were: President, Betty Niceley; First Vice President, Tim Cranmer; Second Vice President, Robert Page; Third Vice President, Mary Ruth Maggard; Treasurer, Dennis Franklin;
Recording Secretary, Mary Beaven; Corresponding Secretary, Robbie McClave; and Chaplain, Bill Deatherage.
We recently received in the National Office a letter from the Department of Genetics at the Boys Town National Institute for Communication Disorders in Children in Omaha, Nebraska, which said in part: The Genetics Department of the Boys Town National Research Hospital is conducting a study of Usher syndrome. We are collaborating in our study with doctors and families in Sweden and Italy in order to try to isolate the gene(s) responsible for Usher syndrome. Once the gene is isolated, we hope to learn its mechanism of action and someday find a way to treat or cure it. Our problem is a shortage of participating families with Usher syndrome. We cannot do the research without the cooperation of families, so we have turned to you and your publication. We would appreciate it if you would print the following statement:
Usher syndrome (US) is a genetic disorder characterized by hearing loss and retinitis pigmentosa. It is inherited through autosomal recessive genes and has an estimated frequency of 4.4 per 100,000 individuals in the United States. Stated another way, more than half of the deaf and blind individuals in the United States are believed to have Usher syndrome.
Our department is currently conducting a linkage study of Usher syndrome in an effort to locate the gene(s) which causes the disorder. Once the gene is located and its mechanism of action understood, it may be possible to someday treat or prevent Usher syndrome. Although we cannot offer an immediate cure, we hope that the research will benefit future generations. To conduct our study we need the cooperation and participation of families with Usher syndrome. Each family member will be asked for complete family and medical histories. In addition, each person will be asked to have a pure tone audiogram and to have their blood drawn. All tests are paid for by our department, and all information is strictly confidential. Interested families should contact Dr. W. J. Kimberling or Kathy McBrown in the Genetics Department of Boys Town National Research Hospital at (402) 498-6755 voice, or (402) 498-6631 TDD. Our mailing address is: 555 North 30th Street, Omaha, Nebraska 68131.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Student Copy provides scholarship-finding services to all those searching for funds to help cover their post-secondary educational expenses. A database is searched to determine which of over 4,000 funding programs available would meet the participant requirements, and for which the student is most highly qualified. Matching the student with the programs before an application for assistance is submitted greatly enhances the student's probability of receiving some funding. Electronic and other processing fees are $20. Write to: Student Copy, The Lower Level, 23-51 97th Street, East Elmhurst, New York 11369; or call (718) 672-7841.
**Edit the Apple:
We recently received the following release in the National Office: The Disk Output Service of the National Braille Association, Inc., 1290 University Avenue, Rochester, New York 14607, is pleased to announce an additional service for VersaBraille II disk readers. All materials prepared for hard copy Braille on the Apple ED-IT program can now be transferred to VersaBraille II disk without any further editing. Materials already on disk in the Braille Book Bank may be ordered or new material prepared through NBA's transcription service. Each disk will include a special VersaBraille reading program and will be entirely indexed for easy reference. Cost of this service is $5 per disk.
**New Name, No Change:
We recently received an announcement telling us that the Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind had changed its name. It is now calling itself Lions World Services for the Blind. Impressive, that name. It causes one to reflect on motives, purposes, and accomplishments especially motives.
**Would Like to Correspond:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
50-year-old, low-income, `shadow vision' blind man: semi-retired social anthropologist, small boat sailor, ex- anti-poverty social worker or bicycle dealer with friendly, enthusiastic Labradore dog guide, basic machine tools, and very small two-bedroom house at historic old Pacific Northwest seaport. Would like tape, cassette, or Braille correspondence with youthful spirit blind or half-blind lady who likes books, economic or social history, do-it-yourself home craft `survival' or low-cost outdoor sports. George N. Gieser, 506 Van Buren Street, Port Townsend, Washington 98368.
**Would Have Helped Air Travelers:
Dennis Wyant, Secretary of the Blinded American Veterans Foundation, writes as follows:
I saw something on my Delta flight to Las Vegas recently that I thought you might find interesting. An Oriental couple who spoke no English were sitting in an exit row. They did not have the benefit of the flight attendants' explanation of emergency procedures nor could they read the instructions in the seat pocket. The airline personnel didn't seem to care or observe that they had missed these instructions. However, they were safe because in case of an emergency I would have shown them what to do.
Cindy Handel is one of the most devoted and best loved leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. Wherever she goes, she radiates harmony and good will. On July 6, 1989, Cindy had surgery for cancer in the area of her face. The malignancy was deep and widespread, but the doctors say that they believe they were able to remove all of it. After a stay in the hospital Cindy recuperated at home and visited relatives. At the time of this writing (early September) she plans to return to work some time during the next month. Our thoughts and prayers are with her.
Dr. Homer Page, First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and Boulder County Commissioner, was unanimously elected in September, 1989, as President of the Advisory Board of the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. Monitor readers will remember that Dr. Page was named by the Governor to that board in December of 1987 over the strenuous opposition of many in the blindness field, including several from the school, who questioned the appropriateness of the appointment. Their reservations are apparently not shared by Dr. Page's colleagues on the Board of the Colorado School. We add our congratulations to those of the blind of the state, who will (we are certain) be well served by his leadership.