Vol. 33, No.
4 April 1990
Barbara Pierce, Editor
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND IS NOT
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 33, No. 4 April 1990
ANOTHER TWIST TO THE IOWA PEPPER MILL
POLITICAL TUSSLING IN TECHNOLOGY FOR THE BLIND:
THE 1990 UPDATE
by Barbara Pierce
VICTORY IN THE CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES LITIGATION
by Donald C. Capps
WEEKLY READER MAKES CORRECT CHANGE
MEET A FELLOW FEDERATIONIST BILL ISAACS
by Deborah Kent Stein
LET THE FLAG SPEAK
by Bill J. Isaacs
REHABILITATION COMMISSIONER RULES ON SCHOLARSHIP QUESTION
by Kenneth Jernigan
OPEN LETTER TO NEW CHAPTER PRESIDENTS
by Barbara Pierce
MEETING THE NEEDS OF THE BLIND CHILD:
WHAT IS THE PARENT'S RESPONSIBILITY?
THE CHILD'S LAUGHTER AND THE ADULT'S RESPONSIBILITY:
GROWTH IN THE FEDERATION'S PHILOSOPHY
by Christopher J. Kuczynski
SAFETY AND AMTRAK: ANOTHER VARIATION ON A TIRED OLD THEMe
by Sharon Gold
JUSTIN DART COMMENTS ON THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
WHAT A DIFFERENCE 16 YEARS MAKES
by Pattie Droppers
Copyright, National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1990
ANOTHER TWIST TO THE IOWA PEPPER MILL
From the Editor: In both the January and February, 1990, issues of the Braille Monitor we carried articles about the theft of funds from the Iowa Department for the Blind (formerly the Iowa Commission for the Blind) by its accountant, Terry Pepper. There have now been further developments. For one thing, Iowa's Governor (Terry Branstad) has made public statements to reassure the citizens of Iowa that state government is really not as sloppy and irresponsible as the Pepper episode would indicate. He said that the whole unfortunate situation could be explained on the basis that Pepper's boss was blind. When I was in Iowa, I got to know Branstad quite well. He was a young legislator at the time, one who would hardly have been suspected of planning to run for governor. At the dinner table and under other circumstances I was exposed to the future governor's method of reasoning. Therefore, I cannot say that I was totally surprised by the comments which he allegedly made. I use the term allegedly with deliberation because credulity (regardless of how well founded) has its limits. Be that as it may, Governor Branstad's remarks were reported in the January 30, 1990, edition of the Des Moines Register. A response, which was straight to the point and should cause the governor to do some reconsidering, appeared in the February 13, 1990, Des Moines Register. The response was made by Dana Harr, a former student of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. As will be observed, she reminds the governor that Pepper's stealing began when the Iowa Department for the Blind was administered by a sighted person. Moreover, the theft went undetected by officials (all of them sighted) in the state comptroller's office and the office of the state auditor.
As a follow-up and almost as an anticlimax, Pepper's sentencing was reported in the February 27, 1990, Des Moines Register. Hopefully this disgraceful episode can be seen in perspective. The theft of the money was the least of the damage done to the blind of Iowa and their programs. Not all of the members of the public in Iowa will be taken in by the foolishness that Pepper's theft was possible because his boss was blind. Here are the relevant articles from the Des Moines Register:
Branstad: Theft by Official Not Typical
by Thomas A. Fogarty
The theft of nearly $103,000 of taxpayers' money by a former state official is an aberration, and not a reflection of inadequate financial safeguards in Iowa state government, Governor Terry Branstad said Monday.
This was a unique situation, Branstad said of the case of Terry Pepper, the number 2 administrator at the Iowa Department for the Blind until his resignation last September. Pepper pleaded guilty to theft charges January 12 in Polk County District Court. Pepper admitted depositing $61,000 in checks written to the agency into his personal bank account. In addition, a report by the state auditor identified another $41,598 in personal bills that Pepper managed to have paid off by state-issued checks. No charges were filed in connection with the theft identified in the auditor's report. Much of the money was used to lavishly decorate Pepper's West Des Moines condominium, according to the auditor's report.
I was shocked, Branstad said of the theft. We're taking action to recover all the money that was taken. However, Branstad said financial controls in state agencies generally are adequate. Pepper, who can see, was able to steal over a period of years by taking advantage of his boss, Creig Slayton, who is blind, Branstad said.
He took advantage of Slayton, who is director of the department, by misleading him and not telling him the truth about what was on certain vouchers and statements, Branstad said. The controls were adequate, but this individual, because of his knowledge and experience, was able to take money from that agency. Pepper, who is awaiting sentencing, has agreed to make restitution. Branstad declined to say whether he believes Pepper deserves imprisonment for the theft. That's a matter for the courts to determine, he said.
Stories Disclose Discrimination
To The Editor:
On January 13 and then again on January 30, the Register has reported that Terry Pepper's ability to steal large amounts of money from the Iowa Department for the Blind was in some way contingent on the fact that Pepper's supervisor, Creig Slayton, the director of the department, is blind. In the second article, Governor Branstad adopted this explanation to assure Iowans that other agencies of state government are not so vulnerable. In light of the fact that one of the principal goals of the Department for the Blind is to remove discriminatory barriers to the employment of blind persons, it should be noted that Pepper's thieving from the blind agency began when the director was a sighted individual and that it was not detected in annual audits conducted by sighted auditors....
If the governor of Iowa and the readers of the Des Moines Register buy this explanation of the theft which is based on the stereotype of the vulnerability of blind persons to exploitation by the rest of the community, then the money Terry Pepper stole is no damage at all compared to the setback in positive attitudes toward blindness that he has brought about.
Dana K. Harr and Barclay Kuhn, 2905 S.E. 20th Street, Des Moines.
Ex-Blind Agency Official
Jailed for 10 Years
by Kellye Carter
Terry Pepper was sentenced Monday [February 26] to 10 years in prison for stealing nearly $103,000 from the Iowa Department for the Blind, where he was a top administrator.
Pepper, of 1100 50th Street, West Des Moines, showed no emotion as Judge George Bergeson sentenced him. He was led away in handcuffs by a sheriff's deputy.
Pepper also was ordered to pay back the money he took. Pepper would not get probation, Bergeson said, because I think it's important to protect the public from people like you. Pepper will not appeal the sentence, said his lawyer, Robert Kromminga. Pepper has liquidated almost all his assets to pay back nearly half of what he took, Kromminga said.
He said he wasn't surprised by the sentence. The judge's attitude was `When people embezzle $100,000, they need to find out what jail is all about,' Kromminga said.
Until he resigned last September when investigators discovered the theft, Pepper was the number 2 administrator at the Department for the Blind, where he worked for eight years.
A report by State Auditor Richard Johnson's office told of an elaborate scheme in which Pepper arranged for the state to pay for thousands of dollars in personal items such as home furnishings, clothing, and stereo equipment.
Deputy State Auditor Kasey Kiplinger said Pepper's case is perhaps the largest misappropriation of public money in Iowa in his two decades in the auditor's office.
Pepper stole money from the state by arranging for the issuance of state checks to pay personal charge accounts and by depositing checks written to the agency in his personal bank account, according to the auditor's report.
POLITICAL TUSSLING IN TECHNOLOGY FOR THE BLIND: THE 1990 UPDATE
by Barbara Pierce
In the March, 1989, edition of the Braille Monitor we published a story entitled Wheeling and Dealing in Technology for the Blind. The intervening months have witnessed no decrease in the maneuvering for market share and power in this corner of the technology field. Lee Brown (one year ago the most visible and apparently powerful man at both Enabling Technologies and TBS, the former Triformation Braille Service) is now altogether out of the leadership and serves only as a TBS stockholder and signatory on promissory notes. Hans Thiel, inventor and manufacturer of the Thiel Braille Embosser, came very close to filing for bankruptcy and was rescued only when O.N.C.E., the wealthy organization of the blind in Spain, bought the German concern. And having swallowed up VTEK, TSI has not remained altogether quiet on the West Coast. According to Lee Brown, it toyed briefly with the idea of buying Enabling Technologies in the early summer of 1989 but quickly lost interest, according to sources close to Enabling, who presume that the price was too high.
Stuart, Florida, is the home of two closely identified, but legally separate corporations Enabling Technologies and TBS. Enabling, a for-profit company, is composed of two divisions (in December, 1989, the third component was sold outright to the Chairman of Enabling's board of directors). The parent corporation, however, produces Braille embossers of various kinds and some other sophisticated devices to assist blind people. For almost exactly four years, according to Lee Brown, he served as president and chairman of the board first for Triformation Systems, as the Braille division was known originally, and then for all of Enabling Technologies after the merger. In addition, Brown and two partners, Dan Eastwood and Bill Thomas, jointly purchased TBS, a Braille publishing house which had recently become a not-for-profit corporation but was originally part of Triformation which, in turn, has undergone acquisitions, divestments, and convolutions. Brown also served as president of TBS, one third of which he owned.
Everyone agrees that on May 10, 1989, Lee Brown left both the presidency of Enabling Technologies and the chairmanship of its board of directors to move to TBS exclusively. He remained, however, a member of the Enabling board for several more weeks. Dan Eastwood explained to the Braille Monitor in an interview in June of 1989 that the May 10 shifts had been only a normal rotation in leadership nothing at all was amiss. He had assumed the chairmanship of the Enabling Board, and Tony Schenk had become president. Lee Brown had merely moved over to TBS to give his full attention to the Braille publishing company, which had been experiencing difficulties in meeting time deadlines in producing Braille and otherwise showing signs of management slippage.
Interviewed recently for this article, Tony Schenk admitted that Enabling had suffered substantial losses during the first quarter of 1989 and that the actions taken to remove Lee Brown were actually stockholder and board responses to the poor financial situation. Bill Thomas agrees. He attributes Brown's ouster to strictly non-performance he just didn't do the job.
Lee Brown's account differs markedly in both tone and substance. He says that on the morning of May 10, 1989, he was told that Enabling was being divided into its three divisions and that he would have control over the Braille division only. In this labyrinthine maze, one must be careful not to confuse the Braille division of Enabling Technologies, which makes Braille-producing machinery but not Braille, with TBS, which makes Braille but not Braille-producing machinery. One must further keep in mind that TBS (just next door to Enabling and allegedly nonprofit) has as its stockholders that same trio of Brown, Eastwood, and Thomas, who are so prominently involved in the affairs of Enabling which, before the splitting and maneuvering began, was (along with TBS) part of Triformation. That was before Enabling acquired Quadratec (a defense contracting firm) and a hearing aid division, which has now been spun off to Eastwood. Does it make your head spin? Who says the blindness field can't wheel and deal? Brown says that on that fateful May 10 of 1989 he was told that he could not touch the other two parts of Enabling, and he could have nothing to do with TBS. Eastwood, he was told, would be assuming the chairmanship of the Enabling board. (Brown does not say whether he was offered an aspirin.) Brown says he responded that he would prefer to get out of Enabling Technologies altogether (except for his service on the board) and work exclusively with TBS. He was allowed to make that change, and by 10 a.m. Tony Schenk had been installed as president of Enabling Technologies. Brown reports that in July of 1989 he was forced off the Enabling board and told that he could not set foot inside the building. Schenk says that he is not aware of such a prohibition and that he certainly has not limited Brown's access to the premises.
When asked why he was forced out of Enabling, Brown sighs and says that several charges were made charges which he understands that an outside auditor dismissed out of hand after a couple of hours examination of the Enabling books. Brown says that Eastwood, with whom he had been friends for many years, clearly wanted him out and simply set out to cobble together excuses to drive him away. Brown explains that both he and Eastwood believe in borrowing money to do business, but their methods are different. He considers that Eastwood began tampering with some bank arrangements, an action within his rights but counterproductive, and managed to turn the bank personnel against Brown and cause problems where they had not previously existed. According to Brown, Tom Storey, the head of Quadratec (Enabling's defense-contracting subsidiary), told Brown that he had been pushed out because he was an iron-fisted manager. Schenk agrees with this description of Brown, saying that Brown does not delegate responsibility well and keeps control tightly in his own hands. But Schenk does not attribute Brown's ouster to anything beyond the poor balance sheets at Enabling. Brown maintains that, while he is a demanding manager, requiring hard work from his subordinates, he does not keep watch over everyone's shoulder or insist on making all crucial decisions.
Meanwhile the sailing was far from smooth at TBS. According to Brown, several people have told him that Bill Thomas (the third partner in the purchase of TBS, the nonprofit Braille-production company and a man whom Brown characterizes as a good guy ) had come to hate Brown and wanted him out of TBS. In the summer and fall of 1989 Braille production deadlines were only irregularly met (something not new), and there was clearly unrest within the staff (also something not new). Brown points to Judy McQuae (the person in charge of Braille production at TBS) as one cause of problems, but she was conferring regularly with Thomas, and Brown apparently did not feel he had the authority to deal with her decisively. Brown says that rumors began to surface that he was having an affair with a member of the staff an allegation which seems to amuse Brown, who points out that as a married man and the father of eight he would seem to be a less than attractive candidate for such stories.
One small indication of a decline in employee morale and professionalism surfaced during the summer of 1989 and involved the National Federation of the Blind. A packer or proofreader or someone else at TBS with access to the finished copies of the Braille Monitor slipped a nasty little bit of doggerel about an article in the June issue into at least one magazine before it was mailed. No one seemed to know how it could have happened or who was responsible, but it was a straw in the wind, indicating how far standards had crumbled. Difficulties were mounting at every level of TBS, and, as president, Brown was the obvious one to take the responsibility. In mid-October, 1989, he was forced out of TBS. He says that word was passed that no one was to have anything to do with him. If one can judge by production schedules, TBS has not noticeably benefited from Brown's departure. The Braille edition of the Braille Monitor now seems to be consistently rather than periodically late. But Bill Thomas says optimistically that the production problems are now about licked. He assured the Braille Monitor that TBS has now been turned around, and Brown's mistakes reversed.
At a board meeting in December of 1989 Brown reports that he indicated his interest in having the other two stockholders buy his shares in TBS so that he could cut his ties with the organization. Thomas said, according to Brown, that he would sell his interest in TBS at any time for any price. Brown says he pursued that comment with a letter offering to put up some more money and eventually get Thomas's name off the TBS promissory notes, but Thomas told the Braille Monitor that Brown's offer was totally unsatisfactory.
When asked whether he would have difficulty stepping back into TBS after all the unpleasantness, Brown said that he could win back the trust and goodwill of the employees almost immediately. He said that it would be easy to produce hard evidence disproving most of the allegations made against him, and that with the removal of two or three problem employees, he could have TBS working efficiently again very quickly. But for the moment negotiations appear to be at a standstill or, more accurately, appear not yet seriously to have begun. Tony Schenk speaks optimistically of Enabling Technologies' future, and Bill Thomas, at least for now, is actively running TBS despite his being nearly eighty years of age. And Lee Brown is living on his investments, which he characterizes as sufficient to his needs if not princely. He would clearly enjoy becoming a player again, but where and whether is anybody's guess.
It is not simply in Florida or the United States that a ferment is occurring in work with the blind. One group that has entered the technology arena so recently that its officials are not yet ready to make statements for attribution is O.N.C.E., the Spanish organization of the blind, which hosted the World Blind Union General Assembly in September, 1988. Late in February, 1990, O.N.C.E. conducted a buyout of Thiel Computer Products GmbH (the company which produces the Thiel Braille embosser). The details of the deal are not yet available, but several things can be said. The Thiel manufacturing plant in County Kildare, Ireland, is now in full production of the Thiel embossers which have become popular in this country. The Irish staff is delighted with the O.N.C.E. takeover, according to Theresa Delahante, Sales Administration Manager. And well the Irish may, for in recent times Hans Thiel has been unwell and strapped for cash, according to American observers, and has not been able to provide Thiel Ireland with the financial backing that the Irish would have preferred. Now O.N.C.E., with its legendary deep pockets, is on the scene; and the folks at Thiel say that this fact can mean nothing but good for their customers and for what they describe as their ongoing commitment to provide excellent products and excellent service at a competitive and reasonable price. All parties agree that developing the American market is very important to both Thiel and O.N.C.E. Delahante would not comment when asked if there were plans to produce more than the embosser at the Irish plant, but the intention to return to the original plan of producing a full range of Thiel products in Ireland was clearly in the air. The fact seems to be that O.N.C.E. simply has not had time to make the necessary decisions and is withholding comment until it has done so.
What can be said is that Deane Blazie, owner of Blazie Engineering and creator and producer of the Braille 'n Speak , is now the distributor for the Thiel Embosser in America. Two units have recently been shipped to him, and through him Sighted Electronics is now receiving a steady stream of replacement parts for the repair of embossers in this country. Blazie is clearly optimistic about the future of the Thiel and reports that he is delighted to have the distributorship back again.
Jim Bliss, head of TeleSensory (the name recently settled upon by the company composed of TSI and VTEK), says that he is relieved to have severed his connections with Thiel from July, 1986, to July, 1989, VTEK was the American distributor. Bliss reports that he traveled to Ireland in July of 1989 to evaluate the situation and concluded that Thiel was not going to improve in its delivery of replacement parts, so he says that he severed the connection. Deane Blazie, whose relationship with Hans Thiel has always been close, says that Thiel was unhappy with the service VTEK and then TSI was providing. Delahante refused to comment on the situation. She did permit herself to sum up matters with a statement that the TSI chapter was closed and Anything I say will only add to the speculation and controversy.... The road that TSI had mapped out for themselves was quite different from the way Thiel would wish to go. The participants in the July, 1989, negotiations in Ireland between Thiel and Bliss did not wish to comment about the details of the discussions, but those close to the situation suggest that the American price of the Thiel embosser was the crux of the problem.
TSI was not prepared to continue to sell the Thiel without including more profit for itself than Thiel believed was appropriate. Additionally, VTEK had never stocked many replacement parts for repairs. As these were needed, VTEK had them shipped from Ireland a process that took three months. Then when the production plant in Ireland started operations, there was a further delay, a delay that observers believed would not have become a problem if TSI/VTEK had been carrying the inventory they should have been.
So there it is not the end of the story, but merely the latest episode. And in true soap opera fashion we end with the action in full swing. Tune in tomorrow, or at least to an up-coming issue of the Braille Monitor , to find out: Will Lee Brown find himself a new niche in the world of technology for the blind? Can TBS succeed in getting its Braille publications out on schedule? Can O.N.C.E. gold open the New World to Thiel? And what about the marriage between VTEK and TSI? All these questions are of more than passing interest to blind Americans. We will be watching and waiting.
VICTORY IN THE CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES LITIGATION
by Donald C. Capps
In the August, 1989, issue of the Braille Monitor we printed an article entitled Litigation Filed Against Carnival Cruise Lines. It recounted the problems that Joe Urbanek had when he tried to take a vacation on a Carnival Cruise Line ship. The National Federation of the Blind assisted Joe Urbanek with a lawsuit against Carnival, and the February edition of the Palmetto Blind , the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, reports the outcome. Here is the story as it appeared in the Palmetto Blind . It is one more answer to the question: Why the National Federation of the Blind?
In February, 1989, the National Federation of the Blind sponsored litigation against Carnival Cruise Lines on behalf of Joe Urbanek of Walterboro, South Carolina. In order for Mr. Urbanek to take the cruise, Carnival Cruise Lines required that a special release be executed by Mr. Urbanek which would have relieved Carnival Cruise Lines of any and all liability arising out of his cruise. Mr. Urbanek's blindness was the sole cause of Carnival Cruise Line's insisting upon the special release being executed. Mr. Urbanek appropriately resisted and sought the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina and the National Federation of the Blind to fight the discriminatory policies of Carnival Cruise Lines.
Upon the filing of the litigation, Carnival Cruise Lines took the position that they were not doing business in South Carolina and filed for a dismissal of the litigation on the grounds that South Carolina lacked jurisdiction. The court held otherwise. Carnival Cruise Lines appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of South Carolina. Meanwhile, it obviously became increasingly clear to Carnival Cruise Lines that their discriminatory policies against the blind and the handicapped would not be upheld by the courts. Thus, the strong position held by the Federation, coupled with the fears of Carnival Cruise Lines that they would not win this litigation, ultimately resulted in their abandoning their policy of requiring blind persons to sign any special release. On December 21, 1989, a Consent Decree filed in the Richland County Court of Common Pleas was executed, ending the Carnival Cruise Lines policy of discriminating against the blind.
Mr. Clifford O. Koon, Jr. (member of the law firm, Rogers, Thomas, Cleveland, Koon, Waters, and Tally, which represents the NFB of South Carolina) writes in part as follows: I am pleased that this matter was concluded favorably. I take particular pride in the language on page 4 which gives any citizen of the State of South Carolina the right to enforce this decree should Carnival fail to abide by it. This was a provision which we insisted be part of the settlement. Mr. Koon also writes, I am happy to tell you that we have settled the case with Carnival.... Carnival has agreed to change its discriminatory policies and to place handicapped persons on an equal plane with others. We are very happy with the victory in this case. We will, however, be monitoring Carnival Cruise Lines very closely to ensure that they give more than lip service to their policy change.
It is noteworthy that the Consent Order cites the Bill of Rights for the Blind Law, sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina in the early 1970s, in reaching this settlement. This law is also referred to as the Model White Cane Law. Section I of the Consent Order states, that this action was commenced by the plaintiff, Urbanek, on February 10, 1989, alleging that the defendant, Carnival, had engaged in certain discriminatory practices against Urbanek, a blind citizen of South Carolina, and other persons similarly situated, by requiring them to sign a special release form as a condition of passage on its cruise ships, in violation of South Carolina's `Bill of Rights for Handicapped Persons' Section 43-33-510 et seq. , South Carolina's Code of Laws for 1976.
Once again it is clear that legislation sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina which became law is very important because it protects blind citizens against discriminatory practices based solely on blindness. It should also be apparent to anyone that the Federation will enforce the law through court action, if necessary, in the interest of blind persons' being treated fairly and on a nondiscriminatory basis.
WEEKLY READER MAKES CORRECT CHANGE
From the Associate Editor: Braille Monitor readers will remember the story we printed in the December, 1989, issue entitled, "Making the Correct Change: Weekly Reader Learns its Lesson." The piece included a letter from Maureen Toonkel, the mother of a blind elementary-school-age son, directed to the editor of the Weekly Reader Paperback Book Club. Mrs. Toonkel objected to a set of exercises in the Kids' Own Money Book which depicted a blind businessman who repeatedly gave incorrect change to his customers because he could not distinguish one denomination coin from another. Elizabeth Zuraw, Sr. Editor, Special Projects for Weekly Reader, wrote a response to Mrs. Toonkel, which we also published. She assured Mrs. Toonkel that neither the Weekly Reader staff nor the book's author had intended the insult to blind business people which the degrading portrayal of the shopkeeper conveyed. She said that the publisher would revise the text of this book as soon as it was reprinted. We wondered in passing whether this promise would ever be fulfilled, and now we know the answer. Weekly Reader has been as good as its word. A copy of the revised edition of the Kids' Own Money Book accompanied the letter reprinted here. The changes outlined in this cover letter really have been made. The Kids' Own Money Book no longer teaches young children that blind people are incompetent in handling money. The Weekly Reader Book Club is to be commended for doing expeditiously what Elizabeth Zuraw said the publisher would do. Here is the letter sent to Mrs. Toonkel, a copy of which was also sent to the Braille Monitor:
February 1, 1990
Dear Ms. Toonkel:
This is from the small world department!
An acquaintance of mine who has a blind friend just forwarded to me an article from The Braille Monitor , December, 1989, pages 786-788. The article is about Weekly Reader's inaccurate portrayal of a visually handicapped man in the publication, Kids' Own Money Book.
I just thought you might like to know that we did, in fact, make a correction on the last reprint, completely deleting the objectionable reference. The author of the Monitor article had wondered whether we would follow through and revise the text. I'm enclosing a revised edition of the book. We made the coin trader on page 10 no more than a busy man and, thus, needing help. The pages that follow, as a result, allude only to his busyness, rather than any visual or other impairment. Thank you again for writing.
Elizabeth G. Zuraw
Sr. Editor, Special Projects
Weekly Reader Paperback Book Clubs
MEET A FELLOW FEDERATIONIST BILL ISAACS
by Deborah Kent Stein
This article appears in the December-January, 1989-90, Braille Examiner, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois.
For me the best thing about the NFB is a kind of family spirit, Bill Isaacs explains. You really have a sense of fellowship, people pulling together to help each other. Bill Isaacs ought to be an expert on family spirit he was ninth in a lively crowd of sixteen children. Through much of his childhood his stepfather was an itinerant farm worker in Central Indiana. The family moved so often that Bill had attended twelve different schools by the time he graduated from high school. It was hard to make friends all over again each time we started in a new place, he remembers. But we had each other to play with. We all stuck together. When Bill was a child his parents noticed that he had poor vision, but he was never singled out for special treatment.
He was expected to do the same chores as the other children, and he always attended regular classes, using ordinary print. After high school he took a twelve-month business course. He worked as a billing clerk and later took a job with the Federal Treasury Office in Indianapolis. During this period he became increasingly aware of his visual problem. When he began consulting specialists, he learned that he had a rare, progressive, genetic condition called choroideremia, which also affected two of his siblings.
While working at the Treasury Office, Bill became active in the Church of the Nazarene and decided that he wanted to do more with his life than process tax refunds. He enrolled at Olivet Nazarene College (now a full-fledged university) in Kankakee, Illinois, where he majored in history. He could still handle some reading assignments in print but also used a lot of recorded books, which at that time (the late 1950s) were on phonograph records. During his sophomore year a doctor told him he would probably lose most of his remaining sight by the time he graduated. After that he drove himself to accomplish as much as he could while he could still see. One semester he took a course load of twenty-two credit hours.
Bill married his wife Ruth shortly before graduating from college and entered a Ph.D. program in history at the University of Illinois at Urbana. He earned a master's degree and, though he never completed his doctoral dissertation, was hired to teach history at his alma mater, Olivet Nazarene.
There was no real issue about whether I could handle the job, he says, looking back. The dean had an aunt who was blind, and I think that helped. Besides, he and the head of the history department knew me and knew my work. The school's enrollment was way up, and they needed teachers.
Unfortunately, however, problems arose seven years later after the dean and the head of the department retired. Their replacements expressed doubts about Bill's capacity to be an effective teacher. They tried to shame me into resigning, he recalls. They acted like I ought to leave so I wouldn't be a burden on the school. Finally Bill shared his concerns with the university president. It turned out that blindness was not really the issue at all. The new dean and department head were actually trying to stage a sort of coup to unseat the old guard (including the president himself) and bring in their own friends. The troublemakers were fired, and Bill kept his job.
Bill attended his first national NFB convention in Chicago in 1975. He found it a little overwhelming and didn't become actively involved until 1980. He had belonged to a small local organization called Visions Unlimited, which was eventually absorbed by the Federation. Visions Unlimited had offered fellowship, but the NFB gave Bill a new sense of direction. He was inspired to learn of so many people who were overcoming difficulties and living full, rewarding lives. Today he is president of the Kankakee Heartland Chapter and heads the Illinois state scholarship committee. Over the past several years he has been among the top recruiters of members at large in the Associates program and in 1988 recruited more members at large than anyone else in the Federation.
When Bill and Ruth were in their forties, they adopted four hard to place children two Chippewa Indian youngsters, a mulatto girl, and a boy who was seven years old when he came to them. Raising this international family has had its challenges, but Bill regards it as one of the richest experiences of his life. In creating a home for his children, he has tried to build the bonds of family life which sustained him through his own turbulent years of growing up.
LET THE FLAG SPEAK
by Bill J. Isaacs
Associate Professor of History
Olivet Nazarene University
This article was written for publication in a local newspaper in June of 1989, but it is as timely today as then. So here it is:
It is rather ironic that on the same day the Supreme Court, in defense of freedom of expression, struck down a state law protecting the flag from desecration that a lower magistrate fined a fellow for noise pollution because his boisterous, vibrating flag annoyed his neighbors. As it were, in the latter instance, it was illegal for the rippling flag to speak to the breezes. Allowing the flag to speak for itself brings back nostalgic memories.
Except for three years of graduate study at the University of Illinois, I have been part of the Olivet Nazarene University academic community as a student or faculty member since 1954. Up until about five years ago there was an ever-waving flag positioned on the highest knoll on campus about 150 feet in front of the Administration Building, where my office and classroom are located on the third floor. Whether in the office or walking across campus, I could nearly always hear the flag bracing itself against the wind. I most certainly never considered it to be an annoyance but very much a friendly chatter. If I strayed too much with my white cane or gave my guide dog wrong directions because of a blanket of snow, a welcome ripple of the flag always gave me the feeling that I was not completely lost and could always work my way back toward it.
This dependable flag communicated with me. It spoke to me in countless ways. Its musical rhythm sang to me: The Star- Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land, etc. Oftentimes I found myself marching to its rhythm. In some ways the messages the flag shared with me remind me of the unspoken body language that my dog and I daily share with each other. In the case of the flag, however, it was perhaps more a one way signal rather than a reciprocal one.
You can understand, I think, why after thirty years I miss this compass point, Old Glory when she was hauled down in deference to the much lower, multi-flag display arranged at the new entrance of University Avenue (old Olivet Street). I am sure the new display is beautiful, but beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. The beholding, for some like myself, lies in the hearing of the ear, the taste of the tongue, or the touch of the hand. According to the English poet Keats, A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Beauty can be experienced through all the senses.
Furthermore, I had to replace my first guide dog about the same time the flag was removed. It was a lot like losing two close companions simultaneously. I was reminded then of Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring. That certain joy, that rhythmic feeling had been muzzled. When I began to make inquiry from my colleagues who were as ill-informed as I about the flag's removal, they had to take a look to see if it were truly gone. It was then I began to realize that the flag probably meant more to me than to any other person. Probably, like Thoreau, I was marching to the beat of a different drummer. Supposedly one glimpse of the American flag by the light of an exploding bomb inspired Francis Scott Key to pour forth the words of the National Anthem as he viewed it from a British prison ship. I still find myself, five years later, listening for the sound of the musical flag.
About a year ago the old flag pole was sawed to pieces and the cement base was broken up and carried away. Grave-like sod now covers the ground where my messenger friend stood. Though dismantled, muted, and uprooted, in my heart and in my mind's eye I still hear the faint echoes of the speaking flag!
RULES ON SCHOLARSHIP QUESTION
by Kenneth Jernigan
In the past few years the National Federation of the Blind has been awarding substantial scholarships to blind persons throughout the country. These scholarships (the biggest being $10,000, and the smallest being $2,000) are given solely on the basis of merit and are not restricted as to use by the recipient. Including expenses to attend the national convention for the winners, the Federation's scholarship program currently amounts to approximately $100,000 per year.
There is a section in the federal Rehabilitation Act which provides that what are called similar benefits must be taken into account in deciding what costs a rehabilitation agency will pay. Put simply, this means that rehabilitation will not pay a given cost if somebody else can be persuaded or compelled to do it. As rehabilitation clients know, this provision of the law has been a continuing source of controversy and friction. A few years ago, the state of Illinois took note of the NFB's scholarship program and decided that it would reduce its rehabilitation assistance to a blind college student in an amount equal to the scholarship he had just received from the Federation. This led to a spirited battle, which the Federation and the college student won. But it sent a shock of concern through the blind student population all over the country. What was the point in receiving a grant in recognition of merit if rehabilitation assistance would be reduced by an equal amount? The Federation took steps to try to protect this program and the students.
We provided a letter to each scholarship recipient saying that the grant we were making to him or her could not be used as a similar benefit for purposes of rehabilitation and that in the event of such use of the funds, the grant would be withdrawn. This, of course, could conceivably have put the scholarship winners in double jeopardy.
If the rehabilitation agency treated the scholarship grant as a similar benefit and reduced its assistance to the recipient in an amount equal to the grant and if we then withdrew the grant, the unfortunate student would undoubtedly hope to win the smallest possible scholarship. One can only do so much for the honor of it all. Mostly our plan to defend the integrity of the scholarship program has worked, but the ground has been shaky and the truce with rehabilitation uneasy. Then enters newly appointed Rehabilitation Commissioner Nell Carney. Under date of March 6, 1990, she issued a ruling which is positive, thoroughly in keeping with the letter and the spirit of the Rehabilitation Act, and right on target with respect to our program. The ruling makes it clear that scholarships of the kind we give are not included in the similar benefits concept. Although this ruling is simply made to carry out the provisions of the law and, therefore, presumably required by the statute, Commissioner Carney still deserves commendation and a vote of thanks. As we all know, laws can sometimes be interpreted in more than one way sometimes to the detriment of the very purposes they were enacted to achieve. Here is the Commissioner's ruling:
March 6, 1990
U.S. Department of Education
Office of Special Education and
Rehabilitation Services Administration
Program Assistance Circular
TO: State Vocational Rehabilitation
State Vocational Rehabilitation
RSA Regional Commissioners
RSA Senior Staff
SUBJECT: Monetary Merit Gifts from
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY CITATIONS:
(1) Section 101(a)(8) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
(2) Section 103(a)(3) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
(3) 34 CFR 361.47(b)
(4) 34 CFR 361.42(a)
Based upon the kinds of questions that are arising, there appears to be a need to differentiate between the treatment afforded a monetary merit award provided directly to a vocational rehabilitation (VR) client by a civic, professional, or social organization and a comparable benefit or grant provided by a governmental, institutional, or public entity.
Some of the confusion in the treatment of merit awards from private sources arises from the terms used by such groups in making their awards. For example, the term scholarship is frequently used. That term connotes the use of the gift for educational purposes and, while it may have been awarded on the basis of academic achievement, it may have been awarded by the donor without restrictions as to its use by the client.
Such monetary awards, if unrestricted by the donor as to use by the client, would not be considered either grant assistance within the meaning of Section 103(a)(3) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, or a comparable benefit or service within the meaning of Section 101(a)(8). If, on the other hand, the award was restricted for a particular purpose, the nature of the restriction would have to be examined to determine whether Sections 103(a)(3) and 101(a)(8) were applicable. For example, if the award was earmarked for educational purposes, that qualification might be too broad to require the client to use it for any needed VR service. The gift might be used for travel abroad or some other enriching experience not otherwise affordable by the client. However, if the award was earmarked for use for college tuition costs or general college expenses, it would be considered an available comparable benefit or service that must be used, and thus would reduce the extent of the client's need for that service or services from the VR agency.
I believe it is highly desirable to encourage philanthropic groups to contribute toward the betterment of students with disabilities. These organizations frequently solicit from their membership to enable them to make merit gifts available to deserving students. A practice to require that unrestricted gifts be used to pay for a service included under an Individualized Written Rehabilitation Program (IWRP) effectively denies the student the help intended by the organization and, in essence, defeats the purpose intended by the philanthropic group in making its award. It further denies the student the recognition intended by the organization.
Nell C. Carney
Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services
INQUIRIES TO: Regional Commissioners
OPEN LETTER TO NEW CHAPTER PRESIDENTS
by Barbara Pierce
Recently the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio had occasion to organize a new chapter. The young woman who was elected president had no past experience as a Federation officer, so I wrote her a long letter setting forth ideas, projects, and principles that we in the organized blind movement have found useful in building our local chapters. Lots of good ideas are not mentioned here, but perhaps it is useful for new chapter presidents, and for us all from time to time, to spend a few minutes thinking about the fundamentals of chapter-building. Here, in significant part, is the letter I wrote:
Dear New President:
Sometimes in a burst of democratic zeal new chapters and their officers make the error of believing that every decision made for the organization must be considered (too often exhaustively) by the entire membership. Remember that the chapter as a whole does not need to make all the decisions that clamor for attention in the early weeks of the chapter's existence. There are some organizational matters that you or the board should decide without bothering the general membership. These are things that individuals can and should express opinions about but on which chapter meeting time should not be wasted. I am thinking of transportation arrangements and meeting location, for example.
Such discussions will always expand to fill the available time, and when you are finished, the decisions are likely to be less satisfactory and more divisive than they would have been if a smaller group had been responsible for making the arrangements. Generally speaking the meeting location should be central, free or inexpensive, and accessible by public transportation. If you are paying more than a few dollars a month rent, you are pouring money down the drain money that we need desperately for Federation projects.
I would discourage efforts to look for a place with kitchen facilities in order to serve elaborate refreshments. We do not gather in Federation meetings to eat and drink together, pleasant as that is. We have work to do, and every way that we can find to communicate this message to members should be taken.
Transportation problems must be worked out with an eye to the particular complications in a given situation. Obviously, getting someone who is already coming to the meeting to pick up people more or less on the way is the best solution. Service or church organizations may be able to find volunteers who would be willing to drive for you, or neighbors, family, or friends of one of the members in the area affected might do so. If necessary the people getting the ride could share the cost of the transportation, or the chapter could reimburse the driver for mileage, assuming there are funds available. You should work these arrangements out as rapidly and efficiently as possible so that they do not drag on, consuming meeting time and energy.
Chapter members will find it instructive to observe such problems being resolved quietly and efficiently. The important thing is to be seen to be taking the complications in stride. Too many blind people see such matters as constituting major problems in their lives instead of the logistical annoyances that they truly are. You can begin to teach them something about blindness as a nuisance by the way in which the Board handles these matters.
It is important to spend time at the beginning working with your officers and eventually your committee chairs on ways of making meetings run smoothly and interestingly. An inexperienced secretary may begin by writing minutes that are either too detailed or too brief. Minutes should record all decisions made by the organization and list all matters discussed. It is not advisable to expect the minutes to record what was said in the course of the discussion. The chapter needs a record of the substantive actions of the organization. This record must be in print whether or not it is also maintained in Braille or on cassette tape. Auditors frequently wish to see minutes, and they mean print. For this reason also, the treasurer must maintain records in print. And your written order to the treasurer to pay expenses must also be in print and must have the appropriate receipts attached to it for the treasurer's records. The secretary's and the treasurer's reports at each meeting should be relatively brief and as lively as they are capable of making them.
One ongoing responsibility, usually assumed by the chapter secretary, is notifying the National Office of the names, addresses, and phone numbers of new members whose names should be added to the Braille Monitor mailing list. It is critically important to mark such correspondence clearly as being information for the Monitor list. Each name should also have the magazine format clearly marked. The choices are print, Braille, disc, and cassette. Each member should have the Monitor available in a format which he or she will use. A sighted member should not necessarily be expected to read his or her spouse's recorded magazine just to save expense. On the other hand, a blind couple does not usually need two recorded editions. Remember that the disc is less expensive to produce than the cassette, and the Braille edition is much more expensive than any of the others. People who will make good use of the Braille should not hesitate to request it, but we should all work to make our resources go as far as possible. Individuals who are inclined to pay for their subscriptions should be encouraged to do so, but your aim should be to have every member of the chapter reading the entire magazine every month whether or not the family can afford the subscription cost.
Many chapters make a practice of presenting to each new member an NFB pin when he or she joins the Federation. Then when the roll is called at the beginning of each meeting, everyone who is not wearing a pin or other NFB insignia (jewelry, tie clasp, etc.) must pay a small fine. This kitty is then used for some special purpose for the whole group. Some chapters do a split-the-pot raffle at each meeting. People throw in their loose change or buy tickets for some nominal amount, and at the end of the meeting one name is pulled, and the proceeds in the pot are split between the chapter treasury and the winner. Sometimes members take turns in providing an object for an auction to be conducted during the meeting at a moment when a little lively activity would lift the spirits of the group. Again, the proceeds go to the treasury or to some special project fund.
Before you arrive at the meeting, you should have planned your agenda. This of course should include old and new business so that other people can bring up things that they would like to discuss. You should run through the agenda at the beginning of the meeting so that people know what to expect. This may help them to refrain from some time-consuming discussion early in a meeting that they can see will be packed with agenda items.
The first thing on your agenda, after the roll call, the reading of the minutes of the previous meeting, and the treasurer's report should be playing the presidential release if you have one. As the chapter president your name has been placed on the presidential release list, so you should receive each one as it is mailed from the National Office. If you do not receive one within a month or so, call the National Office to inquire about whether or not your name is on the list. You should listen to the tape before the meeting so that if there is information that you need to know more about, you can get a briefing from a state officer before people begin asking you questions you can't answer. The release is very important because the chapter must feel itself to be an integral part of the whole tightly knit organization that reaches across the nation. Part of your job as president is to help every member of the Federation in your area understand that Mr. Maurer is a real friend. Everyone should recognize his voice and understand that the issues that affect the organization as a whole must be recognized as important in your city.
I must say a word here to you about finances. It is important that the chapter get started early raising money, but it is equally important that the habit be formed of passing the funds through the books so that it can do the most good. There is a strong temptation among us mortals to hang on to what we earn, but the Bible is right when it says, Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. More than one chapter has contracted a terminal illness by acquiring a fat savings account. In my view a local chapter, if it is very active, can spend five to ten thousand dollars a year without trying very hard. But I mean that this much money can pass through its books. A chapter that has established this kind of record will be working hard at fundraising and supporting state and national programs liberally in addition to contributing to the Washington Seminar and the national and state convention efforts and assisting local members to attend these events. The chapter will also be conducting various programs in the community: distributing literature; educating the public, including providing Braille cards to each child in the classes addressed; organizing seminars of various types for chapter members and the community; etc.
You will notice that I emphasized that such funds should be passing through the books. Pools of money at the local or state levels are not likely to encourage health in the Federation. People are less likely to scramble to make money if the savings account is significant and there are certificates of deposit squirreled away in the bank. They will be inclined to see efforts to vote contributions to the state or national organizations as attempts to get our money away from us. Though it is certainly true to say that our organization, like most others, is only as strong as its local chapters, it is equally true that a dollar spent at the national level will do tenfold the good that the same dollar can do at the state level and one hundredfold the good that it can do at the local. Money must, of course, be spent at the chapter level, and there are many programs that cannot work except at the grassroots, but if we want to change the climate of public opinion and the quality of life for blind people anywhere, we must work nationally. If we ever hope to improve services to the state's blind, we must work at that level, and such efforts must be undertaken by entities beyond the local chapter.
There are a couple of very useful projects that local chapters can undertake that provide good outlets for chapter funds and assist the organization in the most efficient way possible. The first is to have the chapter enroll on the Pre-Authorized Check (PAC) Plan. This project must be undertaken very carefully because it must not dissuade individual members from becoming PAC members personally. The PAC Program allows an individual or organization to have a specified amount automatically deducted from a checking account each month. The chapter should provide this service for members who wish to contribute on PAC but who do not have checking accounts. Individual PAC members should not be discouraged from contributing to the chapter PAC collection if they wish to, but it should be made clear that their personal PAC commitment is their primary focus. The chapter can decide how much money to contribute monthly to PAC, and then those who wish to do so can contribute at the meeting to cover the PAC contribution each month.
The other very useful program that chapters can ideally participate in is the Deferred Insurance Giving (DIG) Program. This plan allows an individual or a chapter to purchase an insurance policy on the life of a member or someone in his or her family. The policy is then presented to the Federation so that when the insured individual eventually dies, the Federation will receive the face amount of the policy in that person's memory. The chapter can get more specific information about the DIG Program by contacting the National Center for the Blind.
One of your first tasks as president will be to appoint committees. Some of these should be standing committees, and some should be ad hoc. An ad hoc committee might look into notifying the appropriate state offices of the chapter's existence and preparing and filing the appropriate forms and documents. They might also take responsibility for notifying the libraries, social service organizations, and telephone company of the chapter and its services to the community. You might consider devising a small flyer informing them of the existence of the group and of its ability to help blind people and their families.
Typical standing committees include Ways and Means, to do fundraising; Nominating, to recruit a slate of board and officer candidates when appropriate; Legislative, to work with the state organization on educating your local representatives in the Legislature and the Congress; Public Relations, to do local PR and to help with state and national projects; Associates, to encourage chapter members to recruit family, friends, and acquaintances as members-at-large who will become Associates of the NFB; and Membership, to build the organization by recruiting new members. (The chapter may need to establish standing committees to deal with local causes or organizations that involve the blind.) For example, my chapter has a committee composed of those members who sit on the board of the local service delivery agency. If you establish permanent fund-raising projects, you may wish to appoint standing committees to work with each of those rather than doing it all through the Ways and Means Committee.
I would not try to appoint all committees immediately. Like a juggler, you must get them launched one at a time and learn to keep the ones already appointed working well before starting another project. Your aim is to make everyone feel that he or she is playing an important part in the ongoing functioning of the chapter. Some will be more effective committee members than others. You must decide how to divide the chapter talent among the committees so that no group has too much weight to carry and too few people to carry it. Some people will be able to give good service on more than one committee; others will be happiest putting all their effort into one kind of activity. You must balance the needs and the preferences as best you can. This task will get easier as you get to know the people with whom you are working. Try to establish the kind of relationship with your committee chairs that will enable them to turn to you with their problems for advice and encouragement. Your job as president is not to do everything but to enable others to get it done.
The question naturally arises of what kinds of projects would be best to begin right away. There are lots of things that cry out to be done everywhere. Your job again is to strike a balance for your chapter. Some projects at the beginning should be chosen because they are easy to do or because the starting point is obvious. Literature distribution is a good example. We have several pieces of literature that are ideal for distribution in local areas. You should have a rubber stamp made including the name of the organization, the chapter phone number, and an address so that these pieces of literature can be stamped (a good job for someone with some sight at a chapter meeting) and then distributed. The pieces I am thinking of are What is the National Federation of the Blind? Do You know a Blind Person? and The Voice of the Diabetic . The first two are available from the National Center for the Blind, Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. Sample copies of the third can be obtained from Ed Bryant, The Voice of the Diabetic, 811 Cherry Street, Suite 306, Columbia, Missouri 65201. Doctors' offices, libraries, and public places of any kind where literature is available are good places to leave stacks of these pieces.
Other projects that pop to mind include the following:
* Notifying the blind students at local institutions of higher education about the Federation's scholarship program and perhaps conducting a seminar for them in the application-writing process. They will be inclined to come because it is to their financial advantage to do so, and you will have a chance to educate them about the Federation and what we can do for people. You will then have names of blind students for your own chapter and for the student division.
* Chapter education. Members can take it in turn to lead a group discussion of one piece of Federation literature like a banquet address or an article from a recent Braille Monitor . Everyone should know beforehand what is to be discussed at the next meeting and, if necessary, copies should be made and distributed so that they have a chance to read or reread it. This is an excellent way of encouraging people to read our information with attention and of familiarizing members with the reservoir of useful NFB literature.
* Fundraising. It almost doesn't matter what you do here as long as you are doing something. You may have trouble persuading people to jump into this one. The chapter will need money immediately, but some of us instinctively feel that we are above such mundane things. Others are so conditioned as blind people to steer clear of anything that smacks of begging that they balk at pitching in to participate in projects that they would help with happily if it were for a church or community service club like the Lions. Try making the point that nothing is more important in helping blind people everywhere than the work of the National Federation of the Blind. We are experts in this field, and the fact that we are committed to helping blind people through the Federation is merely an indication of how justifiable our fundraising is. It may be advisable to set a special goal for some of the funds raised, like sending chapter members to the national convention next summer. The group as a whole had better discuss what they are most willing to do in fundraising. Some chapters would rather sell tickets themselves than staff a booth to sell a product. Some like raffles, and others would rather tackle a big project like a hike-a-thon. Some groups buy blocks of tickets for a community theater production and sell the tickets at a profit. But the principle must be established early on that money must come into the organization if it is going to go out again, and you must do everything you can to teach each member to expect that the money will go out. * Distributing our television and radio spot announcements to local stations. It is important for those folks to know who we are and what we stand for. Someone should go to visit the Public Affairs or Public Service Director to discuss the organization and to hand him or her the announcements and several small pieces of our literature. The person in charge of this project or the chair of the committee should maintain accurate records of each station's personnel, the spots they have taken, whether or when the spot announcements were aired, and what affirmative response the chapter has made to the station. A full discussion of this and many other important public relations responsibilities appears in the Federation's public relations handbook, The Media and the Message , available in print or Braille from our National Office for $6.00.
* Assisting chapter members with their personal problems. As people come to know and trust one another, they will volunteer their troubles. The newly blind have many issues to grapple with. Others will have problems with the state rehabilitation agency, Social Security, employers, schools, and over-protective family and friends. You may want to form a Human Rights Committee to work intensively with these people, or you may wish to use a general discussion of one person's dilemma (having previously checked with the individual to insure that he or she is happy to discuss it) to educate everyone about these issues and to bring the group together in a caring relationship with each other. This is tricky to achieve but valuable when it works.
* Establishing a Calling Committee. This is or can be different from the Membership Committee, which seeks to build the chapter by finding new members. The Calling Committee builds the chapter from within. Its members call everyone with a reminder about the coming meeting. The members keep tabs on who is ill, who is bereaved, who is just having a hard time for some other reason. Cards and calls can help at times like these. It is also nice to celebrate together graduations, births, marriages, and the other happy milestones in people's lives. We say we are a family because we really are one and because we care about one another. The Calling Committee makes sure that we don't let things slip between the cracks.
It is also a good idea from time to time to plan for presentations at chapter meetings. Talking with state or national legislators about matters of concern to the blind is a very good use of chapter time. Having a presentation by a teacher of visually impaired children and then talking about our concerns is also important. If members are unsure about the services of local agencies that purport to serve the blind, invite someone from the agency in to explain the programs and answer questions. Anytime a member has trouble with being denied service because he or she is blind, you have an excellent opportunity for a program devoted to that problem.
Arranging for exchange visits between the chapter and other Federation chapters is both fun and instructive. There are any number of program ideas floating around out there. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that you have to have a program item at every meeting. We have lots of internal business to conduct month in and month out, and if the chapter spends all its time dealing with outside issues, we will have trouble keeping the ongoing work moving along. The committees of a chapter are usually the hands and feet of the outfit. The chapter meeting is the time when everyone learns what people have been doing since the last meeting. The board is charged with working out the details that will make everything move along smoothly, and the president has the day-to-day responsibility for seeing that glitches do not occur or are corrected as soon as possible and that people are working well together. You set the tone, listen with an open mind and a compassionate heart, and guide as wisely as you know how to. You should also make a point of keeping in touch with others in the state who can help and encourage you.
I am afraid that you may be feeling panic at the scope of what you have taken on. Spelled out it takes a lot of paper, but much of this you probably already know. Much, too, you will have to initiate as you have time, energy, and bodies to do it. The most important part is always to take the next step. You can almost always see what that one step is, even if you don't know clearly what you should do after that. We are all here to help each other. Our goal is the full integration of the blind into society on terms of equality. To do this we must support each other, the newly blinded, the parents and families of blind children, and the public, which knows next to nothing about the capacity of blind people. If you stop to think about it, you know quite a lot about this whole subject. You will make a wonderful president. Everyone in the state and national leadership is here to help you. Good luck.
National Federation of the Blind of Ohio
MEETING THE NEEDS OF THE BLIND CHILD:
WHAT IS THE PARENT'S RESPONSIBILITY?
From the Associate Editor: Surrounded by a landscape littered with federal and state regulations for providing services and education to blind children, and battered by the jargon and expertise of the professionals, parents of today's blind youngsters can hardly be faulted for seeking as much help as possible without expense to themselves. After all, they have been assured that their children require special intervention intervention which would be very expensive indeed if it were contracted for independently. Persuaded over the years that because they could not provide the vast amount of instruction necessary to make up the child's sensory and experiential deficits, parents have been brainwashed into depending on the professionals to decide what is best at every turn. Parents often feel that, since they have had to give up their right to make decisions, at least they should be excused from paying for the course of action chosen. It is not surprising, then, that we find blind children tucked away in programs that have space for them, whether or not the curriculum meets the child's true needs. When the parent who senses dimly that something is wrong protests, he or she is usually made to feel that the complexities of the child's needs are beyond his or her comprehension. Furthermore, it is hinted that if the parent doesn't like the course of action chosen by the professionals, he or she can find another placement and pay for it, too.
Recently the parents of a gifted blind three-year-old wrote to Barbara Cheadle, president of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Fortunately, they were at the beginning of this carrot-and-stick spiral of domination by professionals. They are bright, sensible, and deeply committed to providing their daughter with an education worthy of her abilities. But they were confused, so they turned to those with the most experience in working with professionals to meet the real needs of blind children. The exchange of letters is instructive to everyone who is sometimes tempted to relinquish personal responsibility for self or child to those whose expertise is merely professional. Here is the exchange of letters between these parents and Barbara Cheadle:
December 18, 1989
My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting you in May, 1989, at a seminar for parents of blind children. We told you about our blind daughter Laura and our concern that her preschool education could be affected by State funding cutbacks for the 1989-90 school year. I am writing now to ask your opinion and advice regarding what the law entitles Laura to have in terms of her preschool education.
Laura turned three years old in November, 1989. She is performing very well as indicated in the attached Psychological Report, which was completed by the agency here. Her overall diagnosis is that she is totally blind but also gifted. All of this is great news, but we still have remaining concerns about the quality of the education being provided by the educational facility. The agency has provided the assistance of both a pre-Braille skills instructor and a mobility/orientation instructor during the 1988-89 and 1989-90 school years. This aspect of Laura's education has not been affected by any reduced funding. We are very happy with her progress in these areas. Also, both of the instructors are strong advocates of Laura's right to an equal and proper education.
The area that we are unhappy with is the general classroom in which Laura has been placed. During the 1988-89 school year Laura attended the local United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) classroom. She interacted a great deal with the other children. Due to reduced funding, Laura has been placed for the 1989-90 school year in a local Project CONNECT classroom that otherwise consists of speech and hearing impaired children. These children provide very little audible stimulation for Laura. Also, Laura is functioning at a much higher level than the rest of the children. The attached psychological report notes that Laura is performing at the 97th percentile compared with sighted children of her age whereas the other children in the classroom are performing at the 4th percentile. In fact, the attached report concludes that Laura would more appropriately be placed in a preschool setting that serves children with average or above average verbal and cognitive skills.
We met with the agency staff in October, 1989, to review Laura's situation. At this meeting the responsibility for (1) finding a suitable preschool classroom for Laura and (2) funding the preschool tuition was placed with us. We have recently heard that there is a possibility that the agency may terminate Laura's eligibility for the Project CONNECT classroom she is now attending because there are children with greater needs for the facility. In any case the provision of Laura's pre-Braille skills and mobility/orientation instructors seems secure. We want our daughter to be as prepared as possible for elementary school. We are very pleased that she is doing so well but also realize that she will need continuing special education to maintain her high performance. We look at her needs as absolute rather than what her needs are relative to other children. The agency view on this matter appears to be greatly influenced by its funding constraint. You can help us by answering the following questions:
1. What type of education is the State required to provide for Laura by law?
2. Does the Project CONNECT classroom setting described above meet these requirements? Please take into account the disparity between Laura's functional level and that of her classmates.
3. Would it be within the law to deny Laura the right to attend the Project CONNECT classroom even if such denial is for the purpose of providing room for a child with greater needs?
4. Whereas the agency's evaluation concludes that Laura should be placed in a normal preschool, is it within the law to place the responsibility of finding and funding the appropriate preschool on the parents?
5. How does the law address Laura's situation? Does the law place primary and fundamental emphasis on her needs as a totally blind child, or does it also account for her high functional verbal and cognitive skills?
6. What can we do to insure that our daughter's rights to a proper education are fulfilled?
Please note that I have certain information concerning the federal and state laws on this subject. I am seeking an interpretation of the laws as they might apply to Laura's case. I am hoping that you can help me understand the law and that I can therefore be more influential when I deal with the agency in support of Laura.
Regretfully, we were unable to attend the recent parents of blind children seminar in our state. We realize that we could have discussed this subject in person at that time. Therefore, we will especially appreciate your assistance in responding to this letter. You may also call me at my work telephone number if it would be more convenient. I could call you back so that I incur the telephone charges.
Thank you very much for your support. We hope that you and your family have a happy holiday season.
January 31, 1990
Dear Mr. and Mrs.:
I have read and re-read your letter many times and have given your situation much thought. You raise some important questions, and you deserve the best answers I can give you.
First of all, I don't think the primary issue here is what the law does or does not provide. Sure, you want to know how it applies to your situation, but the fundamental question you have to deal with is that of your daughter's needs. Only then are you ready to deal with how to meet those needs. If the law can be used to support your position, then you'll want to have it enforced vigorously! If the law is silent on the matter or, worse, has provisions you don't want enforced, then you will have to use other means to get what you need negotiation, compromise, pulling strings, using publicity, etc. Of course, if the provision (or omission) in the law is serious enough, you will also want to get together with others of like mind and work to get it changed. In short, you will want to interpret and use (or not use) the law in a way that will most benefit your daughter. I believe, from the tone and sense of your letter, that you have the capacity and determination to do this.
This brings us back to the fundamental question: what does your daughter need? Specifically (and I believe I am accurately reflecting the situation as you have described it in your letter) should your daughter, who is normal in every way except that she is blind and intellectually gifted, remain in a preschool setting with children who are functioning at a level far beneath her? And should the agency which has been paying for this special preschool program find and pay for a regular preschool program (or maybe even a program for gifted preschoolers, if one exists) for your daughter?
I do not think from what you have told me that anyone involved believes that your daughter should stay in her current preschool setting. I certainly don't. It is clear that, not only is there no benefit in it for her, but there is a real danger that her current abilities and skills will begin to deteriorate as she unconsciously begins to imitate the children around her. She needs to be with peers who will challenge and stimulate her. The preschool is only muddying the waters by telling you that your daughter should leave the program to make room for a child who needs it more. You are absolutely right that the question of other children's needs should have nothing to do with making a decision about what your daughter needs including whether the program is right for her.
So why did they bring it up? Wouldn't the assessment stand by itself? If it was a strategy to get you to agree to the assessment, it obviously backfired as it would with just about any parent I know. I think they brought it up for the same reason that in the old fable the scorpion stung the fox. The scorpion had convinced the fox to carry him over the river. Right in the middle he stung the fox. As they both sank to their death the fox asked why he had done it. The scorpion replied, I couldn't help it. It's in my nature. It seems to be the nature of institutions to be primarily concerned with what's best for the institution.
What do you suppose the agency would recommend if the program your daughter is in were in danger of closing its doors for lack of students? Let's suppose that nothing else had changed your daughter had the same abilities and the same needs the only difference was the level of demand for the program. Don't you suppose they would find compelling reasons why your daughter should stay in the program for a few more months or maybe even another year?
Given the nature of institutions, my question to you is this: Do you really want to give an agency, which has demonstrated that your daughter's needs and welfare are secondary to its own, the power to select a preschool program for her? Think about it. Who cares more about your daughter, you the parents or the professionals? True, you will not always know what is best for her, but neither will the professionals. That's why you should always be in charge. Very often parents of blind children, out of ignorance or insecurity, allow professionals to take over and make decisions that are both the right and the responsibility of the parents.
Another way to think about the situation is to ask yourself, If my daughter were sighted, would I want a governmental agency to have the right, regardless of my desires and best judgment, to select a preschool program for her? This question is based on the presumption or philosophy if you will that the average blind person can live and compete on an equal basis with the sighted, exercising the same rights and responsibilities.
If the parents of the average sighted preschooler are expected to select and pay for a preschool program in your state, then so should the parents of an average blind child. If state or federal funds subsidize preschool programs for low-income families, then the blind preschooler of a low-income family has the same right to attend that program as any sighted child who qualifies. (The Headstart program, by the way, has a mandate to serve disabled children. I have known of several low-income blind children who attended Headstart programs successfully.) If a school has a program for gifted and talented children, then the gifted and talented blind child has the same right to participate as his or her sighted peers. The same rule applies for any other public or community program you can think of YMCA swimming lessons, scouting, school field trips, church choir, and so forth. Blind adults or children should not be excluded just because they are blind, but neither should they expect special favors.
I understand that this philosophy is not as simple to implement as I have perhaps made it sound. First of all blind children do have unique needs which require special services. Blind people (for the most part) cannot read print or cannot read it efficiently and therefore need an alternative system for reading and writing.
Braille is the answer to that need. But because Braille is not used by the public at large, it requires special instruction from a teacher trained in the method. The same is true for independent travel. Again, the alternative technique (use of the long white cane) should be taught by someone who knows how to travel independently with the cane. There are many other alternative techniques which a blind child needs to learn, such as methods for cooking, shopping for clothes, putting on make-up, doing research in a library, cleaning house, doing the laundry, or fixing a leaking faucet. A few of those skills, such as Braille and, to a lesser extent, cane travel, require specialized instruction. Most are a matter of common sense and will be taught at home just as they are to any other child.
The question then is whether the use of alternative techniques changes our expectations of blind people. Does it alter our philosophy regarding the normality and equality of the blind? History has demonstrated that it does not. This philosophy, as articulated by the National Federation of the Blind, has been tested by thousands of blind people over several decades now, and it works. The blind have found that the means by which a blind child or adult accomplishes something may be different, but the end result should measure up to what we would expect from the sighted.
The Pros and Cons of Preferential Treatment for the Blind, by Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, is one of the best articles I have ever read on the subject of the rights, responsibilities, and special needs of the blind. Although this article was written some years ago and much has changed in the meantime, the principles he laid down then are as relevant today as they were at the time of their writing. With this letter, I am enclosing that article as well as a speech by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, Blindness The Pattern of Freedom. Dr. tenBroek was the founder of the National Federation of the Blind, and Dr. Jernigan is the current Executive Director of our organization.
Let me now go back for a moment to the question you raise in your letter about who should find and pay for a regular preschool for your daughter the agency or the parents. Basically I believe that parents of blind children should do whatever is expected of other parents. For most regular preschool programs that means digging into our own pockets. I have three children, two sighted and one blind. We selected and paid the fees for preschool programs for all three of them. Our blind son attended a private Montessori program because we thought it would be more challenging for him. (He is also considered gifted and currently takes special classes offered to all gifted sixth graders at the public school he now attends.)
By the way, I do concede that there may be situations in which an agency should pay for the average blind child to attend a regular preschool. Even so, parents should always carefully weigh the costs, and I don't just mean dollars and cents. We have all heard the adages about purse strings and power and how nothing in life is free. That doesn't mean we should never accept services and materials for our children that are needed and are available especially if they are from public programs supported by our tax dollars only that we should always be aware of the full price we are paying.
I have one more comment to make about blindness and the education of blind children. In your letter you say that [we] realize that [Laura] will need continuing special education to maintain her high performance. If you mean by this that your daughter needs instruction in the alternative techniques of blindness and the means of getting materials in a form she can use (such as Braille and taped textbooks), that is certainly true but only up to a point. Eventually she will no longer need Braille instruction or orientation and mobility. At least by the time she enters college, she will no longer need anyone else to order her Braille and taped books or run interference with a skeptical teacher or professor. She will do it herself. She will know how to find and train her own readers and get wherever she needs to go without the help of parents or professionals. She will do her own laundry, cook her own meals, manage her own career, pay her own taxes, and probably raise some grandchildren for you.
There are those, however, who believe that the disability of blindness is so profound and pervasive that a blind person must rely upon life-long assistance from professionals in order to achieve maximum independence. A great many professionals believe this; members of the public believe it; and, though their numbers are decreasing, there are blind people who believe it. Parents of young blind children are especially vulnerable to this false philosophy. It is easy for us to become dependent upon the professionals who are there when we most need someone to provide us with help, hope, and guidance. Not only do we become dependent upon them, but we develop a distorted perspective about how and why our children learn. We often discount the role we play as the child's natural teacher and overlook the part played by his or her own innate will and drive to learn. Instead, we begin to believe that only the professionals can hold the key to the blind child's success in life, but that just isn't the way it works!
I think most people fall somewhere between these two philosophies of blindness. I know I do. But since everything in the world is constantly changing, parents will not stay in one place on that spectrum. We will be moving toward either one view or the other. We will either come to believe more and more in the normality and equality of the blind, or we will become more convinced that blindness is a profound limitation.
As I look again at your letter, I realize that I have probably not answered your questions in the way that you expected, but I have given you, as I promised, the best answers I could. Please get in touch with me if you have questions or want to discuss any part of this letter. You can call me at home or at the National Federation of the Blind office, (301) 659-9314.
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
National Federation of the Blind
THE CHILD'S LAUGHTER AND THE ADULT'S RESPONSIBILITY:
GROWTH IN THE FEDERATION'S PHILOSOPHY
by Christopher J. Kuczynski
As Monitor readers know, Chris Kuczynski is a young attorney in a prestigious Philadelphia law firm. He also serves as first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. Since his introduction to the Federation as a scholarship winner in 1985, his commitment to the organized blind movement and the sophistication of his understanding of the true issues of blindness have been steadily growing. Chris is a thoughtful reader of the Braille Monitor. His reflections on a recent article demonstrate how much we all can benefit from a dialogue with each other about the issues and actions that shape our lives as blind people. Here is what he has to say:
There was much in Bill Isaacs' article "Educate the Educated The Bland Use of Blind" (Braille Monitor , December, 1989), with which I, as a young professional, could identify. I frequently find that my colleagues in the legal profession, as educated as one might suppose them to be, are sorely in need of knowledge about the issues of blindness. Even some of those who have worked with me, now these four or five months, have much to learn about my abilities and about the abilities of blind people in general. For me, each day is like that conference was for Mr. Isaacs another opportunity to educate the educated.
Blind lawyers working in private firms throughout this country are rare. When a qualified blind person manages to get past the misconceptions of would-be employers and obtains work in such an environment, both the blind person and the employer are likely to believe that the problem of discrimination has been overcome. On the contrary, discrimination is no less real simply because it pays a higher salary and carries with it some prestige. If discrimination is to be defined as differential treatment of a person or class of persons, based on some unfounded belief about that person or class, then discrimination can certainly be said to exist even where all parties involved are highly educated.
But when even one of us lives the Federation's philosophy in the workplace, demonstrating that with the proper training and opportunity we can compete on terms of equality with our sighted peers, slowly but steadily we begin to destroy centuries of myths and misconceptions. Any conscientious Federationist cannot help being an educator; anyone who has had contact with a conscientious Federationist cannot help learning from the experience. Bill Isaacs is obviously one such conscientious Federationist, who can do nothing other than respond to anything that perpetuates baseless stereotypes.
Despite the truths communicated in the article by Mr. Isaacs, however, my attention was captured by a passage with which I take issue and which seems to contradict the article's overriding theme. Despite Mr. Isaacs' warning that we (the blind) should not tolerate the careless and demeaning use of the word blind by the sighted community, he has this to say about how members of the blind community sometimes act among themselves:
We the blind can laugh and joke about our difficulties, but it's quite another thing for the sighted public to create such false imagery. Theodore Roosevelt could say that President William McKinley did not have the backbone of a chocolate eclair, but for the Spanish minister Dupy de Lome to say essentially the same thing as a foreign visitor led to his dismissal and helped to pave the way for the Spanish-American War. We can politely talk to our relatives about the foibles of one of the members of the family; but it hurts a bit to hear an outsider talk about your brother or your sister in a derogatory way. Mr. Isaacs then continues by illustrating some funny things we do which are laughable. The question with which I am left, after reading the article is this: Is it really possible for us to laugh among ourselves about our difficulties while expecting the sighted community to treat us as first-class citizens?
Looking back on my high school years and on some of my experiences in the first two years of my college education, I think that, even though I did not recognize it at the time, I considered myself inferior to my classmates. Academically I always did better than most of them, but I think I regarded my intelligence as the bookishness of someone who had no other life, and I sometimes felt uncomfortable in social situations. I'm sure that I attributed this discomfort to blindness, even though I always appeared to deal well with my difficulties. I was known, as so many adolescent blind people no doubt are still known, for my good sense of humor. Once, as a high school freshman, I played Homer (who was blind), in a commercial set in ancient Greece. This was a social studies project in a class that focused on the history of ancient Greece and Rome. I was Apollo's assistant chariot salesman, and the commercial that a schoolmate and I created involved my pointing to various articles in the room, proclaiming what a handsome chariot each one was. Apollo always whispered to me that the object to which I was pointing was, not a chariot at all, but a desk, or chair, or table, or nothing at all. When I finally found the chariot, I bumped into it, causing it to fall apart, demonstrating not only the bad manufacturing of the vehicle but my own ridiculousness. Twelve years later this skit remains in my memory a grimly distant recollection that could never be repeated. But at the time my handling of the skit did much to gain the approval of my classmates. Ironically, it was only by making myself inferior that I could raise myself in the esteem of many of my classmates. It was only by laughing at my difficulties and by confirming every myth and misconception about blindness that I was able, in my own mind at least, to be treated as an equal.
I know that this experience does not exactly illustrate Mr. Isaacs' comments. My jokes about blindness were directed toward my sighted peers. In high school I did not know any other blind students. There were a few in college, but they were not within my circle of friends. Had I known blind people, however, I would have joked just as vigorously with them as I did with my sighted peers, and the results would have been just as damaging to my self-esteem and to the image others had of me and of all other blind persons. After all, we must be convinced of our right to first-class citizenship before we can begin to convince others of it. The blind person who finds it necessary to laugh at the difficulties of blindness or the funny things blind people do, even within the community of the blind, reinforces in his or her own mind the stereotypes that have for centuries been imposed upon us. A recent experience brought home to me precisely the way in which our image is damaged when we create, by comments to sighted persons or among ourselves, the image of the for want of a better phrase jolly blind person. In the presence of three or four other lawyers at the firm for which I work, a third-year attorney on staff, who, I had noticed from previous encounters, was not altogether comfortable dealing with blind people, made what I think is a familiar comment. I was holding some Braille notes that I had just written. The lawyer remarked, so that he might draw approbation from his colleagues, how humorous it would be to rub out all the dots on those pages in order to confuse me. I evaluated the range of responses that might be appropriate. From among various alternatives I chose the turn- about-is-fair-play response in an attempt to reveal his ignorance about blindness to both himself and the other lawyers present. I smiled and said: It would be about as funny as my taking a black magic marker or a bottle of white-out to a pile of papers on your desk. An uneasy silence prevailed for a few seconds. He was obviously embarrassed, and those present seemed to sense my point exactly. We are not more foolish and confused simply because we use an alternative method of reading. Sheepishly he responded, Yes, but somehow that [my example] doesn't seem to be as funny. Humiliated as he must have been, he still tried to salvage his joke and, with it, his pride. I believe he thought me ill-humored, and, although I do not know that this particular event changed his attitude toward me, he seems somewhat more reticent in my presence now than prior to the incident and has passed me in the hall at times without exchanging a word.
Thoughts come to mind when I recall this event of two months ago. The first is that my response to it is profoundly different today from what it would have been a few years ago, due in large part to the philosophical nurturing I have received as a part of the National Federation of the Blind. The event also raises several questions about my educated colleague. Does he and will he ever be able to regard me as an equal? Probably not, even though he knows my grades were among the best in my law school class and that I live independently, managing my own apartment and traveling wherever I please. Yet he will probably never regard me as his equal if he does not even believe that my method of handling notes can be as efficient as his own. Why did he feel the need to attempt to diminish me in the presence of other colleagues? This probably involves a great deal of insecurity on his part and possibly several other psychological factors. Most important, why did he think it was acceptable to make this kind of remark? Didn't he realize I would mind? There are approximately five black attorneys out of perhaps 275 to 300 in the Philadelphia office, and it is doubtful that he would have felt comfortable making a joke to one of them about what it's like to be one of the very few black attorneys in the firm.
The answer to this last question suggests the reason that I believe we cannot afford to laugh at ourselves, even before an audience of blind people. I do not know whether my colleague has ever before dealt with a blind person. But at some point he got the idea that it was all right to make jokes about blindness to a blind person, who should bear the jokes cheerfully. Indeed the blind person might even join in the fun. He must have thought that I was just being overly sensitive in turning his joke on him. Maybe he got this idea from the media or from books he had read. Maybe he has known blind people who fit the stereotype. If people like my fellow attorney are to get mistaken ideas about blindness from someone, let it not be from the blind. Let others attempt to impose stereotypes on us; we will challenge and debunk the myths and misconceptions. Let us not, among ourselves or in the presence of the sighted, make blindness the source of a momentary chuckle. In doing so, we ratify the popular misconception that blind people will settle for a momentary pleasantry in a life of utter tragedy, rather than seek first-class citizenship.
From the premise that it is respectable to be blind, we in the National Federation of the Blind have built a philosophy on which to act and according to which we live our daily lives. There is no force on earth that can divert us armed as we are with the philosophy that emboldens us to act from our path to first-class citizenship. But we cannot say that it is respectable to be blind, while proclaiming among ourselves that it is acceptable to laugh about blindness and the funny things we sometimes do as blind people. Blindness is certainly not the tragedy that some would have us believe; nor is it an occasion for laughter that expresses uneasiness. Even if the conversations we hold among ourselves are not overheard by our sighted peers (and indeed they might be), what message do we reinforce in our own minds every time we feel the need to make a joke about blindness? Do we not say in some way that we are not entirely at ease with ourselves as capable blind people? Do we not echo the blind child's or blind adolescent's belief that the only way to gain some kind of equality is to lower our self-esteem and lose our identity by becoming what our peers expect us to be?
Today, I do not find it acceptable for blind people to laugh at their difficulties, even when among other blind people. I know why I once did so myself and why all blind people have probably done so at one time or another. The growth of our philosophy is like our physical maturation. In the childhood and adolescence of our beliefs about blindness, we accept what others have told us; we sometimes pander to the stereotypes; we desperately want to fit in at any cost. Our freedom of action is limited by what others tell us we can and cannot do. Our goals are short-term. But the Federation's philosophy is mature. It tells us that we make our own choices, that our goals need be limited only by our willingness to harness our full potential, and that we should prefer equality and first-class citizenship to the momentary approbation of those who otherwise regard us as inferiors. We will achieve this birthright of first-class citizenship, but we cannot do so unless we treat each other no less respectfully than we would have our sighted peers treat us. If we are philosophically mature, then we know that ultimate responsibility for shaping the world for the blind rests squarely upon us. That responsibility is great; let us not laugh it off.
SAFETY AND AMTRAK:
ANOTHER VARIATION ON A TIRED OLD THEME
by Sharon Gold
As Monitor readers know, Sharon Gold is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of California. She works hard to protect the rights of blind Californians and of us all. She is disturbed by what happened to a Federationist just before Thanksgiving of 1989 and even more concerned about what might have happened. No one meant any harm. In fact, the official involved intended to be considerate, but his actions placed a blind woman in a very difficult, if not dangerous, position. Here is the story as Sharon Gold tells it:
With the growing popularity of travel in America, automobiles, busses, trains, and airplanes have become a significant part of our lives. Everyone seems to be thinking of or planning for that special trip, whether it be immediate or a dream for the future. As the holiday season approaches each year, most of us make plans for trips to visit friends and family. Where once blind people were content only to dream of such travel, today we use public transportation, going independently as part of the general public.
When traveling, blind people expect to be treated equally, with the courtesy and respect shown to sighted passengers. We expect to associate or dissociate with whomever we choose. We also expect to travel free from unwanted and unnecessary assistance and free from the imposition of prejudice or discriminatory behavior by other passengers and transportation personnel.
Jana Littrell of the San Francisco East Bay Area finished work at her usual time on Friday, November 17, 1989. She briskly walked the two blocks to the AMTRAK Travel Center, where train tickets are sold as a convenience to the Oakland public. Jana was planning a Thanksgiving holiday with her family. Like the others entering the Travel Center, she was looking forward to a visit with her family and old friends and the traditional fun-filled holiday with its turkey and dressing. Planning ahead, Jana had chosen to buy her ticket after work on Friday in order to avoid the long ticket lines on the Wednesday afternoon just before Thanksgiving, which could result in her missing her train. Jana waited her turn in line and then stepped to the counter to purchase a round-trip ticket to Bakersfield, California. The agent began to prepare the ticket while he engaged in what seemed to be a friendly conversation with her. How would she get to the train? She patiently explained that she would take the bus. Was anyone traveling with her? No, she was traveling alone. Who would meet her at the train in Bakersfield?
By this time the realization began to creep over Jana that the agent was typing her answers into a computer. She stopped short of answering these question about who was to meet her and inquired why the agent was asking her all the questions. He replied that it was his duty. Jana then asked whether he requested such information from other customers.
By this time the exchange between the two had drawn the attention of the other people in the travel center, so that when Jana demanded if he was asking her these questions because she was blind, the entire area fell silent waiting for the agent's reply. Jana's refusal to discuss her travel plans further with the agent or to give him the name and address of a person who would be picking her up in Bakersfield angered the ticket agent, who loudly proclaimed that she would give him the information or he would not sell her the ticket.
If Jana wished to pre-purchase her ticket to Bakersfield, she had no choice but to rearrange her plans for the evening and travel to the AMTRAK train depot to purchase it. She left the AMTRAK Travel Center and started down the street toward the bus. She was aware of footsteps behind her, which soon moved along-side. A man's voice then spoke to her, but she did not respond.
When Jana boarded the bus, the footsteps followed her. Then the man began telling her how lonely he was and how he wanted to take care of her. Again, silently hoping that he would go away, she did not respond to him. When it was time to transfer busses, she got off, only to discover that her pursuer had disembarked as well. He followed her onto the second bus and again spoke to her in broken English. Jana, despite feeling mounting terror, tried to put the man off by explaining to him that in this country men do not approach women in this way. The man would not be put off. He kept repeating how lonely he was and how he could take care of her.
When the bus arrived at the AMTRAK depot, Jana hurried inside and bought a ticket from Oakland to Bakersfield. There were no questions about how she would get to the train depot, who would accompany her, or who would meet her at her destination.
By this time Jana presumed that the man would be gone, but when she boarded the bus to go home, there he was. She now knew that she had a serious problem on her hands. She could not let this man follow her home.
As she rode along, Jana reflected about how easily she had bought the ticket at the AMTRAK depot. She thought about the man who was on the bus with her, and she thought about the ticket agent at the AMTRAK Travel Center: how he had refused to sell her a ticket in the matter-of-fact way in which he sold tickets to other passengers. She remembered how his questions had focused general attention on her. The man on the bus with her had no doubt been loitering around the Travel Center and had been attracted to her by the agent's custodial behavior. After all, if the AMTRAK agent thought she needed to be taken care of, why shouldn't the aggressive loiterer be the one to do it?
Knowing that she would have to take drastic measures to separate herself from the man, Jana began to raise her voice when speaking to him. She began telling him that he could not get off the bus with her, that he could not continue to follow her, and that he was to remain on the bus when she got off. She focused the attention of every passenger on the bus as well as the driver on the man harassing her. In this way she was able to disembark alone and catch her final bus home.
Jana telephoned me to discuss the need for the National Federation of the Blind of California to investigate AMTRAK's policy concerning passengers. She explained that she had been buying tickets and traveling on AMTRAK for years and that this was the first time she had been asked such personal questions by an agent or had been refused a ticket.
When I telephoned Arthur Lloyd, Director of Public Affairs West at the National Railroad Passenger Corporation offices in San Francisco, Mr. Lloyd endorsed the behavior and attitude of the ticket agent and confirmed that AMTRAK had special rules for handling blind passengers. He explained that it was for the blind person's safety that AMTRAK needed to know how she was getting to the train, where she would be traveling and with whom, and who was going to pick her up at her destination. After some discussion Mr. Lloyd agreed that perhaps he was remembering an antiquated policy and that maybe he should consult AMTRAK's current regulations concerning blind people. The following letter is the result of his research:
San Francisco, California
November 22, 1989
Ms. Sharon Gold, President
National Federation of the Blind
Dear Ms. Gold:
Thank you for your call yesterday and for calling attention to a problem encountered by one of your members at our Travel Center in Oakland.
We do apologize to you and the person subjected to a wrong interpretation of our rules.
Ray Thurston, our agent at the ticket office location, did not intend any depreciation of the blind lady who wished a ticket to Bakersfield and only had the best interest of her in his mind. He, like I, was relying on a former regulation which, for the protection of the passenger, asked for some information as to someone picking up the customer at the final destination. This has since been rescinded and neither of us picked up on the change.
By copy I am asking the district supervisor for the ticket offices to indicate the information is no longer required so as to obviate a similar situation occurring in the future. If you would like to provide me with the name and address of the lady who had the unfortunate experience, I will be pleased to write her and offer a future trip to Bakersfield as our guest. You have helped us by calling this to our attention.
Arthur L. Lloyd, Director
Public Affairs West
cc: Gary Rose
That's what the Amtrak official had to say after he had reread his company's current policy concerning blind passengers. Jana Littrell is lucky that the ticket agent's ignorance did not cost her more than inconvenience and a nerve-wracking experience. We in the National Federation of the Blind have often said that our road to hell is paved with other people's good intentions. We must all be vigilant in order to see that incidents like this one occur less and less frequently.
JUSTIN DART COMMENTS ON THE
AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
From the Editor: Justin Dart, former commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, is the Chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. As a part of the Associates program, he is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind. He says that he is proud of that membership, and we are also proud of it. Recently Mr. Dart wrote to Congressman Gerry Sikorski about the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here is what he had to say:
February 16, 1990
The Honorable Gerry Sikorski
U.S. House of Representatives
Dear Congressman Sikorski:
As you know, I strongly support the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which will extend to people with disabilities the same civil rights protection that has been enjoyed by other minorities for more than two decades. This historic mandate for equal opportunity is an absolutely essential foundation for the elimination of the massive discrimination which has made our forty-three million citizens with disabilities this nation's most isolated, unemployed, impoverished, and welfare-dependent minority.
ADA as passed by the Senate and endorsed by President Bush is an excellent piece of legislation. However, I believe that it will be strengthened by an amendment emphasizing that people with disabilities have a clear choice to accept or reject special arrangements and accommodations, while at the same time retaining all of their rights to seek remedies in cases of negligence by providers. I see such an amendment as a wholly desirable clarification of existing, negotiated agreements already in the bill. This issue is important to me and to many. For example, my job requires constant travel. As a wheelchair user I am almost always offered handicapped rooms by hotels. While the special accommodations in these rooms are ideal for many colleagues, one particular commonly-provided facility is dangerous for me to use. I always ask for an ordinary room. I would not want to be forced to use the special room, nor would I want to lose my equal liability rights by choosing the ordinary room. While one might assume that in all common sense no one would ever be forced to use a special arrangement, this can indeed occur. One time after an exhausting marathon flight to London I was forced to wait on the aircraft one and a half hours after all other passengers had deboarded, so that I could be taken off into a special, ambulance-like vehicle. When I protested that I deboard just like everyone else in every other nation, I was told that this was the law, and that if I did not comply, I would be required to stay on the plane and return to America.
I would like to emphasize that in writing this letter I speak as an individual, and not representing the U.S. government or any other organization or group with which I am affiliated. While I do speak only for myself, I am aware that a very large number of my colleagues with disabilities agree with me on this issue.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE 16 YEARS MAKES
by Pattie Droppers
This article appeared in the February, 1990, NFB Vigilant, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia.
Sixteen years ago I was a student in the Washington Semester Program at American University in Washington, D.C. The purpose of this program was to take students majoring in public administration out of the classroom and put them to work to learn how our government operates. We were required to attend seminars all over the Washington area. Students served internships on Capitol Hill.
I never went to seminars or traveled Capitol Hill alone. I was the only Washington Seminar student who did not intern in a congressional office. In 1974 I did not know what I could do as a blind person.
And, more tragically, it never occurred to me to question the decisions university officials made concerning my participation (or lack of participation) in the program. I never asked for help or directions. Then, in the fall of 1986, I joined the Potomac Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.
Since I joined the Federation, my experience as a blind person has been changing. It took me two years to gain enough confidence to participate in the Washington Seminar, but in January of 1990 I stepped out and took my place. There were a number of different feelings I experienced throughout the week:
Importance: It was important that I take a stand on the issues affecting the blind of this country. It was time I put my body where it counted. Pride and Self-Confidence: I had a wonderful time walking through the underground tunnels and riding the subway on Capitol Hill. I was where I needed to be when I needed to be there. It was a great confidence-builder. I asked for directions several times. And, when asking directions on the way to one appointment, I had the opportunity to explain our issues. This filled me with pride. The person I was talking with was genuinely interested in what I had to say.
Belonging: Other NFB members were a great source of encouragement to me, particularly in the early going when I was especially nervous. I appreciated their support and understanding most. The most valuable lesson of belonging came to me on my first appointment, when I inadvertently knocked an open can of peanuts from a low coffee table. I wanted to go home, except the appointment was about to begin. Fellow Federationists picked them up, and fortunately the can was almost empty. The meeting with the congressman took place in a cordial and professional manner. Later a colleague told me that he almost sat on an ashtray. The point here is that I learned that it is okay that I will not do everything perfectly no one will. But we continue on.
I learned more about my capabilities in four days than I had in an entire semester at American University. I hope next year that even more of you will join us for the Washington Seminar. And if tramping around the House or Senate office buildings seems intimidating, remember that You don't have to go alone. I am told that the atmosphere is that of a mini convention. See you next year.
From the Associate Editor: This spring we are all thinking a good bit about our fiftieth anniversary convention and about things Texan. If you are like me, you have never spent much time in Texas I did change planes in Houston on my way home from the 1987 convention, but I don't count that. I have always heard a great deal about Texas cooking and the need to develop the organic equivalent of an asbestos lining for the mouth. So I asked Norma Crosby, whose husband Glenn is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, to send me some taste-tested Texas recipes. I said we wanted the real thing none of this taming down the product for the weak constitutions of cowardly easterners. On the other hand, I told her that I saw no point in losing the inside of my mouth to something that Texans were not prepared to vouch for as honest-to-goodness Lone Star quality. The following recipes contributed by Jeff and Zena Pearcy are the ones she sent me. The Pearcys are leaders in the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. They are also fine cooks.
SOUTH TEXAS SPICY SALSA
by Jeff Pearcy
5 medium tomatoes
1 large onion
4-6 hot jalapeño peppers
1 teaspoon salt (garlic salt optional)
1 teaspoon cumin
Method: Run all ingredients through a food processor until you get desired consistency. Yields one quart of sauce. Serve with crispy tostados and butter.
TEXAS STYLE CHICKEN FRIED STEAK
by Zena Pearcy
2 round steaks
3 tablespoons milk
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt
black pepper to taste
A pot, skillet, or deep fat fryer
about half full of oil
Method: Trim all fat from steaks (any remaining fat makes the meat tough). Cut into portions of desired size. Beat eggs and milk together in a shallow dish. Mix flour, pepper, and salt in a shallow dish. Roll each piece of meat first in the flour mixture, then in the egg mixture, then in the flour again. Put each piece directly into the hot oil. Do not let battered meat sit around waiting to be cooked. Deep fry on high heat 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. In Texas this entree is served with or without cream style or red-eye gravy. I prefer it unembelished. Yield: Serves eight Yankees or two Texans.
NATIONAL CHILI OF TEXAS
by Jeff Pearcy
6 round steaks, trimmed and cut into
3 pounds ground chuck
2 onions, chopped
4-6 chopped jalape¤os
8 tablespoons chile powder
4 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon cayenne (red) pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
4 tablespoons salt (garlic salt optional)
1/2 gallon water
2 Lone Star or Shiner beers
1 cup flour
Method: In an extremely large pot, brown the meat and onions. Push meat to one side of pot and dump the cup of flour into the cleared area. Stir the flour until browned. Stir meat and browned flour together. Add all other ingredients to the pot. Cover and cook 3 to 4 hours on medium to low heat, stirring often. Serves 15-20.
by Zena Pearcy
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
1 cup chopped Texas pecans
8-10 pickled jalapeños, halved and deseeded
Method: Let cream cheese soften either by leaving at room temperature for a couple of hours or by microwaving on low for one minute. Mix nuts with cheese. Stuff jalapeños with cheese and nut mixture. Serve with tequila chasers or water for the weak-of- heart.
**High Tech Birth Announced:
We received the following birth announcement from Clayton Hutchinson of Computer Conversations, who added that purchasers who mentioned that they read about this pocket voice synthesizer in the Braille Monitor would receive a $25 discount. The announcement reads:
Computer Conversations takes great pride in announcing the arrival of a Battery Powered/AC Pocket Voice Synthesizer
Father: R. Clayton Hutchinson
Name: Verbette Mark II
Weight: 8 oz.
Size: 3-3/4 x 2-1/4 x 3/4 inches
For additional information you are invited to contact the parents at Computer Conversations, 6297 Worthington Road, S. W., Alexandria, Ohio 43001; (614) 924-2885.
**Mixing Dogs and Schools: Senator Paul Kehoe of the New York State Senate recently wrote to the Monitor Editor to report that, although New York law is clear on the matter, there is evidence that at least one blind parent was refused entrance to her children's school because of the presence of her dog guide. In an effort to remind New York State school officials that dog guide users have the right of access to all public buildings, the New York Department of Education published the following notice in the January, 1990, edition of the School Executive's Bulletin:
Although dog guides are permitted in most places of public accommodations, including school buildings, incidents of parents who are blind being prevented from entering school with a dog guide have occurred. In order for parents who are blind to be able to fully participate in their children's education, they must be able to access the school building. Although there may be reasonable limitations to the use of a dog guide in certain environments, such as food preparation areas, parents must have the opportunity to attend such important school events as parent-teacher conferences, award programs, sporting events, and graduation ceremonies. Senator Kehoe's letter concluded with the following sentence, If you are aware of any similar problems, please do not hesitate to bring them to my attention.
Dennis Ranker, one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia, has recently been presented with several noteworthy awards. Three times in the past two years, he has been given superior performance awards by his employer, the Social Security Administration. In addition, on September 26, 1989, Mr. Ranker received the Certificate of Appreciation for volunteer services at a special awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Volunteer Service for which Dennis Ranker was recognized was his dedicated participation in the programs of the National Federation of the Blind. We add our congratulations to those of the Social Security Administration.
**Braille in a New Light:
Frank Kurt Cylke, Director, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, called our attention to an advertisement appearing in the February, 1990, edition of the Publishing News . In a full-page ad World Color Press, a consumer- magazine printing company, included a life-size picture of two hands reading Braille. The ad copy accompanying the photograph begins as follows: Louis Braille was a teacher at the National Institute of the Blind in Paris when he realized that by adapting a system that was used for writing messages at night in battle, he could give the blind access to literature, music, and science. Braille has since been translated into almost every tongue and developed into a tool that can manipulate the highest forms of mathematics. Braille's vision, to adapt an existing system to meet a need, is a characteristic that World Color Press admires and promotes. As Mr. Cylke points out in his letter, World Color Press certainly puts Braille in a positive perspective.
Jacquilyn Billey, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut reports that on January 27, 1990, the New Britain Area Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut came into being. Officers elected were: James Nicholson, President; James Foxworth, Vice President; James Sikrowitz, Treasurer; and Dorri Rickey, Secretary. Board Members elected were: Frances Sikrowitz, William Talbot, and Anna Ribes. The energetic chapter has already conducted a bake sale. Keep up the good work.
We recently received the following announcement: Mr. and Mrs. V. Price LeBlanc request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their daughter Lori Lynn to Mr. Russell Wayne Anderson on Saturday, the twenty-third of December, Nineteen hundred and eighty-nine, at two o'clock in the afternoon at St. Gabriel Catholic Church, St. Gabriel, Louisiana. Reception immediately following at the home of the bride's parents. Congratulations to Russ and Lori.
Paul and Mary Ellen Gabias report with much joy the birth of Joanne Kathleen at 3:25 a.m. on February 28th. Joanne weighed in at 7 lbs. 1 oz. and was 20-1/2 inches long. After giving everyone a thorough scare at the beginning, she is now excelling, her parents report, at everything babies are supposed to do. As Monitor readers know, Mary Ellen Gabias worked for a number of years as Assistant Director of the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program at the National Center. Paul Gabias is a Professor of Psychology at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. We share the Gabias' delight in the birth of their daughter and look forward to meeting her in Dallas.
**Candle In The Window, Fifth Annual Conference:
Jonathan Ice, a
member of the NFB of Minnesota, has asked that we carry the following announcement: Candle In The Window announces our fifth annual seminar, Wednesday through Sunday, August 15 through 19. The 1990 program is entitled Life Choices: Or What To Do When You Really Don't Develop A Sixth Sense. The conference will focus on: history and culture, blindness as a lifestyle choice, and relationship issues. The setting for this event is Wilder Forest, Marine On St. Croix, Minnesota, a rustic yet classy conference center of 1,100 acres near the Twin Cities. Enjoy the lush hiking trails, sparkling lakes, and our famous Minnesota blue skies. The facility is comfortable, the food is excellent, and this conference promises to be our most interesting and exciting ever. For further information contact: Lolly Lijewski, (612) 562-9243; or write: Candle In The Window, 6925 Humboldt Avenue, North, Number 202-B, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota 55430.
Eric Foss, president of the Kern County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California, writes as follows: The Kern County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California has available for a donation of $20 or more large digit L.C.D. clocks with the Federation logo on their stand. To get one, send your donation of $20 or more to: Kern County Chapter, National Federation of the Blind of California, Post Office Box 1445, Bakersfield, California 93302-1445; phone (805) 861-6542.
**New Family Member:
Colleen Roth is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. We recently received the following communication: Dudley and Colleen Roth take pleasure in announcing the adoption of a daughter, Karen Elizabeth Roth, on Monday, February 5, 1990. Karen's date of birth is May 14, 1971.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: I have for sale one Epson SmallTalk computer with adapter and battery recharger. It is three years old and barely used. I will take the best offer. Contact: Alicia Taylor (209) 952-9316.
**Under the Wire:
Chris and Doug Boone (long-time active members and leaders in the National Federation of the Blind, now living and working in New Mexico) announce the birth of Katherine Elizabeth on December 31, 1989, weighing seven pounds and measuring twenty-one and a quarter inches. Everyone, including big brother Edward, is doing well. Congratulations to the Boones.
**Taped Version Available:
Adrienne Asch, who works for the New Jersey Bioethics Commission and is an active member of the Human Rights Division of the National Federation of the Blind, has asked that we print the following: The Disability Studies Quarterly (DSQ), a newsletter full of information of interest to people studying disability from any perspective, is now available on cassette tape. Published by Irving Kenneth Zola at the Department of Sociology, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts 02254, the DSQ contains reviews of classic and recent books; information about recent films and new research; and much more. The taped edition comes out at the same time as the print edition and, like the print, costs $15 a year. Interested subscribers should contact Dr. Zola at the above address or should call him at (617) 736-2644.