The Braille Monitor
33, No. 7 July
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, Braille, on talking-book disc,
and cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
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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. 7 July 1990
A VISIT TO THE WHITE HOUSE
by Kenneth Jernigan
WHY BRAILLE LITERACY BILLS?
by Michael Freeman
WHAT CAN'T BLIND CHILDREN DO?
by Carol Castellano
THE VALUE OF COMPARISON
YET ANOTHER BRUSH WITH THE AUDIBLE TRAFFIC SIGNAL
by Kay Porth
PACKING YOUR OWN PARACHUTE
by Tom Ley
SEARCY EWELL NAMED VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
GRAND JURY MAKES RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING
ALABAMA INSTITUTE FOR DEAF AND BLIND
SO YOU DON'T DRIVE
by Larry Streeter
FROM THE EDITOR'S MAIL BASKET: FURTHER COMMENTS ON BRAILLE
COLLECTIVE ACTION PAYS OFF IN MINNESOTA
by Scott LaBarre
DONALD GIST APPOINTED COMMISSIONER OF
SOUTH CAROLINA COMMISSION FOR THE BLIND
PROBLEMS WITH COUNSELING THE VISUALLY HANDICAPPED
by Fareed Haj, Ph.D.
LAWYER BEATS MEDICAL ODDS
I HAVE A RIGHT TO SKATE IN THE MIDDLE
by Diane McGeorge
FOR THE BLIND, BUSINESS OWNERSHIP OPENS A CLOSED DOOR:
ENTREPRENEURSHIP RISES ALONG WITH SELF-ESTEEM AND LENDER
Copyright, National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1990
A VISIT TO THE WHITE HOUSE
by Kenneth Jernigan
I have been to the White House four times during my life. The first trip occurred early in the 1960s, maybe 1962. I went with Tim Seward, Congressman Walter Baring's assistant, to talk with Larry O'Brien, who was an official in the Kennedy administration and a key figure in the Democratic Party.
My second visit was some twenty years later when I spent approximately forty-five minutes talking with the then Vice President of the United States. I was trying to get him to make a distinction between organizations of the disabled (particularly, the blind) and officials of state and federal agencies operating programs for the blind. I told the Vice President that the National Federation of the Blind was the only large organization of disabled people in the country which, to the best of my knowledge, had not at one time or another taken swipes at the Reagan/Bush administration but that no Federationist had been appointed to any of the national advisory councils or committees making government policy for programs affecting the blind. It was a spirited but thoroughly friendly conversation, in which the Vice President told me that he was not knowledgeable about programs for the blind and I replied that I was not talking about programs for the blind but about politics a subject on which he was quite knowledgeable. The Vice President was interested and gracious, and I left with positive feelings. My third trip to the White House occurred shortly after my meeting with the Vice President. I was privileged to be part of a delegation that visited with President Reagan in the Oval Office. There were a number of us there, and I was certainly not the key figure in the conversation, which was quite brief but that in no way diminished my sense of the honor of being allowed to be there. Any American who is permitted to stand in the Oval Office of the White House and shake hands with the President of the United States should, in my opinion, feel singularly privileged. My rural upbringing in the hills of Tennessee is too much a part of my being for me to feel otherwise.
My fourth trip to the White House (and probably my last) occurred on Tuesday, May 1, 1990, when President Bush invited about a dozen representatives of publications which deal with the disabled to interview him. The meeting was scheduled for 11:15 in the morning, so Mrs. Jernigan and I left Baltimore early to allow for the Washington traffic and unexpected delays. The meeting was held in the Roosevelt Room, which is near the Oval Office, and there was an air of expectancy as we waited for the President. We were allowed to tape, so I set up my recorder as we waited. When the President came in, he sat near the middle of the table.
He said he would start at his left and go around the circle, taking a question from each of us. Since I was at the end of the table on his right, I was tenth in line. I want to print the entire text of my exchange with the President, following which I will share with you some of my thoughts about it. As you will see, the President had obviously been briefed about what I was likely to ask him, and just as obviously he indicated that he remembered our earlier conversation. Here is how the exchange went:
Press Conference, May 1, 1990
President Bush: Ken, I have never thought of you as a reporter, but here you are. (laughter) Delighted to see you.
Monitor Editor: Well, I edit the Braille Monitor , Mr. President, which is the largest circulation magazine in the blindness field.
President Bush: You do head that?
Monitor Editor: Yes sir, I edit that.
President Bush: I take back my attack on you. (laughter)
Monitor Editor: We circulate over 30,000 copies a month of it in Braille, print, and recorded form. Mr. President, I had the pleasure to meet with you on an afternoon when you were Vice President. President Bush: I remember that.
Monitor Editor: You were most helpful then. I appreciate that. We have a problem, I think, in this country about who speaks for various groups of persons with disabilities and, specifically in our case, who speaks for blind people. Now, I still find government officials who can't distinguish (or won't distinguish) between listening to government agencies who say they speak for the blind, on the one hand, or listening to elected leaders of the blind who are chosen by the blind themselves, on the other. That's all very well except that it impacts on all kinds of things.
Let me give you an instance and then ask you a question about it. Members of your Administration and you personally have strongly advocated for equal rights for persons with disabilities. The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in air travel. Yet, ironically (citing this law as a reason) the Federal Aviation Administration has just issued rules restricting our seating on planes. The rules say that discrimination is not permitted. They go on to say that a passenger must be able to see to sit near an exit. Now, there is no evidence of a safety problem. In fact, blind persons have, on more than one occasion in emergencies, helped with evacuations during times when lights were out on planes.
My question to you, Mr. President, is this: Is it possible that some persons responsible for airline regulations haven't got the message that you oppose discrimination and, more to the point, is it too late for another look to be taken at that situation? President Bush: Ken, in the first place, I have the blessing of having a Secretary of Transportation who, on this subject, is about as sensitive as anyone I know. He went down, I am told, and actually tested the doors (aside: Is that right?)
Unidentified Voice: Yes.
President Bush: On this kind of situation, and I think they have formulated regulations that obviously you disagree with. And it is almost like sitting next to this one exit door is almost like an additional member of the crew in that that person has a responsibility to be able to open the hatch, or whatever it is, in event of an accident. And whether the regulation can be changed so as to have flexibility in instructing a nonsighted person who sat there, I don't know, and I'd be glad to talk to Sam Skinner about it. But the door, the opening, for example It's not just (as I understand it) against... aimed at disqualifying nonsighted people from sitting there. I believe that there has to be some evidence that the person is physically able to open that hatch, 'cause it's almost like an additional safety factor for the airline. I will ask Sam, given this interest that has been brought to my attention before this meeting, as to whether there can be some flexibility in terms of a person, you know, Look, here is where this handle is. If something goes wrong, reach over and open the damn thing. I think it was done on a basis, not to discriminate, but really to try to save lives, and by being sure that whoever sat there was totally capable of (without instruction) knowing where you grab, reading the instructions and I think that is where the dilemma comes from. But if there is some other way to handle it, Ken, why I think we're in the nondiscrimination business, not the discrimination business. So let me see if we can talk to Sam about it. What is your answer if he said, Now wait a minute; there's a safety function here.
Monitor Editor: Mr. President, if it is truly a question of safety, we want to ride as safely as anybody else. Of course we don't want to sit next to that door. I don't think we're really dealing with that. I have personally evacuated one of those planes, participated in a test evacuation and I know a number of other people who have. And it's not a question of whether you feel better sitting next to that seat or not. Often blind people have been assigned to those seats, and then a great row has occurred public humiliation follows. My answer, I guess, is this: If there is the slightest evidence of a safety problem, that ends it. We think there is not, and we evacuated and took video tapes of that and presented them in evidence. There is, as you may know, a bill that is now before Congress that has thirty-seven Senatorial sponsors, including the ranking Republican member of the Aviation Committee of the Senate. It has already passed the Senate Committee.
It has 180 co-sponsors in the House, where it is now stuck, and it simply says that you can't discriminate on the basis of eyesight in seating on a plane. So I guess, Mr. President, that my answer is: We think we have evidence that it is not a safety problem, and if there is, that ends it.
President Bush: All right. Well, that's a very broad view of it and if there isn't evidence, then I'll end it if I have the power so to do. Because, as I say, we are trying to get out of the discrimination business and into the business of nondiscrimination. I appreciate your phrasing it that way, but the way it was presented to me is strictly in terms of almost an extra attendant in the cabin for that one seat and for safety.
Monitor Editor: Can somebody then be assigned to look into it or talk? You know, that's all we ask?
President Bush: Yes, Boyden Gray will look into it. He's an expert on regulations per se and has a very close relationship with Secretary Skinner. So we will, and we'll get an answer to you on it.
That is how the conversation went, and I came away with mixed feelings for while I feel honored to be allowed to be in the presence of the President at the White House, that does not diminish my capacity to reason or my concern that blind people receive fair treatment from the government. Whether the exchange with President Bush was positive or negative will depend on what was meant and what follows.
When, for instance, the President says that Secretary Skinner went down and actually tested the doors on this kind of situation, one has to be a bit troubled. Secretary Skinner is not knowledgeable about the techniques of blindness. He has not had training in those techniques, nor can he make informed judgments as to what a blind person can or cannot do. It would be like my trying to make a decision about what a surgeon can do by going to the operating room and experimenting with the instruments good for public relations but not much else. Likewise when President Bush says that he will ask his legal counsel, Boyden Gray, to look into the situation, it depends on what will actually be done. The President said that Mr. Gray has a very close relationship with Secretary Skinner and that he will get an answer and get back to us. If this means that Mr. Gray will simply talk with Secretary Skinner (and perhaps with FAA officials) and then tell us what they say, it will be an exercise in futility. If it means that Mr. Gray will ask Secretary Skinner to talk with us and consider our evidence, then we are dealing with something else entirely. I hope it will be the latter. I fear it will be the former.
I believe the President approached my question with good will and sincerity, but I also believe he got his briefing from people who were opposed to our position and did not give him all of the facts. Perhaps they did not have the facts to give. For example, surely anyone who has observed the normal configuration of exit row seating would not argue that the people who sit in those seats have special training or competence. And obviously the people who sit there should be able physically to open the hatch or window, but that is exactly the point. Blind people can and have, and many of those who routinely sit there can't and haven't. Moreover, no one has ever said that the blind are the only ones at whom the discriminatory regulation is aimed. Again, that is exactly the point. We are lumped with small children, the frail elderly, the extremely obese, and a variety of others but the facts are that those others (whether they should be or not) are not ordinarily barred from such seats. As we have so often said, this issue runs much deeper than who sits in an exit row, and it is very hard to get people to deal with it with their minds and not just their emotions.
I came away from the interview feeling that President Bush is perceptive and truly concerned to do the right thing, not just about our issues but about anything he approaches. I think he will do the right thing if he gets the facts. To set this matter in perspective we are printing the editorial which appeared in USA Today on June 14, 1989.
It capsulized in fewer than 300 words our position about the airlines. Here it is:
Face-Off: Seating Passengers
Near Emergency Exits
Stop Airlines' Bias Against the Blind
by Kenneth Jernigan
Kenneth Jernigan is the Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind.
BALTIMORE - Today no blind person can board a plane without fear of harassment and possible arrest and injury. The problem involves attempts by airlines to impose special rules and travel limitations on us. Typical is the requirement that blind persons not sit in exit rows.
If as airlines say we are a hazard in exit rows, it is not civil rights but safety. If we can function as well as others in exit rows, it is not safety but civil rights. Forget the mush about compassion. It is either safety or it isn't. Here is a pilot's sworn statement: I have been a pilot for many years. I currently fly 727 aircraft, and I have been employed to do so since 1974. I am familiar with a number of blind people, and I am generally familiar with the capacities of the blind. In an emergency there are circumstances in which it would be helpful to have an able-bodied blind person seated in an emergency exit row with a sighted person. In those cases in which there is smoke in the cabin, an able-bodied blind person, being used to handling situations without sight, would be able to assist with more facility in the evacuation. An able-bodied blind person would not hinder an emergency evacuation.
In the early '80s, a member of the National Federation of the Blind proved the theory. As his plane approached San Francisco, the landing gear stuck. They landed on foam. The lights went out. It was night. There was near panic. It was the blind man who found the exit and helped the sighted evacuate.
If safety is the issue, why serve liquor to exit row passengers or allow carry-on luggage in exit rows? Sighted passengers with hidden problems (heart, back, feet, emotions, removing 70-pound exit row windows) sit unmolested in exit rows. But our argument is not that others are unsafe, so let us be unsafe, too. It is that we should not be held to a higher standard than others, that no blind person has ever contributed to a problem in an airplane emergency, and that in the name of safety we are suffering massive daily abuse.
To another generation Martin Luther King was quibbling and nit-picking, a troublemaking radical.
WHY BRAILLE LITERACY BILLS?
by Michael Freeman
Michael Freeman is Second Vice President of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. Throughout this country, much attention is being devoted to the problems besetting our system of elementary and secondary education. Whole forests have been sacrificed in the quest to provide a definitive answer to the guestion: Why can't Johnny read? Although there may not be a simple answer to this question, there is a growing consensus among the blind that if Johnny is blind, and, most especially, if Johnny has some residual vision, the answer to this question is, at least in part, that Johnny is not being taught Braille, the system of raised dots used for reading and writing by the blind. According to the National Braille Press in a recent publication, whereas in 1978, 52 percent of school-aged legally blind children could read and write Braille, today, only 12 percent of these children can do so. This is a shameful statistic!
When asked to justify this deplorable state of affairs, educators advance a plethora of arguments, notably (1) that technology tape recorders, talking computers, print-magnification equipment and the like makes Braille obsolete and (2) that teaching Braille to any but the totally blind is psychologically damaging since Braille makes the student conspicuous and not normal and is tantamount to forcing the student to be blind.
These arguments are easily answered. First, if technology REALLY could supplant reading, it could do so for the sighted as well as for the blind. Thus, television could become an acceptable substitute for the written word. I know of few educators who would be prepared to defend such a proposition. If such a proposition is indefensible for the sighted, it is equally indefensible for the blind. Tape recorders and talking computers, useful though they may be, do not easily convey format and spelling information. Tape recorders do not lend themselves to quick scanning or skimming for particular bits of information. Print enlarging equipment tends to limit the amount of material which can be seen at a given instant and tends to cause fatigue if used for long periods. Such equipment is often not very portable, limiting its usefulness. Braille, on the other hand, does not suffer from these shortcomings.
Second, simply by virtue of being legally blind, the student is already conspicuous. Reading print two inches from the nose, using equipment that makes letters six inches high, or carrying around a lot of electronic gear is not inconspicuous behavior. This is not to argue that such activities are wrong; it is simply to say that the argument that the use of Braille makes the user more conspicuous than does the use of other methods is not valid. It is simply an attempt to justify the attitude that the blind are inferior and, as a class, are incapable of performing to the same standards as do the sighted; that it is somehow not quite respectable to be blind.
Such an attitude is starkly evident on the part of special education personnel when discussing the ramifications of mandatory exposure of blind and visually-impaired students to Braille instruction. Whereas objections to educational requirements are seldom raised when discussing sighted children even those with handicaps a host of problems is discovered when it is proposed that legally blind children be exposed to Braille. It is suggested by special educators that requiring exposure to Braille would violate the Individualized Education Plan of legally blind children required under the federal statute Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act as Amended; that many, if not most of these children are multihandicapped and therefore would be impossible to instruct in Braille; that, for example, laws mandating some level of Braille exposure for blind students would require even students in a coma (are they really in school?) to be given Braille instruction, etc.
Such assertions are ridiculous. First, the Congress of the United States never intended Public Law 94-142 to be used as an excuse to eliminate educational requirements for handicapped children, nor did it intend that the requirement that a handicapped child's education should be tailored to meet his/her needs be used to foster illiteracy among the blind! The intent was, rather, to see to it that a handicapped child's education would be structured in a manner which would best remedy any deficits the child had and which would equip the child to overcome the problems he/she would face in becoming a productive member of society. Second, the objection to Braille's being taught to the multihandicapped blind is based on the false assumption that the study of Braille is a very abstruse and arcane discipline. This is nonsense! Braille is not difficult; one can learn to read Braille in the same time it takes to learn to read print. Moreover, in the days before recorded materials and computers, blind persons were known to have learned to read Braille with their toes and tongues. The real problem in learning Braille is not the medium but the negative messages about it conveyed by educators.
In opposing legislation promoting Braille literacy, special education personnel often maintain that such legislation would require inordinate expenditures by state education departments and local school districts. In assessing the cost of Braille literacy legislation, it is necessary to bear in mind two costs associated with the status quo. First, there is the recognized cost of illiteracy. Today's world of work requires, no less for the blind than for the sighted, the ability to read and write fluently and with precision. Illiteracy tends to equate to lower paying jobs (with the consequent lessened tax revenues) or no jobs at all (with the attendant burden on the taxpayer). Second, many legally blind students graduate from high school illiterate, since they cannot read print fluently. When they attend rehabilitation centers, they often must be taught Braille in order to obtain a good job and integrate themselves successfully into society. Taxpayers are therefore paying twice to teach these students reading skills. This is a waste of tax dollars. Over and above the tangible costs of Braille illiteracy, there is the intangible cost of wasted lives and talents lost to society. In an era when many demographers are predicting a labor shortage, society can no longer afford to bear these costs.
For the sake of this nation's blind children, the blind adult citizenry of tomorrow, we must secure passage of Braille literacy legislation throughout the country. Johnny, whether blind or sighted, deserves the chance to live a fulfilled, literate, and happy life.
WHAT CAN'T BLIND CHILDREN DO?
by Carol Castellano
From the Associate Editor: Parents who have had to listen to a physician tell them that their child is blind understandably feel that blindness will forevermore loom over every aspect of their lives. Certainly people who lose their sight later in life are preoccupied (for a while at least) with grieving for the loss. They concentrate agonizingly on how much they can still see and on what they are now missing. To all of these people the National Federation of the Blind's optimistic focus on what is and what can be sometimes seems unrealistic to the point of absurdity and annoyance. Often we are told that individually and organizationally we are denying the facts of our blindness refusing to deal with reality.
Yet thousands of us have discovered that the road to emotional well-being, self-confidence, and competitiveness in the pursuits of daily life lies in the opposite direction from self-pity and obsession with blindness. Equally exciting, parents of blind children are beginning to discover the same bracing truths. Carol Castellano is the mother of a five-year-old daughter Serena, who happens to be blind. In the pages of Future Reflections, the Federation's quarterly magazine for parents and teachers of blind children, she has written refreshingly of her adventures with grocery shopping and cooking as opportunities to teach a blind child about her world. Mrs. Castellano has adopted our view of blindness as her own, and Serena is the stronger and healthier for it. Blindness is a fact of the Castellano family's life. Serena must learn some alternative techniques. Her parents provide her with information in ways that make sense to her. But no one in the household is dominated by the imagined limitations imposed on Serena or her family by the specter of blindness.
In the summer of 1989 Mrs. Castellano's brother was married in California, and the Castellano family attended the wedding and stayed on for a vacation. Mrs. Castellano has now written about that holiday and all the things the family did. Serena was a part of it all, as was her two-year-old brother. The astonishing thing about this article is that blindness as such played no discernible part in the vacation. Did Mrs. Castellano worry about her daughter when the family climbed over jagged rocks with the tide rushing in behind them? Of course she did. She admits that she was a nervous wreck about the children, as any mother would have been about any youngsters. But blindness was only one small component of the mix in this unforgettable vacation for the whole family. Can blind children do the things other kids do? Of course they can! Or at least they can when their parents are wise enough to let them do so. Here is the article Carol Castellano wrote:
Last August my family had the good fortune to travel to Northern California for the wedding of my brother and a subsequent vacation in the West. The wedding, lovely and distinctive, took place in a moody morning fog on beautiful, deserted Limantour Beach with the waves of the Pacific pounding in the background. My five-year-old daughter Serena still talks about the fact that the bride wasn't wearing any shoes!
My brother had arranged for our extended family to rent a house in Bolinas, an artists' community about 30 miles north of San Francisco. We delighted in the cool airiness of the house and were charmed by its amenities filigreed iron and wicker furniture, comfortable futons, wainscoting, and an interior courtyard. Abundant plants were a perfect complement to the lush greenery outdoors. Beyond our windows lay the shimmering Pacific. Seals frolicked by day, and at night the distant lights of San Francisco twinkled across the water.
Outside in the yard, we discovered that the house was built on a cliff which dropped 200 feet straight down to the water. The setting was striking and dramatic. Since there was no fence, one of the first things we did was to show the children just where they could venture safely in the yard and how close to the edge they would be allowed to go. We lay on our bellies at the edge of the cliff and hung our arms down. From the crashing sound of the waves below, Serena, the blind member of our group, got a good sense of how far away the water was. She seemed to derive a sense of excitement and danger, at once healthy and realistic, from being at the edge.
In our week at Bolinas, we combed the beach for shells and the characteristic soft, striated rocks that had separated from the eroding cliffs. Serena enjoyed investigating the layers of rock and the streams of water that surprised us as they came forth in sporadic bursts from the rocks.
At the Point Reyes Visitors Center we enjoyed hands-on exhibits of animals in recreations of their natural habitats. For the first time Serena saw what a seal, a doe, a skunk, and a raccoon were like in size, shape, and feel.
The restored Indian village, former home of the Coast Miwoks, was of great interest to the children. We wandered through tepees, rested at the outdoor eating areas, and squatted in the sweat hut. The silos were full of the acorns from which the Miwok women made their flour. Since the same sort of tree still grows there, we were able to take a few acorns home as souvenirs.
At the end of a happy week my extended family, assorted friends, and the newlyweds themselves made the long journey along the twisting California coastline to Mendocino County, about three hours north of San Francisco. There we took up residence in a second house, a rustic cottage perched on the rim of a gorge, again high above the Pacific.
Mendocino, from an Easterner's point of view, is in the middle of nowhere. It has grand scenic beauty and nothing to do. Nothing, that is, but to go outside and enjoy nature. My suburban family had never experienced a vacation like this before.
The beaches were strewn with huge sun-bleached logs that had washed ashore years before when rivers flooded the logging forests and carried the harvested trees into the ocean. Resembling giant bones, they were great fun to climb on. We slid down high hills of sand and examined the long, sinewy sea grasses, which were in various stages of drying.
My new sister-in-law, a California native, and my brother, a transplant that took, accompanied us on a hike through a beautiful, sun-filtered forest. Our destination was Russian Gulch Falls, three miles up the mountain. Even my mom and my two-and-a- half-year-old son participated in the six-mile round-trip trek.
The first part of the trail was flat (and, incidentally, wheelchair-accessible), winding for about a mile and a half among ferns, mulberry bushes, and fiery poison oak. As we journeyed deeper into the forest, we encountered huge redwood trees that the children hugged and circled. Burnt-out stumps offered the opportunity for us to get inside the trees. As the trail became steeper, we took turns linking arms with Mom and holding hands with the children.
The hike was at its most exciting when the path narrowed to about two feet, with a mountain face on one side and, on the other, a steep drop down to the river below. (I guess no one will accuse me of being an overprotective mother.) We made sure to show Serena the drop and the width of the path. Again she seemed thrilled, as were the rest of us, with the drama of our adventure. Listening to the water below and the other sounds of nature was extra special for all of us in the deep quiet of the forest.
At last we arrived at the waterfall, which pattered noisily in the surrounding silence. I went as far as the little bridge over the ravine. My sure-footed husband and sister-in-law took the children down under the falls, a funny, refreshing experience for them, somehow to be standing on a log in front of a rock, getting splashed by water rushing down from the mountain above.
Another day found us at the coastal headlands of Russian Gulch State Park. Very few beaches exist along this part of the coast. Instead, at water's edge there are rocky cliffs that rise up sharply to level headlands above. The headlands intrigued us with promises of blow holes, where the ocean pounds its way through softer parts of the rock and explodes triumphantly through the ground as far as 200 feet away from the shoreline, and punch bowls, in which the underground cavities created by the ocean enlarge to the point that the ground above them collapses, creating deep, wide depressions in the earth.
Narrow paths winding through high grasses and wildflowers led us to a punch bowl, about 100 feet across and 100 feet deep and surrounded by a fence. At the bottom was a mini-beach, complete with logs and seaweed. The sound of the crashing waves below us, far from the actual body of the ocean, was fascinating and mesmerizing.
It was my husband's idea to climb down the rocks at low tide and get close to the water. The rocks were extremely jagged sharp points with deep gouges between. Climbing on them with three children was challenging, to say the least. We worked our way down and down toward the relatively flatter, smoother rocks exposed by the low tide. Some were hollowed out like giant bowls in which all five of us could easily sit.
We discovered a blowhole! There it was, a narrow cylindrical hole that went all the way through the rock to the water. With ears close to the damp, mussel-laden wall, we listened excitedly to the increasing power in each set of waves. Sprays of water from the most powerful waves frothed ebulliently through the hole, all the way up to where we were perched.
Around a bend was a shallow cave, which the children enjoyed exploring. We were even further down now, out on a small peninsula, with ocean around us on three sides. We were only about seven feet above the surface of the water, out where, incredibly, the ocean would be imposing itself in a matter of hours. The situation took my breath away, but the kids just took it in stride.
We clamored among the rocks and tide pools until I, the most conservative of our party, became concerned that perhaps we were getting close to the turning of the tide. We began our ascent, with one adult going up to the next level and the other stabilizing and boosting up the children. Nobody else seemed to mind, but this part made me a nervous wreck something about responsibility for the children, something about losing our footing, something about falling into the icy ocean below. We did make it home, and upon our return the three little ones regaled their grandparents with tales of their rock-climbing adventure.
I suppose there are those who would argue that there are some things a blind child simply can't do, and perhaps hiking narrow mountain trails and climbing rocks would be on their list of taboos. They would suggest that we think realistically, in terms of constraints and limitations. To them I would answer, all people have limits: some are not well coordinated, some are not bright, some are not well-spoken. But exclude a child from rigorous physical activity and interesting adventures on the basis of blindness? Ridiculous!
Our vacation in California was unlike any other my family has ever had. Not only Serena, but most of us, were exposed to new and different opportunities to explore, learn, and grow confident. I sincerely believe that Serena's future will be shaped more by her talents, abilities, ambitions, determination, and inner resources than by her blindness.
If someone were to ask me: Realistically, what can't blind children do? I would answer emphatically and unequivocally, Nothing!
THE VALUE OF COMPARISON
From the Associate Editor: Sometimes it is easy to forget that people who know little or nothing about blindness find the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind to be reasonable when it is explained in a straightforward, sensible way. We know it is true because we have experienced its transforming power in our own lives, but when one is surrounded by professional literature and the self-serving nonsense cobbled together by agencies and employers who want nothing to do with blind people, it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that ordinary men and women are capable of understanding our point of view.
These thoughts came to mind recently as I read a letter from Fred Schroeder, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. In going through his personal files, he came across a student paper from a course he had taught several years before.
Fred had asked the class to read and think about two articles expressing contrasting views of blindness and then write a short essay about them. Fred was particularly impressed with one of the responses he received to this very interesting assignment. The uninformed often suggest that blind people should get together and agree on what they need and how to get it. The source documents in this assignment demonstrate with stark clarity the near impossibility of such a task. Here is the letter that Fred Schroeder wrote to Dr. Jernigan:
Albuquerque, New Mexico
December 11, 1989
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
Several years ago I taught an introductory course on the education of blind children through the Special Education Department of the University of New Mexico. One of the assignments I gave my students was to read your article entitled A Left-Handed Dissertation and a contrasting article by Richard Brown entitled Thoughts Concerning Blindness. The students were asked to write a brief reaction to the articles stating specifically the points with which they agreed and disagreed and why.
Enclosed is the paper submitted by Loretta Garcia, a graduate student in Special Education. I came upon this paper in my files and thought you might find it interesting to see the conclusions she drew. Loretta is not a blind person, nor is she a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Yet she recognized without difficulty the falseness of Brown's negative view of blindness. Loretta's paper points out the real power of spreading our message to the public and demonstrates the public's willingness and ability to accept a progressive view of blindness when given straightforward information.
I hope you will find Loretta's paper as interesting and encouraging as I did.
That is the cover letter Fred Schroeder wrote to Dr. Jernigan, but in order to appreciate Loretta Garcia's paper, one really should read the documents she was asked to compare. Here is A Left-Handed Dissertation, a speech first delivered at the 1973 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. It was written while Dr. Jernigan drove from Michigan to Iowa during a blizzard. As the opening sentences indicate, a Federationist had written Dr. Jernigan a letter which he answered while dealing with mail during that unforgettable drive. This is Dr. Jernigan's response to that Federationist's question:
A LEFT-HANDED DISSERTATION:
OPEN LETTER TO A FEDERATIONIST
by Kenneth Jernigan
You have asked me to comment on a seeming contradiction in the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. You tell me that, on the one hand, we say the ordinary blind person can compete on terms of equality with the ordinary sighted person if he gets proper training and opportunity. You call to my attention our statement that the average blind person can do the average job in the average place of business, and do it as well as his sighted neighbor. You remind me that we tell the world (with great insistence) that the blind person can be as happy and lead as full a life as anybody else.
You tell me that, on the other hand, we say blindness need not be the great tragedy it has always been considered but that it can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. You say these two propositions seem contradictory and that, if you are to buy the one, you do not see how you can buy the other. You tell me you are prepared to accept the fact that the blind can compete and, therefore, that you are not prepared (unless I can trot out valid reasons to the contrary) to concede that blindness is a nuisance at all that is, any more than any other characteristic is a nuisance to any other person in normal living.
Let me begin by saying that you have put me in an unusual position. Ordinarily people want to argue the other way. Most of them say that it is ridiculous to pretend that blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance since it is obviously a major tragedy, involving severe problems and extreme limitations, not to mention emotional distress and psychological disturbance. You, however, deny that it is even a nuisance and ask me to come up to the line and prove that it is. Fair enough. I shall try. The very fact that you can seriously raise such a question shows how much progress we have made. I doubt that anybody could have done it, even as recently as twenty years ago.
To begin with, even if we were to concede (and I don't concede it, as I will shortly indicate) that there is absolutely nothing which can be done with sight which cannot be done just as easily and just as well without it, blindness would still be a nuisance, as the world is now constituted. Why? Because the world is planned and structured for the sighted. This does not mean that blindness need be a terrible tragedy or that the blind are inferior or that they cannot compete on terms of equality with the sighted.
For an exact analogy, consider the situation of those who are left-handed.
The world is planned and structured for the right- handed. Thus, left-handedness is a nuisance and is recognized as such, especially by the left-handed. Even so, the left-handed can compete on terms of equality with the right-handed since their handicap can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. If you are not left-handed (I am not. I am a normal. ), you may not have thought of the problems. A left-handed person ordinarily wears his wristwatch on his right arm. Not to do so is awkward and causes problems. But the watch is made for the right-handed. Therefore, when it is worn on the right arm, the stem is toward the elbow, not the fingers. The watch is inconvenient to wind, a veritable nuisance.
Then there are butter knives. Many of them are so constructed that the left-handed must either spread the butter with the back of the knife, awkwardly use the right hand, or turn the wrist in a most uncomfortable way nuisances all. But not of the sort to ruin one's psyche or cause nightmares, just annoying. The garden variety can opener (the one you grip in your left hand and turn with your right that is, if you are normal ) is made for normals. If you hold it in your right hand and turn it with your left (as any respectable left-hander is tempted to do), you must either clumsily reach across it to get at the handle or turn it upside down so that the handle is conveniently located, in which case it won't work at all.
Likewise, steak knives are usually serrated to favor the right-handed. Scissors, egg beaters, ice cream dippers, and other utensils are also made for the same group. So are ordinary school desk classroom chairs. How many have you seen with the arms on the left side? Of course, a few enlightened schools and colleges (with proper, present-day concern for the well-being of minorities) have two or three left-handed chairs in each of their classrooms, but this is the exception rather than the rule. It succeeds only in earning the ill will of chauvinist right-handers, who must use the desks when the room is full and the left-handed are absent. Of course, these occasional left- handed desks are the most blatant form of tokenism, the groveling gratitude of occasional left-handed Uncle Toms to the contrary notwithstanding.
In at least one case, it would seem, the problem of the left-handed is not just a side effect of the fact that the world is constructed for the right-handed but a real, inherent weakness. When the left-handed person writes with ink (the ballpoint pen was a blessing, indeed), his hand tends to smear the ink as it drags over what he has written. Of course, he can hold his hand up as he writes, but this is an inferior technique, not to mention being tiresome. Upon closer examination even this apparently inherent weakness is not really inherent at all but simply another problem created by society in its catering to the right-handed. There is no real reason why it is better to begin reading or writing at the left side of the page and move to the right, except that it is more efficient and comfortable for the majority, the right-handed. In fact, it would be just as easy to read or write from the right to the left (more so for the left-handed), and thus the shoe would be on the other foot or, more precisely, the pen would be in the other hand.
The left-handed have always been considered inferior by the right-handed. Formerly (in primitive times twenty or thirty years ago) parents tried to make their left-handed children behave normally that is, use their right hands. Thereby, they often created trauma and psychiatric problems causing complexes, psychoses, and emotional disturbances. Today (in the age of enlightenment) while parents do not exactly say, left is beautiful, they recognize the rights of minorities and leave their left-handed progeny to do their own thing.
(Parenthetically, I might say here that those who work with the blind are not always so progressive. Parents and especially educators still try to make the blind child with a little sight read large type, even when Braille would serve him better and be more efficient. They put great stress on reading in the normal manner and not being conspicuous. They make him ashamed of his blindness and often cause permanent damage.)
But back to the left-handed. Regardless of the enlightenment of parents and teachers, the ancient myth of the inferiority of the left-handed still lingers to bedevil the lives of that unfortunate minority. To say that someone has given you a left-handed compliment is not a compliment to the left- handed. It is usually the left hand that doesn't know what the right hand is doing, rarely the other way around; and it is the right hand that is raised, or placed on the Bible, to take an oath. Salutes and the Pledge of Allegiance are given with the right hand.
Divine Scripture tells us that the good and the evil shall be divided and that, at the day of judgment, the sheep shall be on the right hand and the goats on the left, from whence they shall be cast into outer darkness forever and ever. The guest of honor sits on the right hand of the host, and in an argument one always wants to be right. No one ever wants to be left behind. Whether these uses of the words left and right are subtleties of language reinforcing the stereotype and bespeaking deeply ingrained, subconscious prejudice or whether they are accidental, as the normals allege, who can say? It may simply be that the left-handed are supersensitive, wearing chips on their shoulders and looking for insult where none is intended.
It is hard to make this case, however, when one considers the word gauche . The 1971 edition of Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, says: gauche...left, on the left, French...lacking in social graces or ease, tact, and familiarity with polite usage; likely or inclined to commit social blunders especially from lack of experience or training...lacking finish or exhibiting crudity (as of style, form or technique)...being or designed for use with the left hand: LEFT-HANDED. Synonym see AWKWARD. gauchely, adverb: in a gauche manner: AWKWARDLY, CLUMSILY, CRUDELY.
Whatever else may be said, there is nothing subtle about all of that; nor is there anything subtle about the term bar sinister, which comes from the Latin sinistral, meaning left-handed. The 1971 edition of Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged , says: bar sinister...the fact or condition of being of illegitimate birth...an enduring stigma, stain, or reproach (as of improper conduct or irregular status). Supersensitive? Quibbling? Not on your life. Left-handers, arise! You have nothing to lose but your chains. They probably don't fit you anyway, being made for the right-handed. Look for the new slogans any day: Left is lovely, and Get righty!
As with other oppressed minorities, the subtleties of language and prejudice carry over into the job market. I know of a woman, for instance, who lives in Kansas and who sought employment in a factory in that state. She was interviewed and passed every test with flying colors. The prospective employer terminated the interview by telling her, You are in every way qualified for the job, and I would hire you immediately, except for your handicap. In outrage and indignation she demanded to know what he meant. Why, he said, it's obvious! You are left-handed. The machines on our assembly line are made for the right-handed. You would slow down the entire operation. This is not fantasy but fact. The company makes greeting cards. The woman did not get the job.
If, in truth and in fact, the left-handed woman would have slowed the assembly line, it is hard to see how the action of the employer can be called discriminatory. He could not be expected to buy new machinery simply to give her a job, nor could he be expected to redesign the entire factory. The normal person is right-handed, and it is reasonable for the factory to be designed accordingly.
Or does all of this miss the whole point? Is this not exactly the way employers and the general public think and talk about the blind? How did he know she was less efficient? Perhaps she had alternative techniques. Perhaps, in fact, she could have done the job better than most of the other people he had on the line. He decided (based on what he doubtless called obvious and common sense reasons) that she couldn't do the work. Accordingly, she was never even given the opportunity to try. Beware the obvious, and look very carefully at so- called common sense.
Do you still say there is no discrimination against the left-handed? Probably you do unless you begin to think about it, until you get the facts and even then, some people will say you are quibbling, that you are exaggerating. How very like the case of the blind. How easy to make quick judgments and have all of the answers, especially when you are not confronted with the problem or compelled to look at reality.
From all of this, you can see that the life of the left-hander is not easy. Nevertheless, his infirmity can be reduced to the level of a mere nuisance. It need not mean helplessness or inferiority. It does not necessarily cripple him psychologically. With reasonable opportunity he can compete on terms of equality with his right-handed neighbor. The average left-hander can do the average job in the average place of business and do it as well as the average right-hander. So far as I can tell, there is no inherent weakness in left-handedness at all. The problems arise from the fact that society is structured for the right-handed. But these problems (annoying though they be) do not keep the left-handed from leading normal lives or competing with others. They are at the nuisance level.
Therefore, even if blindness (like left-handedness) had no inherent problems, it would still be a nuisance since society is structured and planned for the sighted sometimes when it could be arranged more efficiently otherwise. For instance, most windows in modern buildings are not there for ventilation. They are sealed. They are there only so that the sighted may look out of them. The building loses heat in winter and coolness in summer, but the sighted (the majority) will have their windows.
I think, however, that blindness is not exactly like left-handedness. I think there are some things that are inherently easier to do with sight than without it. For instance, you can glance down the street and see who is coming. You can look across a crowded room and tell who is there.
But here, it seems to me, most people go astray. They assume that, because you cannot look across the room and see who is there or enjoy the sunset or look down the street and recognize a friend, you are confronted with a major tragedy that you are psychologically crippled, sociologically inferior, and economically unable to compete. Regardless of the words they use, they feel (deep down at the gut level) that the blind are necessarily less fortunate than the sighted. They think that blindness means lack of ability. Such views are held not only by most of the sighted but by many of the blind as well. They are also held by many, if not most, of the professionals in the field of work with the blind. In the Journal of Rehabilitation for January-February 1966, an article appeared entitled: Social Isolation of the Blind: An Underrated Aspect of Disability and Dependency. This article was written by none other than Dr. D. C. MacFarland, Chief of the Office for the Blind, Social and Rehabilitation Service, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Dr. MacFarland says: Let me repeat a statement which I violently oppose. There is a slowly evolving fiction which can be summed up in the generalization, `Blindness is a mere inconvenience.' I do not agree with this, and I do not know what to call such exaggeration in reverse. I think it has done its share of harm, throwing some very well-intentioned people off the track about what blindness really amounts to in people's lives.
It seems to me that Dr. MacFarland is as far off the track as the people who contend that blindness is not even important enough to be considered a nuisance. I think it would be pleasant to look at a sunset. I think it would be helpful to look across a room and see who is there, or glance down the street and recognize a friend. But I know that these things are peripheral to the major concerns of life.
It is true that it is sometimes a nuisance to devise alternative techniques to get the same results I could have without effort if I were sighted, but it is just that (a nuisance), not a tragedy or a psychological crisis or an international incident.
It seems to me that many of the problems which are regarded as inherent in blindness are more like those of the left-handed in other words, created as a natural side effect of the structuring of society for the sighted. It seems to me that the remaining problems (those that are truly indigenous to blindness) are usually vastly overrated and overdramatized.
Blindness can, indeed, be a tragedy and a veritable hell, but this is not because of the blindness or anything inherent in it. It is because of what people have thought about blindness and because of the deprivations and the denials which result. It is because of the destructive myths which have existed from the time of the caveman myths which have equated eyesight with ability, and light with intelligence and purity. It is because the blind, being part of the general culture, have tended to accept the public attitudes and thus have done much to make those attitudes reality.
As far as I am concerned, all that I have been saying is tied up with the why and wherefore of the National Federation of the Blind. If our principal problem is the physical fact of blindness, I think there is little purpose in organizing. However, the real problem is not the blindness but the mistaken attitudes about it. These attitudes can be changed, and we are changing them. The sighted can also change. They can be shown that we are in no way inferior to them and that the old ideas were wrong that we are able to compete with the sighted, play with the sighted, work with the sighted, and live with the sighted on terms of complete equality. We the blind can also come to recognize these truths, and we can live by them.
For all these reasons I say to you that the blind are able to compete on terms of absolute equality with the sighted, but I go on to say that blindness (even when properly dealt with) is still a physical nuisance. We must avoid the sin and the fallacy of either extreme. Blindness need not be a tragic hell. It cannot be a total nullity, lacking all inconvenience. It can, as we of the National Federation of the Blind say at every opportunity, be reduced to the level of a mere annoyance. Right on! And let us neither cop out by selling ourselves short with self-pity and myths of tragic deprivation, nor lie to ourselves by denying the existence of a problem. There is no place in our movement for the philosophy of the self-effacing Uncle Tom, but there is also no place for unreasonable and unrealistic belligerence. We are not out to get sighty.
That is what Dr. Jernigan said in 1973, and the speech has become one of the best loved articulations of the philosophy held by members of the National Federation of the Blind. As might be expected, those who spend their time reacting against the Federation and finding ways of explaining away their unwillingness to try living life to the full have responded through the years to this speech with anger and ridicule in an effort to disguise their own insecurity. In the March, 1978, edition of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, Richard Brown, a Braille instructor for the Veterans Administration in Hines, Illinois, wrote what he probably thought was a refutation of Dr. Jernigan's speech.
It is an interesting tagbag of gripes and grumbles which begins with the argument that, if everyone had always been blind, society would probably lack many of the concepts and contrivances that make life pleasant today; therefore, the blind individual is at a great disadvantage. This is like saying that the race could not survive if all human beings were male; therefore, every man is a threat to the species. He goes on to point out that the federal government does not consider left-handedness to be a full disability as it does blindness. Brown finds it convenient to ignore the fact that the NFB has always contended that the handicap of blindness can be, and often is, a tragedy. Lack of vision is only one part a small part of the phenomenon, which also includes public ignorance, discrimination, denial of training, and restricted educational opportunities.
He concludes his article with a bitter little diatribe against the training of blind people under sleepshades, arguing that brain damaged people are not mentally retarded and the hearing impaired need hearing aids, not training in the skills of deafness. Such analogies, of course, fall apart immediately when they are examined, but even so, it surely makes sense to offer the whole range of needed skills to anyone with a disability and to employ teaching methods that will assist him or her to master the body of information. If an individual's brain damage is such that presenting information in small, frequently repeated bits is the most effective way of teaching, then that is how it should be done. If a particular hearing impairment is severe, then learning to lip read or to sign might be useful to the person in situations with lots of noise and confusion. Surely the object is to provide the individual with useful tools as many tools as possible.
Unfortunately, blind people with a little residual sight are usually denied the possibility of learning the skills which would often be most useful just because they and their families believe that sight is always the best method of completing any task in which it can be used at all. Here is what Richard Brown has to say in reaction to A Left- Handed Dissertation:
THOUGHTS CONCERNING BLINDNESS
by Richard N. Brown
Blindness was once considered an insufferable tragedy; now, some say, it is only an inconvenience. What is an inconvenience? An inconvenience is missing a bus and having to wait five or ten minutes for another one. The incident is not important. It doesn't affect your life; it is just something to grumble about. If blindness is that unimportant or, to put it another way if sight is that immaterial to life, why then it would not matter if no one could see, or if no one had ever seen.
The Importance of Sight
But if no one had ever seen, how would we know about the stars? And if we didn't know about the stars, how would man have navigated the wide oceans? For, from prehistoric times to the modern era, such diverse peoples as the Phoenicians and the Polynesians relied on the sun and the stars to tell them where they were and in what direction they were going. If no one had ever seen, how would we know about the moon? And if we didn't know anything about the moon, how would we explain the ocean tides? The camera, the television, the great paintings of the past and present would have no value for this civilization. Without the microscope, how would we have discovered bacteria, the cause of so many diseases? The x-ray would be useless. Without sight, would we have known about the speed of light, or cared? Without the electron microscope, how would we have solved the mysteries of the atom, the cell, and DNA? The driving of automobiles, the piloting of planes, the daily weather forecast all of these tasks require sight. There are many more tasks and occupations, besides those I have mentioned, which illustrate that sight is a vital part of life.
A civilization of only blind people, by using alternative methods, might have developed to where we are now. Intelligence is, after all, the most important ingredient necessary to a civilization's progress. However, I suspect the growth would have been slower, and the result very different.
Blindness Like Being Left-Handed?
There are some people who maintain that blindness is on a par with being left-handed. I would like to mention a few differences, such as: Do the left-handed have to use a different medium for reading than the right-handed? Do the left-handed have to use a cane or dog for purposes of travel? Does the federal government consider the left-handed totally disabled meaning not able to work and, therefore, give them total disability benefits? The answer to all these questions is no! Furthermore, we really do not believe these arguments ourselves. For, with the next breath, we cry out for more benefits. We ask for fewer quarters of Social Security coverage, and we ask that we receive the money regardless of income. We rationalize these differing positions of equality versus inequality by saying: The sighted discriminate against us; they will not employ us, and this makes the government subsidy necessary. It is certainly true that we are under-employed. There are many positions we could fill if employers would give us a chance. Still, it is a fact, and some of us hate to face it, that with blindness come limitations. I know everyone has limitations.
I know there are blind people who are not as limited as many sighted people. But for the average blind person, it means that he will be more limited in the job market than the average sighted person.
Making the Most of Residual Vision
When the public thinks of a blind person, they think of someone without the vestige of sight. It was decided by our authorities that 10 percent of normal vision, or an extremely constricted field, would constitute legal blindness. Some countries have not adopted this definition; their visual requirements are more stringent than ours. I feel personally that the legally blind should be classified in two categories:
1) Those who have to use Braille or talking books for reading and have to use the cane or dog to aid them in their travel should be considered blind; and
2) Those who can read print and travel without the assistance of a cane or dog should be classified as severely visually impaired.
There is a certain philosophy which believes that all legally blind persons should be trained as though they were totally blind. It is thought that such training will change the person's attitude toward blindness. It will give him confidence in himself as a blind person, and if total loss of sight should occur, the individual will not be overwhelmed nor afraid. I work for an agency that once had this policy at least in orientation and mobility. Every lesson was done under the blindfold, no matter how much the patient could see. Many of these people did extremely well in mobility; one person said it was like playing an interesting game. But if the client lost his sight, mobility was no longer a game. It became serious, it was a reality, and all the confidence had to be regained.
Personally, I don't believe in this school of thought. If I were hard of hearing, I would not wish to be the trainee for deafness. I would want the best hearing aid possible, and I would want to use my hearing to the maximum. And if I were brain damaged, I would not want to be trained as though I were mentally retarded. I would want to be taught to use my remaining brain power to its utmost. Similarly, if I had useful vision, I would try to find a lens that would improve it and hope I would be taught to use this remaining vision. Many people who are severely visually impaired must at times use the skills learned by the totally blind. If I had enough vision so that I could rely mainly on print for reading and travel without a cane most of the time, I would hope the stress would be placed on how to use and function with this vision, rather than on teaching me to live as though totally blind.
Blindness is more than an inconvenience. It is certainly more serious than being left-handed, and it does involve many limitations. For some people, whether we like it or not, blindness is a tragedy for some, that tragedy is insurmountable. Fortunately, most people are able to adjust to their blindness. They learn the alternative techniques that enable them to get along without sight and do lead normal, productive lives in spite of their handicap.
There you have Richard Brown's response, and an interesting contrast to Dr. Jernigan's thoughts it is, too. Here is what one graduate student gleaned from a careful reading of both papers:
LEFT-HANDED DISSERTATION/ THOUGHTS CONCERNING BLINDNESS
by Loretta S. Garcia
September 12, 1984
After reading Blindness: A Left-Handed Dissertation by Kenneth Jernigan and Thoughts Concerning Blindness by Richard Brown, my first reaction was to question if Brown is blind or not. If so, he fits perfectly into what Jernigan refers to as a blind person that has accepted the general public's negative attitudes towards blindness and has done as much as possible to make those attitudes reality.
If not, he has an extremely low opinion of the blind and their capabilities of functioning successfully in a sighted society. I found Brown's article to be extremely opinionated. He magnifies the importance and necessity of sight in history, technology, and job opportunities.
Upon summarizing the data mentioned above, Brown has the gall to assume that if our civilization consisted of blind people, growth would have been slower, and our society might not have become as advanced!
On the other hand, Kenneth Jernigan's article takes a positive stance on blindness, and he also points out that there are tasks which are inherently easier to do with sight than without. I appreciate the fact that Jernigan does not avoid the obvious drawbacks concerning blindness, yet he believes strongly that these drawbacks are not necessarily significant enough to hinder a blind individual's life. Jernigan's comparison of blindness to being left-handed serves as an excellent example of how majorities tend automatically to make assumptions without sufficient knowledge or evidence.
Assumptions are what get us into trouble because we do not take the time to prove what we already think we know or what we consider obvious or common sense. The limitations and negative aspects of blindness that Brown focused on are the most common assumptions that come to mind of the sighted (or majority). These assumptions are rarely thought through and are taken for granted as tasks or skills that the blind cannot possibly do independently. Again, as Jernigan stresses, we must look very carefully at the so-called common sense which people rely on too heavily and without second thought.
From our narrow-minded assumptions we develop discriminations in areas that we are ill-informed about or ignorant in. It would be an obvious risk (or common sense ) to an apartment owner not to rent an apartment to a blind person. How is this person going to keep the place clean (vacuum or dust)? What about cooking the renter may burn the place down! These questions and doubts could easily be proven wrong but again stem from ignorance. We have assumptions that lead us to believe that a blind person could not possibly handle a normal amount of responsibility thus we have discrimination.
Yes, I do agree with Jernigan in that the real problem is not the blindness but the mistaken attitudes about it. These attitudes will take time to change, especially for those who share Brown's disposition on blindness. If the sighted are shown that blindness need not mean loss of independence and self-worth, then a major breakthrough will be made. Again, this is easier said than done due to the fact that the blind will be given fewer opportunities to prove their skills and competence. As a result, like any other minority, the blind will have to fight for their rights and constantly prove themselves to the sighted majority.
YET ANOTHER BRUSH WITH THE
AUDIBLE TRAFFIC SIGNAL
by Kay Porth
Kay Porth is the energetic President of the National Federation of the Blind of Alaska. Like so many of the rest of us, the members of the Alaska affiliate have found the noisy little critters called audible traffic signals encroaching on their peace and quiet against their will and despite their best efforts to prevent the migration. Recently Kay wrote a letter to Dr. Jernigan designed to gladden the hearts of everyone who yearns to cross streets again with unimpaired freedom to listen to the traffic without the intrusion of whoops and whistles. Here is her letter:
March 28, 1990
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
The members of the Alaska Affiliate would like to share with Monitor readers a little story which will sound very familiar. In October, 1989, I received a phone call from a person who identified himself as the Municipal Traffic Engineer for the City of Anchorage. He wanted to know my feelings about the city council's plan to install audible traffic signals in the vicinity of the city's new performing arts center. I was ready with my very negative opinion, and he asked me to put it in writing so that he could present it at the next city council meeting. A recent article in the Monitor, in which Mary Ellen Gabias had written just such a letter, helped me put it all together very quickly, and my letter in response to his request was written and mailed on the same day.
The next day a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News contacted me and also asked my opinion of the tweety birds. He told me that he had recently been in Washington, D.C., and had talked with Jim Gashel about the signals. He said that he understood from Mr. Gashel that the NFB did not approve of the signals, and he wished to know if the local affiliate agreed with Mr. Gashel's opinion. Of course we did! How could we not? The reporter published an article entitled Audible Traffic Signals Irk the Blind, in which he quoted statements from both Mr. Gashel and me.
Meanwhile, back in the halls of local government, the city council met, and the traffic engineer called with the news that the traffic signals had already been installed. The rationale the council used was that many groups for the blind and experts in the field had assured the council that it was the thing to do and that blind people would certainly benefit.
So we went through the winter with the blind of the city ignoring the beeps and whistles as best we could in order to hear the traffic and safely cross the streets. Then spring came, and guess what? With the warmer weather office workers in the area opened their windows and began to complain about the noisy signals. Then somebody purloined one of them. I remember reading this story before. In fact, it parallels the adventures of the vanishing signals recounted in the August, 1989, Monitor article Arlington, Massachusetts, May Yet Go Cuckoo and the information provided in my letter to the council.
A new Municipal Traffic Engineer took over and called to ask my opinion of the traffic signals. He told me that a new signal would have to be purchased to replace the one which had been stolen. He added that he thought the signals were silly and would like to do away with them but had been told by his superiors that he could do this only if the blind agreed. I asked him to find the letter I had written to the former traffic engineer, which would make our opinion of the signals very clear. He contacted me again to say that he had located and read my letter and understood and agreed with the NFB. When I asked him to forget about purchasing any new signals and to do away with the existing ones, he ended our conversation by saying, They're gone. This story has a much happier ending than the story of the poltergeists, which ends with the little girl who says, They're back. I suppose these audible traffic signals will keep reappearing, like the poltergeists, and we of the NFB must keep educating and making our philosophy known. But we've won this one, and we are proud that the NFB of Alaska is changing what it means to be blind.
Kay Porth, President
National Federation of the Blind of Alaska
PACKING YOUR OWN PARACHUTE
by Tom Ley
Tom Ley is a student at Louisiana Technical Institute and a leader in the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind. This article appeared in the Spring, 1990, edition of The Student Slate, the newsletter of the NFB Student Division. His comments are directed at students who face the task of hiring and training readers, but his advice applies equally to training readers in all other situations. Here is what he has to say:
When a skydiver prepares to make a jump, he has in mind the specific task of returning to the ground. However, not only does he wish to accomplish this task, but he also wishes to fulfill the goals of maximum safety and maximum excitement. Of course, he could simply return to the ground in the plane. The task would be accomplished, but although this method is usually very safe, it is certainly not very exciting. On the other hand, he could simply jump out of the plane and fall to the ground. However, although once again the task would be accomplished and the thrill of a lifetime provided, to date this method has not proven to be particularly healthful. Of course, the answer to this dilemma for the skydiver is to jump out of the plane with a parachute strapped to his back. He receives maximum excitement during the free fall and then, at the appropriate moment, pulls the ripcord and floats lazily to the ground. It should be noted that the task can be accomplished without the parachute, but fulfilling simultaneously the criteria of both safety and excitement cannot be done without it. Because of the importance of having a fully functioning parachute when jumping out of a plane, most skydivers, as a rule, do not make a jump unless the parachute they are using is one they have chosen and packed themselves. It may sound obvious, but there is no way for one to feel in control of a situation unless one really is in control.
As a blind student in a college or university, one of the primary tasks you have to accomplish is to read and comprehend voluminous amounts of written material. Fortunately, many of these materials are available in a timely fashion and in a form that can be read independently by the blind. However, it is an inevitable fact of life that a good portion of the material that you have to read is not available in Braille or recorded form, and when it is, it cannot be obtained quickly enough to be of any use. The solution to this dilemma is, of course, to use a live person to read the material. In a way analogous to the importance of a skydiver's being able to choose and pack his own parachute, it is important for the blind student to hire and train his own readers and to use them whenever and wherever it is most convenient.
I am writing this from the perspective of having attended college under circumstances which allowed me to select and direct my own readers. I realize that, unfortunately, this is not the case for many blind students across the country. If it is not for you, then you should know that the situation is not going to improve unless you and the other blind students in your state see that it does.
The following is a series of helpful hints for use when obtaining and using readers. They are a combination of the advice that I have received from other blind students and the approaches which I have adopted based on my own experience throughout my college career. Nearly all of the suggestions have the underlying message, You must be the one in control. After all, why allow others to be in charge when the quality of your education hangs in the balance? The question that everybody wants the answer to is, How do you find a reader who has an easy-to-listen-to voice, is absolutely dependable, has a flexible schedule, can describe graphs and tables efficiently, can read quickly, and has a compatible personality? The answer is that you don't at least not very often. However, if you can get enough people knocking down your door to read for you, then your chances of finding someone who comes close will be greatly improved. Campus and local newspapers are excellent places through which to spread the word that you are looking for readers. Advertising space is usually inexpensive. Bulletin boards in heavily traveled areas such as student unions, post offices, and cafeterias are also excellent places to get the word out. Of course, the campus employment office is the first place you should go. If you need readers who know a particular subject, try the bulletin boards and offices in the departments where these students can most likely be found. Finally, be sure to say in each of your notices that the position is paid. This announcement will greatly increase the response. Now that your phone is ringing off the wall with calls from people who are dying to be readers, the next step is to interview the potential readers. There should be more to the process than a simple question and answer interview over the phone. These interviews are an excellent way to narrow the field to a small number of candidates, but before any hiring is done, each reader should go through an in-person tryout. During the phone interviews you can weed out all of the people that you conclude, for various reasons, will not work out. But you will not know if the others will work, until you actually sit down with them and do some simple reading. During the interview have the reader tackle as many of the types of material you need as possible. For instance, if you are using a math textbook, then you will want to make sure that your reader is well versed in mathematical notation and can describe graphs clearly and concisely. It is also very important to make sure that the reader reads exactly what is on the page. Those who editorialize or selectively omit material that they feel is unnecessary are not the ones you want to hire. Also, if you plan on having your readers record material, now is the time to find out whether or not a person has an aversion to being recorded. Some people are extremely uncomfortable when a tape recorder is rolling. Finally, if your schedule is full of classes that require research, make sure that your readers have good library skills.
The last thing that any college student needs is to spend more time than is necessary doing research. Remember, the interview and tryout process is your opportunity to decide who is the best person for the job. You are choosing your parachute, so use this opportunity to make sure that you do not get one that will let you down.
Now that you have several highly compatible and hard-working readers all lined up and ready to go, how can you make best use of them? As with finding and hiring your readers, the key to a productive working relationship is for you to be in control. At the beginning of each semester, compare schedules with each of your readers and set up specific times during the week which they will leave open. Of course, as you find out exactly how much reading time you will generally require during each week, you can either increase or decrease the number of scheduled times that each reader should set aside. By establishing scheduled reading times, you know when you can have a reader available. However, as important as it is for you to have your readers reserve specific times in their schedules, it is just as important to your readers that you notify them as early as possible if you will not need them at a time which has been previously scheduled. If you make a conscientious effort to let your readers know as early as possible when they will not be needed, then they are more likely to make a conscientious effort to keep the reserved times open. It does not take much extra work on your part to set up the schedules, and the value of having a reader available when you need one is well worth the effort.
On the subject of making conscientious efforts, if you are the person responsible for filling out and returning the paperwork that most state agencies require in order to make payments to your readers, then make sure that you get it done consistently and quickly. After all, a person who gets paid regularly is usually much more reliable than one who never knows how long it is going to be before he gets his check.
When you start working with a new reader, it is of the utmost importance that you establish from the very beginning exactly what is expected of him during the time that he is reading for you. For example, you should make it clear that socializing is fine before and after a reading session, but when the reader is on the clock and reading to you, the atmosphere is professional and not social. Remember, you are the employer, and the responsibility for getting your employees to work efficiently rests on your shoulders. Finally, as is the case when working with human beings in any situation, a little flexibility goes a long way toward a smooth working relationship.
Hopefully, you are now ready to jump into the world of academia which will result in exciting years of progress and an easy landing at graduation. You have assumed control of the situation by picking and packing your own readers, and all that you have to do now is start the trip. Remember, the key to success when working with readers is always to be the one who is in control. After all, it is your education, and who better to be in control?
NAMED VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
From the Editor: As Monitor readers know, Searcy Ewell is the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas. He is quiet man but one who is steadfast and persistent. He works away to achieve the things he believes in. Recently Mr. Ewell was honored for volunteer work in his community. It is a recognition well deserved, and we congratulate him, not only for his accomplishments but also for the sterling qualities which characterize his daily behavior. Here in part is the news release issued by the United Way of Pulaski County, Arkansas, dated April 23, 1990:
Searcy Ewell, retired, a volunteer with Arkansas ABLE (Abilities Based on Lone Experience), has been named Volunteer of the Year by the United Way of Pulaski County's Voluntary Action Center (VAC). Ewell will be honored at a special ceremony at the Arkansas ABLE office at 519 East Capitol Avenue, 1st Floor East, on Tuesday, April 24, at 11:00 a.m. Ewell, who is blind, retired from the Arkansas School for the Blind after thirty years of service. For more than two years he has donate eight hours each week to conducting telephone surveys for Arkansas ABLE in an effort to recruit people ages fifty-five or older and unemployed for the group's JOB SHOP program. JOB SHOP helps people ages fifty-five and older learn employment skills and find employment.
As a result of Mr. Ewell's efforts, economically disadvantaged persons fifty-five and over have entered employment at an average of $6.17 per hour, thus improving their economical condition as well as their contributions to Pulaski County, said Robert E. Guyton, employment counselor for Arkansas ABLE. Guyton added that Ewell has also counseled visually impaired people ages fifty-five and older on available services for the blind.
Ewell is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas and is a member of the board of directors of Life Project, Living Independence for the Blind, Independent Living Center, Central Arkansas Transit Service, and Division of Services for the Blind. He is a member of the board of directors of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.
At the Tuesday award presentation Ewell will also receive recognition as the Unsung Hero of the month by VAC and the Arkansas Democrat newspaper. The Unsung Hero program is an ongoing effort to publicly recognize volunteers who are seldom noted for all that they do.
GRAND JURY MAKES RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING ALABAMA INSTITUTE FOR DEAF AND BLIND
In the February, 1990, Braille Monitor we carried an article about the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind and, particularly, about the goings on of Dr. Jack Hawkins, its erstwhile president.
Upon his appointment to another position Dr. Hawkins removed (allegedly by mistake) a laundry list of items from the president's mansion at the Institute silver, china, bed linens, furniture, and even a chandelier. The items were later returned amid calls to the police and a flurry of charges and countercharges. Moreover, while Dr. Hawkins was employed as president of the Institute, his wife was also employed there, but not directly and openly. The Institute was providing funds to the University of Alabama, which in turn was feeding them back to the project which employed Mrs. Hawkins. Some said it was a cozy arrangement.
Dr. Hawkins left his job at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in the summer of 1989, and the grand jury began an investigation to see whether indictments should be handed down. On March 23, 1990, the grand jury made its report; and although it did not make indictments, it made some rather pointed recommendations, leading to the speculation that it felt that improvements were definitely in order. Here, in part, is what the news media reported that the grand jury submitted to the court:
We have heard testimony concerning Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind and make the following recommendations at Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind and to the board:
Item 1. Recommend that Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind make an inventory and itemize and number all state owned property in excess of $25 and have a perpetual inventory of each building and further that inventory be checked quarterly.
Item 2. Recommend reviewing purchasing practices for household expenditures of the president's home and make changes or improvements where necessary.
Item 3. No member of president's family should be employed by Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind or any other agency or institution contracted with or by the Institute for Deaf and Blind.
Item 4. Laws governing the sale of state property should be strictly adhered to by officials of Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. Item 5. The removal of items from president's home should be supervised by comptroller's office.
Item 6. We suggest that these recommendations be implemented and a report of same be returned within the next 12 months to the grand jury then in session....
SO YOU DON'T DRIVE
by Larry Streeter
(Note) From the Editor: I first met Larry Streeter at least fifteen years ago. At that time he lived in Idaho and was a teacher. Then he began the peripatetic course of the following years, moving to Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, probably other places I don't remember, and finally (of course, it may not be finally) to Omaha, where he now resides. Wherever he has gone, Larry has not only been a Federationist but an active one. He has recruited members, established chapters, been president of chapters, and otherwise worked in the movement. In short, he takes his Federationism seriously, and he carries it with him wherever he goes. Larry's wife Sandy, who is also blind, is equally active and dedicated. It is not just that Larry is a Federationist but that it is a Federation family. Larry and Sandy typify that large number of committed members and leaders who rarely get a lot of the limelight but who constitute the backbone, muscle, and heart of the movement.
(Note) In the circumstances it is not surprising that Larry and Sandy took the actions described in the following article. In sending it to me Larry said: In my years as a member of the National Federation of the Blind, I have never had an experience like the one described in this article. It is quite clear to me that we must continue to inform and educate the public about blindness. We print Larry's article not only for the story it tells but also as a tribute to him and Sandy and the thousands of other Federationists throughout the country who on a daily basis are changing what it means to be blind. Here is how Larry says it happened:
A few weeks ago, I woke up to face another day. It was my day off, due to my flex schedule, and I was alive with ambition and great intentions. I wandered around the house thinking that something constructive should occur like cleaning the garage or placing fertilizer on the lawn. Those particular thoughts faded quickly. I made a sudden decision to sit down at my computer. It would be so easy to play computer games and just forget about assuming responsibility.
I turned on the computer and just sat there for a moment or two. Sandy came in and we started to talk about taking a trip to one of the Mormon temples. This wasn't the first time the subject had come up. Each previous time we had planned such a trip for the family, it had been placed on the back burner for one reason or another. We both made each other a commitment that this time our goal would be met. Several locations were discussed and debated, and we finally decided on Denver. Sandy checked on air fares, and the cost was too much for our budget. So we both thought we could ask some friends at church to go with us.
Several couples offered to use their car and drive us. However, six persons in one of these small cars for 541 miles each way can be rather unbearable. Sandy started calling around to check out prices for renting a mini van. We found some pretty good bargains and finally settled on dealing with Budget Rent-A-Car. I called Budget on April 11 to reserve a van for April 19 and during the conversation was told that a driver's license and major credit card would be required. The customer service representative asked the usual questions such as my telephone number and name of the credit card to be used. She stated the driver would be required to supply the license and the card with at least $251 to cover the cost of renting the van.
We have rented numerous vans and cars over the years and have never had any difficulty, but this apparently was going to be different. I told the representative that I did not drive, due to my blindness and was quickly informed that the driver would need to meet the requirements she had already discussed. The battle had begun.
She was informed that: (1) I was the person renting the van; and (2) I would pay for said van with my credit card, which I had done on so many occasions before; and (3) that I had rented vans from this very company many times before, without difficulty. She retorted that her company had their rules and I in turn informed her about the White Cane Law of the State of Nebraska and said that she was probably violating the law and thus discriminating against the blind. She denied the charge and told me that if we wanted to rent the van, the rules would apply. In final, she stated that my reservation would be retained and advised me of the location where to pick up the van.
To express it mildly, we were rather disgusted about the entire episode. Budget had the van we wanted and the price of our liking. So why the hassle? My thoughts ran wild: It's time to go to the press and tell our story or let's put these jerks out of business and call the members of the chapter and let's go to the airport to picket. I thought about our White Cane Banquet last September. We had presented the National Park Service (NPS) regional office and the Hyatt Hotel Reservation Center with employee of the year awards. Had I heard the statements by Ken Compton from NPS and Jeannette Foxvog from Hyatt correctly or was it only a dream? Mr. Compton expressed his appreciation for the positive recognition and hoped someday that awards like this would not be necessary and that employment of the blind would be an ordinary occurrence. Ms. Foxvog proclaimed her pleasure with the performance of the two blind employees recently hired and hoped to employ additional blind people in the near future. This fact has become a reality since that evening. Had circumstances for the blind of Omaha not improved? It only took a few short moments, for once again I was forced to return to reality and common sense prevailed.
My sleeping time was extremely limited that night and I couldn't wait until the national consumer complaints number for Budget was accessible at the crack of dawn. I was absolutely determined that the van set aside in my name would be ours to rent and under our conditions. Pam LaPour of the consumer relations department in Dallas listened and attempted to respond to my concerns. She put me on hold and called the Omaha airport location and spoke to a Mr. Baack. After some time, she returned and asked me if the driver would have a credit card. It was then evident that Ms. LaPour had not heard me correctly. The issue was restated again, emphasizing the fact that I would pay for the van with my credit card and that the agency was discriminating against us because of our blindness. She finally put Mr. Baack on the line, and we discussed the matter. He was totally unfamiliar with the Nebraska White Cane statute and did not believe that his agency was being unreasonable nor unfair.
The conversation became quite interesting. He continued to claim that it was not our blindness but the fact that the driver may not return the vehicle. Did we have a man who had lost his mind? Was I going deaf? I alerted him to the fact that as a federal employee, I had a great deal to lose most assuredly my position and would certainly assume the responsibility to return a van. For an instant my mind pictured large numbers of the blind carrying signs at the airport with scores of reporters dashing around seeking the truth. An inner voice told me that we would close this business down. I suddenly asked Mr. Baack if twenty blind citizens came in with twenty drivers and each had the same circumstance I was facing, would he send them to Hertz, Avis, Thrifty or Dollar Rent-A-Car? He responded in the affirmative. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was not a good businessman and that this did not make good economic sense. He was informed that this was a most unfortunate situation, for I had always been pleased with Budget in the past.
The moments wore on with the same issue being rehashed without positive results. Finally, Mr. Baack stated he would be willing to review the White Cane Law. I advised him that he would receive a copy of the document in question. I arrived at work that morning and anxiously awaited a call from our state president, Barbara Walker. She called shortly before 9:00 and read the section of the White Cane Law which we felt pertained to our case. I listened carefully as she read from Chapter 20, Section 127 of the Nebraska Statutes: The blind, visually handicapped, and otherwise physically disabled shall be entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of all common carriers airplanes, motor vehicles, railroad trains, motor buses, streetcars, boats, or any other public conveyance or mode of transportation, hotels, lodging places, places of public accommodation, amusement or resort, and other places to which the general public is invited, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to all persons.
The words full and equal sounded great was victory in our sight? Barbara felt the issue was straightforward. We had never had this kind of problem arise in Nebraska. Numerous members, for example, had rented cars and vans from various companies and trouble had not occurred in one single instance. We decided it would be worth our time to contact other companies and ascertain their policy. Sandy followed up by calling several agencies, including (but not limited to) Avis and Hertz. The Avis representative stated it was a simple issue. The blind person could use his credit card and sign a form authorizing a person to drive. The driver would present his license to the representative and sign the form required for all drivers. Hertz made the matter even easier. A blind person pays with his credit card and the driver provides the license to operate the vehicle. No hassle from Hertz or Avis.
Later, that same afternoon I spoke with Mr. Hank Carriger, the chief deputy to the county attorney. We reviewed the situation together. He was sympathetic to our situation. However, he felt that a jury would not find Budget criminally guilty of violating the White Cane Law. Together we came to the conclusion that the best maneuver would be to ask my state legislator to request an opinion from the state attorney general.
While securing information from the car agencies, Sandy was told by Hertz that they would be happy to rent one of their vans to us for $20 less a day than our previous offer by Budget. After some deliberation, we decided to take this opportunity for we could save money by making this change. We plan to take further action by speaking with our state legislator and reviewing this issue with him. Hopefully, we will make a decision to request an opinion from the attorney general, but only time will tell. I have also written to the president of Budget and expressed to him my personal feelings regarding this incident. We, the Streeter family, will take our trip to the Mormon temple in Denver. I am sure that on the way we will review the circumstances, and questions will arise in our minds if we made the proper decision. Much has been learned from this situation. We should always be ready to deal with unreasonable people, at the most inappropriate times. We must constantly be aware that many people have illogical and unrealistic attitudes about us.
For a short few hours, we as a family will be inside the quiet, sacred, and reverent confines of the temple. It is a place where we are able to leave the problems of the world behind and concentrate on those higher spiritual issues. However, upon leaving this peaceful setting, we are very much aware that we will, as before, be challenged with complicated issues and concerns. The struggle for first-class citizenship will never be easy; the blind of this nation must be constantly prepared, armed with the facts, and ready, willing and with a firm conviction to do battle if necessary.
April 18, 1990
Mr. Clifton Haley, President
Dear Mr. Haley:
The purpose of this correspondence is to bring to your attention a matter which, I believe, needs immediate consideration. First, let me say that throughout the past several years I have rented cars and vans from your company without any difficulty. One can easily determine from this statement that I have been pleased with the services offered by your organization. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. As an employee of the National Park Service and as a member of the National Federation of the Blind, I travel throughout the country. However, I do not drive due to my blindness. My wife is also blind, and we travel extensively for business and pleasure.
On April 11, 1990, we made contact with your Budget location at the Omaha airport to rent a van for a trip from Omaha to Denver. The call was made to rent a van for April 19. However, once the sales representative was informed of my blindness, she quickly stated that I would have to produce a driver's license and a credit card to cover the cost of $251. My credit, to say the least, is excellent. However, the license is out of the question. She was informed that I would pay for the van and my driver would sign the required form to consummate the transaction. She made it quite clear that this would be against the rules and that I would not be able to rent the vehicle. My driver would need to provide the cards and sign the necessary documents.
I advised your sales representative that she was most likely violating the Nebraska White Cane Law, which is enclosed for your review. This statute provides for full and equal access to all public facilities and accommodations. The conversation concluded with her statement that the van reservation would be retained in the computer; and if I wanted to rent said van, I must agree to the terms previously cited. The next morning I contacted your customer service number in Dallas and spoke with a Ms. LaPour, who tried to field my questions and concerns. But during the conversation she apparently completely missed the point. After some time, Ms. LaPour made contact with a Mr. Baack at the Omaha airport location. We then discussed the matter, and several points regarding this contact should be noted:
1. Mr. Baack had never heard of the White Cane Law.
2. He restated the same conditions for renting a Budget van.
3. He expressed the fact that he could not rent the van to me not because of my blindness, but rather due to the condition that the van may not be returned.
The first two comments were expected. There are many persons who have never read nor chose to abide by the provisions of the White Cane Law. I knew that a repeat performance would come regarding the rules of the company. The third statement, however, raises serious questions. Here are several facts: I have a good paying job, my credit is excellent, and I would be paying for the van. Why would I decide to risk all of this, not return your van, and thus engage in criminal activity? How many sighted customers are insulted with such a statement? The point is clear to me. A sighted person would never have to deal with such a ludicrous and discriminatory statement. However, due to my blindness (and only for that reason), different (and definitely incorrect) assumptions were made.
I asked Mr. Baack (I believe Ms. LaPour was still listening) if I brought in twenty blind citizens who each had a driver, would he send them to one of your competitors? Without any hesitation, he responded in the affirmative. I informed him that he was not a very good or smart businessman. Mr. Baack, toward the end of the conversation, did agree to review the Nebraska White Cane Law. Time was becoming a factor, and my wife decided to call several other companies and determine their rental requirements. Avis said their policy would be to have the blind person sign a form to authorize another person to drive. The driver would be required, as expected, to show his license. Hertz only wanted a record (for the computer) that the blind person would be using a driver, who had a valid license. Mr. Haley, your company has a problem which does not appear to be a problem for your competitors. We decided to rent from Hertz because they had a better deal, speaking in terms of attitudes and economics. Hertz made it quite clear that as blind persons, we are entitled to the same privileges as sighted persons who choose to rent vehicles.
I would hope that you, as president of Budget, would apply good common sense and resolve this matter so as to avoid a similar circumstance. I am sure there are effective ways of establishing policy for all rental locations. The blind consumer will, as before, continue to rent vans, cars, and trucks from companies who use sound business judgment and common sense.
This entire situation was unfortunate, to state it mildly. As a consumer, I am aware there is a need to establish guidelines and set policy. However, we should not be penalized because of our blindness.
I am convinced that it would make good common sense for your company to change its policy and attitude. Your attention to these concerns would be greatly appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you so very much.
Larry E. Streeter
cc: Mr. Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
FROM THE EDITOR'S MAIL BASKET:
FURTHER COMMENTS ON BRAILLE
April 10, 1990
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
I have just enjoyed your article, Of Literacy, Braille, and the Oddities of Semantics, which appears in the March, 1990, edition of the Monitor. It put me in mind of a very positive statement concerning Braille, which was published by an educational institution. Unfortunately, such statements from the experts on the education of blind children and adults are becoming rare. The statement is under the heading, A Word About Braille. It is located on page 17 of the Hadley School for the Blind's student course catalog for 1988 and 1989 (also current through 1990). It says in part:
...If you have little or no usable vision, or if you can only read print under highly controlled or difficult to achieve circumstances, we encourage you to consider learning Braille. The Hadley faculty offers this guidance based on extensive experience. Braille is indeed a medium of inestimable value in the education and the lives of blind persons.
I bring this to your attention because, as a Federationist, I feel that the movement should recognize and welcome such positive statements whenever they are made. Moreover, the readers of the Monitor should be informed of them.
If this has already been done, then please disregard my letter. I have only been receiving the Monitor since October, 1988, so it is possible that I have missed the published recognition, which the above statement deserves. Also, I am still very much a babe in the woods when it comes to experience in the NFB.
In our Austin chapter I am in charge of public relations. For those of us who are engaged in the education of the general public concerning the Federation, the Monitor is an excellent resource for information. If published, Hadley's statement could be useful in the movement's ongoing efforts to inform both educators and the general public concerning the vital need for, and the essential usefulness of, Braille.
It seems that with the passing of each year, mankind makes more and longer strides in the field of technology as it is applied to education. It is not difficult for educators and the public at large to be distracted from some of the most basic tools of education by the ever increasing array of new educational devices which are available. Hadley's words could be a help in emphasizing the NFB's view that Braille is as essential to the education of the blind as print is to the education of the sighted....
Yours in the Federation,
COLLECTIVE ACTION PAYS OFF IN MINNESOTA
by Scott LaBarre
From the Associate Editor: Scott LaBarre is the First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind's Student Division and a leader in the Minnesota Student Chapter. He has just been graduated from St. John's University in Minnesota, and he plans to attend law school in the fall. This article is reprinted from the Spring, 1990, issue of The Student Slate, the newsletter of the NFB Student Division.
For those students who qualify for such services, virtually every state rehabilitation agency in the country will pay for post-secondary undergraduate education at state institutions. The vast majority will allocate an equivalent amount of money toward defraying the costs of an education at a private college or university. A very few (Ohio is the one that comes to my mind immediately) have almost categorically refused to have anything to do with this minimal funding of private education on the questionable grounds that, if a student and his or her family are willing to incur the debt that inevitably results from the decision to attend such a school, the client must not really have the financial need that the agency had thought was present. All of us should rejoice with students in Minnesota, who truly have won a signal victory. This is how Scott LaBarre described what happened: If you read the last issue of The Student Slate, you will recall an article entitled A Protest Against Mediocrity. That article was a copy of a tuition policy proposal from the Minnesota Student Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. For the last two years we have been working arduously to alter Minnesota State Services for the Blind's (SSB's) policy which required the agency to pay for tuition only up to the amount charged at Minnesota state colleges and universities. As you might have guessed, tuition at these state institutions is the lowest in Minnesota. Since SSB's own mission statement boldly declares that the agency shall strive to foster the maximum potential from each of its clients and to achieve upward mobility rates equal to those of the general public, the Division's tuition cap did not conform to the lofty goals contained in its mission statement. If you would like to review our arguments for advocating change in SSB policy, please refer to the Fall, 1989, issue of The Student Slate.
On November 16, 1989, some wonderful news came across the telephone line to me. Curtis Chong (NFB of Minnesota representative to the Minnesota Council for the Blind, which serves as SSB's advisory council) informed me that the Council had adopted our tuition policy proposal, exactly as we had submitted it. I could not believe my ears. Since SSB and the American Council of the Blind originally opposed our proposal, I had assumed it would take many more years to change minds and attitudes. The tuition cap was removed, however, with only one dissenting vote and eight in favor.
So what does this all mean? Collective action pays off! That is what it means. Without the active members of the Minnesota Student Chapter and the strong support of the Minnesota affiliate, we could not have scored such a large victory for blind students in Minnesota. Now a blind student can select the best school for his or her educational and vocational purposes without having to worry about whether or not SSB will fund that choice.
This experience, combined with many others, underscores the vital importance of having a strong student chapter. I believe that we had such quick success on this matter because we are the only organized group of blind students in the state of Minnesota. Curtis Chong and I worked diligently for many months on an SSB task force set up to deal with financial matters.
If you have a student chapter in your state, make sure you seek representation on appropriate state agency committees. If you do not have a student chapter, you need to organize one so that you can obtain an official voice on relevant committees. In the last few years we have experienced tremendous growth within the Student Division, and the growth is now beginning to pay dividends. Because we are more powerful, vibrant, and active today, we are scoring larger and larger victories for blind students.
Since we are a very important part of the future of the organized blind movement, we need to sustain and build upon our growth. If we do not advocate for major changes for blind people, someone with less direct interest in our cause will. We must be the voice of organized blind students, and we must change what it means to be blind.
DONALD GIST APPOINTED COMMISSIONER OF SOUTH CAROLINA COMMISSION FOR THE BLIND
by Donald C. Capps
From the Associate Editor: In the January, 1990, issue of the Braille Monitor we printed a story reporting the September 20, 1989, resignation of William James from his position as Commissioner of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. Under James' leadership the Commission had done its best to ignore the concerns of South Carolina's blind citizens. Auditing and other administrative irregularities as well as ugly racial problems became commonplace, and eventually the Commission's governing board concluded that James should be allowed to resign. They had no choice but to start over.
For six months a search for the new Commissioner was conducted, but this time the Board had the good sense to include consumers of its services in the process. Their change of heart and strategy appears to have paid off. Writing in the May, 1990, issue of The Palmetto Blind , the publication of the NFB of South Carolina, Donald Capps, President of the affiliate and editor of the magazine, writes:
The new commissioner has made it clear to me that he wants continuing dialogue and wants the lines of communication open at all times. The Commission has outstanding facilities. No doubt the Commission has many competent staff members. Where additional funding is needed, the NFB of South Carolina will be there to support Commissioner Gist and the agency. While it is an appropriate function of the NFB of South Carolina to be interested in and monitor programs, it is also time for healing and harmony as well as good will. I believe Mr. Gist is a healer.
I also believe the best opportunity in many years now exists for all of us in this big program of serving the blind to get our joint act together. These are exciting times, and the NFB of South Carolina is encouraged and optimistic about the future. That is what Donald Capps said in the May, 1990, Palmetto Blind ; and all of us join with South Carolinians in wishing Mr. Gist well as he works to rebuild the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. He seems to be beginning wisely. A good leader must be willing to listen to everyone and able to synthesize the best ideas from what he learns. Here is the article about Donald Gist that appeared in the May, 1990, edition of The Palmetto Blind:
On March 21, 1990, Mr. Donald Gist of Columbia, South Carolina, was officially appointed Commissioner of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind by the agency's governing board. For six months the Commission's board carefully screened more than sixty applicants for the commissioner's position. Mr. Gist was one of three finalists.
The new commissioner is a graduate of Benedict College, having earned a B.A. degree in history and political science. He also earned a Master's degree in history at the University of South Carolina. Additionally, Mr. Gist received his juris doctor from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1978. A native of Jonesville in Union County, South Carolina, Mr. Gist is married and has two children.
The new commissioner has extensive state government experience. Nationally recognized as a labor relations expert, Mr. Gist was Deputy Commissioner of Labor Management Services with the South Carolina Department of Labor before coming to the Commission for the Blind. Having joined the Department of Labor in 1972, Mr. Gist was responsible for administering state industrial relations, personnel administration, labor law, and labor relations, as well as regulation oversight of the South Carolina state policies and procedures for private and public sector employer/personnel law administration.
According to Mrs. Earlene Gardner, Board Chairman, Mr. Gist was selected based on his experience with labor management negotiations, his knowledge of the South Carolina business sector and its leaders, and his understanding that each individual needs to be self-supporting. Mrs. Gardner also stated, Although there were three outstanding finalists, the Board felt that Mr. Gist would have the greatest impact on the 70 percent jobless rate among the employable blind of South Carolina.
At a news conference after the board meeting, Mr. Gist said his priorities would be to work with the business community in developing job opportunities for blind and severely visually impaired people. Mr. Gist also said, I appreciate the opportunity to lead the Commission for the Blind into the future.
He also pointed out that the people served by the Commission comprise a segment of South Carolina's population that has been neglected. The hiring of Mr. Gist undoubtedly was influenced by the governing board's belief that he was the candidate best equipped to deal with staff tensions and low morale. Mr. Gist told the media that the agency has problems, but indicated the way he will handle them is to be a fair administrator, regardless of an employee's race, color, creed, or religion. The Commissioner pledged to meet with every employee within 90 days. Active in other areas, Mr. Gist serves as Chairman of the South Carolina Opportunities Industrialization Council and has also served on the Governor's blue ribbon panel to study the problems of the aging in South Carolina. Unlike six years ago, when former Commissioner William K. James was hired, there was extensive board involvement as well as fair and reasonable input by consumer organizations, including the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. State President Donald Capps represented the NFB of South Carolina. A get-acquainted dinner for the three finalists was sponsored on Friday evening, March 16, at a Columbia restaurant.
On Saturday, March 17, the three finalists made academic presentations at a joint meeting of the Board of Commissioners and consumer representatives. Mr. Gist was dynamic in his presentation, which was far more impressive than those made by the two other finalists. He came across as knowledgeable and sincere and demonstrated a great deal of common sense. Mr. Gist convinced everyone present that he sincerely wanted an opportunity to lead the Commission at a time when the Commission has many challenges. Without excessive emphasis Mr. Gist alluded to his faith in God who he stated was his leader.
With regard to sheltered workshops and set-aside taxes on blind vendors, Mr. Gist stated emphatically that he opposes both set- aside and sheltered workshops. He made it clear that he believes in strong consumer input with all the groups with a vital interest in this big program of serving the blind being involved as fully as possible. Mr. Gist stated that the mission of the Commission for the Blind is strictly that of serving blind South Carolinians.
Hiring qualified blind staff members, including minority blind citizens is also a goal of Mr. Gist. In response to a question by Mr. Capps concerning quality closures, Mr. Gist replied that it will be his policy as commissioner to see that blind persons are well trained and then placed in meaningful and competitive jobs. He said that he plans to use numerous available training centers and facilities throughout the state in equipping blind persons for competitive employment. Mr. Gist indicated that he was completely familiar with the serious problems of the Commission's computer operations and was committed to finding a solution. Two years ago the Commission for the Blind permitted some $200,000 in funds to lapse. Mr. Gist is opposed to permitting any Commission funds to lapse, stating that all funding will be used to provide needed services to clients. Concerned with staff tensions and low morale, Mr. Gist indicated that there will be significant staff changes. As a follow up to the March 16 and 17 meetings, a conference was held between Commissioner Donald Gist and NFB of South Carolina President Donald Capps on Wednesday, March 28.
After the conference the following communication was released on March 29 by President Capps to the NFB of South Carolina state board, Federation chapter and division presidents, and other NFB of South Carolina leaders: By now all of you across the state probably know that Mr. Donald Gist of Columbia was appointed Commissioner for the Blind by the Commission's Board Wednesday, March 21. I first met Mr. Gist on Friday evening, March 16, at a special dinner held for the three finalists. Also, on Saturday morning, March 17, prior to my leaving for Michigan that afternoon, I participated in a Commission Board meeting in which Mr. Gist made an academic presentation along with the two other finalists, Ed Thomas of Columbia and Harry McGee of Miami. Unquestionably, Mr. Gist made the best presentation of the three. While lacking experience and background in work with the blind, which initially concerned the NFB of South Carolina, Mr. Gist impressed the Commission Board sufficiently that a majority voted for him. He had previously announced that he wanted to meet with key leaders in work with the blind; thus he and I agreed that we would meet as soon as possible. Yesterday, Wednesday, March 28, Mr. Gist and I met in the conference room at the Federation Center for nearly two hours. I felt it was necessary for Mr. Gist to be given firsthand information about the NFB of South Carolina and its many accomplishments. His orientation included the new ten-minute sound-slide documentary featured at the statewide seminar. He was also given copies of the The Palmetto Blind and the 25 pieces of legislation the NFB of South Carolina has successfully sponsored over a period of thirty years. Upon his request, I also gave him a written agenda of the NFB of South Carolina, which concentrates on finding jobs for blind people and reducing the 70 percent unemployment rate. I also gave him the Cause for Concern brochure, which was given to legislators who attended the January, 1989, legislative dinner and was also given to all members of the General Assembly.
In our discussion Mr. Gist reiterated that he opposes set-aside tax on blind vendors. He opposes sheltered workshops. He favors the hiring of qualified blind persons on the staff of the Commission. He requested that I meet with him at least monthly to review mutual concerns. Not only will Mr. Gist be attending the South Carolina state convention, but upon my request he agreed to attend the national convention in Dallas. Mr. Gist is committed to a sincere personal effort to improve the overall climate in work with the blind so that there can be maximum progress. Mr. Gist has been with the South Carolina Department of Labor since 1972 and has served as deputy commissioner of that state agency for a number of years. He also has a law degree from the University of South Carolina. He is highly intelligent; and being a minority citizen, he understands the significance of discrimination and can, therefore, sympathize with those who face discrimination based upon blindness. Mr. Gist struck me as being very sincere. He obviously recognizes the importance of getting along with the NFB of South Carolina.
He specifically requested me to give him the opportunity to negotiate a settlement before going public, if any future disagreement arises between the Federation and the Commission. He wants no fight with the NFB of South Carolina or anyone else in work with the blind. Based upon my meeting with Mr. Gist yesterday, I believe that he is competent; and while he has a lot to learn in the specific field of blindness, he suggested that he would like the NFB of South Carolina to help teach him about the blindness system. Obviously, his eagerness to attend Federation functions, including the national convention, is a real plus and demonstrates intelligence on his part. The NFB of South Carolina has the policy of being fair, and there is every reason for the Federation to wish Mr. Gist well. After all, he has no track record of failure in work with the blind, and there is plenty of opportunity for him to succeed, but he will need the understanding and support of the NFB of South Carolina to be entirely successful. Mr. Gist made clear to me the fact that he recognizes he will have to produce for the blind. In the May issue of The Palmetto Blind there will be an opportunity to give much more information about Mr. Gist.
In addition to accepting invitations to attend both the national and state NFB conventions, Mr. Gist also accepted an invitation to speak to the Columbia Chapter of the NFB of South Carolina on Thursday evening, May 10. As Program Chairman of the Forest Acres Rotary Club, Capps also invited Mr. Gist to be the guest speaker on April 25. Mr. Gist officially assumed his responsibilities with the Commission for the Blind on Tuesday, April 17.
PROBLEMS WITH COUNSELING
THE VISUALLY HANDICAPPED
by Fareed Haj, Ph.D.
From the Associate Editor: In 1970 Mrs. Jernigan was doing some affiliate organizing in the state of Florida. While she was working in Miami, she met a young educator who was interested in the things she had to say about the National Federation of the Blind. He had received his Ph.D. from New York University two years before and was profoundly aware of the discrimination faced by blind people whose ambition is to live active, contributing lives as fully participating members of their communities. The name of this young man was Fareed Haj. He has kept in touch with members of the Federation through the years and has continued to read the Braille Monitor.
Dr. Haj has worked in special education in Dade County, Florida, for the past twenty-three years. Initially he was hired to teach twelve visually impaired students but was soon given an additional twelve youngsters who used wheelchairs, all without the help of a classroom aide. He then spent some time teaching honors English and social studies to regular students and then served as a high school guidance counselor. For the last ten years he has been an Educational Specialist in the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System, which does psychological testing of new students, trains teachers to work with youngsters having various disabilities, maintains a resource library, conducts a computer lab for training staff and developing special programs, and publishes a newsletter. Dr. Haj actually works in a resource center, providing support to teachers all over the school system who need help in dealing with handicapped students.
Dr. Haj earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in English and philosophy. Simultaneously he earned an external degree in the same disciplines from the University of London. He was short of funds at the time and decided that if he was unable to complete one degree for financial reasons, he could be sure of finishing the other. He then traveled to New York City, where he earned a Master's degree from Hunter College in rehabilitation counseling. His Ph.D. from New York University is in counseling with strong emphasis on special education and psychology. He has also done a great deal of post-doctoral work primarily at Teachers College, Columbia University, but also at Harvard, Fordham, and a number of other institutions.
On April 1, 1990, Dr. Haj delivered an informal talk to a group of special education teachers. His views about blindness and the education of the blind were so refreshingly sensible (one is tempted to say despite his impressive credentials) that it seems useful to reprint the speech in full. Dr. Haj's views are another reminder that competent blind laymen are not the only ones advocating the use of Braille, rigorous teaching for blind youngsters, and treatment of blind students as though they were capable of being educated normally. There are professionals out there who do believe in and work toward enabling blind people to reach their full potential. Many, like Dr. Haj, are themselves blind, but increasingly others who are sighted are winning our respect by their willingness to learn about blindness, not just from books and other professionals, but from blind people, speaking for themselves. Here are Dr. Haj's remarks:
My topic this morning has to do with problems of counseling the visually handicapped. I do not propose to talk about personality theory. Any of you who have been in a classroom with visually handicapped children or in meetings with blind adults know that there is no such thing as a unified personality of the visually handicapped. Consider a group of six, and you find that one is outgoing and bubbly, and another is quiet and reflective. One is very friendly, another is private, and so on.
Nor do I propose to talk about the psychology of the disabled. I am skeptical that there is any such thing because if there were, society would be justified in stereotyping the disabled. After all, if they have a certified psychology, then why not stereotype them? But obviously the handicapped are different for many reasons. The time of the onset of the disability is very important. There is a big difference between a child who is born blind and someone who has led a very active life for seventy or eighty years before going blind. There is a big difference between somebody who has visual acuity of twenty over two hundred and can read print with some help and somebody who doesn't have any vision at all. So the time of the onset of the disability is very important, life experiences are important, socio-economic considerations are important. You really can't talk about the psychology of the handicapped with so many variables.
The only thing that the blind have in common is that they cannot see, and even then there are differences. Consider the distinctions between a totally blind person and one who has a lot of vision. So even when you talk about the blind, you are talking about the legally blind, and what they can see depends a great deal, not only on the visual acuity, but on the amount of light. You can talk about tunnel vision or peripheral vision there are so many differences. It doesn't make sense to me to talk about either the personality of the blind or the psychology of the handicapped.
I am going to assume for a moment that the blind have serious problems requiring counseling. This is not a given; I assume it only for argument's sake. The reason I have called my talk Problems with Counseling the Visually Handicapped is that I don't think there is a unique problem in counseling the visually handicapped. As a group, we are not more messed up than the population at large. The problems we have are with the counseling we receive. I am going to talk about some of the practical problems of counseling: who is qualified to do it, when to do it, where to do it, and what to counsel about. These are important topics; we could spend a day on each of them.
Let us start with who is going to do the counseling. Believe me, that is not an easy question. The visually handicapped child spends a great deal of time with the regular teacher if he or she has normal intelligence especially on the junior and senior high levels. And in my long and varied life I have dealt with many, many teachers thousands of them. Having gone through elementary and secondary school myself; having attended thirteen universities on three continents; having served as a special education teacher, working with all exceptionalities; having been a counselor for all exceptionalities; and having been an education specialist for the past ten years, it has been my good fortune to work with many, many regular teachers. And I find that, broadly speaking, they all fall into one of three categories. None of the three is qualified to counsel the blind.
The first kind of regular teacher that the blind encounter is superficially very warm, very supportive, very understanding, very friendly. There are fringe benefits to being this type of teacher. The administrators congratulate you on how wonderful and positive you are with that poor blind child. The parents are delighted that you have discovered their kid is gifted after all, you're giving him A's . And you feel good about yourself for being such a wonderful human being. What's more, the child is delighted. Somebody has discovered him and made him feel welcome.
There are advantages for the child in being in such a setting. I have found over the years that when you get a teacher who is interested in you, your classmates become interested. When you find a cold, rejecting teacher, your classmates will also leave you alone. The advantage of that kind of teacher is that your classmates will become more friendly. But believe me, the discrimination practiced by this kind of teacher is as harmful to the child as is any other kind. There are two reasons for this. First, by being so warm and by knowing on day 1 that you are going to give the blind kid an A no matter what, you are also giving him an inflated self-image, and he is going to be very badly shattered once reality hits. Eventually he will discover that he is not a forgotten genius, and that is going to hurt.
The other problem with this kind of disguised rejection is that the child is not going to learn much, and that is going to hurt him down the road. Because if he feels that he is doing okay, he will not learn to give his very best. It also gives his classmates the wrong impression of the blind. The blind child may be too young to understand the subtleties of discrimination, but when that child is being treated more like a pet kitten, he is being told (even if he doesn't understand it) that he is not equal. No one can ever be both privileged and equal. Either you insist on privilege, or you insist on equality. You cannot have both.
In my own life I have experienced this truth many times, and sometimes it hurts. Sometimes you cause people to become your enemies when you really don't want them to. But there are times when you have to stand and be counted.
I ran into a teacher like this in graduate school. He came to me one day and said, You know, you haven't missed a session this year; all your assignments have been A's; if you don't want to take the final, don't. I am giving you an A. Believe me, that was a tempting offer. I was living two hours away, and we were poor at the time. Traveling on the bus cost money that was hard to come by, and I was sure of an A. For a moment I was tempted. I am sure that man concluded I needed counseling because I said, No sir, I don't want to do that. I want to come and take the exam, and I would prefer a B to an unearned A. I went on, Look, if you really want to do this, make an announcement that everyone with an A average doesn't have to take the test. Then I will be very happy not to take it, but I will not be the only one not taking the test and making an A. I am sure that I dropped a few notches in his estimation, but I didn't care. I was fighting for a principle. People have to understand: either you insist on fulfilling your obligations, or you don't. Either you insist on your rights, or you don't. A man who fights to fulfill his obligations is going to fight for his rights, too, and deserves to do so. I have fought for my rights many, many times, but always with the knowledge that I was equally willing to demand my responsibilities.
Many of these battles have been private, and I will not bore you with them. But there have been times when I have had public fights. Sometimes I won, and sometimes I lost. Twenty years ago, soon after I got my doctorate and joined the school system and became an American citizen, I decided that the best way to show my appreciation, to be useful to my adopted country, was to offer my services to the State Department to be sent anywhere they could use me as a Foreign Service Officer to show the world that this country believes in the value of the individual, that this country treats people according to what they can do, not according to what they can see.
Naively I applied to Civil Service to take the Foreign Service exam. The local officer agreed. But then I said, Look, I need someone to read the exam to me because I am blind. Nonchalantly she said, Oh, but we don't take the blind. I said, That's nice; who is your supervisor? She gave me the name of her supervisor, who at the time was a bit nervous toward political appointments (it was the early seventies, and civil rights was a big issue), and she said, I'm going to pass the buck by sending you to the Atlanta office.
I said, fine, and I called the Atlanta office. They said, Oh no, no, no, that is a Washington decision.
So I called Washington, and I got someone who sounded intelligent. I said, Lady, I am trying to do something, and without knowing anything about me you are telling me that I cannot do it? The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare is spending hundreds of millions of dollars rehabilitating the handicapped, and another department in the same government is telling me that you have no opportunities for the blind? I insist on taking this test, and if I have to go to a class action suit, I will.
She said, Now just calm down. There is no law that says you can't take this exam, but I promise that we are not going to pass you. I said, Ma'am, one step at a time. Let me put a foot through that door let me crack open that door, and let me take that exam. She said, You are wasting your time.
I replied, Am I not allowed to waste my time?
She said, Okay, if you feel that way. I took the test, and she kept her promise, and of course, I was rejected. You know, it took twenty years before a blind person was recently admitted to the Foreign Service by the State Department.
That was an early disenchantment. I began to lose my idealism very quickly thereafter. But to go back to teaching, all this is why I feel that the teacher who is too warm and too accepting is subtly rejecting you as surely as any other kind of person. That is why I told my professor that I did not wish to be privileged. When I did school counseling, many times blind kids would come to me and say, Write me a note for my regular teacher to get me out of class ten minutes early. When I would ask why, they said, Oh, we don't want to be in the halls between classes. I would act horrified and say, You're telling me it's going to take you fifteen minutes to get from room to room? Are you blind or something?
The child would grin and say, Okay, not ten minutes, just two. I would say, All right, if you really insist, I will give you two minutes; but to be honest with you, I would rather give you no minutes at all. I would rather you go out in those halls between bells like everybody else. If you need somebody to guide you, let them guide you. I don't care. I'd rather have you do that than leave before the end of the class. I said that for two reasons. Every time you get up out of that seat ten minutes or two minutes or even thirty seconds early, you are alerting the whole class to the fact that you are different you need special treatment. This is not why we put you in this class. We put you there because we believe you can be an equal. We don't want you gaining notoriety. Besides, in those last two or three minutes you'll be looking at your watch all the time to make sure that you are leaving two minutes early instead of concentrating on what the teacher is saying. Many teachers sum up at the end of the class, reviewing what they have covered that period and telling you what the assignment will be for the next time. If you miss that last two or three minutes, you aren't going to know what the homework is or when the exam will take place. Is it worth all that? Sometimes I would convince them, and sometimes I would not. That's all right because as a counselor you honestly have to learn to listen to the child and, if he makes sense, do what he says.
We should not be playing God with people's lives, not even children's. We have to respect their opinions. So that kind of warm teacher is not going to be able to counsel the blind child. There is a second type who is more honest about his or her feelings. These teachers reject the child outright. On the junior or senior high school level teachers see about one hundred fifty youngsters a day. Some of them work six periods a day because they are needed or they need the money, so they don't even have a planning period.
Some of them have after-school activities to supervise. Some are advancing their careers by getting a master's or specialist degree so they can earn more pay. Some are teaching adult education. They look at a blind student coming in on top of all their other responsibilities, and they say, Oh my God, what did I do to deserve this? They say, We aren't going to take this out on the child; we are simply going to pretend he isn't here.
We aren't going to flunk him, but no matter what he does or doesn't do, we are going to give him a D. Out of the goodness of our hearts, we might even give him a C. That child will just sit there tolerated but not accepted. Proximity does not mean equality. The fact that he is sitting in that class doesn't mean he is an equal. The year goes by, and that child does not learn very much. I have had more than my share of that kind of teacher on college campuses, both undergraduate and post graduate level. I have sat in classes when the teacher was passing out papers, and he would give a handout to the person on my right and to the person on my left, to the person in front of me, to the person behind me but skip me. Eventually, you learn to say, Hey, I paid for the course, too. Would you like to have your child counseled by that kind of teacher? Not me.
The third type of teacher is my favorite. This is the learner, and I have known some of those. Years ago, I sent a blind student to a music class. The teacher saw the kid, and immediately he called the office to have somebody sent to cover the class. He marched down to my room and said, Guess what, they have given me a blind kid!
I said, I know, I sent him there.
He said, You know it is a music class?
I said, I know, and I wish I could help you, but I don't know the first thing about music. Years ago I took a whole year of music, and on my best day I imitated a cat fairly well on my violin. I am not the person to help you; I am sorry.
He said, I want this kid out, right now. Put him somewhere else. I said, Sir, you are a teacher, and others are teachers. If I took him out of your class and put him somewhere else, the next teacher is likely to feel the same way you do. Do me a favor. Keep this child in your class for two weeks. Let's find out what he can do. Honestly, I don't know what he can learn from you if you feel that way. I don't know what you can teach him with this kind of attitude. And I don't know anything about music; I don't even know if I made a wise decision. But let's give him two weeks and find out what goes on. Reluctantly he agreed but assured me he would be back in two weeks. A week later he came back and said, I apologize to you. I was too harsh last week.
That kid has the best attitude and attendance in the class. He is no trouble at all. He is eager to learn. I feel so ashamed; I shouldn't have rejected him that way. I am here for you to advise me on how I can help this child. For the balance of that year he was the kind of teacher who took assignments home to tape for the student. He worked with the kid productively all year, and it was a wonderful experience. I wish we had more of that type of teacher. If anyone could do the counseling, this third type of teacher would be the one, but of course, he is not the right one because he is more the counselee than the counselor. So we have now eliminated regular teachers as potential counselors.
Who, then, should do the counseling? The guidance counselor? Some of you work at the junior or senior high level. Let's not tear down guidance counselors. But you give any man five hundred counselees and a lot of paperwork, especially on the high school level, where the counselor has to make recommendations for college, deal with crises, schedule classes, advise students about courses, counsel the kids who got F's, hold parent conferences, cope with emergencies, and you have overload. In my experience regular counselors have as little to do as possible with special education as a whole, and with the blind in particular. They keep as far away from these students as they can. They don't have time, they don't have experience, and they don't know anything about the speciality.
All right, in our center we have a Special Education Administrator. Maybe he should do the counseling. In many of the centers we have a hundred, a hundred-fifty handicapped children. The person in charge is getting the paperwork ready for psychologicals, making sure that the IEP's are in place, conferring with parents, and attending meetings. The director may well have no time for counseling. Just because he or she has probably majored in learning disabilities or administration, he or she is not necessarily expert in the visually handicapped either. So the special education administrator is not the person to do it.
That by default leaves you, the special ed teacher, the vision teacher; and the counseling may have to fall on you. Are you qualified to do this counseling? (Oh dear, here it comes. I have to stand before an audience and tell you why I don't feel you're qualified. I am sorry.) Some of you are undoubtedly qualified and very good. I commend you for choosing to work with the visually handicapped. Your hearts are in the right place. But some of you are itinerant teachers. You may have ten or fifteen kids in six or ten schools. Maybe some of you are luckier and see the kids more often. But it is not uncommon for the itinerant teacher to see each student one hour a week. So such a teacher sees each student thirty-six clock hours a year, assuming the following: the teacher is never sick, is never absent, does not have a biologic child who is ever sick or absent, her car never breaks down, the blind child is never sick, is never on a field trip, is never at an assembly. Do you believe that all these assumptions are going to happen? Even if they did, you have only thirty-six clock hours to work with that child. How much can you accomplish in thirty-six hours? How well can the child get to know and trust you in thirty-six hours?
Not only that, but can you honestly justify to your conscience chatting with that child when he needs help with English, math, and science; when he doesn't know what to do with the homework assignment that is due; when there is a test to be administered? There are so many other pressing duties for you. Frankly, when I see a teacher chatting away a few of those thirty-six hours, I get concerned. Counseling can so easily degenerate into chatting, and there are many, many academic needs for that blind child. Counseling may not have the highest priority.
Now I come to an even more ticklish point. Let me stipulate in the beginning that I am not including any of you. In the vision field there is a rumor of a tremendous shortage. We are taking people cold who do not know the first thing about teaching the blind or visually handicapped. We are saying, Okay, here is a class; go ahead and teach. I feel bitter about this for a number of reasons. First of all, I ache for the blind children, who need all the help they can get, and instead of a knowledgeable teacher they get somebody who is totally illiterate in their own medium. That child will not learn much.
I also feel sad because it is a poor reflection on our own society. We are told that we have a tremendous shortage of teachers of the visually handicapped, yet there are hundreds and hundreds of visually handicapped graduate students who are working on second and third degrees just to mark time because nobody will employ them. Wouldn't that blind person with three degrees be better for the blind child than someone practically taken off the street? How much more could that visually handicapped person teach that blind child? Good heavens, they could teach, not only literary Braille, but music Braille, mathematical notation, computer Braille. There is a rumor that Braille is a dying thing, and nobody needs it anymore. This is a sellout; this is betraying our blind population. The reason that people tell you that is frankly that they don't know Braille and they don't want to learn. So they tell the blind that Braille really does not matter. It does matter; I assure you that it does matter! I would never have gotten my degrees without it. I use records and tapes, computers, scanners, and sighted readers; but when I am really in a jam and really need to know something, I have to read it in Braille.
Another thing we have done is to take a person who sees at about five over two hundred and say that he can see some, so we aren't going to give him Braille. Never mind that he can read for only five minutes before getting tired. How many text books is he going to cover in five minutes? Wouldn't that child be better off with Braille?
So we are getting teachers who are definitely not able to counsel with the blind because they don't know anything about the blind. They just came into the field when they were drafted. Why have we stopped taking the blind into our classrooms as resource people, where they could not only teach the blind but serve as role-models? (if we have time, I want to tell you how important role- modeling is.) We haven't taken them because we have changed the rules of the game. In their wisdom, the experts have decided that it is better for a teacher to spend half her life in the car, going from school to school, spending an hour with the kid, instead of having a resource room, where six or seven or eight children can come to her and spend all day. In that classroom the blind could have functioned, but they cannot do so when teachers are required to spend the day on the road in a car. We change the rules of the game, and then we tell the blind, I'm sorry, you are not qualified to teach the blind.
I have applied to teach at colleges and high schools, and the argument they give me is, How can you teach, you can't read print? Yet nobody makes the same argument to the sighted teacher who can't read Braille. This is bad. So I tell you that many vision teachers are not qualified to do the counseling. I'm sorry; this is what I believe. Some of you in the resource room may, of course, be qualified to do this counseling.
This brings me to the question of when to do the counseling. Okay, you are a resource teacher; your heart is in the right place; you have chosen the right profession; you're dedicated; you're wonderful. All right, you want to counsel the blind? When do you do it? When you have six or seven kids around, all asking for your help? When do you ever get the kid all by yourself to sit down and really counsel with him? Do any of you have that luxury? Years ago, we had a serious problem. Somebody wanted me to counsel a blind youngster; it was an urgent thing. Do you know when I had to choose to do it? Both of us had to give up our lunch periods. We gave him another assignment, but my break was gone. Lunch is the only time a teacher can sit down privately and talk with a child. As a classroom teacher, you are not often going to have only that one kid. You cannot really expect the kid to open up, and if he does, he might get into trouble because the other kids might start teasing him about the private issues they have overheard. So we conclude that you don't have time to do the counseling.
All right then, let's send him to a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist for that matter. You know, there are teachers of the visually handicapped who seldom see a blind child, and most psychologists have never dealt with a blind child. They really don't know how to begin counseling. They want to do it, but their concept of the blind is no different from that of most of the rest of the population, and they really don't know what that kid can and can't do. The psychologist may not be any more qualified than anybody else to do the counseling, and the same goes for the psychiatrist, because he has had so little exposure to the blind.
In other words, there really is nobody to do the counseling. And if there were a professional who could do it, when could it be done and where? If you are, let us say, an itinerant teacher, you are lucky if you can find a quiet place. In a library people are walking in and out. Maybe in a closet under a stairway? Maybe in a corner of the cafeteria? I've been in schools; I know what goes on. Should that child gain your trust and openly start talking to you in the cafeteria or in the library or under the stairway? There are problems with talking where and when and who does it.
Let us assume we have found a psychologist with experience, willing to work with the blind. Who is going to pay for it? Maybe the state rehabilitation agency? If that agency pays for it, then is that counselor working for the client or for the agency? That is really an ethical problem, and I wish we had more time to go into it. When the state rehabilitation agency or another agency sends a blind client to a counselor, it is saying directly or indirectly, openly or implicitly, Shape that blind person in our image. And knowing what I know about agencies, it is not an image I want to be shaped in. That counselor is not your agent; he is the agent of the agency, and the blind counselee will view him as such. He is going to tell the blind person to shape up, that society is right, that the system is correct, to take that chip off your shoulder. He's not working for the client because the client is not paying him. He is working for whoever is paying in this case, the agency.
I wish psychological counseling were like legal counseling, where you pay your lawyer, and he is honestly working for you, facilitating your objectives, giving you what you are trying to get, not telling you that you are messed up and you are wrong and you had better shape up. But let us assume that we have a situation in which the parents are paying for their child's counseling and the counselor is going to be on that child's side and that he is not working directly or indirectly for any agency that potentially may be sending him other clients, when is he going to schedule the appointments? Kids in a metropolitan area like Miami have to get up at five in the morning to catch a bus at 6 so they can be in school by 7:15 or 7:30. They leave school at 2:30, and they don't get home till 4:00. Many latchkey kids, after that kind of day, go home to an empty house. When are they going to see a counselor? When do they have time, and how are they going to get there?
So far, the counseling problems we have discussed are who, where, when, and how. Now let's talk about what , and here it gets worse. I have been a blind person for a long time since the age of nine months. And the counseling I have gone through with professionals led me for years to pray every night, God save me from the experts. Let me tell you what I am talking about, and if I have to be personal to make a point, I will I don't mind. My parents grew up in a south Lebanese village. As soon as they got married, they wanted to strike out on their own, go to the land of opportunity, and really make it big like all young people. They traveled fifty miles to the south to the port town of Haifa, in Palestine at the time. They established a home; they rented a little flat. My father got a job, and within a year of their marriage I was born. They thought that their cup of happiness was full. They had a healthy baby, a home, and a job.
Things had never been better, and they had every hope that things would go from better to better. Nine months later that child was blind totally, finally, irrevocably. They were plunged into such a depression that it took them a very, very long time to recover. They lost their appetite for food; life had no meaning. For years any time they heard about a quack anywhere in two countries, they went to see if he could help me. If they had received the right kind of professional advice, they could have saved a lot of time and money and effort and much aggravation. But they did not mind. No one had trained them to be the parents of a blind child.
They did not know anymore about it than anybody else, and their concept of blindness was that of the entire population. Just because you have a blind child, it doesn't mean that you feel different about blindness, not initially, at any rate. What were the experts telling my parents? Oh, you're twenty-one, twenty-two; you can make another twelve kids if you want. Forget about this one, or assume he was born dead; many kids are born dead. Put him away somewhere, forget about him, and start again. That was not the kind of advice they wanted to hear. Finally an expert came and said, Look, put him in an institution. True, it's only an asylum, but at least they will teach him some Braille. That was better advice than some we give families today. At least they did not tell my parents to forget about Braille.
Anyway, that could have been the end of the story. If I had survived in that asylum, I would still be there today. The only reason I am standing before you this morning is that my parents went to visit me there after two months. They had no degrees, they had no college education, they were not professionals, they were not even high school graduates, but they had hearts, and they allowed their hearts to guide them. They looked at that place, and they said, This place is not for our son. They took me out. Had they not done that, I know I would still be there, and any spirit would have been crushed, even mine. My history would have been totally different. It was only because my parents allowed their hearts and minds to rule the situation that I have achieved what I have in life. This was the first pernicious counseling I received from professionals.
There are many other examples. When I began college, my teachers were so impressed that one of them came and said, I want you to go on to graduate school in America, where there are more opportunities. He thought it would be a good idea to get some advice from the experts on blindness, so he wrote to one of the American institutions. He explained that he had a blind student who seemed to be talented and whom he wanted to help, and he got a letter from the expert which said, We don't believe in college education for the blind. We believe that the blind should go into open industry. That man, having heard from the experts, decided, Well, what can I do?
And that was the end of that attempt to give me greater college opportunity. God save us from the experts. I encountered another expert at about this time. I had applied to an international organization for a scholarship. It was very interested; in fact, I was the highest applicant on their list. They ranked people, and I was number 1 in the entire population of my country, not the blind. I was certain that I was going to receive a good scholarship and be placed at a good college in America. The first year nothing happened. The second year nothing happened. By the third year I had found another way to come to this country to further my education. That international organization never came through. Upon investigating the matter after I was already here, I learned that an expert somewhere decided, without consulting me, of course, that I needed a small community, where I would be given a room and could go to college.
If that had gone through, it would have been the worst thing for me because what I really needed was a huge metropolitan area, where I could draw on volunteers, where I could find resources, where there was variety. But the experts thought I needed a small community. Where they got that, I have no idea; they didn't ask me. What did I know; it was only my life. The expert advice we get is often poor advice.
Does that mean that blind people don't need counseling at all? No. We need counseling, and a lot of it. But the kind we need is more in the realm of education than psychology. When you walk around a class of blind kids, you may see one who is sitting there, rocking back and forth. His hands may be flying all over the place or he may be twirling a handkerchief. Maybe his head is shaking side to side.
Do you just call the ambulance and commit him to the psychiatric hospital? In an autistic child these are indicative of deep psychological problems. Among the blind they may or may not be. The blind child with a lot of energy, having to sit still, not seeing what other people are doing, may develop these mannerisms without being aware of them. He does not need counseling that will reveal things about his grandmother. He needs for a teacher to say, Look here, this is not acceptable behavior. Do it gently; do it firmly; do it as often as it is needed. If you have done this for a couple of years without any results, then you know that the problem may be more deep-seated. At least try the educational approach first; I have known it to work in many, many cases. Very often it is not that the blind are messed up; it is that they do not have enough information.
Maybe I should not talk about this in public, but I will anyway. Years ago I had contact with a blind student. The principal came to me saying that he was disturbed about a boy who was taking regular courses and was masturbating in class. This problem is, or can be, serious, and I was very concerned by it. It could have been indicative of serious psychological trouble. We had worked for years to build a positive image of the handicapped, and all we needed was a few incidents like this to ruin everything we had done.
I told him I would see what I could do. I did not make light of the situation. I talked to the child, who did have problems. There were some autistic tendencies. But it turned out to be that the child, who was born blind and was not particularly bright, had no idea what vision entailed. And I don't blame him; I'm not sure that I know what vision entails either. I can't be certain that any profoundly deaf person understands what hearing entails.
For a deaf person it is very difficult to know what people can and cannot hear, what hearing people can and cannot do. The same is true of the blind. Vision is confusing. If the blinds are drawn, people outside can't see you, and another time with the blinds open, they can see you. If the glass is transparent, they can see you; if it is one-way, they can't. It is very difficult, particularly for a person blind from birth really to know what vision involves. After talking with that young man, I concluded that he honestly believed that because masturbation was silent, nobody could see him.
[At this point a member of the audience commented that sighted people have a hard time knowing how much a partially sighted person can see. In front of a college class a professor once indicated his surprise that she could see him at all. She commented that a tactful person would never have made such a comment in public. Dr. Haj then continued:]
And how many professors talk about you as if you couldn't see them? How many of them ignore you. I wish I could tell you the number of times I have gone to a classroom that was empty because the teacher had written on the board, I am not going to be here next week. Or Next week is a vacation. Or We are going to meet somewhere else next week. A good teacher would have had the courtesy to speak while he wrote. I cannot tell you how many midterms I could have done better on if I had known that the test was coming. A teacher should have the courtesy to say, We will be covering chapters thirteen to sixteen. Such an instructor should have the courtesy to say these things even if there were no blind student in the class. But, like every other profession, not everybody is perfect.
So many of the things that seem to be in the counseling domain may not be. Many of them are more properly in the realm of teaching. For example, take a blind kid who is unkempt. His hair is always flying, and his shirt is always hanging out. Frankly, he is not very clean, and he is not brushing his teeth often enough. Is that a counseling situation? Maybe it is, but I think it is more effectively handled as an educational one.
When my own boys were teen-agers, we went through a nightmare. They wanted to buy the most expensive clothing because it carried a certain tag. Surely that was not a personal need. That was an acquired need just to be like the other kids. It was because their peers were doing it. People learn so much from their peers. When you have a blind child who is not handling his food properly, who is not dressing himself properly, that doesn't necessarily mean that he needs a psychologist.
It may do so, but it may simply mean that he never had enough environmental clues, enough visual clues to be able to imitate accurately. He doesn't know what is involved. This is why it is appropriate for the teacher to take the time to teach him how to cut his meat, to eat spaghetti, to handle all his food. I see nothing wrong with that. If this is what he needs, then it is an appropriate educational objective.
A hundred years ago home economics was taught at home. Nobody went to school to study the subject. A girl was taught to make her dresses, set the table, and cook at home. When the need eventually arose to study home economics outside the home, students took it in school. If the blind person needs education in grooming, eating, or social behavior, why not tackle it in school what's wrong with that? This brings me to two points.
Though we may assume that we can give the blind counseling because they have all the time in the world, the truth is that they don't. A blind person who really wants to accomplish a lot has to spend much more time on his or her books than the sighted. If a teacher tells you to go to page 153 and study it, you flip to the page and begin studying. If I am using tape, and the teacher says page 153, I don't know which tape or track the page appears on. It might take me fifteen or twenty minutes to find the right place in that book. A sighted child reading that book would have a pencil handy, he can mark important passages. If I want to mark that passage, I have to play that tape again and again, writing it down in Braille a few words at a time. If you tell me that I have to spend time in counseling, too, I don't know when I am going to do it.
Have I ever had a counselor? Yes I have. I have been fortunate to have very, very good counselors. The ones who had the greatest influence on my life never said, Come, I want to counsel with you. One of these was a nun. When I finished elementary school, I returned home, and because a war had just ended and there were no laws requiring the education of the handicapped, there was no place for me to go. My parents applied to one school after another but were told there was no place for a blind child. I was cheering the schools on because I didn't want to go to school, so I hoped my parents would just give up. But they were stubborn; they didn't. Finally they found a Catholic school for girls which said they would take a chance as long as I never talked alone with a girl. I went to that girls' school, and I did my best. Am I glad I went there! The curriculum was English. Had I not improved my English, I don't know how I would ever have studied because English is one of the few languages in which you can get all the Braille you want. I have found that, when you are handicapped, you can turn anything to your advantage. The fact that no school would have me turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me because I was able to go to that English- speaking girls' school. As a handicapped person I have found in life that it is necessary to follow the motto: if you are given a lemon, make lemonade. Turn everything you can to your advantage.
The Superior of that school was a very, very wise woman. She had perhaps completed high school, but she was one of the best educators I have ever encountered. When I had been there three years (it was one year before I was to graduate), she called me down and said, Look, we need to talk. In those days in Israel we still took British degrees. Students received the matriculation certificate, later called the general certificate of education, both of which were issued from London. She said, Those people don't know you. I am not sure if we can give you the matriculation certificate that is issued to everyone else. But we will give you a school certificate of completion stating that you have finished our program.
I am not an aggressive person, but there are times when a principle is involved and I surprise myself by standing up for my rights. Here I was, in the eleventh grade, talking to my school principal, who was a mother superior, and I said, Mother you are wrong. I am not going to do that. She was rather taken aback, but she told me to go on. I said, I have worked as hard as everybody else. A certificate of completion from you will not have the same weight as a regular national diploma from London, and I am not going to accept it. I have worked too hard.
She asked, What do you propose that we should do? I think that you should write a letter saying that you have a blind student, who you think deserves to get the regular diploma, and let them make arrangements. Tell them that I can type my answers. She was the kind of counselor I respect because she was not too big to learn from a child.
She said, You know, you have a point. Why don't I do that? Students were supposed to take exams in three ordinary subjects and in two advanced ones. I took six ordinary level and four advanced (double the load of everybody else), and I was the only one to pass everything that year. I did get the diploma. That nun was the best kind of counselor one who was willing to listen.
I had already met another counselor like this in elementary school. When I was in the sixth grade, I discovered that I had been retained. I couldn't understand why. I wasn't brilliant, but I wasn't that bad. So I marched off to the principal's office, knocked at the door, and asked to talk to him. I surprised myself with my boldness, but I asked him why I had been retained in the sixth grade. He explained that, because of the war then going on, he was afraid that, when I completed the seventh grade, there would be no place to send me afterward. They could not contact my parents, and they feared I would become a refugee and that I would be turned out on the streets. His concern touched me, but I said, Sir, civil wars have been known to drag on for twenty years. If we have to face this problem in two years, why not face it in one? I guess he thought I was not so stupid after all. He admitted that he was no wiser than I in this matter and agreed that, if this was what I wanted, I could have it.
That man had a greater influence on my life than any other educator that I have ever had. He was a totally blind man himself. Fifty years ago in Palestine he was appointed the principal of a school. Look around you here today. How many handicapped administrators do we have in Dade County, Florida? Ten percent of our educational employees (2,000 people) are employed to help the handicapped. Where are the handicapped in important staff positions? If we want to influence the handicapped, their parents, and the legislature, I am reminded of a song Don't Speak of Love; Show Me. We can talk about opportunities and rights for the handicapped, and in the meantime we are employing thousands of able-bodied people to help the handicapped, but wouldn't it be more effective if we had handicapped people in high positions who could really influence decisions? This is a disgrace! That man in a third-rate country fifty years ago was made the principal of a special school, and he had the greatest impact on all of us blind children and on our families. My parents, who knew nothing about the blind, thought that this was the worst thing that could have happened to me, until they met that man. They saw that he was married, had children, and held a job that he was living a normal life. His example, more than any counseling, gave them the courage to go on, the conviction that something good could happen. Until they met him, they had a terrible image of the blind. One day, when I was about two, they looked out the window during lunch and saw a blind beggar. They both ran after him to try to give him something. Their lunch was never eaten that day.
It's inspiration and role-modeling in counseling that are more important than any talking we do. Actions always speak louder than words. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an action is worth a million.
LAWYER BEATS MEDICAL ODDS
Roberta Jensen is an active member of the National Federation of the Blind. She is also a graduate of the University of Arizona Law School and has been admitted to the bar in Arizona. In early December of 1989 she was admitted to practice law in the federal court system, and on December 9, The Tucson Citizen published a story by Robert C. McCormick about her accomplishments. Because Ms. Jensen is blind and has rheumatoid arthritis, which requires her to use crutches, this story could have been the sloppy sentimentality that too often signals our accomplishments. Though clearly admiring, however, the piece is as straightforward and tough-minded as Roberta Jensen herself. Here it is:
Roberta Jensen, 42, is totally blind and has had most of the major joints in her body replaced after their destruction by rheumatoid arthritis. On Wednesday, December 6, 1989, she became qualified to practice law in the federal court system after being sworn in by Chief U.S. District Judge Richard M. Bilby. Jensen, a graduate of the University of Arizona Law School, opened her law office in Tucson about a year and a half ago and specializes in juvenile and domestic cases.
Domestic law includes divorce proceedings, and I had previously learned about some of the technical problems when I ended an unhappy marriage of 10 years before going back to school, she said. I was a good wife and mother, but I don't think I was meant to spend the rest of my life keeping house for a man, and the stress of that marriage sure didn't help my arthritis, Jensen added. She was born blind and diagnosed as having rheumatoid arthritis when she was about 3 years old.
Jensen, a native of Montana, has lived in Tucson for about five years, and her daughter and 7-month-old granddaughter live with her. The dry and warm Tucson climate has sure helped me, and I manage to move along pretty good on my crutches with the help of a nice man who drives me around town, she said. After her divorce Jensen established a phone answering service, but it didn't last very long, and she decided to go to law school.
She had previously started work on her master's degree in individual and family studies at the University of Delaware and is still working on her thesis. Many people told her she would never make it through the tough three years of law school because it was highly competitive, and professors and other students would not go out of their way to help her. They also warned that, unless she finished in the top ten percent of her class, she would end up being a starvation lawyer. Fortunately, their dire predictions were all wrong, and all of my teachers and many fellow students helped me as much as possible because they respected my ambition to become the best lawyer I could, she said.
Her most pressing problem right now, she added, is paying back her student loans.
And how does she prepare her cases without being able to see the paperwork usually involved in a legal matter?
I have a talking computer, she said an IBM computer equipped with a voice synthesizer.
A paralegal assistant reads the pertinent documents to her, and she then types the information into the computer's word processor. Later, when I need the information to go to court or request a ruling from a judge or public official, I just punch the right keys, and the computer talks to me and tells me what I need to know about the case, she explained.
The attorney also takes notes in Braille and sometimes uses a tape recorder in court, as she did in her classes. Of the pain that sometimes flares up when she pushes herself too hard, she said, I learned to live with it when I was a little girl. I was about 21 before I found out there were such things as pain pills. Jensen added that medication and exercise help sometimes and she hopes to find a swimming pool where she can swim with supervision.
But I have a busy and mostly happy life and believe I am providing an important service for my clients and the rest of the community, she said. So I don't have much time to dwell on my physical problems.
I HAVE A RIGHT TO SKATE IN THE MIDDLE
by Diane McGeorge
As Monitor readers know, Diane McGeorge serves as the First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, and Executive Director of the Colorado Center for the Blind. The CCB is one of a handful of rehabilitation facilities across the country which teach the alternative techniques of blindness while helping students to develop a healthy attitude about themselves as blind people. All of these centers encourage their students to take part in activities intended to extend the boundaries of their expectations of themselves. Here is what she has to say:
Students at the Colorado Center for the Blind engage in a wide range of activities, some of which they enter into gladly, and some, not so gladly. But they know from the moment they sign up to come that they have agreed to take part in the whole program offered here, not just the easy part. Ours is a challenging curriculum, which teaches valuable skills (see the January, 1990, Braille Monitor story about our technical rock climbing course). As I tell the students from the time they arrive, We will ask you to examine your blindness, and over and over again we will challenge your notions about the proper role of blind people. You will probably get sick of hearing about the subject, but learning all you can about blindness is why you're here. Yes, you'll learn to use a cane confidently, and you'll learn to read and write Braille, but most important of all, we hope that you will learn that you are a valuable person. We assume that you want to assume your rightful place in society as a participant, not as a recipient of charity from all those well-meaning people out there who will tell you how amazing and inspiring you are. We intend to teach you ways in which you can change your life; and, if you will let us, we will teach you what it really means to be equal.
In the beginning, of course, students assure me that they want a challenge. But when it's snowing and blowing outside with the temperature far below freezing, and the travel teacher says, Let's walk five blocks to the bus, these same students are not sure they want quite so much of a challenge. But they learn as the weeks go by that these experiences begin to change their outlook and their lives.
Other challenges, however, are not so apparent in the beginning. Teaching goes on whether students and teachers are in class or doing something on an evening or weekend. Learning and broadening personal expectations go on twenty-four hours a day at all of the centers that employ Federation philosophy. In the beginning professionals from conventional rehabilitation programs told us, You can't expect students in a rehab program to work on weekends, but we decided that they were wrong, and repeatedly the students have proven us right. It was our first group of students who christened us a boot camp for the blind, and we are proud of the name because it's true.
On a recent Saturday we decided to go roller skating at a nearby rink. Altogether there were fourteen of us: ten students, one girlfriend, and three staff members. Except for one sighted teacher, all of us were using canes. The students ranged in age from nineteen to the late fifties; and, despite the dire predictions of those same professionals who thought that rehab students would refuse to continue to learn over weekends, the skating party, like our other activities, struck everyone as a great idea. I wasn't sure how the folks at the rink were going to feel when thirteen of us turned up together, intending to use canes out on the floor, so I was prepared for almost anything that might happen. When I purchased the tickets, the woman waiting on me was superciliously friendly and asked if we were all planning to skate. I said that we were, and, gathering up my change, I fled before she could say anything more. We went to pick up our rented skates, and I continued to wait for the reaction that I knew was coming.
Suddenly the overly friendly woman was at my side. She told me how glad she was that we were going to skate. I replied that we were glad, too. Then she said, I just want to be sure you tell your people that they have to stay along the wall while they skate.
I responded that she didn't have to worry about a thing; we would be fine. Then she touched my cane, as if to say, But what about this? I decided we might as well clear the air at the start. I said, There won't be any problems.
With some dismay she said, You won't be taking your canes with you, will you?
I replied that of course we would, and the inevitable discussion followed.
You just can't do that. Your canes will be a hazard to the other skaters on the floor. After all, we have some little kids out there, and their parents will be worried. You might trip someone. Smiling all the while, I explained that we would be very careful. We didn't just poke the canes out in front of us but used a special technique with it. There would be no problems. She kept saying that she couldn't let us do that, and I kept repeating that she had nothing to worry about.
While all this smiling and reassuring was going on, the students were putting on their skates and working their way onto the floor. The woman decided that she had to consult her boss and went off to find him, so I joined the students on the rink. Skating was one thing I could do well as a kid growing up in Nebraska. It was one of the activities I could take part in with the sighted neighborhood children during the summer. At the school for the blind we were encouraged to skate, not using a cane, of course, but at least they did urge us to get out there and move. I was a confident skater at one time, but it has been a few years since I was growing up in Nebraska.
When my husband Ray and I were raising our two boys, we took them roller skating occasionally, but that, too, has been a few years twenty-five or thirty, to be exact. You can understand, then, that I approached this skating adventure with more than a little trepidation. I wasn't even certain that I could still stand up on skates. In fact, I spent the first part of the time clinging to the wall, trying to rebuild my courage. This meant that when the next official arrived to discuss his insistence that all of us had to skate along the edge, I could assure him that he didn't have to worry about me as far as I could see, I was going to spend my afternoon hanging on to the wall for dear life. This seemed to calm him, and he went away. My smiling and reassuring was directed as much at myself as at him. The difference was that I was fighting to convince myself that I really could regain my balance and self-confidence on roller skates. I had no doubt about my ability to use a cane safely if I could just stay upright. The students were gaining confidence, too, some more quickly than others. Some of them had not been on skates for many years, and Tony was the only one who had ever skated using his cane before. He became our role model. Troy and Scott proved to be the best skaters, and Eileen was good, too. In no time at all those three were whizzing around the rink with the best of the sighted skaters, using their canes and having a great time. The rest of us progressed in confidence and speed, so naturally back came the officials once again.
This time, however, the man approached Kimberly, the one sighted member of our party. I'm sure he decided there was no point in talking to me; I was blind, so I couldn't know our students were out there skating in the middle or appreciate the hazard to themselves and everyone else. He said that Kimberly would just have to tell those blind people to get out of the middle. She pointed out that they were good, skating as well as any of the others, and she was not going to say anything to any of them. There had been no problems, so why was he worried? He left in a huff.
We were obviously not going to be the kind of blind people he wanted. Interestingly enough, he approached Troy next and talked to him about how he shouldn't be skating in the middle. Troy asked him why. Troy is an excellent skater and couldn't see any reason why he should have to skate by the wall with the beginners. The man skated with Troy for a bit and decided he was talking to a non-conformist, so he went away.
But the real test came when only speed skaters were allowed on the floor. You guessed it. There were Troy and Scott, skating with the best of them and holding their own. By this time the management had given up trying to talk with any of us. After the speed skating, we decided to leave. Troy and Scott came outside, and we talked about the whole afternoon. We have a right to skate in the middle, Troy said. When that guy started talking to me, part of the time I just ignored him. I never went back to the edge. Troy came to the Center a month after he graduated from high school. He had been partially blind since birth and is now totally blind. He had a little sight until he was about nine years old. He is now nineteen. He is quiet and smart and plans to start college in the fall. Scott, twenty-three, is diabetic and has been blind just a little over a year. He enrolled in our program the first part of January. As a sighted person he played basketball, hunted, and was involved in a number of other sports activities, one of which was speed skating. Here are two blind people with very different backgrounds. But they both have come to understand that they have a right to skate in the middle. We talked a lot about the whole experience. All of us talked, the students who stayed on the edge and the ones who skated in the middle. Margaret, who is about to leave the program and who is probably in her late fifties, said, Diane, I would never have thought I could skate at all if you hadn't gotten me to go rock climbing. Eddie just started the program. He, too, is between fifty-five and sixty. Did he skate? You bet he did. Eileen, Brent's girlfriend, is not a student but is getting to know all of us well and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Why couldn't she skate where she wanted to?
One of the regular courses at the Colorodo Center is called business class. I tell people it is about the business of being blind and living in society as a blind person. We dissect all the negative stereotypes about blindness that society and we ourselves hold. Those classes get right down to the heart of things.
We talk about the real issues of blindness and the apparent ones. Most people get all hung up about this second group. When you cross the street and miss the crosswalk a little, when you touch a chair with your cane and someone is sitting in it, when you ask the bus driver what number bus it is, these are the apparent issues of blindness. These are the obvious signs that you are a blind person. But the real issues of blindness are whether you can get a job and convince the employer you can do that job, whether you can sit where you want to on an airplane whether, in other words, you can come to terms with your blindness and discover that it is respectable to be blind.
At this writing our adventure at the skating rink has only just happened and we are talking about it a lot. For months to come this experience will give us a hot topic for business class. My own life first underwent significant change when I became an active member of the National Federation of the Blind. For the first time someone taught me by word and by example that blind people are equal, that blind people have a right to expect the same things from society that sighted people do. Before that time I heard the same things most blind people are told: on one hand I was amazing and wonderful, and on the other hand, I should be grateful for my job and my limited participation in society. But it was the NFB leaders (Dr. Jernigan and, before him, Dr. tenBroek) who first gave thousands of blind people a deep and abiding belief in ourselves.
Every day at the Colorado Center, and at all of the NFB training centers, we pass that belief on to our students: the belief that we are equal. We give it by word and by deed; and little by little they believe it, too. We all have the right to skate in the middle.
FOR THE BLIND, BUSINESS OWNERSHIP
OPENS A CLOSED DOOR:
Entrepreneurship Rises Along With Self-Esteem and Lender Confidence
From the Editor: On Tuesday afternoon, April 17, 1990, I was sitting in my office writing letters, answering the phone, and working on the Monitor a typical day. Then I was told that I had a call from Jeffrey Tannenbaum of the Wall Street Journal. It took me back almost a dozen years to the days when the Journal was writing the sheltered workshop articles. That was my first acquaintance with Tannenbaum.
Now he was writing about people going into business for themselves, and he was specifically interested in entrepreneurs who were disabled. I narrowed the focus to concentrate on the blind, gave him a list of names, and talked with him about what conditions for the blind are like these days. The result was one of the most constructive articles about blindness I have seen in a long time. Appearing in the April 25, 1990, Wall Street Journal, it is unemotional, upbeat, and factual. Hopefully it is a harbinger of things to come. Here it is:
Like many other small-business owners in Houston, Glenn M. Crosby had to retrench in the wake of the Texas oil slump. Having sold or closed three restaurants, he is left with only one. But his Mr. C Sandwich Shop earns a profit, and is the source of considerable pride. I have survived, while a lot of sighted people in the same business have not, says Mr. Crosby, who is blind.
Many blind people such as Mr. Crosby are becoming entrepreneurs these days. Like other minorities before them, they are finding that entrepreneurship can create opportunities for people who otherwise might have found the door shut.
Of the estimated 180,000 working-age blind Americans, some 70% are unemployed or underemployed, says the National Federation of the Blind, an advocacy group based in Baltimore. Nobody knows exactly how many blind people are running their own unsubsidized full-time or part-time businesses. But Kenneth Jernigan, executive director of the federation, estimates that the number has doubled during the past decade, to at least 4,000. Many sighted people are more inclined to believe in the abilities of the blind, he says, and the blind also have more confidence in themselves.
It's harder to go into business if you can't get credit, if nobody believes you can do it, and you don't really believe it yourself, Mr. Jernigan says. But blind people increasingly are finding the means to venture into the private sector, he says. Others say there has been a logical progression: After making gains in employment in the 1970s and '80s, especially in the public sector, more of the blind are ready to start their own businesses.
Diane Starin of Orland, California, runs a business training horses and giving riding lessons. People have never questioned how I go about doing it, says Ms. Starin, who has been blind since infancy. She says she frequently asks student riders questions like. Are your heels down? to compensate for a lack of visual information.
And in training young horses to move to a trot from a walk, she sometimes ties bells to their legs, so she can hear whether the gait changed precisely on command. (The bells are unnecessary when Ms. Starin is actually riding the horse.)
After the first 15 minutes of being around Diane, I forgot she was blind, says Joanne Van Meter, whose daughter, Amy, then 11 years old, took riding lessons from Ms. Starin for six months. Now Ms. Starin, who keeps three horses, is diversifying. Having noticed that the Orland area has plenty of people shearing sheep, she says she just seized the opportunity and bought a machine to sharpen clipper blades for them. It's really wise for me to do this new thing, Ms. Starin says. Horse training is harder work for comparatively little money.
Growing numbers of blind people, such as Tallahassee, Fla., lawyer S. Craig Kiser, are starting their own private professional practices, too. Mr. Kiser, who had worked for the state of Florida's controller, says he had no trouble getting a $10,000 bank loan to set up his first private practice, which was in Naples, Florida. The banker said he routinely took chances with young attorneys and wasn't going to treat me any different, Mr. Kiser recalls.
Though not all blind people have received such a fair shake, more are venturing to seek loans. The blind have come to recognize their own abilities and right to independence, Mr. Kiser says. That kind of self-confidence wasn't there as little as 10 to 15 years ago.
In working totally for themselves, the boldest blind people are going a step further even than those in the federally subsidized programs, often called enterprise programs, that help many blind people earn a living through newsstands, card shops and other retail businesses. But some owners of subsidized businesses also are displaying more drive and entrepreneurship than in the past, authorities on the blind say. Donald J. Morris enjoys a rent-free lease for his O'Leary's Emporium, on federal property near the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland. But the store, which pays a portion of pretax profit in lieu of rent, is thriving mostly because Mr. Morris broadened its scope. Instead of selling mostly food and personal-care items, O'Leary's stresses sales of memorabilia for firefighters.
Mr. Morris became blind in 1967, when he was a telephone-company salesman. I was all set to live the life of a blind person to get into a corner out of life's way, he says. But he persuaded himself to attempt more.
As a store owner, he says, his success depends largely on service. People are greeted within 30 seconds of walking in, he says. Within a minute they're offered a cup of coffee made extra hot so that people will browse while it cools. None of these things involve eyesight, he says of his formula for success. He says O'Leary's is profitable, on annual sales of nearly $400,000. Blind business-owners say they may lose business because some sighted people are uncomfortable around the blind or doubt the blind can do their jobs. On the other hand, they say, some sighted people want to help a blind person make a living. In any case, dealing with the sighted can be stressful. Mr. Morris, for one, says sighted salespeople for suppliers sometimes tell him, You're so good at this, I don't think of you as being blind. He adds: I'm sure they intend it as a compliment, but it's really an offense.
Some blind people say the hardest problems running a business are psychological. As a member of a minority group, you tend to think you're not going to be able to do the job, says Peggy Pinder, a blind Yale graduate who has her own law practice in Grinnell, Iowa, where she serves on the city council. Having overcome her own doubts, Ms. Pinder says she helps counsel others with similar feelings. Though she says she requires more secretarial help than many other lawyers do, Ms. Pinder says there isn't any aspect of her work that she can't handle. Her practice, she says, is profitable and as big as she wants it. Moreover, it's her own: I can decide my own hours, she says. I can set my own rules.
Not surprisingly, some blind entrepreneurs have made businesses out of helping others who are blind. Charles E. Hallenbeck, a blind University of Kansas psychology professor, started up a sideline business, called Kansys Inc. The business, housed in his garage in Lawrence, produces computer software for the blind. Some of the software helps computers simulate speech; some helps them generate Braille documents. There have been setbacks as when banks refused to lend the company $15,000 to renovate the garage. Banks have regarded our business efforts as kind of a joke or a hobby, says Mr. Hallenbeck, who managed to get a $7,500 charitable grant and a $7,500 personal bank loan. But Kansys had about $25,000 in sales in 1989 and expects to be profitable by 1993, Mr. Hallenbeck says. Our credibility is greatly enhanced, he says, because we're knowledgeable users of our own products.
Gintautas Burba, who lives in Brockton, Massachusetts, is one of our deaf-blind members. He says that these potato recipes are Lithuanian.
by Gintautas Burba
7 or 8 potatoes
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
Method: Peel and grate the potatoes. Mix in the other ingredients. Heat 1 tablespoon of fat (or 1 tablespoon of heated cooking oil) in a pan. Drop spoonfuls of mixture into pan, and fry golden brown. Top with sour cream when cooked.
POTATO PANCAKES WITH ONION
6 or 7 medium potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Method: Peel and grate the potatoes and onions. Add the well-beaten eggs and salt. Mix and fry. Plain or topped with sour cream. (Pointers for best results: Use old potatoes, and start on high heat and reduce to low.)
4 raw potatoes
2 boiled potatoes
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons bacon fat
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
salt and pepper to taste
Method: Peel and grate raw potatoes finely. Mash the peeled boiled potatoes. Combine and mix raw and cooked potatoes with the remaining ingredients. Pour into a greased tin or casserole. Bake 15 minutes at 450 degrees and 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
by Jane McPhedron
Jane McPhedron is a Federationist from New Vineyard, Maine. Here is a recipe which is in the spirit of this summer's Texas convention.
1- 1 1/2 pounds hamburger
(or 1 large can red kidney beans, drained)
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1-2 heads lettuce, shredded
4-6 tomatoes, diced
1 package shredded cheddar cheese
1-2 cups sweet pickles, cut up
2 boxes taco chips, crushed
1-2 bottles Russian or Catalina dressing,
or one jar taco sauce
Method: Brown meat and add seasoning mix. Place in large bowl and combine with all other ingredients. Note: Try to anticipate servings to avoid soggy chips! Serves 12-18.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Mrs. Maureen Pranghrer, Handi-Ham Systems, Inc., 3915 Golden Valley Road, Golden Valley, Minnesota 55422, would like to sell her classic VersaBraille for the best offer.
I would like to buy a used Kurzweil Personal Reader. Please contact: Gayle Compton, 29 Morning Side, Princeton, West Virginia 24740, by letter or phone (304) 425-9416.
1990 Book Awards Announced:
We received a news release from the President's Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities. It says in part:
Two outstanding books on employment of people with disabilities today have been chosen to receive Book Awards by the President's Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities. The awards will be presented to the authors of the books on May 3, during a Media and Book Awards Luncheon at the Committee's three-day Annual Meeting at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Take Charge , By Rami Rabby and Diane Croft. National Braille Press, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts. Take Charge: A Strategic Guide for Blind Job Seekers , promotes the idea that it's time for people who are blind to take charge of their own career exploration and job search campaign. The self- help guide uses real-life experiences of persons who are blind as they searched for and found employment. It proposes strategies for dealing with a resistant job market.
That's what the news release said, and those who attended the 1989 convention of the Federation of the Blind will remember that Bill Raeder, of the National Braille Press, presented a Braille copy of Take Charge to Dr. Jernigan at the annual meeting of the Board of Directors. We join the President's Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities in congratulating Rami Rabby and Diane Croft on a job extraordinarily well done.
Legislative Press Conference:
Rami Rabby, National Federation of the Blind of New York legislative chairman, reports that on March 6, 1990 the New York affiliate and state legislators conducted a press conference jointly, in which they announced introduction of three important pieces of legislation for blind New Yorkers. The Legislative Gazette for March 12 reported the event in an article which said in part:
Members of the Legislature have introduced legislation that is designed to prohibit discrimination against the blind. The bills would end discrimination against the blind who seek to work as volunteers, provide minimum wage protection for blind sheltered workshop employees, and give the blind priority in operating vending machines in state-operated buildings. Currently, there are no anti-discrimination provisions or protections within the State's Human Rights Law for persons who perform volunteer services on behalf of an organization, school, foundation or other group, said Senator David A. Paterson, DL Manhattan. Individuals who give their time and energy to volunteer work should not find themselves the target of discrimination for any reason. Rami Rabby, legislative chairman for the National Federation of the Blind, said it is hard for most young blind people to get paid employment. There is tremendous discrimination for paid employment. They are forced to take volunteer work to prove to an employer that they have experience.
Earlene Hill, D Hempstead, is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly. Hill said volunteers will make a difference in taking up the slack in a year when services may be cut. Paterson, who is legally blind, said, I was denied access to volunteer employment three times in my life. I volunteered for David Dinkins in 1977 and was eventually hired. When I ran for the Senate, my opponent tried to use my disability against me, but here I am (in Albany). Senator James J. Lack, RC East Northport, and Assemblyman Alan Hevesi, DL Forest Hills, have also sponsored a bill which would aid the blind. Their bill would provide minimum wage protection to blind workers in sheltered workshops. Jesse Lee, the workers' leader at the workshop for the blind in Greater Rochester, said workshop managers are permitted to pay handicapped workers less than the $3.35/hour minimum wage. Lee said blind workers earn as little as 38 cents an hour. The largest paycheck I've seen is $50 in one week. You should see some of the paychecks. It's a slap in the face to blind people. Under the federal Randolph-Sheppard Act, the blind are accorded a priority in the operation of vending facilities in federal buildings. Now Senator Jay Rolison, RC Poughkeepsie, and Hevesi have sponsored legislation which would afford blind vendors the same priority in state-operated buildings. Since the public knows that we serve them well in the vending facility at 26 Federal Plaza, why not give us the opportunity to provide the same level of quality service at the Harlem State Building too, said Carl Jacobsen, chairman of the Vendors Committee of the National Federation of the Blind of New York State. The Office of General Services will object because they will lose turf. But we can expand employment by 400 to help depressed areas of the state.
Prairie State Chapter Elects Officers:
At its fifteenth anniversary meeting the Prairie State Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois elected the following officers: President, Allen Schaefer of Mazon; Vice President, Gary Jones of Joliet; Secretary, Evelyn Scanavino of Gardner; Treasurer, Ruth Anne Schaefer of Mazon; and Board Members, Elaine and Earl Salems of Morris and John Salvatore of Joliet. An Action Agenda for a New Decade was the theme of the April 21 meeting which was held at the Harvest Table in Dwight. After being reorganized last year, the three-county chapter has helped many newly blinded persons and has enjoyed substantial growth.
**New Calculator Available:
Ramona Walhof reports as follows: Many of us have been needing a small talking calculator as good as the one made several years ago by Sharp Corporation. The NFB now has one available at a cost of $35. You can also order it from the W. Bell Catalog. The keyboard is totally different from that of the old Sharp model, but it will do the same things. It is slightly larger than the old Sharp (dimensions) but fits conveniently into a briefcase along with the documents you need to carry. It will probably not fit as well into a pocket or purse. The new calculator has one real advantage over the Sharp. It uses standard AA batteries, which are included when you purchase the calculator from the NFB. Contact the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson St., Baltimore, MD 21230.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: For Sale, VersaBraille II+ BIT Plus, an external disk drive with assorted software. This will allow you to hook up to an IBM PC and perform some VersaBraille functions in the background. Asking price $4,500 or best offer. Contact: Isaac Obie, 55 Waverley Avenue, Apt. 210, Watertown, Massachusetts 02172; (617) 923-2305.
High Y Enacts Braille Bill:
From the Associate Editor: For some years the YMCA has sponsored an organization for high school students designed to teach them about government through direct experience. Each year, members of High Y chapters, in Ohio high schools at least, research and write bills which are then evaluated by a central committee and ranked for consideration by student legislative committees. Those that are passed go to the floor of one legislative chamber for debate and a vote. Finally the student-elected governor, in consultation with his or her advisors, decides whether or not to sign each one into law. All this is accomplished during a three- day legislative session. High school students from all over the state converge on the capital and are divided into legislative houses and committees to work on the measures in ranked order. My daughter, Margy Pierce, submitted a bill this spring which would ensure blind students the right to learn Braille if they or their parents requested it. The bill was ranked number one for senate committee consideration and was subsequently passed by the committee to the floor of the senate and approved. The High Y governor then signed it into law. If only adult legislators could be as sensible!
From the Associate Editor: On May 7, 1990, Ivan Garwood, President of the Tri-County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, died at the age of ninety. When I joined the NFB in 1974, Ivan had been Treasurer of the state affiliate for almost ten years; he retired two years later. His devoted sister Ruth always accompanied Ivan, who was severely hearing-impaired in addition to being blind. Ivan was as loyal, devoted, and hard- working a member as we have. Ohio conventions will simply not be the same without him, and all of us are the poorer for the passing from this world of his gentle kindness and radiant goodness. All of us who were privileged to know Ivan join Ruth in mourning the loss of a brother and friend who made this world a better place than he found it.
Sam Gleese writes: On the weekend of March 31, 1990, at the Holiday Inn Medical Center located in Jackson, Mississippi, the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi held its annual state convention. Officers and board members elected for the 1990-1992 term are: Sam Gleese, President; E. U. Parker, First Vice President; Jimmie Moore, Second Vice President; Sarah White, Secretary; Doris Keith, Treasurer; Mary Reed, Board Member; and Gwen Stokes, Board Member.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: For Sale: Toshiba 1200FR Computer with two 3.5 disk drives and an external Weltec 5.25-inch disk drive configured for the Toshiba computer. The computer contains the Accent Speech Card and an internal RAM disk that acts as another disk drive. The system comes with the following floppy disks: MS DOS 3.30, Flipper (demo version of speech program), Accent Manual, boot up disk to activate the Accent with Flipper, Sidekick, and PC Quick programs from Toshiba. Asking price: $2,050, but will also include for an additional $120 4 unopened boxes of TDK 3.5-inch floppy disks, an external speaker for the Accent, a case to carry external drive or other computer accessories. This brings the cost of the total package to $2,170 if all items are desired. For information contact: Judy Davidson, 252 Thorncliff Road, Buffalo, New York 14223-1206.
National Church Conference:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: The 1990 meeting of the National Church Conference of the Blind will be from Thursday, July 26, to Sunday, July 29, at the Heart-of-Town Holiday Inn, 1000 Washington Street East, Charleston, West Virginia 25301, phone (304) 343-4661. The Conference theme is Exercising Unto Godliness (1 Timothy, Ch. 4, Verses 7 and 8). In addition to daily Bible studies and the Saturday evening banquet, this year's conference will include a Prayer Breakfast and seminars on How to Pray and Everyday Practical Evangelism. For further information contact Reverend Frank Finkenbinder, Membership Secretary, National Church Conference of the Blind, Post Office Box 163, Denver, Colorado 80201, phone (303) 455-3430.
Carol Laplante writes: I am writing to inform you of the New York State Niagara Falls Chapter's election of officers. The new term began January, 1990, at which time the new officers were inducted into office at our annual dinner by Ken Feeley. The officers are as follows: Bill Focazzio, President; Laura Herman, Vice President; Mike Germele, Treasurer; and Carol Laplante, Secretary.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: For Sale: NEC PowerMate Portable computer which is a 286 machine running at 10 MHz. The system, which is transportable, includes 640K of memory, 40 megabyte hard disk, built-in 720K internal 3.5 inch floppy drive, external 5.25 inch 360K floppy drive, two standard AT compatible expansion slots and one NEC proprietary modem slot, carrying case, and MS-DOS 3.2. The PROVOX screen review software can be included at a nominal additional cost. Price: $2,000. Also for sale is an Apple 2E computer with 128K memory, two disk drives, an ImageWriter printer, 1200 baud modem, and lots of software, including BEX Version 2.2, ProWords and ProTerm, Lister Talker, two banking programs, many back issues of AppleTalk magazine, public domain games, and much more. The system also includes an Echo synthesizer and all the manuals, many of which are in Braille. Price: $1,500. Finally, I have for sale two copies of the integrated program Microsoft Works for MS-DOS computers, as well as a copy of Andrew Tobias's Managing Your Money , none of which has been used. I am asking $100 for each copy of Microsoft Works and $125 for Managing Your Money . Contact: David Andrews, 906 1/2 Fruit Avenue, N.W., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102, or call (505) 841-8847 during the day or (505) 243-5160 evenings and weekends.
Carolyn Ranker writes: I am pleased to write and inform you of the new slate of officers in our local chapter the Kanawha Valley Chapter, National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia. Elections were held Saturday, April 7, 1990. The following officers were elected: President, Dennis Ranker; Vice President, Sharon Nearhoof; Secretary, Carolyn Ranker; Treasurer, Mike Smith; and State Board Member, Ed Greenleaf.
White Canes Needed:
Junerose Killian writes as follows: White canes no longer being used are needed to be sent to blind people in developing countries. At the moment the supply is very limited. Please send canes to: Mrs. Junerose Killian, C.E.I.P., 7 Champlin Hill Court, Niantic, Connecticut 06357. The Cultural Exchange and International Program Committee of the NFB helps to distribute used or donated white canes for independence to overseas blind friends. Canes have gone to India, Uganda, Kenya, Ecuador, and Cameroon in the past. Thanks, Federationists, for your assistance in this project.
Real Estate Personnel:
Pat Comorato (2340 South 11th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19148; 215-465-4765) would like blind licensed brokers or other licensed real estate persons anywhere in the country to contact him.
Elections in Virginia:
The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia held its state convention in Harrisonburg April 6-8, 1990. From the report submitted to us by Larry Povinelli, it was obviously an active meeting. Those elected to state office were: Charles Brown, President; Robert McDonald, First Vice President; Gwen Nelson, Second Vice President; Larry Povinelli, Treasurer; Debbie Prost, Recording Secretary; and Dawnelle Cruze, Corresponding Secretary. A Diabetics Division was established, with the following people elected to office: Bill Parker, President; Ed Peay, First Vice President; Geraldine Burke, Second Vice President; Maxine Oates, Treasurer; and Dawnelle Cruze, Secretary. The Virginia Association to Promote the Use of Braille (VAPUB) was also established. Elected were: Debbie Prost, President; Billie Ruth Schlank, First Vice President; Dawnelle Cruze, Second Vice President; Larry Povinelli, Treasurer; and Marshall Jordan, Secretary.
Frank Brucato of New York has asked that we carry the following announcement: For Sale One rarely used (Braille edition) of Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language in good condition. If interested, please call (212) 652-1891, anytime between 6:00 and 10:00 p.m.
Cecile Paice Dies:
From the Editor: This morning (Tuesday, June 5, 1990) I received a call from Priscilla Ferris, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, telling me of the death of Cecile (Cile as her friends call her) Paice. Cile was Treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, but she was much more than that. She was a warm, stable, wonderful human being, who loved our movement and its members and did all she could to make life better for the blind. She died of a massive heart attack on Saturday morning, June 2. Her loss will be keenly felt. Someone else will be found to do many of the things she did, but Cile can never truly be replaced.
As Monitor readers know, Ken Silberman is an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. Recently he received a letter from John F. White, Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare of Pennsylvania, which said in part: It is with great pleasure that I write to inform you that you have been selected to serve on the Department of Public Welfare's newly established Vocational Rehabilitation Policy Advisory Committee for the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. I believe that you will make a significant contribution to this Committee and its role in advising us on how to best implement services to the Commonwealth's blind and visually impaired citizens.
Henry (Hank) LaBonne writes as follows: The Chattanooga Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee met on April 9, 1990, and elected the following slate of officers: President, Henry M. LaBonne; First Vice President, June Grant; Second Vice President, Reverend Morris Johnson; Secretary, Linda McJunkin; Treasurer, George Grant; and Board Members Marie Clay, Judy Carlton, Patricia Coleman, and Norm Bolton.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: For Sale VersaBraille II Model LIC, new, never used, power supply bar, priced at $2,500 or best offer. Contact Jewel McGinnis (print, Braille, or cassette) at 2417 Greenwich Street, San Francisco, California 94123; phone: (415) 931-8734.