The Braille Monitor
Vol. 35, No.
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille,
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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. 35, No. 8 August/September 1992
by Barbara Pierce
by Marc Maurer
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND AWARDS FOR 1992
THE MYSTERIOUS TEN PERCENT
by Marc Maurer
THE SCHOLARSHIP CLASS OF 1992
SHIFTING BALANCES IN THE BLINDNESS FIELD
by Kenneth Jernigan
THE ROLE OF THE AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR THE BLIND IN MEETING
NEEDS: TODAY AND TOMORROW
by Carl R. Augusto
RFB UPDATE: E-TEXT AND OTHER NEW SERVICES
by Ritchie Geisel
RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY THE ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE NATIONAL
FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
by Ramona Walhof
CONSTITUTION OF THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
AS AMENDED 1986
Copyright National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1992
[3 LEAD PHOTOS. CAPTION: Nearly 3,000 people crowded convention activities at the 1992 gathering of the National Federation of the Blind June 28-July 4. The convention hall (above) began filling early the morning of the first general session. When the gavel fell at 10:00 a.m., thousands of delegates were in their seats, ready for the shared excitement and fun of the morning. During the roll call of states Joanne Wilson (bottom left), President of the NFB of Louisiana, came to the microphone to present Yvonne Bradley of South Carolina with the attendance banner, flown proudly by the South Carolina delegation during this years' convention in honor of its 270 delegates. Between convention sessions Federationists flocked to the exhibit hall (bottom right) to shop and learn about what's new.]
by Barbara Pierce
It's no secret that Charlotte, North Carolina, has a reputation as one of the most beautiful and thriving cities in the United States and that North Carolina hospitality is as warm and sunny as its summer weather. But knowing a reputation and experiencing the reality of a Tar Heel welcome are two very different things. On Sunday, June 28, the National Federation of the Blind burst into the consciousness of Charlotte residents with a front-page story in the Charlotte Observer about the opening of our 1992 convention and the hopes and dreams of blind Americans. For several days prior to that, convention delegates had been streaming into our four convention hotels and discovering the joys of the Queen City with its decorative fountains, tree-lined streets, and inexpensive and delicious food.
Until recent years everyone considered that Federation conventions began with the official opening of convention registration lines and the exhibit hall, but more and more activities are now taking place the day before registration. The trend was more pronounced this year than ever before. By Saturday, June 27, well over 700 hotel rooms were already occupied by eager delegates. A glance at the pre-convention agenda told the story: Federationists wanted to be ready for the ten seminars and workshops being offered on Sunday. These included programs and activities for parents and educators of blind children, blind job seekers, blind and sighted children, blind business people, and writers interested in publishing their work in magazines. In addition there were workshops for those concerned about issues facing deaf/blind people, users of the NFB's computer bulletin board service, and people interested in self-defense and otherwise taking control of their physical bodies. As always, both the parents seminar and the Job Opportunities for the Blind seminar were jammed with enthusiastic crowds, and their proceedings will be covered more fully later this year in Federation publications. By Sunday evening everybody was ready to play, and the beach party around the pool on the roof of the Holiday Inn was just the place. With live music and good company, the first of the North Carolina parties was a great success.
Monday morning the registration lines began forming early, but as soon as the doors opened, people moved through the process with a speed and efficiency to which we have almost become accustomed. By the end of the day, just under 2,000 people had registered and bought banquet tickets. The exhibit hall, which like convention registration was located in the Charlotte Convention Center, was huge; and Federationists took every opportunity to examine technology, cross-question the forty-four vendors present, and browse in the NFB Aids and Appliances Store, literature display, and thirty-nine affiliate tables. The information table just inside the exhibit hall entrance and the Braille and print listings of display locations were an immense help to those interested in finding particular items or vendors. It was well that plans had been carefully made, for the exhibit hall saw more traffic this year than ever before.
Monday and Tuesday were filled with committee and division meetings and seminars--eleven on Monday and nineteen on Tuesday. Among the high points were the Resolutions Committee meeting, which lasted more than four hours and debated thirty resolutions, and the annual convention seminar sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students. This included the second installment of the Jerry Whittle soap opera, "The Young and the Skill-less," and an address by Mrs. tenBroek, in which she discussed the concept of militancy. Near the beginning of her remarks, in a discussion of the early years of our movement, she said:
It was not long before the agencies began to increase the level of pressure. Membership in the NFB would be at the blind person's peril. It could and did lead to denial of certain social and rehabilitative services, employment opportunities, and promotions on the job. Why? Because our demands for improvement in services and programs were upsetting the status quo. If we were successful, who would need them? We were branded in the most pejorative terms as militant, and blind people were warned to stay away from us.
What does the adjective militant mean? Webster tells us that it means "ready and willing to fight; warlike; combative. SYN see aggressive." After giving the familiar definition, it goes on, "Aggressive implies a bold and energetic pursuit of one's ends, connoting (in a derogatory sense) a ruthless desire to dominate and (in a favorable sense) enterprise, initiative, etc." "Militant," on the other hand, says Webster, "implies a vigorous, unrelenting espousal of a cause, movement, etc. and rarely suggests the furthering of one's own ends." So the agencies were right. The NFB is determinedly "militant."
The opposite of militant is passive. Passive is not our style. "Passive," says Webster, is "1. influenced/or acted upon without exerting influence or acting in return; inactive but acted upon, 2. Offering no opposition or resistance; submissive" and so on. "Passive" is what the blind were for many years--in fact, for many centuries, and too many are to this day, doing what the agencies, the rehab officials, and (may we forgive them) their well-meaning parents tell them to do "for your own good." Militant (in the proper dictionary term, not the pejorative sense) is what the National Federation of the Blind has been since its creation in 1940.
On Tuesday evening there were also two moving performances of To Those Who Wait, a powerful new play by Jerry Whittle, based on the life of Federationist Edgar Sammons.
At 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, June 30, the 1992 convention meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind (a meeting open to all) was gaveled to order by President Marc Maurer. Following a moment of silence in memory of those Federationists who had died, and after other opening activities and announcements, President Maurer asked Dr. and Mrs. Jernigan to describe the newest additions to the Federation's series of small paperback publications. The first to be described is titled: What You Should Know About Blindness, Services for the Blind, and the Organized Blind Movement. The front cover features a lovely water color drawing of the National Center for the Blind. The book is filled with short, information-packed articles about services available to blind people in this country and about the National Federation of the Blind. The first five copies of this book are free to anyone. Individual copies after that are $1 each, and a box of fifty costs $10. Because the book is printed in large type, there is no mailing expense, which will allow chapters quickly and easily to get it into the hands of people who are losing their sight.
A new Kernel Book, The Freedom Bell, was next described. Like the first Kernel Book (What Color is the Sun), The Freedom Bell is comprised of easy-to-read inspirational articles about what it is really like to be blind. A third paperback in this series is already in progress. Printed in large type, The Freedom Bell (like What Color is the Sun) costs $3 each for up to fifty copies. A box of fifty sells for $50. Since What Color is the Sun is not in large type, there is an extra $5 for shipping and handling a box of fifty. All of these books are ideal for placement in schools and libraries and for distribution to interested members of the public.
Dr. Jernigan then turned to a subject that was to absorb a good bit of convention attention and energy during the remainder of the week. He briefed the Board and audience on a plan to establish a study commission on education and rehabilitation for the blind and visually impaired, which has been incorporated into the proposed revision of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, scheduled for reauthorization this summer. The National Federation of the Blind has never thought that such a commission was particularly important or even useful. The various groups in the blindness field are beginning to talk and work together in a way and with cooperation never before seen, and inserting one more bureaucratic layer between groups trying to speak to each other and to their elected representatives in Congress seems to the organized blind to be, at the very least, wasteful and probably counterproductive to the consumer movement and to any constructive effort to bring about improvement in the field.
But some, though by no means all, professionals in the blindness field have rallied behind the commission concept and are enthusiastic about mandating that the federal government spend a million dollars or more in the coming year and a half on establishing a body that, as it was first defined, would have been composed of fifteen education and rehabilitation professionals, a third of whom were required to be blind or the parents of blind children.
During the Board meeting plans were laid to oppose the commission concept and keep it out of the final legislation if we could, and failing that, to increase the representation of consumer representatives on the body. Again and again throughout the week the subject of the commission arose, and Federationists made many calls to encourage blind people in their states to call key members of the House of Representatives, where the bill would first be considered. Federationists also made plans to travel to Washington following the convention to talk with members of Congress.
Carla McQuillan, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, next came to the platform to make a presentation of a check for $48,000 from the Oregon affiliate to the national organization.
Dr. Jernigan then made the following introduction:
We have had differences with the American Council of the Blind. However, we have no personal animosity toward anyone in that organization and, in fact, have worked with a number of people in the American Council. I hope the day will come when there can be cooperation between the organizations. That is all by way of saying that we have with us here in this meeting Paul Edwards, who is the First Vice President of the American Council of the Blind. There are two things I would say to him: First, we appreciate the fact that you have come, and second, you are most welcome in this convention. [applause] Mr. Edwards, we are pleased to have you. If you wish to come to the platform and take the microphone for a minute of greeting, we will be pleased to hear from you. We are always happy to have any person attend this convention and certainly are happy to have you here.
Mr. Edwards then came to the microphone and spoke as follows:
First I would like to thank everyone at the National Federation who I've had the opportunity to meet this week for being as nice and helpful as everyone has been. And secondly, I'd like to say that, while I am simply here as an individual looking around, I hope there'll be a time when the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation can work together on all kinds of issues that we see in common. Even though our organizations may not ever come together as one, I would certainly like to see us able to work together to build a better future for blind people in this country, and I think we can do that.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Lydia Usero, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico, displays the affiliate's charter as Mildred Rivera (left) and Eileen Rivera (right) look on.]
Allen Harris, who serves as treasurer of the Federation and who led an organizing team in late May to Puerto Rico, next moved that the constitution of the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico be approved by the Board of Directors. The motion was seconded by Diane McGeorge and Fred Schroeder. President Maurer told the board that he had reviewed the document and that it was in order, and the motion passed unanimously. Lydia Usero, president of the newest affiliate of the Federation, then briefly addressed the Board, and President Maurer reviewed the language of the charter which would be presented to the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico at the banquet later in the week.
President Maurer then called Sunny and Adam Emerson of Michigan and Jerry Harvey (the Director of Experimental Manufacturing for Chevrolet/Pontiac Canada of the General Motors Corporation) to the platform to make a presentation. Sunny Emerson is one of the leaders of the Parents of Blind Children Division, and her son Adam is among our top Associates recruiters. The Emersons and Mr. Harvey described a small device which the Emersons had found useful when Adam was learning to read and write Braille. They recently discovered that it is no longer being manufactured, but Sunny was convinced that it would be very useful to anyone, blind or sighted, who was interested in understanding the composition of Braille symbols. She was determined to find someone to produce the device again, so she took her problem to the people at General Motors; and they said they would produce a prototype for her.
They did better than that: They created a number of the clever little gadgets and presented Mr. Maurer with the drawings so that the device can now be produced by anyone with the proper equipment. The finished product measures 1-3/4 inches high by 2- 1/2 inches wide by 3/8 inches thick and represents two Braille cells side by side. The six dots of each cell are actually pins that snap forward and back in such a way that in one position they stand out clearly on the front to form Braille letters and are flush against the back, and in the other position they form easy-to-recognize dots on the back and are flush with the surface of the front. This enables the user to construct large, easily discernable Braille symbols, and because the symbols are created by pushing the pins up from the back, a person learning to use a slate to write Braille can understand quickly and clearly the principle underlying writing with a slate. The National Office of the Federation is now looking into the possibility of finding a producer for this device so that it will be available to everyone with an interest in teaching or learning Braille. Both the Board and the audience expressed their thanks to Mr. Harvey and through him to the Experimental Manufacturing Department of General Motors.
Peggy Pinder, Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind and Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, then presented this year's class of twenty-six scholarship winners from across the United States. The actual scholarships were presented during the banquet on Friday evening, and a report of those awards appears elsewhere in this issue.
The final business of the meeting of the Board of Directors was to deal with the Associates Program. This is our ongoing effort to recruit members-at-large, who will become Associates of the National Federation of the Blind. This year we announced both the top ten member-recruiters and the top ten money-raisers. President Maurer listed them as follows:
Top 10 in Number of Associates Recruited
10. Cindy Handel (Pennsylvania): 94 9. Fred Schroeder (New Mexico): 101 8. Leonard Oberlander (Iowa): 102 7. Ed Vaughan (Missouri): 127 6. Karen Mayry (South Dakota): 129 5. Bill Isaacs (Illinois): 142 4. Tom Stevens (Missouri): 152 3. Kenneth Jernigan (Maryland): 179 2. Frank Lee (Alabama): 237 1. Arthur Schreiber (New Mexico): 491
Top 10 in Dollar Amount Raised
10. Ed Vaughan (Missouri): $1,835 9. Fred Schroeder (New Mexico): $1,856 8. Tom Stevens (Missouri): $1,929 7. Bill Isaacs (Illinois): $2,375 6. Frank Lee (Alabama): $2,441.25 5. Duane Gerstenberger (Maryland): $2,755 4. Karen Mayry (South Dakota): $3,042 3. Mary Ellen Jernigan (Maryland): $3,339.74 2. Arthur Schreiber (New Mexico): $5,909 1. Kenneth Jernigan (Maryland): $9,787
On Wednesday morning the first general session of the fifty- second convention of the National Federation of the Blind began promptly at 10:00 a.m. with the awarding of a $100 door prize. After the invocation and several announcements, Hazel Staley, president of our host affiliate, and Richard Vinroot, Mayor of the city of Charlotte, welcomed the convention to the Queen City. The remainder of the morning was devoted to the roll call of states. The high point came when for the first time Puerto Rico was called and President Maurer clearly enjoyed his struggle to master the Spanish names of the delegates who were announced as taking part in various convention activities.
Last-minute notification that a member of President Bush's cabinet would be present to address the convention that afternoon resulted in reorganization of the agenda. Paul Cooksey, Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration, spoke to the convention at 2:00 p.m. on the subject "Opportunities for Minorities in Business: Where Do the Blind Fit In?" Mr. Cooksey urged Federationists to seek legislative solutions to the problems blind business people face in having to prove social and economic disadvantage individually when applying for SBA assistance. He cautioned that there is not enough money to go around now and that dividing an insufficient pie into even smaller pieces is not a good long-term solution.
Following the SBA discussion President Maurer delivered the 1992 Presidential Report, which as usual was filled with evidence of the vigor and commitment of the National Federation of the Blind. The entire text of the report appears elsewhere in this issue. The words with which President Maurer concluded his report captured the energy and personal dedication to our goals that define the organized blind movement today:
As President of this dynamic nationwide organization, I have had the good fortune to be with thousands of you during the course of the year. There are certainly problems--some of them large and complex. But we have the organization; we have the means of collecting the resources; and most important of all, we have the spirit that is required. It will not be easy--the simple things are for those who do not share our commitment, our dedication. The ignorance about blindness is ancient; the misunderstandings we face are widespread; and the misconceptions about us are great. Nevertheless, I have met with you, the members of this organization, in meetings all over the nation in our hundreds and thousands. I have shared with you our hopes, our disappointments, our realities, and our dreams. And I know--I am certain--that there is nothing on Earth that can stop us or hold us back. We have the courage, the gentleness, the practical good sense, the willingness to work--and we have the boldness to dream of the time when the problems we face will be no more. This is the promise and the reality of the National Federation of the Blind--and this is my report to you.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Lamar Alexander, United States Secretary of Education, addresses the 1992 convention of the National Federation of the Blind while Dr. Jernigan listens attentively.]
At almost the moment President Maurer was beginning his annual report, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander entered the convention hall and made his way to the platform, where he sat listening carefully to the address. After the standing ovation that followed the Presidential Report had quieted, Dr. Jernigan introduced Secretary Alexander and thanked him for coming to speak to the nation's blind citizens in convention assembled and for listening to what we had to say about the problems and prospects facing blind people. Secretary Alexander spoke to the convention about President Bush's hopes and dreams for improving education in America, but he also made it clear that he had heard what we the blind are thinking and doing and that he recognizes the growing influence of the National Federation of the Blind. Early in his remarks he said:
I got a call about a week ago from Clayton Yeutter, who is the Domestic Policy Director to President Bush. He said to me, "I would like you to go to Charlotte to speak to the National Federation of the Blind on behalf of President Bush."
I said, "I can't go," because I already had a number of things that I was doing today. And the long and the short of it is, because I know who I work for, I changed those things. I'm here today because of your importance and because the President wanted me to be here....
I think that the most important thing I can do here has already been done. I listened; I had a chance to hear what you were saying. And one of the first things I'm going to do is go back and find out, Marc, why we need another commission in Washington when we already have too many commissions as it is. [Applause]
The final agenda item of the afternoon was an excellent address by Gwendolyn King, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Her title was "Social Security for the Blind: The Progress of Today and the Plans for Tomorrow." Commissioner King reviewed the progress that has been made in recent times as her staff have worked effectively together with the National Federation of the Blind and other consumers to bring about change. It is clear that there is now hope that Social Security programs will increase the likelihood in the future that recipients can begin to achieve independence.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Claudell Stocker, head of the Braille Development Section of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, looks on while four participants in her Braille reading and writing workshop experiment with the slate and stylus.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Despite his cast, Federationist Noel Romey plays the piano in this year's Showcase of Talent, sponsored by the Music Division of the National Federation of the Blind.]
The evening saw more committee meetings and a workshop for those interested in learning more about reading and writing Braille, which was sponsored by the Parents of Blind Children Division. The Music Division's annual Showcase of Talent also took place Wednesday evening. The three first-place winners were as follows: in composition, Nancy Herb from Tucson, Arizona, for her piece, "With a Song in My Heart," which she sang and played herself; in the children's performance division, Noel Romey, age twelve of Phoenix, Arizona, who played "Fur Elise" on the piano, despite having broken his arm on the preceding Sunday; and in the adult performance division, Linda Milliner of Sacramento, California, for her vocal rendition of "Misty."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: So many Federationists flocked to the Wednesday night party that it was hard to find empty space enough to dance.]
The single event, however, that attracted almost everybody at one time or another that evening was the Midnight Reception and Dance, which really began at 8:00 p.m. and featured a live band and lots of enthusiastic Federationists taking part in the festivities.
But Thursday morning at 8:30 delegates were in their places ready to tackle the crowded agenda. The first order of business was the election, during which all of the officer positions and half the seats on the Board of Directors were open. Diane McGeorge, First Vice President of the Federation since 1984, had announced during the meeting of the Board of Directors on Tuesday that she would not be a candidate for that position this year. Her statement was greeted by the Board and audience with both regret and understanding since her personal and professional schedules continue to be extremely busy--but most of all there was a feeling of affectionate gratitude for her dedicated and talented leadership for so many years. David Hyde of Oregon also announced that he would not be a candidate for the Board this year. Those elected to serve on the Board for the next two years were Marc Maurer (Maryland), President; Joyce Scanlan (Minnesota), First Vice President; Peggy Pinder (Iowa), Second Vice President; Ramona Walhof (Idaho), Secretary; Allen Harris (Michigan), Treasurer; Steve Benson (Illinois); Charles Brown (Virginia); Glenn Crosby (Texas); Sam Gleese (Mississippi); Frank Lee (Alabama); and Diane McGeorge (Colorado). They join the hold- over Board members elected last year: Don Capps (South Carolina), Priscilla Ferris (Massachusetts), Betty Niceley (Kentucky), Fred Schroeder (New Mexico), Joanne Wilson (Louisiana), and Gary Wunder (Missouri). Sam Gleese, whose name may not be familiar to everyone, is the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi and has been working effectively and energetically for several years to improve the lives of blind citizens in that state.
Edward Mercado, Director of the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services, next addressed the convention on the subject "Interaction of the Blind with Government: What Lies Ahead." He urged the Federation to continue to work with his office to protect the civil rights of blind people. The government's concept of what constitutes discrimination continues to evolve and mature, and consumers must insure that appropriate decisions and rulings are made.
"Eliminating Ambiguity in the Braille Code" was the title of an address delivered by Darleen Bogart, Chairperson of the Braille Authority of North America and National Braille Convener of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. She outlined the current problems in the various Braille codes used in North America and announced that a serious effort is now underway to bring all but the music code into a single coherent and encompassing system that will enable all readers to comprehend literary, Nemeth, and computer codes by extending their existing knowledge of one, rather than by learning three distinct and incompatible codes.
The remainder of the morning was devoted to a panel discussion comprising Kenneth Jernigan, Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind; Carl Augusto, President and Executive Director of the American Foundation for the Blind; and Ritchie Geisel, President of Recording for the Blind. Dr. Jernigan's address was titled "Shifting Balances in the Blindness Field." Mr. Augusto's title was "The Role of the American Foundation for the Blind in Meeting Needs: Today and Tomorrow." Mr. Geisel's title was "RFB Update: E-Text and Other New Services." These presentations and the conversation that followed them provided fascinating listening for everyone interested in the history and the future of the blindness field. That discussion is printed elsewhere in this issue.
With no afternoon session scheduled, Federationists scattered to take part in tours, shopping expeditions, a thorough exploration of the exhibit hall, and more committee meetings and workshops. The big event of the evening was the long-awaited Pig Pickin', North Carolina's version of a barbecue. There was a live band, as well as lots of food and drink, and hundreds of Federationists boarded the buses at their hotels to enjoy an evening of fun, food, and music North Carolina-style. Those with excess energy and no committee meetings gathered later for the annual Monte Carlo Night, sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students.
But the next morning at 8:45 sharp, delegates flocked to the Charlotte Convention Center for the opening of the Friday session. Charles Taylor, Member of Congress representing Brevard, North Carolina, spoke to the group on the subject "Representative Government: The Blind are A Part." Next Albert Sanchez, a long- time Federation leader from Spokane, Washington, addressed the convention. His title was "Gaining Independence Through Service: Repairing and Tuning Pianos." Mr. Sanchez assured his listeners that there is still a good living to be made in this field for those who are willing to work hard and creatively and who practice good business skills.
Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, once again this year reported to the convention on the latest activities and future plans of the National Library Service. His title was "The Library of Congress Refines Braille Mailing Containers and Service Patterns While Undertaking a Major Audio Technology Review." Mr. Cylke then answered as many questions as time would allow before announcing that during the lunch hour he would meet with borrowers having questions or problems. Over the years we have come to enjoy an excellent working relationship with the Library, and we appreciate the director's willingness to exchange ideas and discuss problems with us.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: David Blyth, President of the East Asia/Pacific Region of the World Blind Union, travelled to this year's convention from his home in Melbourne, Australia.]
The next item of business was a panel presentation chaired by Dr. Jernigan, entitled "The Blind in the World." The first speaker was David Blyth, President of the East Asia/Pacific Region of the World Blind Union. Mr. Blyth discussed the strong commitment to Braille among a broad range of countries in his region and urged the National Federation of the Blind to work with him in the coming years to share our expertise with the less developed nations, insuring that blind citizens, and especially the most oppressed of these, are given an equal chance. He concluded by saying that the most valuable contribution that the World Blind Union can give blind people is not money, but the knowledge and expertise to make the most of the resources that become available.
Euclid Herie, Treasurer of the World Blind Union and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, then addressed the convention on the topic "The World Blind Union and the Developing Countries-- Reality or Illusion." Dr. Herie pointed out that any organization that attempts to bring together for common action a group as diverse in education, culture, political background, and outlook as the representatives of organizations of blind people and agencies serving the blind from throughout the world will have profound difficulties. WBU committees are by and large not working well, and very real changes must be made if anything positive is to be accomplished. But he believes that the job can be done, and he sees signs that a real beginning is being made.
In several short statements during this agenda item, Dr. Jernigan emphasized that the National Federation of the Blind has in recent years taken an increasingly active role in the deliberations of the WBU. He said that the last four years of its existence have been characterized by many meetings and that the coming quadrennium will probably be decisive in determining whether or not the WBU will take its place as a permanent force for progress in the international blindness field. He, too, expressed the hope that the WBU will succeed and pointed out that it takes time for any new organization to make a difference but that if thinking and conscientious people in a group, the blind for example, are not prepared to make a start, life will never improve for any of the members of that group either in the present generation or in any future generation.
The final item on the morning agenda was a panel of presenters whose topic was "Blind People Working for Our Daily Bread." The participants were Bonnie Peterson, Instructor of Communications at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside; Daryel White, auto body repair worker at Marty's Body Works in St. Louis, Missouri; William Skawinski, Ph.D., Chemist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology; and Ruth Swenson, Managing Attorney at Community Legal Services in Chandler, Arizona.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Nell Carney, Commissioner of the United States Rehabilitation Services Administration.]
The afternoon session began with an address entitled "The Federal Rehabilitation Act Now and in the Future" by Nell Carney, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Commissioner Carney began her remarks by saying:
Thank you, Mr. President. Members of the Federation, I am here this afternoon to bring you greetings from George Bush and his Administration as the President's appointed person to advance rehabilitation policy and programs throughout the United States. President George Bush is the only president in our history who has made disability issues a primary concern of his administration. Yesterday afternoon I received a call from the White House asking that I please announce at this conference, the largest gathering of disabled people anywhere in the world that we know about, that the President yesterday appointed a blind attorney (Richard Casey of New York City, with the firm Brown and Wood) to sit on the Seventh District Court in the State of New York. [applause] Mr. Casey is the third blind person that the President has appointed to a high-ranking position in the federal government: I was the first. He then appointed a blind man to sit on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and now Mr. Casey.
Commissioner Carney went on to report to the convention on the current effort to reauthorize the Rehabilitation Act and on other programs of importance to blind consumers. Again the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration demonstrated her understanding of the issues that matter to blind people and her genuine commitment to assist all blind citizens to achieve better, more productive lives.
Following a spirited and fruitful series of questions and answers between Commissioner Carney and the audience, President Maurer introduced an agenda item focusing on the education of blind children. The first presentation was entitled "The Future of Education for Blind Children: Problems of Placement and Responsibility." Fred Schroeder, Executive Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, delivered this address; and Louis Tutt, Superintendent of the Maryland School for the Blind and President of the Council of Schools for the Blind, spoke on the topic "The Role of Schools for the Blind." The presentations underscored the growing problem of inadequate educational alternatives for blind youngsters in virtually all settings and the need to improve the programs we provide and the expectations we have for these children and their teachers.
The final topic of discussion for the afternoon was "Architectural Barriers for the Blind: the Myth and the Reality." Peggy Pinder, Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind and this organization's representative to recent meetings of the Committee on Accessibility of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and Richard Hudnut, Chairman of the ANSI Committee on Accessibility, took part in this discussion. It is clear that important changes have been made in official attitudes toward the general competence of blind people as a result of Miss Pinder's participation in the deliberations of the ANSI committee and that all blind people will benefit as a result. At the close of the afternoon session the convention hall emptied quickly as people sped back to their rooms to prepare for the evening's festivities.
This year, as is always the case, the banquet was the high point of the entire convention. There is a kind of electricity that flows through a crowd of more than 2,000 people gathered together in eager expectation of an evening of inspiration, laughter, and the joy of shared dedication to a vital cause. Dr. Jernigan presided over the gala and kept the program moving as only he can. The recipient of the 1992 Blind Educator of the Year Award was Allen Harris of Dearborn, Michigan. Mr. Harris is chairman of the Social Studies Department at Edsel Ford High School, President of the NFB of Michigan, and Treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind. The Jacobus tenBroek Award was presented to Richard Edlund for his long and dedicated service to and for the Federation. Mr. Edlund, currently a member of the Kansas state legislature and one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas, was formerly the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind and the president of the Kansas affiliate. The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award was presented to Ruby Ryles of Bothell, Washington. Mrs. Ryles is a leader of the Parents of Blind Children Division, as well as an outstanding educator. A detailed report of these award presentations appears elsewhere in this issue.
Twenty-six scholarships (ranging in value from $2,000 to $10,000) were also presented at the banquet. The winner of the Ezra Davis Memorial Scholarship of $10,000 was Carlos Servan of New Mexico. A complete report on this year's scholarship winners and the awards they received appears elsewhere in this issue.
The highlight of the banquet and of the week was, of course, this year's banquet address by President Maurer. It was titled "The Mysterious Ten Percent," and in it he called the blind to claim and achieve the substance of our dreams of equality and freedom. His audience responded with energy and rededication to our shared promise to ourselves and to the next generation to seize the justice and freedom to which we are entitled. He said in conclusion:
If we cannot muster the courage, sustain the dream, or maintain the nerve, the loss will be unimaginable. But, of course, we will not fail. We have one another, and nobody--no agency for the blind, no magazine editor, no film producer, no so-called scientific researcher, no television network official-- can prevent us from going the rest of the way toward freedom. We believe in one another; we have faith in the ability of our blind brothers and sisters; and we will share the burden that must be borne to bring true independence to the blind. Ninety percent must be known if learning is to occur. But there is the other ten percent, the mysterious ten percent, the vital ten percent--and we will supply it; we are the National Federation of the Blind. My brothers and my sisters, come! Join me, and we will make it all come true!
The full text of the banquet address is printed elsewhere in this issue.
Saturday, July 4, the final day of the convention, was devoted to organization business. The Washington Report, delivered by James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs, reviewed the year's legislative activities and discussed current issues of concern. A number of other reports of committee activities were also made. In the Pre-authorized Check (PAC) Program of contributions to the movement, we came into the convention with 1,283 people contributing a total of $295,000 a year. At the close of the convention those numbers had risen to 1,368 people contributing $310,000 a year. In the Deferred Insurance Giving (DIG) Program this year we concentrated on encouraging state affiliates to purchase $100,000 policies on young adults that could be paid up immediately or in a short period of time. Ten states made arrangements to take part in this effort, raising a million dollars for the organization. The states were California, Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah. We also worked hard for the first time on signing up individuals on the NFB Network so that up to ten percent of their long-distance phone bills can be contributed to the NFB as a tax-deductible contribution. For more information about this program consult Sharon Gold, President of the NFB of California, who is organizing this effort. Her office phone number is (916) 424- 2226.
Those resolutions that had not been dealt with earlier in the week were debated and passed on Saturday. The texts of all this year's resolutions appear elsewhere in this issue.
With that work completed, the 1992 convention of the National Federation of the Blind adjourned and became history. If one were to choose a single word with which to characterize this convention, it would be contentment--not that the delegates were satisfied with things as they are for blind people in this country. There is much for us to do to improve the lives of blind people before we can rest, but we have found the way. We know what we must accomplish, and we have good friends to encourage us as we travel the road together.
Another year has passed with its full measure of challenge, frustration, and victory. Sadly some who marched faithfully with us are no longer here to share the burdens and celebrate our joys. But there are many more who have found our cause and joined our movement. On Thursday morning Dr. Jernigan conducted an experiment in which he asked the audience to respond according to the decade in which they came to their first convention. Only a voice or two could be heard from the forties. But with each succeeding decade through the eighties the volume rose, and those attending their first convention this year held their own in volume with every other group.
The organization is in good hands because it is clearly in the hands of blind people who know what must be done and how to move forward. On Sunday morning we packed our bags and scattered to every corner of the country with promises to see one another next summer in Dallas. The count-down has begun. The 1993 gathering of the National Federation of the Blind will be the biggest, most exciting event in the blindness field. You won't want to miss it, so begin planning now to be a part of the celebration. But in the meantime we have lives to change, injustice to correct, and history to write.
[PHOTO: Mr. Maurer standing at podium microphone, reading Braille. CAPTION: Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, delivers his 1992 Presidential Report.]
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
JULY 1, 1992
During the past twelve months the endeavors of the National Federation of the Blind--the largest, most dynamic organization of blind people in the nation--have been diversified, extensive, and energetic. The oneness of spirit and the harmony within the Federation are as great as they have ever been. As we have come together in this convention to plan for the year ahead and reflect on the year just ended, our mood is upbeat, enthusiastic, self-assured. The influence of the organized blind in matters dealing with blind people continues to increase. The problems for the blind are many, but we have the know-how, the determination, the dedication, and the talent to solve them.
When we think of the work of the Federation, many images come to mind--teaching Braille and the other skills of blindness to blind children or adults, seeking the adoption of laws or regulations that will protect the rights or promote opportunities for the blind, collecting technology of use to the blind, distributing information about employment to the blind, planning meetings with public officials to persuade them to follow a certain course of action beneficial to the blind, assisting the parents of a blind child, speaking to the public about the normality and respectability of being blind, and assembling in our meetings and conventions at the local, state, and national levels to discuss the matters that affect our daily lives. As the members of the public come to understand blindness, and as our sighted colleagues become aware of our hopes and dreams, much of the difficulty that we as blind people face will be a thing of the past.
Our name and activities have become so well-known throughout the United States as to be almost household words, but our philosophy and point of view are also recognized and sought in nations beyond our borders. This spring Dr. Kenneth Jernigan (our Executive Director, the most widely recognized author in the field of work with the blind today, our teacher, and our leader) was invited by the American government to represent the United States in matters concerning blindness at the Eastern European Conference on Disabilities in Prague, Czechoslovakia. When Dr. Jernigan indicated that his schedule would not conveniently permit him to attend, the government officials involved urged him to change his plans and made it clear that he, as the primary spokesman knowledgeable about blindness in our country, would be a keynote speaker for the conference. As reported in the June, 1992, Braille Monitor, Dr. Jernigan went, and he carried our message.
In addition, Dr. Jernigan, at the invitation of the Director of the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services, traveled to Puerto Rico last year to be the featured speaker at a conference to discuss the importance and the meaning of the Americans With Disabilities Act. We in the National Federation of the Blind have been a powerful force-- perhaps more effective than anybody else--in bringing blind people into the workplace. The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services has shown its commitment to equal rights for the handicapped. It has been very much interested in working with us to see that disabled people are employed on terms of equality with others.
Last year I reported to you that the National Federation of the Blind had created the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, which is now called the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind because included within it are products from many countries and because this Center is available for use and study by individuals from any nation on Earth. Collected in one place is every piece of hardware which we have been able to locate (and most of the software packages) capable of producing information in Braille or in speech. The perspective gained by an examination of this array of computer technology is not merely helpful from an intellectual point of view. It provides technical solutions to everyday problems and inspiration for imaginative methods of employing electronic equipment.
The establishment of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (along with the far-ranging interaction of the National Federation of the Blind with others throughout the blindness system) helped stimulate the convening of the U.S.-Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind, which took place in Baltimore at the National Center for the Blind last September. This conference brought together for the first time in history the leaders of all of the major entities in the field of work with the blind in this country and many of those from Canada, along with the principal manufacturers and distributors of technology for the blind. This international conference (which nobody else could have called and organized) is noteworthy because it engendered a spirit of unity never before achieved in the field of work with the blind. Leaders from the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the Library of Congress, the private agencies for the blind, the vision consultants, the professional organizations for the blind, the producers of technological devices and software for the blind, and blind consumers came together to discuss common problems, share information, learn from each other, and plan for future cooperation. Such a meeting could not have taken place as recently as ten years ago (or, for that matter, even five years ago) because of the fragmentation, distrust, and hostility which then existed in the field of work with the blind. But the hostility, the distrust, and the fragmentation are diminishing, and the blind are receiving better services and expanded opportunities as a result.
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan serves as President of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. As the elected leader of the world organization from our area of the globe, he attended meetings this year in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Canada. The international cooperation among agencies and organizations dealing with blindness has been tremendously beneficial to the blind of the United States and to other countries as well. Not only have we gained knowledge of matters dealing with blindness in other lands and perspective regarding our efforts at home, but we have also been stimulated to plan cooperative ventures with other entities in the field of work with the blind that would never have occurred without our involvement in the international arena. Indeed at the National Center for the Blind we have welcomed over a thousand visitors during the last twelve months--many of them from nations beyond our borders, including: Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. In the fall of 1992 at the quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union scheduled to be held in Cairo, we will be participating actively to expand opportunities for the blind. Not only in our own country, but throughout the world, we are changing what it means to be blind.
One of the best known medical research centers dealing with vision loss is the Wilmer Eye Institute, a department of Johns Hopkins University. In 1989, working in conjunction with this prestigious medical facility, the National Federation of the Blind published the book Blindness and Disorders of the Eye. In 1992 the Wilmer Eye Institute has released its publication, Vision Loss Information and Resources. In this brief document the National Federation of the Blind is mentioned seven times. As is the case with others, the medical professionals are discovering that they can serve their clients better when they become associated with the organized blind.
Two of the best known writers in the field of education of children with disabilities are Daniel P. Hallihan and James M. Kauffman, authors of the volume Exceptional Children: Introduction to Special Education. In 1988 Professors Hallihan and Kauffman released a new edition of their textbook, which contained statements indicating that the blind could not be as competitive as those with eyesight. At the invitation of the National Federation of the Blind, these authors attended and participated in our 1991 National Convention. After returning home, Professors Hallihan and Kauffman wrote to the Federation indicating that the information about blindness they intended to include in the next edition of their book would be much more positive, and they give credit where credit is due--to the National Federation of the Blind. The blind children of today (the oncoming generation of blind adults of the decades ahead) must be given the opportunity to be treated like the normal human beings they are, and deserve the right to be--and we (you and I, the members of the National Federation of the Blind) are the ones to get the job done. We can do it--and we will do it!
One of the most positive programs for the blind is the Books for the Blind Program conducted by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. For a number of years the National Federation of the Blind has been working cooperatively with Mr. Frank Kurt Cylke, the Director of the NLS program, and other officials at the Library of Congress. The resulting interaction between blind consumers and library officials has provided the opportunity for give and take, joint planning, and imaginative exploration of technological and programmatic alternatives.
This spring the National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals was held in Baltimore. All two hundred of these librarians came to the National Center for the Blind and were our guests for lunch and a tour of the facility. The dining room at the National Center for the Blind is a sizable area, but until May of 1992, it had never been quite so full. Many of the librarians had not previously visited the National Center, but the response makes it clear that this first meeting will not be the last.
The National Federation of the Blind is among the most outspoken proponents of Braille. In addition to publishing the Braille Monitor in Braille, circulating tens of thousands of documents in Braille, establishing the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, supporting Braille lending libraries, serving on a committee to advise the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped regarding the development of a Braille competency examination, creating the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, and initiating other actions to support Braille, we have authored, taken to the state legislatures, and fought for the passage of Braille literacy bills entitled the "Blind Persons Literacy Rights and Education Act." These proposals have been introduced in the legislative halls of over twenty states and have been adopted in a dozen of them. In Kentucky the Braille literacy bill passed both houses of the legislature without a dissenting vote.
In Maryland the state Education Department tried to weaken the measure by eliminating the presumption in favor of Braille for blind students. Education Department officials claimed (if you can believe it) that legislation with such a presumption would violate federal law. But we know better--and, incidentally, so did they. It is not against the law to support Braille or literacy for the blind. We asked the Attorney General of Maryland to consider this question: "Does a presumption in favor of Braille violate federal requirements?" When the opinion of the Attorney General became public, we learned that he agreed with us. A presumption in favor of Braille complies fully with federal law. The Maryland Braille literacy bill was adopted without alteration, exactly as we had drafted it.
Let no one be deceived. We will not quit or rest until every blind child in this nation has the chance to become literate--and that means the chance to learn Braille. We will do it by negotiation and gentleness if we can--by stronger means if we must. But make no mistake about it: We absolutely intend to get the job done.
The public service announcements of the National Federation of the Blind continue to receive recognition as among the most positive portrayals of blindness available on radio or television. Our messages are broadcast by all of the major radio and television networks and a number of cable systems. It is estimated that this upbeat depiction of the blind has gone into the homes of almost two hundred million Americans.
Not all of the radio and television coverage about blindness during the past twelve months has been positive. The ABC program "Good & Evil," which made fun of the blind, is a malodorous reminder--a reminder that many of the attitudes about the blind held by entertainers and others are still both superficial and negative. ABC personnel had the effrontery to tell us that the blind character on "Good & Evil," shown as a clumsy oaf who used blindness as an excuse to fondle indiscriminately the sex organs of both men and women, was a positive portrayal of us as blind people. But we of the National Federation of the Blind were not prepared to take this abuse without a fight. And if it ever happens again, we won't take it next time without a fight either.
Dr. Jernigan appeared on the nationwide television broadcast of "Entertainment Tonight" to inform the public that "Good & Evil" should be cut from the entertainment lineup because its characterization of blind people was deliberately misleading, degrading to the blind, and a straight-out lie. Blind Federation members marched with picket signs in front of ABC headquarters in New York and Washington. We were interviewed by newspaper reporters throughout the nation. "Good & Evil" quickly reached the cutting room floor, and today it is only a disgusting memory. Let no one doubt it: The reason for its demise was the National Federation of the Blind.
Shortly after Dr. Jernigan appeared on the television program "Entertainment Tonight," the Cable News Network conducted an interview with him about blind people serving on juries. A number of us had been rejected for jury service, and there were certain so-called experts saying that blind people could not judge the facts. Dr. Jernigan pointed out that the task of a juror does not require eyesight but the capacity to understand, make judgments, and reach conclusions. It is not so much the state of the eye but the condition of the brain that matters. In this respect blind jurors are quite as capable as their sighted colleagues. CNN carried the message to millions--the message of competence, the message of ability--the message of the National Federation of the Blind.
Last spring the producers of "L.A. Law" contacted the National Federation of the Blind with questions about the portrayal of blindness. An actor playing the part of a blind lawyer was scheduled to appear in several episodes. What would be believable, they wanted to know. What would be most realistic? The information was provided. As it happens, several of the leaders of our organization have experience with the legal profession. Blindness is no bar to the competent and effective practice of law, and we demonstrated this to the screenwriters.
In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by the President of the United States. One of the requirements of this law is that information be made available to the blind in forms accessible to them. In partnership with the United States Department of Justice, the National Federation of the Blind established, last October, the Information Access Project. Through this project we are providing private companies and government institutions with assistance and technical support in meeting the needs of the blind for information. This project operates through the National Information Access Center (a subdivision of the National Federation of the Blind) and uses the facilities, equipment, and expertise of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, another of our subdivisions. Volunteers are available in each state to help solve the problems of obtaining access to information on the local level. During the first eight months that we provided service through this project, approximately five thousand people participated in meetings and seminars about alternative methods for providing information. From October to May approximately a hundred people a month visited the National Information Access Center for hands-on demonstrations. More than thirteen thousand copies of the brochure Toward Equal Access: Providing Information Access Services to Blind and Visually Impaired Persons Under the Americans With Disabilities Act were distributed in Braille, in large print, in recorded form, on computer disk, and in digital format through computers.
One of the features of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind is our computer bulletin board, NFB NET, established about a year ago. This bulletin board is a computer that can be reached by telephone by people who have computers that know how to talk on the phone. Our computer has a lot of storage in its memory. The memory bank is so big that you could stuff an entire encyclopedia into it and have room left over. It will hold over 100,000 pages of print, and it talks very rapidly.
Included in the information available from this computer bulletin board are the Braille Monitor, other NFB literature, computer games, and specialized computer programs such as synthesized voice software. Our bulletin board has received more than five thousand telephone calls, and the number is growing exponentially. Over twenty-eight million bytes of message and file information have been transmitted to the board, and more than one hundred forty-nine million bytes have been disseminated. We try to make information about blindness available in every possible way. No matter what the medium, we will use it to send our message throughout the nation and the world. The blind have the need--and we have the know-how; we have the resources; and we have the determination.
When I joined the National Federation of the Blind, over twenty years ago, our movement had a reputation which combined toughness with generosity and tenderness with a hard-as-hell practicality. We try to be gentle, but we won't be walked on--and we have good memories. We do our best to avoid conflict, but when combat becomes unavoidable, we fight to win--and we never quit.
In 1984 several members of the National Federation of the Blind were fired from the Idaho Commission for the Blind because they were a part of the organized blind movement. For the past eight years we have been involved in a lawsuit to protect the rights of the two blind supervisors who were dismissed, Frank Smith (who has since died) and Ray Martin. The lawsuit charged unlawful dismissal on two counts: discrimination on the basis of blindness, and violation of the constitutional right to freedom of association. The defendants asked that the case be dismissed on technicalities. They objected to a trial by jury. They urged the court to rule that even if they admitted the truth of what we said, the Constitution and the laws of the United States had not been violated. There was a trial in the federal court, followed by a proceeding in the Court of Appeals. We had lost in our arguments at the lower court level, but the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and ordered a second trial, which was scheduled to occur later this summer. As the second trial became imminent, officials in Idaho asked if it wouldn't be possible to settle the case. Although the documents filed for settlement carefully avoided admitting wrongdoing, the payment involved may suggest the extent to which the state officials believed the charges were true. I have been informed that I am not to disclose the size of the payment. However, the amount is sizable. The cash to be paid would not quite buy a new Rolls Royce which might sell for upwards of $200,000, but I believe it is in the range.
In 1986 John Jones, who was then employed as a fire fighter in the Baltimore City Fire Department, became blind. His superiors forced him to accept disability retirement. In November of 1989, we assisted John Jones with a federal lawsuit charging that the forced retirement was discrimination. After much maneuvering in the court, the case has now come to a favorable conclusion. It is helpful to have knowledgeable, determined friends; it is worthwhile to belong to the National Federation of the Blind. John Jones is presently reporting to work in the Fire Prevention and Inspection Section of the Baltimore Fire Department, and he has received back wages. The total amount of the payment to him is $108,000. Oh yes, we who are blind have found our voice--and we have also found our strength. We have found it through the National Federation of the Blind.
Sheryl Pilcher, who is a sighted woman living in Texas, has a five-year-old blind daughter named Ashley. Recently, she attempted to buy insurance for Ashley, but she was informed by Security General Insurance Company that they did not insure the blind. When Sheryl Pilcher brought the matter to the attention of the Texas Insurance Department, officials there indicated that nothing could be done. This sighted mother could buy insurance on her blind daughter from another company or go without. Then, the National Federation of the Blind came to her assistance. We examined Texas insurance discrimination laws, and we reached the conclusion that the Security General Insurance Company had violated the code. Our findings were brought forcibly to the attention of the Texas insurance commissioner. Under date of June 2, 1992, the supervisor of Consumer Services of the Texas Department of Insurance wrote to Security General requesting that a change in the underwriting guidelines be filed with the Commission within ten days. The insurance company was told that it may not refuse to sell insurance to the blind. This is the law. It was adopted because of the National Federation of the Blind, and it is being enforced because of the National Federation of the Blind. We care; we follow through; and we take care of our own.
Karen Small is a blind parent living in Illinois. During a custody dispute in the early 1980s, a misguided judge ordered that Karen (because she is blind) could not have custody of Eric, her own son. The court said that Eric must be placed with sighted grandparents and that Karen could visit the boy only with sighted supervision. Although our initial efforts in the courts were only partially successful, we did not quit. In 1984 we persuaded the judge to eliminate the requirement for sighted supervision, but custody remained with the grandparents. Today, as a result of our continuing support and work, a complete change in the custody order has been made. Eric now lives with his mother. Karen Small has her son--and we have preserved and strengthened our self- respect.
The National Federation of the Blind is helping Jerry Vaughn, a blind businessman, who operates a sand and gravel pit in Tennessee. In 1986 he filed an application to become a minority small business enterprise contractor under Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act. Participants in this program must demonstrate that they are both socially and economically disadvantaged. Those who are members of certain minority groups are presumed by law to be socially disadvantaged, but the blind are not within this classification. The SBA demanded that Jerry Vaughn prove that he is socially disadvantaged. (You sometimes wonder whether to laugh or cry.) For five years Jerry Vaughn carried on a regular correspondence with them. He would ask for minority contractor status; they would demand additional documentation; he would send the paperwork; they would demand still more. When the SBA had finally become convinced that he was both socially and economically disadvantaged, they rejected the application because, they said, Jerry Vaughn had not been in an active business during each of the last two years.
The sand and gravel contracts in the area where Jerry Vaughn is in business are largely government orders. Those who get them are either very large corporations with the economic backing and influence to build multi-million-dollar projects or small business operators like Jerry Vaughn. If the small business operators are not part of the minority small business program, they are prohibited from competing for a very substantial amount of the business. In other words, the failure of the Small Business Administration to grant the application for participation in the small business enterprise program drove Jerry Vaughn out of business. Now that his company has failed, the SBA is claiming that they cannot grant the application. Such treatment will not do. We will not permit it. We have assisted Jerry Vaughn in bringing legal action in the federal court, and we intend to win.
We continue to be active to protect the interests of blind vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard program. As Federationists know from discussions at these conventions year after year, Dennis Groshel is a blind vendor in Minnesota who operates a facility at the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in St. Cloud. The income from this facility is about $30,000 a year. The Department of Veterans Affairs first argued that Dennis should not be permitted to have a vending facility at the VA Hospital at all, but the arbitration panel convened to hear the case ruled against them. However, the VA asked that it be paid a commission amounting to seventeen percent of the gross receipts from the vending facility (about $15,000, or half of the profit). The arbitration panel erroneously granted this request, so we are helping with an appeal.
The Dennis Groshel arbitration is, to say the least, quite unusual. The vending facility in question is operated by Dennis Groshel; the money being taken is the income of Dennis Groshel; and the person who reports to work is Dennis Groshel. It seemed only reasonable that one of the parties in the case should be Dennis Groshel. However the lawyer for the Department of Veterans Affairs has tried to keep him out. But this is simply not fair. We are helping Dennis intervene in his own case. He will be involved, and we intend to help him keep the money that is rightfully his under the law. Incidentally, all other vendors should take note, for this case has implications for every one of them throughout the nation.
Kenneth Godwin has, for a number of years, been a blind vendor in Kansas. On May 1, 1991, officials of the state licensing agency summarily dismissed him from his vending facility. Although the Randolph-Sheppard Act requires a hearing before termination of a vendor's license, state officials claimed that they did not violate the law because they were not terminating the license. They were (if you can believe the hypocrisy) merely preventing him from operating his business. He still had the license, they said.
Lynn Webb Bary is a member of the National Federation of the Blind, a blind vendor, and one of our leaders in Kansas. She heard about the abrupt and unfair dismissal of Kenneth Godwin, and she came to his assistance. She was present at the administrative hearing in support of Godwin, and she was prepared to offer testimony. Agency officials were saying that Godwin had been caught drinking in the vending facility, but they couldn't produce evidence to substantiate the claim. The record at the hearing strongly suggests that they had decided to get rid of him because he insisted on his rights and would not be bullied by agency personnel. He would have been completely out of the program, however, without the help of Lynn Webb Bary and others in the National Federation of the Blind. The decision in the vending hearing has not yet been reached, but we expect it to be favorable. Even if it is, it will not solve all the problems in the Kansas vending program. There appears to be a pattern developing--a pattern of harassment by vending officials in Kansas. And who would you guess is the object of this harassment? It is the person who supported Kenneth Godwin in his efforts to gain fairness in his dealings with the agency; it is Lynn Webb Bary. If agency personnel take reprisals against this blind vendor for protecting the rights of her blind colleague, we want here and now to make them a promise. They will face all of us; they will face the organized blind; they will face the collective power of the National Federation of the Blind. We will not be silenced--and we will not be bullied into meekly giving up our rights.
We have also been involved in a number of Social Security cases. Gary Metzler is a blind vendor living in Florida. He was advised by the Social Security Administration that he was no longer eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Their notice indicated that he had been overpaid $32,698.10. The accounting procedures in the vending program in Florida make it appear that blind vendors are employees of the state. Blind vendors, operating under the rules applicable to self-employed individuals, may deduct a number of work-related expenses that are not applicable in the case of state employees. Consequently, the erroneous determination that this blind vendor was employed by the state deprived him of work-related deductions to income which should have been available. The lawyers for the Social Security Administration did not understand the distinctions involved, but we know the law, and we know how the facts should be applied. The decision in this case has now been received. Mr. Metzler does not owe $32,698.10. In fact, he has not been overpaid at all. He is entitled to monthly benefits, and he is currently receiving the checks.
A year ago the Social Security Disability benefits being paid to David Dillon of Massachusetts were unceremoniously cut off. He was unemployed, but this fact seemed insignificant to officials at the Social Security Administration, who were drawing their own checks on a monthly basis without interruption. David Dillon had worked for a newspaper on a part-time basis for a few months in 1989 and 1990. Social Security officials said that this demonstrated his ability to work, and the ability to work made him ineligible for benefits. They insisted that he return over $10,000 in Social Security benefits that had been paid to him during the two years that he had done part-time work. David Dillon felt desperate. He was unemployed; Social Security declared that he was no longer eligible for benefits; and they demanded that he pay $10,000. He turned to the National Federation of the Blind.
A hearing has now been held before the Social Security Administration, and the decision has been reached. There has been no overpayment; David Dillon is not required to return $10,000; and Social Security benefits should continue to be received. This is not the only result of the hearing. The record shows that the Social Security benefit for David Dillon was figured incorrectly. When the calculations have been properly made, there should also be a substantial back pay award. This is one more reason why we have formed the National Federation of the Blind. If we don't take care of ourselves and each other, others will certainly not do it for us.
Harvey Heagy works as a disk jockey at an FM radio station known as Oldies 106.5 located in the New Orleans area. Most of his work is done at night and on weekends when public transportation is not available. He gets to work by taxi, which costs a bundle. A year ago he was notified by the Social Security Administration that he could no longer receive benefits and that he had been overpaid about $20,000. Social Security ignored the costs of job-related transportation. During the past year we have assisted him in receiving a correct determination of his eligibility. The case is not yet over, but there has almost certainly been no overpayment, and Harvey Heagy should be receiving a substantial amount of back benefits.
The National Center for the Blind (the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind) is a facility both functional and impressive. Renovations during the past twelve months have been extensive. The front entrance has been completely redesigned. There is currently a front portico, which is a hundred and thirty-two feet long and adorned with a decorative wrought iron railing. At our front door there is a staircase twenty-two feet wide, topped with a twenty-five foot internally lighted canopy. Displayed in light is the name of our building, the National Center for the Blind. This newly installed front entrance is wheelchair-accessible.
We have also constructed a conference center on the second floor. This area has office and meeting room space, and a kitchen.
All of the metal and wood on the outside of the National Center for the Blind is being painted with a dark green acrylic aliphatic urethane. This modern product resists abrasion, water, corrosive fumes, chemicals, and weather conditions of all kinds. We estimate that the amount of paint being applied weighs approximately 3,500 pounds, one and three-quarter tons.
In August of 1991 on the roof of our building, we installed a forty-foot aluminum flag pole with a ten by fifteen-foot United States flag. Illuminated with four spotlights, the flag flies above and behind our National Federation of the Blind sign. This combination creates a commanding impression for the fifty thousand drivers who pass our building each day.
In addition to the programs and cases we have initiated this year, we in the Federation have continued our other ongoing activities. Our publications are the most widely distributed and recognized in the field of work with the blind. We circulate in print, in Braille, and in recorded form approximately 30,000 copies of the Braille Monitor each month. We have available almost five hundred items of literature about blindness, and we have mailed tens of thousands of our Kernel book What Color is the Sun. The second Kernel book, The Freedom Bell, is being released at this convention, and if it has an impact as great as the first, this Kernel book will do much to change the image of blindness in the public mind. We will soon be releasing the third Kernel book, entitled As the Twig is Bent. We continue to produce over 30,000 copies of the Voice of the Diabetic each quarter, and our magazine for parents and educators of blind children, Future Reflections, is received by more than ten thousand individuals and institutions. In our studio we record the Braille Monitor; Job Opportunities for the Blind Bulletins; the Student Slate, which is the magazine for students; the American Bar Association Journal; and a number of other newsletters and individual pieces of literature. The National Federation of the Blind is by far the largest publisher of information about blindness in the world.
From our Materials Center we distribute aids, appliances, and literature. Our NFB canes, lightweight and strong, have come to be recognized as the world standard. In the past twelve months we have distributed over 7,000 cane tips. We have also continued to distribute literature at a record rate. We have shipped over thirteen thousand of our new Diabetics Division brochure, almost 700,000 What is the National Federation of the Blind, more than 350,000 Do You Know a Blind Person, and a number of other materials. Almost 25,000 different aids and appliances have been sent, and the total of all items distributed from the Materials Center since last year is almost two million. In April, 1992, we released a new book entitled What You Should Know About Blindness, Services for the Blind, and the Organized Blind Movement. In the first two months that it has been available, more than five thousand copies have been sent to provide information about blindness and the organized blind movement. This large print pocket-sized book is the best general information quick reference guide about blindness available.
In 1975 the National Federation of the Blind completed the organizing of affiliates in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. In 1992 an additional affiliate was added to the roll. We welcome to the family of the Federation the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico.
The blind of America have been traveling to the National Center for the Blind, the nerve center of programs and activities in the blindness system, for the past decade and a half. Increasingly, agency representatives, government officials, and those considering a career in programs for the blind have also been coming. In October of last year Dr. William Wiener, the president of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, brought his class of orientation and mobility students from Western Michigan University to visit the National Center for the Blind and to interact with Federation members and leaders. The directors of publishing houses for the blind, state agencies for the blind, schools for the blind, and federal programs have also come. The National Center for the Blind is ideal for such interaction, but the reason they come is the imagination and spirit which they find. The National Center for the Blind is a symbol as well as a superb physical plant. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan had the wisdom to imagine such a Center and the talent and energy to focus resources on its acquisition and development. Now that the Center is in place, it is easy to see how much it is needed. The same is true of the largest gathering of blind people in the nation, the convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
Much of our work is done in meetings and by telephone, but there is also the mail. We receive thousands of letters a year. Many of them are routine, but there are many which contain the very essence of the reason for the National Federation of the Blind. The diabetic mother who is becoming blind writes to ask for help because she can no longer have children of her own, and she is convinced that her growing loss of sight prevents her from adopting. A woman whose father has become blind tells us she is glad we exist because her father has given up hope, and she needs our support in bringing him to believe he can use his talents again. A sighted seventh-grader who writes for the school newspaper and has read our Kernel book What Color is the Sun wants to interview a blind student for the paper. She says: "I want to show everybody that blind people are just like everybody else. I figure if we start showing everybody the truth now, we will have fewer problems. Remember we are the future." Then there are those who in writing (sometimes without even knowing it) express their fear and shame about blindness, but there are fewer of these than there used to be. We try to address each of the problems, and we do our best to help.
Whether it is a blind parent seeking to adopt a child, a mother trying to find an educational opportunity for a blind student, a blind high school graduate seeking the chance for a college education, a blind adult looking for a job, or a blind senior citizen seeking the means and the understanding to remain active and involved in the community, we are there. With our publications in almost every field, with our chapter meetings in almost every city, with our support groups in virtually every profession and calling, we are able to give the advice and encouragement that are needed.
As President of this dynamic nationwide organization, I have had the good fortune to be with thousands of you during the course of the year. There are certainly problems--some of them large and complex. But we have the organization; we have the means of collecting the resources; and most important of all, we have the spirit that is required. It will not be easy--the simple things are for those who do not share our commitment, our dedication. The ignorance about blindness is ancient; the misunderstandings we face are widespread; and the misconceptions about us are great. Nevertheless, I have met with you, the members of this organization, in meetings all over the nation in our hundreds and thousands. I have shared with you our hopes, our disappointments, our realities, and our dreams. And I know--I am certain--that there is nothing on Earth that can stop us or hold us back. We have the courage, the gentleness, the practical good sense, the willingness to work--and we have the boldness to dream of the time when the problems we face will be no more. This is the promise and the reality of the National Federation of the Blind--and this is my report to you.
[PHOTO: Allen Harris stands next to Steve Benson at podium microphone, holding plaque. CAPTION: Allen Harris, prepares to address the banquet audience after receiving the 1992 Blind Educator of the Year Award.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer (left), Fred Schroeder, and Dr. Jernigan (right) congratulate Richard Edlund, who holds his Jacobus tenBroek Award plaque.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer (left) and Sharon Maneki (right) congratulate Ruby Ryles for being named the 1992 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children.]
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND AWARDS FOR 1992
National Federation of the Blind awards are not bestowed lightly. If an appropriate recipient does not emerge from the pool of candidates for a particular award, it is simply not presented. At this year's convention banquet July 3, 1992, three presentations were made:
Blind Educator of the Year Award
At the Friday evening banquet, Steven Benson, member of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors and Chair of the Selection Committee, made the Blind Educator of the Year presentation. Here is what he said:
The history of the Federation has been shaped by the skills of outstanding Federationists. In 1940, the year the Federation was founded, Jacobus tenBroek began a distinguished career that touched the lives of thousands, blind and sighted alike. The Blind Educator of the Year Award has been presented to distinguished teachers, who in their own style carried the torch of learning ignited by Dr. tenBroek. Previous award recipients have been Pauline Gomez, Patricia Munson, Dr. Abraham Nemeth, and Patricia Harmon.
This year's Blind Educator of the Year Award Committee is composed of Patricia Munson of California, Homer Page of Colorado, Judy Sanders of Minnesota, and Adelmo Vigil of New Mexico. I thank each of you for your fine effort.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award of 1992 will be presented to an individual who prevailed over a weak system of education for blind children to build an outstanding academic record. This extraordinary individual earned honors outside the classroom as well. Upon graduation from college, this year's award winner came face to face with the challenge of securing a full-time teaching position. Networking is a vital element in a successful job search. Tonight's honoree skillfully cultivated substantial numbers of key contacts. At an appropriate time and place, one contact spoke up on behalf of tonight's winner, and a suitable position was offered and accepted. The principal of the school in which tonight's winner teaches writes: [Blank] "personifies the meaning of the word `professional.'" This administrator goes on to praise this outstanding teacher's methods, subject mastery, and ability to maintain students' interest. His remarks focus particularly on the support this teacher enjoys from students, parents, and faculty. Tonight we pay tribute to a teacher whose talent is shared beyond the classroom. We in the Federation have also benefitted from the skill of this master teacher.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award consists of a check in the amount of $500 and a plaque. The plaque reads:
Blind Educator of the Year Award National Federation of the Blind Presented to Allen Harris in recognition of outstanding accomplishments in the teaching profession. You enhance the present. You inspire your colleagues. You build the future. July 3, 1992
When Allen Harris came to the microphone, he responded by saying:
I hardly know what to say. But I did listen to the remarks made, and to be honored by this organization is the most important recognition I have ever received, and I receive it on an ongoing basis. It's usually not a plaque or a check, but it's in every other form that you can imagine. I owe everything that I have, whatever I am, and whatever I've become to Dr. Jernigan, Dr. tenBroek, President Maurer, and all of my fellow Federationists. Thank you so much.
Jacobus tenBroek Award
Fred Schroeder, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind and Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, chairs the tenBroek Award Committee. When he came to the platform to make this year's presentation, he said:
The tenBroek Award is a very important award. As Dr. Jernigan mentioned, the tenBroek Award is not given annually; rather it is given only when a particular individual warrants the receipt of this prestigious award. The tenBroek Award, of course, bears the name of the founder of our organization. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek was a man who led us as blind people from a condition of hopelessness and dependency. Under Dr. tenBroek's leadership we were freed from the shadow of non-participation and led into the promise of real equality. Dr. tenBroek taught us about the power of collective action; with this award we honor our founder, and we honor the recipient. It is appropriate that the recipient of the Jacobus tenBroek Award be an individual who has kept the faith and who has dedicated his life to making the lives of blind people better throughout this nation. This evening I want you to join with me in honoring and recognizing a long-time leader of our organization, Richard Edlund. [applause]
Mr. Edlund is an individual who is known and loved by many of us in this room. He was born in 1924 and became blind at the age of sixteen. Mr. Edlund is a man who has never let blindness slow him down or stop him from doing whatever his interest was. Mr. Edlund, many of you may or may not know, owned and managed an airport. He was also trained and was skilled in engine repair and taught it to a number of blind people, allowing them to achieve self-support as a result. Mr. Edlund operated his own hardware store for more than thirty years and did it successfully. He became well-known in his community as a leader. He is a past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas and also has served as the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind.
His ability in political life is well known to all of us. He has been a powerful voice on behalf of the blind for many years, helping spearhead the campaign to adopt his state's white cane law and, more recently, Braille bill. I should tell you that the Braille bill in Kansas is one of the few that require competency testing of teachers. The most recent accomplishment is, I think, one that is appropriate because it speaks to Mr. Edlund's leadership throughout his community as well as with the blind. In 1990 Mr. Edlund was elected to the Kansas Legislature.
The plaque that I will be presenting reads:
The Jacobus tenBroek Award National Federation of the Blind Presented to Richard J. Edlund for your dedication, sacrifice, and commitment on behalf of the blind of this nation. Your contribution is measured not in steps but in miles, not by individual experiences, but by your impact on behalf of the blind of our nation. When we have asked, you have answered. We call you our colleague with respect and we call you our friend with love. July 3, 1992
When Mr. Edlund came to the platform to receive his award, he responded as follows:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Surprise, shock, I don't know-- whatever you want to call it. Brother Harris probably said it far better than I could. I feel a great deal the same way. What I have been able to accomplish is because I have learned from the Federation. Dr. Jernigan and all of my other colleagues in this organization have been teachers, supporters, and challengers. Really, that's what it's all about. I don't know that I ever set out to prove anything; perhaps I did. I've enjoyed my affiliation with all of my fellow Federationists all over the country. We all do what we can. I probably just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I appreciate the strength and support all of you have given me, and I especially appreciate all the patience that Dr. Jernigan had by inviting me to about twenty-four seminars. I was a real hard learner. So thank you very much, and I love you all.
The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
Sharon Maneki, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and Chair of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Selection Committee, presented this award. She said:
The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award is a very important award that we in the National Federation of the Blind have established because of our belief and hopes for our children. The most precious gift we have is to improve the future for our children.
This evening we recognize a woman who is known to many of us because she rings the bell for freedom at every convention she attends by working with parents, be it in the Parents Division, at the IEP workshop, or just sitting down to talk. This woman became involved in special education because of her son Dan. She stayed involved because she cares about the blind children of America. Mrs. Ruby Ryles, will you join me at the podium here? [Applause]
Mrs. Ruby Ryles was an itinerant teacher in Anchorage, Alaska. She has been a vision consultant at the Arkansas State Department of Education. And when there was no program in the Bellingham School District, she created one in typical Federation spirit. Mrs. Ruby Ryles, the Supervisor of the Bellingham School Vision Program, this evening we present you with a check for $500. [Applause.] And we also present you with a plaque to express our appreciation and recognition of your efforts for our children. Let me read the plaque:
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children The National Federation of the Blind honors Ruby Ryles Distinguished Educator of Blind Children For your skill in teaching Braille and the use of the white cane, for generously devoting extra time to meet the needs of your students, for inspiring your students to perform beyond their expectations, and for sharing your wisdom with your colleagues and parents across the nation. July 3, 1992
Mrs. Ruby Ryles in a few short years will be Dr. Ruby Ryles, and I'm sure that we will be hearing more from this fine lady. [Applause.]
After Mrs. Ryles accepted her plaque, she said:
What words can I possibly use to express my gratitude for the greatest honor a teacher could receive? I did not learn to teach blind children from the universities or the professionals, but from the real experts--from you. You taught me the value of sleep shades, early cane use, slate and stylus; and in your characteristic way you cut through the fat of the professional debates in my field and showed me how really simple it is to determine which children need Braille instruction. There is no debate, you taught me. If I am thought of as knowledgeable in the field of education of blind children, it is due to the countless numbers of Federationists who instructed and supported me and became my friends. Mackenstadts, Omvigs, and other NFB faithfuls forever changed the way I taught about and, more important, thought about blindness. My mother used to say, "Choose your friends wisely because you are a little part of each of your friends." I say to you tonight that each of you--every single one of you in the National Federation of the Blind--is not only a part of me, but a part of every child, every family, every professional, and every class I teach. I thank you for taking me in and teaching me how to be an effective teacher. But most of all, I thank you for being my friends. Were she here today, I know my mother would say in the best of her Southern mothering styles, "Ruby Nell, you certainly did choose your friends well, and I told you so." Thank you, friends. [Applause.]
[PHOTO: Mr. Maurer stands at podium microphone. CAPTION: Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, delivers his 1992 banquet address.]
[PHOTO: Crowded banquet hall shows head table from back of room. CAPTION: A banquet audience of thousands listened with rapt attention to President Maurer's address.]
[PHOTO: Euclid Herie speaks at podium while Dr. Jernigan stands to his left with Braille and gavel in hand. CAPTION: Following President Maurer's banquet address, master of ceremonies Kenneth Jernigan introduced several distinguished guests for brief remarks. Pictured here beside Dr. Jernigan is Euclid Herie, Treasurer of the World Blind Union and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.]
THE MYSTERIOUS TEN PERCENT
An Address Delivered by
President, National Federation of the Blind
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Charlotte, North Carolina, July 3, 1992
Almost without exception, the physical characteristics of existence are recognized because they fit a familiar pattern. It is not that those events which fail to conform to the framework of the generally accepted belief system are repudiated; they are not perceived at all. Reality, as we know it, is not made up of all discernible phenomena. Instead, it is the interpretation of those incidents that our understanding has permitted us to observe.
Those in the field of education tell us that students must be familiar with ninety percent of the subject matter of a class if learning is to occur. What is true in the classroom is also valid for less formal settings. Ordinarily, we comprehend only that which we already largely know.
In the history of science the matrix of belief is called the paradigm, and the pithy admonition to the scientist is to "save the phenomena." There is a powerful urge to include in scientific experiments only those facts which fit the theory being tested. When the facts do not demonstrate what they were expected to show, those conducting the examination are tempted to dismiss them as insignificant. Of course, the integrity of the scientific process does not permit such behavior. If science is to make progress, it must account not only for convenient results but for all observed results--the scientists must save the phenomena. However, if the experiment which might have been performed doesn't fit the paradigm--the structure of belief, the framework of recognition--it will never be conducted at all. Those facts which might have been observed will not be seen because nobody will look.
Sometimes at the conscious level, and sometimes without knowing it, society divides all knowledge into two major categories--those matters which can be studied and those which are beyond exploration. These two segments of knowledge are fundamentally distinct because in those which are regarded as proper for study, society believes that there is something to learn. In those which are regarded as sacrosanct, it is presumed that study is irrelevant because knowledge is (if not complete) sufficient for decision making on all practical questions. However, even when the study is intense and the receptivity is great, learning is limited by the ninety percent factor. The inevitable result is that some of the knowledge we regard as settled is necessarily incomplete and, therefore, incorrect.
Incorporated within the theories devised to explain all known information, there are assumptions. When new evidence becomes available, the underlying theory which explained the knowledge of the past is not ordinarily discarded. Instead, it is altered or expanded to include the new factor without, however, changing or eliminating the assumptions upon which the idea is based. Each time an additional factor is incorporated, the theory is doctored to make the new information fit. This process brings to mind the folksy aphorism, "It ain't what you don't know that hurts you so much, but what you do know that just ain't so."
What does all of this mean for us--for the largest organization of blind people in the nation? One of the accepted doctrines throughout history has been that it is essential to be able-bodied to be productive. The blind are not in this group. Hence, we are told that we have very limited capacity. Whether in the writings associated with the field of work with the blind, in the great body of general world literature, in the visual images presented for entertainment, or in the public mind, the incompetence of the blind has become an almost universally accepted part of the canon of knowledge. So completely fixed is this idea that further examination is presumed by many to be irrelevant.
Our own experience refutes that commonly held belief. Thousands of us have demonstrated that we are able to handle the ordinary job in the ordinary place of business, and (as with the sighted) some blind people demonstrate extraordinary ability and make remarkable contributions. Nevertheless, the notion of the incapacity of the blind remains firmly embedded in the thinking of millions.
In the face of so much evidence, how can this be? We human beings observe what we already know; we learn only when we believe that further study is warranted. Evidence which does not fit the established pattern is not rejected; it is never perceived at all. Even when it is known that there is something to learn, ninety percent of the subject matter under examination must be understood before learning--recognition of the unfamiliar--becomes possible. But, the ninety percent factor leaves the other ten percent available for discovery. This ten percent--the unknown ten percent, the vital ten percent, the mysterious ten percent--is an opportunity waiting to be made.
We the blind must accept the challenge of identifying the necessary ten percent, the essential elements for our integration into society; we must internalize the learning; and we must assist the public to comprehend what blindness really is by making the normality of blind people sufficiently familiar so it can be readily understood--so it can become a part of the mysterious ten percent. We must encourage the exploration, channel the thought processes, and focus the inquiry for a new understanding. What we are seeking is an alteration in the fundamental rules governing the acceptance and participation of the blind in every part of the culture. This will be good for the blind, but we will not be the only beneficiaries--so will everybody else. Our society will, for the first time, be using the collective talents of an entire class of people, and we will have a deepened understanding, sharing the needs and aspirations and being part of the force which makes our civilization what it is.
Who is responsible for achieving this objective? You know as well as I--those who have come together in the largest organization of the blind in the nation, the tough-minded individuals who have gathered here tonight to represent the blind from throughout the country, the members of the National Federation of the Blind.
Just over half a century ago, at a meeting in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the National Federation of the Blind was brought into being. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, a blind professor and one of the most scholarly and dynamic individuals of the twentieth century, along with a handful of others from seven states, founded this nationwide organization of the blind and thereby initiated the movement that would bring us independence. We the blind declared that the responsibility for our future belonged not to others, but to us. We intended to take a hand in shaping our own destiny.
In view of the circumstances which existed in 1940, such boldness required both courage and nerve. Almost no blind person had entered the competitive job market. Schools for the blind provided some education, but the officials who set the tone in those institutions had little expectation that blind students would emerge able to accept the challenges of higher education or employment. There were some libraries and a few books, but the volumes collected were meant primarily for recreation, and they were often hard to get. A number of sheltered workshops had been established, which offered employment in simple, repetitive tasks at extremely low wages to a small percentage of the blind; but a productive career with the responsibilities of citizenship was virtually unknown.
Despite the dismal prospects, a new and exciting possibility was inevitable from that first meeting of the National Federation of the Blind. The promise we made to ourselves that day has never changed, and the faith that we pledged has always been kept. No longer is our future determined entirely by others. Instead, we who are blind (acting individually and through our own organization, the National Federation of the Blind) play an increasingly important part in creating and determining the standards applicable to the conduct not only of our own daily affairs but of everything dealing with blindness. In creating the National Federation of the Blind (our own vehicle for self- expression and collective action), we have decided that the subservience which has so often been a part of existence for the blind must and will be eliminated. We insist on equality; we yearn for independence; we strive for full participation. We come together to achieve unity, to disseminate information, to provide inspiration, and to take concerted action through the organized blind movement--the National Federation of the Blind.
In 1940, books about the blind were few, and those that had been written (even those which, by the standard of their time, were regarded as progressive) depicted the blind as much more limited than was true or than we would hope to find today. One such volume (written, interestingly enough, by the famous blind historian William H. Prescott and printed in 1858) gives a picture of mixed images. Entitled Biographical and Critical Miscellanies, this volume includes an article which comments about the condition of the blind. Prescott recommends that improvements be made for the blind, but he believes the possibilities for full integration are unattainable. Although what Prescott says seems archaic and old-fashioned by the standards of 1992, his writing must be judged by the criteria of its day. In 1858 (in the context of the times, the technology then existent, and the attitudes and working conditions of pre- Civil War America) the article is more positive than negative. In 1940 (although many, especially those in work with the blind, would probably have denied it) Prescott's views were the generally accepted standard--but they were no longer viable. In 1992 (despite the fact that the Prescott thesis has glimmerings of positive philosophy) we should be able to put it behind us, viewing it as nothing more than a quaint element of the past. Unfortunately, such is not the case. While the present day language of the professionals in the blindness system is much more ours than Prescott's and while progress has been made, too many of the Prescott ideas still linger, some of them so deeply embedded in the public mind that they have not even emerged into the mysterious ten percent of thought which can be examined and reconsidered.
But before saying more, let me give you excerpts from the Prescott article. It is not only reminiscent of the America of a century and a half ago but useful as a touchstone for perspective today.
Immured within hospitals and almshouses [Prescott says], like so many lunatics and incurables, they [the blind] have been delivered over, if they escaped the physical, to all the moral contagion too frequently incident to such abodes, and have thus been involved in a mental darkness far more deplorable than their bodily one.
This injudicious treatment [Prescott continues] has resulted from the erroneous principle of viewing these unfortunate beings as an absolute burden on the public, utterly incapable of contributing to their own subsistence, or of ministering in any degree to their own intellectual wants. Instead, however, of being degraded by such unworthy views, they should have been regarded as, what in truth they are, possessed of corporeal and mental capacities perfectly competent, under proper management, to the production of the most useful results.
These are quotations from the 1858 publication. To protect the blind from the misfortune of the hospitals and institutions for the insane, Prescott recommends the establishment of asylums for the blind. The description of the asylum indicates that it fulfills the functions that we would associate with a school for the blind, a home for the blind, and a sheltered workshop. The workers in one of these asylums, says Prescott, produced a number of articles including:
cotton and linen cloths, diapers, worsted net for fruit-trees, basket-work of every description, hemp and straw door-mats, saddle girths, rope and twines of all kinds, netting for sheep-pens, fishing nets, beehives, mattresses, cushions, feather beds, bolsters, and pillows.
There has been no necessity [Prescott continues] of stimulating their exertions by the usual motives of reward or punishment. Delighted with their sensible progress in vanquishing the difficulties incident to their condition, they are content if they can but place themselves on a level with the more fortunate of their fellow-creatures. And it is observed that many, who in the solitude of their own homes have failed in their attempts to learn some of the arts taught in this institution, have acquired a knowledge of them with great alacrity when cheered by the sympathy of individuals involved in the same calamity with themselves, and with whom, of course, they could compete with equal probability of success.
Such is the writing about blindness of the historian Prescott, and in the record of our development, it is well worth having. The asylum for the blind is far superior to the almshouse, and Prescott is urging that the talents of the blind be used to a greater extent than they had been. If the characterization of the blind by Prescott were merely a page from the past, it would be interesting and instructive but not a matter for concern. However, the language employed in his description is still encountered today, and this brings it from the archives to the battlefield of current ideas. Even now in 1992, blindness (we are told in some quarters) is a calamity; blind people are so cheered by productive work, alongside those who are in a similarly unfortunate plight, that there is no necessity of stimulating them with the usual monetary rewards of productive labor; the blind cannot compete on terms of equality with others but need a special place, where they have the possibility of being competitive--not with those in the regular labor market, of course, but only against other blind people.
How often have we been told by the managers of sheltered workshops that the reason for operating such institutions is to give blind people something useful to do, which will provide a sense of purpose? The ongoing labor of blind workers, which produces the goods and generates the money, is not really "work," we are told, but "therapy." And what are many of the sheltered workshops if they are not special places where blind people "cheered by the sympathy of individuals involved in the same calamity as themselves" can compete with equal probability of success? This is not the way it should be; this is not the way it need be; but this is the way many of the managers of the shops want it to be and have made it be.
The description of the asylum for the blind brings to mind a much more modern incident. In 1991, less than one year ago, a blind man, a member of the National Federation of the Blind from the state of Michigan, became employed in the printing shop for a large public school system. He got the job with the help of our National Treasurer, Allen Harris, and through Job Opportunities for the Blind, the nationwide program operated by the National Federation of the Blind in partnership with the United States Department of Labor. This blind man is being paid six dollars an hour for his work. During the eight years prior to his employment in the print shop, he was given what certain rehabilitation officials called "meaningful employment" at a work activity center. The pay stubs he collected from the work activity center confirm a story which is almost unbelievable. For sixty long hours one week this blind man performed the work he was assigned. His take-home pay for those sixty hours was less than five dollars. The philosophy of rehabilitation in the 1990s is (at least in some situations) not as constructive as the philosophy of Prescott in the 1850s. At least the wages in the blind asylum were closer to those in the regular work force of that day than this man's pay in the work activity center was to what he now makes in the print shop. He is the same man. He has the same capacities in the print shop that he had in the work activity center. In short, he was taken advantage of, abused, and exploited--not because he deserved such treatment but because those who dished it out thought they could do what they did and get away with it. It is to fight this very kind of degrading injustice that we have formed the National Federation of the Blind--and fight it we will until we have crushed it out of existence.
At the time of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind (despite such advances as had been made), blindness was still regarded as a personal tragedy. The incapacity of the blind was presumed. Blindness might be used to evoke pity, pathos, or amusement, but blind people were not taken seriously.
In W. C. Fields's 1934 film, It's a Gift, blindness is used to get a laugh. A blind man of venerable age and irascible temper, Mr. Merkle, enters a grocery store operated by Fields. In finding his way to the counter, this blind character clumsily and furiously destroys a display of light bulbs--note the symbolism. Merkle orders chewing gum, and when it is finally brought to him, he (playing upon the exaggerated notion that the blind are demanding, touchy, and cantankerous) tells the grocery store operator that he is not prepared to carry it. He wants the gum delivered. After the rampage is over, someone asks who the blind man was. Fields replies, "He's the house detective over at the hotel."
Blind people do sometimes stumble and bump into things, but this is not the norm (not if there has been training, not if there has been reasonable opportunity). And some of us are irascible and demanding, but I doubt that the proportion is higher for us than it is for the sighted. The exaggeration of the 1934 movie is unreasonable and intolerable because the damaging picture of the blind is unrealistic, degrading, and disgraceful. In 1934 such a depiction could be made without a protest because the blind had not yet organized. The popular belief at that time was the blind were not (and could not be) successful. Consequently, the occasional demonstration to the contrary was dismissed (as it is even sometimes today) as an exception.
But that was 1934, and this is 1992. That was before the National Federation of the Blind. Today we have come together in our tens of thousands from every corner of the nation--and when blindness is discussed, we intend to have a word--in fact, in certain instances we intend to have the last word.
When ABC produced its program "Good & Evil" in the fall of 1991, the blind reacted with decision and strength. ABC made fun of us. George, the blind character who was said to be a psychologist, acted as though he had not merely lost his eyesight but also his brains, his sense of proportion, and his self- respect. He gently embraced a coat rack under the mistaken impression that it was a woman. He fondled a male but wasn't aware that the individual with whom he was taking such liberties was a man until his hands found their way below the belt. He smashed glass objects or windowpanes in almost every scene but seemed almost blissfully unaware that he had caused any harm. The pictures were accompanied by so-called humorous dialogue about the blind developing such keenness with their other senses that they could compensate for the loss of sight.
ABC officials seemed unable to understand why we objected to this travesty. When we received an advance copy of the first episode of the program, we urged ABC to rethink its position, but network officials dismissed our objections. They apparently harbored the opinion that we of the National Federation of the Blind were simply oversensitive and touchy, not to mention helpless and unable to do anything about what they were doing. We responded to this brush-off by telling them that such behavior would not be tolerated. Our message was articulated with logic and reason, but ABC continued to ignore us. Working through the National Federation of the Blind, thousands of blind people protested by letter and telephone. Our words became not only brief but blunt: "Stop 'Good & Evil.' Stop it, or face the consequences." They didn't--and we acted. We picketed, contacted sponsors, talked with the media, distributed leaflets, and alerted the public.
In less than two months the program was off the air. Some ABC officials complained privately that the National Federation of the Blind had stopped the show. When it comes to programs belittling the blind, the National Federation of the Blind is a real showstopper. We intend to evaluate the underlying assumptions of those who make pronouncements about us; we will set our own standards of fairness with respect to the images projected about us; and we will take our message to the public-- including the television networks. Let those who think they can ridicule us and disregard our opinions reflect on the fate of "Good & Evil."
The presentations about blindness in film and on television that we have been discussing are not revolutionary. They are a reiteration of what people have always thought about the blind. If the film producers and television screenwriters were told that they should study blindness, they would wonder why. Blindness doesn't change, they would think. It is a severe physical deprivation with known, predictable consequences. There isn't anything to study.
But this is the general public. What about the professionals in the blindness field? There are institutions which tell us that they have made a thorough examination of blindness and that they are the experts. Consider these quotes from a letter distributed to the public by the New York Lighthouse for the Blind. As you will see, the letter shows that the Lighthouse believes that to the extent a person has eyesight, life is worthwhile. To the extent that eyesight has been lost, there are crushing difficulties. The only way (they say) to circumvent the problems is to seek their counseling and advice. This material is not from 1858 or 1934. It is not from 1940 or twenty years ago. It is less than five years old. Here are the recommendations of the Lighthouse experts:
If [they say] you thought blindness was something that happened to "the other guy," you should realize blindness is something that could happen to you.
Imagine how you would feel if you were told by your doctor that eyeglasses won't help, that you are, indeed, losing your sight.
How long would you be able to work? How long would you be able to drive? How could you enjoy an active retirement?
Every day, you notice it getting worse. You become less and less able to take care of yourself. Your relationship with your family becomes strained. They want to help, but they don't know how. Unable to work. Unable to play. Unable to read, or even watch TV. You become more and more cut off from the people, places, and things that filled your life before.
Fortunately, there is a place to turn.
Since 1906, The Lighthouse--The New York Association for the Blind--has been helping people cope with the fear and the isolation accompanying their loss of sight--as well as teaching them new home and job skills.
There's a lot you can do [the letter continues]. Not just to help those less fortunate than yourself, but also to support an organization that someday might come to your aid, or to the aid of someone you love.
You'll help us promote more research on how to help blind people deal with their disability.
They need your help.
And you should give it to them.
Not just because it's the "right thing" to do.
But because someday it could be you.
Or someone you love.
Tucked away among the negative images in this agency's letter is this statement:
Blind people are not different from the rest of us. They are not "poor, unfortunate souls" with tin cups and pencils.
They are people like you and me. They have jobs, and families, and responsibilities. Like all of us, they want to lead productive, meaningful lives.
These are the only positive words in the entire document. Although they suggest that blindness may not be a complete tragedy, they are hardly believable when placed in the context of the statements that surround them. The blind are unable to work, unable to play, unable to have a fruitful retirement, unable to appreciate fully the society of family and friends, unable to read, unable to enjoy TV, and unable to care for themselves. Is such a picture realistic? Do blind people have jobs, play with the kids, read books, write articles and monographs, manage the responsibilities of family life, and participate in community activities?
When the Lighthouse declares that it wants to do "research on how to help blind people deal with their disability," what kind of research does it have in mind? Their letter, written in the late twentieth century, is, in many respects, worse than the literature about blindness produced over a hundred years ago. The outlook is one of despair; the prescription is for the managers of the asylum to take charge of the affairs of the blind; the method is scare tactics to frighten the public. The emphasis is not on the ability possessed by the blind but on the care others should devote to them. The decision-makers are not the blind but the custodians of the blind. If this is all that their research is capable of producing, I ask you, what good is it? If the point of their effort is to argue that blindness is an unmitigated disaster, let them leave us alone. We can do without their help. This representation of blindness is not true but false--not reality but fantasy--not an examination of fact but a reinforcement of ancient and time-worn fiction. The New York Lighthouse for the Blind is accredited by NAC, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped, the most divisive institution in the field of work with the blind today. Is it any wonder that the Lighthouse view of blindness is negative?
We are not opposed to competent research about blindness conducted by competent researchers. Blindness has been misunderstood for thousands of years, and it should be studied. What we find objectionable is the ancient body of myths and misconceptions dressed up in the clothes of modern scientific experimentation. Not only do we welcome researchers who come with an open mind, but we are increasingly participating in that research. Indeed, the cutting edge of scientific advancement involving blindness must necessarily include the organized blind. There is no other way for the misconceptions of the past to be identified and eliminated.
Whether the researchers come from within the field of work with the blind or from some other establishment, the results of their experimentation about blindness are, to say the least, unusual when they do it without consulting the blind. Blindness is often regarded as equivalent to darkness, even though the two are not the same. Recently, at the Baylor College of Dentistry, in Texas, a study was conducted dealing with the lowly salivary gland. It seems that the amount of saliva produced by a human being is directly related to oral hygiene. If you don't produce enough saliva, you won't have a clean mouth. You may have thought that, interesting though saliva experiments may be, they aren't related to blindness. Consider, however, these statements from a document describing the study:
The purpose of this study [says the report] is to examine, for the first time, the relation between visual impairment and reduced salivary flow. Normal salivary flow is necessary for healthy teeth and intraoral tissues. Research has shown that salivary flow decreases dramatically in dark environments. Thus, it appears reasonable to hypothesize that blind people might suffer from decreased salivary flow and oral health problems.
This is what the report says, and it boggles the mind. Remember that they are talking about you and me. Do you think that those of us in this room who are blind have drier mouths or less spit than those of us who are sighted? The questions that come to mind while contemplating this study are legion. How did they find out that salivary flow decreases in the dark? If you keep your mouth shut (I presume it is dark in there), will the absence of light reduce your salivary flow? Do the people who talk a lot, especially in well-lighted places, produce more saliva than others? What other characteristics were the subject of this investigation? I was tempted to ask, "Does your hair grow faster at night?" or "What happens to it if you put on a hat?" There are some things worth studying in the dark, but I had never thought of salivary flow as one of them. I have not yet received the results of the Baylor College study, but if their hypothesis were correct, it would follow that blind people suffer from bad teeth. Perhaps we do, but I doubt it. In short, "spit on it."
Blindness is sometimes blamed for more than it deserves. Of course, magazine publishers are in business to sell magazines, and the melodramatic (some believe) will increase circulation, but melodrama should not masquerade as truth. An article in the September 10, 1991, issue of Woman's World describes the experiences of a young blind woman. It purports to be a direct quote, but I wonder if it is taken out of context or selectively edited to emphasize the sensational. Here is what it says:
Sometimes I want to scream until I shatter glass. I want to take the heavy wooden post from my canopy bed and smash in the television screen. I want to hurl the television set against the wall and then storm through my neighborhood smashing everything.
Other times I feel like laughing out loud at something only I find funny. I want to whoop until I can't remember what it was all about.
My wildly swinging range of emotions are related [the grammar is theirs not mine] directly or indirectly to my blindness.
I am blind. After four years, I still have to repeat that uncomfortable statement to myself. It wasn't until last year that I could bring myself to admit it.
Do you think this report in Woman's World truly represents the experience or the feelings of most blind people--even those who have been blind for only three or four years? Becoming blind can be extremely trying emotionally. Yet, we who are blind do not spend our days wanting to scream at the top of our lungs, fighting an urge to smash everything, or laughing uncontrollably at nothing. I am, of course, not saying that we lack emotion. We possess feelings and dreams in abundance, but they do not spring from the fact of our blindness. They are a part of our basic humanity. They live within us, and come from the heart. Blind people are not weird or peculiar--we are just blind, and we are not prepared (even if the magazine editors would like us to say so) to tolerate the assertion that we are somehow abnormal, idiotic, or subhuman.
Many thousands of letters come to the National Federation of the Blind each year. Some are dramatic; some are matter-of-fact; some are unassuming. Often those who see our public service announcements respond with requests for assistance. Reading between the lines, it is possible upon occasion to learn much from a very few words. Here is a letter, which I received less than six months ago:
I was watching TV one afternoon and saw a commercial. It was your commercial. I was just wondering what your organization is all about.
I am legally blind and have been since late December, 1983. I attended the Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind in 1986. I spent over a half year there.
I was watching TV, and I saw a commercial. It was your commercial. So I decided to write, and just find out what your organization is all about. Like what all do you do? So I was wondering if you could send me some information.
I was sent down to United Rehabilitation Services to get trained for a job. I think some blind organization was sending the work for me to do. But then they didn't send anything, so I sat there.
Simple, straightforward, uncomplicated--direct language, eloquent. The woman who wrote became blind in 1983. Three years later, in 1986, she received training at the Pittsburgh Guild. After six months at the Guild she was sent to an agency to do a little work. The work didn't come. She sat there. In 1992, nine years after she became blind, she is still waiting--watching television and wondering what there is for her. How long does it take to crush the spirit or kill the dream? This woman's letter is not demanding, but the exact opposite. She wonders what our organization is about. The repetition of the tentative phrasing indicates that this woman does not wish to face one more disappointment. During the last nine years there must have been many, and she is almost afraid to hope. But she did not give up; she did write; and we did respond. Blindness should not mean (and it doesn't have to mean) interminable waiting, idle hours, and a place to sit while the rest of the world moves on. Training in the skills of blindness can be found; a job with all of the frustrations and joys that accompany it can be procured; and of greatest importance, there is hope for a better tomorrow.
This woman tells us, as we read between the lines, that the Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind has nothing to offer. This comes as no surprise since the current executive director is Richard Welsh, who also serves as one of the principal officers of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC), probably the most controversial and regressive agency for the blind of the twentieth century. Be that as it may, we have our own vehicle for collective action, and we know how to use it. The woman who wrote for information about our organization received encouragement and support. We will help.
I joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1969. The organization was different from anything I had ever encountered. It told me that blindness need not be a disaster, that it could simply be a characteristic, that it did not have to keep me from pursuing a career. I had reservations about it, but I hoped that the message was true--and I said that I believed. Even though I tried to accept the philosophy of the Federation wholeheartedly, my views about blindness today are not precisely the same as those I held in 1969 when I joined. Learning cannot happen all at once, and both individuals and organizations gain experience and understanding as long as they retain the flexibility of an open mind.
Shortly after I became a part of the National Federation of the Blind, several members of the organization, traveling by plane to a state convention of one of our affiliates, hotly debated whether a blind person could competently travel from one airport gate to another without a guide. I believed at the time (although I was a little nervous about expressing my opinion) that it was foolishness to maintain that a blind person could travel easily and gracefully through an airport without an escort. Some of my colleagues argued that modern travel skills could be as effective in an airport as anywhere else. They pointed out that blind people can get around with assurance in large cities. Why shouldn't the same principles apply to the airport?
We put the matter to the test. I sought assistance in traveling, and one of my colleagues struck out on his own. I don't suppose I need to tell you that he got to the next gate before I did. These days I travel routinely from one gate to another in busy airports without ever giving it a thought (sometimes with and sometimes without assistance). The point is that I can get where I want to go whenever I need to, and I am grateful to my Federation colleague for showing me that I could.
In 1940, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek had the inspiration and self- assurance to found the National Federation of the Blind. In 1952, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan first attended a National Convention of the organized blind movement. Fired with enthusiasm by Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan began to add his effort to the creation of the literature of independence and to the building of the structure of self-organization that would forever change the fundamental meaning of blindness. Dr. tenBroek, the philosopher who could dream of a future unlike any previously contemplated, and Dr. Jernigan, the builder who carried the philosophy of independence to the rehabilitation establishment and to the blind of every state, came together to create a leadership both powerful and dynamic. Dr. tenBroek conceived the notion of equality for the blind; Dr. Jernigan popularized the idea and established a training center which incorporated it in the curriculum. Together these pioneers forged a gathering of energetic blind people dedicated to making the dream of independence become reality.
Although the belief system of the past may hold that there is nothing essential to learn about what blindness is or how to deal with it, this time-worn understanding of the capacity of the blind is no longer uncontested. We human beings ordinarily observe only that which we already know, and we learn only when ninety percent of what is presented is familiar. But this is not all. Learning cannot occur unless there is a teacher with the wisdom and the capacity to dream of the other ten percent. Those in the school systems, in the governmental and private agencies for the blind, and in the public at large can work with us to accelerate the achievement of independence for the blind, and increasingly this is precisely what has been occurring. But they cannot provide the inspiration and the dream--that must come from us. We will learn what we must, imagine a time when we have eradicated the misconceptions about the blind, provide an alternative explanation which is more complete than the misguided theories of the long ago, and teach the public about our basic normality. This is our goal, our mission, and our right.
If we cannot muster the courage, sustain the dream, or maintain the nerve, the loss will be unimaginable. But, of course, we will not fail. We have one another, and nobody--no agency for the blind, no magazine editor, no film producer, no so-called scientific researcher, no television network official-- can prevent us from going the rest of the way toward freedom. We believe in one another; we have faith in the ability of our blind brothers and sisters; and we will share the burden that must be borne to bring true independence to the blind. Ninety percent must be known if learning is to occur. But there is the other ten percent, the mysterious ten percent, the vital ten percent--and we will supply it; we are the National Federation of the Blind. My brothers and my sisters, come! Join me and we will make it all come true!
[PHOTO: NFB Scholarship winners, 1992. Front row (left to right): Dennis Bowling, Brad Martin, Heather Kirkwood, Kristen Jocums, Ramon Vela, Chad Newcomb, Jean Janicke, T. V. Raman. Center row (left to right): Corinna Trujillo, Jana Littrell, Lora Felty, Richard Chen, Ann Marie Bovaird, Kristen Knouse, Charles Marston, Shelly Berger, Tonya McCluskey. Back row (left to right): Ali Nizamuddin, Katharine Bond, Carlos Servan, Marla Medford, Christopher Kuczynski, Jim Hamon, Gary Scott, Mark Heaphy, Heather Certner.]
[PHOTO: Carlos Servan standing at podium microphone. CAPTION: Carlos Servan of New Mexico, the 1992 winner of the Ezra Davis Memorial Scholarship.]
THE SCHOLARSHIP CLASS OF 1992
The task of the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee is never easy. During the spring its members must pore over many hundreds of scholarship applications to select the group of winners, who will attend the convention to compete for the various awards. Then during convention week, when there are always at least five things one wants to do with every free moment, Committee members must find the time to get to know each of the twenty-six winners in order to make the final judgements in the competition. This year the job was particularly difficult. The Class of '92 is uniformly talented and energetic. A number of its members were already active in the Federation, and a number of others during the convention began to demonstrate deep interest in and personal response to our philosophy and commitment to changing what it means to be blind. Here are the 1992 scholarship winners as they presented themselves to the Board of Directors at its Tuesday, June 30, meeting. Peggy Pinder, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, introduced each person and listed first the state from which the winner comes and then the state in which he or she will be a student this coming fall. This is what the winners had to say in the few seconds they were given in which to introduce themselves:
Shelly Berger, Colorado, Colorado: "Hello. I am a junior at Colorado State University. I am hoping to get into veterinary school. I just wanted to let Dr. Jernigan know that I have been taking my NFB vitamins for the past years, and it has really been a help. Thank you."
Katharine Bond, Virginia, Massachusetts: "I'm very honored. I am going to be studying art history this fall at Williams College. I have worked in the art museum field for the last five years as an assistant art curator at the State Archives in Maryland and as a full staff member at a small museum as a collections manager. I have an undergraduate degree from St. John's College, and I'm delighted to represent blind people in this field."
Ann Marie Bovaird, Ohio, Kentucky: "It's a great honor to be here. Last December I graduated with a bachelor's degree in international studies from Miami University of Ohio. Beginning in August I will start pursuing a master's degree in international affairs from the Paterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. Thank you very much."
Dennis Bowling, Illinois, Illinois: "Hi. I'm Dennis Bowling, and I'm very glad to be here. I will be starting my third year of doctoral studies at Loyola University of Chicago this fall, but in many, many respects--perhaps in the most important respect--my education began here on Sunday night at 5 o'clock."
Heather Certner, Maryland, Maryland: "Hi. My name again is Heather Certner. I'm completing a master's in victimology, going on to the University of Maryland to start a J.D. and a Ph.D. I just want to thank you all for letting me have the opportunity to be here. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible and learning from all of you as well."
Richard Chen, New Jersey, Massachusetts: "Hi. My name is Richard Chen. I go to Harvard University. I'm currently a sophomore, studying government, international relations; and I hope to become an international lawyer or a corporate lawyer. So I appreciate talking to any lawyers any time. I am currently going to Harvard summer school and working as a law intern."
Lora Felty, Kentucky, Kentucky: "Hi. First of all I just want to say that I am really, really honored to be here. I graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a degree in English and secondary education last December, and I am starting this summer to work on a master's degree in special education/vision impairment from the University of Louisville. Thanks."
Jim Hamon, California, California: "I would like to say greetings to the most cantankerous, contentious group of citizens that have ever stood up and looked every gift horse in the mouth- -not afraid to kick out the teeth if they need to either. I am really impressed. I study democratic process as a social institution. I am in the graduate Sociology Department at UC Berkeley."
Mark Heaphy, Virginia, Connecticut: "Good morning. My name is Mark Heaphy. I did my undergraduate work at the College of William and Mary in international relations and philosophy. I am currently a second-year graduate student at Yale University, studying international security programs."
Jean Janicke, Texas, Belgium, and Massachusetts: "Thank you very much. I'm Jean Janicke. I'm thrilled and delighted to be the imported scholarship recipient this year. I am currently working in Brussels, Belgium, and in September I will be starting a master's degree in public policy at Harvard University."
Kristen Jocums, Utah, Utah: "Good morning. I am currently a third-year law student at the University of Utah. I am also chapter president of the Salt Lake City Chapter of the NFB of Utah, also a treasurer of the newly-formed student chapter of the NFB of Utah. I would like to thank all of you for making this opportunity possible. It's through each of us that we as blind people can become successful. Thank you."
Heather Kirkwood, Germany, Kansas: "Hello. I will be a sophomore in the fall. I'm majoring in political science and minoring in journalism. I've been a member of the Federation for about a year now. I love this group because it's a strong group, a united group, and a caring group."
Kristen Knouse, New Jersey, Illinois: "Good morning. I'm going into my second year of graduate study at Northwestern University. I'm studying speech and language pathology. I work with patients with communications disorders such as stroke, head injury, and voice problems. I also enjoy horseback riding in what spare time I have. It's a real honor for me to be here with the National Federation of the Blind because there are only a few blind people in the field of speech pathology, and I may be the first. So thank you for allowing me to be one of the openers in the field."
Christopher Kuczynski, Pennsylvania, Connecticut: "Fellow Federationists, good morning. I am a 1986 graduate of Villanova University, from which I received my BA in English literature. I received my law degree from Temple University Law School in Philadelphia in 1989. After three years in private practice, I've decided to pursue a career in law teaching and, to that end, will be attending Yale University Law School's Master's of Law program beginning in September. This is my seventh national convention, my sixth in a row, and I'm honored and delighted to be at this one as a national scholarship winner."
Jana Littrell, California, California: "Hi. I'm glad to be here. Conventions are my favorite places to be. This is my sixth one. I would like to work with blind children, so I'm currently attending San Francisco State University. I will receive teaching credentials, one in special education, working with blind children, another in social studies, and a master's degree in special education."
Charles Marston, Florida, Florida: "Hello. I just graduated from Miami Senior High in the City of Miami. I graduated number eleven from a class of 700 students. I'm going to the honors program at Miami Dade Community College and then transfer to Florida International University. I would like to become a lawyer and work in the civil rights field. Thanks."
Brad Martin, Alabama, Alabama: "Hello. I graduated sixth in a class of about 260 at the age of seventeen. I will be pursuing a degree at Springhill College in communication arts, going in as a freshmore, meaning that I will start with thirty hours of college credit for work completed in my high school career. Thank you."
Tonya McCluskey, Montana, Wyoming: "I'm going to go to Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, in the fall. I'm going to major in equine studies, and I'm going to have a minor in agri- business. I want to some day own my own working horse and cattle ranch."
Marla Medford, North Carolina, South Carolina: "Hello. I'm pleased to be here, and thank you for the opportunity to be at my first convention. I am originally from North Carolina, the mountains near Waynesville. I received a B.S. in mathematics from Western Carolina University, an M.S. in mathematics from Clemson University, and am currently working on a Ph.D. in mathematics from Clemson, where I am a teaching assistant. Thank you."
Peggy Pinder: "You should all be sure to congratulate Marla, too, on her upcoming marriage in about a week and a half."
Chad Newcomb, Wisconsin, Minnesota: "Hi. Good morning to all of you. Next year I will be attending Winona State University, where I will be majoring in composite materials engineering and pursuing a minor or perhaps second major in English. And while I am up here, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you because you have really opened up a world of opportunities to us as scholarship recipients. You have made it so much easier for all of us. Thanks."
Ali Nizamuddin, Illinois, New York: "Good morning everyone. I am a second-year Ph.D. student at Columbia University, pursuing political science. Within political science my specialization is international relations. Within IR my focus is on Japan. Within Japan I am studying Japanese securities issues. Anyway, I have been in the Federation for the past five years, and I joined in 1987. I went to the Phoenix convention primarily because I wanted a vacation. I have stayed and will continue to do so, because I have never been involved in an organization or society or a group whose members love each other as much as the members of this organization do. Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here."
T.V. Raman, New York, New York: "Hi. My name is Raman and first let me say how happy I am to be here at the convention. This is the first time I am getting in contact with the NFB, and it's been a great experience so far, and I think it will continue to be the same during the convention and hereafter. As I said, my name is Raman, and I'm a graduate student at Cornell, working on my Ph.D. in applied math and computer science. Thank you."
Gary Scott, California, Pennsylvania: "Thank you Peggy and all the members of the Committee, the Board, and the membership for allowing me the opportunity to come and experience this convention. My experience so far has been highly inspirational, illuminating, and empowering. It's quite an event. I am finishing my doctorate this year at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in philosophy, where my main areas of concentration will be medical and business ethics, political philosophy, and theories of perception. Thank you."
Carlos Servan, New Mexico, New Mexico: "Good morning. My name is Carlos Servan. Next semester I'm going to be a senior at the University of New Mexico, majoring in political science and international programs. After that I'm going to law school to study international business law. I'm very glad to win a scholarship. I also went to Puerto Rico to organize a chapter over there. I am the current president of the Student Division in New Mexico. I'm in the honors program at the University of New Mexico. I was elected senator of the University of New Mexico three months ago. Thank you."
Corinna Trujillo, Colorado, Colorado: "Good morning. I'm Corinna Trujillo. I'm a professional dancer and choreographer, and I'm a student of the humanities at the University of Colorado. I'd like to use my last fifteen seconds in sharing my favorite quote with you. This is by an unknown author, but I'm sure it's a thought that's shared by all of us: `There is no chance, no fate, no destiny that can circumvent, hinder, or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.'"
Ramon Vela, Puerto Rico, Massachusetts: "Good morning. My name is Ramon Vela. I am from Puerto Rico, as Peggy said. So it's a special honor for me to be a scholarship winner at the same year and the same convention that my affiliate has been accepted. I will begin studying in the graduate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall, working on a Ph.D. in political science, and some day I hope that I can put that training to good use and help the Federation teach uppity Congressional staff people a lesson or two about blind people."
Peggy Pinder: "And there, Mr. President and members of the National Federation of the Blind, are the twenty-six scholarship winners this year." [applause]
As you will observe, it was an impressive group of students this year. Here are the awards they received:
$2,000 NFB Merit Scholarships: Tonya McCluskey, Charles Marston, Gary Scott, Richard Chen, Shelly Berger, Dennis Bowling, Corinna Trujillo, Lora Felty, and Ali Nizamuddin.
$2,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Jean Janicke. $2,000 Ellen Setterfield Memorial Scholarship: James Hamon. $2,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: T.V. Raman. $2,500 NFB Scholarships: Heather Certner, Ramon Vela, Brad Martin, Kristen Jocums, and Heather Kirkwood. $2,500 NFB Educator of Tomorrow Award: Marla Medford. $2,500 NFB Humanities Scholarship: Mark Heaphy. $2,500 Frank Walton Horn Memorial Scholarship: Ann Bovaird. $2,500 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Christopher Kuczynski. $3,000 Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Chad Newcomb. $4,000 NFB Scholarships: Katherine Bond and Jana Littrell. $4,000 Anne Pekar Memorial Scholarship: Kristen Knouse.
The $10,000 Ezra B. Davis Memorial Scholarship was presented this year to Carlos Servan. In introducing him during the banquet, Peggy Pinder said:
Carlos will be a senior in the fall at the University of New Mexico, where he is earning a bachelor's degree in political science and Latin American Studies, but that tells you very little about Carlos. He intends to be a lawyer, either in international business or in civil rights, but that doesn't tell you much about Carlos either. He is originally from Peru. After graduating from high school and while studying some college courses, Carlos joined Peru's special military forces, which combat guerrillas and conduct counter-terrorism activities. In a terrorist attack several years ago, Carlos lost his eyesight and one hand.
He came to the United States less than two years ago to receive the more sophisticated medical treatment he needed, and he found other things in addition. Not speaking one word of English when he came, he found a new language. He also found our kind of freedom, and he found a new way of life in the National Federation of the Blind.
Practically since he came into the States, he has served as the President of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. If you have been around this convention at all, you have bought a raffle ticket from Carlos Servan.
As the winner of the top scholarship award, Carlos Servan was invited to make a few remarks to the banquet audience. Here is what he said:
Thank you, Federationists. First of all I would like to thank the members of the Scholarship Committee and its Chairman, Peggy Pinder. Let me try to tell you a little bit about how I feel and how I love this Federation. All this week I have felt that the hotels were full of energy, and I feel energized to be a part of this group, this National Federation of the Blind.
Last Sunday President Maurer talked to us, the scholarship members, and he mentioned to us how important it is to keep ourselves busy. After the banquet speech tonight, let me tell you, President Maurer, that I promise you--and not only you, but all the Federation, because I'm part of the Federation--that I am going to be very busy serving blind people in this country and all over the world. I will be busy also to learn and teach the ten percent that you were talking about.
I would also like, with your permission, to thank two women. One is Eileen Rivera. When I came to Maryland and the doctors told me that I wouldn't see again, I wanted to find out something about blindness. Eileen asked me, "What is your philosophy about blindness?"
I answered her, "I think a blind person can do whatever he wants to do. All he needs is opportunity and training."
She told me, "That's our philosophy."
I said to her, "Who is this `our'; who is `us?'" So she was telling me about the Federation, and I attended my first national convention in 1989, a month after I had come to this country. Let me tell you the truth; I was a little skeptical about what she told me about many blindness professionals. However, as Mr. Maurer mentioned also, we have learned little by little, and we won't ever forget what the Federation is doing for us.
I went to the Orientation Center at Alamogordo, and I was busy learning English and basic skills. I used to tell the administrator, Mr. Davis, that I would like to be a lawyer if I can. He never doubted; he just told me, "Yes you will." That is the Federation. Nobody in the Federation ever told me "maybe." They always told me, "Yes you will."
I also want to thank my wife for her support. This is her first convention. In very hard times, especially when we had my younger brother and sister living with us, studying full-time, working, she was there all the time. She is a Federationist; she understands our philosophy of blindness.
To end, I would like to emphasize my thankfulness to Dr. Jernigan. I have been listening to and reading his speeches. Dr. Jernigan, you have kept the Federation in the right way. The Federation is changing the lives of many blind people in America. Dr. Jernigan, you will continue to change the lives of many, and I am going to repeat something that you have said in many of your speeches: We won't ever again settle for being second-class citizens. Thank you.
[PHOTO: Dr. Jernigan standing at podium microphone. CAPTION: Kenneth Jernigan, Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind.]
SHIFTING BALANCES IN THE BLINDNESS FIELD
An Address Delivered by
Executive Director National Federation of the Blind
At the Annual Convention
Charlotte, North Carolina
July 2, 1992
On Thursday morning, July 2, 1992, delegates to the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind listened attentively to a panel presentation devoted to an examination of the present and future structure of the blindness field. Participants were Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind; Mr. Carl Augusto, President and Executive Director of the American Foundation for the Blind; and Mr. Ritchie Geisel, President of Recording for the Blind. Because of the vital significance of the ideas presented, we are printing the texts of the three addresses as they were given that morning. Some of the discussion after the last two speeches is summarized, following the texts of those addresses. Here are Dr. Jernigan's remarks as he delivered them on July 2:
The German scientist Max Planck said: "A new truth usually doesn't triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." In more prosaic language I say that those who base their actions on yesterday's perceived truths (whether real or imagined) are poorly equipped to deal with today's realities and are likely to have much time for reflection in tomorrow's leisure of unemployment.
Today we are talking about the future of services for the blind. The fact that we are, along with the popularity and recurrence of the theme, means that there is a felt need and that there are problems. But we are talking about something more. We are talking about the shifting balances in the blindness system of this country. We are talking about the governmental and private agencies, blind consumers, and the relationship between consumers and professionals. In a broader sense we are talking about the very survival of the blindness field as we have known it.
The most notable thing about the blindness field is how different it is today from what it was twenty or thirty years ago. From the 1920s to the 1960s the unquestioned leader among the governmental and private agencies doing work with the blind in this country was the American Foundation for the Blind, and there was a reasonable amount of coherence and unity. As to the organized blind movement, the National Federation of the Blind didn't even exist until 1940, and it didn't become a major factor in the field for quite a few years after that. Today everything has changed. If what I am about to say is to do any good at all, it is absolutely essential that we deal with facts, not just wishes or claims or fantasies.
Let me begin with the American Foundation for the Blind. It was established in 1921, and its mission was fairly clear. It was to coordinate the efforts of the professionals in the blindness field throughout the country, help create and guide new agencies, do research, serve as a mechanism for resources and referrals, and generally act as a focal point for agency activities. Realistically viewed, most of those functions no longer exist as prime objectives.
In the 1920s the Foundation was instrumental in establishing and providing initial guidance to quite a number of state agencies. In Iowa, for instance, where I was formerly director, the American Foundation for the Blind worked in 1926 and 1927 with the state legislature and the school for the blind to establish the Iowa Commission for the Blind. It sent staff members to help get programs started and to find and train personnel. The same was true in a number of other states. That mission no longer exists. Today the state agencies are well established, and they don't now generally look to the Foundation for guidance; nor do they feel any particular loyalty to it. Rather, they look to their state-federal relationships, their own national organizations and committees, mechanisms within their state borders, and alliances with consumer organizations. This is not to criticize but simply to state facts.
In the twenties and thirties the American Foundation for the Blind, if not alone in the work, was certainly the principal leader in developing specialized tools and appliances for the blind: Braille watches, measuring devices, household aids, and the like. The Foundation also took the lead in developing the talking book machine, and for a time it was virtually the only organization producing talking book records. All of that has now changed. The Foundation is a relatively minor participant in the production and sale of specialized tools, aids, and appliances. It does not even sell or ship these from its own premises but relies on a catalog fulfillment company to do the work. If the Foundation were to go completely out of the specialized tools and appliances business today, there would scarcely be a ripple. The Foundation is, by no means, the principal manufacturer or distributor. That part of its original mission is now largely (and in the main, successfully) finished.
As to the production of talking book records, the Foundation still does it, but there would be no great problem to anybody but the Foundation if it ceased the activity. Others have now taken the lead in the field. Again, this is no criticism. In fact, quite the contrary. It emphasizes the success of the Foundation's pioneering effort.
The Foundation played a key role in helping design and pass some of the principal legislation which determined the direction of the blindness field and which still underpins many of the opportunities that we as blind people enjoy, but that was decades ago. The golden age of the Foundation's influence in shaping federal legislative and administrative policy was probably the 1930s and the early '40s when the Books for the Blind program of the Library of Congress was established, Title X (the Public Assistance for the Blind section of the Social Security Act) was adopted, the Randolph-Sheppard Act was passed, the Rehabilitation Act (Barden-La Follette, 1943) was amended to include the blind, and a whole new spate of other legislative and administrative policies came into being. Indeed, the Foundation did not singlehandedly make these achievements, having at times to compromise with others in the field and even now and again failing altogether to get its own way--but few would argue that the Foundation was not at the center of the action or the dominant force.
That, however, was more than fifty years ago, and the 1990s bear little resemblance to the 1930s and '40s. Certainly the Foundation is no longer a controlling factor in legislative or executive decisions concerning the blind. We who are blind now speak for ourselves through our own organization, the National Federation of the Blind, and we are the most powerful force in such matters in Washington and the state capitals today. Of course, the governmental and private agencies for the blind still have a major presence in legislative and executive decisions concerning blindness, but they speak with many voices--and certainly with no dominance or central influence on the part of the Foundation. Again, I cannot emphasize too strongly that what I am saying is not meant as criticism but only as a recognition of fact.
The Second World War and the period immediately following brought a shift in emphasis for the Foundation. Because of the thousands of children who developed retrolental fibroplasia (today we would call it retinopathy of prematurity), there was a crisis in education. In California, for instance, where I was living at the time, there were in the early 1950s more than 1,200 young RLF children who were blind--and the residential school could handle only about 200. What was to be done? RLF had largely been conquered, and when the wave of hundreds of blind children had passed through the population, there was every reason to believe the number would return to normal. It made neither economic nor political sense for the state of California to build five or six new residential schools for the blind. It was simply not in the cards. At the same time the parents were not going to permit their blind children to stay at home and not have an education. The answer was obvious. They would have to be placed in the public schools in their local areas--which, incidentally, made the endless arguments (arguments often stimulated by the Foundation) about which environment is better for the education of a blind child, the residential or the public school, not only pointless but downright harmful and diversionary. Regardless of the quality of the training or the competence of the teachers, most of these children were necessarily going to be trained in the public schools in their home communities.
To its credit, the American Foundation for the Blind stepped into the breach. It had a major new mission, the establishment of university programs to train teachers of blind children, the recruitment of the teachers, the finding of teachers to teach the teachers, and the development of educational materials to make the process possible. Important as that mission was (and it was extremely important), it has long since passed. The university programs to train special education teachers for the blind are now completely mature. They demonstrate no special loyalty to the Foundation nor any evidence of following its leadership or asking it to coordinate their efforts. In fact, as adult children are wont to do, they often find themselves competing with the Foundation for money and leadership. Whatever else may be said for the loose national confederacy to which most of the university programs belong--that is, the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER)--the organization is not now controlled or dominated by the American Foundation for the Blind. This is true despite the fact that the Foundation was instrumental in establishing many of the university programs and that in the 1970s it gave sizable amounts of money to the AER, which at the time was using another name.
As a natural concomitant of its work with the university programs, the Foundation began to organize and give direction to parents of blind children. In fact, a few years ago the Foundation was instrumental in organizing NAPVI (the National Association for Parents of the Visually Impaired). It provided a staff member to the organization, gave direction and leadership to it, and helped it set policy. Recently, however, the Hilton Foundation gave the Perkins School for the Blind a $15,000,000 grant, running over a five-year period; and Perkins effectively took control of NAPVI, giving it many tens of thousands of dollars, much more than the Foundation could possibly muster. The Foundation competed for the Hilton grant, but it lost--another sign of the shifting balances in the blindness field.
With respect to those shifting balances, there is still another factor. The Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind is now probably the major force in the field. Certainly its magazine, Future Reflections, is the largest circulation publication for parents and educators of the blind, as well as the most influential. In any case the Foundation (to the extent that it has any part left to play in organizing and directing the activities of parents of blind children) is now only a minor participant.
Once more I repeat that I am not being critical. The American Foundation for the Blind filled a need with respect to the education of blind children and the counseling of their parents which could not have been filled by anybody else at the time and which absolutely demanded attention. It is simply that this part of the Foundation's mission has now been largely accomplished. There are those who would argue (in fact, I am one of them) that some of the Foundation's advice to the parents and many of its policy guidelines to the universities were custodial in nature, overly defensive about what was called professionalism, and more involved with complexity and prestige than common sense and the good of the child--but these criticisms must be viewed in context. When considered from the distance of the years and the magnitude of the task undertaken, the criticisms soften and take perspective. There was no viable alternative, and the Foundation did what it could with the knowledge it had and the resources it possessed. It deserves our appreciation, not our spleen.
The Second World War brought other changes besides those affecting the education of blind children. It moved the United States to the center of the stage in world affairs. Among other things, this meant that our country would take the leading role in helping other nations develop programs for the blind. The American Foundation for the Blind was the natural leader and coordinator.
It played a principal part in establishing the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, and in November of 1945 it took control of the American Braille Press for War and Civilian Blind and renamed it the AFOB (the American Foundation for Overseas Blind). The AFOB was technically a separate organization, but its board was almost identical to that of the Foundation. Throughout the world in the forties and fifties the Foundation was generally recognized as the leading force in the blindness field in the United States and as our chief spokesman in overseas matters.
All of that has now changed. In the late sixties and early seventies the AFOB went through an alteration. It changed its name to Helen Keller International, began to acquire a different board from that of the Foundation, and ultimately broke the ties almost completely. Then, in the changing climate of public opinion about overseas projects, Helen Keller International very nearly went bankrupt. It is now largely financed (and, therefore, in reality substantially controlled) by the U.S. government and spends the major part of its money (a sizable budget) in prevention of blindness projects in other countries. Meanwhile the American Foundation for the Blind no longer has preeminence in overseas activities.
In 1984 the International Federation of the Blind and the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind (the two major world organizations in the field) merged to become the World Blind Union. The North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union consists of organizations of and for the blind in Canada, the English-speaking nations of the Caribbean, and the United States, and is generally recognized by other countries as the principal mechanism for action affecting the blind in this part of the world--particularly, regarding overseas matters. The Foundation is a member of the regional structure, but it is certainly not dominant.
I have already alluded to the $15,000,000 grant which the Perkins School received from the Hilton Foundation. Some of this money is being spent inside the United States, but much of it is being used to develop projects and give aid overseas. With respect to dollars spent in overseas aid, Perkins is now a major factor--and with money goes influence. I think it is fair to say that (with the exception of providing a certain amount of professional literature) the American Foundation for the Blind does not today have any significant commitment, influence, or mission beyond the borders of this country. This is in no way to belittle or take away from the work which the Foundation did in this area in the past or the work which it may do in the future. It is simply to state facts as I believe them to be at present.
Let me turn next to NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped). In the 1960s the American Foundation for the Blind created COMSTAC (the Commission on Standards and Accreditation). It financed COMSTAC and provided it with an executive director. The objective was to establish for agencies in the blindness field a system of accreditation, which the Foundation hoped would come to be universally accepted, bringing influence to the Foundation and harmony to the field. The exact opposite occurred. After a brief existence, COMSTAC established NAC, which confidently announced that it would be completely self-supporting in no more than five or six years and that it would encompass most of the agencies.
What followed is a study in failure. NAC was never accepted by even as many as twenty percent of those that it wanted to accredit. Through the sixties, the seventies, and the eighties it bled the Foundation financially and politically, a black hole of controversy and cost. NAC has been the Foundation's Vietnam--and (as with America's Vietnam) disentanglement, admission of mistakes, and loss of face have been bitter medicine to swallow. My conversations with Foundation officials indicate that the Foundation has spent more than $9,000,000 on NAC. It has now stopped the expenditures, and NAC is in its death throes. Even so, the Foundation understandably finds it difficult to make a clean break and a public statement that the chapter of its Vietnam must be closed and left in the past.
In a number of discussions during the past few months, Carl Augusto (the recently appointed president and chief executive of the Foundation) has talked with me quite frankly about the condition and future of his organization. I gather from him that the Foundation's assets have dropped from a worth of about forty million dollars four or five years ago to a present value of something over twenty-four million and that the hemorrhaging (though slowing) continues. I also understand that the Foundation eliminated some twenty percent of its staff positions during 1991, making massive layoffs. In my opinion this does not mean that the Foundation will go bankrupt or cease to be a major participant in the affairs of the blind, nor do I think it would serve the best interests of the blind if such were the case. Rather, I think it means that the Foundation must redefine its mission, free itself from its Vietnam, and accept the realities of the present day.
As to redefining its mission, the Foundation has recently been working on the matter. Under date of January 15, 1992, Mr. Augusto sent me a letter concerning extensive planning sessions the Foundation conducted during 1990 and 1991, and along with the letter he enclosed a statement entitled the "AFB Mission." Here it is:
The mission of AFB is to enable persons who are blind or visually impaired to achieve equality of access and opportunity that will ensure freedom of choice in their lives. AFB accomplishes this mission by taking a national leadership role in the development and implementation of public policy and legislation, informational and educational programs, diversified products and quality services.
To advance this mission, AFB works to: develop and disseminate knowledge, programs, and products that can be used by professionals providing service to persons who are blind or visually impaired, by educational institutions, by legislators, by employers, and by others in a position to widen and improve equal access; to initiate or join with coalitions of other organizations, when appropriate, to accomplish specific goals or objectives; to promote the positive image of persons who are blind or visually impaired in the media and the community, and to provide a diversified and stable funding base for the organization to ensure ongoing support for the strategies and activities required.
The mission statement [the document continues] calls for AFB to move toward a more selective national leadership role in effecting the fundamental changes required to achieve equality of access and opportunity for persons who are blind or visually impaired. It defines AFB's national leadership role as an information broker, an agent of change, a leader, and innovator.
That is what Mr. Augusto sent me as the Foundation's new mission statement, and I can only say that I find it somewhat disappointing. It seems to me that it is too much couched in generalities and does not contain enough that is different from yesterday's largely finished activities. It announces almost no new initiatives, no specifics, and no clear direction for the future. Perhaps the Foundation will go back to the drawing board and further define its role and how it intends to achieve it. I hope that it will, for the blind and the blindness field need the Foundation--not a Foundation looking back to the past but the kind of creative organization of the formative years--vital, resilient, determined, and innovative.
It is a positive sign that the Foundation and the Federation have been working together with increasing closeness during the past decade. Bill Gallagher and I have become warm personal friends, and Carl Augusto shows an interest in continuing to strengthen the ties. He was at last year's convention and indicated a positive desire to speak on this year's program. These things would not have been possible twenty years ago.
In this discussion of shifting balances in the blindness field, why have I spent so much time on the American Foundation for the Blind? The answer is simple. The Foundation has played such a major part in the development of the blindness system in this country during the past seventy years that any meaningful discussion of where we are and where we are going must take it into account and give it significant emphasis.
But there are other forces to be considered. One of them is the AER (the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired). The AER resulted from a merger between the AAIB (American Association of Instructors for the Blind, which later changed its name to the Association for Education of the Visually Handicapped) and the AAWB (the American Association of Workers for the Blind). The AAIB was established in the middle of the last century, and the AAWB came into being in 1905. The merged organization (AER) was meant to encompass most of the professionals in work with the blind in both Canada and the United States. It has a large membership on paper and is potentially the leading force among the agency professionals--but the potential has never been realized, and there seems little likelihood that it will. The problem is that AER has almost no central authority. It is so loosely knit that in many ways it is an organization in name only. Its constituents show no prime loyalty to it and no ability to act in concert on tough questions and meaningful issues. It has many members but little influence, and it is likely to stay that way.
Let me illustrate. In the summer of 1988 at an AER convention in Montreal a number of us decided to try to see if we could pull the blindness field in Canada and the United States together for concerted action. Accordingly, the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort (JOE) was established. Those invited to attend as initial members (it was thought we might later expand the membership) were the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Canadian Council of the Blind, the AER, the American Foundation for the Blind, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the American Council of the Blind, the Blinded Veterans Association, and the National Federation of the Blind. The first JOE meeting was held in March of 1989 at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore and was hosted by the National Federation of the Blind. All who were invited attended except the American Council of the Blind, which thereby emphasized and increased its growing isolation from the main stream of the blindness field.
Although the first JOE meeting spent much of its time smoothing tensions and establishing relationships, it dealt with substantive issues as well. One of these involved Braille literacy. After much discussion we unanimously agreed upon the language of a statement. Present as representatives of AER were its immediate past president, its then current president, and its president elect--presumably the top leaders of the organization. Most of us left that meeting feeling that we had achieved a binding agreement. Yet, the AER board agonized, wanted to water down the statement, and ultimately rejected it.
At the second meeting of the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort, which was held at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Toronto in November of 1990, the need to find a way to increase Braille literacy was further discussed. At the third JOE meeting, held at the American Foundation for the Blind in New York in January of this year, Braille literacy was again considered. Once more, AER was represented by its immediate past president, its current president, and its president elect. After much discussion and refinement of language we unanimously agreed upon the following statement:
Recognizing that ongoing assessment and due process are requirements of the law, the members of the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort endorse the principle that in planning the educational program for a blind or visually impaired child, these guidelines be followed:
- If reading and writing are to be taught and if the parent or parents and the decision makers for the school want the child to be taught Braille, this should be done.
- If reading and writing are to be taught and if the parent or parents and the decision makers for the school want print to be taught, this should be done.
- If the parent or parents and the decision makers for the school cannot agree, then both Braille and print should be taught.
This was the statement we agreed upon, and if it had been any milder, it would have been worthless. Also, remember that it had been discussed over a three-year period at three succeeding meetings and that top AER officials had participated throughout the process. Yet, under date of April 12, 1992, Dr. William Wiener, president of AER, sent a memorandum to the members of the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort entitled "Recent JOE Agreements." Here is what he said:
As you may know, because AER is a membership organization, its Board of Directors requires that major policy decisions of the Association be reviewed by its duly elected representatives. Based on this policy, the officers of the Association that attended the last JOE meeting presented our agreements for confirmation by the Board of Directors. It is the purpose of this memorandum to report the decisions that were made.
In general the Board is supportive of the efforts of the JOE to discuss issues that affect blind people. Because our differences are sometimes great, it should not be viewed as negative when consensus is not reached. It is felt by the Board that honest discussions will result in an increased ability to understand each other and that agreement is not a required outcome.
The Board was appreciative of our efforts to reach consensus on the issue of Braille Literacy. After a lengthy discussion, however, the Board voted not to support our concluding agreement. The Board felt that the wording of the agreement left the statement open to different interpretations. A statement that can be viewed differently by different groups serves no useful purpose. The Board did, however, endorse that AER supports the goal that no child should ever find the implementation of legislation an obstacle to his or her best educational process. The JOE discussions on this issue have been useful as they have inspired the Board of AER to move ahead to define its own position on Braille Bills. As President, I have appointed an Ad Hoc Board Committee chaired by Toni Heinze to develop a statement that clearly defines our beliefs. It will not be "model legislation" but rather important points to be considered in formulating a position on any particular version of the Braille Bills. I believe this will be a useful tool as we move forward to insure that blind children and adults receive the best possible education and rehabilitation.
It is our goal to complete this task by our biennial meeting in Los Angeles. I will be sure to share this information with the Committee on JOE as soon as it has been approved by the AER Board.
There you have the AER memorandum--and there you also have, in AER's own language, the reason why it is not, and cannot be, the leader of the governmental and private agencies in this country or, for that matter, even a strong force in their conduct. The AER totally rejected the actions of its top leaders on what should have been almost a non-controversial issue, and even if the Board had approved, there is no reason to believe that the individual agencies and members of AER would have paid any attention or altered their policies in the slightest. Again I remind you that I am not criticizing. I am only stating facts as I see them and suggesting that those in the blindness field (all of us) must either avoid the world of fantasy and face reality or risk destruction.
Let me next turn to the ACB (the American Council of the Blind). It was formed in 1961 at the end of the NFB's civil war, partly from people who were expelled from our organization and partly from those who quit. It, too, has an identity crisis and a problem of mission. At first its goal seemed simple--hate the National Federation of the Blind and get revenge. But that was over thirty years ago, and a new generation has risen. Hate and negativism are poor materials for long-term building, and thoughts of revenge are mostly the dream of the weak and the solace of the dispossessed. At our conventions you will observe that the American Council of the Blind is rarely thought of or mentioned, but at their meetings the circumstances are different. We are frequently the topic of discussion and the subject of snide allusion.
As to mission, the Council has a growing problem. In the sixties and seventies, when the American Foundation for the Blind and some of the other agencies were in bitter conflict with us, the ACB was used as a buffer. When there was a hotly contested issue, the agencies could trot the Council out and say: "The Federation does not represent the blind. Here is another consumer organization, which agrees with us." In short, the Council served as a company union. But that was before the 1980s when the Federation and an increasing number of the agencies started drawing closer and working in partnership. As the process continues and accelerates today, the Council not only ceases to be an asset to the agencies as a company union but actually becomes an embarrassment and a liability. It does, that is, unless it is willing to change its stance and join with the rest of us in trying to build a new basis for positive partnership in the field. At a minimum this would mean stopping the pretense that it is the largest organization of the blind in the country (a claim which nobody, including its own members, takes seriously anyway) and ceasing the hate campaigns--in short, leaving fantasy and facing reality. The American Council of the Blind can be a real force for constructive action if it will, and we will gladly work with it if it takes that road.
There are, of course, numerous other organizations and agencies in the blindness field, but many of these have not taken a significant role in the politics of it. The Blinded Veterans Association, for instance, falls into this category. Comparatively small and generally respected, it has traditionally limited its activities to matters concerning veterans. The National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the organization of residential schools, the organization of state vision consultants, the National Council of Private Agencies for the Blind, and a number of other such groups have been loosely associated and have generally not attempted to exert much influence outside their particular specialties--and even in those areas of specialty, they have largely been forums for discussion and exchange of information rather than rallying points for broad-based, united action. Obviously all of this can change, and there is a good deal of evidence that in some instances it will. The balances are shifting.
In addition to the groups I have mentioned, there are individual agencies which have a national constituency and scope of operation that potentially give them influence far beyond what they have ever developed or chosen to use. I think of the Hadley School for the Blind, Recording for the Blind, and the American Printing House for the Blind as prime examples. All three of these agencies are reaching out to play broader roles than they have ever attempted before, and their presence is being felt.
The Rehabilitation Services Administration and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress are also factors in the equation. They have broad constituencies and will necessarily play key roles in determining the nature and effectiveness of the blindness system in the years ahead. They will influence and be influenced by the coalitions which are built and the philosophies which are developed. With the leadership that they currently have, it seems clear that they will make positive contributions.
Then, there are the vendors of technology. They, too, are becoming an important part of the mix. Thirty years ago they did not exist, and such technology as we had came almost exclusively from the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Printing House for the Blind. Today the situation is totally different. There are an increasing number of commercial and nonprofit producers and distributors of both high and low tech items, and their influence is growing. Their products affect our lives, and their sales representatives and service personnel mingle with us on a continuing basis. Whether they want to or not (and, for that matter, whether either they or we like it or not), they will necessarily be a significant factor in the discussions and alliances that are shaping the future of the blindness system.
Of course, technology has brought major changes in the lives of the sighted just as it has in the lives of the blind, but there is a significant difference. When the sighted moved from medievalism to the industrial revolution, then to the automobile, the airplane, and later to the electronic age, they had 200 years to do it, and there was time for adjustment and acclimatization-- but not so with us. Our move from medievalism to electronics has happened in less than thirty years, with all of the upheaval such compression brings. Yes, technology is changing our lives--and there are political as well as technological implications.
So the vendors and distributors of technology will play an important part in determining the course of the blindness system, and there are also others who will. Some of the agencies in New York and other parts of the country, for instance, now have financial resources (more than one of them with upwards of fifty million dollars) which far exceed those of the American Foundation for the Blind or the others I have mentioned. Will they choose to become factors in the national mix? They could-- and some of them may. Perkins, for instance, (although possibly a little less wealthy than a few of the rest) is well financed and energetically led. Whether it will choose to raise its profile and whether that will be good or bad will turn entirely on its motives and actions.
Whatever all of this may prove, surely there can be no doubt about at least one thing. The blindness field in this country is in ferment, and the old alignments and power bases are gone, gone forever. New forces are emerging. New balances are being struck. Will this be good or bad, positive or negative? It depends on what choices we make, what wisdom we show, and how responsibly we act.
So far, I have talked about others. Let me now say a few words about us, about the National Federation of the Blind. What does the new reality mean for the Federation? Well, for one thing, it means that we must be careful not to get too big for our pants. We may be (and I think we unquestionably are) the strongest force in the affairs of the blind in this country today--but we are not the only force. There are others, and their views must be taken into account. If we make the mistakes of some of those who were leaders in the blindness field in the past, if we fail to reach out in cooperative good will, our momentum will slow. Our progress will stop. We do not want to boss or lord it over others. We know what that feels like. We have been treated that way too often ourselves to want to do it to anybody else.
But let nobody misunderstand what I am saying. We are just as determined as we always were, never again to be treated like second-class citizens or kept from having a say in our own destiny. We have had a bellyful of that--and we are strong enough to see that it doesn't happen again. We still have teeth, and we know how to use them.
The blindness system in our country today is seriously threatened. Unless it can pull itself together in true partnership (with all, or at least the major participants, working in mutual respect), it may very well perish. Budgets are tightening; the environment is deteriorating; population is rising; and resources are dwindling. In addition, other disability groups (once disorganized and invisible) are finding their voice and reaching for power. They are now a growing force to be reckoned with, and there is no turning back.
As we look ahead, the future is bright with promise. We as an organization are stronger than we have ever been, and we are prepared to work in partnership with any and all who are interested in helping the blind move toward opportunity, equality, and freedom. These are the things we want, and these are the things we intend to have--opportunity, equality, and freedom. A measure of our progress can be seen in the increasing number of governmental and private agencies and members of the public who are joining with us in common cause, but the real indicator of our progress is what is happening within us as blind people. By the thousands and tens of thousands we have gained confidence, determination, and self-respect--and no force on earth can turn us back. This is the meaning of all I have said. This is the message of the shifting balances in the blindness field. Let us join together, and we will make it come true!
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $_____ (or "_____ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: _____") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
[PHOTO: Carl Augusto standing at podium microhpone. CAPTION: Carl R. Augusto, President and Executive Director of the American Foundation for the Blind.]
THE ROLE OF THE AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR THE BLIND IN MEETING NEEDS: TODAY AND TOMORROW
by Carl R. Augusto
In introducing Mr. Augusto, Dr. Jernigan called favorable attention to the fact that shortly after taking over as president and executive director of the American Foundation for the Blind, Mr. Augusto came to observe the 1991 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. During the year since that good-will gesture Mr. Augusto and Dr. Jernigan have spoken often by telephone and have met upon occasion. A working relationship is beginning to develop.
This spring President Maurer extended an invitation to Mr. Augusto to speak at this summer's convention, and in an effort to prepare him for what would be said by the Federation during the panel discussion, Dr. Jernigan made a point of calling to discuss his own speech. There is certainly some hope that even in difficult times channels of communication between the two organizations are now open. Here is the address which Mr. Augusto delivered July 2, 1992:
Coming to a convention of the blind reminds me of the first one I attended. I remember walking through the hotel doors and wondering how it would feel if I were sighted and didn't have much contact with blind people and my boss had told me that as a member of the hotel staff a couple hundred blind people would be coming in that day or the next week for a convention. I think I'd be pretty anxious if I didn't have contact with people who were visually impaired or blind. However, I thought the hotel was very much prepared for blind people. I remember the bellman giving me very specific instructions on the layout of the hotel, giving me some good orientation of the room and the floor my room was on.
When I went to lunch later on that day, the hostess that met me gave me a Braille menu, and I thought that was sort of neat-- not having had very much experience with that. However, the waitress that served me was very, very nervous. She told me that my fish was at twelve o'clock, and my fish turned out to be at six o'clock. She told me my potatoes were at six o'clock, and they turned out to be at twelve o'clock. So what I proceeded to do was pick up the lemon and start squirting it over the potatoes. She came running over, very apologetic, and said, "Gee, I'm terribly sorry. I'm not doing very well. I think I said the wrong thing."
I said, "Don't worry about it. By the end of the week, after you've served hundreds of blind people, you're going to do better." I don't think she took to that very well.
But she said, "I have a confession to make." And she bent down, came very, very close to me, and said, "You're the first one!"
No woman had ever said that to me before, nor did I ever think it would happen in a restaurant.
I'm very pleased to have been invited to address your convention this year. I was with you, as Dr. Jernigan mentioned, several days last year; and I was very impressed with your spirit, with your numbers, with your unity, and with your commitment. And I must say I am equally impressed this year.
I'd like to say a special thank you and a warm hello to members of two of your local affiliates. First of all, your Cincinnati Affiliate. Do we have members of the Cincinnati affiliate here? [Cheers from the Ohio delegation] Northern Kentucky--is your Northern Kentucky affiliate here? [Cheers from Kentucky] Great! I very much enjoyed working with you, knowing you, being with you, during my six years in Cincinnati. And I felt that we had open and productive communications. We didn't always agree, but we did communicate, in my opinion, which is the objective that I have with your national leadership. I believe that we've made a very good start in developing open and productive communications.
Today I'd like to tell you a little bit about the programs and priorities of the American Foundation for the Blind and also my view of the major challenges confronting the field of work with the blind. Since its inception in 1921, AFB has taken a national leadership role in the passage of legislation, in the creation of organizations, and furtherance of our mission.
Our most prominent leader was indeed Helen Keller, who was a counselor, a fund raiser, and an ambassador for AFB from 1924 until her death in 1968. That was then; this is now. And the world has changed so dramatically in those years, and so have the challenges facing blind and visually impaired people in the field of work with the blind. AFB must change to successfully work with others to deal with those challenges.
As we all approach the twenty-first century, my vision of AFB is that of a preeminent resource for information--information to the public, information to workers for the blind, and information for blind people themselves. My vision of AFB is as a change agent through legislation, through consultation, and increasing public awareness of blind people, the nature of blindness, the capabilities of blind people, and the increasing numbers of blind people. And perhaps, most importantly, I'd like to see AFB be a leading force in tackling the most significant issues confronting blind and visually impaired people in the field--and, of course, tackling them in harmony with others. We do need to be more selective at AFB in our activities because of financial and other exigencies.
But we need to bring together the diverse constituencies in work with the blind, and we want to do our part in doing that and also forging partnerships between providers and consumers. I think this is an ambitious vision, and it requires hard work and an on-going commitment to our mission. I'm confident that that foundation for that vision is being built right now at AFB.
Now, to AFB's present programs and some of its priorities. I'd like to start first with our national technology center. At our national technology center we develop, manufacture, sell, and evaluate low- and high-tech products for visually impaired people. In recent years we've developed some new products--some talking products. We have now a talking thermometer, a talking blood glucose analyzer (which is our biggest seller), and a talking blood pressure meter.
We sell over three hundred products--high- and low-tech-- from our consumer products catalogue: medical devices, tools, kitchen aids, clocks, watches, games, and other things. Our catalogue is available in Braille, cassette, and print by calling our hotline, 1(800)232-5463--which spells out AFBlind--but I can never remember how to translate those letters into numbers, so I remember the numbers.
We periodically conduct evaluations of similar high-tech products. We've currently completed an evaluation of note-taking devices. We've recently completed evaluations of Braille printers and Braille displays. You can obtain those evaluations (it's sort of like the Consumer Reports evaluation) by calling area code (212)620-2080.
We have a low-interest loan fund, which enables visually impaired people to purchase Kurzweil products, including the Kurzweil Personal Reader, at a discount through a low-interest loan fund; and we plan to extend that loan fund to include other types of high-tech equipment and also other manufacturers. We're excited about that prospect.
We have a careers and technological information bank, which is a database containing the names of more than thirteen hundred visually impaired people on the job, using technology, high-tech or low-tech. If you're interested in getting information or putting your name on the list for those who would like to share information about what you're doing in your job and what kind of technology you are using, you can also call that number-- (212)620-2080.
AFB inaugurated the talking book program in the thirties, and today we still produce talking books for the Library of Congress. Annually we hold a special event called the Scourby Narrator of the Year Awards in New York in honor of perhaps our most famous, and certainly most prolific, Talking Book narrator, Alexander Scourby. This is the sixth year we've held this award, and this year our winners are Barbara Caruso, for excellence in reading children's books (you might know Barbara or have heard her voice); Gordon Gould, for excellence in nonfiction; and Jill Ferris for excellence in fiction.
If you'd like any other kinds of information and you'd like to contact our hotline, I'll give you that number again, 1(800)232-5463. Our governmental relations department is AFB's linkage within the legislative and executive branches of our federal government. We also house the largest circulating library of its kind in the U.S. on the subject of blindness and perhaps in the world, and we're the primary publishing house for textbooks and materials used by professionals in the field of work with the blind, although we've expanded in recent years to include parents and consumers.
And of course, we still conduct social research and sponsor workshops and seminars. Through our headquarters office in New York and five regional offices, we provide the public, blind people, and professionals with information and referral services, consulting services, innovative programs, and materials to enhance services to blind and visually impaired people.
Now, I'd like to turn to talk about my view of the major challenges confronting blind and visually impaired people in the field of work with the blind today. I'm going to prioritize them, and I'll count them down from number five to number one, just like Casey Cason does on Sunday mornings. I'll pick up from his lead.
Major challenge number five: unemployment and underemployment. Studies have shown over and over again that only three out of ten blind people of working age are employed, and I think we know personally that many of them who are employed are underemployed. Why? Well, of course, I think all of us recognize that the rehabilitation system in our country needs to be revamped; and AFB, NFB, and others are active on the Hill expressing our views and advocating our views on how to improve and revise the Rehabilitation Act, which is presently underway. Another reason is, although employer attitudes have improved, they still can be pretty bad.
The employment provisions of the ADA fortunately go into effect later on this month. We've been waiting for two years; the law was passed; now they go into effect. We were a leading force in advocating for the passage of ADA, and we have started a consulting group to work with employers and businesses to help them comply with the law. Another reason why there's so much unemployment and underemployment relates to the work disincentives built into the Social Security Act.
Now there are many SSDI recipients--I know many myself--who find it more profitable to stay at home than to work because the difference in the income between getting a job and getting Social Security for many of them is minimal and, of course, they'd lose their Medicare benefits. We have supported a bill to eliminate the earnings limitations for blind and visually impaired people. And we understand this is a concept that you can support, too. I know both organizations are ready to support that bill, have been supporting it and similar bills, and I hope that we can work together in a very forceful way in the next year to get that job done once and for all.
Technology is also opening many doors of opportunity for blind people, but unfortunately I think you're in the minority. Too many visually impaired people don't know much about technology. (I think you probably know more than most.) Too few educators and rehabilitation professionals know about the value of technology. We need to make sure that they learn more about this technology--where to get the training; to establish training programs where they don't exist; and, perhaps most importantly, to find the financial resources that will enable all of us as blind people to purchase some of this equipment.
I'd like to commend you, the National Federation of the Blind, for bringing together the major players in the U.S. and Canada for your conference on Technology for the Blind last September. That was truly an outstanding conference, an outstanding start, and we look forward to working with you toward the next conference and toward our common objectives in that area. So major challenge number five: unemployment and underemployment.
Major challenge number four: increasing numbers of people who are blind and visually impaired. The number of visually impaired people who are sixty-five years of age and older has doubled in the last thirty years, from 1.2 million to 2.5 million in the year 1990. We estimate that that number 2.5 million will double in the next thirty years; and because of the baby boom generation reaching maturity, we will reach a high of 5.8 million people in the year 2030. Now if you look at the number 1.2 million in 1960 and then think about 5.8 million in the year 2030, you see that's an increase of almost five times the number of people who are sixty-five years or older and are severely visually impaired.
At the other end of the age spectrum, low-birth-weight babies are surviving at much higher rates than they did in the past, due to advancement in technology, but they're surviving with many more impairments, and blindness is one of the most frequently occurring impairments. How will our educational system, how will our rehabilitation system deal with so many multi-handicapped children and young adults in the future? How will our independent living system deal with the influx of so many more older visually impaired people in the future?
AFB plans to do its part to be as responsive as it can to those systems, to help those systems deal with this increasing population.
Since we're talking about numbers, the number of deaf/blind people is increasing, and we're in the midst of a four-year project to develop in-service training materials, especially in the areas of communications and mobility for teachers of the deaf/blind. We have an ongoing commitment to the deaf/blind because of Helen Keller's legacy.
Now, with the increasing number of blind people, there's going to become an increasing need for Braille. Through our national Braille literacy program, we want to demonstrate our strong support for the use of Braille for those students who cannot effectively read print, and we are coming closer to the National Federation of the Blind in our positions in support of Braille bills throughout the country. Number four major challenge: increasing numbers of people with visual impairment.
Major challenge number three: threats to the integrity and independence of specialized agencies and schools for the blind. State vocational rehabilitation agencies for the blind, separate agencies for the blind, and state schools for the blind are constantly under pressure to either merge or to extinguish. Let's face it--state officials are simply looking for solutions to their budget crises, and they're saying things like "Why not close schools for the blind? We could just send them off to schools for the deaf. That's a very similar disability, right? But anyway, all blind kids should be mainstreamed in the public schools."
They also say, "Why should there be a separate agency for the blind? There aren't any separate agencies for people with other disabilities." We must fight--fight harder and fight more to retain specialized agencies and schools for the blind, especially since we haven't been able to come up with the kind of objective evidence that we need to come up with or that would be helpful to us to prove that specialized is better.
AFB has formed a special task force to study these issues and also to look into the possibility of research to write about it, and, most importantly, to advocate for specialized agencies and schools for the blind and to help all organizations of and for the blind be more effective in their advocacy efforts. So number three major challenge--threats to the integrity and the independence of separate agencies and schools for the blind.
Major Challenge number two: insufficient financial and personnel resources. Our field of work with the blind has enough difficulty serving the present numbers of people. How in the world are we going to serve so many more, so many more elderly people and younger people in the years ahead? We must compete more effectively for the private dollar, and we must advocate more strenuously for governmental support.
Whether we like to believe it or not, blindness no longer attracts the attention and the dollars it once did. AIDS, homelessness, drug abuse: they're grabbing the headlines and also grabbing the funding. We must give high priority to educating the public about blindness, the nature of blindness, the fact that the number of blind people is increasing, the capabilities of blind people, and the fact that services do work when they're provided effectively. They do work for blind and visually impaired people.
NFB probably has done more than any other organization in the blindness field to produce public service announcements and to educate the public about the capabilities of blind people, and I applaud what you have done for many, many years. All of us must be doing more. We must be able to develop the resources to increase public awareness about the capabilities of blind people, and I believe it can be done. Whether or not we secure sufficient funding to serve all those many more people in the future, we must continue to look to new ways of serving visually impaired and blind people.
The individualized service model that many people have held so dearly, developed by fully qualified personnel, may just no longer be possible. It may be a luxury. It may be a casualty of twenty-first century realities. The blindness field simply needs to understand that there is a role for peers and there is a role for professionals in the services to blind and visually impaired people. Number two major challenge--inadequate financial and personnel resources.
Well, what do we have left? What's, in my view, the number one major challenge confronting us today? That is disunity among many organizations of and for the blind. How many times over how many years have we heard people say, "If we could only work better together, we could accomplish so much more"? And certainly I'm not saying that we have to agree on every issue. We won't. But I believe we've too often missed opportunities to combine our forces because we've disagreed on minor aspects of issues, and we've disagreed on other issues.
We can't simply continue to pass up opportunities to work together. In my opinion, due in large part to Kenneth Jernigan and to my predecessor Bill Gallagher, the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort was formed to bring together the field toward collective action. I must admit that initially I was skeptical, but I have watched. I've seen the progress. I've experienced myself, and now I'm very committed to doing my part in this effort.
Coming together has been a beginning. Continuing to communicate together is progress. But working it out will be success. And why do I say that the major challenge relates to disunity and working together? Because I'm absolutely convinced that if we do work closer together, those other four major challenges will simply disappear because professionals and consumers will work together arm in arm toward common goals, many of which we believe in already, but for some reason we haven't been able to work together as well as we should toward achieving.
Well, that's my view of the five major challenges: unemployment and underemployment, rapidly increasing numbers of blind and visually impaired people, threats to the independence of specialized schools for the blind, inadequate funding and personnel resources, and disunity. Unfortunately, many of these major challenges have been around for some time, and I think they seem to many to be insurmountable; and, of course, there are many, many more challenges. Some question whether we have the will or the ability to work together to successfully deal with these challenges.
Some may call me a dreamer when I say that we can. And I must admit that I am a dreamer because I'm dreaming of the day when all people who are blind and visually impaired achieve their maximum potential as fulfilled and contributing members of society in the mainstream of community life. I'm looking forward to doing my part with you toward achieving that objective. Thanks for inviting me to this year's convention. I'll be coming back.
Following Mr. Augusto's remarks, Dr. Jernigan took the opportunity to call attention to the fact that (as far back as the '40's) the National Federation of the Blind was the only organization to argue strenuously against earnings limitations in Social Security programs. Such limits discourage the blind from taking jobs for fear that they will lose their Social Security benefits and then be unable to support themselves and their families.
He expressed pleasure that the American Foundation for the Blind is now working vigorously toward the same end. The most important objective is to get the job done once and for all. But the impression left by Mr. Augusto's speech might be that the NFB is the Johnnie-come-lately, and history will show that this is simply not the case.
Shortly after the convention Mr. Augusto wrote Dr. Jernigan the following letter to set the record straight:
New York, New York
July 20, 1992
Dear Ken: During my presentation to the NFB Convention in Charlotte, I urged NFB to join with AFB in the passage of the Campbell Bill, which would eliminate limitations as a criteria for eligibility for SSDI for blind people. I do want you to know that I recognize NFB's longstanding support of this position and the fact that you have taken a leadership role in advocating this position for many years.
I do hope that we can work closely together on passage of such legislation, so that blind Americans can be encouraged, rather than discouraged, to earn a living.
Sincerely, Carl R. Augusto President & Executive Director American Foundation for the Blind
[PHOTO: Ritchie Geisel standing at podium microphone. CAPTION: Ritchie Geisel, President of Recording for the Blind.]
RFB UPDATE: E-TEXT AND OTHER NEW SERVICES
by Ritchie Geisel
The concluding presentation in the July 2 panel discussion of the present and future in the field of work with the blind was made by Mr. Ritchie Geisel, President of Recording for the Blind. Here is what he had to say:
I did appreciate the opportunity a year ago in New Orleans to be on the program, and I'm very pleased to be invited back. I'm especially glad to be back on the East Coast. I spent last weekend in Palm Springs, California, just about twenty miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, so it's nice to be back on safe ground.
I also want to thank President Maurer for serving on RFB's Scholastic Awards Achievement Selection Committee earlier this spring. We were honored by Dr. Jernigan's participation a year ago and Mr. Maurer's this year, and I know that several of the nine winners selected this year are members of the NFB and are here at the convention, and I want to congratulate them again as well as all of the NFB scholarship winners--all of whom, I hope, are RFB borrowers.
I was reminded yesterday by Lamar Alexander's comments about a GI Bill for kids that RFB's founding dates back to the original GI Bill, when veterans were returning from World War II with the opportunity for a free college education, but those who had been blinded in the war didn't really have that chance. That's what inspired Ann McDonald to begin RFB. We've grown over the years to the point now where we have five thousand volunteers, who annually record approximately three thousand new books, and in the year just ended RFB served a record thirty thousand people with one hundred eighty thousand books on tape and several thousand more on computer disc. You'll hear a little bit more about that in a moment.
In the past two years our service growth has been twenty- five per cent. If that was all we were doing, we'd be plenty busy, but in the rapidly changing environment in which we find ourselves, that would not be nearly enough. So I'd like to spend the next few minutes mentioning some of the ways RFB is responding to the new environment, particularly as it relates to all of you.
First of all, the changing environment, as it affects RFB's work, is changing in three ways. First, the ADA, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and other legislation have served to raise both consciousness and expectations and may result in increased opportunities for people with print disabilities to pursue a greater variety of academic studies and careers.
Second, as has already been mentioned, are the promising new technologies, with what we call the personalized or adapted computer being perhaps the most significant development in making information accessible.
And finally, as Carl Augusto just mentioned, we're all facing increasing financial pressures. Reductions in government funding in the last twelve years, coupled with a dramatic increase in the number of nonprofits competing for those fewer dollars, have made it difficult for all of us.
How has RFB responded to this challenging environment? We have been an organization in transition for the past three years. I spoke last year about the new RFB with its increasing emphasis on customer satisfaction, listening to you, our consumers, and actively working with other organizations in advocating for access to the printed word. Now we are expanding RFB's mission. We're beginning to move beyond making education accessible, to helping to make full employment accessible--not only to RFB's graduates, many of you, but to others who experience vision loss in mid-career.
What are some of the new products and services we are offering? I have to begin with E-TEXT, what we call electronic text. A year ago we announced the merger of Computerized Books for the Blind with RFB. We've been very pleased with the progress we've made since that time in developing this important supplement to our basic audio recording service.
We have another announcement this year, which I am delighted to make: RFB and a little company known as IBM have just signed a joint-development agreement. The agreement will provide us with the ability to deliver our E-TEXT books in a format that's far more powerful and versatile than the current flat ASCII file. Book Manager is a state-of-the-art reading software that will be publicly available by early 1993 through RFB at a price significantly below IBM's retail price.
So this year's E-TEXT priorities for us will include getting Book Manager to the public and beginning to expand our E-TEXT library, beyond computer science and reference books, to include more K to twelve and college textbooks with the descriptions added and professional materials, including three journals we hope to begin offering this year.
I have been asked whether RFB and the American Printing House for the Blind are working together in developing computerized text. Let me say first that we're very excited about E-TEXT, and we'd be happy to work cooperatively with any other organization in developing this new technology. In fact, RFB and APH are cooperating in formatting the file structures so we'll all end up using a standard file format regardless of which software is being used.
We're also continuing to work with APH on publisher relations and in obtaining blanket-permission agreements in order to make more source files available. RFB's intent is to serve our consumers in the best way we can with the best product we can, and we think that with E-TEXT we're doing just that. Keep in mind that with E-TEXT you choose your own output--synthetic speech, enlarged print, or Braille. E-TEXT can also be used to expedite Braille production. Enough about E-TEXT.
A second new product is the fact that we are now offering our catalog in a couple of accessible forms. A year ago we started a quarterly recorded catalog, and as of yesterday we now offer a quarterly disc catalog. It will list all of the E-TEXT titles and all of the audio titles that have been added to RFB's library during the previous three months. Anyone is eligible to subscribe to any of these catalogs. We now have eighty thousand titles in our library, and I think there are a lot of interesting books for everyone. Please keep in mind that we don't just do textbooks for students. You are all invited to be RFB borrowers.
A third product is that we're now offering a portable cassette player. A lot of people had asked why we didn't sell one, so now we are. We're offering the Talkman IV, which I think many of you are familiar with. If the response is positive, we'll look into offering one or two other models later this year. And I'm delighted to have such a fine working relationship with Mohymen Saddeek of Technology for Independence, which produces the Talkman line.
Finally, RFB has begun what we call custom services. Again, this is in response to requests primarily by governmental agencies, corporations, and other organizations, seeking assistance in complying with legislation requiring print materials to be made available in accessible form. So, for example, we are recording materials such as ADA documents, under contract to the Department of Justice.
Dealing with financial pressures is something we're all facing. RFB's effort includes the first-ever major fund-raising campaign we've undertaken, which is now on target after three years with two years to go. Custom services, which I just mentioned, is a way for us (through third-party payers) to generate revenues to fund the growth in our audio service, which we remain committed to maintaining as a free lending library service.
In all of these activities, RFB is increasingly seeking opportunities to work cooperatively with other organizations to the ultimate benefit of the people we serve. I've mentioned our relationship with APH, with IBM, the American Association of Publishers. We're also working with NLS, APH, and the National Library of Congress on a cooperative data exchange. The result will be that RFB's catalog, which is already available on-line through NLS's union catalog, will also become available within the next year through the new APH CARL Database system, as will all materials produced by the National Library of Canada.
Separately, RFB's database--that is our catalog--will also become accessible through Internet, which is a telecommunications network, linking our catalog with colleges and universities. This will permit both search and ordering capability. We're very excited about this.
Finally, I want to mention RFB's interest in Braille legislation, and especially our involvement in the implementation of the Texas Braille Bill. This is happening through George Kirscher's participation on the implementation commission.
Let me say right up front that RFB supports efforts to promote Braille literacy. That's not the issue. For us, our goal is to strengthen future Braille bills in the following ways: We believe laws should be written for all print-disabled students, including those who are dyslexic or physically disabled. We also believe that large print, audio, and direct access through adapted computers such as E-TEXT should be mentioned along with Braille as accessible reading systems encouraged by this type of legislation.
Third, we believe that the files provided by the publishers should be in the American Association of Publishers established standard file format, that is, what they call the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). There simply must be a single standard, and one of George Kirscher's main efforts as part of the Commission in Texas and as chairman of a new international commission working on standards is to establish a single standard.
Finally, once publisher source files have been converted for Braille, large print, or direct access using an adaptive computer, they should be made available to any state. This is where RFB and APH in particular can serve as useful facilitators by working closely with the publishers.
This year marks the end of the United Nations Decade for Disabled Persons. Although significant progress has been made during the last ten years, providing for greater participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of social and economic life, there is still a long way to go. The passage of the ADA, the development of promising new technologies such as E-TEXT, and our own recent dramatic growth in service all suggest that this is indeed an exciting time for RFB and for the people we serve.
We believe that RFB is uniquely positioned to help level the playing field for our consumers by making the printed word accessible. My own vision for RFB is for us to assume a leadership role in working with the disability community, the publishing industry, public educational agencies, the NFB, and others toward a goal of, not just easier access, but equal access. I promise each of you that RFB remains deeply committed to meeting your needs for education and professional resources in accessible form. I hope you will not hesitate to let me know how we could do a better job of serving you. Again, thank you for inviting me back, and I'll look forward to seeing you next year in Dallas.
In comments following Mr. Geisel's address, Dr. Jernigan warned generally against the danger of weighing down state Braille bills with additional language broadening them to include large print, audio, and direct access materials. Doing so is a prescription for failure of the Braille bills. He promised that if the Braille bills are kept clean of complicating amendments so that they can be passed on their own merit, the Federation will join with those interested in the additional protections to fight for them as extensions of the Braille access already achieved. Mr. Geisel said that he had no intention of torpedoing Braille bills, but that where the legislative language was already broadened, as in the Texas bill, everyone requiring alternatives to print could benefit from the access solutions mandated by Braille bills.
At the close of the session Mr. Geisel took one last moment to say that Recording for the Blind had not always been as responsive to its customers' needs and preferences as it should have been. This is now changing. RFB is now dedicated to serving consumers responsively. The morning session ended with audience as well as presenters grateful for having had the opportunity to listen and speak to one another with honesty and openness.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: It requires a large table to seat the fifty-two members of the NFB Resolutions Committee.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Left to right, Ramona Walhof, Chairman of the Resolutions Committee; Sheryl Pickering, secretary to the Committee; and Dr. Jernigan are seated together at the opening of the 1992 meeting of the NFB Resolutions Committee.]
RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY THE ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND JULY, 1992
by Ramona Walhof
Resolutions adopted by the National Federation of the Blind are written policy statements of the organization. Each resolution is presented to the convention for discussion and a vote. Prior to coming before the convention, resolutions are ordinarily presented to the Resolutions Committee for discussion and a recommendation. The committee may not block a resolution from coming to the floor; it can only recommend "pass" or "not pass." The committee may recommend changes and revisions, but these must be acceptable to the presenter if they are to be incorporated in the text of the document. Any NFB member may present a resolution to the Resolutions Committee and, through it, to the NFB convention. If the presenter chooses to withdraw a resolution based on committee discussion or for some other reason, this is also possible.
At the 1992 convention the Resolutions Committee consisted of fifty-two Federationists, who considered thirty resolutions. Twenty-five were brought to the floor of the convention. All of them passed and are printed below. Five resolutions were withdrawn by their authors.
Resolution 92-01 opposes the establishment of the Study Commission on Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Background: At the time of the convention a proposal to establish such a commission had been made in the Committee on Education and Labor in the House of Representatives. Members worked throughout the convention to help Congress understand the problems which this commission would cause.
Resolution 92-02 supports statutory linkage between the earnings exemptions for blind people and for retirees under Social Security.
Background: For some years benefits for blind people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance have been paid according to the same formula as the one used for computing benefits for retirees who are sixty-five or older. The NFB has worked to maintain these similar benefits.
Resolution 92-03 calls upon Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to terminate his Department's inclusion of the National Accreditation Council on the Department of Education's list of approved accrediting bodies.
Resolution 92-04 commends Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana for sponsoring legislation to strengthen the right of choice for individuals receiving Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and it encourages other Congressmen and Senators to join with Mr. Jefferson in this effort.
Resolution 92-05 calls upon employers and software developers to help make Graphical User Interfaces (GUI's) accessible to the blind.
Resolution 92-06 is an updated statement of NFB policy regarding audible traffic signals.
Background: Audible traffic signals have been installed in some cities, purportedly to assist blind individuals at street crossings. The National Federation of the Blind is on record opposing audible traffic signals. For the most part this position has not changed. However, it is important, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, that representatives of the National Federation of the Blind be consulted by city and county governments considering the installation of audible traffic signals. Further, newly developed audible traffic signals which can be activated by pedestrians and used only when they choose to do so may require study and testing.
Resolution 92-07 opposes research on detectable warnings for the blind in architecture, on sidewalks, etc.
Background: The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board adopted regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring installation of truncated domed tiles as a warning to the blind of the proximity of certain allegedly dangerous areas. For example, a strip could be used between a sidewalk and a parking lot if there is no curb. The blind have argued that bumpy tiles are more dangerous than helpful and tend to lead others to the false conclusion that the blind are incapable of gathering information when, in fact, they are.
Resolution 92-08 calls upon rehabilitation agencies to provide instruction for blind clients in the use of city buses and trains even if special Dial-A-Ride services for the handicapped are available.
Resolution 92-09 calls upon officials in the Department of Justice to support the arbitration process provided for by the Randolph-Sheppard Act.
Resolution 92-10 seeks to avoid competition between Randolph-Sheppard vending facilities and the Committee for Purchase from the Blind and Other Severely Handicapped.
Resolution 92-11 opposes North Carolina legislation regarding vending facilities.
Background: A piece of legislation was introduced in the North Carolina Legislature which seriously damages opportunities for vendors in that state. At the time of the convention in Charlotte, this bill was being debated.
Resolution 92-12 calls upon the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to offer all its tests for blind proofreaders in Braille.
Resolution 92-13 calls upon the Small Business Administration to award contracts to the disabled and to define disability as a presumed social and economic disadvantage.
Resolution 92-14 joins the voice of the Federation with that of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in requesting that federal agencies eliminate special awards for the disabled.
Background: Many federal agencies have long had the practice of presenting disabled employees with awards which are different from--and often in addition to--awards presented to their other employees. If these awards were ever desirable, there seems to be general agreement among the disabled that that time has passed.
Resolution 92-15 calls upon the Social Security Administration to develop improved reporting procedures for disabled persons who are working.
Resolution 92-16 calls upon the Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights to treat blind applicants for Child Care Certification in the same way as it treats sighted applicants.
Resolution 92-17 declares that parents should have primary decision-making responsibility about whether a blind child should attend a residential school or a public school and calls upon school officials to furnish parents with relevant information.
Resolution 92-18 takes the position that guide dog schools do not have the right to stipulate the kinds of employment in which their graduates may engage.
Background: The National Federation of the Blind has worked hard to reduce the number of blind persons who engage in begging. The image of the blind beggar is one of the most destructive stereotypes which puts us down and keeps us out. We have worked to improve training and job opportunities and to broaden public understanding of blindness. We have also fought to increase welfare and Social Security benefits for the blind. Further, the NFB has gone on record repeatedly as believing that demeaning activities (such as begging) carried on by some blind individuals reflect poorly on all members of the blind community.
Nevertheless, the convention took the position that no guide dog school should have the power to deny any blind person appropriate training and a dog on the basis of the individual's occupation. Resolutions 92-19 and 92-20 were withdrawn by their authors.
Resolution 92-21 calls upon all guide dog schools to transfer ownership of dogs to the blind people who use them.
Resolutions 92-22 and 92-23 were withdrawn by their authors.
Resolution 92-24 calls upon those exploring the installation of audible traffic signals to consider the problems these signals may cause for deaf-blind people and to consult them when considering such installations.
Resolution 92-25 requests exploration of the purchase and circulation in this country of Braille books produced in Great Britain.
Resolution 92-26 calls upon the Association for Handicapped Students Services Programs in Postsecondary Education to consult with the NFB to develop a policy on blindness that does not lump blind students with all other disabled students.
Resolution 92-27 demands that the Educational Testing Service comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Resolution 92-28 calls upon the General Services Administration to amend its rules so as to exempt blind federal employees from mandatory special requirements regarding building evacuations.
Resolution 92-29 calls upon the Internal Revenue Service to do local hiring and training of blind people.
Resolution 92-30 was withdrawn by its author.
The following are the complete texts of the resolutions adopted by the 1992 convention of the National Federation of the Blind:
WHEREAS, Congress is considering legislation to amend and extend the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and
WHEREAS, provisions in a bill before the Committee on Education and Labor of the United States House of Representatives call for the establishment of a "Commission on Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired"; and
WHEREAS, the stated purpose for this commission is to con- duct an eighteen-month study of programs and needs in areas such as the adequacy of mobility instruction and the need for improved instructor training programs, Braille literacy, specialized ver- sus generic services, the Randolph-Sheppard program, physical accessibility, advancements in technology, specialized services for children and youth, assistance to older blind individuals, and more; and
WHEREAS, the proposition that a special commission should be appointed to examine the needs of the blind and then interpret them to the President and the Congress has the air of paternalism in that the commission if created would lead policymakers to the false belief that individuals employed to serve the blind or appointed to study the blind are the legitimate representatives of the blind; and
WHEREAS, since 1940, with the formation of the National Federation of the Blind, blind people in the United States have had a vehicle for self-expression and a means of explaining our needs to local, state, and federal policy-makers; and
WHEREAS, the desire to have a special commission on blind- ness, which is principally supported by the trade association of blind service agency employees, is, in fact, a reaction to the effectiveness of the consumer movement; and
WHEREAS, members of Congress and officials of the Bush Ad- ministration should adopt a consumer-empowerment stance by re- jecting the commission on blindness as a ploy by blind service workers to speak for the blind through the auspices of a specially-appointed body whose members will not be accountable to anyone, including the blind, the President, or the Congress: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization strongly oppose legislation to establish a "Commission on Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired" because the structure and purposes of such a commission have been designed to quash methods of effective advocacy by blind consumers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that all members of Congress and responsible officials of the Bush Administration are urged to stand up for an independent voice for blind consumers by calling for, and if necessary by voting for, removal of the commission on blindness provisions from the Rehabilitation Act reauthorization bill.
WHEREAS, on June 11, 1992, the Committee on Finance of the United States Senate approved legislation to amend the Social Security Act, including provisions to raise the ceiling on earnings exempt from benefit-offset requirements for retired persons who have attained age sixty-five; and
WHEREAS, the House of Representatives has already approved similar legislation to raise the age-sixty-five earnings ceiling in staged increases beyond the normal annual adjustments currently required; and
WHEREAS, these plans to increase the basic exempt earnings amount under Social Security would retain an earnings ceiling but would more than double the amount of $10,200 annually (or $850 monthly) presently permitted without penalty; and
WHEREAS, earnings of blind individuals evaluated under Social Security to measure "substantial gainful activity" in the disability insurance program are linked by statute to the basic exempt amount for retirees age sixty-five to sixty-nine; and
WHEREAS, this statutory linkage between the exempt earnings amounts for retirees, on the one hand, and blind beneficiaries, on the other, would be broken by the legislation now being considered; and
WHEREAS, there is no rational basis for breaking the relationship between these earnings exemptions, since both blindness, as a disability, and age sixty-five, as retirement age, are clearly defined conditions, neither of which is measured by earnings; and
WHEREAS, from 1978 through 1982, when substantial increases were made in the earnings exemption for retirees, precisely the same increases were allowed for blind people by law; and
WHEREAS, raising the earnings ceiling for blind people, just as for seniors, is supported by evidence of the need for work incentives among people who qualify for Social Security benefits: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization call upon all members of Congress to endorse the policy of maintaining the statutory linkage between the earnings exemptions for blind people and for retirees under Social Security.
WHEREAS, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) is seeking continued recognition by the United States Secretary of Education; and
WHEREAS, the Secretary of Education has official criteria that are used to evaluate all accrediting agencies applying for recognition; and
WHEREAS, the criteria for recognition include having sufficient personnel and financial resources to conduct ongoing accreditation activities, including regular reviews of accredited agencies at stated intervals; and
WHEREAS, another criterion is widespread recognition and acceptance of the accreditation agency in the field in which it operates; and
WHEREAS, still another criterion states that the recognized accrediting agency must operate in a field where accreditation is necessary for postsecondary programs or students to be eligible for federal assistance; and
WHEREAS, a substantial body of evidence submitted to the Secretary of Education shows that NAC fails to meet these criteria in that (1) federal funding for any program or student of an agency serving the blind at the postsecondary level does not depend upon accreditation by NAC or by any other agency; (2) NAC is not generally accepted by agencies and blind people; and (3) NAC consistently postpones the announced re-evaluation of its member agencies and in many instances automatically extends the accreditation of agencies well beyond their five-year term; and
WHEREAS, the ultimate purpose for the Secretary to place an accreditation agency on the recognized list is that the accreditation agency is a reliable authority on the quality of the postsecondary programs in its field, something which NAC certainly is not; and
WHEREAS, the extensive documentation of NAC'S failure to meet the Secretary of Education's criteria presents a solid basis for the Secretary to use in withdrawing the recognition at this time: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this Federation urge Lamar Alexander, Secretary of Education, to remove NAC from the list of recognized accrediting agencies; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we invite Secretary Alexander to join with the blind in finding that, in twenty-five years of trying to establish its legitimacy as an accreditation agency, NAC has failed.
WHEREAS, "empowerment" is becoming a guiding theme in designing programs and services for people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, placing fundamental decisions squarely in the hands of eligible individuals, rather than solely in the hands of their counselors, is essential for empowerment to be more than an empty promise; and
WHEREAS, choosing the provider of each vocational rehabilitation service is a fundamental decision to be made in the vocational rehabilitation program, just as the choice of an institution of higher education is one of the most crucial career planning decisions for any student, disabled or not; and
WHEREAS, current practices in vocational rehabilitation favor counselor decisions over client decisions, especially in the selection of agencies to provide rehabilitation services; and
WHEREAS, Congressman William Jefferson has introduced legislation (H.R. 4259), which says that the client, not the counselor, will have the final say in the actual selection of each service-providing agency to be used in the client's vocational rehabilitation program; and
WHEREAS, Congress is presently considering amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and, therefore, this would be an appropriate time to add Mr. Jefferson's amendment (or language with a similar purpose) to the law: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization express official commendation to Congressman William Jefferson for standing tall in favor of true empowerment for blind consumers of vocational rehabilitation services; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge all members of Congress to join with Mr. Jefferson in calling for the enactment of legislation to strengthen the right of individual choice in the design of services and in the selection of agencies used in the vocational rehabilitation program.
WHEREAS, Windows and other computer programs incorporating the Graphical User Interface (GUI) are being used by public and private employers; and
WHEREAS, these programs cannot be accessed by blind people using current screen access products: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that we call upon public and private employers to provide equal access for the blind to all computer programs using the Graphical User Interface with the understanding that equal access may vary for different programs and applications; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we request all commercial software developers to work with the organized blind and with developers of screen-access technology to insure that all Graphical User Interface applications are accessible to the blind.
WHEREAS, one of the unfortunate negative effects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been a renewed interest in the installation of audible traffic signals for use by blind pedestrians; and
WHEREAS, the intent of the ADA is not the wholesale redesign and reconstruction of the environment to satisfy every whim and wish of disabled persons, but only to require the essential accommodations which would permit them to live and work on terms of equality; and
WHEREAS, the ADA also grants disabled persons the right to refuse to accept specific accommodations; and
WHEREAS, long experience has repeatedly demonstrated that, with proper mobility training, blind persons can competently and safely negotiate a wide variety of traffic conditions--rendering the installation of audible traffic signals an unnecessary expense; and
WHEREAS, it is particularly damaging to blind persons for audible traffic signals to be installed at intersections located near facilities serving the blind such as schools, rehabilitation centers, and workshops; and
WHEREAS, in rare instances there may exist an intersection with complicated traffic sequencing and road patterns at which an audible traffic signal might be helpful to some blind persons; and
WHEREAS, the only appropriate audible traffic signals are those which are strictly pedestrian-activated and which do not interfere with the sounds of traffic; and
WHEREAS, in comprehensive traffic design as well as work on individual intersections, ADA mandates that public officials seek and include participation of blind consumers in decision-making: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization reaffirm its long-standing policy against wholesale and routine installation of audible traffic signals; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that, where audible traffic signals are being considered, public officials comply with the mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act by including representatives of the National Federation of the Blind in their decisionmaking.
WHEREAS, the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board is considering priorities for research activities to be undertaken during fiscal year 1993; and
WHEREAS, some of the priorities suggested by the Board in an official notice have merit, such as methods for making automatic teller machines accessible to blind people; and
WHEREAS, detectable warnings are also listed as a research priority, even though the overwhelming sentiment among blind people is that the truncated domes used for such warnings may be hazardous to all pedestrians and can interfere with the ability of blind people to travel effectively; and
WHEREAS, the Board's considerations and research activities have focused exclusively on the technical aspects of detectable warnings, including their color, shape, size, and placement, ignoring the often-expressed objections of the blind; and
WHEREAS, continuing to research the technical aspects of detectable warnings begs the real question, which the Board itself must settle--that is, should detectable warnings of any color, size, or shape be permitted or required at all; and
WHEREAS, the experience of thousands of blind people in traveling each day testifies to their ability to travel safely without truncated domes and argues further that placement of these warnings without a documented need discriminates against blind people by fostering false notions that the blind must have modified environments: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this Federation strongly oppose all further research on the color, size, shape, and placement of detectable warnings, since such research itself leads to the false conclusion that such warnings serve a legitimate purpose, which they do not.
WHEREAS, for years, the National Federation of the Blind has proven that most blind persons can master the skills of indepen- dent travel, including the use of fixed-route transportation; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind operates orientation and adjustment centers in which cane travel programs emphasize the use of fixed-route transportation (buses, trains, etc.), thus requiring students to use these forms of public transportation; and
WHEREAS, despite such programs that foster greater independence among the blind, some vocational rehabilitation agencies emphasize the use of paratransit as a primary means of transportation for blind people, believing that traveling by paratransit is a safer alternative for blind clients and that they cannot master the skills needed to travel on fixed-route transportation; and
WHEREAS, the decision to use paratransit or fixed-route transportation can be made objectively by a blind person only if he or she receives adequate training in the use of all forms of public transportation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization demand that all state vocational rehabilitation agencies instruct blind clients in the use of fixed-route transportation and promote this mode of travel as the primary means of transportation for blind clients.
WHEREAS, the concept and use of binding arbitration as a mechanism to resolve disputes arising in the administration and operation of the Randolph-Sheppard program is sound and fair for blind vendors, state licensing agencies, and federal property- managing agencies; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind was the principal architect of and proponent for the arbitration provisions which were enacted by Congress and signed by the President of the United States as part of the Randolph-Sheppard Act amendments of 1974; and
WHEREAS, arbitration is an orderly process for resolving legitimate differences, and by the very nature of arbitration the positions taken by contending parties may be upheld, altered, or lost altogether, which is a risk taken by any party entering into a process of this kind; and
WHEREAS, the Justice Department of the United States, in appealing an arbitration decision (which found in favor of the Mississippi state licensing agency and against the federal government), argued to the court that the arbitration provisions of the Randolph-Sheppard Act are unconstitutional; and
WHEREAS, although the court in the Mississippi case has now rejected the government's challenge to the constitutionality of arbitrations in the blind vendor program, future assaults upon the arbitration law can be expected as long as federal officials feel free to attack the process when the outcome of a case is unfavorable to their position: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this Federation deplore the attack by the Department of Justice upon the arbitration process in the Randolph-Sheppard program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that policy-making officials of the Department of Education (who are responsible for administering the law) and policy-making officials of the Department of Justice (who are sworn to defend and uphold the law) are hereby urged to commit publicly to the arbitration process and to honor the integrity of this process just as all other parties must, whether they win or lose.
WHEREAS, a priority for blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property has been established by the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
WHEREAS, the officials responsible for conducting each government activity are required by the Act to cooperate with the Secretary of Education and the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in assuring that one or more vending facilities are established for operation by blind persons at each federal site; and
WHEREAS, the Committee for Purchase from the Blind and other Severely Handicapped has added services of the type provided by blind vendors to the "procurement list," which it publishes for federal agencies to use in purchasing products and services from nonprofit agencies for the blind and other severely handicapped; and
WHEREAS, placement of vending facility services on the "procurement list" is an action which causes direct competition between the priority for blind vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard program, on the one hand, and the non-competitive purchase of services from nonprofit agencies for the severely handicapped, on the other; and
WHEREAS, the fundamental nature of the Randolph-Sheppard program is to promote individual responsibility and entrepreneurship among blind people by providing them with business opportunities involving management and supervisory skills, including the opportunity for upward mobility in the conduct of complex food service operations; and
WHEREAS, contracting with nonprofit agencies for the purpose of employing severely handicapped persons in food service operations conducted at federal sites will inevitably diminish business opportunities for blind vendors and is inconsistent with the statutory objectives of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the goals set by Congress for this program; and
WHEREAS, even without competition from nonprofit agencies that employ persons with severe handicaps, the Randolph-Sheppard program already faces stiff obstacles in establishing large-scale food service businesses on federal property; and
WHEREAS, rather than fostering and endorsing competition between federally sponsored programs which provide opportunities and jobs for blind and severely handicapped individuals, the Committee for Purchase from the Blind and Other Severely Handicapped should respect and promote opportunities for persons who are blind, as well as using its procurement policies in other areas to provide jobs for persons who are severely handicapped: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization register its fervent opposition to placement of vending facility services on the procurement list of the Committee for Purchase from the Blind and Other Severely Handicapped; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the Committee for Purchase from the Blind and Other Severely Handicapped to adopt a formal policy of noncompetition with the Randolph-Sheppard program and with other programs which provide employment opportunities to blind people and to persons with other disabilities as well.
WHEREAS, the North Carolina Department of Human Resources is seeking the enactment of state legislation that would radically alter the fundamental relationship between the state licensing agency and the licensed blind vendors in the state; and
WHEREAS, the assignment of vendors for indefinite periods would end in North Carolina if this legislation is enacted; and
WHEREAS, strict income limits would also be placed on vendors in the state, with the imposition of a 50 percent tax (called a set aside charge) on all income over $56,000 this year and a 75 percent tax on proceeds above $74,000; and
WHEREAS, these policies, if enacted by the legislature of the state of North Carolina, would defeat the declared purposes of the federal Randolph-Sheppard program by threatening vendors with the loss of their businesses every two years and by penalizing those who successfully build their businesses as anticipated by the federal law; and
WHEREAS, these policies are being forced upon the vendors of North Carolina under circumstances in which many of the vendors feel that they have no choice but to go along with the state's decisions; and
WHEREAS, the potential passage of this legislation in the state of North Carolina makes a statement that the right to fair treatment of blind people everywhere may be threatened by government officials virtually at their whim--a condition which blind people throughout the United states cannot and should not accept; and
WHEREAS, officials of the Department of Human Resources are fully aware of the powerful relationship which they have over the vendors and have not failed to flex their muscles in getting most of the vendors to knuckle under to the policy changes now being sought: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this first day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization deplore the shameful tactics used by the state officials in North Carolina who have bullied many of the blind vendors into accepting policies which will make them even more vulnerable to agency demands in the future, not to mention the inequitable fees that would be imposed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be dispatched immediately to every member of the legislature of the State of North Carolina with the urgent request that this proposed legislation be stopped in its tracks in fairness to blind people in this state and throughout this country.
WHEREAS, for many years, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has offered courses in literary Braille transcription and literary Braille proofreading; and
WHEREAS, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is currently developing courses in the Braille Music Code and the Braille Mathematics (Nemeth) Code for blind proofreaders; and
WHEREAS, the Hadley School for the Blind also offers courses in both the music and the mathematics Braille codes; and
WHEREAS, by using material on audio cassettes as well as material printed in Braille, Hadley has designed these courses so that all aspects, including test taking, can be performed without the need for a sighted reader or copy holder; and
WHEREAS, in 1991 the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped began offering a test in the Mathematics Braille Code to blind proofreaders; and
WHEREAS, currently, this test can be taken by a blind proofreader only if he or she has access to a sighted reader, who follows along with a printed version of the test; and
WHEREAS, some blind persons do not have ready access to sighted persons who can read music and other specialized materials; and
WHEREAS, providing this material to the blind proofreader on audio cassette would eliminate the need for a sighted reader, thus allowing the blind proofreader to complete the tests independently: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization strongly urge the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to furnish to its blind proofreaders both Braille and cassette versions of proofreading tests for specialized Braille codes; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped work closely with the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) in designing these courses and tests so that they are accessible to all blind proofreaders.
WHEREAS, socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses may receive assistance from the United States Small Business Administration under section 8(a) of the Small Business Act; and
WHEREAS, the assistance provided to businesses that qualify as socially and economically disadvantaged includes government contracts assigned without competition and technical assistance in managing the business as well; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has found that the current regulations of the Small Business Administration tend to screen out applicants who are blind, unless the applicant is also identified as a member of a recognized racial or ethnic minority group; and
WHEREAS, members of recognized racial and ethnic minority groups are presumed to be socially disadvantaged under the application criteria for the Section 8(a) program, but blind people (or persons with other severe disabilities) are not given the same presumption, forcing each new applicant to prove individually that he or she has in fact been socially disadvantaged; and
WHEREAS, regardless of the ongoing and significant efforts being made by public and private agencies, as well as by blind individuals and organizations, to increase employment opportunities, it is still estimated that more than 70 percent of employable blind people are either unemployed or underemployed; and
WHEREAS, the rate of unemployment among blind people far exceeds that of any of the recognized minority groups, yet they are presumed to be socially disadvantaged and the blind are not; and
WHEREAS, the findings made by Congress as the basis for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provide the Small Business Administration with all of the authority and evidence needed to classify blind people and others with severe disabilities as having a presumed social disadvantage, thus making it easier to qualify for assistance through the section 8(a) program: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this first day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that we urge the small business Administration to amend its regulations for the Section 8(a) program by declaring that a presumed status of social disadvantage exists for persons who are members of disability minority groups as well as for persons who are members of racial and ethnic minorities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, beyond taking this action to smooth the way for the prompt consideration of applications by persons with disabilities, the Small Business Administration is hereby urged to adopt affirmative action policies designed to ensure that future section 8(a) contracts are actually distributed to firms that are owned and controlled by persons who are blind.
WHEREAS, while the Federal government claims to be a model employer of the disabled, blind and disabled people are significantly underrepresented in the Federal work force; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has long recognized that prejudice derived from negative public attitudes is the principal barrier which blind people face in securing employment opportunities; and
WHEREAS, Federal agency disabled-employee-of-the-year awards and similar special awards for the disabled tell Federal managers and the public that blind and disabled workers should be held to a different and lesser standard of performance; and
WHEREAS, such awards also promote the misconception that blind and disabled employees who do good work are exceptional; and
WHEREAS, Evan Kemp, Chairman of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has called for the elimination of special awards for disabled Federal employees as inconsistent with the objective of promoting equality for the disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization recognize that disabled employee-of-the-year awards are harmful relics of paternalism and strongly endorse the efforts of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chairman Evan Kemp to eliminate these and other similar awards for the disabled.
WHEREAS, regulations and public statements from the Social Security Administration encourage blind disability insurance beneficiaries to work or attempt to work; and
WHEREAS, beneficiaries who respond to these work incentive provisions by performing work activity will often find that they are charged by the Social Security Administration with substantial overpayments, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars; and
WHEREAS, in many of these cases beneficiaries have fully reported their work activity but are told by claims representatives not to worry since their cases will be evaluated at periodic intervals; and
WHEREAS, lack of due diligence by Social Security personnel and the procedures they use tend to be the most common reason for substantial overpayments, leaving beneficiaries who work almost always at risk of incurring a debt to the Social Security Administration which they cannot ever hope to repay; and
WHEREAS, the procedures for evaluating work activity appear to be based on the expectation that most beneficiaries will not work, and therefore a frequent and simple reporting system is not being used for beneficiaries who do work; and
WHEREAS, persons who receive Social Security retirement benefits while working file annual reports so that their earnings and benefit status can be reviewed; and
WHEREAS, the use of a similar annual work reporting system in the disability insurance program, used solely for the purpose of evaluating earnings, could lead to a reduction in the number of sizable overpayments and would give beneficiaries more certainty about their status with Social Security while working: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization ask the Social Security Administration to institute a frequent and simple work reporting system for disability insurance beneficiaries in recognition of the fact that increasing numbers of beneficiaries want to work but are concerned about how their earnings will affect their benefits; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the Social Security Administration to design a work reporting system in consultation with beneficiary representatives, including leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, to the end that work activity is encouraged and beneficiaries who attempt to work are protected from threatening overpayment allegations and the consequences resulting from substantial and unpayable debts; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Social Security Administration to establish a policy that, once the annual work activity and earnings evaluation is completed by SSA and accepted by the beneficiary, that work period is closed and shall not be reopened for further evaluation absent good cause.
WHEREAS, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights is responsible for enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 with respect to recipients of Federal funds distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services; and
WHEREAS, in ruling on and reviewing a complaint filed against the Massachusetts Office for Children, the HHS Civil Rights Office has determined that it is not unlawful discrimination under Section 504 to subject blind people to extra scrutiny in deciding on their suitability for licensing as childcare workers; and
WHEREAS, it is an established fact that blind people are capable of caring for children to the same extent that sighted people are; and
WHEREAS, just as race, ethnicity, or national origin cannot be used as reasons for extra scrutiny in childcare licensing, neither should blindness be used to permit extra scrutiny: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this second day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization demand that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights reverse its policy of using extra scrutiny when blind people apply for child care licenses from public agencies.
WHEREAS, the skills of blindness and an understanding of blindness within society are two components of education which distinguish the education of blind children from that of other children; and
WHEREAS, the emphasis required in each of these areas will vary from child to child and from time to time during each child's school years; and
WHEREAS, without the skills and understanding of blindness, the ability of the blind child to integrate into society and to compete on the basis of equality as a blind adult is seriously compromised; and
WHEREAS, both residential and public school programs can meet the special education needs of blind children, but the two programs offer distinctly different advantages and are therefore not interchangeable for any child at any given time; and
WHEREAS, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Public Law 94-142 were intended to open up more educational opportunities for disabled children and greater participation by parents in educational planning; and
WHEREAS, blind children have a unique educational history in this country and specific educational needs which are not addressed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Public Law 94-142, an omnibus act covering all disabilities; and
WHEREAS, education officials have their own reasons, which may have little or nothing to do with the best interests of the child, for placing blind students in one setting or another; and WHEREAS, parents have no vested interest in one educational program over another, but are concerned only with what is best for their child: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this third day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that the decision of whether a blind student shall attend a public or a residential school for the blind should rest primarily with the parents of the blind student; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon the administrators of educational programs in each state to provide to parents of blind children complete information about alternative educational placements.
WHEREAS, guide dog schools, alone among agencies for the blind, have historically refused to provide training and guide dogs to blind persons who are street musicians or beggars; and
WHEREAS, graduating students are required by most schools to sign a contract agreeing not to engage in activities which the schools define as begging, even when such activities are clearly within the law; and
WHEREAS, guide dog schools have used this contact provision to take guide dogs away from blind persons; and
WHEREAS, conditioning the training and provision of guide dogs on the behavior of students which is unrelated to the use of the dog, even if that behavior is considered demeaning to the image of blind persons and guide dogs, constitutes unwarranted interference and intimidation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization call upon all guide dog schools to provide their services to all eligible blind persons regardless of the past, present, or future occupation of those persons; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that any and all references to begging be removed from student contracts and applicant literature used by guide dog schools.
WHEREAS, the goal of the National Federation of the Blind is the integration of blind citizens into society on terms of equality; and
WHEREAS, participation of blind citizens in society is linked to independent mobility; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has always supported the use of guide dogs as a mobility choice for blind Americans; and
WHEREAS, ownership of guide dogs by blind individuals promotes individual responsibility and independence; and
WHEREAS, for decades a leading guide dog program has given the right of guide dog ownership to those completing the training program while maintaining a commitment to blind person/guide dog teams; and
WHEREAS, another leading guide dog program recently recognized the advantages of permitting guide dog users to own their dogs by announcing its own new ownership program; and
WHEREAS, the policy of retaining guide dog ownership by many other training schools is based on paternalism and fosters a sense of dependence: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization commend guide dog training schools that provide the full right of ownership to those completing training programs, whether by long- standing tradition or recent enlightenment; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we again call upon all guide dog training programs to adopt without further delay similar progressive ownership policies.
WHEREAS, the installation of audible traffic signals is an issue which is widely debated in communities throughout the nation; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has accumulated documentation which indicates that audible traffic signals are often a nuisance to the general populace and an unwelcome distraction to pedestrians who are blind; and
WHEREAS, audible traffic signals tend to be confusing and dangerous for blind pedestrians who are hard of hearing since these signals block and distort traffic sounds; and
WHEREAS, audible traffic signals constitute an additional hazard to deaf-blind pedestrians because a driver seeing a deaf- blind pedestrian using a white cane or guide dog at an intersection where there is an audible traffic signal assumes that the deaf-blind pedestrian can hear the signal; thus the driver may not exercise appropriate care: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization call upon those exploring the installation of audible traffic signals to consider the problems these signals may cause for deaf-blind people.
WHEREAS, the production in Braille of current fiction titles by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and private agencies tends to lag far behind the production of similar materials in recorded form; and
WHEREAS, the Scottish Braille Press and the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the United Kingdom regularly produce additional fiction titles in English Braille; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is committed to the promotion of literacy for the blind through the use of Braille; and
WHEREAS, there is inadequate leisure reading material available in Braille in the United States; and
WHEREAS, the availability of additional fiction titles in Braille would be welcomed by many blind and deaf-blind consumers: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this Federation review the availability of fiction titles produced in English Braille in other countries which are unduplicated in America; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization investigate the feasibility of importing, developing, and circulating such a collection of titles within this country.
WHEREAS, every blind student, like every other student, can use the college years to learn to manage time, resources, and personal and professional relationships on the way to becoming employable; and
WHEREAS, many college and university offices providing services to disabled students attempt to perform these functions for blind students under the misguided assumption that blind students cannot perform these functions for themselves; and
WHEREAS, examples of this misguided assumption include controlling the terms of reader services, controlling the circumstances of testing, controlling communication of every kind between the blind student and everyone else at the institution, and compelling blind students to undergo psychological testing merely because they are blind; and
WHEREAS, it is counterproductive to provide or require these services for students during the years when they need to learn to manage these matters for themselves; and
WHEREAS, the Association for Handicapped Students Services Programs in Postsecondary Education (AHSSPPE) is a nationwide organization for university and college administrators in offices which serve students with disabilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization call upon the Association for Handicapped Students Services Programs in Postsecondary Education to work with representatives of the National Federation of the Blind to develop a policy on blindness, providing guidance to AHSSPPE members on campuses of postsecondary institutions across the country; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon AHSSPPE to refrain from lumping blind students with other groups of disabled students or requiring that blind students receive special services, but rather that its members encourage independence for blind students, including independence from offices for disabled students.
WHEREAS, testing agencies routinely eliminate questions from the Braille versions of tests on the grounds that pictorial information integral to the question is too visual to transcribe when they could allow a live reader to accompany the blind test taker to describe such untranscribed information; and
WHEREAS, testing agencies routinely require blind test takers to accept any reader assigned by the testing site administrator even though most of these readers are untrained and unqualified so that their incompetence diminishes the blind person's test score; and
WHEREAS, those testing agencies which allow a blind test taker to bring his or her own reader routinely require notification of the identity of the reader long before the actual test, even though the test itself is fully proctored, causing some blind test takers to be denied testing until the next testing cycle if the planned reader cannot attend; and
WHEREAS, testing agencies sometimes require blind persons to apply to take the test at an earlier date than their sighted peers, causing confusion about when the application must be made and resulting in blind persons' being denied testing until the next cycle; and
WHEREAS, many testing agencies provide tests in some alternative media while providing no preparatory material in the same media; and
WHEREAS, the validity of standardized test results for blind persons is undermined by many of the practices of standardized testing agencies which inhibit the blind test taker; and
WHEREAS, each of the practices listed above can diminish the performance of the blind test taker due to the testing agencies' reaction to blindness rather than due to the competence of the blind person, a practice which violates the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
WHEREAS, the results of standardized tests are the gateway to college, graduate school, and many of the professions for blind as well as sighted persons; and
WHEREAS, standardized tests should be provided in Braille, on cassette tape, in large print, and in standard print accessed with a live reader: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization demand that the Educational Testing Service and other testing agencies cease their unfair and illegal practices; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the Educational Testing Service and other standardized testing agencies meet with elected representatives of blind students to address these issues and to achieve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
WHEREAS, blind persons have demonstrated that they are able to compete on terms of equality as federal employees; and
WHEREAS, evacuation plans developed for times of emergency in federal facilities often require that disabled employees have an individual assigned to them to insure safe evacuation; and
WHEREAS, persons with disabilities are often required to wait in elevator lobbies instead of using stairs to evacuate the building while persons who are not disabled use stairs; and
WHEREAS, blind persons are often lumped with all other disabled persons with regard to these requirements and there have been instances where blind federal employees have been formally reprimanded for walking down stairs during evacuations; and
WHEREAS, discussions with federal safety officials held to explain that blind persons do not present an increased safety risk to themselves or others during building evacuations are often fruitless because the officials point to General Service Administration rules which state that employees with disabilities must remain in elevator lobbies during emergency evacuations and have an assistant assigned to them; and
WHEREAS, the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act is that safety is a consideration in treatment of persons with disabilities only where significant increases in risk can be shown; and
WHEREAS, the ADA also mandates that individual differences in disabilities must be recognized in making policy decisions; and
WHEREAS, we know of no instances where blind persons have been at higher risk to themselves or others during emergency evacuations from federal buildings; and
WHEREAS, the GSA requirements are but another instance of the time-worn prejudice against blind persons based on the myth of the helpless blind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization call upon the General Services Administration to amend its rules to exempt blind federal employees from mandatory special requirements regarding building evacuation of disabled persons.
WHEREAS, the Internal Revenue Service has a long history of hiring blind persons, who have proven their ability successfully to compete on the job; and
WHEREAS, the Internal Revenue Service has followed a practice of requiring blind persons to be trained separately from its own ongoing training classes; and
WHEREAS, such practices prevent blind persons from establishing initial equipment needs and peer contacts with those who will be co-workers; and
WHEREAS, in several instances in which local hiring and training have occurred, blind persons have proven they are able to participate in local training classes, gaining all of the benefits of such classes and being successfully employed: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 1992, in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, that this organization call upon the Internal Revenue Service to take all necessary steps to bring about the local training and hiring of blind IRS employees.
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
AS AMENDED 1986
ARTICLE I. NAME
The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.
ARTICLE II. PURPOSE
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.
ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP
Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.
The Board of Directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the Board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.
The Board of Directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.
Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the National Convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.
Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.
Section D. The Board of Directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two-thirds vote of the Board of Directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the Board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open Board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the Board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the Board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the Board shall continue in effect.
ARTICLE IV. OFFICERS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD
Section A. The officers of The National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) President, (2) First Vice President, (3) Second Vice President, (4) Secretary, and (5) Treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a National Convention.
Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a Board of Directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during even-numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during odd-numbered years. The members of the Board of Directors shall serve for two- year terms.
Section D. The Board of Directors may, in its discretion, create a National Advisory Board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the National Advisory Board.
ARTICLE V. POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION, THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND THE PRESIDENT
Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all Convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, and serve on committees; and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the National Board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, Convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The Convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the Convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the President shall appoint a chairperson.
Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the Board of Directors as the governing body of the Federation between Conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the Convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the National Convention shall not be made by the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two-thirds vote the Board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two-thirds vote the Board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The Board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the Board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the Board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the Board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the Board of Directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the Subcommittee on Budget and Finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the Board of Directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the President on major expenditures.
The Board of Directors shall meet at the time of each National Convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the President or on the written request of any five members.
Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The President is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of: carrying out the policies adopted by the Convention; conducting the day-to-day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the Convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the Nominating Committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the Board of Directors are the responsibility of the President as principal administrative officer of the Federation.
ARTICLE VI. STATE AFFILIATES
Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the President of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the Board of Directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the National President the state affiliate shall provide to the National President the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the National President. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federation.
Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate, or local chapter of an affiliate, which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.
A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the National Office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, Board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.
ARTICLE VII. DISSOLUTION
In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.
ARTICLE VIII. AMENDMENTS
This Constitution may be amended at any regular Annual Convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the President the day before final action by the Convention.