Making Other Arrangements by Bruce A. Gardner
From the Editor: Bruce Gardner is the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona and an attorney with a responsible position. He has a lovely home and a large and happy family. By any measure he is a successful and satisfied man. Bruce's success is not a matter of luck; he has worked hard and struggled to overcome obstacles. In the following story he talks about one of these and the way in which his victory has helped to shape his life. This is what he says:
I have come to understand that the real problem of blindness is not the lack of eyesight but the public's lack of insight about blindness. In other words, it is not the physical disability but the social handicap (society's attitude) that is the real problem. It was Henry Ford who said "If you think you can or you can't, you're right." Given opportunity and training, a blind person with a little initiative, determination, and the conviction that there's a way to do the job can find alternative techniques for doing just about anything sighted people do. Unfortunately the public's notion of blindness is one of helplessness and dependence. The blind are generally regarded as incapable of doing much of anything.
Because blind people are part of society, we often have the same low expectations and negative perceptions about ourselves and thus do much to make those negative perceptions a reality. I certainly grew up with all the usual misconceptions about blindness, never mind the fact that I was blind.
It was not until I was in college that I heard about the National Federation of the Blind and learned the truth about blindness. Therefore it was in college that I first started using my long white cane.
Before that time I had low expectations and low self- esteem. I was ashamed of my blindness because I thought blind people were fumbling, bumbling Mr. Magoos or, worse, virtually helpless dependents who sold pencils on the street corner. I did not want to be thought that, so I tried to hide my blindness and, of course, did not use a cane. But that all changed when I learned the truth about blindness-- that it is respectable to be blind--and started internalizing that truth.
A girl I dated a time or two in college after I began using my cane asked me to Sunday dinner and church afterward. As we left her apartment to walk to church, she turned to me and said, "Why don't you just leave your cane here? You won't need it at church because you will be with me the whole time."
Although she was a nice young lady and I could tell that she quite liked me, I felt like saying, "Why don't I just leave YOU here?" She had now confirmed what I had suspected: she was embarrassed to be seen with my cane. She was not comfortable having others know that she was dating a blind man. I decided to do both. For her sake I left the cane behind when we went to church; then for my sake I left her behind when we got back.
Shortly thereafter I met Becca. Unlike many others I had dated, Becca did not try to deny that my blindness could have an effect on our relationship. In fact, soon after we started going together, she told me that she did not want to get serious until she knew whether she could deal with my blindness. That was refreshing. Because about a year earlier I had learned of the National Federation of the Blind, I was finally beginning to internalize the truth about blindness and come to know in my heart that it is respectable to be blind. Becca was getting ready to leave on a two-week vacation, so I asked her to read a couple of articles while she was gone. I explained that the articles had been written by Kenneth Jernigan, President of the National Federation of the Blind, and that they expressed the way I felt about my blindness. She agreed to read "Blindness, Handicap or Characteristic" and "Blindness, Of Visions and Vultures." When she returned from vacation, her ability to accept and deal with my blindness was no longer a question. Within a few weeks Becca and I were engaged.
Becca's mother happened to be coming to Utah and planned to stop and see Becca, so we took that opportunity for me to meet her and to announce our engagement. She seemed happy for us, but she made a few comments like "Don't worry Becca; I won't say a thing to your father." A day or two later I met Becca on campus after finishing my shift as the supervisor of one of the breakfast crews at the dorm cafeteria.
I asked what her mother had meant. Becca said that her father was a little old-fashioned and that perhaps I should ask him for her hand in marriage. So I said, "I know where the pay phone is; I'll give him a call." Still, I could tell there was more to it. We were going to school in Provo, Utah, and Becca's parents lived in California. Even so, apparently her father had heard that she was dating a blind man.
When I made the call, it was still early in the morning, and Becca's father (a physician) was just getting into his car to go to his office, which was at the hospital. When he came to the phone, I said, "Dr. Loeb, you don't know me, but my name is Bruce Gardner, and I have been dating your daughter Becca. I am asking for her hand in marriage." It would be an understatement to say that his response was less than I had hoped for.
He said, "I do not give permission to marry my daughter to just anyone, and to me you are just anyone. You will have to make other arrangements." He then hung up the phone. I had the distinct impression that what he meant by "make other arrangements" was go marry someone else.
When I hung up the phone, Becca asked me what had happened. In answer I said, "Get the phone book. I need to call the airlines; we are going to visit your parents." Those were the "other arrangements" I chose to make.
The earliest flight we could get was late the next day, which was a Friday, but that gave us time to call Becca's mother back and arrange for me to have an interview with Dr. Loeb at his office Saturday morning and at his request to relay to him all the medical details I could provide about my blindness. Of course I was scared. What was I to do? What could I say to this Pediatric cardiologist that would alleviate his concerns about his daughter's marrying a blind man.
On Saturday morning, when Becca and I arrived at her father's office, we learned that Becca was to have an interview first. Only a few months earlier Becca had graduated from college and begun work as a registered nurse. Her father was concerned that Becca did not really love this blind man but only felt sorry for him and wanted to take care of him as she had done so many times before with hurt or stray animals and birds.
When it was my turn, I discussed with Dr. Loeb the medical aspects of my blindness, and he told me the results of his hasty research and conversations with the ophthalmologists he worked with at the hospital. We then discussed my plans to finish college and attend law school. I also explained to him what my philosophy was regarding my blindness and asked him to read the two articles I had earlier shared with Becca. There were many other NFB speeches I could have given him, but these two articles summarized the issues well and had helped Becca work through her concerns, so I used them again.
After my interview Becca and I went to lunch with her parents and then accompanied them on their Saturday afternoon grocery shopping expedition, which was a weekly tradition. Although I was staying at their home in the guest room, nothing more was said about my blindness or my engagement to Becca. The next morning, which was Sunday, Becca and I were preparing to go to church. At the breakfast table Becca's mother turned to her father and said, "Becca and Bruce are going to church, and she wants to wear her engagement ring. Have you made up your mind yet?"
With that, her father turned to me, cleared his throat, and said "did you have something you wanted to ask me?" I almost fell off my chair. I muttered a lame apology for the abrupt way I had asked the first time and then formally requested Dr. Loeb's permission to marry his daughter. He got a tear in his eye and a lump in his throat as he gave me his permission. He then excused himself and left for work at the hospital.
That was all there was to it. It was clear that he had read the articles I had given him and that he was impressed with the attitude that I had conveyed and that the articles relayed regarding blindness.
I have since made good on my plans to finish college and law school, and for the past fourteen years I have been successfully practicing law. Becca and I now have six bright, healthy, happy children, three of whom are teenagers. Since that interview with Becca's father, my blindness has not been an issue of concern for either Becca or her parents. And since that interview I have grown extremely close to Becca's parents.
I am grateful to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind for helping me learn the truth about blindness and enabling me to share that truth with my wife and in-laws.