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.