PHOTO/CAPTION: John Padilla
Taking a Stand at Rye
by John Padilla
From the Editor: John Padilla is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. In the following anecdote he recalls the first time he stood up for the principle of equality despite what it cost him.
Long before I ever became a Federationist, I had the philosophy of the Federation deep in my heart. In retrospect I now recognize that the first time I was called to live this philosophy was when I was eight years old. My family traveled to Rye Beach Amusement Park for a family outing. My older brother and I were too excited to eat the abundant picnic lunch my mother had prepared. We both had one thought--the rides!
After we had pushed our picnic lunches from one side of our plates to the other, my parents finally gave us the high sign to enter the wild and wonderful amusement park. Although I could not see the fabulous flashing lights that lined each ride, I could hear the gleeful laughter mixed with high pitched screams from the children whirling around on those legendary rides.
For weeks I had imagined myself on the tilt-a-whirl, the ferris wheel, the roller-coaster. I pictured myself bumping and whirling in continuous motion, visualizing each sharp twist and turn. I had heard about these rides from my older brother, but now my dreams were about to come true.
My parents had given me several dollars in change before I entered the park. I had also saved the allowance money I had earned specifically for this family outing by doing household chores. With my hand securely in his, my brother led me to the first ride. As we waited in line, I anticipated its twists and turns. Finally we were in the place to get on the ride, but suddenly a voice shattered my anticipation.
A burly-sounding carnival operator asked my brother if I was blind. He submissively answered, "Yes." The man then shoved a stack of free ride tickets into his hand and told him that I was allowed to ride free. Why? Because I was blind. This was a real dilemma for my brother since there were far more free tickets than we could have bought with the small amount of money we had.
Before he could answer, I told the man, "No thanks. I'll pay for the ride just like everybody else." This would-be philanthropist was demanding that we take these free tickets, but I knew that, if I wanted to be just like everyone else, I could not accept the free ride.
Today I hardly remember the rides that day, but I fully remember the stand I took. After we had spent the money we had for the rides, we left the amusement park. As a child I would have been happy to be strapped into the rides until the park closed. But I knew one thing: I did not want to ride for free just because I was blind.
At the age of eight I already knew that being blind was respectable, and I still feel the same way at the age of fifty. But my association with the National Federation of the Blind has reinforced my stand. I have always known that what I did that day at Rye Beach was right, but I did not recognize the reason why until I became an active member of the NFB. We are first-class citizens entitled to the same life and liberty afforded to all Americans. I took a stand when I was eight, but the NFB has made me see why that stand was right.