The Proper Perspective
From the Editor: On May 1 Dr. Fredric Schroeder, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, wrote a thank-you letter to Jamie Hilton, President of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind. On one level the note was a courteous gesture, an expression of personal and professional gratitude for his inclusion in an event which he had very much enjoyed. But the letter he wrote articulates the situation in the blindness field today and describes the startling changes that have taken place in it during the past twenty years. Here is the text of Dr. Schroeder's letter:
Jamie C. Hilton, President
National Council of State Agencies
for the Blind
Commission for the Blind and
New Jersey Department of Human Services
Newark, New Jersey
Dear Ms. Hilton:
I want to thank you for inviting me to participate in last Wednesday's reception honoring Dr. Jernigan. His selection as the first-ever recipient of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind's Lifetime Achievement Award represents an historic moment in the affairs of blind people in America.
Jamie Hilton and Kenneth Jernigan sit chatting at a table
during the NCSAB recepiton.
Not so very long ago blind people and agencies for the blind found themselves on opposite sides of many, perhaps most, major issues. In my own case I remember the resistance and outright hostility I faced as a young blind person when I sought to enter the field of Orientation and Mobility. As you know, my interest in pursuing a career as a cane-travel instructor resulted in a bitter split between orientation and mobility professionals and blind people organized through the National Federation of the Blind.
But that was twenty years ago, and that time is past. A transformation has occurred in work with the blind, and that transformation is due in no small part to Dr. Jernigan's leadership in bringing cohesive, focused action to formerly disparate elements in the blindness field.
Much of what is central to rehabilitation philosophy today is ideas (often unpopular at the time) which he pioneered decades ago. Indeed it is very nearly impossible to overstate the key role Dr. Jernigan has played in our field. His influence has been and continues to be immeasurable.
Too often the Federation has been viewed as nothing more
than a political action organization; and, of course, in one
respect it is certainly that. However, at its most fundamental
level the Federation is an organization of blind people who
believe in one another and who demonstrate that belief through
action. By believing in me and by standing with me in the face of
bitter opposition, the Federation helped me sustain the
determination I needed to pursue my professional goals. That was
my experience, and it has been the experience of countless other
Through collective action the Federation shows blind people that they need not live in poverty and isolation but instead can live as fully integrated members of society. To speed the day when blind people will attain true social and economic integration, they must begin to work in partnership with the governmental and private agencies charged with providing services. But it must be a partnership based on mutual respect, which means that the governmental and private agencies must also be willing to work in true partnership with organizations of the blind. Dr. Jernigan has taught us the power of collective action, and it is now time to put that knowledge into practice in new ways by extending the power of collective action to the work of organizations of and for the blind.
I was deeply honored to represent the Rehabilitation Services Administration and to stand with my colleaguesyou and the other directors of state rehabilitation agencies; Mr. Carl Augusto, representing the American Foundation for the Blind; Mr. Kurt Cylke, representing the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; Ms. Denise Rozell, representing the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired; and many othersto see Dr. Jernigan recognized for his many contributions. It was truly an historic moment. I know that it must have touched him very deeply to know that his many years of service, of pressing the system to do more, of faithful determination to fight for the rights of blind people (even when his views were unpopular) have resulted today in unprecedented harmony and cooperation in the blindness field. As he said last Wednesday evening, "There is great strength in collective action. Great opportunity comes by working together toward common goals, but most of all great satisfaction comes from knowing that together we have done our individual and collective best to move blind people closer to the day when they will have the encouragement, training, and self-respect to live normal lives as normal people."
I thank you again for allowing me to be part of last Wednesday's celebration. By honoring Dr. Jernigan, you have honored the individual, and you have recognized the emergence of a new day, full of promise, in the lives of blind people everywhere.
Sincerely, Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.
cc: Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, President Emeritus
National Federation of the Blind
[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer (left) and Dr. Jernigan (right) shake hands at the NCSAB reception.]