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       Daniel Frye

	Lessons Brought to Light

	by Daniel B. Frye


	From the Editor: Before walking into a new situation, it 

isn't unusual for blind people to indulge in fantasies about how 

things will go. Frequently in the daydream it is our competence, 

poise, and articulate handling of awkward situations that 

transform the silly notions of strangers into rational behavior. 

Unfortunately the real world is seldom as neat or satisfying as 

fantasy, and we are much more likely to think of the perfect 

response long after the offending person has wandered off.
	We have no choice but to deal with ignorance and prejudice 

that don't go away just because we are doing things right. The 

following recollection describes one such experience. Dan Frye 

was a 1990 NFB Scholarship winner and is now an attorney and NFB 

leader in Washington State. Here is his story:


	During the summer of 1988 I got a job as a Senior Counselor 

at Camp Merry Heart, an Easter-Seal-sponsored challenge and 

recreational retreat for physically disabled people--in the rural 

outskirts of Hackettstown, New Jersey. Hoping to enhance my 

resume by successfully working a summer job and with an earnest 

interest in testing my Federation philosophy, which until that 

time was primarily a set of theoretical principles, I left the 

comfortable familiarity of college life in South Carolina, 

boarded a northbound Greyhound, and set out on a summer adventure 

which promised to be exciting and instructive.
	In an effort to make a good first impression, I called the 

camp supervisor from the Greenville, South Carolina, bus station 

and politely declined her offer to have a camp representative 

pick me up at the Port Authority in New York City. I explained 

that I was confident of my ability to make the necessary transfer 

to the commuter bus which would take me directly to Hackettstown. 

She reluctantly resigned herself to the travel arrangements I--

her new twenty-year-old blind summer employee--proposed, and we 

agreed to meet the next morning for staff orientation.
	While alone in the darkness of night on a sixteen-hour bus 

journey which would transport me from the tranquil South to the 

teeming North, I had ample opportunity to entertain a range of 

feelings from eagerness to apprehension. Based on the Camp Merry 

Heart literature, which I had read before accepting the counselor 

position, I was certain that I would be participating in one of 

the nation's most progressive summer camping programs, in which 

residential disabled campers would spend the season with non-

disabled day campers from the surrounding communities. This 

structure seemed likely to foster genuine public education and 

increased understanding among disabled and non-disabled people, a 

seemingly ideal prospect.
	While my spirits were bolstered by the possibilities of the 

summer to come, I simultaneously felt the anxiety inherent in 

being a newly independent young adult traveling to an unfamiliar 

region of the country where I would assume the responsibilities 

of a vaguely defined summer position. I hoped that I could do the 

job well. I hoped that I would fit in and develop pleasant 

working relationships with my colleagues and the campers. And, 

most of all, I hoped that my blindness would not be used as a 

justification to bar me from completely fulfilling my obligations 

as a staff member or represent a barrier to my integrated entry 

into camp life. At some point in the wee hours of the morning I 

concluded that further analysis of my emotions would be 

fruitless, and I drifted off to sleep, only to be awakened by the 

announcement, "Arriving, New York City."
	My transfer to the commuter bus was uneventful, and after 

settling in to the rustic, un-air-conditioned log cabin which 

would be my home for the next several months, I reported to the 

camp dining hall for staff orientation. I was encouraged by my 

initial reception from the other counselors (most of whom were 

also college students on summer vacation), but it became apparent 

immediately that the camp's management did not share my peers' 

faith in my ability to function as a capable staff member. 

Despite my certifications in CPR and Advanced Swimming by the 

American Red Cross, I was not permitted to participate in "Life 

Drills," a procedure which involved four staff members--tethered 

equidistantly to a rope stretched across the camp lake--diving, 

exploring, and resurfacing together in search of a hypothetical 

accident victim. I protested that, in addition to being competent 

in swimming and first aid, I would face minimal safety risk 

because this operation was executed in teams of four, that we 

were all secured by a life rope, and that most of the underwater 

exploration was accomplished tactilely because of the lake's 

	The management decision to forbid my service as a counselor 

in the integrated day camp, which catered to both disabled and 

non-disabled campers, resulted in a second restriction on my full 

conduct of camp responsibilities. The rationale offered for this 

policy was that vision was essential to the successful 

supervision of the more active camping population. These and 

other less blatant acts of discrimination became the norm 

throughout my summer employment at Camp Merry Heart.
	I privately resolved to stick it out until my employment was 

scheduled to end in mid August. Frequently, however, my spirits 

wavered, and I was tempted to offer my premature resignation to 

demonstrate my disdain for the arbitrary distinctions made by 

Merry Heart management. Ultimately I decided that the image of 

blind people would be better served by my decision to stay with 

my employer, conducting the tasks assigned to me with efficiency 

and dignity while trying to educate and advocate for improvement 

of management's attitudes about blindness. I reasoned that, if I 

did my job well and used the art of diplomacy to enlighten camp 

leaders about my disability, I could acquit myself with 

distinction and preserve opportunities for any future blind 

candidate seeking employment with Camp Merry Heart.
	As the days melted into weeks, I slowly settled into the 

established routine of camp life. Waking to Reveille at 6:00 

a.m., I helped my campers prepare for the day ahead. I escorted 

them to flag-raising, accompanied them to breakfast, and returned 

with them to our quarters for morning cabin cleaning. By 8:30 

a.m. we'd leave for camp exercises, field games, arts and crafts, 

swimming, and other traditional camping activities. Once during 

every week-long camp session, we'd conduct an overnight outdoor 

camping excursion complete with cooking over camp fires and 

sleeping under the stars.
	Our evenings would usually conclude with an assembly of 

sorts, in which campers put on plays, participated in talent 

shows, or simply socialized with each other in the central dining 

hall. Lights went out at 10:00 p.m., and weary counselors on 

night call duty would quietly meet on the front porches of their 

cabins and talk about home, life at college, and personal dreams 

and generally spend time building friendships with one another.
	It was those relaxing summer evenings, long after campers 

had retired, that I came to cherish most. In whispers so as not 

to disturb the campers, my friends and I would discuss the pros 

and cons of the Merry Heart experience. Invariably we would 

analyze my dissatisfaction, frustration, and exasperation with 

the regressive attitudes exhibited by Merry Heart leaders about 

my blindness. We agreed that it was unfortunate and ironic that 

such a flagrant lack of confidence in an independent blind person 

prevailed at a camp which prided itself in its belief in and 

support of "true achievement." Without my prodding, several of my 

acquaintances realized that the treatment I received at the hands 

of Merry Heart administrators was likely to send an especially 

discouraging message to the campers about the opportunities they 

could expect as disabled people from society.
	By no means am I suggesting that all my co-workers 

immediately came to appreciate the significance of my objections 

to the condescending conduct of the Merry Heart management. Some 

of them came to this understanding only after several evenings of 

animated conversation in which we discussed the nature of 

independence, the cultural consequences of accepting unnecessary 

assistance or charity from the general public, and the 

proposition that blindness, in and of itself, is not an 

overwhelming tragedy but a human characteristic which, like other 

personal traits, consists of certain inherent limitations and 

inconveniences. By way of analogy, I suggested that blindness, 

like intellectual capacity or physical size, entails certain 

advantages and disadvantages to which we all have to adapt and 

adjust. Gradually some of my friends came to adopt my common-

sense notions about blindness, and I derived enough comfort from 

this support to sustain my confidence and composure while dealing 

with the emotional assaults I encountered each work day.
	Near the summer's end I told a few of my friends of my 

intention to use part of my salary to explore some of the quaint 

towns within a several-hundred-mile radius of Hackettstown. 

Preferring the allure of New York City's bright lights, everyone 

to whom I had extended an invitation to accompany me for this 

weekend declined my offer, so I made arrangements to travel 

	Despite my educational efforts throughout the summer, a 

couple of my friends and a member of the camp's administration 

expressed some surprise and concern that I had not altered my 

plans once I learned that nobody else was joining me on my trip. 

They asked me how I thought I would manage without somebody 

around to orient me to my surroundings and whether it didn't make 

sense to identify a specific destination so that I could have 

some idea of what to expect. Realizing that changing ingrained 

notions about blindness is always a slow process, I patiently 

explained that with my cane and some cash I would be fine and 

that the absence of plans was largely what made the adventure 

	On a Friday afternoon after all the campers had bid their 

farewells and the facilities were shut down for another two-day 

respite, I got a ride in to Hackettstown, asked the ticket agent 

what the final destination of the New York City commuter bus was, 

and purchased a ticket to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
	Several hours later I was comfortably ensconced in a small 

hotel. Having ordered a pizza, I luxuriously stretched out across 

my king-size bed and contented myself watching former Texas 

Governor Ann Richards deliver a televised nomination speech for 

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis at the 1988 

Democratic national convention. Throughout the rest of the 

weekend I watched movies, swam, explored the town and its 

history, and found other amusements with which to occupy myself. 

In short, I had a great time.
	During these days of recreational solitude, I had 

considerable opportunity to reflect upon the events of the 

summer. I smiled inwardly at the knowledge that I was growing up 

and that the philosophy about blindness to which I had always 

subscribed really seemed to work. Having determined to visit 

Wilkes-Barre on a whim, I found that I was managing well and that 

blindness was not much of an issue. Further, I concluded that I 

was actually quite satisfied with my successful performance in 

what could be fairly characterized as my first real job.
	Even when I pondered the turbulent and bittersweet aspects 

of the summer's experience, I realized with pride that I had been 

equal to the challenge, and I noted with corresponding sobriety 

that as I matured it would be necessary for me to develop 

sophistication in effectively addressing social misunderstandings 

about blindness. While vacationing in Wilkes-Barre, I reaffirmed 

that the best way to accomplish this would be to play an active 

part in the National Federation of the Blind.
	As this contemplative weekend drew to an end and I prepared 

to return to Camp Merry Heart to finish the last several weeks of 

my summer job, I decided that on the whole I was glad I had come.