Norman Gardner Everyday Heroes Acts That Count by Taylor Syphus ********** From the Editor: This story first appeared in the January 12, 1999, edition of The Salt Lake Tribune. Dr. Gardner is a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind. ********** Norman Gardner could beat anyone at a game of blindman's buff. For more than thirty years after being born with an eye disorder that legally blinded him, he masqueraded as a person who could see. He bought into the most poisonous myth about blind people: that they are less capable.
"I was ashamed of being blind," he says. "I didn't want to be associated with those weird people who carried white canes and had to read Braille. So I played blindman's buff. I could see shadows well enough not to bump into things, and I could read large print if I was really close to the book."
He always carried a magnifying glass and made an art of hiding in men's rest rooms to review schedules and appointments. Academics was Gardner's strong suit. Perseverance made him valedictorian of his high school graduating class and earned him a bachelor's degree with honors in Spanish from Brigham Young University. He earned a doctorate of finance from the University of Utah in 1974 and went on to teach finance at Boise State University, where his life finally changed.
"I was tricked into joining the National Federation of the Blind," he recalls, laughing. "Two blind students asked me to be the Blind Club faculty advisor. I thought, `I'm not one of them. I have a Ph.D.; I'm a university professor.' I wanted nothing to do with a club that sat around and cried about being blind, but I went out of courtesy."
Instead of being bored to tears, he was intrigued by the discussion between the students and the director of the NFB's Boise chapter. "They were discussing things I wished I could do," Gardner recalls. He joined the NFB that night, on paper and in spirit.
"They knew me much better than I knew myself," he says, smiling. "I learned it was respectable to be blind."
He thrust himself into everything he had despised about blind people. He learned to use a white cane and read Braille. Gardner became active in the NFB's political agenda, educating Congress and the public about blind people's abilities and fighting for laws that would level the playing field for 500,000 blind Americans.
"Even though I hadn't realized it growing up, my life had been made a lot easier because of people in the NFB working for my benefit. Now I'm in the trenches and helping to pull the sled along."
Today Gardner is a professor of finance at Utah Valley State College and heavily involved with the local NFB chapter. He pays for Braille starter books for elementary-age blind students whose teachers otherwise hand-type learning materials on a Braille typewriter. He also recruits any blind person he meets to join the NFB.
"For thirty years I sold myself terribly short," he says. "But I was given a gift of self-confidence, and now it's my turn to help people find a way to do something they didn't believe they could." **********