A Reflection on Walls and Doors
by Lisa Mauldin
From the Editor: Everyone who uses e-mail today in the course of doing a job grapples with the problem of controlling the number of messages that pile up in the inbox. I follow a couple of our listservs, but for the most part I depend on friends to pass along to me messages that are particularly interesting or thoughtful. This summer Scott LaBarre, President of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, performed exactly that service for me.
Lisa Mauldin is a blind woman who lives in Alabama. She hopes to become an attorney, and in the meantime she keeps an eye on the NABL listserv. She is a new member of the Federation, but it is already clear that she has a firm grasp on one of the most important reasons why many of us work hard to protect our own rights and those of other blind people by becoming active in the National Federation of the Blind. In the following message she expresses her point well and reminds me again what this organization is all about. This is what she said in answer to another post on the lawyers' listserv:
I am a blind woman who has grown up in a completely sighted world, raised by parents who did not force me into independence but rather encouraged my natural independence. I was blessed to be raised to believe that I could do anything anyone else could do, and probably better, and if I had a will, there was a way. My father--a quiet, eastern-Kentucky-born philosopher of great wisdom--said that the first thing I needed to learn was that life wasn't fair, and it was going to be less fair for me. Second, now that I knew the way the game was played and understood the rules, there was a way around every single obstacle that life--in its unfairness--would place in my way. For the most part I have found this to be true, and perseverance has become my trademark. (I'd like my epitaph someday to read "She persevered," but preferably many years down the road.) While this principle has served me very well over a lifetime, I think in some ways I became too independent, particularly concerning blindness issues.
I have not had a very satisfactory relationship with vocational rehabilitation through the years. When I expressed a desire to attend college instead of dutifully choosing one of the four or five vocations the state of Alabama offered at that time (1981), VR basically cut me loose. Applying my philosophy of independence, I found a way around them, and I have moved on through life quite nicely. But a funny thing happened to me recently. I met a very courageous lady from my home state who was blinded over a terrifying eighteen months. Possessing her MBA and working very successfully as a sales rep at the time, she frantically pursued VR for assistance to make accommodations so that she could remain employed in her present job. To make a painfully long story short, a full seventeen years after I had sat in a VR counselor's office being offered the big four choices, my new friend--after many months of delay--found herself sitting in another VR counselor's office being offered--you guessed it--the big four. Absolutely nothing had changed.
Is that my fault? No. Do I bear some of the responsibility for this? Speaking strictly for myself, yes. Had I chosen to fight the system way back then, perhaps my friend would have had a less traumatic experience. Is it arrogant to believe that one person could have made a difference? Well, everyone says I'll make a great attorney, but I'm not quite sure what they mean.
One final note: I am brand new to the NFB--I will join my local chapter in August--but my understanding is that this issue is not one of "I'm a poor blind person. . . . Give me a handout," but rather one of civil rights. Applying my there-is-always-a-way-around-the-wall philosophy, it should have been sufficient for African-Americans of the '50's and '60's to sit in the back of the bus and enter the restaurant through the back door. After all, they were getting to their destination and eating lunch. What the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King said was, "Yes, we have found a way around the wall, but we are entitled to sit in any empty seat, and we are entitled to eat our lunch at the counter with everyone else--not because we are Black, not because we are poor, not because we are special, but because we are Americans."
My philosophical journey of blindness has brought me to the point where I understand that, if I am going to be part of the solution, it is not always prudent to find my own way around the walls of life. Sometimes it serves the greater good to insist on entering through the front door like everyone else. Maybe at some point the next blind person who follows in my footsteps will not have to insist but rather will be invited through the front door. And maybe in my lifetime some future blind person who comes behind me will actually own the door!