THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 42, No. 7 August/September, 1999
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 42, No. 7 August/September, 1999
1999 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
by Marc Maurer
Kenneth Jernigan: the Master, the Mission, the Movement
Details and Patterns:
A Beloved Teacher Remembered
by Ramona Walhof
The Circumference of our Minds
by Joanne Wilson
Lessons from a Master
by Barbara Pierce
Of Gates and Good Intentions
by Joyce Scanlan
by Allen Harris
He Loved Us All
by Diane McGeorge
What Is Dr. Jernigan's Legacy to Us?
by Peggy Elliott
Kenneth Jernigan: A Personal Tribute
by James Gashel
The Mental Discipline of the Movement
by Marc Maurer
Politics and Rehabilitation: Serving the Customer, Serving the Agency,
Serving the Public
by Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.
Resolutions Adopted by the Annual Convention of the National
Federation of the Blind, July 6, 1999
by Sharon Maneki
Copyright (C) 1999 National Federation of the Blind
THE MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
DEDICATE THIS CONVENTION
DR. KENNETH JERNIGAN
The man who carried our burdens,
Cherished our spirits,
Challenged our minds,
Taught us, loved us,
And set us free!
These words appeared at the beginning of this year's convention agenda. They captured the spirit of a convention filled with love and respect for our deeply revered leader and sorrow in his passing, but also with joy in the promise for the future that his life and work made possible.
Pictured here is the bronze bust of Kenneth Jernigan unveiled during the convention and now on display in the reception area at the National Center for the Blind.
The 1999 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
How does an organization mark the change of an era? That was the question the National Federation of the Blind resolved June 30 to July 6 in Atlanta. At the time of the 1998 convention in Dallas, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was still able to take an active part in planning and conducting the convention, despite nearly a year of serious illness, and to call forth from us the same courage and hope for the future that he himself was demonstrating. But since his death on October 12, 1998, we have been mourning, working to incorporate his teachings into our daily activities, consolidating our strength, and preparing to move into the new millennium.
More than three thousand Federationists gathered in Atlanta from every state, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and sixteen other countries from around the world. Almost inevitably it was a convention of contrasts: celebration and solemnity, intense focus and remarkable diversity. The Marriott Marquis's architecture probably contributed to the feeling that convention delegates were comfortably spread out to engage with those of like interests in their own part of the facility. Yet we have never had a convention in which more delegates gathered together to take an active part in general convention sessions.
With four floors of public meeting areas, the Marriott Marquis provided magnificent space for a convention. Hotel staff assured us that all their guests struggle to master the hotel layout. Security personnel told Debbie Baker of Utah that they were frankly astonished to note how well NFB convention traffic moved and how quickly delegates learned how to get where they were going. From front-desk and concierge staff to bellmen and security personnel, hotel employees were courteous, helpful, and efficient. The Hilton staff were equally impressive; and, though many of us spent time hunting in vain for the right elevator bank, the consensus was that we have never been in more beautiful or pleasant hotels.
A word should be said in passing about the corps of Atlanta Ambassadors, who roamed the streets in the downtown area providing advice, directions, and simple security. These folks were helpful without being overbearing. They made it clear that they knew we are coming back to Atlanta next year and they plan to be ready to welcome us.
About fifty volunteers from the United Parcel Service also participated in the convention. UPS continues to be a wonderful corporate sponsor of NFB programs. They contributed $5,000 to support our 1999 scholarship program, and UPS volunteers were on duty, particularly at the beginning of the week, to show delegates where out-of-the-way rooms were located and, as one frustrated Federationist put it, "Where they've put the elevators this time."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The architect's model of the new building, on display in the Jernigan suite.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The bust of Dr. Jernigan and the picture boards on display in the Jernigan suite.]
Each year more people discover the advantages of arriving at convention at least a day before convention activities begin in earnest. Those who came in Tuesday, June 29, discovered hundreds of Federationists already in residence. The Jernigan suite was open, and the exhibit of picture boards, the model of the new building, and the new bronze bust of Dr. Jernigan were available for study and examination. The picture display was the one prepared last fall and enjoyed by those who came to the funeral and memorial service, but at the convention visitors could also read the captions and descriptions of the pictures in Braille or large print.
The model was a sturdy floor-by-floor representation of the proposed National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, for which we are beginning a capital campaign to raise eighteen million dollars. That campaign was kicked off during the convention, so more will be said about it later.
The bronze bust of Dr. Jernigan was commissioned before his death, and in the late summer he actually sat for the sculptor, Joseph Moss, who worked primarily from photographs and video. For many of us, examining this bust was our first opportunity to appreciate the strength and character of Dr. Jernigan's chiseled features. We found a new kind of intimacy with a man whom we have loved and respected for years.
As soon as people arrived, they could study the pre-convention agenda in print or Braille, but some of the really interesting sites were not listed. Most people made a beeline for the Peachtree Center Mall and the food court. Excellent bagels, sandwiches, salads, and other quick fare were available at reasonable prices. Shops of all kinds just waited to be explored. Meantime in the hotel, Braille labels prepared by the Georgia affiliate for ninety soda machines waited for volunteers to put them where they belonged. Ramona Walhof recruited Barry Hond of Maryland, who in turn snagged Warren Figueiredo of Louisiana, and off they went. Hours passed, and still they did not return. It takes a long time to label ninety soda machines completely, but Barry and Warren stayed with the job till it was done; that's the way Federationists approach an assignment.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: A group of Federationists at the Coca-Cola display during the food fair.]
By the time June 30 dawned, plenty of folks were acclimated, oriented, and ready to roll. The National Buyers Group organized an excellent food fair that attracted hundreds of people interested in food and food service. Convention exhibitors were scurrying to set up their displays in the huge exhibit hall. Federationists were checking out NEWSLINE(R) and Jobline, Myna products and Blazie notetakers, and Windows and Internet access. Several divisions got an early start by conducting meetings and seminars as well.
The Job Opportunities for the Blind national seminar also took place Wednesday afternoon. The JOB Program is markedly different this year, but the goal of helping blind people prepare for and get good jobs remains the same, and the seminar was again filled with lively and information-filled presentations. Peggy Chong, who emceed the seminar, saw to it that there was plenty of time for questions and thoughtful answers as well.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Big brother Mickey sits on the stairs with his little sisters Melinda, Melissa, and Melody Salisbury, triplets from Utah.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Lots of people had fun at the Braille Carnival.]
As always, one of the highlights of the day was the array of activities sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). About a hundred families took part in NOPBC activities, including three families with triplets. Dr. Maurer keynoted the morning-long seminar for parents and teachers while the kids from NFB Camp enjoyed the Kenneth Jernigan Braille Carnival. Chaired by Melody Lindsey, now of Michigan, the carnival was a group of Braille-centered activities for both blind and sighted kids. Judging from the noise level, everyone had a great time, and people are already making plans for how to improve the games for next year.
Meantime blind and sighted teens were exploring what they have in common by putting parents on trial. This was not an exercise in blaming parents for all adolescent problems but an opportunity to discover that all kids share the struggle for independence, understanding, and self-confidence. In the afternoon male and female blind teens divided up for "Guy Stuff" and "What Your Mother Couldn't Tell You." These were guided discussion groups in which teens could explore gender-specific issues associated with blindness and growing up.
Parents spent the afternoon attending several workshops and activities: "Resource Materials," "Computers for Tots," "Technology in the Classroom," "Writing IEP Goals and Objectives," "Placement: How to Find the Right Program for Your Child," and "Blind Mentors, Models, and Peers: Why and How."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: People dancing at family hospitality]
That evening families could meet, get to know each other, and play at family hospitality. Kids and teens each had a scavenger hunt, and teens found the hang-out room, which was supervised space intended for teens only.
Convention hospitality that evening gave everybody a chance to catch up with old friends and enjoy good music and dancing. The Lew's Blues Review was the name of the band, and dynamite describes their sound.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: A Sensory Safari guide shows a snake to Kirt Manwaring of Utah.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Hannah Weatherd of Montana explores the neck of a deer.]
Thursday morning started with a bang as Convention Registration kicked off at nine with the usual long line that evaporated like magic once the doors opened. As always the process was amazingly fast and efficient. For the first time agendas were available on cassette and computer disk, suitable for loading into portable Braille notetakers, as well as in the usual print and Braille formats. By 9:30 both the Sensory Safari and the exhibit hall were open for business. The Georgia chapter of Safari Club International set up the displays and conducted the individual safaris, which were a big hit with kids and adults alike.
The exhibit hall provided the usual panoply of technology and products of all kinds for conventioneers to examine and try. Fifty-two outside exhibitors and thirty-two Federation groups took part in the extravaganza. Lists of exhibitors and their table locations, as well as several tactile maps, were available this year, which made it easier to find what one was looking for; but a large part of the fun of prowling the hall is always discovering things by accident. Of course the NFB Store did a land office business all week in aids, appliances, and literature.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Diane Foster and her son Peter from Kentucky work on escalators during the cane travel workshop.]
Again this year children and youth who were just beginning to use the white cane had an opportunity to work with orientation and mobility professionals and experienced blind adults on their skills. Parents, too, were welcome to try the cane and talk with those who use and trust it every day. Two sessions of this popular workshop took place Thursday morning. That afternoon Dr. Lilli Neilsen met with parents of multiply disabled children and others interested in her Little Room and philosophy of working with these children.
The Resolutions Committee met Thursday afternoon under the leadership of Sharon Maneki, who chaired the committee this year. Nineteen resolutions were presented and discussed; seventeen of them were eventually passed by the Convention. A discussion of all the resolutions and the texts of those adopted appears elsewhere in this issue. A number of people have chaired the Resolutions Committee over the years, but Sheryl Pickering has now served faithfully as Resolutions Committee secretary for twenty-one years.
As soon as the Resolutions Committee adjourned, folks poured into the ballroom next door to enjoy and learn from the second annual mock trial, presented by the National Association of Blind Lawyers. In the court room of Judge Charles Brown and with Bailiff and Clerk of Court Peggy Elliott, NABL lawyers re-enacted the 1986 Kevan Worley case, in which Mr. Worley was arrested and manhandled by the police for the crime of trying to buy full-fare bus tickets for himself and his blind wife. Scott LaBarre and Anthony Thomas served as counsel for the defense, and Bennett Prows and Ray Wayne prosecuted the case. Kevan Worley of course played himself, and Kallie Smith, thirteen, of Iowa played Kevan's daughter. Pam Dubel made an unforgettable little old lady, and Ever Lee Hairston was a delightfully officious and condescending expert witness. Doug Elliott played the kind of cop that gives the police a bad name, and Jim Gashel was the ticket agent who caused all the trouble to begin with. An audience of almost 500 happily took its place as the admittedly biased jury, cheering for the good guys and scoffing at the bad.
Kevan Worley captured the feelings of everyone when at the conclusion of the trial he described the conversation he had with Dr. Jernigan after he was finally released from jail. He said that he knew the NFB was pulling out all the stops to get him released when an attorney turned up early on to assist and advise him. But when he actually got home and called the National Center and then heard Dr. Jernigan's calm and resonant voice inquiring about how he and his family were doing, he realized just how much he had been depending on the sustaining power of the Federation to keep him afloat. Then Dr. Jernigan said, "Mr. Maurer is here as well." In that moment Kevan said that he felt and understood in a new way the continuity and strength of the NFB.
Thursday evening and Friday afternoon and evening dozens of committee and division activities took place. Here are some of the highlights. On Friday afternoon Federationists interested in exploring the possibility of forming a division for those in medical professions gathered to make plans. Those in rehabilitation also met with an eye to forming a division. The managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution addressed the Professional Blind Journalists group. This year's play, written by Jerry Whittle and performed by the Louisiana Center Players on Friday evening, was titled Long Ago When Freedom Rang. It's about a Vietnam veteran who loses everything and finds himself. The tenBroek Fund auction Friday evening offered a number of items of value, including a wall hanging of the NFB logo that had previously hung in the Jernigan home and the bow tie that Dr. Maurer has worn at every convention banquet since he became President of the NFB.
[Photo/caption: Kids wait to begin their tour of the Coca-Cola Museum.]
A number of kids from NFB Camp toured the Coca-Cola Museum Friday afternoon, but that was only the beginning of kids' fun for the week. NFB Camp is always filled with books, games, and special activities, and this year was no exception. Carla McQuillan and her staff saw to it that blind and sighted kids alike had fun and learned about the abilities of blind people.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Betty Niceley]
Friday morning, July 2, at 9:00 a.m. the first official session of the 1999 convention came to order when President Maurer pounded the gavel to begin the annual Board of Directors meeting. After a moment of silence to remember Federationists who were no longer with us, the meeting opened with the pledge to the American flag and recitation of the NFB pledge. President Maurer then announced the Board positions that would be open for election this year. Betty Niceley sought the floor to make the following announcement:
Dr. Maurer, I would like to say that I am not seeking reelection to the Board this time. I want to say first of all that this decision in no way indicates a lessening of my commitment to this organization. I have served on the Board for fourteen years, and I have been deeply touched by the trust that has been placed in me in electing me to this position. I feel the need to spend a lot more time in affiliate building in my own state and attending to the Braille concerns of the Federation. I am grateful for the wisdom of our beloved Dr. Jernigan, who put his confidence in you, Dr. Maurer, as our leader. I want to pledge to you and to future leaders of this organization my willingness to do whatever I can as you lead this organization to greater heights of success, which I know you will do.
Dr. Maurer thanked Betty for her many years of loyal service.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Toby Longface presents a sandstone desk set to President Maurer.]
He then called Bruce Gardner to the podium for a presentation. It was an Arizona sandstone desk set made by artist and NFB of Arizona leader Toby Longface for Dr. Maurer. The base is eight inches across with an arch rising from it. Hanging from the arch is a silver commemorative coin from the 1990 golden anniversary celebration. The stand holds a slate and stylus and a silver pen. President Maurer accepted the gift with gratitude and has displayed it in his office.
Mr. Prayat Punong-Ong, President of the Thailand Association of the Blind, then came to the microphone to bring greetings from his country and organization and to hope that the NFB will continue to flourish and reach out to the rest of the world.
Sabriye Tenberten, a German woman working in Tibet, described her project to the audience. Blind herself, she invented a Braille system in order to conduct her personal scholarship in the language of Tibet, for which there was no Braille code. She was then invited to travel to Tibet to teach her system to the people who need it and establish a school to educate and train blind people there for the first time in history. A German television crew was working on a story about her and her work while she was attending the convention.
President Maurer next introduced the newest of the Kernel Books, Remember to Feed the Kittens. He read his introduction and a bit of his story from the book. He also announced that the seventeenth Kernel Book, Reflecting the Flame, will be released later this year. We have a number of new products, including light-weight monaural and stereo headphones and an indoor/outdoor thermometer.
Dr. Maurer announced that in the exhibit hall delegates would be able to stop by a table and get help in writing to their Senators and Members of Congress to encourage them to co-sponsor the linkage bill or to thank them for doing so. By the close of the convention almost 2,000 letters had been generated.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ellen Bomer]
President Maurer then introduced a remarkable woman. Until August 7, 1998, Ellen Bomer was the administrative director of the U.S. Trade Office at the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. She was there on temporary assignment from the same position in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. On that day life changed forever for Ellen. Shortly after 10:00 A.M. a co-worker several feet away from Ellen looked out the window after hearing a small explosion. At that moment a massive truck bomb exploded, which killed her co-worker instantly and severely injured Ellen. After four and a half hours of searching, Ellen was found unconscious under a wall. She had been critically injured, with thousands of pieces of glass and shrapnel imbedded in her face and body. After emergency, lifesaving surgery in Nairobi, she was airlifted by medivac to Germany. There her husband Don, who had been flown in from Saudi Arabia, joined her. From there she was flown on to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
By October Ellen was ready to start rehabilitation--she wanted her life back. At this point Harold Snider, a long-time leader in the Federation, and his wife Linda first began working with Ellen. She is now a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and she and Don attended the entire convention. A film crew working for the ABC News program "Nightline" followed Ellen in Atlanta and recorded her experience during the week. The result of this project was two full-length programs on Ted Koppel's show. They were aired August 5 and 6 in commemoration of the August 7, 1998, bombings.
Ellen spoke movingly to the Board of her experience during the past year. She said that she never doubted that she would survive and that God still had work for her to do. But she had had no previous experience of blindness, so she did not know how to proceed until Harold Snider introduced her to the NFB and our philosophy. In closing she said that she had been floundering in an unknown ocean, when Harold Snider threw her the NFB lifeline. She now wants and expects to find ways to pass along to others what she has received.
Peggy Elliott, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, then presented this year's scholarship class. A full report of the students and the scholarships they won appears elsewhere in this issue.
Several state presidents came to the podium to make gifts to President Maurer on behalf of the organization. Arthur Schreiber, President of the NFB of New Mexico, presented $53,000 from a recent bequest. Jim Willows, NFB of California President, announced that in the past year his affiliate has given $233,000 to the national organization from bequests. Ron Gardner, the new President of the NFB of Utah, then announced that from a very generous bequest, the Utah affiliate had contributed to the NFB $1,077,000 during the past year. He went on to say that the affiliate has decided to make an additional gift of a half million dollars to the capital campaign in the form of a matching gift. As soon as the NFB has raised $1,500,000 from other sources, the Utah gift will be presented to make a total package of two million. He then removed his Stetson in memory and gratitude to Helen Colby, the benefactor who made all this possible.
President Maurer next announced that Ted Henter, President of Henter Joyce, Inc., had made a quiet gift to the NFB of $15,000 because he believes in what we are doing and wanted to help with more than words. Betsy Zaborowski, NFB Director of Special Programs, then thanked the UPS volunteers for their help during the convention. She announced that UPS and the Kaman Corporation have both made significant gifts to our scholarship program this year.
Sharon Maneki, Chairwoman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee, came to the platform to present a plaque and check to Deborah Baker of Springfield, Ohio, as the 1999 NFB Distinguished Educator. A full report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Brief reports were made about the Shares Unlimited in NFB (SUN) and Pre-Authorized Check Plan programs and the Jacobus tenBroek Fund activities during the convention. President Maurer then read the top ten in number and in contributions in the 1999 Associates contest. Those recruited to become Members-at-large (Associates) not only make contributions to the NFB but also become full-fledged members of the organization. The top ten recruiters this year by number of Associates and by dollar amount are as follows:
Top Ten in Number
of Associates Recruited
10. Jim Salas (New Mexico), 48
9. Gary Thompson (Missouri), 50
8. Bill Isaacs (Illinois), 55
7. Karen Mayry (South Dakota), 58
6. James Omvig (Arizona), 58
5. Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), 66
4. Laura Biro (Michigan), 83
3. Mary Ellen Jernigan (Maryland), 115
2. Tom Stevens (Missouri), 162
1. Arthur Schreiber (New Mexico), 168
Top Ten in Dollar Amount Raised
10. James Omvig (Arizona), $1,388
9. Ed Vaughan (Missouri), $1,450
8. Jim Salas (New Mexico), $1,570
7. Marc Maurer (Maryland), $1,746
6. Tom Stevens (Missouri), $1,774
5. Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), $1,904
4. Arthur Schreiber (New Mexico), $2,280
3. Unknown (Delaware), $2,510
2. Kenneth Jernigan (Maryland), $5,150
1. Mary Ellen Jernigan (Maryland), $6,095
After several prize drawings the Board voted to conduct an Associates contest during the coming year, and President Maurer then adjourned the meeting.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Members of the NFB of Georgia fold paper airplanes in preparation for the opening general session.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The convention ballroom shortly before the opening convention session.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer gavels the 1999 Convention to order.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Wayne High, President of the NFB of Georgia, greets convention delegates from the podium.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Dixieland Band marched in playing "Georgia on my Mind."]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Al Falligan, NFB of Georgia Convention Coordinator, prepares to introduce Representative Randy Sauder. President Maurer looks on.]
An hour before the opening of the first general session of the 1999 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the crowd was already beginning to gather, and by the time the gavel fell, the press of delegates was remarkable, even for the first-day festivities.
Following the invocation and initial door prizes, Wayne High, President of the NFB of Georgia, welcomed delegates and thanked all those who had helped to make this convention memorable. He reminded us that this year's gathering was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Jernigan. With that a Dixieland band playing an energetic version of "Georgia on my Mind" marched into the ballroom followed by the Georgians throwing paper airplanes into the audience. Then Al Falligan, Georgia's Convention Coordinator, introduced Representative Randy Sauder, who has been a true friend to the blind of Georgia. Representative Sauder welcomed the convention with true southern hospitality.
The remainder of the morning session was devoted to the roll call of states. Several states announced that in the past year they had fought the battle to preserve a separate agency to serve blind consumers. Several states also announced that they had seen the establishment of NEWSLINE(R) local service centers in cities across their states. Arkansas and Virginia announced that the model technology bill became law this year, and West Virginia boasted that with affiliate help and encouragement the University of West Virginia will begin a training program for teachers of the visually impaired. Five states--California, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania--have new Jobline sites. The roll call of states concluded with a mighty Federation cheer, and the convention session recessed.
The afternoon session came to order precisely at 2:00 p.m. with Dr. Maurer's Presidential Report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue. As always it was thrilling to listen to the review of what we have accomplished in the past year and Dr. Maurer's assessment of where we are heading in the future.
Following the report, President Maurer made the official announcement for which we had all been waiting. In his report he had talked about the need for the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind to be built on the southwest quadrant of our property in Baltimore. Dr. Maurer announced formal plans for the opening of our Capital Campaign. He said that everyone will be asked to participate but stressed that no one should decide how large his or her personal gift should be on the spur of the moment. Gifts that are thoughtfully considered in the light of the need we face and the possibilities for future development will be more generous. The Maurers, Mrs. Jernigan, and Don and Betty Capps had all been considering their personal gifts for several weeks. In turn each of them came to the podium to announce gifts of $25,000 to be given over a five-year period.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Congressman John Lewis]
"Equal Rights and Equal Opportunity for Everybody: The View from Congress" was the title of a soul-stirring address by Congressman John Lewis, Fifth Congressional District of Georgia. Mr. Lewis had expected to find an audience of a few hundred blind people. When he walked onto the platform to greet the National Federation of the Blind in its thousands, he pulled out all the stops, and together we raised the roof. As Mr. Lewis was leaving the platform, Dr. Maurer made two interesting comments: Mr. Lewis's autobiography would be released on Talking Book in November, and Congressman Lewis is a member of the Ways and Means Committee and is one of the 243 co-sponsors of the linkage bill.
The next agenda item was a panel presentation titled "Separate Programs for the Blind: How Important Are They?" The presenters were Suzanne Mitchell, President of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind and Executive Director of Blind Services of Louisiana Rehabilitation Services; Jamie Hilton, Director of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind; and Tom Robertson, Associate Commissioner of the New York Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Even though time was growing short, all three advocated for close working relationships with consumer groups and leadership from all sources to create innovative programs for the new century. They expressed their need for qualified blind professionals to staff their programs and counselors who believe in the abilities of blind people. In concluding this segment, Dr. Maurer urged the speakers to spread the word among their colleagues that strong and independent state agencies must have strong and independent consumer organizations with whom to work in partnership. It is in everyone's best interests to encourage the development of vibrant consumer organizations.
James Gibbons was the first blind graduate of the Harvard Business School. Last November he became president of National Industries for the Blind. He gave Convention delegates a brief summary of his experience and urged closer ties between NIB and the NFB in order to improve conditions for blind workers and the range and quality of jobs they have access to. He announced that NIB has set a goal of 600 new jobs for next year, and Mr. Gibbons intends to keep that goal expanding by working faster and smarter. When asked about joining the NFB in working for legislation to prohibit less than the minimum wage for workers whose only disability is blindness, he admitted that he did not know the history but certainly would work toward that goal as rapidly as he could. President Maurer thanked him for coming with an open mind and a willingness to think and talk about difficult issues. He ended by inviting Mr. Gibbons to return to the Convention in future years.
Dr. Maurer then recessed the session, and Federationists raced off to meetings, workshops, seminars, the Showcase of Talent, and Dancing--Swing, Soul, and Rock and Roll. This last was the annual reception and dance, and dance we did.
PHOTO/CAPTION: Federationists crowded the dance floor at the Saturday night party.
[Photo/Caption: Noel Nightingale]
Following the opening exercises on Sunday morning, the first order of business was the annual election. Six positions on the Board of Directors were open for election. Ramona Walhof, Chairwoman of the Nominating Committee, placed the following names in nomination: Donald Capps, South Carolina; Wayne Davis, Florida; Priscilla Ferris, Massachusetts; Bruce Gardner, Arizona; Noel Nightingale, Washington; and Joanne Wilson, Louisiana. All were elected by acclamation and responded with thanks and a promise to continue to do their best to further the goals of the Federation. This is what Noel Nightingale said as she was elected for the first time to the Board:
When I was a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I met a woman who worked at a residential facility for people who are mentally retarded. She told me about two brothers who are now in their sixties and who had recently come to live at the facility. She told me that, when they were born blind, their parents didn't know the truth about blindness. Even worse than that, they put the brothers into a room with a cement floor and cinder block walls. They just left them there; they didn't teach them to feed themselves properly--didn't even teach them to use the bathroom properly. As a result of the lack of stimulation in their lives, they became retarded. Eventually, after their parents passed away, they ended up in this institution. This woman told me that, shortly after they arrived, she gave them each an orange. They had apparently never seen an orange in their lives. They held it and smelled it and marveled at the texture and roundness of it and they tasted it. They were overjoyed at the beauty of this simple orange.
The National Federation of the Blind was founded at about the same time these brothers were born. And, like the orange to those brothers, it brought to the lives of blind people the fragrance of hope and the taste of freedom. While the founding of the National Federation of the Blind came too late for those two brothers, it didn't come too late for me. It saved me from a life of low expectations and mediocrity. I cannot imagine a greater honor than I am receiving right now--than receiving your trust and love. I thank you very much.
The remainder of the morning session was devoted to the memorial for Dr. Jernigan. The bronze bust was officially unveiled, and ten Federation colleagues spoke of what their dear friend and mentor had meant to them. The text of what was said appears elsewhere in this issue.
PHOTO/CAPTION: Mary Ellen Jernigan and Dr. Jernigan's brother, Lloyd
[Photo/Caption: Joy Harris demonstrates proper use of the slate and stylus to Kirt Manwaring of Utah.]
[Working hand over hand, Joy teaches Kirt how to control the stylus.]
Independence Day happened to be our half day this year, so, when the gavel fell at the close of the morning session, Federationists scattered far and wide to work and play. Parents had to decide between learning Braille from Claudell Stocker, a teacher and certified transcriber, and Julie Hunter, a certified transcriber, and a drop-in session to discuss kids and canes with Joe Cutter, a Pediatric Orientation and Mobility Specialist. Several other workshops and committee meetings also took place that afternoon and evening.
Of course tours had been scheduled that carried Federationists all over greater Atlanta, and the fireworks display was spectacular. In fact, it was a little hard to miss the fireworks, whatever else one happened to be doing. The student division wound up the evening with its Monte Carlo night for anyone who was interested in playing games. For those who wanted a taste of our adult rehabilitation training centers, the Colorado Center for the Blind brought their program to Atlanta for the evening.
PHOTO/CAPTION: The attendance banner moved from Texas to South Carolina this year. Tommy Craig (left) of Texas and Dorothy Barksdale (right) of South Carolina display the attendance banner as Don Capps looks on.
Despite the partying, the Monday morning session arrived at the usual time, and Federationists were on hand for the opening gavel at 9:00 a.m. Before beginning actual program items, Dr. Maurer told the audience that he had spoken with Mrs. tenBroek the afternoon before to tell her how much her presence was missed at the convention. Peggy Elliott then suggested that we send her the following letter:
July 6, 1999
Dear Mrs. tenBroek,
We, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, assembled at the second largest convention in our history, send to you our greetings on this, the anniversary of our founder Dr. tenBroek's birth. You walked with us every step of the way, through the long years of initial organization and the proud years of growth and success. On Dr. tenBroek's birthday we pause to say to you, you are the first of the first ladies. We salute you and know that, though you are not in Atlanta in person, your strength and your commitment are joined with ours today and into the future of blind people.
The members of the National Federation of the Blind
Peggy invited those who wished to do so to add individual notes of greeting to the packet going to Mrs. tenBroek, which would include this letter and copies of the book and video presented to attendees the day before. The intent was to have this package arrive at Mrs. tenBroek's home the following day, Dr. tenBroek's birthday, but the Independence Day holiday prevented that from occurring. Mrs. tenBroek did, however, receive the remembrance a few days later.
Much of the morning's program was devoted to presentations by representatives from around the world. The first was Dr. Euclid Herie, President of the World Blind Union and President of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He acknowledged Dr. Jernigan's contribution to the World Blind Union and reported on the work still to be done around the world. He talked about a little girl he met in a small Chinese village, the first blind child to be educated in her tiny, two-room village school. She is one of one million Braille readers in China. Her school has now received some Braille materials for her education. He reminded his audience that we will change what it means to be blind one person at a time, the way we have always done it.
Kua Cheng Hock, President of the Asian Blind Union and President of the Singapore Association for the Blind, spoke to the convention about the situation in Asia and recalled his friendship over the years with Dr. Jernigan. In the eighties, when Mr. Kua was trying to achieve World Blind Union membership for the consumer organization of blind people in Singapore, he turned to Dr. Jernigan for advice. Twice he visited the National Center for the Blind, and only two weeks before his death, Dr. Jernigan spent time with Mr. Kua advising him in his work for blind people in all of Asia. Mr. Kua urged the NFB to continue its outreach to Asia as Dr. Jernigan did and promised that his organization was ready to work with us to achieve freedom and equality for the blind. Before leaving the platform, Mr. Kua presented Dr. Maurer with a commemorative pewter plate from the blind people of Singapore to the members of the National Federation of the Blind.
Next William Rowland, Second Vice President of the World Blind Union and Executive Director of the South Africa National Council for the Blind, addressed the Convention. In introducing Mr. Rowland, President Maurer commented that, when he and Mrs. Jernigan visited the South Africa National Council for the Blind last winter, they recognized and rejoiced in the spirit and the philosophy of the organization.
Mr. Rowland began by comparing Dr. Jernigan to the great South African statesman, Dr. Nelson Mandela. He went on to say that the disability movement in South Africa joined with the ANC two years before the change of power. In the new organization of South African society and government, 2 percent of jobs in both the public and private sectors are to be held by disabled people by 2005. There are prospects for broad-based funding sources for the blind similar to the Spanish organization ONCE's nationwide lottery. He acknowledged that international programs must benefit both developing and developed countries. He concluded by urging the NFB to establish an Africa policy, saying that the South Africa Council for the Blind would eagerly become our partner in such an effort.
President Maurer commented that we receive thousands of letters every year saying, in effect, "We don't have enough money, and we would like some of yours." Because we don't have enough money to meet this great need, we grieve over the letters and mostly just file them. But when we find individuals and groups who show indication of wanting and working to increase the ability of blind people to improve their own lot and increase their voice in the programs that affect their lives, we are far more enthusiastic about finding the resources to help.
Chuji Sashida, Senior Researcher with the National Institute for Vocational Rehabilitation in Japan, was the next speaker. He reviewed employment opportunities and problems in Japan and what his organization is doing to help.
Bekele Haile-Selassie, Professor of Law at the Law School of Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, then spoke about the work of the Ethiopian National Association of the Blind, which at one time he served as Secretary General. The Association trains people in the skills of blindness, conducts a recording studio, and engages in production of merchandise for sale as a demonstration of the capacity of blind workers.
Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, next addressed the Convention on "Recent Technological Developments: Progress in Braille and Audio Delivery Systems." He reviewed the five principles on which the NLS program is based and explained that current plans are for a digital system for Braille and audio production within the next ten years. Mr. Cylke attended his twenty-sixth convention this year and, as usual, brought four staffers with him.
The next speaker was Adam Linn, a securities trader for Charles Schwab. In recent months Adam has been featured in television advertisements for Charles Schwab, in which he talks about his dedication to giving his clients good service. Never is the fact of his blindness mentioned. It merely becomes clear that he is using Braille. Adam described how he got to Harvard and then to the Louisiana Center for the Blind to enhance his blindness skills. Everyone enjoyed his stories and his enthusiastic attitude.
Cheryl Fischer, President of the NFB of Cuyahoga County, then discussed her work as NEWSLINE (R) Cleveland Coordinator for the NFB of Ohio. She described her search for people to sign up for NEWSLINE (R) even before the service center opened on November 1, 1998. On that date she had 200 Clevelanders ready to begin using the service. Now that number has risen to 600. Census figures suggest that 9,000 people in the area qualify to use NEWSLINE(R), so Cheryl is still hard at work. But she does more than help them fill out their enrollment forms; Cheryl checks to make sure that seniors know how to use the service and works with them on the phone to press the correct buttons for what they want to read. Cheryl and her chapter work hard to find and serve NEWSLINE(R) readers, and they are continuing to do so.
The final speaker of the morning was Dr. Leonard Hjelmeland, Professor of Ophthalmology and Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of California at Davis. Professor Hjelmeland began by introducing himself as the other blind scientist at UC Davis, referring to Dr. Geerat Vermeij, the noted marine biologist who addressed the NFB Convention some years ago. He admitted that others have done a better job of breaking new ground for blind people, but he does face ophthalmologists and confronts their prejudices as a blind colleague working alongside them to do necessary research, and that effort has real value. Dr. Hjelmeland explained that, when he first lost his sight, he got to know several Federationists, Lloyd and Judy Rasmussen and Harold and Gail Snider. But he had no interest in being other than a loner. He has now come to recognize his mistake. He ended his remarks by saying that he wanted to join with us.
The afternoon's agenda was so crowded that we frankly couldn't fit everything in, considering that we absolutely had to clear the room at five. The first agenda item was an address by Dr. Fred Schroeder, Commissioner of the U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration, titled, "Politics and Rehabilitation: Serving the Customer, Serving the Agency, Serving the Public." Dr. Schroeder is a long-time advocate of effective rehabilitation and a man who knows how to deliver it. The entire text of his address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Lawrence W. Roffee, Executive Director of the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, then spoke on "Equal Access for the Blind to Electronic Media." His report focused on the standards now being promulgated to give more force to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998. He reviewed the history of this legislation to insure that technology used by federal agencies is accessible to all those whose jobs or inquiries require them to use it. The provisions of Section 508 have been strengthened, and in the future enforcement, he assured the audience, would be far more effective. In answer to questions from the audience, he said that government Web sites will be included under 508, as will equipment other than computers such as copy machines that no longer have discernible buttons to push. Public comment on these new standards will soon be in order.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ron Gardner]
"The Blind at Work" was the title of a panel presentation which was interrupted and rearranged because of time pressure. The first speaker was Ron Gardner, President of the NFB of Utah and the attorney who serves as Director of the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City. It was a delightful and inspiring tale of his work and the difference the National Federation of the Blind has made in his life and his contribution to his community.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Tom Johnson addresses the Convention while Dr. Maurer sits listening.]
The next speaker was Tom Johnson, President and CEO of CNN News Group. His title was "Telling It like It Is." He described the depth and scope of CNN's activities and programming. He then volunteered that CNN did not employ enough blind people, and he said he planned to change that in the years to come. He then asked CNN's chief medical correspondent, Rhonda Rolland, to address the matter of CNN's coverage of blindness-connected issues. Following Ms. Rolland's brief remarks, which chiefly listed stories about medical issues and breakthroughs in fighting blindness caused by various disorders, President Maurer made the following remarks:
I want to thank you, Ms. Rolland and Mr. Johnson, and I am pleased that you brought the matter up because we believe certain things about what we are doing. And we think it is worth while to tell you what we believe. We like you, so don't take this personally or anything. However, blindness is not a health issue. [prolonged applause] If you are becoming blind, of course it is a health issue. If you are dealing with a doctor and trying to avoid becoming blind, it's a health issue. I am blind; I have been blind for thirty years, [jeers and laughter] forty years--fifty years--something.... I am going to be blind; I never visit the doctor; I don't care what the doctor says because I know what the doctor believes about my blindness, which is there is nothing whatever he's going to do about it. From my point of view I may have other health issues, but blindness is not one of them; that's stable.
The National Federation of the Blind as an organization--I would like to characterize us for you. (It's dangerous to do that, I know, because if you characterize us, maybe we'll never be looked at except from that characterization, and we would hope not to be stuck into a box in the same way that we hope you don't get stuck into a box. We don't think you will be, by the way, and we don't think we will be.) If you had to pick one phrase to describe us, it would have more to do with being a civil rights organization than anything to do with health [cheers and applause] because the problems we face are the ones of getting in and getting opportunity, of winning the right to work and having the right to participate in society, of having the right to get an education, of finding a way to get the books, of finding a way to learn something, and not being told that, because we are blind, we can't. [applause]
I very much appreciate your coming. I very much appreciate your bringing top people, and I hope that the next time you send a reporter it isn't a health reporter. [cheers]
Mr. Johnson: I think that one of the great benefits of an afternoon like this is that we too have much to learn, [laughter and applause] and I cannot think of a more wonderful place for a civil rights organization to meet than the home of Dr. Martin Luther King. [prolonged cheering and applause]
President Maurer: Now that, Mr. Johnson, is why CNN is on top.
When things calmed down after that lively interchange, Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, "The Inventor Who Broadened the Landscape for the Blind," addressed the Convention for a few minutes. He recollected his years of friendship with Dr. Jernigan and reviewed recent progress and provided a glimpse into the future of technology for the blind.
Sharon Gold, President of Sharon Gold Enterprises and a long-time leader of the National Federation of the Blind, outlined some of the principles that have guided her in her business success, and she tied them to the success of the National Federation of the Blind and the lessons it teaches us.
The final speaker of the afternoon was Erik Weihenmayer, an experienced blind mountain climber. His title was "`To Climb Every Mountain': The Blind Climber Planning to Stand on Top of the World." This was a delightful and energetic presentation from a young man who climbs serious peaks and insists on carrying his share of the responsibility. His attitude is grounded in pure Federation philosophy, and the NFB is supporting his effort to scale Mount Everest in 2002.
That evening's banquet was the largest in Federation history. An overflow crowd of 500 gathered across the Convention Level from the main ballroom. This second banquet room was equipped with a large-screen video system and spotters with two-way radios to identify door prize winners.
Diners discovered that this year's souvenir mug contained a small replica of the bust of Dr. Jernigan, a votive candle, and a small book of matches. As soon as we were all seated, Master of ceremonies Allen Harris instructed everyone to light our candles and hold them aloft in the darkened room. He reminded us that Dr. Jernigan had always exhorted blind people not to hide our lights under bushels but to show the world what we could do. During this moment of illumination from the thousands of candles held by all of us, we remembered our beloved leader and vowed to insure that his dreams and our own will never flicker out and that the darkness of ignorance will never snuff out the light that the National Federation of the Blind has set burning in the hearts and souls of blind people everywhere.
Two awards were presented during the banquet. The first was the Golden Keys Award given to Michael Romeo, and the other was the Jacobus tenBroek Award presented to Allen Harris. The full report of these presentations appears elsewhere in this issue.
The 1999 scholarship awards were also made at the banquet. That report also appears elsewhere in this issue. The American Action Fund scholarship, worth $11,000 this year, went to tenBroek Fellow Marie Kouthoofd, First Vice President of the NFB of New York.
As always, the highlight of the evening was President Maurer's banquet address. His title was "The Mental Discipline of the Movement," and it was a thoughtful call to redouble our efforts to reject misconception and teach the world what is possible. Here is the way it began:
William Shakespeare thought that knowing what to do was easy. It was the doing of it that was so hard. As he said, "If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces."
However, there are others who have a totally different point of view. They believe that knowing what to do is the hard part. Remarkable achievement is attained (according to these scholars) by thought--by exercising the ability to distinguish between the significant and the mundane. As the American bacteriologist Hans Zinsser said, "The scientist takes off from the manifold observations of predecessors and shows his intelligence, if any, by his ability to discriminate between the important and the negligible, by selecting here and there the significant steppingstones that will lead across the difficulties to new understanding."
Just as it is for an individual, so it is for a culture, a nation, or an organization. Each of these must attempt to identify the steppingstones of progress. To the extent that they achieve this difficult task and are committed to implementing what they learn, growth and advancement occur. To the extent that they fail, there are stagnation, deterioration, and aimlessness.
The banquet was unforgettable, and the parties afterward went on for hours, but the next morning Federationists were in their seats when the gavel fell at 9:00 a.m. The morning session was filled with reports and the Honor Roll Call of States making contributions to the tenBroek Fund and the White Cane Fund. The afternoon session was devoted almost entirely to the debate and passage of the 1999 resolutions. See the full report of these actions later in this issue.
PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer flies a paper airplane into the convention hall.
PHOTO/CAPTION: NFB staff members take down the platform curtains at the close of the convention.
When Dr. Maurer brought his gavel down signaling the close of the 1999 convention, it seemed a bit hard to believe that our first NFB convention in forty-nine years without Dr. Jernigan was now history. With every ovation for Mrs. Jernigan during the convention, delegates demonstrated that our love for her husband and our respect for her and the way she has conducted herself and continued to work for our cause during this difficult and lonely year knew no bounds. But the spirit of rededication and determination with which we all left Atlanta also illustrated our unwavering conviction that the best is still ahead. Newly blind people must learn what we have to teach. Blind children must be given hope and tools for tomorrow. The public must still be freed from the chains of ignorance about blindness. All these jobs and more lie before us. We have a capital campaign to conduct and dreams to bring to fruition. In less than a year now we will return to Atlanta to take the measure of our progress and inspire ourselves and one another once again with the promise of tomorrow. In the meantime we will keep faith with the man who taught us to dream and to make those dreams come true.
Life insurance constitutes a very special gift to the National Federation of the Blind. A relatively easy and direct form of planned giving is a new life insurance policy. You can make the NFB the beneficiary and owner of a life insurance policy and receive a tax deduction on the premium you pay.
For example, at age fifty you purchase a $10,000 whole life insurance policy on yourself and designate the NFB as beneficiary and owner of the policy. The premium cost to you is fully tax-deductible each year. You may even decide to pay for the entire policy over a specific period of time, perhaps ten years. This increases your tax deduction each year over the ten-year period and fully pays up your policy.
You may, however, already have a life insurance policy in existence and wish to contribute it to the NFB. By changing the beneficiary and owner to the National Federation of the Blind, you can receive tax savings, depending on the cash value of the policy. Your attorney, insurance agent, or the National Federation of the Blind will be able to assist you if you decide to include the NFB in your planned-giving program through life insurance. For more information contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Maurer delivers the 1999 Presidential Report]
National Federation of the Blind
July 3, 1999
by Marc Maurer
The National Federation of the Blind is today what the founders of our movement hoped and dreamed it could become at the time of our beginning in 1940--the most vital force in promoting opportunity for the blind that has ever existed. As we come to this convention, our brilliant long-time leader, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, is no longer with us. He and I talked about the health of the Federation before he died, and we recognized that the organized blind movement has never been stronger or more active or more unified.
Dr. Jernigan's life has come to a close, but his spirit lives, and we dedicate this convention to him. The past and the future converge in this present moment. At this convention we will record the things we have done, and we will dream of the things we plan to accomplish. Our longtime leader is gone, but our direction and purpose are as firm as they have ever been. We promised him that we would carry on, and we have kept that promise. The heart of the Federation is determined, and our strength lies in the people of the movement--in our hopes and dreams, in our courage and determination, in our innate capacity and willingness to work, in the bond and commitment we share with each other.
One of the most successful initiatives we have ever undertaken is the creation of the Kernel Books--a body of literature that explains blindness in simple, straightforward terms. To those without experience and understanding, blindness can be mysterious and fearful. However, our books are eliminating the mystery and dread. The first of these books, What Color Is the Sun?, was published in 1991. Two volumes have appeared each year thereafter, and 1999 will be no exception. The sixteenth book, Remember to Feed the Kittens, is available at this convention; and the seventeenth, Reflecting the Flame, will be released later this year. As in the past these books contain an editor's introduction and a number of first-person accounts of the experiences of blind people.
Dr. Jernigan edited the first fifteen, and I have tried my hand at volumes sixteen and seventeen. The title of number sixteen, Remember to Feed the Kittens, comes from reflections of my own about the life and spirit of Dr. Jernigan. Readers of the Kernel Books have come to know Dr. Jernigan through his writings, and I thought they might like to learn about the relationship that I, as an individual, and that we, as an organization, have had with him.
The seventeenth Kernel Book, Reflecting the Flame, takes its title from experiences that span the decades. Dr. Jernigan taught me to barbecue over an open fire in 1969, and I shared the same experience with a number of Federation leaders in 1999, using, incidentally, a barbecue grill Dr. Jernigan had designed himself. Kindling and maintaining a flame--whether it is in a barbecue pit or the mind of a student--demands certain elements. We in the Federation possess them all, and this Kernel Book describes the method for getting results from the hottest fire or the brightest idea. The responses we continue to receive from the Kernel Books indicate a growing recognition of our work in the Federation and an increased acceptance of blind people as normal, contributing members of society. Although Dr. Jernigan will no longer be editing the Kernel Books, they will continue to be published, and they will continue to contain the spirit which caused them to be written in the first place.
Dr. Jernigan wrote thoughtful and inspiring prose throughout all of his long career. Many of his earlier writings are contained in a volume by Dr. Floyd Matson entitled Walking Alone and Marching Together: A History of the Organized Blind Movement in the United States 1940-1990. However, the body of Dr. Jernigan's thought which was committed to paper after the publication of Dr. Matson's book is now being presented. Much of this body of material has been incorporated in a volume entitled Kenneth Jernigan: the Master, the Mission, the Movement, which will be released later during this convention. Dr. Jernigan is the most profound scholar and the most stimulating author in the field of work with the blind of the latter part of the twentieth century. His beliefs and patterns of thought changed forever the perspectives of administrators of programs for the blind and the expectations and activities of blind people themselves. The teachings in this book deal largely with blindness, but the lessons are equally applicable to the sighted.
The spirit of the man is reflected in his writing, but it is also recorded in the public presentations he made--so very many of which occurred at conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. We have created a videotape of segments of those presentations entitled The Future Is Ours/ Kenneth Jernigan: Builder of the Organized Blind Movement. This video shows him in action, and it portrays one aspect in the life of the Federation which is difficult to comprehend in any other way. The video will also be released later during this convention.
Last summer Dr. Jernigan planned for the construction of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, which will stand on the southwest corner of the city block that presently holds the National Center for the Blind. The new building will be connected with, and will become a part of, the National Center. There is currently a comparatively small one-story building on that corner, which has never been remodeled and which must be removed to make way for the facilities that are needed in the years to come. We will erect a five-story building. The first and second floors will comprise a parking garage. The third floor will be devoted to offices and classroom space. The fourth floor will contain the Jacobus tenBroek Library, which will collect all material on blindness from anywhere in the world and make it available to scholars for research, teaching, and experimentation. The fifth floor of the building will be meeting space, substantial enough to accommodate classes, symposia, technical gatherings, and other meetings--perhaps as large as the convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
During the past decade we in the Federation have talked about the need for additional research and training facilities for teachers, researchers, and others in the field of work with the blind. We have felt that such a new facility would be essential in the development and expansion of our movement--that we would gain the capacity to conduct research from the point of view of the blind consumer, and that this would give altered perspective to the study of blindness. The question has been not whether we should build the facility but when the time would be right and the urgency sufficient to make it necessary. Dr. Jernigan felt late last summer that the time had come, and I concurred with his assessment.
We have established the National Center for the Blind to serve as a focal point in matters dealing with blindness. Programs we operate there belong to us and are conducted from the point of view of the blind consumer. What makes these programs different from others is that we control them and that they contain the spirit of the blind--our spirit. We are the people who dream of a day which has never before been imagined--the people who take the risks to give that day form and shape. We are the people who believe that whatever we imagine we can build--that whatever we want which is right and fair can become our own. We are the people who will never quit until we have found a way to give every blind person a chance for freedom with the power to make it stick.
The techniques and systems used to train the blind in the United States need massive overhaul, and we must find a way to establish training programs that will teach the professors who will teach the teachers who will teach the blind, and we must do it so that the blind themselves are a vital part of the teaching process. We must find a way to address the needs of older blind Americans. We must also insist that innovative solutions to the unsolved problems be sought. Much research has been done about the blind, but rarely have the blind themselves formulated the programs, established the research parameters, and directed the study. Who is better positioned to examine the realities of blindness than the organized blind movement? Who is better positioned to take the risks? Who has more to gain (and, for that matter, more to lose) than we? There are those who would tell us that the problems are solved and that we enjoy today all that the blind can ever hope to expect. But we know better, and we are not prepared to accept the status quo. We will conduct our own research, and we will set the standard of excellence. We will do it in the best research and training center ever created to serve the blind.
We have continued to exercise leadership in programs for the blind. Late last summer Dr. Jernigan conducted a seminar for officers of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the organization consisting of administrators of state agencies for the blind. In December I addressed the executive committee of this organization on the topic of leadership at its meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. This spring I spoke to the entire organization on the subject of the relationship which should exist between the organized blind movement and state agencies established to serve the blind.
There have been attacks on agencies for the blind in a number of states. Last summer, after the convention of the National Federation of the Blind, a bill was introduced in the North Carolina legislature to abolish separate programs for the blind. The legislator who introduced the bill said she was not interested in hearing from a few obnoxious blind people, and she shut off her telephone answering machine. We wrote press releases, organized a march on the Capitol, and invited members of the press to a rally. When the votes were counted, the proposal to abolish separate programs for the blind lost by two votes. But there is talk about raising the question again in the North Carolina legislature.
In Texas the results are not as satisfactory. The legislature decided to eliminate the Texas Commission for the Blind and to amalgamate services for the blind within a super-department. Services for the blind will inevitably suffer because of this change. However, we are not prepared for blindness programs in Texas to be buried so deeply in the bureaucracy that they lose all effectiveness, and we will be back to insist that they be re-established. As we have so often said, we sometimes lose skirmishes, and we occasionally lose battles. But we never lose wars because the war is never over until we win.
The innovative programs of the National Federation of the Blind continue to receive recognition. On September 14, 1998, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our long-time leader and President Emeritus, received the Winston Gordon Award from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind for his pioneering work developing the Newsline(R) for the Blind Network and for related technological innovations. Dr. Jernigan traveled to the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. to accept the award, a solid gold medal and a check for fifteen thousand Canadian dollars.
Last December the governor of Maryland convened a technology showcase to bring together manufacturers of high-tech products in the state. Over six hundred delegates attended the opening breakfast, and I was asked to make a presentation regarding the work of the National Federation of the Blind. Following my remarks, the National Federation of the Blind was named the non-profit organization of the year for innovative development of technology.
Challenges to the priority for the blind granted under the Randolph-Sheppard Act have been coming from the Department of Defense. The United States Army, which operates the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, terminated the contract of a blind vendor named Robert Kelly for food service in the Redstone mess hall. Negotiations had no impact on the Army, so the National Federation of the Blind and the Alabama state licensing agency took the matter to federal court. The Redstone case is one of the shortest in our history. The judge said that the termination of the contract was a violation of the law, and Robert Kelly is still serving food to the troops.
Charles Allen, a blind vendor living in Kentucky, is one of our long-time leaders. The Army notified the state licensing agency in Kentucky that food service provided in the mess hall at Fort Knox would not be a part of the program. We filed a protest, and the decision has been changed. Charles Allen knows the power of the organized blind; he is the manager of food service in the mess hall at Fort Knox.
Our work with the Postal Service is one of the promising developments in the Randolph-Sheppard Program. On a periodic basis we meet with officials of the property-managing arm of the Postal Service to promote understanding and increase opportunities for blind vendors. A number of new vending locations have become a part of the program as a result, and procedures have been established to ensure that every state licensing agency receives early notification of plans to create new postal facilities, with the opportunity to discuss the details for including Randolph-Sheppard vending locations at the planning stage.
While I am discussing relations with the Postal Service, I should mention that our work with the Director of Corporate Personnel, Stephen Leavey, has been cordial and productive. A postal worker, Waverly Evans, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, became blind. Because of his blindness Mr. Evans was forced to quit his job at the Southern Maryland Processing and Distribution Center. He had been working there for nineteen years. At our urging the director of corporate personnel for the Postal Service reconsidered the matter, and Waverly Evans is back at work. It would not have happened without the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind.
On July 1, 1998, one of our members living in the Washington, D.C., area started looking for work in the clerical field. She applied for a job at a temporary agency and asked for the opportunity to take the necessary examinations. To assist with these, she brought a screen-enlarging device for the typing test, but she was told that she would not be permitted to use it. Instead, she was sent away and told to come back another day. The weeks became months. She called the agency repeatedly to ask for an appointment, but there was never time for her. Then she learned of the existence of the National Federation of the Blind and asked for our help. The settlement says we may not disclose the details, so the applicant's name and the name of the company are being withheld. However, you will want to know that the lady in question has received a check from the employer who refused to take her application. Furthermore, she has been interviewed for other employment and is expected to begin work within the next few weeks.
Monica Stugelmeyer lives in Spokane, Washington, and works for the Spokesman/Review newspaper. Her job assignment is to stack sections of the newspaper where they can be assembled and packaged for distribution. In the same area where she works, there is a higher paying job, which requires the employee to put sections of the newspaper into inserting machines so that each paper will have all of its component parts. Monica Stugelmeyer applied for the higher paying job. However, the newspaper refused the request for promotion, saying that operating the inserting equipment is too dangerous for a blind person. With our help Monica Stugelmeyer filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Lawyers for the newspaper tried to convince the EEOC that no discrimination had occurred, saying they were keeping Monica Stugelmeyer from operating the equipment for her own safety. However, Monica Stugelmeyer had already operated the equipment without injury to herself, without damage to property, without endangering anybody else, and without slowing the production process. Consequently, the EEOC was unimpressed by the argument.
Then the lawyers tried to backdoor the process by bringing political pressure on the EEOC. They wrote to United States Senator Slade Gorton to ask that he intervene and give them what they wanted. But this transparent effort also failed. However, the lawyers for the newspaper have not been able to recognize the facts and treat Monica Stugelmeyer with decency. The president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, Scott LaBarre, is representing her, and the matter is headed for the federal court. The evidence of discrimination is clear, and we intend to win.
Priscilla Jones is a blind woman who lives in Aurora, Colorado. For the last fifteen years she has been involved in the childcare business. In 1997 the Aurora Public Schools hired her to be a paraprofessional four in charge of a room of toddlers. At the end of the 1997-98 school year she received a very good performance review. In particular the review noted that Priscilla Jones was very conscientious about safety.
For the 1998-99 school year Priscilla Jones had a new supervisor, and the school district's attitude about her work changed. In October of 1998 the Aurora Public Schools forced Priscilla Jones to take involuntary administrative leave. The school district said that Priscilla Jones could not safely observe and monitor the children in her care because of her blindness. When she pressed them for any specific incidents in which she had fallen short of her responsibilities, district officials were unable to identify any.
Priscilla Jones got in touch with the National Federation of the Blind. We introduced the district to vocational experts from the Colorado Center for the Blind who visited the job site and reviewed the responsibilities of a paraprofessional four. The experts found that blindness does not prevent a person from competently performing the job. However, officials of the school district wouldn't believe it. They said they would be happy to find another job in the district for Priscilla Jones, such as baking assistant. We are helping her fight the discrimination. A lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Denver, and we will ensure that Priscilla Jones gets a chance to use the training and talent she has.
Several years ago the administrators of the Rehabilitation Services for the Blind in Missouri decided to take punitive action against the National Federation of the Blind. They said that (with rare exceptions) literature about the Federation could not be distributed to clients of the rehabilitation system, that any discussion about membership or the value of reading Federation literature was prohibited, and that no blind client could be referred to programs in the Federation (no matter what their content or usefulness) without first receiving permission in writing from the client. Joint programs with other organizations were permitted, but not with the Federation. They went so far (if you can believe it) as to ask us if we would rewrite our literature to remove all references to the National Federation of the Blind. If we took our name out of our literature, they said they would be pleased to distribute it to the clients.
Of course, such actions challenge the right of blind people (both clients and employees of the agency) to participate in organizations of their own choosing, inhibiting freedom of association and violating the Constitution of the United States. So we brought suit in the United States Federal Court, but the decision of the trial judge found in favor of the agency. Prejudice against the blind is no less a part of the mindset of the federal judiciary than it is of the public at large. One of the prejudices that we often face is the one which declares that the agency administrators appointed to take charge of programs for the blind are also appointed to take charge of us--to speak for us and interpret our needs. If (according to this thinking) the agency has decided a matter, it is settled. The blind should be content.
But we decided long ago that we would speak for ourselves in our own voice and in our own way, and we are not prepared to accept the opinion of a federal judge who decides that we do not have the power, the right, or the need to represent the blind. We have filed an appeal with the Federal Court in the Eighth Circuit, and hearings have taken place earlier this spring. The blind have a right, indeed a responsibility, to observe and comment on the actions of programs for the blind, and we will not let officials of those programs intimidate us or seek to diminish voluntary membership in the Federation because of the power they wield. We expect to win this case, but if we don't, we will carry it to the Supreme Court. And make no mistake, if the judiciary of the United States tells us that the blind have no protection against the power of the agencies--if they say the laws permit intimidation of the blind by state government officials--we will change the laws. We will call upon elected officials to ensure that the blind have the same freedoms in this nation possessed by everybody else, and we will not rest until we get it done.
Beulah and Joe Hulsey, two blind people who live in Klamath Falls, Oregon, were married a year ago. Joe had been a construction worker and manager of construction projects until he contracted meningitis and became totally blind. When he became blind, his previous wife departed without ceremony, leaving him with three small children. Being newly blinded, without a job and without a spouse, Joe Hulsey began trying to build a new life. Within a few months he met Beulah. They were married just two years after Joe had become blind.
Because Beulah had never raised children, she thought it would be useful to ask if the Oregon Department of Services to Children and Families had any suggestions, and she requested help. The result of this request was devastating. The Oregon Department of Services to Children and Families came to the house and took the children. Why was this drastic action taken? Because the Hulseys are blind. What was the evidence that the home was unsafe? Department officials were unable to produce any. When pressed for an explanation, they said that the Hulseys had knickknacks on the table within the reach of the children, that there was a pen and pencil set that the toddlers could get, that one of the children had used a stool instead of the steps to climb onto a kiddy slide, and that Joe played with his two-and a-half-year-old daughter by having her slide down his back while he held her hands. That is all; there is nothing else. The judgment of the Department of Services for Children and Families is that blind parents cannot manage their own children. On such flimsy so-called evidence they broke up the family.
However, we of the National Federation of the Blind learned of the tragedy, and we combined our forces to take action. Carla McQuillan, the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, herself a blind mother and the owner and administrator of a school to instruct small children, working with me in the National Office, demanded a hearing to determine whether the Department of Services to Children and Families should be held to account for violating the most sacred of human relationships.
The department began to dodge and weave. As a justification for its actions department officials argued that the children had experienced problems while they were in the home of a foster family. This (according to them) demonstrated that the Hulseys (who are blind after all and obviously less capable than the foster parents) could not manage the children. When the fallacy of this argument was made clear, department officials changed their story. They said that Mr. and Mrs. Hulsey had not received training in the alternative techniques used by the blind and that seizing their children had occurred only for their safety. But we know better. Blind parents are as capable, as caring, and as safe as anybody else, and we presented our evidence in the court.
Today the custody battle is at an end. Joe and Beulah Hulsey have been reunited with their children, and they will soon be receiving orientation training from the Colorado Center for the Blind. The behavior of the Oregon Department of Services to Children and Families is intolerable. However, we the great family of the Federation have taken action. The Hulseys did not know where to turn, but they have met the Federation, and they are with us at this convention today, and so are their children. This too is the power of the National Federation of the Blind.
We also continue to assist people with Social Security cases. In 1995 Marion Feustel, a person who lives in Florida, experienced a sudden and significant loss of vision, but nobody could tell her why. She applied for Social Security disability benefits, but her application was denied. Marion Feustel knew little about her rights, but she had heard of the National Federation of the Blind, and we helped her with an appeal. In February, 1999, an administrative law judge ordered Social Security to pay disability benefits retroactive to November, 1995.
Verna Kerley, a blind vendor living in Tennessee, was notified in 1996 by the Social Security Administration that she would be required to repay $35,923 because she had been working in her vending facility. However, our analysis indicated that no overpayment had occurred. When the appeal was concluded, the facts disclosed that Verna Kerley does not owe Social Security $35,923. Instead, she will be receiving back benefits wrongfully withheld from her in the amount of $21,548.30.
The America's Jobline service, which we have developed through our work in technology, is currently operating in five states: Maryland, Minnesota, California, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. This system provides convenient touch-tone telephone access to the largest, most comprehensive compilation of job announcements anywhere in the world. Each Jobline site can handle up to 70,000 calls per month or 840,000 calls per year. The number of job listings available exceeds 400,000. Each day we transmit more than 30,000 new job announcements to each Jobline site. Last year at our convention the United States Secretary of Labor announced a partnership with us to assure that America's Jobline is established in at least forty locations. This system provides access to employment listings not only to blind individuals but to the sighted as well. No computer is needed to retrieve this information. All that is required is a touch-tone telephone and the desire to look for work. This technological advancement has occurred because of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind.
During the past year we have expanded our NEWSLINE(R) for the Blind Network from forty-three to fifty-nine sites. Five new local service centers have been established in Michigan, five have been installed in Tennessee, and additional sites have been put into operation in Ohio, Delaware, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Nebraska. NEWSLINE(R) currently exists in twenty-six of the fifty states. In addition to the seven national newspapers on NEWSLINE(R), there are more than twenty local papers. Some of those added this year are the Boston Globe, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Detroit Free Press, the Huntington Herald Dispatch, the Idaho Statesman, and the Naperville Daily Herald. NEWSLINE(R) provides a greater volume of information to the blind than has ever before been available. We who are blind have been information-deprived, but with NEWSLINE(R) we are closing the gap. Indeed, in a very real sense those of us who have NEWSLINE(R) in our hometowns have an advantage over the sighted--we have several newspapers--sighted people usually have only one.
We have been represented this year on the Microsoft Accessibility Advisory Council, which encourages the improvement of accessibility to Microsoft products. And we have participated in the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, which we helped to draft and which are modeled after the state technology bills we have written, require the board to issue guidelines to ensure that electronic products purchased by the federal government are accessible to disabled people. This committee submitted a report setting forth the standards we recommend to assure nonvisual access to technology. There will be public hearings before these standards are adopted as part of the federal procurement procedures, and there may be arguments against accepting these recommendations. However, we will insist that the policy be implemented to give full scope to the equal-access provisions of the law.
We have continued to maintain the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind as the only comprehensive center which contains at least one of every access device manufactured anywhere in the world to provide information to the blind. During the past twelve months we have acquired two new Pentium II 450 megahertz computers with scanners, two CD-ROM tutorials for the Windows operating system, one single-sided Braille embosser, four refreshable Braille displays, one screen reader for Windows NT, one Roadrunner hand-held electronic text reading device, one stand-alone reading machine, one software speech synthesizer, twenty computer games for the blind, one optical Braille recognition software program which converts Braille into electronic text, one IBM homepage reader for use with the World Wide Web, two different barcode reading and identification systems, and numerous software upgrades for the latest technology-access systems.
The number of training programs conducted in conjunction with the International Braille and Technology Center has increased. We have taught eight information access technology training classes for the Job Opportunities for the Blind program, two comprehensive technology training classes, one Johns Hopkins University course for teachers of the blind, and two In-Touch workshops on technology for parents and teachers of blind children. In addition to these, hundreds of other blind people have visited the National Center for the Blind to learn about technology, and we have accepted questions by telephone from thousands of others.
At our convention last year in Dallas the United States Secretary of Labor announced a grant for an experimental training and placement initiative which extended and expanded the Job Opportunities for the Blind program. This experimental effort began immediately with plans for training classes. Fifty-three blind people have received this training, and twenty-five percent of these have entered the workforce. A number of others are proceeding through the interview process. From our interaction with applicants in the Job Opportunities for the Blind program this year, it is evident that many blind people seeking employment need additional training. Consequently the Job Opportunities for the Blind program is being modified to combine the best training features of rehabilitation programs operated within the Federation with training efforts conducted at the National Center for the Blind. Not only will we be training individual blind people in the Job Opportunities for the Blind program, but we will also be offering consultation to employers in the proper technology to give equal access to blind employees.
One component of our effort to improve Braille literacy instruction is the publication of our new book, Braille: A Code for Success. This is a self-study tutorial to prepare teachers and others to take the National Literary Braille Competency Test. This book is available at this convention.
To continue the vital work of the Federation in promoting Braille literacy, we have, shortly before this convention, been awarded a new five-year grant by the Rehabilitation Services Administration to offer assistance to counselors and teachers of the blind in matters dealing with Braille and classes in the technology to produce Braille.
We have continued to maintain the National Center for the Blind, replacing an air conditioning system that had been in operation for twenty years and taking other steps to ensure that the center is in tiptop shape. In preparation for constructing the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, plans have been made to move the maintenance shop from the central courtyard building to the Barney Street wing of the main building. In the process electrical service must be shifted and an upgraded ventilation system installed. A very large overhead door will be needed to permit access to the shop. In addition we will add a paint room, a tool room, and office space.
The ongoing activities of the Federation continue to expand. Our Aids, Appliances, and Materials Center has filled almost six thousand orders this year, and we have distributed almost 30,000 copies of our small reference book, If Blindness Comes. The first fifteen of our Kernel Books are available in print, in Braille, and on cassette. The most recent of these to be released is To Touch the Untouchable Dream, which became available last fall. We have published and we are distributing a book by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei entitled Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: From Preschool through High School. Learning to travel with a cane is of vital importance to the independence of the blind, and this book is a guide that will answer questions about this skill. Working along with our division for the senior blind, we have produced a new general information brochure for older blind people called "Aging and Vision Loss." We have increased the amount of literature in Spanish available on cassette to eleven titles. And we continue to distribute approximately two million aids, appliances, and pieces of literature each year from the Materials Center.
More people have visited the National Center for the Blind in the past twelve months than ever before in history. Among them were a number of business leaders, many public officials, and several members of Congress. The number of visitors this year is one thousand eight hundred and one.
We are continuing to develop the library of Federation material available on the Internet. More than twenty-five hundred files are now on our Web site, and we have provided information to individuals in seventy-three countries this year. The magazine produced by the Diabetes Action Network, our diabetics division, continues to grow. This publication is now being circulated to just over a quarter of a million people each quarter. We continue to publish the Braille Monitor with a circulation of 35,000 copies per month; the presidential releases; the recorded edition of the American Bar Association Journal; Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children; and a number of other national, state, and local magazines.
The influence of the Federation may be measured in part by the sheer volume of our activity, but this is not the only way to comprehend it. A letter from the President of the Federation of the Blind of Turkey dated February 21, 1999, says in part:
We have found out the death of Dr. Jernigan with deep sorrow. He died in October, but it took more than three months to reach us because we receive the Braille Monitor by surface mail.
Dr. Jernigan was a fighter--a fighter for the rights of the blind on one side--and a fighter for making the blind come to themselves for first-class citizenship in society on the other side. His teachings reached even the blind living in the countries like Turkey, thousands of miles away from his own country. The blind here were very influenced by his teachings and his moral support.
His philosophy and struggle guided us to get out of difficulties we experienced on our way to building a strong organization.
With these feelings and thoughts, we extend warm greetings of the Turkish blind to the brothers and sisters at the National Federation of the Blind of the United States. In your name we wish all our brothers and sisters happiness and success! Yours sincerely,
President, National Federation of the Blind of Turkey.
The programs we conduct and the materials we publish offer hope to the blind both in our country and in other lands as well. Sometimes we touch the heart of a blind child, and sometimes we speak to the listening spirit of an adult or a teacher or a parent. The Federation engages in many activities, but the thing we do best is to offer a new way of life.
We in the National Federation of the Blind hold a sacred trust that demands from us faith in ourselves and the willingness to believe in each other. Those who have preceded us in the Federation understood the demands of this trust; they sacrificed to give us opportunity that they never knew. We, in our turn, must build for tomorrow and make the sacrifices for ourselves and those who come after us. Our history as a movement contains many triumphs, and if we keep faith with our heritage, there will be many more. However, there have also been sorrows. We must learn from these and gain from them strength and determination.
If we are satisfied with conditions as they are, if we become complacent, if we are not prepared to put our energy and our resources and our imaginative effort on the line, the vitality of our movement will sink into obscurity and cease to be. But it will never happen because we will not permit it. Whatever the risks, we will take them. Whatever the challenges, we will meet them. Whatever the obstacles, we will surmount them. For our movement there are only two alternatives: build for the future or falter in our progress. But we will not falter; we will find the courage; we will give all that is good within us; and we will prevail! I know this with absolute certainty, for I have met the mind and spirit of the members of the Federation, and there can be no other response. The future belongs to us, and we go to meet it with joy! This is the National Federation of the Blind, and this is my report for 1999.
[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Six people are grouped around a veiled object on a podium. CAPTION: Left to right Tony Cobb, Marie Cobb, Joyce Scanlan, Marc Maurer, Mary Ellen Jernigan, and Lloyd Jernigan prepare to unveil the bronze bust of Dr. Jernigan.]
[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Six people are grouped around the unveiled bust. Mrs. Jernigan's hand rests on the shoulder of the bust.
CAPTION: Left to right Tony Cobb, Marie Cobb, Joanne Wilson, Mary Ellen Jernigan, Mary Jernigan, and Lloyd Jernigan stand beside the bust of Dr. Jernigan.]
The Master, the Mission,
Independence day was a fitting time for the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind to remember and pay tribute to our long-time leader and beloved friend, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. President Maurer began the memorial portion of the Sunday morning session agenda by pointing out that the three flags present on the platform (United States, Canada, and NFB) as well as the large flag that flies atop the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore were flying at half mast for the day in recognition of and respect for the life and death of Dr. Jernigan. He then described a forty-two-inch-high walnut podium present that morning at the right side of the stage, the side where Dr. Jernigan always sat. The podium had been lovingly made by staff members at the National Center for the Blind from wood found and preserved by Dr. Jernigan himself--wood that he always intended to use for some special purpose. At the four corners of the rising column of the podium, and supporting the actual flat podium surface were four large wooden spools of the kind on which thread used to be wound. Dr. Jernigan, in the days when he crafted furniture, found ways of using such spools in the construction of his pieces. Finding a function for those rejected spools was perhaps his first successful effort to take something that no one else wanted and make of it a useful and beautiful creation.
A drape covered a large object placed on the podium, and spotlights were trained on that area of the platform. Dr. Maurer; the NFB officers; Don Capps, the senior member of the Board; Mrs. Jernigan; Marie Cobb, Doctor Jernigan's daughter, and her husband Tony; and Lloyd Jernigan, Dr. Jernigan's brother, and his wife Mary all gathered around the podium and together withdrew the drape to reveal a bronze bust of Dr. Jernigan, created by the sculptor Joseph Moss. A white cane rendered in walnut is incorporated into the podium at Dr. Jernigan's right shoulder. The bust is roughly life-size and, displayed on the podium, is almost exactly Dr. Jernigan's height. Though many delegates had already examined the bust in the Jernigan suite, it seemed fitting for it to be officially unveiled at the beginning of the convention memorial service.
PHOTO/CAPTION: Debbie Brown (left) and Lloyd Rasmussen (right) sing Debbie's newest song in celebration of the life of Kenneth Jernigan. Tom Bickford (center) accompanies them on the guitar.
Debbie Brown, one of the leaders of the Maryland affiliate, wrote a song in celebration of Dr. Jernigan's life and work. She and Lloyd Rasmussen sang it to Tom Bickford's guitar accompaniment. [sound bite 8] Here is the text:
A Song for Kenneth Jernigan
Words and music
by Deborah Brown
(C)1998 by Deborah Brown
You were born a poor boy
In the hills of Tennessee.
The people there had never met
Someone who couldn't see.
Though your family loved you,
They sometimes got in your way,
But you made some money
While the others just made hay.
You tried to be a lawyer,
But your counselor told you, "no,"
If you want our money,
Find another way to go."
So you became a teacher,
And today you're teaching still.
The counselor didn't know
You had a dream he couldn't kill.
Because your dreams were bigger
Than your rehab counselor's mind,
Someday they'd reach beyond you
To enfold all of the blind.
But the world was changing
As you taught in Tennessee
Because Jacobus tenBroek
Led the fledgling NFB;
While at your first convention
Did you know his leadership
Would be passed on to you?
You went to California,
Then in Iowa you taught.
You knew we couldn't learn
Unless we changed the way we thought;
You reached a generation
With the stirring words you said,
But they were more than words,
For your philosophy baked bread.
Because your dreams were bigger
Than one generation's mind,
Today they reach beyond you
To enfold all of the blind.
You followed Dr. tenBroek
At the head of NFB;
You led us in the war
Against repressive agencies;
The blind across the nation
Helped you storm the gates of NAC;
You told them, "We know who we are,
And we're not going back!"
Because of you we witnessed
NAC's dying agonies,
But now the blind are facing
A new set of enemies;
The agencies were flound'ring,
Their exalted place denied;
You made them see the wisdom
Of enlisting on our side.
Because your dreams were bigger
Than the blindness experts' minds,
Today they reach beyond you
To enfold all of the blind.
You stood behind the effort
To improve technology,
But you believed solutions
Should transcend mere gadgetry.
Because you knew the problems
That now face the nation's blind
Are not the fault of hardware
But the software in the mind.
The Kernel Books have helped us
With the stories that they tell:
As children, parents, workers too,
We can get along quite well;
The Federation's teachings
Have spread over all the Earth;
Because of you the blind
Of every land now know their worth.
Because your dreams were bigger
Than a single country's mind,
Today they reach beyond you
To enfold the whole world's blind.
Though we truly love you,
And we're sorry that you're gone,
We know your greatest wish
Is for the movement to go on;
Though future generations
Will extol your memory,
We know our altered lives
Will be your greatest legacy.
Because your dreams were bigger
Than your generation's mind,
Today they reach beyond you
To enfold the future blind.
The first actual speaker in the memorial program was Don Capps, President of the NFB of South Carolina, the senior member of the NFB Board of Directors, and a close friend and colleague of Dr. Jernigan for over forty years. His remarks at the December memorial service and printed in the January/February memorial issue of the Braille Monitor were similar to his recollections at the convention and are therefore not reprinted here. The remaining speakers did not address the memorial service in December, and their remarks are reprinted on the following pages.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ramona Walhof]
Details and Patterns:
A Beloved Teacher Remembered
by Ramona Walhof
Always keep this fact in mind:
The old cow's tail hangs down behind.
Although it's muddy and full of burrs,
The old cow loves it because it's hers.
What a vivid picture! What a useful lesson! And how very typical of Dr. Jernigan to use such a little poem as a teaching tool.
I was most fortunate to meet Dr. Jernigan at a young age, about the time I graduated from high school. Through the years he has been mentor, a second father, a colleague, an employer, and a dear friend. His loss to me personally is immense. I know that I share this feeling with thousands of others. So we meet here to honor and remember this amazing man.
Dr. Jernigan was one of the most colorful personalities of the twentieth century, one of the best thinkers in the land, and one of the most compassionate people of our time. More than that, he practiced and taught a kind of self-discipline that is rare. I thank God for sending him to us. And I thank God for the privilege to have known and learned from him.
Dr. Jernigan caused us to try to do the things we really believed would be impossible individually and collectively. He helped us dream of things that were brand new. He led us to understand how to make the changes we desperately wanted and those we had not dared to hope for. He truly cared about thousands of individuals around the world and reached out in different ways to more people than most of us can comprehend. In return we loved him. It seems a little thing, but Dr. Jernigan took strength and determination from the support and loyalty we offered.
There are so many special times to remember. I think of being invited to his apartment for breakfast on Sunday mornings when I was a student at the Iowa Orientation Center and the discussions at the breakfast table about things like brains in their eggs or tongue in their sandwiches. I remember being sent back to make bigger hamburgers to be grilled on the roof.
I recall a discussion about whether girls should wear pants to the local amusement park. Then there was the time that I was invited to dinner at the Mayflower Hotel in early 1965 before the National Convention in Washington, D.C. That was the night I was introduced to a yard of beer and to the D.C. Chapter of the NFB.
In 1967 in Los Angeles I went to see Dr. Jernigan. We were forming the Student Division, and there were three college students from other states at that convention, but there were a whole bunch of Iowans. I said to Dr. Jernigan, "How many people from Iowa would it be reasonable to put on the Board of the Student Division?" thinking he would say two. But he didn't. He said, "Three." It was the beginning of a lot of learning for all of us, and we grew in the Student Division.
I remember his pride when the Library of Congress ordered all the copies we had printed of our brand new, very first edition of the Handbook for Blind College Students.
Dr. Jernigan's teaching methods were as varied as everything else. One day I was told that I needed to learn to play better. He told me that my sister knew how to play better than I did. He said that, when she had taught him to rat his hair, she had been playing and did it well. I thought back to the day when my sister, Susan Ford, and I were both in college and had been riding in the back seat of Dr. Jernigan's car. He asked Susan if (I'm sure this wasn't the first time) she wanted to teach him to rat his hair. Sitting behind him, she took a comb out of her purse and reached forward and began to work on Dr. Jernigan's hair. She told him she could do a better job if he didn't wear so much hair oil. Of course we were all doubled over with laughter. Then she had to comb out all the rats so he would be presentable for whatever we were going to do. I accused him of flirting with Susan to encourage what she was doing. He didn't deny it. He responded as you might expect. "Define flirting."
Dr. Jernigan taught us to "lick our calves over" when we were not thorough. He taught us to use the carrot and the stick. He taught us to consider both the spirit and the letter of the law. He taught us new words such as omphaloskepsis. He taught us how to eat an elephant one bite at a time. He taught us grammar to discipline our minds. He taught us generosity, boldness, and gentleness and tried to show us when to use which. Dr. Jernigan left us a trust to carry on the work of building the Federation and advancing opportunities for the blind. During many conversations recently and long ago, he said that the best way to love him is to carry on the work of the National Federation of the Blind and to reach out to other blind people. And he meant it.
Every moment with Dr. Jernigan was fascinating. His curiosity was compelling. Discovery for him was a delight; whether he found a talking toy or a new story or poem or (best of all) the discovery of a keen young mind, he enjoyed the find.
If Dr. Jernigan could find a way to help, he did. In 1972 my husband was suffering from diabetic kidney disease. Kidney transplants were only experimental at that time. We had two babies under the age of two and no money. It was a hard time, and Dr. Jernigan understood. He told us he needed us at the convention that year and that he would find the funds for us to attend. He said that it would not be a loan but that we should pay the money to someone else at some future time when we could and found someone who needed the help. He wanted us to go to the convention, and we wanted to go. As it happened, my husband died before that convention. I needed a job, and Dr. Jernigan offered me the work I needed. I know that similar offers for financial help have been made to others, and I know that the response has often been exactly as Dr. Jernigan wished. We have passed on the assistance to others when we could and when the need was there.
Dr. Jernigan insisted that every detail was important. But he never lost sight of patterns and trends. This is the combination that made him so effective as a friend and teacher but also made him the world's greatest leader in the organization that is the strongest force in progress for the blind.
We have known and appreciated the generosity and love he offered. We must keep it uppermost in our hearts and minds as we continue to do as he asked: build the movement for the blind of this and coming generations.
The heritage Dr. Jernigan left us has already affected millions of people, both blind and sighted. It is as wonderful as the man himself. We shall cherish him in this work, in the literature he left us, and in our hearts. His spirit will always be with us. We shall follow his guidance with force when we must, with creativity and energy, but most of all with love for each other and joy in our work. As long as we continue to follow his example and these directives, we honor Dr. Jernigan. We want to do it. We must. And we will. In a very real sense we, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, working together building a better world for the blind today and in the future as we go ahead with our leader Dr. Maurer, are a large part of his legacy. I have a feeling he knows we are carrying out the lessons he taught us. Let us make him proud.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joanne Wilson]
The Circumference of our Minds
by Joanne Wilson
It was once said that whoever controls the circumference of our minds controls the circumference of our beings. The year was 1966; I was a young college student struggling with the problems of how to function as a blind person. I was dragged to my first encounter with blind people, which was a student seminar held at the Iowa Commission for the Blind.
After the day's events the students were invited to a fancy restaurant to relax and enjoy each other. I was seated next to Dr. Jernigan. I sat in awe and listened and knew that something important was about to happen. As I was leaning over the candle in the middle of the table trying to read my bill so I could pay for my meal, Dr. Jernigan suddenly asked me, "Joanne, are you blind?"
I said, "No, no, I'm not blind--I just can't see very well."
He held up his hand and said, "How many fingers do I have up?"
I said, "Well, I can sort of see your hand there, but I can't exactly tell how many fingers you have up."
He said, "Joanne, you're blind." The talk that followed was like nothing I had ever heard. That night and in the months and years to follow, a voice was put to all the confusion and funny notions about blindness that I had in my mind. I was taught to define philosophy. I was given knowledge, belief, and most of all hope.
I went to the Iowa Commission for the Blind, and I learned many things. I learned skills. I learned a philosophy about blindness, but I also learned how to get political influence and how to build an organization, how to be a leader, how to get elected and stay elected, how to give a speech, how to be an advocate, how to have discipline and work real hard. I learned how to play; I learned how to love; and I learned how to give.
Dr. Jernigan was always teaching and sometimes even used words. Everything that Dr. Jernigan did from the ordinary to the spectacular, from ordering a meal to giving a banquet speech, always seemed to have a purpose and to be a part of something bigger, to be a part of building a great movement. All his actions and all his works were part of something bigger.
He taught me how to make my day-to-day activities count and to be a part of a bigger cause. I remember one day, when we students were sitting in our discussion groups, Dr. Jernigan came into the room and started telling us about a legislative banquet that we were going to have in a couple of weeks. He started assigning jobs to us--explaining how we were going to help set up the tables and get things organized and mix and mingle with the legislators. Then he told us we needed to buy our tickets and pay for another person's ticket. We said, "What? we don't have any money--why, we ought to get our meal for free. We're going to do all this other work." Well, a discussion ensued. It was the first time I heard the words, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." At that legislative banquet we all stood with pride and dignity when Dr. Jernigan got up and said to the legislators, "Your meal has been bought by a blind person."
I remember another time. It was about 5:30 in the morning. I was sound asleep in my dorm room at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, and suddenly there was a rap at the door. My heart pounded, and I heard Dr. Jernigan out there saying, "Hurry, hurry Joanne come to my apartment immediately. It's urgent." I heard him go up and down the hall, knocking on other students' doors saying, "Hurry, hurry, come immediately to my apartment." We all rushed down there. We had our robes on, and I had big rollers in my hair and my flip flops on, and my night cream was dripping from my face. We ran in there with our hearts pounding. We gathered in his living room, and he said, "Surprise, come as you are party."
We learned, and we began to live what we learned. Where were you when you heard of the death of Dr. Jernigan? On that October 12, I was in a fancy restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas, relaxing after a hard day of rock climbing with the students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. My cell phone rang; I took the phone and went to a quiet part of the restaurant and heard the news. On my way back to my table in the restaurant, I felt confused and sad. I felt empty and uncomfortable. What should I do next?
I sat down at my table and looked around. There at my table were young college students struggling with the problems of how to function as blind people. I thought, "Dr. Jernigan, even at this moment you are teaching me a lesson." I had a flashback to my first dinner with Dr. Jernigan, and I knew he was telling me to pass it on. We had made the full circle. I was there to give the knowledge, the belief, and the dreams to these blind students. I was there to be their voice and to give them a defined philosophy about blindness. Whoever controls the circumference of our minds controls the circumference of our beings. Thank you, Dr. Jernigan, for helping us be.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Barbara Pierce speaks during the memorial service. To her right can be seen Dr. Jernigan's empty chair.]
Lessons from a Master
by Barbara Pierce
I consider that I knew Dr. Jernigan from January of 1974 until his death. That January was the first time I listened to recordings of his speeches, and doing so gave me the feeling that I had met the mind and spirit of this remarkable man. It was not until that June that I actually had direct contact with him. I had written him a letter. I am not sure how I expected him to respond, but it was certainly not the long, thoughtful, prompt letter I received. I could not have been more surprised or delighted if the letter had come from the President of the United States or the Queen of England. That was always my experience of Dr. Jernigan--a man who gave and expected more of himself and me than I did.
Part of his genius was challenging the people around him to do more than they thought themselves capable of. For example, he told me fairly early in my life as a Federationist that he wanted me to begin representing the NFB in media interviews. This was unsettling news, but, since he had assigned me the job, I began reading the Braille Monitor even more carefully and listening to Presidential releases with great attention. Then I went out and did my best. You always wanted to do your best for him because he always gave his best to all of us, and that best was very good indeed.
I was sitting in a 1987 convention session when Dr. Jernigan called me to the platform to speak to him. To my astonishment and dismay he asked me to try my hand at writing that year's convention round-up. He told me to study what he had written the year before and then give it a try. I was dubious about my ability to produce anything that would save him time, but again I did my best, and with a bit of first-aid he was able to use it.
At the 1988 convention he asked me to come to work for the Federation to see if I could learn to edit the Monitor. Agreeing to do so was one of the most courageous things I have ever done. But it was just one more example of Dr. Jernigan's challenge to reach further and do more than one thought possible.
For almost ten years I had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Jernigan. Watching him write was fascinating. He usually began an article seated at his desk, his secretary in the chair across from him with a steno pad on her knee. After thinking a moment, he would dictate a title. He might throw out two or three suggestions before he got it right, but he never began writing without at least a working title. Then the sentences began coming, word by word, complete with correct punctuation. Soon the phone would ring. He would stop and deal with whatever the call brought; then he would ask to hear the last paragraph or, more often, everything he had written so far. He might well make changes or even rewrite or insert an entire sentence or paragraph. Eventually he might get up to pace around his office as he dictated or corrected text. I often marveled that his secretaries could decipher the layers of correction. So it went, interruption after interruption, hour after hour. Sometime late in that first day of observation he turned to me and said: "People think that those who write well throw long touchdown passes; they don't realize that we have to grind out our progress yard by yard on the ground, just like everybody else."
When he completed a draft or a day's work on a draft, he would ask for the text in Braille. That's what he took home to read over. The next day he was back, draft in hand, to read the text aloud and make the changes he had decided upon so his secretary could pencil them in on a print copy. He would listen carefully to his own voice as he read. His ear told him when a subtle alteration in the text would improve the work. "That will have a better ring," he would comment as he substituted a word, and when you thought about it, he was right.
That was how he began teaching me to shape my own writing. Gradually I learned to avoid word repetition, the passive voice, and jargon words like "utilize" or "usage" instead of short, vigorous words like "use." Having seen the merciless rigor with which he edited his own writing, I found it exciting rather than depressing to watch him tinker with and rework my text. The process was always instructive.
Then there were the Braille lessons. As many of you know, I mastered the Braille code as a teenager, but I never bothered to work on reading speed. Decoding those little dots was slow and hard, and I never saw anyone read quickly. Not until I listened to those speeches in 1974 did I realize that it was possible to read Braille at speaking speed. And not until I began working closely with Dr. Jernigan did anyone suggest that there was any point in my trying to make up the deficit in my education rather than complaining about it.
As usual, Dr. Jernigan didn't just suggest that I do something about it. When I hesitantly asked whether he thought I could increase my speed, he offered to help. That was the beginning of a remarkable period of investigation and discovery. Dr. Jernigan undertook to analyze how he used his hands when he read. He taught me to anchor my left hand and read the first few words of each line with that index finger while the rest of the hand marked the place and held on to the page--a handy skill when reading standing up. Meanwhile he explained that the right index finger reads the right two thirds of the line, and the middle and ring fingers travel lightly across the space at the top of the line, keeping place and gathering information about the tops of the letters. He would often interrupt his own proofreading to point out some detail his ring finger had discovered.
Unfortunately I don't think I increased speed as rapidly as Dr. Jernigan expected, but he was always optimistic and encouraging. Despite the important matters constantly demanding his attention, he regularly inquired whether I was continuing to read every day and how my speed was coming.
History will remember that Kenneth Jernigan harnessed his tremendous intelligence and compassion to tackle the job of setting all blind people free. But we who knew him will remember his ability and willingness to use his talents to help his friends, and all of us were his friends. It is easier for most of us to grasp his individual acts of humanity, for they defined the man in ways we could understand. In the larger world Dr. Jernigan made significant strides in redefining the way society sees blind people. I am deeply grateful for his contribution to improving the quality of my life and the lives of my blind brothers and sisters. But he was also my friend and mentor. He taught me to read and to write. He also taught me to stand on my head, but that's another story.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joyce Scanlan]
Of Gates and Good Intentions
by Joyce Scanlan
"Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be lifted up, ye everlasting doors." These are lines from the Twenty-fourth Psalm, which for many years were code words between Dr. Jernigan and me to signal our memories of an incident in which he, the consummate teacher, helped me to understand more fully how to be a leader in the organized blind movement.
In 1973, when I was a fairly new member of the National Federation of the Blind, by some fluke of fate I was elected president of our Minnesota affiliate. Now, if we all remember our history--and there are many who will never let me forget that history--Minnesota had the dubious distinction of having two Federation affiliates, the only state with such a distinction, and the group of which I was elected president had the additional notable feature of owning and operating a residential home for the blind.
This home had gates at the tops of the stairways--you know, to protect the blind people from falling down the stairs and being hurt. Well, this was a situation in which Dr. Jernigan helped me to get out of a potential mess. Shortly after I became president, some of our new Federationists in the student division prevailed upon me to take the gates off the stairs because, they argued, having the gates wasn't consistent with Federation philosophy. The gates should be removed so the residents could learn to be independent. Most of the residents were elderly, and they were used to having the gates. Of course they were most unhappy when the gates were taken away. Someone called Dr. Jernigan to complain about what had been done, and he called me to discuss the matter.
He began the telephone conversation by telling me about Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson and how one had a philosophy but no army, while the other had a large army and didn't worry much about philosophy. Dr. Jernigan then said that if I was to accomplish all that we hoped for in the Federation, I would need an army of people to do it, and the philosophy would come second. He said the gates weren't that important and should be put back on. He also cautioned me that it should be done with good grace, not grudgingly. I conceded that he was right and returned the gates to their proper spot at the top of the stairs. The residents of the home were again happy, and I was prevented from being a very short-term state president.
Dr. Jernigan hadn't been at all harsh with me. He was very gentle in explaining why it had been a mistake to tamper with something the older people had come to depend upon. He said I needed those people as part of an army as much as they needed the gates. Any philosophical conflict between the gates and Federation thinking could be worked out. Having the gates for a little longer wouldn't hurt, and eventually, he said, the people at the home would ask for the gates to be removed. The home was sold in 1980, and I have always regretted that I didn't keep one of those gates as a memento of the experience.
Over the years Dr. Jernigan and I often spoke of that incident. It was a wonderful lesson for me. In fact, this single incident made up an entire textbook of Federation instruction, which has often served as a guide along the way as I have wrestled with our philosophy and how it can be applied to real life and how the National Federation of the Blind functions. "Remember the gates," Dr. Jernigan would often say. The incident of the gates set down a firm foundation for me in how the Federation values people. We love one another, and we treat each other with fairness and respect.
And Dr. Jernigan taught me many more lessons. I had always envied those who had learned from him as students at the Iowa Commission for the Blind. They benefited from ongoing contact with him over a period of many months. However, my contacts with him at National and some State Conventions, Thanksgiving Board meetings, leadership seminars, and a few other meetings here and there made each and every encounter so special and so memorable that I can appreciate my good fortune for having had the benefit of knowing him and working with him for many years.
I'll never forget having dinner with him at the Waikiki Room restaurant at the Leamington Hotel in Minneapolis where we both enjoyed sampling every hors d'oeuvre on the menu while sharing a Sidewinder's Fang. Then there was the time he sat down for breakfast at a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin, early in April and asked the waitress, "Do you have any fresh figs?" The answer was a definite "No." He gave me guidance, support, and counsel throughout all these years, through good times and difficult times. As a new state president I had much to learn about political strategizing. There were times when I might be discouraged by the burdens of a state presidential election when the older members of the Minnesota affiliate would campaign hard and seem to gain strength. I would call Dr. Jernigan and whine about the tactics being used by the opposition. Political organizing was all new to me. The old folks had long experience fighting everything and everybody, including each other. My supporters were mainly college students, who had neither skills nor experience in political scrapping.
I made so many stupid errors in chairing state conventions that I marvel at how Dr. Jernigan could sit there patiently and watch me struggle with the tough old guys winning on most points. Then Dr. Jernigan would call me the following week to review my performance. Although it seemed to me that I had done just about everything wrong and he told me what errors I had made, he somehow always found some good in what I had done. He talked to me about doing my homework. The old folks had done theirs, and they had won. Dr. Jernigan guided me through these difficulties and showed me how to take chairing conventions and weathering elections in stride. He would say, when I complained, "Now, Joyce, you don't expect your opponent to stand up before you and salute you and say, `Shoot me first,' do you?" He taught me to pay heed to the votes. He would also say, "When you have the votes, you can afford to be nice to your opponent; when you don't have the votes, you must be nice." His deep personal integrity set a high example for all of us to follow. I have always tried very hard.
There were fun times too. My one and only positive rehab lesson was taught me by Dr. Jernigan. At the very first leadership seminar in 1973, when we all went to dinner at the Charcoal Pit in Des Moines, he showed me how to grill a steak, and both of us enjoyed the steaks and the experience. He also gave Tom and me a lesson in making NFB tea one Sunday afternoon after a Board meeting. At that time, and probably still today, there was no recipe for NFB tea. He had a whole shelf full of liquid spices, and he would take each one in turn, uncap it, tip it over the mixing bowl of tea, and say, "Now listen, this is how much you put in," as the spice trickled into the mixture. There was no formal measurement, only the auditory method, listening to the trickle. It was great fun, but how could anyone repeat such a performance and come out with fine NFB tea? No one really understands that.
I thank Dr. Jernigan for giving me a meaningful life. When I came into the National Federation of the Blind in 1970, I had lost everything: my eyesight certainly, but my livelihood, my confidence and self-esteem, any hope for a successful career. Life for a blind person in North Dakota was very bleak--no opportunity, no hope for change. Then Dr. Jernigan and the Federation came along, and everything began to change. Blindness might bring problems, but there are definite solutions to those problems. Blind people have the right to equal treatment and opportunity, and blind people can dream of how life can be made better. Blind people can turn dreams into reality. Working together, blind people have the power to change what it means to be blind. We have a united voice; we have a firm philosophy; we have a common purpose. All of this meant a great deal to me. But it was all very different from everything I had known during the early years of my life. It also meant that I had to change my whole approach to life--no more hiding out, no more excuses, no more shirking responsibility.
The model set for us by Dr. Jernigan challenges all of us to a high standard of conduct. I remember well his guidance and teaching during the Minneapolis Society for the Blind lawsuit and proxy fight. This type of litigation and corporate warfare was totally new to all of us. During the trial, when Dr. Jernigan came to testify, the Society lawyer asked him if the Federation was funding the lawsuit. Dr. Jernigan's response was, "Well I don't know if we have put any money into it or not, but let me say that, if we didn't, we should have." That floored the attorney, who had expected an outright denial. How strong and decisive Dr. Jernigan was in answering unfriendly questions. He took the Society attorneys completely off guard by being so definite and giving specific reasons to support what he said. Dr. Jernigan always knew what to do. He was always ready with ideas for what should be done. Of course we won the lawsuit against the Society.
None of us had ever before been involved in a proxy battle either. It was a time of vicious attacks, threatening phone calls, character assassinations where our people were employed, high-priced, hostile ads attacking the Federation and its leaders circulated far and wide. When the troops would seem to waver and begin to wonder whether the whole battle was worth all the trouble, Dr. Jernigan would say, "We are in this battle now, and even if we fight and lose, we will be better off for having fought than if we had never tried at all." He told us that we were fighting for a worthy cause, and at the best we would all know the triumph of high achievement; and at the worst, if we failed, we would at least fail while daring bravely. Once again he was there; he listened to our mournful complaints and lent his words of wisdom and support.
All this time Dr. Jernigan was being attacked from every direction. Our NAC opponents were very busy attempting to destroy Dr. Jernigan and the Federation. I tried to give to him the same support he had given me, but I know I received far more than I gave.
Hopefully we will never again be called upon to engage in such battles, for today, again thanks to Dr. Jernigan's powers of persuasion and charisma, the field of blindness is experiencing unprecedented harmony. NAC and other agencies which once opposed us are no longer viable. But the National Federation of the Blind is stronger today than ever before.
The best of all I know and believe about blindness and about life I learned from Dr. Jernigan. He taught me to dream of a better world for blind people and how to work hard or fight--if that was necessary--to make that dream come true. All of us today are considering what his loss will mean to the National Federation of the Blind and to blind people everywhere. Yet within each of us lies the very best that we have been given by a most generous and loving person.
Although he has passed from our midst in one sense, he will always be with us in spirit to guide, to persuade, to mentor, to support, to teach. All of us have better lives because of the organization he built. If we all live our lives as Dr. Jernigan lived his, we know the organized blind movement will thrive in years to come. We can make it happen, and, Dr. Jernigan, we will make it happen. We will all follow the legacy you have set and support and march with President Maurer to continue the work of the National Federation of the Blind. And whatever my personal role in the Federation may be in the future, I promise, Dr. Jernigan, I will always remember the gates.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Allen Harris]
by Allen Harris
In 1967, having been graduated from college and preparing to look for a job as a teacher, for the longest time I had wanted to coach wrestling and teach. Actually I wanted to coach wrestling, and someone said you'd have to teach also. I said that I'd be willing to do that. I just wanted to coach wrestling. So after an intensive and prolonged struggle to find work, in the fall of 1967 I was employed by the Dearborn Board of Education to teach social studies and to coach wrestling, the only things I ever wanted to do.
At that time another thing happened in my life. I said to myself--no one else, for I was the one who felt it, knew it, and had lived it--that I didn't want to hear, think, meet, or have anything whatsoever to do with blindness anymore. I had learned every lesson I cared to learn. I had met every kind of barrier I could possibly face. I had struggled. I had been diminished, demeaned, and generally abused by people over blindness, and I was tired of it. I did not want anything to do with blindness whatsoever. I set off to become a coach and a teacher and to do so without any hint of blindness. After all, the people I worked with were all sighted, and they loved me. They thought I was terrific--I knew better--but they thought I was terrific, and that was fine with me.
I went along like that, because deep down in your soul, if you are blind, you know you're blind even if you cannot deal with it; even if you do not know what to do or think about it, you know it's so. So for the next couple of years I went on like that. I kept it buried as much as I could although it surfaced from time to time. In 1969 in the summer I had completed my master's degree (feeling very proud of myself), had written something that was accepted--not terribly profound, as I look back on it, but it fulfilled a requirement. It was perfectly okay. I was prepared to hunker down and teach for the next twenty-eight years, and that would be that.
I was still not the least bit interested in hearing anything about blindness, meeting anyone who was blind, or otherwise being engaged in any blindness-related activities. That summer Evelyn Weckerly, Ramona Walhof, Jim Omvig, and President Maurer came into my life. Mrs. Walhof and Evelyn Weckerly came to visit me. They wanted to talk to me about blindness. I was not the least bit interested. More specifically, they wanted me to come to a meeting. I was even less interested. What was worse, they wanted to come to my house and talk to me about it.
I thought that was a part of my life that was pretty much gone. They were persuasive, and they came and talked to me about a meeting that they were going to be having and that Dr. Jernigan would be there. I didn't know who Dr. Jernigan was. I thought, "I hope you have a good time. I hope it works out well, but I will not be there." I finally got them to leave. Mrs. Walhof can engage you for a while if she chooses to. So, finally having gotten her on to her next appointment or wherever she was going, I put that aside. That was the end of it.
On a Friday night came a call from Mr. Omvig. He said how much I was needed the next day, how much people were looking forward to my being there, what a critical part I would play in forming the affiliate, and all that he was very impressive; those of you who know him know that. So I thought, well perhaps I should go just because he's such a decent human being. A half a day--I would just go for half a day. In any case, I went still determining not to have anything to do with blindness, no interest, nothing.
I got there and I met some other people, including President Maurer. We began to write a constitution for the newly formed NFB of Michigan. Dr. Jernigan was chairing the meeting, and I listened, and it wasn't very long before I thought, "There is something very special about this person. There is something very different about this person. When he talks about blindness, it is not the way I feel about it. When he talks about blindness, he talks about it in a way which allows me to think, `Maybe it's okay.'" When he talked about it, he talked with such confidence and such understanding; he knew exactly how I felt, where I had been, and how troublesome it had been to me. But he also said, "It is important for us to work together, to learn the truth about blindness, to change what it means to be blind," all of that stuff.
By the end of that day (I didn't leave at noon as I had planned) I was at a banquet, where I also had the pleasure of meeting Lloyd and Mary Jernigan and sitting next to Dr. Jernigan. I was forever transformed. I will save you some of the details, but I was forever transformed that very day. For Dr. Jernigan caught me in a way that nothing else in my life had or will again. He touched me in ways that no one else ever could. He made me feel that I was a perfectly capable person; although I had not come to understand that, he had.
For the next couple of years--while I was very much interested in the Federation and while I read the Monitor with particular interest and especially enjoyed sessions when Dr. Jernigan would chair, and he would get some big old you-know-what agency person up here and just work him over, I would sit back and say, "Oh, right on, right on. Give it to him!" I found strength in it although not the courage to be there. I found faith in what he did and in what the NFB did, and oh, I loved him so much when I would hear that. I would think, "Exactly, exactly! Tell 'em, tell 'em exactly how it is!" You've all experienced it, haven't you? You know when Dr. Maurer or Dr. Jernigan or one of our leaders tells it like it is: it's such a good feeling!
So, while I had not been active--totally inactive would be more accurate--I began to think by the summer of 1971 that I ought to do something, so I went off to my first convention. I don't remember a whole lot about the details, but I remember being exhilarated. I went again in '72, '73, '74, '75, and every year since.
I want to tell you a couple of personal things that Dr. Jernigan did for me; there are so many, I can't even begin to recount them. Could you? It would be very difficult. Yet I know what they've done for my life and for yours and for the lives of blind people whether they've ever met him or known him or not, whether they've ever heard of the Federation or not. He changed our lives as blind people forever.
He called me in December of 1973 and invited me to a seminar, a leadership seminar at that. I wondered why he picked me. I couldn't figure it out, but he had picked me, and he sent me a bunch of stuff, and he said, "When you get it, read it, every bit of it." By gosh it came and I read it--every bit of it. It came time to go off to the seminar, and I went with great anticipation and with an absolute feeling of enthusiasm like I had never known in my life. I got to Iowa, where I had heard about the Iowa Commission for the Blind and where I had seen Iowans who distinguished themselves in crowds of people, not just blind people, anywhere you saw them. I thought, what a terrific thing! I got to the Iowa Commission for the Blind and I walked in the door and I felt so different. I felt this is what it should feel like.
I had gotten there, but I had gone with a cane that was--it was a Lion's Club cane. Many of you have seen them, kind of a hickory stick with a curve, more orthopedic than travel. In any case, I hadn't been there very long before Dr. Jernigan called me into his office. He said that he needed to talk to me. He sat me down and showed me this fiberglass cane. He said, "I'm not sure that I like these; I'm sure you won't. I'm sure this is not something you'd be interested in, but I'll just show it to you for your information." He said "In fact, if you want, you can take it; leave it out there if you like; or you could use it or whatever. In fact, if you find (you probably won't) you like it, you can go back to the hotel by yourself tonight. Just go back, and see how that works. Now maybe none of that is what you want to do, but if...." Of course, it was all stuff I was going to do. I was busy taking notes of exactly the things that he said I might not want to do. Then I was determined to do them.
That night I took that cane, which was twice the length of the one I had, and I walked down the street, and I went back to the hotel. I remember finding the hotel--'cause I sure was not certain that I would when I left. It was cold in Iowa, and the wind blew a lot. I thought, if I get lost, I didn't know.... But in any case, I didn't think about it. I had been changed again by Dr. Jernigan and didn't even know it.
That same weekend I was taking copious notes, writing down everything, not answering questions very well. President Maurer and Mrs. Maurer were there also. I don't remember how well they did. I don't think any of us felt that we did particularly well. I liked them a lot, and other people were there. Hazel Staley was there; she is in this convention hall, and she had never lit a match. I remember this vividly. She didn't want to start then; she had no interest in starting then. She lit a match. She was so excited; we were all excited, and it just went on like that. That was the way the weekend went. Anyway, Dr. John Halverson was there also (Ph.D. from the University of Michigan).
In any case, I put my plane ticket away. I wanted everything to go perfectly. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted to learn and get optimum opportunity, so I put my plane ticket away. Guess where I put it? I put it in the phone book, where it would be safe in the drawer. Guess what, while I was out, the hotel which apparently changes its phone books once a year, did it that weekend and threw the old ones out. My ticket was gone. So I thought what is it I can do. Well I could start walking home, or I could just face the music. I don't know what the music will be, but I'll face it. I went down, and I got there early as a matter of fact. Dr. Jernigan was there; he was always there early and late and in between. I had a chance to speak with him, and he was kind and gentle and thoughtful as he always was. I thought, "How am I going to break it to him?" Finally I managed to say, "Dr. Jernigan, I have misplaced my ticket."
He said, "Any idea where you may have misplaced it?" I told him the story, and he said, "So it's gone, and you don't have it."
I said, "It's gone."
He said, "That's a little bit of a problem. You will need a ticket to get home." But he said this--and tell me if you don't recognize all that he stood for in all of us as individuals, as blind people. He said, "Step around here to the phone and order another one."
I thought, "Yeah, that's what I'll do. I'll just get another one." Because of his faith in me, because of his commitment to us, because of his unwavering belief that I was somebody and worth something, and what we were doing as blind people was so important, he said, "Stick around and get another one. Don't be bothered by it." I'll spare you the details. We found the first one. But that illustrates in one way many of the lessons he taught us.
Over the years I had the good fortune to speak to him, work with him, be around him many times. Everything he taught me to do came to me as very important. I wanted to be helpful at conventions starting in about 1973, so I asked about things I could do. He always had something for me to do. In the early years, for instance, I think he gave me a spot to stand by the elevators and said stay there and watch for anything you can be helpful with, and if nothing comes along that you can be helpful with, then simply stay there and finish up.
I thank Dr. Jernigan for what he gave me personally and what he gave every blind person who has ever lived or will live and what he has done to make a difference for all of us. While we all miss him very much, we must carry on and do the only thing he asked of us: keep our Federation strong, support President Maurer, and do everything we can.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Diane McGeorge]
He Loved Us All
by Diane McGeorge
This is the time when we come together to celebrate Dr. Jernigan's life and to remember the good times--to share the joy and happiness he brought to many of our lives. So we could call this our opportunity to reminisce, to laugh, and possibly to cry just a little.
I have so many reminiscences of good times shared with him and with Mrs. Jernigan. When I sat down to try to capture just a few of those wonderful moments, it was hard to choose. But I have decided to tell all of you about Dr. Jernigan and Pony. Many of you in this room today remember Pony. He was the dog guide I was using at the time I attended my first leadership training seminar held by Dr. Jernigan in September of 1975. I had no idea what to expect from that seminar. I went there feeling very much out of my element and wondering what the following four days would bring. We were given a wealth of information, which I was sure I was supposed to remember and might even be tested on. The information was valuable, and no, we were not tested.
The principal effects on me during that seminar were the demonstrations of sincere love and caring that Dr. Jernigan had for all of us. And that "us" included my little golden retriever, Pony. Dr. Jernigan made it clear that, if Pony wanted to take a break or have a snack, everyone would take a break and have a snack. When I visited the Jernigans a couple of years ago, Mrs. Jernigan had a picture she had taken of Dr. Jernigan hugging Pony and Pony returning the affection. I don't know where that picture is today, but it really doesn't matter. I know how much he respected each person's choice, and in case you have forgotten that point, read once again "The Nature of Independence."
He taught me so much about compassion for others, about the work that had been done by the Federation, and about the work there will always be to do. During that first seminar he talked about the orientation center he had built in Iowa. I was totally captured by the idea that blind people really could compete equally, that the time spent in a good orientation center steeped in Federation philosophy could truly produce an entirely new way of thinking about one's self and one's blindness. I had never had the chance to attend the Iowa Commission orientation center, but watching Dr. Jernigan and other Federation leaders who had had the chance I had missed showed me that all he had said could be actualized in other centers. I think that was when the germ of an idea was born in me that I might some day start such a center.
Now we have the Colorado Center for the Blind, which has completed eleven successful years of operation. That could never have been done, nor even dreamed of, without Dr. Jernigan and the inspiration he gave me over twenty years ago. I see our students come into the center afraid of trying new experiences, not believing they count for very much because they are blind. In many small ways they have been programmed to believe that they don't count for much. Then they catch hold of the beliefs we all share about ourselves and blindness which Dr. Jernigan taught us and which he lived every day, and I know that, though he is no longer physically present with us, he will never leave us spiritually.
I have shared with you just two examples of the way he touched and changed my life. If I could talk to him just one more time, I would say: "Dr. Jernigan, you changed my thinking and by doing that, you changed my world. I made a commitment years ago to do my best to help make the lives of other blind people better by carrying on the work you did so well. I made that commitment in 1975, and it is as strong today as it was then. You taught us how to live, and you also taught us how to die. Your strength during the time of your severe illness gave us all strength--more strength than I ever thought I possessed. You didn't want us to cry; you told us all you were at peace with your death. Today we honor and remember you, but we do that every day. The best way for all of us to honor and remember you is to build and strengthen the National Federation of the Blind, to support Dr. Maurer's plans for the future--not with great speeches and flowery writings, but with good old-fashioned hard work. One of the very last things you ever said to me was, `Diane, hang tough.' Dr. Jernigan, I will.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott]
What Is Dr. Jernigan's Legacy to Us?
by Peggy Elliott
I've attended twenty-nine conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. This is my twenty-ninth. Long habits are hard to break. I have found myself, when I have finished riding an escalator, listening to see if Dr. Jernigan is here; when an elevator door opens, hoping that he's on the other side; when I enter a room or leave one, hoping that he is where I'm about to be--what a wonderful life, to be the person that everyone wants to be next to.
What is Dr. Jernigan's legacy to us? Answers come tumbling into the mind: stimulating conversation about blindness and everything else; good times with food, wine, treats (he always had just what you wanted); the National Center for the Blind; a set of towering speeches in that unique voice that could stir or soothe, motivate and unify. No single phrase can capture Dr. Jernigan's legacy to us, except for one: he left us the National Federation of the Blind.
I suppose in a sense that is obvious. But what is this Federation that he left us? It is not a building or words or memories. Rather Dr. Jernigan left us a fully developed community. To appreciate the legacy we hold and to use it as he intended, we must first understand the gift.
Dr. Jernigan gave to us the Federation core principles about the truth involving blindness, explained and applied in hundreds of specific situations in his speeches. These core principles about blindness are ability, equality, and the need for us individually and collectively to assert ourselves; and those principles can be heard in his speeches in all the different situations about which he knew. He also knew that unforeseen situations would arise and that the Federation would be challenged to apply the core principles to those new situations. He left us, then, the core principles and the tools to use them.
But he knew that was not enough. He had heard people say as we all have: Well, I agree with what you Federation people say. I just don't agree with how you do it. Besides, I just don't have anything in common with older blind people or with unemployed blind people since I have a job. I have a family, too, and responsibilities among the sighted. The Federation is just not my thing.
Dr. Jernigan gave to us the core principle that the Federation is not just principles. The Federation is also and equally people--good people. People who have spent their money, and often their SSI money, to make life better for all blind people. The Federation is people, people who give of their time even more than of their resources to learn the other principles, to live the principles, and to teach them to others. The Federation is people who have taken the time to grow and who have taken the time to help others grow. The Federation is people who have taken the time to learn that people unlike themselves in every way but blindness are their brothers and their sisters, that the common bond of blindness can be used to build bonds, to build community, and to build success for all blind people, even for those blind people who refuse to give of themselves for the greater good. The Federation is principles and people interacting, learning, teaching, growing, taking and giving strength, affirming the good in one another, ignoring or overlooking that which does not appeal, offering a hand to change for the better to someone who may not realize or even believe change is possible.
The Federation Dr. Jernigan gave us is a community, a place where principles live through people. You can not have the principles in some sort of hazy, beautiful space up above us. Neither can you just have the people who say they care about one another. You have to have both interacting on each other, day by day, month by month, year by year, to have the Federation that Dr. Jernigan built and loved and gave to us. That is how and why the Federation, with its truths about blindness first articulated in 1940, will remain vibrant and valuable into the twenty-first century and beyond. The Federation will do that by blind people learning the principles from each other, refining and improving their understanding through collective action, and applying the basic truths to new situations and new challenges.
Maybe there is another way to say the same thing even more simply. Dr. Jernigan understood that nobody is interested in blind people. The people most uninterested in blind people are we blind people ourselves. He resisted. He said that we are, each of us, worthy people. He said it to us, to me when I felt that my life was ended due to blindness. He said it personally to many of you and in his speeches and writings to people he had never met. He guaranteed, not success for each of us, but he guaranteed and convinced us and made us believe that we had the capacity for success. He then convinced us that we had worth and that we had something to give. Then he taught us to master the principles and to join the other people in the National Federation of the Blind.
That progression in Dr. Jernigan's mind guaranteed a better future for blind people. What he gave to me, I challenge myself to give to others. And I challenge each of you to do the same. Dr. Jernigan's legacy to us is the most marvelous legacy any of us will ever receive. It is the legacy that we can and must give away for it to be effective. What a wonderful way to end a wonderful life: Dr. Jernigan, with President Maurer's help, we promise that the legacy you gave to us we will give away as fast as we can.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: John Cheadle]
He Was a Builder
by John Cheadle
The first time I encountered the name Kenneth Jernigan was Thanksgiving time, 1973, at a family gathering. I was just beginning my career in work with the blind. My dad's second cousin--I guess she'd be my third cousin--listened attentively for a few minutes to my news, then said: "If you want to work for the best program for the blind in the world, you'll have to come to Iowa and work for Kenneth Jernigan." She went on to tell me how he had come to Iowa in 1958 and taken the helm of what was regarded unequivocally as the least effective agency for the blind in the country. She said that, not only had he built the best training program for the blind, but he had also built the largest library for the blind in the country. She went on and on.
I was nearly nonplussed. I was the one with great news about work with the blind, but her revelations eclipsed my meager knowledge. How, I wondered, would she know these things? Was this Iowa program really as great as she said it was? How credible were her comments? After all, she was a housewife of modest means who lived in a very small town, Ryan, Iowa, about halfway between Manchester and Coggon. Yet her comments seemed uniquely well informed and profoundly confident, and they kept a haunting presence in my memory as I began my new career.
Over the years, as I came to know the work of Dr. Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind better, I came to understand how profoundly our work affects the lives not just of blind people but of all people. Dr. Jernigan built programs in Iowa and in the nation. He was called our teacher, leader, colleague, and friend; and he was. And largely he was because he was also a builder, a builder of buildings, of programs for the blind, and ultimately a builder of lives.
There in rural Iowa, distanced from the sophistication of federal and state programs for the blind, rural Iowa where farmers tended the land and city folk worked mostly in industries which supported agriculture, rural Iowa, where life is close to the heart, there was a blind man who had been taught that he could neither tend the soil nor operate the machines of industry and that he was a burden to himself and to those around him. But Kenneth Jernigan came and got hold of a building and built a program, and it touched the lives of this blind man and those around him. He got training and he got work. I learned years later that his sister-in-law, my dad's cousin, was ever grateful that Kenneth Jernigan had come to Iowa.
Shortly after I began my career, I had the opportunity to visit the programs that Dr. Jernigan had built in Iowa. Although I was mightily impressed with the programs, I believe I was equally impressed with the building. It was unlike any state-operated facility I had ever seen. Instead of the sterile coldness of bare floors and tiled walls, there was the comforting presence of wood, stone, carpeting, upholstered furniture, and even a fireplace. The warmth that pervaded the programs that he built was evident not only in the architecture and furnishings of the place but also in the staff and students. His building and his program had profound character. He had built it well.
We bought the building we all now know as the National Center for the Blind in the spring of 1978. That summer our National Convention was held in Baltimore. Here is what Dr. Jernigan had to say: "The building, I think, offers us the possibility of doing many things. We will move from Des Moines...[and]...we will establish offices here. Seminars--it is planned--will be conducted from this office. We are trying to see whether we can arrange to set up recording studios in this building and to begin to do our own recording. We will see how much training we can do of people there...the point is that we will now have a building of our own--as a matter of fact, a whole city block." He began building on that city block in 1978, and, as you have heard, he hasn't stopped. Such is the character of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.
In 1980, barely two years after we bought the building, I worked for a short period of time in the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program at our National Center in Baltimore. Dr. Jernigan had already made significant changes in the building. Under his leadership the building was purchased in 1978. Mostly tenants occupied it, except that the fourth floor was vacant. It was also, according to knowledgeable sources and neighborhood gossip, less than desirable. But we moved in anyway. There were about 165,000 square feet in this building, and the National Center for the Blind occupied less than a fourth of it. But that was more than we had had in Des Moines. Our operations in those days were wholly contained on the fourth floor, and we didn't even use all of that.
In 1985 Dr. Jernigan offered me a full-time position in Baltimore, and I accepted. In just four years Dr. Jernigan had expanded our operations to fill all of the fourth floor and was in the process of squeezing in an additional 5,000 square feet by sandwiching a mezzanine level between a portion of the fourth floor and the roof. He had also had the exterior masonry cleaned and had installed new roofs on all of the buildings in the complex. That was 1985. He kept right on building. Today, through the efforts of Dr. Jernigan, the National Center for the Blind occupies more than three fourths of the building's total square footage (plus the 5,000 square feet of new space inside the building), and it has also expanded to occupy at least 12,000 square feet in other buildings in the complex.
In 1986 we began seriously to expand our operations in the building. Half of the first floor of the building had become vacant. So we remodeled it and moved all of our aids and appliances, shipping, receiving, and storage operations from the fourth floor down to the first floor. We temporarily moved people from their fourth-floor offices in the Barney Street wing around to the Johnson Street wing and then further crowded the situation by eliminating the dining room in order to build a sound studio and by eliminating the file room to build the accounting department.
It wasn't quite chaos, but it was very close. Yet Dr. Jernigan kept the pulse of all that was going on. The Barney wing of the fourth floor was now vacant and ready to be remodeled to include a kitchen, a dining room, related storage space, a records management center to store the documentation and written history of the organization, two large work areas we call malls, and more than twice as many offices as we had had. What a marvelous project this was--twenty-two thousand square feet of space to do with as we pleased.
Dr. Jernigan took great delight and pride in planning the use of this space. One day, after the contractor had laid out the floor plates for all the walls that were going up, Dr. Jernigan, the construction supervisor, and I took a tour to examine the work. It was like walking around on a blueprint that was two hundred seventy feet wide and eighty feet deep. Everywhere there was a line on the blueprint there was a corresponding floor plate in the construction area. Shortly after we started our tour, we came to the north edge of the Records Management Center, where there were two adjacent offices. Dr. Jernigan, using his cane to follow along the floor plates, paused after we had gone nearly all the way around one of the rooms. "There is supposed to be a door here, joining the two offices," He said, tapping along the edge of the floor plate.
"No," replied the construction supervisor, "It isn't on the prints."
Dr. Jernigan turned to me and asked: "Well, Mr. Cheadle, what do you think? Is it on the prints?"
"No, Sir," I guessed; "I don't believe it is."
He then offered us the opportunity, as he put it "to increase our holdings." He put up a dollar to each of us, and we went and looked at the prints. He was right and richer. I've long lost count of the number of such opportunities, but I certainly have learned a great deal at very minimal tuition.
Somewhere along the line during this phase of construction, Dr. Jernigan began asking me consistently when he greeted me: "Mr. Cheadle, How are the contractors?" I learned quickly to anticipate the salutation and tried to be prepared at all times to answer thoroughly and with precision. If I did not know, I told him I did not know; it was less expensive for all of us.
In the years since the major remodeling of the fourth floor Dr. Jernigan directed the replacement of all three elevators with modern hydraulic units which go to the roof; the addition of a new power transformer, and updating of the electrical distribution systems throughout the building, as well as changing overall plumbing to new copper pipes. He oversaw the renovation of space in the central courtyard area to house our maintenance facility. Another building in the courtyard area was remodeled to house the first location of the International Braille and Technology Center and offices. He planned and executed the complete remodeling of the entire second floor of the main building to include more new offices with a conference center, nearly eighteen thousand square feet of space containing three miles of shelving, and two thousand square feet of conditioned archival storage space.
Additionally, he directed the moving of the International Braille and Technology Center to the second floor and added offices and a conference facility. Dr. Jernigan redesigned the front entrance to our building to improve the aesthetics and to make it accessible to wheelchairs. He added a sign atop our building twelve feet high and forty feet wide, topped off with a forty-foot flagpole--both are visible from the nearby, heavily trafficked Interstate 95.
Last, but not finally, he oversaw the construction of a masonry storeroom on the ground level whose roof is an eight-hundred-fifty-square-foot deck. Above it is another deck of equal size, and above it is the SkyDeck--over five thousand square feet, partially covered, of outdoor meeting space. Everyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the SkyDeck agrees that it is definitely a crowning touch. All of these projects and many more were conceived, planned, and built by Dr. Jernigan. And, yes, the building is full of wood, stone, carpeting, upholstered furniture, and a fireplace. It is admired by all who visit, as are our programs, which were also built so well.
The SkyDeck was not the last major building project at the National Center for the Blind in which Dr. Jernigan participated. During the last year of his life he worked continually on our new building--the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind--the model and blueprints of which are on display in Mrs. Jernigan's suite in this hotel. Dr. Jernigan saw the SkyDeck project through to completion and continued to direct the activities at the Center until just days before his death. It is fitting that we continue this legacy by completing the new building and the programs that will touch the lives of all blind people and those around them between here and anywhere.
Dr. Jernigan was a builder. I will remember him for that. I will also remember him as a teacher, as a leader, and as a colleague; but mostly, I will remember and honor him as my friend.
Oh, and Sir, the contractors await our bidding.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: James Gashel]
Kenneth Jernigan: A Personal Tribute
by James Gashel
I first met Dr. Jernigan on June 11, 1964, at approximately 3:30 p.m. It was a Friday afternoon, just two weeks to the day after I had graduated from high school. I was applying for services at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, and Dr. Jernigan was the director of that agency. In those days there was a great deal of tension between the agency he directed and the school for the blind which I had attended. So, you might say that Dr. Jernigan's reputation had preceded him, as far as I was concerned.
The people at the school for the blind had told me that Dr. Jernigan had a very domineering (they might have said "controlling") personality. At the time of our first meeting at his office in Des Moines, I was absolutely convinced that this description of him was not an exaggeration. Now, however, as I look back on those events in 1964, I would say that Dr. Jernigan displayed an air of confidence that I had never observed in the blind adults I had met until that time. It was also clear to me that he was full of insight. In fact, in all of the years since I first sat down for a talk with Dr. Jernigan, I have never met anyone who could evaluate a situation or size up a person as accurately as he could.
Although I definitely didn't think so in the beginning, I was truly blessed to become one of Dr. Jernigan's students. All of you know that he loved to lead our movement, but he also loved to teach. And when he taught us, he also had a great deal of fun with us too. For Dr. Jernigan and his students, learning about blindness and our potential was a full-time commitment. He kept us focused on that commitment, day in and day out.
When I say day in and day out, I mean from early morning until late at night. For Dr. Jernigan there was very little time to waste. So his day (and consequently our day) started about 5:00 a.m. when he knocked on the door to wake us up for morning gym class.
His greeting, which he delivered with unfailing gusto, was just about what you would expect: "Are you alive?" This was not a question. It was Dr. Jernigan's way of saying, "The world's passing you by--get with it." He may have thought the question was rhetorical, but there were definitely times when I considered responding in the negative. However, I never did.
So, as one of his students, I got with it. Now when you went to the gym, you had to try to do more than the teacher. Dr. Jernigan was the teacher. He had a way of letting you know that the expected standard of performance for the students was to exceed the performance of the teacher. He loved to show off for us too. He did this by punching the punching bag faster than the rest of us, walking on his hands clear across the room without falling or stopping, and jumping rope faster and longer than you can imagine. I actually think that jumping rope was his favorite way to put us to the test. He would have us jump in groups, because Dr. Jernigan always liked to do things in groups--you may have noticed this about him.
Now in jumping rope, Dr. Jernigan would have us form a line consisting of two, three, or even as many as four students; then he would head up the line. The idea was for all of us to jump a single rope together. Believe it or not, we could do it too. And during all of this activity there was Dr. Jernigan out in front pushing us to do more and doing more himself just to show us that we could do more.
Speaking of doing more, Dr. Jernigan had a wonderfully explicit way of teaching us that talking about what needed to be done, rather than doing it for ourselves, was not enough. For instance, when some of us were talking about how it was that the kitchens at the center were inadequate, he said, "Fine, build a new one." When we protested, saying that we had classes to go to every day, he said, "This is your class. You have nothing more important to do than to build the kitchen." So build the kitchen we did.
Now in those days at the center in Iowa, we were between teachers in the wood shop. So the crew that was building the kitchen had all of the equipment and all of the materials all to ourselves and no instructor. This was of no consequence to Dr. Jernigan. Our assignment was to build the kitchen. His assignment was to make sure that we did it.
So build the kitchen we did. And, although that particular assignment was completed many years ago, in a very real sense I have been building that kitchen, with Dr. Jernigan looking on, ever since. He is not here now, but the building is still going on. And the building will always go on. This will happen because Dr. Jernigan taught us the skills to be the architects and builders of the future for all blind people.
As I look out over this great convention hall today, I am absolutely convinced that we have the skills and the commitment to build for the future. And we also have the responsibility to do so. That too is what Dr. Jernigan taught us. When it comes to meeting responsibilities, Dr. Jernigan never failed us. Now that he is gone, we have the responsibility to be the leaders and builders of the future.
Dr. Jernigan has passed the baton to us. With the leadership of Dr. Maurer as our guide, we in our turn will not fail to meet our responsibilities. As the leaders of the present generation and the next, we must claim the future and finish the journey so all blind people can enjoy the freedom to which Dr. Jernigan devoted his life. His cause is our cause, and the mission will be fulfilled.
PHOTO/CAPTION: Michael Gosse and Patricia Miller hold stacks of the new book and video about Dr. Jernigan.
Following the tributes, President Maurer announced that both a video and a book had been compiled as memorials to Dr. Jernigan's life. The video is a compilation of short clips and unforgettable moments in Dr. Jernigan's public life. The cassette edition of the book, titled Kenneth Jernigan: The Master, the Mission, the Movement, is narrated by Dr. Maurer, and, where possible, recordings of Dr. Jernigan's actual delivery of speeches have been included. Those present for the memorial service received both the video and print and cassette editions of the book as they left the convention hall. They may now be purchased from the Materials Center at the National Center for the Blind for video, $10; print book, $5; and cassette book, $7.
In closing, Dr. Maurer referred again to Dr. Jernigan's delight in making and flying paper airplanes. Someone had given him a plane that Dr. Jernigan flew into the hall at last year's convention. In turn he then presented the memento to Mrs. Jernigan. Following a prolonged standing ovation, Mrs. Jernigan concluded the morning's activities with these words:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mary Ellen Jernigan holds aloft Dr. Jernigan's paper airplane, which President Maurer presented to her.]
These paper airplanes, Dr. Maurer, have come to symbolize many things for us--things Dr. Jernigan taught us. We take ourselves seriously for our work is serious. But we also know how to live with sparkle; he taught us that too. Somebody gave you this airplane, and it had to be someone's cherished personal treasure. Somebody gave it to you so that I could have it; he taught us things like that too. I will keep this airplane for all of us, to symbolize all that we are, all that we always will be.
This morning we have looked back, and we have remembered. Dr. Jernigan would have wanted us to do this; indeed, he would have expected us to do this. But now he would expect us to do something else; he would expect us to get on with it. [laughter and applause] So let us go this afternoon to the Coca-Cola Museum, to the CNN Center, and to Olympic Park. Let us conduct the Braille workshop for parents. Let us roam the exhibit hall. Let us gather around the swimming pool. Let us have a good dinner tonight. Let us plan how to raise eighteen million dollars. [applause] Let us build our new building. And let us do these things as he would have us do them, together, with joy in our hearts and a song on our lips.
As Federationists filed from the ballroom, volunteers handed out the books and video. Carrying away these tangible recollections of this dearly beloved man who set us free was both a comfort and an encouragement to follow his example. The gift was a memorable close to an unforgettable morning.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer delivers the 1999 banquet address]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mementos of the 1999 NFB Banquet:
left to right a replica of the bust of Dr. Jernigan, the picture on the front of the souvenir mug, the picture on its back, the votive candle, and the banquet ticket.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Diners in the Marquis Ballroom listen to the Banquet Address.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The five-hundred or so Federationists who enjoyed the banquet in the Imperial Ballroom had large-screen video on which to watch the proceedings. Spotters equipped with two-way radios made certain that nobody missed a door prize.]
The Mental Discipline of the Movement
An Address Delivered by Marc Maurer
President of the National Federation of the Blind
July 5, 1999
William Shakespeare thought that knowing what to do was easy. It was the doing of it that was so hard. As he said, "If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces."
However, there are others who have a totally different point of view. They believe that knowing what to do is the hard part. Remarkable achievement is attained (according to these scholars) by thought--by exercising the ability to distinguish between the significant and the mundane. As the American bacteriologist Hans Zinsser said, "The scientist takes off from the manifold observations of predecessors and shows his intelligence, if any, by his ability to discriminate between the important and the negligible, by selecting here and there the significant steppingstones that will lead across the difficulties to new understanding."
Just as it is for an individual, so it is for a culture, a nation, or an organization. Each of these must attempt to identify the steppingstones of progress. To the extent that they achieve this difficult task and are committed to implementing what they learn, growth and advancement occur. To the extent that they fail, there are stagnation, deterioration, and aimlessness.
In the late summer of 1998 Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the most forceful leader of the blind of our generation, taught a seminar on leadership. Although this seminar was conducted less than two months before Dr. Jernigan's death from cancer, which he knew would soon overtake him, the seminar was upbeat and enthusiastic; it took its tone from the teacher. He said during the class that principles of behavior are important--indeed they may be the only things that matter. If we have the proper principles, all else will follow. If we do not possess these vital characteristics for action and thought, the progress we gain is accidental and cannot endure.
So what are the principles for us--for the National Federation of the Blind? What do we believe, and how do we conduct our business?
I met Dr. Jernigan in 1969. I was a student, and he was the President of the National Federation of the Blind and the director of the training program in which I had enrolled. He was unusual, brilliant, fascinating, and challenging. One of his unusual characteristics was that he always had an answer for everything. How could anybody know so much, I wondered. I wanted to find out if he really had all that knowledge or if he was just good at faking it. I had never before met anybody who could outthink me at everything, but he seemed to be able to do it. I began to make bets with him. I thought there must be something I know that he doesn't, and I wanted to find out what it was.
It will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with Dr. Jernigan that I lost the wagers. However, I learned an important lesson. Dr. Jernigan used his mind--always and rigorously. When two facts did not match, he noticed this phenomenon and wanted to know why. He worked until he discovered the reason. Not only did he use his mind, but he demanded that we do the same.
"Whether you like a conclusion or not," he told us, "observe the evidence, and go where your mind leads you. If your reaction to a conclusion makes you uneasy, hunt for facts you have overlooked. If you cannot identify any, accept the conclusion. If you cannot stand what you learn, do your best to change it, but don't reject it from emotionalism or a chuckle-headed imprecision of thought." Consequently, one of the fundamental principles of the Federation is to trust your own mind--have confidence in your capacity to think. Believe in what you know, and don't let others talk you out of it unless they can demonstrate that they know more about the subject than you do. Use your head; work hard; and go where your mind leads you.
Dr. Jernigan joined the Federation in 1949, and he became active at the national level in 1952. For almost half a century he gave to us freely of his intellect, his energy, and his spirit. His mind was a formidable weapon in the arsenal of the Federation. One of the factors that made this mind so extraordinary was that Dr. Jernigan used it to insist that we employ the same rigor in thinking that he demanded of himself. He showed us that we cannot rely on somebody else's thought. Not only is this undesirable, but it is completely unworkable.
Any group that wishes to achieve freedom--that intends to speak and act on its own behalf--must be prepared to imagine and articulate its own philosophy. If that group intends (as we most certainly do) to have a long-term impact on the broader society, it must write that philosophy into an understandable literature, which can be read and comprehended. The mental effort involved in imagining what might be written and committing the ideas to paper changes the people who do it. The process of thought and creation and the act of internalizing the ideas that result from this process force us to know what we think and to plan for the implementation of that thought. This kind of planning is not only helpful, it is a fundamental part of building civilization. The philosophy and literature tell others what they may expect from us, but they also tell us--the people who think and write them. This is an essential part of relying on our own intelligence.
Where has our intelligence led us? You know as well as I. There are those who believe that the blind have little competence and less sense, that our lives are necessarily filled with bitterness and despair, that we are immobile and sedentary, that we cannot aspire to the business world or the professions, that our educational opportunities are limited, that we cannot become leaders of government or society, that we will never be able to compose and present to the public a literary description of our talents and abilities which will be sufficiently lucid to capture the imagination (and that somebody else will have to interpret our lives for us), that any suggestion of having blind people teach other blind people how to travel with a cane is irresponsibly dangerous or positively immoral, and that the assertion of the right of the blind to equal status within society is not only a ridiculous dream but also a prescription for failure--failure calculated to cause immeasurable harm and psychological trauma. Do we in the National Federation of the Blind believe that this summation represents the truth? Are the blind immobile, incapable, and inarticulate? Will we let somebody else determine our own destiny, specify our future, or speak on our behalf?
The answer is obvious. We the blind of the nation from all walks of life, from every state, and from every sector of the society have gathered here tonight in our thousands. We would not be here if we did not intend to determine what our lives will be. We have the capacity to observe; we have the mental discipline to understand; and we will respond. We are the blind; we will speak and act for ourselves; and there is no force on earth that can prevent it!
Throughout almost all of recorded history the blind have been written off, and the literature about blindness has reflected this opinion. Even though there have been many dramatically successful blind people, the common culture has dismissed the successes as exceptions. All too many of the successful blind people (because it boosted their sense of self-importance) agreed with the popular mythology. They accepted the view that blind people are unproductive invalids, but that they (the successful ones) are different and special.
With the coming of the National Federation of the Blind, an altered and much more realistic perception of blindness has been developed. This perception is that blindness need not be a tragedy--though, if it is not properly understood, it can be. With training and opportunity blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance, and the blind can compete on terms of equality with the sighted. We the blind are people of capacity, who want to make contributions to our society. We are people that the members of the public will want to know. An increasing number of us are leaders in our own communities and a part of the social set. Nevertheless, the misunderstanding of blindness persists, and it is reprinted and reinforced both by the popular press and sometimes by uninformed blind people themselves.
In 1997 Stephen Kuusisto published his memoir, entitled Planet of the Blind. In his book he discloses that his vision (until he reached the age of thirty-nine) measured 10 percent of what is regarded as normal. Kuusisto could not see, but his parents urgently insisted that he try, and he accepted their attitude about his blindness.
On December 23, 1997, the New York Times published a review of the Planet of the Blind. The review reflects the tone of the book. It incorporates quotes and describes incidents contained in the text, but it also adds reflections of its own--reflections in keeping with the spirit of Planet of the Blind. This, in part, is what it said:
For almost four decades, the writer Stephen Kuusisto tried to hide the fact that he was legally blind.
Though he could read only by holding a book an inch from his face, though he could see little more on the street than blurry colors and shapes, he tried for years to pass as a member of the sighted world. He careened around his neighborhood on a bike, insisted on piloting his family's powerboat, traveled alone to Europe, and learned to ski.
[I interrupt the Times review to point out that the reviewer and the author of the book apparently agree that such activities are reckless and irresponsible for a blind person. However, properly managed, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a blind person's learning to ski, traveling alone, or riding a bicycle. And a number of us have had our hands on the steering mechanisms of powerboats. But back to the review.]
In his luminous new memoir Planet of the Blind, Kuusisto--who lost his sight as an infant, when he was placed in an overly oxygenated incubator that permanently damaged his retinas--tells the remarkable tale of how he feigned sight for so many years. He also tells us the affecting story of how he eventually came to terms with his condition and began a new life, at the age of thirty-nine, with a seeing-eye dog named Corky.
So [continues the New York Times] how did Kuusisto manage to negotiate the world for so many years without help, without even a white cane to help reconnoiter its terrain? Part of it was sheer recklessness, a determination to plunge ahead, regardless of cars and walls and stairs. And part of it was reliance on wit and acting skills.
[I interrupt again to ask, what is there about dealing with cars and walls and stairs that is so reckless for a blind person? Of course, it is much easier to manage these things using a cane; but all of us have ridden in cars, walked on stairs, and traveled around walls without using one; and the language of the reviewer is a bit much. Let us suppose for a moment that Kuusisto wanted to avoid these objects--how could he do it? Should he live under the stars on a flat patch of prairie and never stray from the reservation? Is this what the New York Times recommends for the blind? But back to the review.]
He pressed his nose to the television set and used magnifying glasses and huge, thick, telescopic spectacles to examine books, slowly deciphering their elusive words one by one by one.
"The ordinary effort of reading is for me a whole-body experience," he [Kuusisto] writes. "My neck, shoulders, and finally, my lower back contract with pain. The legally blind know what it is to be old: even before the third grade I am hunched and shaking with effort, always on the verge of tears, seeing by approximation, craving a solid sentence. Then the words dissolve or run like ants. Nevertheless, I find a lighted room inside my head, a place for self-affiliation. I am not blind, and not the target of pranks."
[I interrupt to ask, who does he think he's kidding? Not the target of pranks? Not blind? Able to find a lighted room inside his head? We know better, and if he is honest about it, so does he. But there is a ring of truth about part of this description. How many of us have been forced to try to read what we could not see. How many of our teachers have told us that, if we were not lazy, we would be able to observe visually what they have displayed? How many of us have felt the pain of trying to be sighted when we were not? How many of us have been sold a bill of goods--have been told that Braille is slow and inefficient when it would have been much easier and faster than the print they were trying to force us to use? But back to the New York Times.]
Having been brought up by parents who were reluctant to acknowledge his disability, Kuusisto internalized their denial. He did not want to get a white cane. He did not want to ask for help. He did not want to be regarded as someone who was blind. And yet for all his efforts to appear independent, he says he was continually mocked as odd and clumsy and slow. Schoolmates called him "Mr. Magoo," and one professor cruelly told him he did not belong in graduate school.
[The Times review concludes with this paragraph] Although Kuusisto's love of poetry can result in patches of overly self-conscious prose--[such as] "my ego crawls around blindness like a snail exploring a piece of broken glass"--he is a powerful writer with a musical ear for language and a gift for emotional candor. He has written a book that makes the reader understand the terrifying experience of blindness and that stands on its own as the lyrical memoir of a poet.
This is what the New York Times printed two days before Christmas just a year and a half ago, and it makes one wonder whether the author of the review and the author of the book ever use their heads. Kuusisto is, by his own estimation and by the opinion of the New York Times, a lyrical poet and a powerful writer. Nevertheless, he looks down on his own life and belittles himself because he is blind. Kuusisto tells us that he has been misunderstood and that this has caused hardship. If these are the measures of a lyrical memoir, each one of us in this room should have one. Kuusisto admits that his own misperception added to the misunderstanding, and we can certainly agree with his assessment. The question we ask is whether Kuusisto's present writing will help to solve the problems he has identified or cause more damage. If the review of the New York Times is any indicator, it would be better if he had not written. The impression left by the Times is that living as a blind person requires extraordinary courage and that blindness itself is a terrifying experience.
We need a literature which tells of our hopes and dreams--our abilities and contributions--and we would like Kuusisto to use his lyrical pen to help in its creation. But he must tell it like it is--not perpetuate ancient fears and add to misinformation. Whether he writes it or not, it will be written because we will insist that it be written. Indeed much of it we have already written. We have the capacity to observe; we have the mental discipline to understand; and we have the ability to write. Our literature speaks of freedom, and we will settle for nothing less. We are the blind; we will speak and act for ourselves; the literature will tell our story; and we will be heard. There is no force on earth that can prevent it!
A notion abroad in the land, which has been repeated in many different forms during the past few years, is that blind people differ from the sighted not only because we lack the capacity to see, but also because our brains function in a different way from the sighted. The argument goes like this: Seeing is an important function that demands a lot of effort from the brain. A portion of the cortex is devoted to managing visual images; blind people do not use this cortex for seeing. The visual cortex of the blind is reassigned to assist the brain with the functions of smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing. Thus (according to this argument), the blind have a sharper sense of hearing, a keener sense of taste, a more acute sense of smell, and a clearer sense of touch than the sighted.
An article entitled, "Blind People Compensate with Hearing," which appeared on October 5, 1998, in the Register Citizen, a newspaper of Connecticut, says in part:
It might be true what they say about the blind having better hearing than people who can see. Blind people apparently compensate for their lost vision with greater ability to locate sounds than people with normal or partial vision, a Canadian study suggests. Neuropsychology researchers at the University of Montreal found that, unlike people with normal vision, blind people could correctly pinpoint the source of sounds even with one ear deliberately blocked by the testers. "One important question left unanswered is whether blind people learn to use their hearing more efficiently or undergo some kind of physiological change," said William R. Wiener, chairman of blind rehabilitation at Western Michigan University. Wiener said other recent research suggests, "There may be some physiological changes that occur in the brain in the processing that make a blind person more efficient." Dr. Steven Parker, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, said, "It is possible that part of the brain commonly used to process images gets recruited to process sound. But in the partially blind, those brain cells already are being used for sight, and they can't switch over."
That's what the article says, and I wonder if the researchers are willing to take the argument the whole way. Blind people are able to hear better, they say, because we have lost our sense of sight. What would happen to us if we had also lost our senses of taste, touch, and smell? Our hearing would be so acute that we would be able to hear the ordinary sound a mile away, and the whisper in the next room would be plainly audible. Imagine the advantages. The CIA would no longer need all of those listening devices; it could use us.
Or imagine the sense of touch. Some years ago the argument was made that blind people are better at kissing than the sighted because we are not distracted by extraneous visual images. However, William Wiener puts the matter on a different footing. We kiss better (it could be argued) because we have an enhanced sense of touch. Is the improvement noticeable only by the blind, or can the sighted enjoy it too? What about the deaf-blind? Is their sense of touch superior to that of those who are only blind? If they had lost the senses of smell and taste, the experience of kissing might be so keen as to put them into orbit.
Or consider another line of thought. Why is it that the researchers believe the reassignment of the cortex affects only the senses? Maybe the blind, who do not use their brains for seeing, employ this unused mental capacity for more intellectual pursuits. Maybe we use the brainpower to think; maybe we are smarter than the sighted.
Our experience shows us that such speculation is just that--speculation. We don't believe our loss of sight has altered our mental processes. I will admit that some of the blind people I have met possessed most unusual ideas, but their thinking was no more bizarre (and no less bizarre) than the mental gymnastics I have sometimes observed from the sighted--especially those with experiments to perform on the blind.
We say this to the experimenters. If you want to know what blind people are like, come to us--come to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind--come to us in our thousands. We will help you learn what blindness is--and of equal importance--what it is not. But keep in mind that we insist on equality in the Federation. If you insist on conducting experiments on us, we think it is only fair that we be able to conduct a few on you.
You may have thought that the negative stereotypes that were once so often associated with blindness are a thing of the past--that they existed at one time, but that nobody could possibly believe them today. Even if there remain a few unenlightened souls who think the blind are inferior and the techniques employed by the blind are second-rate, surely this attitude could not prevail in the highly-educated and well-informed circles of programs established to serve the blind.
On August 12, 1998, leaders of the Puerto Rico affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind appeared before a committee of the legislature to urge that a bill be adopted to secure the right of the blind to learn Braille. The head of the Puerto Rico Rehabilitation Administration, Dr. Jose Santana, the man responsible for directing programs in Puerto Rico established to ensure that the blind learn what they need to know, gave testimony against the bill. He said that teaching Braille to a blind person with any residual vision whatsoever, no matter what skills or talents that person may possess, is anti-pedagogical, anti-democratic, and cruel. He said that becoming blind is a form of dying. He compared the teaching of Braille (if you can believe it) to having a healthy person, on the theory that the person will one day die, climb into a coffin. Such testimony boggles the mind.
Our experience is that Braille is a liberating skill, one that encourages independence and expands opportunity. Dr. Santana argues that achieving literacy for the blind is similar to seeking death. And they tell us that we have psychological problems. What are the psychological implications of Dr. Santana's argument? Does he believe that he is a whole person but that we who are blind are not? Does he believe that we are inferior and that he is superior? Does he believe that administrators of programs for the blind are put in place to look down upon the clients they are supposedly working to serve?
Dr. Santana would deprive us of our method of reading; he would insist that the blind be illiterate. He thinks we are already partly dead, but we will not let his lack of understanding help us into the grave. We will not let his psychological need for superiority govern our future.
We reject Dr. Santana's formulation and all of the psychological myths--the hidden insecurity and the unspoken fear--that are part of this ignorant misperception. We want freedom, and Braille is one of the elements that will help us get it. We will not let narrow-mindedness or bigotry on the part of administrators of programs for the blind keep us from it. Dr. Santana believes he speaks for the blind, but he cannot--and he never will speak for us. We will express our own views, and we will be heard. There is no force on earth that can stop us!
Although an increasing number of the members of the public have come to recognize the struggle of the blind to achieve first-class status in society and have joined with us in this effort, there are a few who still believe blindness signifies a complete lack of the ability to contribute. These unenlightened people think that we the blind are unable to earn anything and that whatever we have must have been given to us. They hold the view that the only contribution possible for the blind is to serve as the objects of somebody else's pity, and they want to feel pity for others because they gain a sense of superiority from doing so. They think that we who are blind want something for nothing. Unfortunately, some blind people help to support this negative and uninformed understanding.
On March 8, 1999, an article appeared in Newsweek Magazine, entitled "Navigating My Eerie Landscape" by Jim Bobryk, a blind person living in California. Bobryk's description of his own experience is a strange mixture. It demonstrates that his training in the skills of blindness has been minimal, that he has not come fully to accept or understand blindness, that his determination to carry on the activities of living is reasonably firm, and that he is looking for ways to exploit his blindness. Here in part is what Bobryk says:
Now, as I stroll down the street, my right forefinger extends five feet in front of me, feeling the ground where my feet will walk.
[I interrupt to point out that this is a catchy way of saying that Bobryk uses a cane. He is not a freak with a five-foot-long finger; he is blind with a cane in his hand. But back to the article.]
Before, my right hand would have been on a steering wheel. I drove to work, found shortcuts in strange cities, picked up my two daughters after school. Those were the days when I ran my finger down a phone-book page and never dialed information. When I read novels and couldn't sleep until I had finished the last page. Those were the nights when I could point out a shooting star before it finished scraping across the dark sky. And when I could go to the movies, and it didn't matter if it was a foreign film or not.
But [Bobryk continues] all this changed about seven years ago. I had battled glaucoma for twenty years. Suddenly, without warning, my eyes had hemorrhaged. I now have no vision in my left eye and only slight vision in my right. A minefield of blind spots makes people and cars suddenly appear and vanish. My world has shapes but no features. Friends are mannequins in the fog until I recognize their voices. Printed words look like ants writhing on the page. Doorways are unlit mine shafts. This is not a place for the fainthearted.
[I interrupt again to point out that Bobryk uses the language to ask for sympathy. Life was good before blindness, but now it is filled with minefields and unlit mineshafts, with no foreign films and no driving, with no books at night before bed and no stars. Of course a doorway is not an unlit mineshaft, but the image of falling and danger is enhanced by such hyperbole. The message here is not complex. Bobryk says: give me pity; I am blind. But back to the article.]
My cane is my navigator in this eerie landscape. Adults will step aside without comment when they see me coming. While I'm wielding my stick, strangers are often afraid to communicate with me. I don't take this personally--anymore. Certainly they can't be afraid that I'll lash out at them with my rod. (Take THAT, you hapless sighted person! Whack!) Still, [Bobryk says] I refuse to take a dim view of this.
[Once again I interrupt to say that this part of the narrative is slightly more complicated. It indicates isolation, frustration, and anger. The white cane is a symbol of independence and a means of travel, but in Bobryk's hand it is (at least in his own mind) an instrument for separation from the public--not a means for participation in society. And it is also a potential weapon to be used against the undeserving. Nevertheless, he continues to use the cane because it gets him where he wants to go. However, he thinks of it as an element of an eerie world--one filled with loss, regret, and bitterness. The cane is not a valued part of an independent life; it is a necessary evil. But there is more in the article. Bobryk continues.]
It's not like it's inconvenient for friends to help me get around. Hey, have disabled parking--will travel. Christmas shopping? Take me to the mall and I'll get us front-row parking. Late for the game? No problema. We'll be parking by the stadium entrance. And if some inconsiderate interloper tries to park in the blue zone without a permit, he'll either be running after a fleeing tow truck or paying a big fine.
So you see [Bobryk continues] I'm a good buddy to know. I just carry a cane, that's all. None of this is to make light of going blind. Being blind is dark and depressing. When you see me walking with my cane, you may think I'm lost as I ricochet down the street. But you'll find more things in life if you don't travel in a straight line.
This is the description of blindness that appeared less than four months ago in Newsweek Magazine. Blind people can't walk in a straight line; we ricochet through the world. Ours is a dark and depressing existence. We take what we can get and have little or nothing to give in return, except a handicapped parking space close to the stadium entrance. Bobryk exploits his blindness, and he does it deliberately--extracting privileges from the public that are not necessary, on the false and destructive premise of pity. Then he complains about isolation and backlash.
Newsweek printed this story as one acceptable way of understanding blindness, but it is not acceptable to us. Blind people are not all angry, frustrated chiselers. We are not victims, and we refuse to act the part of beaten-down, sniveling whiners. A new literature about blindness is needed, and we the organized blind are setting the pattern of its formation. The Newsweek article represents the comprehension of a former day and is an illustration of the literature of a bygone era. Its appeal to emotionalism is thin and superficial. Unlike our literature its pattern is so thoroughly recognizable that the text demands almost no thought at all.
In our literature we speak not of anger, but of a willingness to work; not of pity, but of self-reliance; not of exploitation, but of a shared commitment to join with others to build a better future. We have the capacity to think and the mental discipline to tell our own story. Our struggle for independence is real, and increasingly the insight of reporters is recognizing the drama. The previous image was wrong, and we are helping them replace it. We are the blind, and we will speak and act on our own behalf. There is no force on earth that can prevent it.
Much of the work of the National Federation of the Blind is done through correspondence. We write thousands of letters each year and distribute them to millions of people. We include with our letters literature about blindness, especially Kernel Books. Part of our mailing program is intended to educate the public, and part of it is designed to locate individuals who need our help. Of course we receive thousands of responses. Some of them are articulate and literary, but others are written in the simplicity and eloquence of need. Here are excerpts from one of these:
I'm very much in need of assistance for my nine-year-old daughter Satoria; she was born blind. She had surgery on her eyes when she was one week old. And by the grace of God she can do a lot of things. When she were two years old, she would take books from the shelves and sit on the floor and try to read them. And I ran out of the room where she were, and I started crying my poor little heart out until I couldn't cry no more. And when she got ready for Head Start, she was going ahead of everybody in class. She has a visually impaired teacher comes in and out of her class, checking on her. But it is very hard for me. These people wants me to work while I have a child that can not see almost to cross the street. I be frightened that some one will call me and say, "Your daughter has got hit by a car," or anything. I'll tell you, this have me worrying, depressed, and nervous. They really don't understand. I am a single parent with no transportation in the city of New Orleans. But I'm glad this [letter] were sent through the mail--the first thing I've got. You know we gets a lot of junk mail. I want my kids to grow up right--feeling comfortable. Sometimes I really have it hard, and Satoria don't have a van to pick her up to go to the clinic or no trainers to help her just in case her sight leaves completely. I don't have enough of money to get her the help she needs. But I'm going to send what I can afford. But thanks to that man upstairs; He's still blessing me and my kids. I'm pleased to meet you and hope I hear from you in the future.
Such is the letter from the mother of a blind nine-year-old child--a mother who has almost no resources, few contacts, little knowledge of the system, and no realistic appraisal of what to expect of her child. She cares deeply, and she is willing to give of the little that she has. However, she is worried about the future for her child, and she does not know what to do. She has received our message of hope and belief, and she has begun to wonder if the opportunities we describe can become a part of life for her daughter. Although she is not accustomed to writing, she has put words on paper and spoken from the heart. She needs money, but this mother is afraid to work because she believes she is needed constantly to watch over her child. This adds to the economic hardship of the family. Despite this hardship she is prepared to give to us from what she has because we offer an opportunity which exists nowhere else. I understand this feeling (as we in the Federation do), for I have children of my own, and a sacrifice to assist them is one way of believing in the goodness of tomorrow. We in the Federation must create opportunities for the children of today that never existed for us, and of course we will. Because Satoria's mother has written, her daughter will have an expanded future, for we will do what we can to help with that future.
In 1940 (almost six decades ago), the National Federation of the Blind was founded by Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and a handful of other stalwart people at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Circumstances faced by the blind in those days were extremely poor, and prospects for the future were almost equally dismal. But Dr. tenBroek and those others knew that the only method for improving the future for the blind was to form a mechanism through which the blind themselves could take action to bring pressure on private and public programs for the blind, to challenge commonly held beliefs about blindness, to institute policy reforms respecting blind people, and to take other action to stimulate enhanced opportunity for the blind. That mechanism is our organization--the National Federation of the Blind.
Twelve years later the founder of the Federation, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, and the builder of the Federation, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, met at a National Convention of the organization in Nashville, Tennessee, and formed a lifelong friendship. Dr. tenBroek continued to lead the movement until his death in 1968. He was more than a President; he was the charismatic leader and the magnetic orator. Dr. tenBroek loved the Federation, and his love was evident in his leadership. He also loved Dr. Jernigan, who became President of the organization at the time of Dr. tenBroek's death in 1968 and who served as the leader of the movement for the next thirty years.
Under Dr. Jernigan's leadership the Federation expanded to every corner of the nation, and the number of its activities increased exponentially. The aids and appliances program of the Federation was established; leadership training seminars were commenced; presidential releases on cassette were distributed; Christmas programs were recorded; public service announcements for television and radio were prepared; the National Center for the Blind was discovered, remodeled, and furnished; a number of magazines were founded including the Voice of the Diabetic and Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children; training centers for the blind came into being in Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota; greater harmony than had ever existed in the past was fostered among agencies for the blind and organizations of the blind within the United States and beyond our borders; the staff of the Federation was hired, trained, and integrated into the fabric of the organization; the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind was established; the Kernel Book series was initiated and the books themselves distributed to millions; the NEWSLINE(R) for the Blind network was invented and put into operation; the America's Jobline system was developed; and funding to support all of these programs and dozens of others was secured.
In his hands the Federation became a solidly harmonious and unified organization with purpose, drive, and force. A corps of leaders throughout the movement was trained at the local, the state, and the national levels in the mechanisms of the Federation and the techniques of its governance. Dr. Jernigan also loved the Federation, and his love was equally evident in his leadership.
Dr. tenBroek died more than thirty years ago, and Dr. Jernigan drew his last breath in the fall. But the spirit of these two magnificent leaders is with us still. It is present in the scholarships we grant, in the programs we pursue, and in the literature we publish. They have given us a method of thought and a habit of living; they have given us the inspiration to move forward with confidence in ourselves and in each other. They never failed to plan ahead, and we have learned from their example to do the same.
So what of tomorrow--what does the future portend for us? Will we be misunderstood and belittled by the press? Will the so-called scientific researchers (aided and abetted by some of the less well-informed agency officials) tell us that our minds operate differently from those of the sighted? Will certain administrators of programs for the blind declare that being blind is a form of dying and challenge our right to learn Braille? Will weak-spirited blind individuals seek something for nothing on the basis of pity and encourage the press to print, for public display, their lack of confidence as if it were news? Yes, all of this will occur and more. We will face misunderstanding of our talents and capacities, mischaracterization of our actions and beliefs, and misrepresentation of our purposes and objectives. Furthermore, we will not always have the resources to meet the immediate needs that will come our way. But will this cause within us, or within our movement, a crisis of confidence? Not a bit of it! We have set our objectives, and we will not waver until we have reached our goal.
Yes there will be problems aplenty. But we have the means for solving them. We have our own resources, and increasingly we have the goodwill and the understanding of others. Some members of the press misunderstand us, but many others don't. Some agency officials think us inferior, but many others have joined with us in the effort to bring acceptance for the blind into the public mind. Some researchers regard us as abnormal, but many others recognize us for what we are. Furthermore, we ourselves are, in ever greater numbers, being welcomed as members of the press, administrators of programs for the blind, and researchers within the scientific community. At one time we were alone, but today we have more colleagues and more friends than ever before in history. And, of the greatest importance, we have each other. We have the Federation in all its depth and strength--and who could ask for more?
In 1986 you elected me President of the Federation, giving to me the highest honor that anybody can bestow. I have done my best to take my standard as President from Dr. Jernigan, who (in his turn) took his standard from Dr. tenBroek. I have tried to lead our movement with understanding, good judgment, and firmness.
We in the Federation have a shared bond of love and trust from me as President to you the members, and from you to me. As long as you want me to do so, I will do my best to continue to lead our movement. I will be willing to stand in the front lines and to take whatever comes without flinching or equivocating. I will give freely of my time, my energy, my imagination, my resources, and my commitment; and I will meet the problems we face head-on. I will not ask of you what I am not prepared to do myself. This is my obligation and my pledge.
You the members of the Federation also have an obligation to the movement and to me as President. I will expect you to give of your time, your energy, your imagination, and your resources. When the challenges come to us and the difficult times arise, I will ask you to support the movement and me--to give me your dedication and your commitment.
If we as a movement--if we, the great body of the Federation--are not prepared to give all that is good within us, our growth and progress will diminish or cease to be. But we will not hesitate or turn back. The stakes are too high and the cost too great to permit it. We have tasted freedom, and we can never again be satisfied with anything less than full independence for ourselves and those who come after us. Those who preceded us--Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and those thousands of others in the movement--have carried the banner, have sacrificed to gain opportunity for us, and have fought the battles so that we might comprehend what can and will be ours. They led and we followed; now it is our turn to lead. The spirit they kindled can never be extinguished because we will fan the flame--we will add fuel to the fire--and we, the members of the movement, will cause a great conflagration.
We are the blind of more than a single generation, of every segment of society, and of every part of the nation. We have the capacity to think and the mental discipline to reach conclusions that will alter the future for us all. We possess the confidence to bring those conclusions to reality. Nobody else can do it for us; we must do this for ourselves; and we will! Our future is bright with promise because it belongs to us, and there is no force on earth that can stop us. Come, and we will make it come true!
National Federation of the Blind Awards for 1999
From the Editor: National Federation of the Blind awards are not bestowed lightly. If an appropriate recipient does not emerge from the pool of candidates for a particular award, it is simply not presented. At this year's convention three presentations were made. The first took place during the Board of Directors' meeting Friday morning. Sharon Maneki, who chairs the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee, made the presentation. Here is the way it happened:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Debbie Baker displays her plaque while Sharon Maneki addresses the audience and Diane McGeorge looks on.]
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
Good morning, Mr. President, fellow Federationists. As we advance in our march toward equality and opportunity, sometimes our methods in the National Federation of the Blind may be categorized as using the stick. Sometimes our methods are categorized as using the carrot. This morning it's a great pleasure to be in the carrot category.
About eleven years ago we started the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to recognize outstanding teachers who worked with the students in the vision programs throughout the country. This morning the committee of Allen Harris, Joyce Scanlan, Jackie Billey, and me are bringing to you a truly outstanding and distinguished educator of blind children.
She has been teaching for twenty-two years. She teaches students from kindergarten right through high school. Of course, she teaches academics, as a teacher would. She teaches the skills of blindness--Braille and so forth. Isn't this an interesting thing: I didn't know this but it really turned out that we picked out a very fine person. The other day, when I was perusing the newsletter of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, there was her name on the back as a lifetime member of NAPUB.
This individual happens to be from Springfield, Ohio. She teaches her students how to stand up for themselves, how to advocate for themselves, and while it can be lonely for a blind person to be a teacher in the vision field because her attitudes may be somewhat different from those of her colleagues, she is true to our philosophy and true to independence. Join me in congratulating Deborah Baker from Springfield, Ohio.
I have just handed Deborah Baker the check for $500, and I'm going to read her plaque:
The National Federation of the Blind
Deborah E. Baker
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
for your skills in teaching Braille
and the use of the white cane
for generously devoting
extra time to meet the needs
of your students, and for inspiring
your students to perform beyond
You champion our movement,
you strengthen our hopes,
you share our dreams.
After receiving her plaque, Debbie Baker said:
Hello, fellow Federationists. I am deeply honored to be here. I thank you all and give special thanks to my supporters from Ohio, particularly our President, Mrs. Pierce, and Eric Duffy. I do teach my children about sight--the same sight that you and I have. I teach the youngest members of the NFB, and I teach them that foresight (a good name is luck) and insight are always necessary, but hindsight is the best because we all have twenty/twenty, and it enables us all to learn. Thank you.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mike Romeo and Betty Niceley display his Golden Keys Award.]
The Golden Keys Award
At the banquet Betty Niceley, President of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, came to the platform to make a presentation. This is what she said:
The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille takes great pleasure in recognizing excellence. It is a special pleasure to find excellence among those quiet people who work in the background to make things happen. While trying to keep abreast of the continuously growing field of technology, we are extremely delighted to see that Braille has benefitted from all of this. There is one who has played a vital role in the development and evolution of personal and mass-production Braille embossers. In the late 1970's the Kentucky Modified Braille Embosser was developed. But this prototype machine had little potential for ever becoming available to many blind consumers.
Then along came someone who performed a remarkable re-engineering job on this prototype, changing it into the world's first useable embosser in the low-price range. Many hundreds of blind consumers were then able to own a portable Braille embosser because this prototype was transformed into a viable commercial product. Because of this experience a young man was led to great creativity, which resulted in such things as the Braille Blazer embosser, the undisputed leader in the personal Braille embossers in the United States and in some foreign countries.
He also designed technology that led to a number of other things such as the Romeo Brailler, which quickly led to the Juliet Brailler and certainly influenced other Braille embossers.
Then this young man turned his attention to refreshable Braille displays and the machines that use them: the Braille 18, the Braille Lite 2000, and the Braille Lite 40. Each in turn has contributed significantly to the production of Braille and its use. There is no doubt that this individual is an engineer with rare talent for developing and improving Braille products for the blind.
Tonight the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille wishes to honor him for the years of his continued dedication and for his contribution to Braille. Tonight we are pleased to add to the very short list of distinguished individuals who have received the Golden Keys Award the name of Mike Romeo. Mike, this is only the fourth Golden Keys Award that NAPUB has given in its fifteen years of existence. Please understand this award is not given lightly. This plaque says:
The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille
To you, Mike Romeo, we award these golden keys in recognition of your commitment to Braille and to the Braille readers who depend on it. To these readers you have given keys that unlock doors to the temple of knowledge.
July 5, 1999
Mike, we are pleased to present this award to you, and we trust that you will keep up the years of dedication that have gone before and that many more will come. Congratulations.
While Mr. Romeo was coming to the platform, Betty explained that in addition to the text the face of the plaque includes seven keys in the configuration of those on a Braille writer. Mike Romeo accepted the award but preferred not to speak.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ramona Walhof addresses the audience. Beside her Allen Harris holds his Jacobus tenBroek Award plaque while his wife Joy looks on applauding.]
The Jacobus tenBroek Award
Near the close of the banquet, Master of Ceremonies Allen Harris called Ramona Walhof, who chairs the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee, to the microphone for a presentation. This is what she said:
Dr. tenBroek was the founder of the National Federation of the Blind and served as our leader from 1940 until 1968. In his memory we have established the Jacobus tenBroek Award to honor one of our leaders who has made contributions beyond the call of duty to assist other blind people and the organization. This award is given only as often as there is someone who especially deserves it. This year the Committee to select a person for this prestigious recognition consisted of Joyce Scanlan, Jim Omvig, and me.
This year's tenBroek Award recipient has been a member of the NFB for thirty years and a state officer from the beginning. At his first Federation meeting in 1969 he was elected Secretary of his state affiliate and the next year President of his local chapter, a position he held for five years. Some of you have guessed that I am talking about Allen Harris. Allen was elected President of the NFB of Michigan in 1976 and re-elected every two years, eleven times. From 1983 to 1991 he served on the Board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind. In 1992 he was selected National Blind Educator of the Year by the NFB.
He was first elected to the Board of Directors of the NFB in 1981. In 1985 he became Secretary, and in 1988 he was elected Treasurer, and he has been re-elected to this position every two years ever since.
In 1985 he was selected as one of two outstanding teachers of social studies in Michigan by the National Council of Social Studies. During a full career of teaching Allen Harris was chosen year after year by his colleagues as Chairman of the Social Studies Department at Dearborn High School. He was held in high respect by both students and teachers.
When he coached swimming and wrestling teams, they won. Seldom has any coach taken as many champion teams to district and state competitions as Coach Harris did.
I well remember the day in 1969 when I knocked on the door of Allen Harris's house. We were organizing in Michigan, and he had been recommended as a prospect. He was cordial and pleasant, but he was not sure what commitments he was ready to make. Yesterday he told us more about his perspective at that time. Many of us understand that feeling in the beginning. He promised to come to the organizational meeting we were planning for the following weekend, but I did not expect to see him there. Only a few months ago I asked Allen why he had actually made the trip from Detroit to Lansing for that meeting, and his answer helps to show why he is a leader. He said simply: "I gave you my word." Allen Harris has always kept his word. He does not let people down within the Federation or elsewhere.
After twenty-three years as President of the NFB of Michigan, this year he resigned that position. He built the Michigan affiliate into a strong and enthusiastic one. Now he has moved to a new post for serving the blind. He is Assistant Director of Rehabilitation for the New York State Commission for the Blind. It is an exciting opportunity for him and for the blind of the nation. If this state agency is run in the way that Allen Harris knows how, not only will it bring tremendous advantages to the blind in New York, but it will also help set the tone for rehab throughout the country.
So tonight we have chosen to honor our Master of Ceremonies and our Treasurer for all the ways he has served the blind and for what he is. Allen, we honor you, and we love you.
Ramona then read the text of the plaque:
Jacobus tenBroek Award
National Federation of the Blind
for your dedication, sacrifice, and commitment
on behalf of the blind of the nation.
Your contribution is not measured in steps,
but in miles, not by individual experiences,
but by your impact on the lives of the blind of the nation.
Whenever we have asked, you have answered.
We call you our colleague with respect;
we call you our friend with love.
July 5, 1999
Allen then said:
Thank you very much. I am going to ask Joy--you want to step up here with me? When you marry someone active in the Federation, you marry the Federation. However it goes, and in our case it goes each way. So I would like Joy to be here to share this moment with me. I could not have been more surprised. I love secrets, but mostly when they involve other people. I could not be more surprised. I thank you very much Dr. and Mrs. Maurer, Mrs. Jernigan, and all my friends and colleagues in the Federation.
I have always considered myself just an ordinary member of the Federation who had whatever responsibilities I had. One of the things I was talking to someone about today was when Dr. Jernigan called me, I never said no. I used to plan how I might say no if he asked me to do something when I was busy or whatever, but I could never say no to him. And you know what? He never said no to me unless I suggested something that was off the wall.
Like each of you I have tried to contribute in what ways I can. I have explained on many occasions just what the Federation has meant to me, how it has changed my life, how it has defined who I am. And to the extent that I possess energy and some intellect and capacity to do things, I have learned them within the Federation. And to the extent I am committed to anything in my life, continuing what has begun, giving to others what has been given to us by the blind people who came before us, I want to continue doing that. I am humble in my gratitude for the thanks and support, the tremendous honor that this award represents. I thank you very much and look forward to many more years of working together.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The scholarship class of 1999: (left to right) back row: Nick DeLong, Brian Quintana, Michael Brands, Brian Miller, Jake Oberman, Peter Ince, Dennis Hodos, and Billie Petrino; middle row: Laurel Henry, Charles Arballo, Andre Watson, Michelle Wright, Sarah Swords, Alicia Richards, Tamera Snelling, Marie Kouthoofd, Nicole Gleason, and Alison Dolan; front row: Becky Wood, Barbara Riverdahl, Robert Hunt, Jessica Jenkins, Ivan Lopez, Alan Tu, Carlos Taylor, and Tyrone Coleman.]
The Scholarship Class of 1999
One of the most exciting elements in each year's convention is meeting and getting to know the twenty-six scholarship winners. This year was no exception. The students were lively, inspired, and inspiring. One thing was different, however. In tribute to the life and work of Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Ray Kurzweil presented additional scholarships of $1,000 to each student and gave each a scanner and the newest version of the Kurzweil 1000, a software package enabling print-handicapped people to read scanned print. The value of this software and hardware was $1,500. According to Dr. Kurzweil, the cash portion of this generous gift came from the Kurzweil Educational Group's having won the Product of the Year Award from the Stevie Wonder SAP Vision awards.
The students each came to the podium during the Friday morning Board of Directors' meeting and introduced themselves to the Convention. Then, at the banquet Monday evening, they each crossed the platform to receive a scholarship certificate from the NFB and a plaque and check from Dr. Kurzweil. The NFB scholarship checks and the Kurzweil 1000 software and hardware were sent later. Here is Scholarship Chairman Peggy Elliott introducing each winner to the Board, followed by the student's remarks. Peggy's words include the student's name, his or her home state, and the school state. This is the way the presentation Friday morning went:
Charles Arballo, California, California: Hi, I think that blindness does nothing that stops anybody from doing what they want to do. I believe that people can do whatever they want to do, and that's why I want to be a teacher. I want to teach the blind to become productive citizens of America and to earn their way as normal American citizens should.
Michael Brands, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning. I'm working on Ph.D. studies in Biblical theology in St. Paul. I hope to become a college- or graduate-level teacher with a passion to help people discover the simple and the deep wonder of living. I hope to write some books to make strategic contributions to my field but also to help people to learn to live well in the world. Thank you.
Tyrone Coleman, New Jersey, New Jersey: Hi, everybody. I would just like to say that sometimes in this world it's tough to find equality if you have sight or not. I'd like to tell you that you as blind students, blind individuals, can find equality here at the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.
Nick DeLong, Ohio, Ohio: Hi. This fall I will be attending the Ohio State University. I am eighteen years old, so I'm one of the youngest here. I'm going to do some type of engineering, either computer science, electrical, or sound. I'm not quite sure. I'll just keep my eyes open so to speak and see what happens.
Alison Dolan, New York, New York: Hi. I'm so proud and honored to be here today. It's really a wonderful opportunity, and I must thank you so much. I'm working on my master's degree in communications, specializing in public relations because I believe that the public really needs to be aware of issues such as blindness. So I'm hoping to be a public relations practitioner getting the word out there. Thank you very much.
Nicole Gleason, Illinois, Illinois: Hi. I am currently a sophomore at Loyola University, Chicago. I am majoring in theology and minoring in music. After college I plan to attend law school and then go into criminal defense and civil rights litigation. The reason that I want to do civil rights work is because I believe that blindness is respectable and that, with the proper training and opportunity, we blind people can do whatever we put our minds to, and I want others like myself to have these opportunities and the equality and security that the Federation promotes. That is why I want to go into civil rights work. Thank you.
Laurel Henry, Wyoming, Wyoming: Hello. I'm planning to attend Casper College, majoring in occupational therapy or psychology. I would like to learn both these skills because I like to help people and I feel it's very important. Even though occupational therapy is sometimes not thought of as a field for visually impaired people, I think that, if we have a dream to go after, whatever career we do, we need to go after our dreams and aspirations and do whatever it takes. The blind are sometimes challenged to do different things to prove themselves, but we can do whatever we want, and good luck to everyone.
Dennis Hodos, Florida, Florida: Good morning, everybody. I am the president for the student division of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. Currently I am going for my master's degree in social work, and I would like to get into working with children because I feel that children are our future and they will be the future of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you very much.
Robert Hunt, Utah, Utah: Five years ago, when I was fifteen, I became totally blind as a result of an accident. I remember for several months after my accident I just sat home and was dwelling on the fact that I was blind. I didn't believe that I could do any of the things that I used to. I finally realized over time that I could either sit home and not go anywhere and just be a failure, or I could go out and try to do everything I could do and try to be a success. I know that realization and change in attitude that marked this transition was largely facilitated by the National Federation of the Blind's efforts to change what it means to be blind. I'd like to express my gratitude to all of you who have gone before me and made it possible for me to reach my goals. Thank you.
Peter Ince, California, California: Good morning everybody. I am currently attending the great school of the University of California at Berkeley, and I am doing a double major of Japanese language and film studies. Because of the fact that I know in this world of equality we have to achieve great things to be able to hold great jobs, I am doing the double major because I intend to work in the Japanese market in the entertainment business. I'm going on to law school, where I will do entertainment law. I just want to say thank you to the Federation for accepting me into this great family of achievers and doers of equality instead of the world of wishers and just dreamers of equality.
Jessica Jenkins, California, California: Good morning. I'd like to thank the Federation for the opportunity to be here. This has been a very wonderful experience so far. I plan to study at Stanford University as a freshman in the fall, and I'm hoping to major in international relations and then pursue law or public policy. I would like to advocate for the rights of the disabled on a worldwide level. Thank you.
The next person is the first of our three tenBroek Fellows this year. As the Federation knows, we do accept reapplications from people who have won a scholarship at one time, and this year our first tenBroek Fellow is Marie Kouthoofd, New York, New York: I could roll off an extensive list of what I do, but I think it would be best to explain who I am. The way I can do that is by the things that I've internalized and read. In the Bible there was a man who came after Jesus. His name was Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus). He reached up to Jesus, and he said, "Son of David, have mercy on me." Jesus turned around (now Bartimaeus was blind, and back in that time blind people didn't have a very good place); he said, "What do you want?" I'm going to stop right there, because whether Bartimaeus got his sight back is really irrelevant. What that means to me is that Jesus turned around, and He realized--He knew the guy was blind, but that is not what he really needed. You see I was Bartimaeus before I came to know the National Federation of the Blind. When I became blind, I thought, "If my blindness would go away, I would be okay." That's just not the case. The Lord sent me the National Federation of the Blind so you guys could teach me that I needed a healing within me. I needed to know that I could be successful and confident and be blind. That's what you've done for me, and I want to thank you. I want to thank you for the opportunity for a second scholarship. I love the Federation; I love all you guys.
Ivan Lopez, Arizona, Arizona: Good morning. I would like to say how grateful and how privileged I feel to be here with you today, that being around people who take part in this Federation makes me realize the importance of the NFB. Previously I was a student attending Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. Currently I'm attending the NFB training center in Ruston, Louisiana. I would like to say we all share stories here as blind individuals, and I'll skip any details of mine. But I would like to address the importance of a person that has been a lifelong mentor for me. He's a wonderful man, and he has been encouraging me throughout my struggles as a blind person. This person has opened up a lot of ways for me to be here today. I will be forever grateful. I'm speaking of Mr. James H. Omvig, a person who has talked about power or empowerment, who are the experts, and he has encouraged me to pursue becoming a future representative of this Federation. He wants me to become a future leader, and I want him to help me become one. Thank you.
Brian Miller, Iowa, Iowa, and Brian is the second of our tenBroek Fellows. Here's Brian: Thank you. This doesn't get easier the second time around, I promise you. You never know where the NFB is going to take you in your life. The NFB took me from San Diego to Iowa City, Iowa, where I learned that the blind can and do shovel snow a lot. I have a bachelor's and a master's [degree] in political science, and I currently teach Spanish at the University of Iowa as well as pursuing a master's degree in history education. It would be impossible to enumerate all the things the National Federation of the Blind has given me in the intervening three years since I earned my first scholarship. It has given me confidence. It has honed my political skills. It has sharpened my intelligence. It has exhorted me to excellence. It has also introduced me to my wife--no small thing. I discovered that here in the National Federation of the Blind no dreams are ever deferred; they are only sought; it's always a matter of time. I want to thank the Scholarship Committee for this second opportunity to wear a scholarship ribbon. It means so much to me. I don't know whether it was my grades or the iron filings in my shoes, but lightning struck twice. Thank you very much for this.
Jake Oberman, California, New York: Hi. I will be attending the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, and one day my goal is to manage a hotel or resort. During high school I earned five varsity letters running cross country and track. Many times during practice or races I have fallen, but I have always gotten up and pushed harder and become a leader of my team, and I'm respected by many others. Many people come up to me at races and say, "Are you blind?" and I say, "Yeah." I can compete with them. Running with them has given me the confidence to know that I can compete and be on an equal level with anybody else. Thank you to the Scholarship Committee, and thank you to all of you.
Billie Petrino: this is the third of the tenBroek Fellows. Billie Petrino, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning. I'm currently a senior at Louisiana Tech, majoring in math education. In June I enter a master's O & M program run by Dr. Ryles there in Louisiana. I was speaking about this the other day. I remember as a child my grandfather used to have this doorway where he measured how tall I got every time I used to visit his house, and I was thinking how much the NFB was a doorway like that, only difference is that this doorway is thousands of feet high. When I came to my first convention in 1997, I put my first mark on that doorway. Now two and a half years later I look back at that, and I look now, and I see how much further I have to go, but I've already seen how far I've been. I thank the NFB for giving me the room to grow, to be free, and to thrive.
Brian Quintana, New Mexico, New Mexico: Good morning and hello to everyone. I am happy and delighted to be here at this my third convention, and I'm elated to be receiving a scholarship this year. I will be attending the University of New Mexico in the fall, where I plan to study film with an emphasis in screen writing. I believe that writing is a very important and effective means of communication, so one day I hope to become a screen writer. By the way, have you guys heard the one about the skunk? Well, never mind, it stunk anyway.
Alicia Richards, Iowa, Illinois: Good morning. I am currently going to Lincoln Christian College in Lincoln, Illinois. I'm getting ready to start my sophomore year there. My major is Christian counseling. I plan to get a master's in that. I want to help people with God's help. These are two people I need to be thanking this morning: God and the Federation. Both have provided generously for me. Thank you.
Barb Riverdahl, North Carolina, North Carolina: Good morning, formerly of Illinois. I am going to attend the University of North Carolina in the fall, where I'll be double majoring in psychology and education, going after a master's in educational psychology and rehabilitation and a specialty in adaptive computer technology. I received the Illinois scholarship last year. I attended my first NFB convention in Dallas last summer. When I came home, I hit my community and college with full force and instigated many activities through leadership and fund raising--all of this brought on special recognitions, both state and international, but my highest highlight is just attending the NFB conventions. Before I came here, I received a phone call from the Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation for the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., and I have been accepted as an intern for the summer of 2000. If it wasn't for the inspiration and the knowledge I gained through the NFB, none of this would have happened. So I want to thank you all.
Tamera Snelling, Oregon, Oregon: Hi. My first experience with the NFB came at the Oregon convention last year, and Allen Harris was a big part of that. I think that the NFB philosophy was something that was in my head before even knowing the NFB, but at that convention it became a part of my heart. At this convention I truly can see now inside myself that I want to advocate for all of you to know Braille and independent travel. I feel that's a vital thing in our life as blind people to be first-class citizens. As an Oregonian I want to borrow from Nike and say, "Just do it."
Sarah Swords, Florida, New Jersey: Good morning. Next year I plan to attend Princeton University, where I hope to get a degree in political science and history. I hope one day to be a professor at a college. I also hope to teach not only history and academics but also life skills through examples. I believe that everyone including people who are blind can achieve any goal they want to. Many people have told me that I'm inspirational, but I just want to tell you that you are a great inspiration to me. From coming here, I've learned that I really can do anything I want to. So I want to thank you for this opportunity.
Carlos Taylor, Indiana, Indiana: Hi. I'm Carlos. I attend Ball State University, where I am majoring in business and minoring in computer science. I hope to some day have a hand in all this wonderful adaptive technology that's available to us in opening many doors for a lot of blind people. The NFB is such an inspiration to me. Last year was my first National Convention in Dallas, Texas, and I learned so much and met so many wonderful people in many wonderful professions. It's been such an inspiration to me and reinforced my ideas even more that blind people can do anything and become anything they want to become. It's also an organization that lets people who have many misconceptions about blind people know that the blind can do whatever they can do and compete with them too. Thank you.
Alan Tu, Illinois, Illinois: Good morning. First, I'd like to thank the Scholarship Committee for giving me the opportunity to be here. I'd like to thank the members of the National Federation of the Blind for their very warm welcome. Thank you. Even though it's my first time for being at a convention, I know that the scholarship class is very significant. This is because I believe that the scholarship class will be future leaders of the society and of the blind. As we move forward into the twenty-first century, we must not fail to look back, but we must also think and move forward. We must look at the barriers we have overcome, but we must also look at the barriers that have arisen. These barriers include rehabilitation, fighting for funds, and fighting for the right training, travel skills, et cetera. Finally there is an old adage that knowledge is power. The ever-increasing volume of electronic information is getting difficult for blind people to access, and that's why I hope to major in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana and help increase the access of blind people to information technology. Thank you.
Andre Watson, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Before I came here and when I was younger, I was told that blind people couldn't be mathematicians, couldn't be lawyers, doctors, professionals; but today I'm proud to say that those people were liars. I'm proud to say that there are other people here just like myself, and I'm not alone. As a graduate student at Widener University I'm pursuing my doctorate degree in psychology. There I plan to help people renew their minds to realize that their attitude does determine their altitude, and that what they can accomplish they have to believe first in their minds. So I thank you for this opportunity and honor to meet all these students and professionals, and I wish everyone to run the race, fight the good fight, and finish your course.
Becky Wood, Utah, Utah: Hi. I'm thankful and honored to be here. I am currently attending the University of Utah. This is my junior year, and I'm studying early childhood education. I'd just like to say that I'm thankful for the National Federation of the Blind, the student division, the wonderful people, and for the belief and attitude which has been given me. Thank you.
Michelle Wright, Nevada, Nevada: My name is Michelle. I have one more year to go for my master's degree in social work at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, no sports jokes please. I lost my vision five years ago, and I can honestly say right now, at this point in my life, I'm more satisfied than I ever was before, and I'd like to thank the Federation for all the experiences they have given me. I know it can only get bigger and better from here. Thanks.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marie Kouthoofd hugs Peggy Elliott on the dais. Joy and Allen Harris can be seen to the right.]
That is what the students in the scholarship class of 1999 said about themselves. On Monday evening, July 5, the winner of the American Action Fund Scholarship addressed the audience as the climax of the scholarship-presentation ceremony. The winner was Marie Kouthoofd. This is what she had to say:
Dr. Maurer, Mrs. Jernigan, Board of Directors and Scholarship Committee, and my family--the Federation--this is an honor indeed, an honor that is very difficult to express in words. I know that this Federation, my Federation, was given to me by the grace of God. I know this because in 1996 I stood here before you as a woman who was afraid to become blind. I stand here tonight as a woman who is proud to be blind.
In 1994 Dr. Jernigan delivered a speech in Washington, D.C., and he said something like this: Freedom is not something that can be given from one to another. Rather, freedom must be affirmatively achieved or taken by the individual or group that alleges to want it, or it simply cannot be had. He went on to say that freedom is self-achieved and is a process that is constant and ongoing. Tonight, Dr. Maurer and my Federation family, I plan to stand with you and achieve that freedom as we face the new millennium and change what it means to be blind.
That is what Marie said. Now here is the complete list of winners and the awards they received:
$4,000 NFB Scholarships: Charles Arballo, Tyrone Coleman, Alison Dolan, Laurel Henry, Dennis Hodos, Robert Hunt, Ivan Lopez, Alicia Richards, Barbara Riverdahl, Tamera Snelling, Sarah Swords, Carlos Taylor, and Andre Watson
$4,000 Frank Walton Horn Memorial Scholarship: Nicole Gleason
$4,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Jessica Jenkins
$4,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Jacob Oberman
$4,000 Humanities Scholarship: Brian Quintana
$4,000 Mozelle and Willard Gold Memorial Scholarship: Michelle Wright
$4,000 Educator of Tomorrow Scholarship: Rebecca Wood
$4,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Nicholas DeLong
$4,000 E. U. Parker Memorial Scholarship: Billy Petrino
$4,000 Computer Science Scholarship: Alan Tu
$5,000 NFB Scholarships: Michael Brands and Peter Ince
$5,000 Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Brian Miller
$11,000 American Action Fund Scholarship: Marie Kouthoofd
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder]
Politics and Rehabilitation: Serving the Customer,
Serving the Agency, Serving the Public
by Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.
Rehabilitation Services Administration
U. S. Department of Education
From the Editor: On Monday afternoon, July 5, Dr. Fred Schroeder addressed the convention. As Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration he is in many ways the single most influential professional in the blindness field today. In a year in which we have sustained perhaps more attacks on separate agencies serving blind consumers than ever before, his unequivocal endorsement of separate agencies and specialized services was much needed encouragement and reassurance of RSA's recognition that the separate agency is the service-delivery-system model most likely to provide effective rehabilitation to blind Americans.
Contrast Dr. Schroeder's outspoken support for separate service-delivery agencies with the position held by the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency which provides policy guidance to the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government. A couple of years ago, when the entire blindness field was fighting to insure that the Rehabilitation Act reauthorization process did not result in language supporting generic agencies slipping into the amendments, the NCD published a position paper against separate agencies for the blind, and every organization in the blindness field immediately criticized the Council, forcing it to back down. As a result it has never taken an official stand on the matter. It continued to remain silent on the question of separate agencies throughout the entire reauthorization process. Then, after the dust had settled and the amendments were in place, NCD staff members published "National Disability Policy: A Progress Report, November 1, 1997, to October 31, 1998." The following passage appears in this document: "The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 were nonetheless disappointing in not going further in some areas. The illogical division between the administration of VR services to people with visual disabilities and all other disabilities was not addressed." That's what NCD staff said about separate agencies once the coast was clear. In other words, the National Council on Disability is perfectly prepared to speak out of both sides of its mouth. When the heat is on and an entire field rises up in protest at its biased and short-sighted views, it is happy to stay out of the separate-agency discussion, but having yielded to political pressure from one segment of the disability field, its staff was eager to pop up with criticism once the heat was off.
No one will ever criticize Dr. Schroeder for being equivocal on important matters like separate agencies. This is what he said to the delegates at the 1999 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind:
Let me begin by updating you on important changes to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (hereafter the Act) as a result of last year's reauthorization. One change, about which we felt most strongly, was the need for presumptive eligibility for recipients of Social Security Supplemental Income (SSI) and for beneficiaries of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The Act now recognizes that individuals who have been determined eligible for either SSI or SSDI should not have to demonstrate any additional evidence of need for rehabilitation services to go to work.
Another important change is the recognition that not all people need the same level of assistance in selecting an employment goal or in identifying needed services. The 1998 Amendments to the Act include a new provision allowing people to develop their own rehabilitation plans or to seek assistance from a rehabilitation counselor or, for that matter, to seek assistance from anyone else they may choose.
In the prior reauthorization of the Act the National Federation of the Blind sought an amendment explicitly providing for individual choice in the rehabilitation process. The 1998 Amendments build on the earlier Amendments by consolidating and strengthening the choice provisions. All in all, we believe that the 1998 Amendments continue to support critical provisions in the Act, provisions recognizing the importance of informed choice, the importance of ready access to services, and the importance of quality employment tailored to the unique interests and abilities of each individual.
The Rehabilitation Act Amendments are included in a larger piece of legislation known as the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998. The WIA seeks to improve employment opportunities by consolidating dozens of employment programs and creating a seamless system of job-related services that are delivered through local and regional one-stop service centers. The unique aspects of the rehabilitation program are well defined in the Act, and adequate protections exist to insure the organizational integrity of the rehabilitation program and to insure that rehabilitation funds continue to be used only for rehabilitation purposes. Nevertheless, as the vocational rehabilitation program becomes an integral part of state workforce investment systems--systems that stress short-term interventions to assist people in obtaining demand-side occupations, the rehabilitation system will be increasingly pressed to function more and more like the generic system.
I am concerned that consolidation of employment programs, with its corresponding de-emphasis of specialization, is responsible for an increase in the number of proposals in various states to eliminate separate agencies for the blind. These proposals are not based on data, not based on experience, but rather they are based on the assumption that consolidation automatically breeds efficiency.
Yet national data support what we have known intuitively--blind people have unique needs that are best addressed by specialized services provided through separate agencies for the blind. A study concerning the efficacy of separate programs for the blind is about to be published by Cavenaugh, Giesen, and Pierce at Mississippi State University. Based on an analysis of Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) national data for fiscal year 1989, they found that, when compared to the more generic combined state rehabilitation agencies, separate agencies for the blind served people who are more socially and economically disadvantaged, have more severe visual impairments, and have more secondary disabilities.
Of all visually impaired individuals, separate agencies for the blind accept a larger percentage of legally blind people, 52 percent versus 42 percent in combined agencies. Separate agencies for the blind provide more comprehensive services, that is, more services to people with the most severe visual impairments, and separate agencies for the blind invest on average 61 percent more money in training and other services, $3,597 versus $2,241 in combined agencies. With such a strikingly greater investment, it is not surprising that separate agencies for the blind have a higher rehabilitation rate; that is, they are successful with a higher percentage of people who are accepted for and receive rehabilitation services. And, contrary to the commonly held belief, separate agencies close a lower percentage of legally blind people as homemakers; and perhaps most significant, people served by separate agencies for the blind are nearly twice as likely to be self-supporting at closure.
The finding of better wages is supported by a more recent analysis by Cavenaugh on FY 1996 data which concluded that the competitive employment rate of legally blind clients was significantly higher in separate agencies for the blind. These findings and other studies argue for a policy of continued support, in fact, a policy of increased support for separate agencies for the blind. Yet proposals to consolidate programs for the blind with generic services continue.
What then to do? In recent times the word "politics" has become pejorative at best, virtually synonymous with partisan bickering, posturing, and gridlock. Yet politics is nothing more than the process by which people express their collective views and seek to create change according to those views.
Of course there has been a long history of blind people supporting separate agencies for the blind, and, when I speak of support, I am speaking of political support. Of course blind people are no strangers to political action. Political support is absolutely essential for agencies for the blind to withstand all manner of challenges--threats to funding, threats to staffing levels, and threats to the separate identity of the agency. But how is political support gained and maintained? How do agencies for the blind win the confidence and trust and, most important, the loyalty of blind people in the state? In my view the answer is quite straightforward; it is by believing in blind people and by recognizing that the blind of the state must have a real voice in shaping the programs and services of the agency--a partnership resulting in good jobs with good wages and with good upward mobility potential--good jobs, not simply the most readily available jobs.
But everyone believes in good jobs, so what are good jobs, and how do blind people prepare for and obtain high quality employment? Blind people must receive good orientation training. Good orientation training is the foundation of effective rehabilitation. It gives blind people the skills and the confidence to pursue a particular occupation or field. Once a blind person has good orientation training, he or she is ready to plan for the future--a challenging job, an interesting job, a job with upward mobility potential.
As you know, I strongly believe in the power of education as a way for blind people to lift themselves out of poverty. Of course not all good jobs require a college education, and not all blind people want or need college degrees, but for those who have the interest and aptitude, a college education is a powerful way of improving their economic status. Karier (1998) in a study entitled "Welfare Graduates: College and Financial Independence" compared what happens to people with four-year degrees, two-year degrees, high-school degrees, and no degree. There are three pieces of information for each of the four categories: 1) average annual wages, 2) percent in poverty, and 3) unemployment rate. Beginning with earnings, the data show that people with four-year degrees have average annual wages of $37,224. People with two-year degrees have average wages of $26,363. Those with high school diplomas have average wages of $20,248. And finally people who lack high school diplomas have average wages of $13,697. Look at the range. Those with no degree earn $13,697, and those with four-year degrees earn $37,224, nearly three times as much. Now look at poverty. One and one half percent of people with four-year degrees are in poverty. For people with two-year degrees, 3.3 percent are in poverty. For those with high school diplomas, 6.1 percent are in poverty. Finally, for people who lack high school diplomas, 17.2 percent are in poverty. Again look at the range. No high school diploma, 17.2 percent in poverty, compared to 1.5 percent of people with four year degrees.
Unemployment also tracks with education. The unemployment rate is 2.8 percent for people with four-year degrees, 3.8 percent for people with two-year degrees, and 6.1 percent for people with high school diplomas. And for people with no degree the unemployment rate is 11.6 percent. What a striking difference. Those with no degree have an 11.6 percent unemployment rate while those with four-year degrees have an unemployment rate of only 2.8 per cent.
But these data are for the general population; what about blind people? As is often the case, data do not exist specific to blind people, but there are data for people with disabilities which give at least some idea about the relationship between education and employment for the blind. For people with disabilities, labor force participation is nearly three times greater for college graduates than for people without high school diplomas. The 1997 Current Population Survey (CPS) published by the U.S. Bureau of the Census indicates that 18 percent of people with work disabilities with less than a high school education are in the labor force compared with 53 percent of people with work disabilities who are college graduates. Yet RSA data from FY 1997 indicate that for people who were successful in finding employment, just 15 percent received college or university training. With this meager investment in higher education, it is not surprising that only 17 percent were employed in professional occupations.
These findings are consistent with the findings of a longitudinal study of the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program. As I discussed with you last year, the Third Interim Report found that people with less than a high school diploma who were successfully placed in employment earned $6.30 per hour, compared with $9.07 for those with any degree beyond a high school diploma.
The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) within the U.S. Department of Education has also conducted a longitudinal study (Wagoner, 1992). Findings indicate that a majority of youth with disabilities do not enter the labor market, nor do they enter four-year college programs. The OSEP study found that, three to five years after high school, 57 percent of youth with disabilities were employed, but only 43 percent full time, and only 40 percent earned more than $6 per hour. Of those employed, the largest single occupational group (26 percent) was employed as laborers while the second smallest occupational group (7 percent) was employed in professional/managerial/sales occupations. And for youth with disabilities, only 6 percent attended four-year college programs.
The June, 1999, Post-secondary Education Descriptive Analysis Reports (PEDAR) indicate that students with disabilities, despite being qualified, are less likely than students without disabilities to enroll in four-year programs. But here is the important finding, PEDAR data also show that students with disabilities who finish a four-year program have employment outcomes and graduate school enrollments similar to students without disabilities.
The importance of a college education is particularly evident in light of trends in future employment opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that through 2006 most of the occupations with the highest expected number of new jobs will require higher education.
We know that undergraduate and graduate degrees lead to better jobs with better wages and the opportunity to become self-supporting. We also know that good jobs lead to political support by blind people in the state. The challenges facing separate agencies for the blind are significant, but the support of a dedicated and loyal constituency is also significant. Unfortunately, some rehabilitation agencies view their responsibility to be accountable solely in terms of dollars, rather than in terms of high-quality employment. Rehabilitation agencies need to economize, but they must not compromise quality for the sake of saving money. It takes money, and a good bit of it, to prepare blind people for good jobs, but good jobs have always been and will always be the cornerstone of successful, well run rehabilitation programs. Not all good jobs require a college degree, but college training is a powerful example of the cost-benefit relationship between training and high-quality employment. Pursuing a four-year degree is expensive, but there are few if any other types of training that can demonstrate such a dramatic and consistent impact on earnings. We want people to go to work, but we want people to have jobs that afford them opportunities for a good standard of living, an opportunity to pursue a career with the chance to advance.
I am very concerned about the move toward generic services. Loss of specialization inevitably leads to short-sighted policies with short-sighted measures of success. The measure of success in the rehabilitation program is not simply the number of people who go to work, but rather it is the quality of that work and the degree to which it affords the individual an opportunity to use fully his or her own talents and abilities. The true measure of success is the degree to which blind people and others are fully integrated into the social and economic mainstream--the degree to which blind people work in all types of jobs, from lawyers to factory workers, from teachers to carpenters, from laborers to stock brokers. Not all good jobs require a college education, and not all blind people want or need college degrees, but all blind people deserve the opportunity to live with dignity. All blind people deserve the opportunity to receive good orientation center training as the foundation to effective rehabilitation. All blind people deserve the opportunity to seek services from an agency that believes in the capacity of blind people and demonstrates that belief through its willingness to invest in the training and assistance blind people need to obtain good jobs. And all blind people deserve the opportunity to have a good job and a good standard of living, according to their own interests and abilities.
Dr. Maurer recently spoke before the annual meeting of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind. He told the group that strong programs for the blind cannot exist without strong organizations of the blind. There are both truth and wisdom in Dr. Maurer's words. For agencies for the blind to withstand threats to their funding, to withstand threats to their staffing levels, and to withstand threats to their separate status, they need the support--yes, the political support--of well-organized, committed blind people in the state. Political support is born of trust and mutual respect. This fact has always been true, but its importance has never been greater or more immediate.
Dr. Jernigan demonstrated the power of political support, the power of partnership, when he built the finest and most successful program for the blind that has ever been. As Dr. Maurer told us earlier this week, programs for the blind need true partnership with blind people, and blind people need true partnership with programs for the blind. The future for separate agencies for the blind lies in a strong and well organized constituency, and the opportunity for blind people to receive good training and good jobs lies in strong programs for the blind. Our futures are inseparably intertwined. The future for us all, the future for blind people and the future for agencies for the blind, lies in our ability to forge a real and true partnership.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sheryl Pickering reads a resolution during the Resolutions Committee meeting Thursday, July 1. Left to right at the head table are Peggy Elliott, Dr. Maurer, Sharon Maneki, Sheryl Pickering, and Jim Gashel.]
Resolutions Adopted by the Annual Convention of
National Federation of the Blind, July 6, 1999
by Sharon Maneki
By long-standing tradition the NFB Resolutions Committee meets on the first day of convention registration. This year the committee met on July 1. Since the committee is charged with the responsibility of determining which resolutions will be brought to the convention floor for consideration, the committee always has a large membership, representing all segments of our diverse Federation family. There were forty-two members of the committee this year. When Mrs. Walhof took on duties involving our capital campaign, President Maurer appointed me to chair this important committee. The experience was both challenging and fun.
This year we had tremendous participation in the resolutions process. Resolutions were sponsored by students, division presidents, and leaders in many state affiliates. During its meeting the committee thoroughly discussed and debated the issues raised in the resolutions. The final session of the convention is traditionally reserved for discussion and voting on resolutions because these documents will become the policies of our organization. One resolution, 99-10 concerning non-valid standardized test scores, was debated for an entire hour during this convention session. Twenty-one people debated the pros and cons of this resolution. Ultimately the Convention voted to defeat 99-10. I feel confident that this subject will be back for discussion in another resolution next year.
The committee considered nineteen resolutions. While some of the subjects were familiar: Social Security Disability, rehabilitation, education, and access to technology--they encouraged the organization to try new approaches to solve longstanding problems.
Resolution 99-03, sponsored by Priscilla McKinley, a graduate student and leader in the NFB of Iowa, calls upon the 106th Congress to pass S 285 and HR 1601, which would allow blind recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance to earn the same amount of income as seniors receiving the Social Security retirement benefit because this is the best way to promote work opportunities for the blind.
This year we passed six resolutions concerning rehabilitation. Resolution 99-02, sponsored by Edward Bell, who just graduated from college and is teaching at the Louisiana Center for the Blind summer program, reaffirms our commitment to maintain separate agencies for the blind by ensuring that all states follow the regulations in the Workforce Investment Act to maintain identifiable services for the blind.
Two resolutions concerned the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Resolution 99-05, sponsored by Kristen Cox, a recent addition to the National Center Staff in the Governmental Affairs Department, demands that the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled remove any services provided through vending facilities under the Randolph-Sheppard Act from their procurement list and end its current practice of trying to destroy the Randolph-Sheppard program. Resolution 99-06, sponsored by James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs, concerns vending facilities.
Resolution 99-07, sponsored by Noel Nightingale, a newly elected member of the NFB Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Washington, calls upon the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to issue a policy directive to states to include the clear messages that barriers to informed choice such as erroneous calculations of costs are unacceptable and that states are required to provide information to consumers about alternative providers of rehabilitation services.
Resolution 99-08, sponsored by Lynn Mattioli, First Vice President of the NFB of Maryland, urges state rehabilitation agencies to provide competent computer training with provisions to continue training to keep up with changing technology for blind clients. The resolution also stresses the need to provide appropriate hardware and software so that the client can maintain skills between the time of training and the time of actual employment.
Resolution 99-09, sponsored by Christine Hall, President of the National Organization of the Senior Blind, urges Congress and the Administration to amend the Older Americans Act to include enabling legislation for programming and funding in increased amounts for rehabilitation services for older blind and visually impaired individuals.
Three resolutions concerned education issues. Resolution 99-10, sponsored by Michael Bailiff, a tax attorney and frequent contributor of articles to the Braille Monitor, calls upon Congress to pass legislation requiring institutions who use standardized tests as part of their admission procedures to provide an alternative mechanism that does not rely on the use of non-validated test scores. This resolution was defeated by the convention. We have been wrestling for more than twenty years with the problem of testing authorities' insisting that tests taken by applicants who receive reasonable accommodations are not valid. I am sure that we will see future resolutions on this subject.
Resolution 99-16, sponsored by Shawn Mayo, President of the National Association of Blind Students, petitions the U. S. Department of Justice to create a rule to change the definition of a qualified reader to allow the blind the option to choose their own readers and the right to decide whether they will bring a personal reader to a test site.
Resolution 99-12, sponsored by Pam Dubel, the Director of Youth Services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, calls upon the U. S. Department of Education to reconsider and revise its interpretation of the Braille services provision included in the 1997 amendments to IDEA. The proper interpretation of this law should require the school to provide Braille instruction to a student while waiting for a dispute among members of the IEP team to be resolved.
The convention passed three resolutions concerning access to print information. Resolution 99-01, sponsored by Brian Miller, a graduate student and leader in the NFB of Iowa, urges cooperation between the publishing industry and the Library of Congress to make digital editions of published texts widely available to the blind. The resolution also declares our firm intent to promote legislation that will bring about universal access to the printed word for the blind of this nation.
Resolution 99-14, sponsored by Connie Leblond, President of the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs, calls upon the Small Business Administration, its state partners, the American Banking Association, and other economic development centers to adopt a proactive approach by planning ahead for the provision of materials in Braille. The National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs will supply the names and locations of Braille transcription services to these entities.
Resolution 99-15, sponsored by Alpidio Rolon, President of the NFB of Puerto Rico, urges manufacturers of adaptive technology to provide their manuals and instructional materials in Spanish.
The convention passed three resolutions concerning nonvisual access to technology. Resolution 99-17, sponsored by Christopher Danielsen, a leader in the NFB of South Carolina, who chairs its resolutions committee, calls upon the Access Board to adopt a proactive strategy promoting government-wide enforcement of standards to insure ready, unimpeded access by blind citizens and employees to information controlled and managed by the federal government. The resolution also calls on all departments and agencies in the federal government to adopt and implement procurement procedures that comply with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998.
Resolution 99-18, sponsored by Gary Wunder, a member of the national Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Missouri, calls upon manufacturers of automated teller machines and the banking industry to incorporate speech output and universal discernible tactile keypads in their machines so that they are useable by the blind without the need for sighted assistance.
Resolution 99-19, sponsored by Nathanael Wales, an engineering student and leader in the NFB of California, insists that blind persons have access to all new electronic voting machines and interfaces. The resolution also affirms the blind person's right to use another individual to assist with voting if he or she wishes to use that method of voting.
Resolution 99-04, sponsored by Dr. Abraham Nemeth, a noted blind mathematician and author of the Nemeth Braille code, calls upon the Federation to reject the Unified Braille Code. The committee rejected this resolution, so it did not reach the convention floor.
Resolution 99-11, sponsored by Scott LaBarre, President of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, reaffirms this organization's position that audible traffic signals should be pedestrian-activated and should be considered on a case-by-case basis with input from consumer organizations, particularly the National Federation of the Blind. The resolution also states that highway officials should not assume that the provision of federal funds for audible traffic signals means that such signals are automatically necessary.
Resolution 99-13, sponsored by James Gashel, takes Western Michigan University to task for creating a certification program for mobility instructors without bothering to seek any input from blind consumers.
The texts of the resolutions passed at the 1999 convention follow.
WHEREAS, our American political, economic, educational, and social systems are rooted in timely access to published information, but timely access is exactly what the blind are consistently denied by the fact of not being able to read printed communications without assistance or technology to provide access; and
WHEREAS, timely access is crucial for the blind to be competitive, well-informed, engaged citizens; and
WHEREAS, the barriers to access resulting from exclusive use of print media need not exist in the future as advances in communications and publishing occur, particularly involving the use of digital text; and
WHEREAS, advancements in publishing technology are being planned and carried out largely without regard to access by the blind, resulting in the use of methods such as the "portable document format" which, although relying upon electronic communications technologies, is still not accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) was established as a part of the Library of Congress in 1931 to provide blind persons with reading matter in Braille and audio recordings and could now extend its scope of service to include development and administration of standards for the preparation of digital text in formats suited to non-visual access; and
WHEREAS, achieving universal access to the printed word by the blind will require a Congressional enactment to compel production and provision to a central authority such as NLS of books in compliance with a universal standard along with safeguards that the central authority will allow the newly-available information to be used only by eligible blind persons and agencies providing them material in specialized formats: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization insist upon the prompt development and implementation of standards for non-visual access with the goal of cooperation between the publishing industry and the Library of Congress in order to make digital editions of published text widely available to the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization declare its firm intent to seek appropriate legislation in the Congress to implement standards and procedures that will bring about universal access to the printed word for this country's blind citizens.
WHEREAS, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), enacted August 7, 1998, directs all state vocational rehabilitation agencies to make plans to coordinate their programs with generic job-training and employment services programs while maintaining identifiable services for the blind and disabled; and
WHEREAS, maintaining a strong link between service delivery agencies for the blind and general employment and training agencies can promote integration of the blind into the workplace; and
WHEREAS, long experience has shown that specialized training in the skills and confidence needed by the blind is essential for blind persons to succeed in competitive employment; and
WHEREAS, long, sad experience has also shown that specialized blindness training cannot and will not occur in generic job training programs that try to be all things to all people; and
WHEREAS, after passage of WIA, several states (such as Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Minnesota) have misapplied its fundamental concepts by attempting to consolidate rather than coordinate programs, proposing various approaches to submerge services for the blind into larger agencies such as general vocational rehabilitation or human services agencies; and
WHEREAS, history has amply demonstrated that absorption of specialized blindness training into larger bureaucratic structures will result in poor and inadequate training to prepare blind people to enter the workforce; and
WHEREAS, federal regulations set forth to implement WIA specify that programs such as those which serve the blind are authorized to continue their operations without threat of merger with larger programs because of WIA; and
WHEREAS, in order to address the 70 percent unemployment rate among blind persons of working age and to avoid that unemployment rate's rising even higher, the boundaries and lines of authority between blindness rehabilitation services and one-stop job training centers defined in WIA must be understood and emphasized by maintaining an identifiable service-delivery system designed to provide blind people with the specialized, blindness-related services that generic job training agencies are not set up to provide: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that we call upon all states to implement WIA in a way that maintains separate identifiable services for the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization reaffirm its determination to prevent adoption of legislation in the states which would result in a one-size-fits-all, one-stop shopping approach instead of providing essential, specialized services, since the failure to do so will ultimately bring to a halt the current progress toward full and equal integration of the blind into the workforce.
WHEREAS, the blind face an unemployment rate that is in excess of 70 percent; and
WHEREAS, the single factor that contributes more to this unemployment rate than any other is the earnings limit in the Social Security Disability program which terminates eligibility for blind recipients who earn a gross wage of $1,110 per month, often resulting in a substantial loss of real income for beneficiaries who work and earn above the statutory limit; and
WHEREAS, the loss of income caused by working may also be coupled with substantially increased premiums just to maintain health insurance coverage under Medicare or another health insurance program; and
WHEREAS, Congress in 1996 responded to the pleas of seniors who faced a similarly low earnings limit by raising the limit even though most seniors have worked for many years and lose only one dollar for every three dollars earned, unlike blind people, who face an abrupt loss of income due to work; and
WHEREAS, Senator John McCain and Congressman Robert Ehrlich have introduced legislation to restore the policy of an identical earnings threshold for blind people and age-sixty-five retirees; and
WHEREAS, this legislation would provide blind persons with the same exemption of earnings now provided to age-sixty-five retirees as a work incentive; and
WHEREAS, a higher earnings exemption would bring forth a positive response from blind people and bring additional revenues to the Social Security Trust Funds and general revenues as the blind move into the work force in greater numbers than ever before: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the 106th Congress, particularly the members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, to endorse this legislation--S. 285 and HR 1601--and approve its passage, since, as in the case of retirees, this is the best way to promote work opportunities for the blind.
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act provides a legally enforceable priority for blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property; and
WHEREAS, the Javitts-Wagner-O'Day Act (JWOD) promotes employment in direct-labor jobs for blind and disabled persons by awarding government procurement contracts to qualified non-profit agencies; and
WHEREAS, federal administration of the JWOD Act is vested in an agency known as the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled (the Committee), which publishes a list (referred to as the procurement list) of products and services that federal agencies must buy from eligible JWOD agencies; and
WHEREAS, in publishing the procurement list under the JWOD Act, the Committee has complete discretion in deciding which products and services to include or exclude, but by contrast compliance with the Randolph-Sheppard priority for the blind is not discretionary with any federal agency and is required whenever vending facility services are provided on federal property; and
WHEREAS, despite the unequivocal Congressional priority for the blind to provide vending facility services on federal property, the Committee has placed federal food vending services on the JWOD procurement list; and
WHEREAS, the Committee has persisted in making aggressive assaults upon the Randolph-Sheppard priority for the blind at the behest of NISH (formally known as National Industries for the Severely Handicapped) and its member agencies such as Easter Seals, Goodwill Industries International, the ARC, Jewish Vocational Services, United Cerebral Palsy Associations, and WORKTECH; and
WHEREAS, NISH and its member agencies can perform their mission of creating job opportunities for severely disabled persons by providing the federal government with all the many other products and services on the JWOD procurement list and do not need to add federal food services in contravention of the Randolph-Sheppard Act to achieve their goals; and
WHEREAS, even without competition from NISH and its large member agencies, the Randolph-Sheppard Program already faces stiff obstacles in establishing large-scale food-service businesses on federal property which comes from wealthy and well-financed commercial food service operators willing to spend millions to acquire the locations accorded to blind vendors by the Randolph-Sheppard priority; and
WHEREAS, the Secretary of Education is charged in the Randolph-Sheppard Act with the responsibility of government-wide leadership to insure compliance with the act by all federal property managers and, in implementation of this duty, has adopted a policy which seeks to uphold the priority for blind vendors, while recognizing that the JWOD priority applies to the procurement of many other products and services that are unrelated to items sold at vending facilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization commend the Secretary of Education for standing tall in support of the independent business opportunities provided to blind persons under and pursuant to the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the JWOD Committee exercise its discretion and forbearance by removing any services provided through vending facilities under the Randolph-Sheppard Act from the procurement list; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization register its fervent opposition to the efforts being made by NISH and its member agencies to destroy the Randolph-Sheppard Program and call upon these groups to use their creative energies to expand employment opportunities on behalf of persons with disabilities without resorting to a policy of jealous attacks upon opportunities already provided to the blind by law.
WHEREAS, the most fundamental and overarching requirement of the Randolph-Sheppard Act is the priority granted to blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property; and
WHEREAS, regulations prescribed to implement the Act define the phrase "satisfactory site," for the purpose of reserving space for vending facilities in the acquisition and alteration of federal property; and
WHEREAS, the regulations, but not the law, provide an exemption from the satisfactory-site requirements when fewer than one hundred federal employees are on duty during normal working hours, or, in the case of buildings with less than fifteen thousand square feet where services are provided to the public; and
WHEREAS, this exemption from the satisfactory-site requirements is being interpreted by some agencies (most notably the United States Postal Service) as an exemption from the rest of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and especially from the priority-for-the-blind provisions of the Act; and
WHEREAS, these same agencies often provide for vending facility services by contracting with commercial firms rather than abiding by the blind vendor priority to meet the needs of their employees and the public, a practice which flagrantly violates the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
WHEREAS, the satisfactory-site exemption, which applies to buildings of low population and small size, is not an exemption from the Randolph-Sheppard Act altogether, and should not be interpreted as such: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization seek the cooperation of all federal property managing agencies in applying the blind priority provisions of the Randolph-Sheppard Act to all buildings and facilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the United States Department of Education is hereby requested to issue an interpretive-guidance memorandum to all federal agencies and state licensing agencies to clarify the coverage of the Randolph-Sheppard Act in regard to all federal property, regardless of building population or size.
WHEREAS, in the Rehabilitation Act, Congress explicitly recognized that disability generally and blindness specifically are natural parts of the human experience and in no way diminish the right of individuals to live independently, enjoy self-determination, make choices, contribute to society, pursue meaningful careers, and enjoy full inclusion and integration in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American society; and
WHEREAS, in the light of years of experience in which rehabilitation professionals pretended partnership but exercised absolute control over all rehabilitation decisions by forcing clients to accept whatever the professional decided, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act in 1992 to provide that consumers of rehabilitation services have the right to informed choice throughout the rehabilitation process, including the right to make meaningful and informed choices about vocational goals, the means of achieving those goals, and the service providers to be used in reaching those goals; and
WHEREAS, through the informed-choice provisions Congress specifically intended to empower consumers in the rehabilitation process, resulting in consumers' self-sufficiency instead of dependency; and
WHEREAS, in addition to the increase in successful rehabilitations, a secondary benefit of the implementation of informed choice is the creation of a powerful incentive for service-providers to improve services by responding to consumers' demands; and
WHEREAS, historically, state-operated adjustment and training programs for the blind have not emphasized positive expectations for the capabilities of blind people and have largely provided ineffective adjustment and training as a result; and
WHEREAS, in response to blind consumers' demands for better training, alternative private nonprofit adjustment and training centers for the blind have been established which emphasize positive attitudes and graduate hundreds of clients who go on to complete their rehabilitation by finding competitive employment; and
WHEREAS, many state rehabilitation agencies thwart the informed choice of blind consumers by refusing to send them to alternative adjustment and training programs which they wrongly claim are more costly or by agreeing to pay per month only the equivalent of the agency's artificially reduced cost; and
WHEREAS, many state rehabilitation agencies significantly understate the actual cost to them of their adjustment and training programs by deliberately excluding the cost of administration and other overhead from their calculations of comparative costs and also by assuming that they will serve inflated numbers of clients, thus spreading the cost per student over a higher number and artificially reducing their per-student cost; and
WHEREAS, even where no financial barriers are erected to the selection of alternative services, many state rehabilitation agencies do not provide adequate information about the availability of alternatives to state-operated adjustment and training programs; and
WHEREAS, these barriers erected by many state rehabilitation agencies to the selection of alternative services deprive consumers of the opportunity to make a truly informed choice: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the United States Department of Education to issue a policy directive providing appropriate guidelines to states for implementing the informed-choice requirements of the Rehabilitation Act as they relate to the provision of pre-vocational adjustment and training programs, including adjustment and training programs for blind persons, and to include in such guidelines the clear messages that barriers to informed choice based on erroneous calculations of costs are not acceptable and that failure to provide consumers with accurate and complete information about alternative providers of rehabilitation services is likewise not acceptable.
WHEREAS, approximately 70 percent of blind people are unemployed; and
WHEREAS, today the majority of jobs require or assume some degree of computer literacy or technology training; and
WHEREAS, timely, effective, and meaningful computer and adaptive-equipment training for blind persons is crucial for securing and maintaining employment; and
WHEREAS, too often blind people receive initial computer or technology training but have no provision in their plan for rehabilitation or means to keep their skills up to date once the training is complete, thus perpetuating their state of computer illiteracy in relation to the jobs for which they are competing; and
WHEREAS, those providing computer and adaptive-technology training are often not competent users of either the technology or the blindness-specific adaptations themselves: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon state rehabilitation agencies and other facilities with whom they contract for training to make timely, effective, and meaningful computer and technology training a priority when plans for rehabilitation are written and implemented, including provisions for subsequent client training as technology changes; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon agencies that provide funding and training to state rehabilitation clients to provide access to both hardware and software to trainees and those already trained, continuously from the time the individual begins training until he or she is successfully employed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that training be provided by individuals who are competent in using all the relevant technology themselves and that compensation for persons hired to do the training be adequate to attract skilled people.
WHEREAS, the majority of blind and visually impaired individuals first experience severe vision loss at age fifty-five or older; and
WHEREAS, the population of seniors who are also blind or visually impaired is expected to double by the year 2020; and
WHEREAS, Congress currently recognizes the need for rehabilitation services for older blind Americans in Title VII, Chapter 2 of the Rehabilitation Act although the current funding level is only $11.2 million for services throughout the entire country; and
WHEREAS, No reliable statistics exist on the exact number of seniors who are blind although the figure is generally agreed to be in excess of one million and growing, making it clear that $11.2 million is only a tiny drop in this huge bucket of need; and
WHEREAS, more and more seniors every year become dependent on expensive nursing home care due to sight loss, a situation that could be remedied in most cases by simple rehabilitation training as soon as the need arises in the effective skills of daily living used routinely by hundreds of thousands of blind men and women throughout our country but unknown to a person just losing vision who believes that lack of sight means dependence upon others; and
WHEREAS, the Older Americans Act does not currently provide for the rehabilitation services desperately needed by many seniors experiencing sight loss, but rather provides services such as congregate dining, Meals on Wheels, transportation, and recreation to all seniors; and
WHEREAS, rehabilitation training is essential to allow blind and visually impaired seniors to continue living in their homes and to remain independent and contributing members of their communities; and
WHEREAS, a substantial increase in funding for Title VII, Chapter 2 services is desperately needed at this time in order to assure that a service-delivery system for older blind individuals will be maintained within each state; and
WHEREAS, an amendment to the Older Americans Act to provide rehabilitation services for older blind and visually impaired individuals would provide an additional source of funding for rehabilitation services; and
WHEREAS, funding could and should be provided to train personnel employed by rehabilitation agencies, senior programs, and other social service providers in cost-effective ways to assist blind seniors in making the adjustment to poor vision and blindness; and
WHEREAS, the need is so gigantic and will increase so rapidly that only a series of planned, substantial increases in funding to both these programs can even begin to address existing and future problems: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge Congress and the Administration to adopt a series of planned increases in funding levels for Title VII, Chapter 2, to begin bringing rehabilitation services for older blind Americans closer to the point where the need of this growing population is better addressed and met; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Congress and the Administration to amend the Older Americans Act to include enabling legislation for programming and also funding in increasing increments for rehabilitation services for older blind and visually impaired individuals to add more ways of reaching and teaching the members of this able and woefully under-served population.
WHEREAS, the Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-First Century (T 21) authorizes matching federal funds for the installation of audible traffic signals throughout America; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is on record opposing the wholesale installation of these signals, as most recently set forth in Resolution 92-06; and
WHEREAS, good independent travel training enables the vast majority of blind people to negotiate safely and competently virtually all traffic intersections, a fact that would make wholesale installation of audible traffic signals a wasteful, unnecessary expenditure of scarce public funds; and
WHEREAS, massive deployment of audible signals will only create an unwise reliance on electronic devices by blind persons who must rely upon their own senses and skills for their own safety; and
WHEREAS, audible traffic signals can in fact make intersections more dangerous by masking the sound of traffic, which blind people rely upon to determine traffic patterns; and
WHEREAS, activation of the visual walk sign should not also be the means of activating an audible traffic signal since the interconnection of the two would make use of audible signals mandatory for everyone whenever the walk sign button is pressed; and
WHEREAS, audible traffic signals may in rare cases be helpful to some blind people at complicated intersections with confusing road patterns; and
WHEREAS, the only practical and effective audible signals are those which are pedestrian-activated and do not interfere with the sound of traffic; and
WHEREAS, pedestrian-activated audible traffic signals are the only kind of signal that should ever be installed to assist blind persons and should never be installed at the demand of one or a small number of blind persons but rather only after giving blind members of the community and organizations representing the blind a full opportunity to participate in the decision-making process; and
WHEREAS, many members of the sighted public mistakenly believe that all blind people must depend on other persons or electronic devices to cross streets safely and therefore believe they are helping the blind by putting audible traffic signals in the community: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization reaffirm its opposition to the wholesale installation of audible traffic signals by state and local governments; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon any governmental or other entity considering the installation of audible signals to consult extensively with elected representatives of local organizations of the blind, and particularly with the National Federation of the Blind, before any decision regarding audible traffic signals is made.
WHEREAS, literacy is now viewed as a fundamental right for all Americans in addition to its crucial roles in independence, employment, and citizenship, and literacy for blind and visually impaired persons means the ability to read and to write Braille efficiently; and
WHEREAS, failure to provide Braille instruction on a consistent basis is detrimental to the development of literacy, future academic success, and employment prospects of blind and visually impaired children; and
WHEREAS, statistics from the American Printing House for the Blind indicate that only 10 percent of children who are blind or visually impaired use Braille while in contrast recent research reveals that 80 percent of successful blind/visually impaired adults who are employed use Braille every day; and
WHEREAS, these statistics suggest that America's schools are creating a generation of illiterate, unemployable future blind adults; and
WHEREAS, the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require that schools must provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille in the case of each blind and visually impaired child unless the team responsible for choosing special services for the child determines that such instruction or use of Braille is not appropriate for the child; and
WHEREAS, the 1997 amendments to IDEA recognize the critical need for Braille services by placing an affirmative obligation on the team responsible under the law for planning special services to provide for Braille, absent a specific determination of the team to the contrary; and
WHEREAS, when disputes arise between the parents and school personnel on the individualized education plan team about Braille services, any of the parties involved may submit the dispute to due process procedures (including a hearing) to achieve a resolution; and
WHEREAS, resolution of these disputes can consume several years, the same critical learning years during which other children are acquiring and perfecting literacy skills; and
WHEREAS, until the dispute is settled, the Braille services must be provided under the law as amended in 1997 since the IEP team has not determined that such services would be inappropriate for the child; and
WHEREAS, the U. S. Department of Education has incorrectly interpreted the 1997 law to permit exclusion of Braille services from the IEP in the event of a dispute, an interpretation which turns the law on its head and essentially nullifies the 1997 amendment: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the Department of Education to reconsider and revise its interpretation of the Braille services provision included in the 1997 amendments to IDEA to the end that Braille services will be provided to blind and visually impaired children to the fullest extent prescribed by law.
WHEREAS, efforts to develop certification criteria and procedures in the field of services for the blind have largely failed in the United States because those involved in designing and implementing the programs have not involved elected representatives of the blind in their efforts, the most notable of these failures being NAC--the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped; and
WHEREAS, the latest effort to create a standards and certification program for professionals in the field of blindness has been announced by Western Michigan University, proposing to establish standards and a curriculum for instructors in independent travel; and
WHEREAS, the Western Michigan announcement also indicates that the standards and curriculum will be developed in conjunction with a number of disability service agencies, but says nothing about the involvement of consumer organizations of blind people and their elected representatives; and
WHEREAS, the choice of an alliance with disability service agencies rather than consumers is inexcusable and cannot be attributed to an oversight, since the architects of this latest certification scheme are well informed about the blind consumer movement and have therefore chosen to ignore it; and
WHEREAS, this latest attempt to promote standards and certification in the name of quality service is essentially a self-serving plan to promote the vision of travel instruction according to Western Michigan University and to perpetuate that vision without regard to benefits for blind people: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization condemn and deplore the Western Michigan standards and certification initiative, while recognizing that the plan itself is an acknowledgement of the other failed efforts in this area; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we advise authorities of Western Michigan University and any other potential sources of financial support for this effort that a project such as independent travel standards for the blind must first pass muster with the blind themselves before funds are approved to underwrite the effort.
WHEREAS, entities such as the Small Business Administration, Economic Development Centers, and banking institutions provide cascades of printed information for the aspiring small business owner to use in preparing business plans, seeking financing, and guiding early development of a budding small business; and
WHEREAS, these same sources of information and financing for small businesses are rarely prepared to furnish blind entrepreneurs with Braille copies of their informational brochures, applications, and other materials; and
WHEREAS, aspiring blind entrepreneurs need the same information and need it in Braille for the same reason sighted persons need the information in print--for the opportunity to study and compare and refer again to important sections; and
WHEREAS, most small business development entities do not provide their vital information in Braille and do not know how to respond to requests for Braille when such requests are made; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has consistently supported and encouraged the production of Braille and access to information; and
WHEREAS, the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, was established to encourage and assist blind people in seeking self-employment opportunities; and
WHEREAS, in the past ten years numerous for-profit Braille transcription services have been established, often owned and operated by blind entrepreneurs with the skill and sound business sense that could assist in the timely distribution of Braille information; and
WHEREAS, these Braille transcription services work by receiving printed material and turning it into Braille upon order of entities with the need to provide Braille to customers; and
WHEREAS, the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs is compiling a list of Braille transcription services throughout the country to be made available to the American Banking Association, the Small Business Administration and its state partners, and any other business development entity that needs to locate a Braille transcription service: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge that the Small Business Administration, the Administration's state partners, the American Banking Association, and other economic development centers work with the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs to make available the information about the existence of and the locations of Braille transcription services in order to serve all their blind customers better; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge these entities to adopt a proactive approach by planning ahead for the provision of materials in Braille, rather than having to scramble to respond to requests made by blind persons who are seeking to enter the world of competitive business.
WHEREAS, more and more devices are being adapted to include speech and Braille output for use by the blind, enabling blind people to be more competitive in education, employment, and recreation; and
WHEREAS, a growing number of Hispanics with little or no knowledge of English see assistive technology as a means to further their integration into society; and
WHEREAS, most manuals for adaptive devices for use by the blind have not been made available in Spanish at all; and
WHEREAS, a few companies have already made available Spanish versions of their product manuals, but most of these are poorly translated and badly written; and
WHEREAS, this limits the possibilities for employment and advancement for Hispanic people: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon manufacturers of assistive technology equipment for the blind to make available more and better Spanish versions of their product manuals.
WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, provides that blind people are entitled to reasonable accommodation in situations covered by the Act; and
WHEREAS, Title II and Title III of the ADA and their implementing regulations do not define "qualified reader"; and
WHEREAS, one cause of trouble for blind persons prior to the ADA has not been resolved by the Act, whose provisions have actually made situations harder for blind persons: the area of readers for standardized tests; and
WHEREAS, prior to the ADA blind people could often negotiate with testing authorities for permission to bring their own personally trained readers to standardized tests, the taking of which was then proctored by the testing authority to preserve test security; and
WHEREAS, since passage of the ADA, every large testing authority in the United States has interpreted the term "qualified reader," a reasonable accommodation for the blind under the ADA, to mean that the testing authority both provides and pays for the reader; and
WHEREAS, there is no national standard for reading to the blind similar to the national standards for interpreting for the deaf and hearing-impaired; and
WHEREAS, this lack of definition of "qualified reader" and the myth that there is such a thing as a set of qualified readers just as there are qualified interpreters for the deaf has led testing authorities and other entities to appoint anyone they choose, while pretending the reader meets some non-existent standard, to serve as a reader for a blind person in the highly charged testing context; and
WHEREAS, each blind person trains his or her readers to suit his or her own personal style since the method of using a human reader is identical in concept to using one's own eyes and brain with the addition of another person to do the seeing and vocalizing; and
WHEREAS, the vast differences among human beings result in different styles by different blind people for this very personal task such as the development of unverbalized instructions and expectations as the team of blind person and human reader work together; and
WHEREAS, imposing an unknown or very new reader on a blind person in the stressful context of standardized testing does not permit the blind person's ability to succeed in the test to be accurately assessed since the blind person is training a reader while taking the test, resulting in a test score that measures the blind person's ability to train a new reader under stress rather than the blind person's ability to pass the test; and
WHEREAS, the blind person is harmed and put at a disadvantage through the failure to have necessary and relevant information communicated when the person serving as a reader has not been trained specifically by that blind individual; and
WHEREAS, blind persons choosing to bring their own readers must (or must be prepared to) pay for the reader's time since the testing authority will (or may wish to) hire a person to proctor the test for security reasons; and
WHEREAS, the two key elements missing in the current definition of "qualified reader" are (1) that the term "qualified reader" means that a blind person must be able to bring his or her own reader, and (2) that the blind person and no one else is the person entitled to decide whether to bring a personal reader or to use one appointed by the testing authority: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization petition the United States Department of Justice to initiate a rule-making procedure to change the definition of "qualified reader" to allow the blind the option to choose their own readers and the right to decide for themselves whether they will bring a personal reader or will accept one appointed by someone else.
WHEREAS, electronic and information technology is increasingly prevalent in the gathering, management, and dissemination of information by departments and agencies of the federal government, but much of this technology is visually oriented and therefore difficult or impossible to access by persons who are blind; and
WHEREAS, as the result of forceful and persistent advocacy by the blind, and particularly by the National Federation of the Blind, the 1998 Amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were designed to strengthen the law to ensure that the blind and other people with disabilities will have access to electronic and information technology; and
WHEREAS, Section 508 now requires that when federal departments or agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic or information technology, they will insure that the technology allows federal employees who are blind to have access to and use of information and data comparable to that provided to sighted federal employees; and
WHEREAS, the statute further requires that blind members of the public seeking information services from a federal department or agency must have access to information or data comparable to that provided to sighted members of the public; and
WHEREAS, all federal departments and agencies are required to be in compliance with the requirements of Section 508 on and after August 7, 2000; and
WHEREAS, in order to promulgate clear, strong, enforceable regulations to be followed by federal agencies and departments in complying with these requirements, the 1998 Amendments to Section 508 directed the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (commonly known as the Access Board) to develop and publish federal standards for accessible electronic and information technology by February 7, 2000, including a definition of "electronic and information technology" and setting forth technical and functional standards to ensure that such technology is accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, the Access Board created the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee to develop the required standards and submit its recommendations to the Access Board; and
WHEREAS, the Committee has completed its work and filed its report, which is now pending before the Access Board and awaiting final approval; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind believes that the recommendations of the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee hold great promise for providing access to electronic and information technology by nonvisual means, comparable to access by visual means: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly urge the Access Board to adopt the proposed standards set forth by the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee and not diminish or weaken in any way these clear, strong, enforceable provisions; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Access Board to adopt a proactive strategy in promoting government-wide enforcement of these standards to insure ready, unimpeded access by citizens and employees to the wealth of information controlled and managed by the federal government; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all departments and agencies of the federal government promptly to adopt and implement procurement policies and procedures which assure their full compliance with the law.
WHEREAS, the interaction between customer and bank is increasingly conducted by means of electronic devices rather than by a live bank teller; and
WHEREAS, the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) can handle deposits, transfers, and cash withdrawals at lower cost to the bank and can afford to the consumer a greater level of convenience because of its twenty-four-hour availability; and
WHEREAS, in an effort to encourage the increased use of these devices, many banks are now charging customers when those customers use the services of a live teller; and
WHEREAS, Automated Teller Machines communicate with the customer using a screen to display questions, prompts, and other necessary information; and
WHEREAS, these machines are generally not equipped with alternative displays which can be used by people who are blind, though speech technology has been available in many consumer products for more than a decade; and
WHEREAS, more and more ATM's are operated by touching the screen as opposed to using tactilely discernible buttons although a keypad usable by touch can be installed on every model; and
WHEREAS, local banks have argued that no Automated Teller Machines are marketed which are capable of generating speech output, while ATM manufacturers claim that speaking ATM's do not exist because the banking industry has demonstrated no demand for them: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the manufacturers of Automated Teller Machines to incorporate speech output and universal tactilely discernible keypads in their machines so they are usable by the blind without the need for sighted assistance; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the banking industry to demand such change in order that it may comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other statutes created to ensure full access to technology by the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization declare its firm and unalterable intent to remedy this situation by legislative or judicial means if cooperation by the manufacturers and the banking industry is not forthcoming.
WHEREAS, the right of all persons to participate fully in society and their communities as equal, independent, first-class citizens as guaranteed by the United States Constitution includes the right to vote, and this right is guaranteed to blind persons just as it is guaranteed to their sighted fellow citizens; and
WHEREAS, the Voting Rights Act of 1982 provides that the use by a blind voter of another individual of the voter's choice as a personal assistant is a right guaranteed by federal law for all federal elections; and
WHEREAS, this method of voting by blind persons remains a viable and fully independent method for voting by the blind which should not be altered or limited by any subsequent enactments intended to broaden voting opportunities for the blind; and
WHEREAS, new electronic technology is transforming the voting process for all voters; and
WHEREAS, access to new electronic interfaces is desirable as an additional option for independent voting by blind persons; and
WHEREAS, truly independent use of electronic voting machines by blind voters can never be achieved by retrofitting existing machines as easily and completely as it can be achieved at the design stage; and
WHEREAS, implementation of any such design requirement by the federal government could be fashioned to apply only to new machines being ordered by a jurisdiction, avoiding the cost and inefficiency of retrofitting and the burden on jurisdictions still using paper or mechanical voting while insuring that, over time and as a part of any jurisdictions' improvements to voting methods, electronic access for the blind will be required; and
WHEREAS, Senate Bill 511 provides for the right of disabled voters to vote in a Federal election independently, where independently is defined to be "without the assistance of another individual"; and
WHEREAS, for blind persons defining independence must continue to include the personal assistant as defined in the Voting Rights Act of 1982 and must also include a provision requiring design of accessible electronic machines whenever jurisdictions purchase new ones; and
WHEREAS, S. 511 contains other positive proposals such as election material in alternative media, although the current wording may be so broad as to require production of materials even though they are not wanted and will not be used; and
WHEREAS, the types of alternative media as well as the exact method of implementing accessible design for new voting machines are matters of such detail and potential costliness if done wrong that they might more wisely be included in the topics to be settled by regulation after broad statutory language sets the framework: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly urge supporters of S. 511 to assure that the protections for blind voters in the Voting Rights Act of 1982 be re-affirmed and integrated into any future enactment on the subject of voting accessibility for the disabled; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist upon full access to all new electronic voting machines and interfaces used in the voting process, including media and interfaces involving the Internet and electronic kiosks (and in particular, flat-screen kiosks); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, during the consideration of changes in voting methods and the technology to be used in voting by any political jurisdiction, this organization advocate for the use of voting methods and materials which support full participation by the blind in the voting process both with and without assistance as determined by the individual voter.
NFB Cane Game:
Merry-Noel Chamberlain and Michael Neese, coordinators of the first ever Cane Game, held at the 1999 National Convention in Atlanta, would like to congratulate the two grand prize winners, Hannah Weatherd and Allison Hilliker. Sponsored by the students of Louisiana Tech Orientation and Mobility Master's Program, the Cane Game promoted, acknowledged, and encouraged proper cane use during the convention by children up to the age of eighteen. Participants were divided into two major groups. White ribbons were attached to the canes of the younger children involved in the Cane Game while older teens received a purple ribbon. Students in the Orientation and Mobility Master's Program at Louisiana Tech placed stars on the ribbons when they observed participants using their canes properly. Congratulations to Hannah and Allison for a job well done.
National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs Means Business:
On July 2, 1999, the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs held its third annual division meeting in Atlanta. It plans to set up a Web site, and Robert Leblond, Web designer for Perspectives Information Access Specialists, will be donating his talent and time to the site. Among other postings the Web site will include a directory of current members and what they do. Those members who do not have e-mail addresses will be listed with a phone number unless we are directed to do otherwise. Those who have not paid their membership dues and who want to be listed in the member database may send $5 dues to Paul McIntyre at 6050 South Land Park Drive, No. 18, Sacramento, California 95822.
Our Web site is currently under construction and will be limited only by our creativity: something this division is not lacking.
Next year in Atlanta the division plans to hold a murder mystery dinner theater. All NFB members are welcome to purchase tickets to this exciting evening. We will keep you posted and provide more details later. You won't want to miss it!
The following were elected to National Association of Blind Entrepreneur Board positions: Connie Leblond, President; Ted Young, First Vice President; Sharon Gold, Second Vice President; Jeremiah Beasley, Secretary; Paul McIntyre, Treasurer; and Board Members Jim Skelton, Joe Urbanek, and Marie Cobb.
Don Morris, President of the Blind Merchants Association, reports that the National Buyers Group conducted an extraordinarily successful food show on Wednesday, June 30. Over 800 people toured about thirty booths and talked with some eighty suppliers and manufacturers about new products and opportunities. Snackpack sales were excellent this year, enabling the division to contribute $1,000 to each of the four major NFB funds. Sorry that corsages and boutonnieres were not available for the banquet this year, but we promise that they will be next year.
The division elected four people to two-year terms on its Board of directors: Nick Gacos, New Jersey; Billie Ruth Schlank, Virginia; Fred Wurtzel, Michigan; and Kim Williams, Tennessee.
You Just Never Know:
Scott LaBarre, President of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, writes as follows:
National Federation of the Blind conventions are interesting and fun to attend for a plethora of reasons. Part of the fun is discovering the unexpected.
This year at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Blind Lawyers we had a rare, perhaps a unique, occurrence. Adam Milani, a law professor from the Mercer University School of Law, was speaking about a recent article he had written about the disabled and the law of torts. In particular he referred to a Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals case called Poyner v. Loftas. In that case a blind man fell off an unprotected ledge and sought relief against the landlord. Professor Milani had begun criticizing the D.C. Court of Appeals for applying the law incorrectly when someone asked for the floor. I recognized the person, and he announced that he was William Poyner, the actual plaintiff in the case. None of us knew Mr. Poyner would be attending our meeting.
We lawyers discuss cases in the abstract all the time. In fact, cases are discussed so impersonally that it is often easy to forget that at one time or another such cases actually involved real people and very real issues. It was both surprising and refreshing for us to have Mr. Poyner with us in the meeting. It reminded us that the legal matters we handle every day have significant and profound effects on somebody's life.
Professor Milani's speech about his article was also remarkable in another way. Milani based it on a Law Review article called "The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled and the Law of Torts," written in 1966 by our very own founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. In a real sense Professor Milani's work represents an update of Dr. tenBroek's.
As both law student and lawyer I have run across many references to Dr. tenBroek's work, not only with respect to the blind and disabled, but also in doctrines of Constitutional law. Dr. tenBroek died the year I was born, making it impossible of course for me ever to have met him, but through his writings and his scholarship Dr. tenBroek truly lives on. Part of what makes the National Federation of the Blind so strong is the unrivaled leadership we have had. Professor Milani's speech reminds me and the members of the Lawyers' Division how blessed we were and are to have had a founder like Dr. tenBroek. Without his towering intellect and leadership the organization would undoubtedly never have attracted Dr. Jernigan and then Dr. Maurer. In other words, we would never have had the Federation as we have come to know it.
When I arranged for Professor Milani to speak on our agenda, I never realized doing so would have such ramifications. If you have never been to a Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, don't you think it's about time?
Healthcare Professionals Meet:
On Friday, July 2, 1999, a group of about thirty healthcare professionals with a wide range of careers met at the NFB convention to discuss their interest in networking and forming a division. The group decided to meet again next year actually to form the division. They agreed on the need to learn more about the problems blind healthcare professionals face, to educate sighted professionals about the abilities of blind colleagues, to establish a mentoring program for people entering these professions, and to find ways to encourage blind students considering health careers. If you are interested in changing what it means to be a blind healthcare professional, contact Dr. Donna Balaski, 66 Devon-Wood Drive; Waterbury, Connecticut 06708-2302, e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>. We look forward to meeting you at next year's Convention--Atlanta 2000.
NFB Banners Available:
The Greater Summit County Chapter and the NFB of Ohio were selling 2-foot by 8-foot indoor/outdoor poly-vinyl banners during the Atlanta convention. These professionally-made banners have the NFB name in white and the logo in gold on a Federation blue background. The cost for one banner is $35, including postage and handling. These banners are grommeted and have heavy-duty stitching. If you order in quantities of ten or more, we can ship them in a box rather than mailing tubes, and your cost drops to $30 per banner.
Purchase your banner by sending a check or money order made payable to NFB of Ohio and send it to Bruce Peters, 1670 Liberty Drive, Akron, OH 44313. Phone and fax: (330) 865-8471. More information is available online at <http://www.angelfire.com/oh2/nfbofakron/banners.html>.
Blind Professional Journalists Meet in Atlanta:
Deborah Kendrick recently wrote with the following report:
"Just like any other press club," was the comment John Walter, managing editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, made to me, just before attending the third annual gathering of the NFB Blind Journalists Group, held July 2, 1999, as part of the National Federation of the Blind convention. The comment indicated that this speaker would bring the tone and information needed to make our meeting a success. While it was clear in our conversations in weeks prior to the meeting that he had no particular experience with blindness, this thirty-year veteran journalist had instinct enough to gauge what this serious, albeit eclectic group would feel like.
About thirty-five NFB members attended the session--an equal mix of working journalists, students, and journalism job seekers. The session was moderated by Bryan Bashin, a former TV journalist and freelance science writer cum agency director and me, Deborah Kendrick, a Cincinnati-based newspaper columnist and freelance writer/editor. We opened the session with tales of our own experiences as journalists who happen to be blind, sharing techniques for getting stories and meeting deadlines. After introduction of all participants and some follow-up discussion to our presentations, I introduced Mr. Walter.
"Could I come early and listen in to get a feel for the group," Mr. Walter had asked the day before, a question characteristic of the unassuming thoroughness and depth of our speaker. Of course he could and of course he did. He came, in fact, before our meeting convened and was among the last of us to leave the room!
In a warm, engaging delivery, John Walter recounted his own history as seasoned newspaper editor, replete with hard fact and amusing anecdote. He spoke candidly about the nature of newspapers today, the hiring of reporters, and the use of freelancers. Rather than talking at us, Mr. Walter engaged in a two-hour forum with us that was lively, informative, entertaining, and at times even a bit controversial.
So what did we talk about? Well, what all journalists talk about, of course: how to get a good story, snag the interview, take complete notes, and write crisp copy. We talked about selling an editor on you and your talent, the pragmatic steps to submitting your work, and solving the issues unique to blindness, such as transportation and photographs.
There's something delicious in discovering that you are not the only one, not the only journalist who is blind. That was the joy for many of us as we gathered for the first time in 1997 at the NFB convention in New Orleans. In our brief history we have found among us journalists from throughout the United States as well as Australia, Hong Kong, and Finland. Our Atlanta gathering was one more milestone in our growth and had the satisfying conclusion that each member present brought something of value into the room and took something else of value away.
Would you like to join us? Check out our listserv, moderated by Bryan Bashin and Elizabeth Campbell, by sending a message to <email@example.com> leaving the subject line blank, and in the message body use the words "subscribe nfb-bpj first name last name," Or join us next year when we will again meet in Atlanta with possible speakers from CNN and the Atlanta Journal Constitution and with the unpredictable but certain energy that comes from so much talent gathered in one room.
More than 175 people attended the National JOB Seminar this year. One of the graduates from the Targeted Jobs Initiative Program, Kevin Winslow, attended his first National Convention. He is from a small town, about 300 people, in Kansas. Kevin currently travels with a guide dog, Brandon.
During the first day of convention Kevin's dog became a bit upset with all the people and the layout of the hotel. Brandon is used to the wide open spaces of a farm and very few people. Kevin was not able to find the relief area for the dogs right away, and Brandon got sick. The dog was very upset, so Kevin went back to his hotel room. He sat there alone for the rest of the night. By morning the dog was still upset. Kevin decided that he had come all that way to learn more about the NFB and was not going to stay in his room for the rest of the week. He got out his cane and left Brandon to relax. Two days later he took Brandon to a convention session. Now Kevin knew where he was going and could tell the dog where to go, keeping his dog relaxed.
Kevin discovered that his cane skills were better than he thought. He also learned that a guide dog needs instructions to find his way around a big hotel. He says that next time he won't get upset with the dog if they cannot find something. Instead he will ask others for information so that he can direct his dog. These are the real-world lessons to be learned at an NFB convention.
JOB Seminar Tapes Now Available:
The 1999 Job Opportunities for the Blind seminar, held at our National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, is now available on cassette. This back-to-basics seminar focuses on the how-to's of looking for a job in today's job market. Hear presentations from employers about what they are looking for when they interview a prospective employee. Presenters list important tips for blind job seekers when putting together a resume that will be compatible with electronic formats.
To order your cassette copy, write to the Materials Center at the National Center for the Blind, or call (410) 659-9314 between 12:30 and 5:00 p.m., EDT.
The following divisions notified us of elections that took place during their annual meetings at the Atlanta convention:
Diabetes Action Network: Ed Bryant, President; Eric Woods, First Vice President; Sandie Addy, Second Vice President; Bruce Peters, Treasurer; Sally York, Secretary; and Gisela Distel and Paul Price, Board Members.
Human Services Division: Doug Elliott, President; David Stayer, First Vice President; Bob Barbera, Second Vice President; Shawn Mayo, Secretary; Julie Deden, Treasurer; and Debi Delorey and Marie Kouthoofd, Board Members.
Music Division: Linda Mentink, President; Mary Brunoli, First Vice President; Karen McDonald, Second Vice President; Mary Donohue, Secretary; and Ben Snow, Treasurer.
NFB in Communities of Faith: the Rev. Robert Parrish, President; Linda Mentink, Vice President; Lauren Merryfield, Secretary; and Maureen Pranghofer, Treasurer.
The Cane Raisers' Greatest Hits:
Several new Federationists who attended the NFB Convention for the first time in Atlanta were much taken with the songs sung at the banquet. We who have been around for a while sometimes forget that not everyone who appreciates the sentiments expressed in these old favorites can join in our singing. Luckily the Cane Raisers, Federationists from the Sligo Creek Chapter of the NFB of Maryland, have prepared a cassette tape recording that includes many of the best NFB songs. The cost is $5 per tape, and checks should be made payable to the NFB of Maryland. Send orders to Lloyd Rasmussen, 11909 Coronado Place, Kensington, Maryland 20895.
1999 Convention Tapes Available:
We are pleased to announce that the convention tapes for the 1999 convention are now available in either two- or four-track format for $25. To order, contact National Federation of the Blind, Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Newlyweds Ellie and Raymond Bullard]
On Sunday afternoon, July 4, NFB of Mississippi Board Member Elsa Barrantes and Mississippi affiliate member Raymond A. Bullard were married in the ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Hotel. The Reverend Sam Gleese, President of the NFB of Mississippi, officiated at the ceremony, and a number of Federationists were members of the bridal party. Congratulations and much joy to Ellie and Raymond.
National Federation of the Blind
as Amended 1986
ARTICLE I. NAME
The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.
ARTICLE II. PURPOSE
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.
ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP
Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.
The Board of Directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the Board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.
The Board of Directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.
Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the National Convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.
Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.
Section D. The Board of Directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two-thirds vote of the Board of Directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the Board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open Board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the Board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the Board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the Board shall continue in effect.
ARTICLE IV. OFFICERS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD
Section A. The officers of The National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) President, (2) First Vice President, (3) Second Vice President, (4) Secretary, and (5) Treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a National Convention.
Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a Board of Directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during even numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during odd numbered years. The members of the Board of Directors shall serve for two-year terms.
Section D. The Board of Directors may, in its discretion, create a National Advisory Board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the National Advisory Board.
ARTICLE V. POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION, THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND THE PRESIDENT
Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all Convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, and serve on committees; and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the National Board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, Convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The Convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the Convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the President shall appoint a chairperson.
Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the Board of Directors as the governing body of the Federation between Conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the Convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the National Convention shall not be made by the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two-thirds vote the Board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two-thirds vote the Board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The Board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the Board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the Board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the Board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the Board of Directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the Subcommittee on Budget and Finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the Board of Directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the President on major expenditures.
The Board of Directors shall meet at the time of each National Convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the President or on the written request of any five members.
Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The President is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of: carrying out the policies adopted by the Convention; conducting the day-to-day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the Convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the Nominating Committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the Board of Directors are the responsibility of the President as principal administrative officer of the Federation.
ARTICLE VI. STATE AFFILIATES
Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the President of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the Board of Directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the National President the state affiliate shall provide to the National President the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the National President. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federation.
Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate, or local chapter of an affiliate, which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.
A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the National Office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, Board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.
ARTICLE VII. DISSOLUTION
In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.
ARTICLE VIII. AMENDMENTS
This Constitution may be amended at any regular Annual Convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the President the day before final action by the Convention.
I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.