Standing On One Foot

Kenneth Jernigan


Large Type Edition


published by


Copyright 1993 by the National Federation of the Blind

ISBN 0-9624122-8-7

All Rights Reserved.

Printed in the United States of America

Table of Contents

Editor's Introduction

Standing On One Foot

Nights Of Walking

You're Going For All Of Us

My Experience As A Juror

No More Hiding

I Am Blind And A Genuine Horse Trader

Where Is The Washroom?

Shanthi's First American Year

To Sea With A Blind Scientist


When we started publishing the Kernel Books in 1991, we

thought the series might run to three or four volumes and a modest

circulation. Now, over three years later, we are issuing the sixth

Kernel Book, and our circulation is approaching two and a half

million. This represents a substantial amount of both work and

resources, but we think the effort has been eminently worthwhile.

I have been asked why we chose the name Kernel Books, and

there are a number of answers. In the first place, I suppose it has

to do with whim. I thought the title was catchy, so I used it. But

there is something more. We wanted to go to the very heart of

blindness, trying to show our readers what it's really like■and,

for that matter, what it isn't like.

If you are blind, what do you think and how do you look at

things (not how do you look at them physically, but your point of

view and perspective)? How about dating and marriage? What about

children, recreation, work, and relations with others? In short,

how do blind people live and feel on a daily basis? What we are

trying to do is to cut through the sentimentality and

misconceptions to the very "kernel" of the subject.

I do a lot of traveling throughout the country, and until

recently, people in airports and on the streets who struck up

conversations recognized me (assuming that they recognized me at

all) because they had heard me on radio or seen me on television

talking about the National Federation of the Blind.

Now, that has largely changed. More often than not, I meet

people who have read one or another of the Kernel Books. They tell

me that they feel personally acquainted with those whose stories

have been told. They also feel comfortable talking about

blindness■asking about the little things, such as how clothes are

selected and matched, or how a blind person does grocery shopping.

This is exactly what we hoped would happen, and I think the

present Kernel Book will be no exception. In its pages you will

meet a blind father and a sighted mother who, with some difficulty,

adopted a baby. You will experience with a blind college student

his attempts to come to terms with himself and his blindness, and

you will go to the courtroom with a blind woman as she is called to

serve on a jury. Of course, you will also get further acquainted

with people you have met in previous volumes.

As to the title of this book (Standing on One Foot), it comes

from one of my own experiences. All of us are products of the

culture in which we live, and that is true of me as well as anybody

else. Therefore, although I have spent most of my life trying to

help people understand the facts about blindness, I found myself

sometime ago falling into the same trap that I have been urging

others to avoid. It caused a good deal of soul-searching■but

enough! You'll find the details in the following pages.

As I have already said, we want you to know about blindness,

but we also want you to know about the National Federation of the

Blind. Established in 1940, the Federation has, in the opinion of

most of us who know about such things, been the single most

important factor in helping blind people live normal lives and do

for themselves. We who are blind still have a long way to go, but

we are getting there■and the Kernel Books are helping. The reason

they are helping is that they are one of the major factors in our

campaign to increase public understanding and awareness. We are

truly changing what it means to be blind, and you who read these

books are helping. May you enjoy this book, and may you find it


Kenneth Jernigan

Baltimore, Maryland



The type size used in this book is 14 Point for two important

reasons: One, because typesetting of 14 Point or larger complies

with federal standards for the printing of materials for visually

impaired readers, and we wanted to show you exactly what type size

is necessary for people with limited sight.

The second reason is because many of our friends and

supporters have asked us to print our paperback books in 14 Point

type so they too can easily read them. Many people with limited

sight do not use Braille. We hope that by printing this book in a

larger type than customary, many more people will be able to

benefit from it.


by Kenneth Jernigan

We who are blind are part of the larger society. We tend to

see ourselves as others see us. We tend to accept the false views

about our limitations and, thus, do much to make those limitations

a reality.

I can offer a personal example. Quite sometime back, an

article written by R. H. Gardner appeared in the Baltimore Sun. It

was headlined: "Ice Castles' A Little Hard to Swallow," and this is

what it said:

Several years ago, I was at a party when a friend, for reasons

I cannot recall, bet me I could not stand on one foot 15 seconds

with my eyes closed. I had been quite an athlete in my youth (10

years old), during which period I could stand on practically any

part of my anatomy■head, hands, ears, or toes■for an indefinite

length of time.

I accepted the bet.

To my astonishment, at the count of five I began to waver. At

seven, the waver turned into a stagger; and at ten I was lost. It

was a great shock for a former athlete (even a 10-year-old one),

and I have never forgotten it.

For something happens to your balance when you close your

eyes. And how much worse it must be if you're blind!

Being blind, a scientist-friend once pointed out to me, cannot

be compared to closing your eyes. When you close your eyes, you

still see. You see the undersides of the lids with the light behind


But what you see when you're blind is what you see out of the

back of your head. There's neither light nor sight of any kind.

I was reminded of all this while watching `Ice Castles,' a

film about a blind figure skater.... I'm told there is a blind

figure skater upon whose career the film is loosely based. But it's

hard to believe, in view of my experience trying to stand on one


When I read that article, I pooh-poohed it and laughed it to

scorn. So did one of my sighted associates. Then, just to show how

silly it was, she closed her eyes and stood on one foot. But the

laughter stopped, for she wobbled and fell. Then, she opened her

eyes and tried it again. There was no problem. She kept her balance

without difficulty.

"Nonsense!" I said. "Let me show you"■whereupon, I stood on

one foot■and immediately lost my balance. That incident occurred

many years ago, but I still remember it as if it had happened

yesterday. Was I shaken? You bet!

After getting over the shock, I did some serious

soul-searching. We know that the tests which are made by

blindfolding sighted people to determine what the blind can do are

totally invalid. I have been among the most vocal in pointing that

out. I knew (or, at least, I thought I knew) that balance is a

matter of the inner ear, not the eye. Why, then, did my associate

fall when her eyes were closed but keep her balance when they were

open? Perhaps the fact that she was accustomed to seeing things

around her as part of her daily life made the difference, or

perhaps (even though she is well versed in our philosophy) the

matter went deeper. Perhaps (reacting to social conditioning) she

subconsciously expected to fall and was tense. I suggested that she

practice a few times with her eyes closed. And what do you know? It

worked. In four or five times she could stand on one foot as easily

with her eyes closed as open.

But what about me? I have never had any problem with balance.

In fact, I was formerly able to walk across an entire room on my

hands. So I tried standing on one foot again■and I could do it with

perfect ease. If anybody doubts it, I will be glad to demonstrate.

Then why did I fall the first time? I reluctantly conclude that

(despite all of my philosophy and knowledge to the contrary,

despite all of my experience with this very sort of situation

dressed out in other forms) I fell into the trap of social

conditioning. I hope I won't do it again, but I can't be sure.

There is probably not a blind person alive in the world today who

has not, at one time or another, sold himself or herself short and

accepted the public misconceptions about how limited blind people

are, usually without ever knowing it. Prejudice is subtle, and

tradition runs deep.

Which brings me back to Mr. Gardner and his newspaper article.

He was not trying to hurt the blind, but just to make a living.

Nevertheless, based on his single false experience as a simulated

blind person, he made sweeping generalizations about our lacks and

losses. Do you think he would believe we are capable of

equality■that we can travel alone, compete with others for a

regular job, and live full and normal lives? Of course not. And his

opinions count. He is a member of the press, a molder of thought.

And how do you think he would react if one of us brought all of

this to his attention?

Probably with defensiveness and resentment. Perhaps he would

even help stimulate unfavorable publicity about us, not realizing

or admitting why he was doing it■or, for that matter, that he was

doing it. Of course, he might not behave that way at all. He might

learn from the experience and be a better person for it.

A few years ago I went to a cafeteria with a sighted friend.

We took our trays and moved down the line. When we turned from the

cash register and started for the table, an accident occurred. A

glass of water fell from the tray and splashed on the floor. "There

will be those," I said, "who will see this and think the reason I

spilled that glass of water is because I am blind."

"You are right," my sighted friend replied; "for you didn't

spill it. I did. It fell from my tray, not yours."

All of this was bad enough, but there was more, and worse. I

didn't leave it there: "How did you do that?" I asked.

This time my friend (who is as well versed in our notions

about blindness as I am) responded with more than a touch of acid:

"I did it the same way anybody else would," she said. "I tipped my

tray. Do you think it is normal for the blind to be clumsy and the

sighted to be graceful? Do you think sighted people don't have

accidents? Why did you automatically assume that you were the one

who spilled the water?

It was a fair question, and it caused a lot of reflection. I

reluctantly concluded that (despite all of my philosophy and

knowledge to the contrary, despite all of my experience with this

very sort of situation dressed out in other forms) I fell into the

trap of social conditioning. I hope I won't do it again, but I

can't be sure. The force of cultural conditioning is powerful, and

changes in public attitudes about blindness are hard to set in


If I, who have spent most of my life dealing with the problems

of blindness, make such mistakes, how can I blame sighted people

when they misjudge or fail to understand? Even though there are

still a lot of wrong notions about blindness and what blind people

can't do, we are learning and truly making progress. Whether

sighted or blind, we should take pride in our accomplishments, but

we should mix that pride with a little humility. We should have

faith in ourselves and keep both feet firmly on the ground, but we

should also know that sometimes we will be found standing on one



by Marc Maurer

As readers of the Kernel Books know, Marc Maurer is President

of the National Federation of the Blind. He is also the father of

two active, lovable children. His recollections of the birth of his

son emphasize again the innate normality of the blind■the concern

with the everyday activities of employment, marriage, home life,

and children■the lack of the feeling that blindness is the center

of every activity and the cause of doom.

Since I am a lawyer, I do a lot of traveling. I was away in

Idaho working on a case when our first child, David, was born. My

wife Patricia and I live in Maryland, more than 2,000 miles from

Idaho. I had a hearing on Monday morning, and I needed to interview

witnesses and prepare argument for the case. My wife had been

pregnant for several months, but the baby wasn't supposed to arrive

for quite a while. When I left on Friday morning, everything was

fine. When I spoke with Patricia on Friday night, she was feeling

better than she had for weeks. I went to bed more than 2,000 miles

from home ready to buckle down to do the work for the court

appearance scheduled for Monday.

Early Saturday morning I commenced interviews with witnesses.

The trial would focus on the constitutional rights of private

citizens to free speech and freedom of assembly. I was preparing

testimony for the court and marshalling arguments for the

summation. The court appearance would be brief■not more than half

a day. A number of the facts to be presented were quite unusual,

and the time before the judge would be severely limited.

Preparation and planning were absolutely vital.

A number of the witnesses and I were in the living room of the

home of one of the parties when I was summoned to the phone. The

voice of one of my best friends (Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was then

serving as president of the National Federation of the Blind) came

on the line. He said, "Don't worry. You are a papa. Everybody's


Immediately, the focus of my attention shifted. The court

hearing had to be completed, and the planning and preparation were

no less important, but I felt a tremendous urge to head back to

Baltimore. All through Saturday and Sunday as I worked on the case,

I thought about my new baby boy and his mom. The hearing occurred

on schedule Monday morning, and as soon as it was over, I boarded

a plane headed east.

It is a long way from Boise to Baltimore. The plane touched

down about 11:30 that night, and a friend picked me up and drove me

to the hospital. My wife was tired but glad to see me. She told me

that there were those at the hospital who had been wondering

whether I really existed. Baby Maurer had not yet been named. We

decided to call him David Patrick.

Because our new boy was premature (he weighed less than four

pounds), he had been assigned to live in a little plastic box

called an isolette, which had wires and dials. The isolette had its

own heating and air conditioning system, which was set to keep the

boy warmer than ordinary room temperature. Some time around 12:30

a.m. I went in to visit him. I was instructed by the hospital staff

to wear a gown and to make sure my hands were clean. David Patrick

was little and scrawny. He wore a teeny little cap to keep him

warm, along with his blankets and diaper. I sat there with him in

a rocking chair for some time, but he didn't have very much to say.

I asked him where he wanted to go to college, but I guess he hadn't

made up his mind. Because he was so small (his leg bones from his

knees to his ankles felt sort of like match sticks to me). The

hospital had tiny little preemie diapers for him. They looked like

toys you might get for the baby doll that you give as a Christmas

present. David Patrick got himself all wet, and the nurse asked me

if I wanted to change him. The door to the isolette opened out to

make a little shelf. The idea was that David Patrick's blankets

should be spread on the shelf and he should be placed upon them to

be changed. I put him on the shelf and took off his diaper. Then I

crouched down to get at the cabinet underneath to get him a new

one. The nurse said to me, "Watch it! He might roll off!" The

nurse's voice was not loud, but it carried considerable force.

Accidents can happen, and a fall of three feet for a baby of that

size could cause severe damage. Those few words from the nurse were

stern and to the point. My job was to keep track of that boy. So I

reached up over the shelf and took hold of the little guy.

With the diaper changed, the blankets back in place, and the

hat back on (it had fallen off during the changing process), we sat

peacefully a while longer. I told David Patrick about the cases I

was involved in. We discussed politics, crops, the economic

situation in the country, and the weather. At about 2 o'clock I

told him I'd have to go because there was another busy day ahead.

But I told him I'd be back, and he seemed to know that I would.

At the time David Patrick was born, I was building a law

practice. Each day I would go to the office, deal with clients,

draft motions and petitions, make court appearances, accomplish

necessary travel either within the state of Maryland or throughout

the country, deal with other lawyers, and conduct my everyday

business. Each night (when I wasn't on the road) I would visit the

hospital to see how David Patrick was doing he stayed for a month

after he was born. Patricia and I were working full time each

day she as an administrator of programs for the blind, and I as a

lawyer. David Patrick stayed with the baby sitter during the day.

When we brought him home in the evening, he was often hungry and

sometimes sleepy. During the night he slept just like a baby--that

is, he woke up and cried every two hours. Sometimes he wanted to

eat; sometimes he needed clean clothes; often he needed both food

and clothes. Many nights he just wanted company. Occasionally, he

would let me rock him in the rocking chair where I could doze.

However, there were times that he wanted to be walked. I never

could find a way to sleep while walking the baby up and down, up

and down. I did learn to sleep almost everywhere else. My

colleagues came to know that if we were riding in an elevator in a

20 story building, I would sometimes take a brief nap on the way


The doctors were afraid that David might be subject to Sudden

Infant Death Syndrome. This is a condition which causes the heart

and lungs to stop functioning long enough that the baby dies.

Consequently, David Patrick was required to wear a heart and

respiratory monitor. The heart monitor had two major parts. There

was a belt that wrapped around the baby's chest. On the belt were

three small electrodes. Wires attached to these electrodes plugged

into a box that had switches and displays on it. If David's pulse

stopped or his breathing was interrupted, the monitor would beep.

Patricia and I took a course to tell us what to do in case of an

emergency. The first step was to take David Patrick and give him a

good shake. The heart monitor would also sound if one of the

electric leads to the monitoring belt came loose.

During the first month that our son was home, the device

sounded several times, but these were all false alarms. It wasn't

always a false alarm, however. One night the monitor woke us from

a deep sleep. I jumped up and found that David Patrick was not

breathing. I wondered if I could remember all the steps we had

learned in the course to revive an infant. The first step was to

shake the baby. I was ever so grateful that step number one worked.

David Patrick received a thorough shaking. He complained about it,

but he had to breathe to do it.

David Patrick was the first child, and Dianna Marie came three

years later. Today they are both in school and doing fine. You

would never know that both of them were premature. The children and

I still talk about crops and politics and the weather, but there

are other topics of conversation--homework, Boy and Girl Scout

activities, trumpet lessons, making fudge, and visits to Grandma.

Even though both Patricia and I are blind, our children are not.

Sometimes the subject of blindness is part of the conversation.

When I was six, I was enrolled at a boarding school for the

blind, which was many miles from our home. My parents took me there

and left me to stay in the dormitory. I was homesick, but my father

had told me that he would be back to bring me home the next

weekend. When Friday came, he was there. During the next four years

my father came every other Friday to pick me up and take me home.

I knew I could count on him. I looked forward to his coming, and I

planned for the long trip home. He might not be able to be with me

as much as he would have liked, but he'd be there on Fridays.

Both of my parents were like that. Once my mother told me that

no doctor could work on me unless we had talked about it and she

had given her permission. At the school for the blind I got

tonsillitis and was sent to the hospital. Officials at the school

told me that an operation would be necessary. I knew that my mother

had promised me that no one could work on me unless we'd talked

about it and she had given her consent. I was told by the hospital

officials on a Tuesday night that the operation would occur the

next morning. Early on Wednesday my mother came to my bedside. She

and my father had driven much of the night in order to come to the

hospital. They told me that the operation was really necessary and

that I would be all right. I felt much relieved■especially because

my mother had done what she had told me she would.

The quality of being reliable is fundamental. I have tried to

emulate my father and mother in this respect. When I have promised

my children that a thing will happen, I have tried to make it come

true. And when they have needed my support, I have tried to give


There is an oft-repeated saying, which is that nothing comes

free. The folksy expression is, "There ain't no such thing as a

free lunch." Each individual must pay for what he or she gets.

However, children demand much from their parents and others.

They need to be nurtured, fed, clothed, walked through the wee

hours of the night, bathed, entertained, directed, and taught. They

take inordinate amounts of time, energy, concentration, and money.

And, they have nothing tangible with which to pay. However, there

is one commodity which they possess in abundance■love. Despite all

the troubles and trials, the children give at least as good as they

get. They provide something which can be had in no other way. They

add an irreplaceable element to the warmth and the caring of the


I take family life for granted today, but it wasn't always

that way. Before I came to be a part of the National Federation of

the Blind, I wondered very often whether there would be a future

for me. Today, I know that there is, and I work within the

organization to help other blind people come to the same

realization. We in the National Federation of the Blind are in many

ways a family of our own. We have warmth and caring for each other,

and we work to bring opportunities to blind people who have been

afraid they might not have a future. One of the characteristics

which is most notable about our organization is that if a blind

person is willing to work and needs our help, we do what we can to

give it. The National Federation of the Blind is always willing to

be supportive to blind people who are working hard to gain

independence and a positive future.


by Homer Page

Homer Page is totally blind. He is a university professor and

an elected official in his community. He attributes much of his

success in life to his mother, who also happens to be blind. Here

he tells his mother's story.

D'Arline Creech was born on September 12, 1915. She came into

this world in a small farm house near Troy, Missouri. She attended

school in a one room schoolhouse, no more than three hundred feet

from the place she was born. In many ways her life was uneventful,

but in many other ways she represents some of the strongest

dimensions of the human experience. It is her story that I want to

tell. It is a special story to me because D'Arline Creech Page is

my mother.

Blindness is a condition that has existed in my family for

many generations. There are at least six generations of us who have

learned to live positive, productive lives as blind persons. I am

the first in this line who has received an education and made my

way in the broader world. Much of this is due to the changing times

and to the effect that the National Federation of the Blind has had

on the attitudes of our society. Yet one does not make a successful

life without being grounded in a strong personal identity drawn

from past generations.

I am 50 years old. I have been blind from birth. I have earned

a Ph.D., and I have lettered in wrestling at a major university. I

have taught in universities and I currently serve as a County

Commissioner in Boulder County, Colorado. My life has been enriched

by friends and family from across this nation and the world. I now

have a grandson who at this writing is six months of age. As I look

back on my life and my blindness, I become more and more aware of

the way in which my mother taught me to have pride and worth as a

blind person.

My mother was born on the same farm in Missouri where I was

born. She always had very low vision, but as she grew older, her

vision decreased. She dropped out of school after the tenth grade

and lived a very limited life for the next ten years. Her mother

was also blind. They lived together after her father's death on the

family farm.

During this time, my grandmother and my mother provided a home

for a number of foster children. This was during the depression of

the 1930's and money was very scarce. They scraped by and managed

to pay the taxes on the farm and not to lose it. Many of their

neighbors were not so successful.

My father and mother had grown up together and attended the

same one room country school. They were married in 1940. My father

had grown up as an orphan. He had made his way as a rodeo cowboy

and a musician. When my mother and father were married he moved in

to the family farm and took on the responsibilities of managing it.

My mother and father raised three children and improved their

economic position through hard work and the careful use of the

scarce resources that they had available to them. They were married

over thirty-five years before they took a vacation. My mother

canned fruits and vegetables each year. They grew their own meat

and dairy products. We were always well fed, clean, and well loved.

We never knew that we were economically deprived. We always thought

that we were just fine and I think we were.

However our family had one very difficult winter. In 1947, the

crops failed. My father had just returned from the army and our

resources were practically non-existent. He and she went to town to

find jobs. My father was hired to work on the railroad, and my

mother found employment in a local garment factory. This was hard

work for her. She had to cut and sew women's lingerie. She had to

follow a pattern. It was stressful work. It was hard for her to

keep up with the production quotas. She got paid by the piece.

However, she worked all winter and with the income that they each

earned, they bought cattle and seeds for the next year's crops. It

was the only time that she had to work outside the home. She never

complained and was glad to make her contribution. However, she was

also very glad to be able to quit.My mother was never a leader at the neighborhood church or in

the local school. She was always quiet in meetings. She was not a

leader in the family. She never tried to prove herself to anyone.

Yet, I learned more about living productively from her than anyone

else. What was it then that this simple woman offered to me that I

found so valuable?

My mother looked for ways to be productive around the farm.

She didn't have to look very far. She was patient. She defined the

jobs that needed to be done and that she could do. She did those

jobs well, and with consistent discipline for many years. She

washed our clothes on a wash board. She cooked and cleaned and

canned. When my father got a job as the local town marshal, she

washed and ironed his uniforms with great pride. He looked very

professional in his well pressed uniform, and she took great pride

in that.

My mother cared for her children. She defended them as well as

disciplined them. She made sure that they went to school and did

their homework. She also made sure that they did their chores.

Often blind and sighted persons alike will say, "Well, what

can I do, what can I do that is worthwhile and meaningful?" All too

often, we fail to recognize the obvious. There are many valuable

things which each of us can do if we choose to do them.

Is my mother a model for this generation of blind persons and

especially for blind women? In some ways she is not. She never had

an opportunity to learn Braille or to travel independently. She

never went to school and developed an occupation outside the home.

She was not a leader, nor was she outspoken on the issues of the

time. In many ways she was dependent on others. First on her mother

and then on my father. Yet in spite of all of these things that she

was not, I believe that there is much that is instructive about her


Throughout the generations blind persons have not had the

opportunity for an education or for full participation in our

society. It was easy enough to sit down and allow others to care

for them. Many did, but many like my mother patiently waited for

the chance to serve. They found that chance in different ways. Some

were street musicians■they created the blues. Others worked in

sheltered workshops. Still others like my mother raised families.

They were proud persons. They had belief in themselves because they

knew that they were contributing. They had a kind of mental

toughness that allowed them to endure through all of the

self-denying experiences which was their lot in life. Even though

they were dependent, and even though others may have felt sorry for

them, they patiently waited and when their time came to give, they

took advantage of it.

To these enumerable blind persons who (in spite of everything)

found ways to be productive, those of us who have found our way in

a broader world owe great debts of gratitude. They never quit

trying. They were patient and they waited. When their time came

they produced. Those of my generation and the generations to come

have doors opened for us that those before us did not. Yet we too

have our barriers to overcome■frustrations, and those stubborn,

pervasive societal attitudes that would keep us dependent. From

those who have gone before us we can learn endurance and patience.

We can also learn the joy that one can derive from giving, from

being of worth to others, and from being productive.

My mother was a very happy person. She drew joy from her

family and from her sense of personal worth. She knew we needed her

and that gave her great pleasure. She knew she counted. She never

became cynical or depressed because she was not something other

than herself. She knew she belonged. This joy and wholeness is

still anther gift that the generations who have come before us can

sometimes offer to us. They suffered. Their dreams were diminished

because of the lack of opportunity, but they endured. My generation

and those yet to come will have more opportunity. I hope they have

as much joy and as much of a sense of self worth.

Often I am asked to discuss what it is like to be blind.

There's always a need to try to change the attitudes of sighted and

blind persons alike, so I talk about how easy it is to live as a

blind person. I talk of the rather simple adaptations that allow me

to do all of the things that my job and life demand. I talk of all

of my blind friends who are involved in exciting, challenging

careers. All of these things are true, and they will be true even

in greater degrees for the generations to come because we truly are

changing what it means to be blind. Yet I will always remember what

happened when I left home to go to college. My mother gave me money

that she had saved and said to me, "Do well. You're going for all

of us."


by Gwen Nelson

Gwen Nelson is a leader in the National Federation of the

Blind of Virginia, and she takes her Federationism seriously.

Therefore, when she received a summons to appear for jury duty, it

caused her to do some soul searching. As blind people we want our

rights, but we try to remember that with them comes responsibility.

Here is how Gwen describes it.

One afternoon I was looking through what seemed to be a

routine batch of mail when I found a rather official-looking

envelope. The envelope contained a summons for me to appear for

jury duty. I knew one blind person who had received this same type

of summons, and that individual wrote "blind" across the envelope

and returned it to the court. The individual was not contacted


For a brief moment I considered making the same response as my

blind acquaintance. After all, I reasoned, jury duty certainly

would be an inconvenience. My term was to last for a month, and I

was to call a number at the court each day to hear if I was to

appear. My next thought was that even if I were to appear, I would

not be permitted to serve because someone might object to my

serving because I am blind.

Then, as a Federationist, I was really ashamed, because many

blind people before me who believe as I do that blind people should

be first-class citizens, had stood by their convictions so that now

I had the opportunity to accept the responsibility and privilege of

taking my turn on jury duty.

Yes, I did have to wait around the courthouse for hours. It

was inconvenient, but I did serve on a jury. I had the assistance

I needed to read printed materials submitted as evidence at the

trial. And, as I look back, I am truly glad that I chose to fulfill

my duty as a citizen. Jury duty was educational and rewarding. Now,

when people ask me, I will have one more reason to say that I am

proud to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind.


by Olegario Cantos

One of the best things about the scholarship program of the

National Federation of the Blind is that in recent years we have

been able to bring the young people who win scholarships to our

National Convention.

Often it's the first time they have ever met successful blind

adults, and the week-long experience can reverse a lifetime of

fear. Olegario Cantos won a scholarship and attended the National

Convention, and, as is so often the case, it changed his life.

Here is how he tells it:

I was born two months prematurely. As a result I had no

vision in my left eye and partial vision in my right. Since I did

have a tiny bit of vision, all emphasis in my life in everything I

did was placed on the use of that vision, and my attitudes were

shaped accordingly.

I remember as a child what I thought about blindness. At first

I did not know what blindness was. Then, as I grew older, I played

with other children, children who happened to be fully sighted.

They were allowed to run around, play tag, and use playground

equipment. Though this was sometimes true in my case, there was a

subtle difference. More often than with other children, I was

either prevented from or discouraged from engaging in any vigorous


"Why can't I do things like everyone else?" I asked.

The reply was, "Well you can't see too well, and there are

just some things that you can't do." This was in reference to

vigorous activity. Gradually I acquired a belief that I was

inferior to the sighted, that having sight meant having ability,

and that my lack of sight had to mean that I was not quite as

capable as those with full visual capacity.

By the same token, I also felt lucky. After all, I did have

some vision, unlike totally blind people. Based upon this

misconception about blindness, I often remarked, "Don't accuse me

of being blind; I am not helpless." This was what I believed about

blindness, and it affected every area of my life. It affected what

I believed about certain issues, including Braille.

When I was in first grade, I was taught how to read and write

print just as were children who were sighted. At first it was slow.

We were all slow because reading and writing were still new to us,

but soon a gap developed. This gap between their reading and

writing speed and mine began to increase.

In time fellow students became faster and faster in both

reading and writing while I generally remained at the same level.

In fourth grade something else happened. The print in the text

books became smaller. In addition, the reading assignments were

longer and more complex, requiring more time. Moreover, they were

made more often than in the earlier grades.

Now I was faced with a problem. What was I to do? This

material was really hard, and I had to find a way to deal with it.

I thought that the most important factor was that I could read

print, and I must do this at all costs so help me God, and that is

what I did, for a while. I increased my use of special tools such

as magnifying glasses and closed circuit televisions, and, to some

degree, it did work.

However, no matter how hard I tried, I could only read very

slowly■about twenty words a minute, and I could only read for about

fifteen minutes at a time. Yet I was very, very happy with this

performance. After all, I managed to avoid having to learn Braille,

which I believed was only for totally blind people and was a last

resort if a person could not read one letter of print. This

conviction was strengthened by my belief that Braille was bulky and


My beliefs with regard to the use of Braille also affected my

belief in the use of the long white cane, or of any cane for that

matter. I vowed, "I don't need to carry a cane. I will never, never

carry a cane; not until the day I die will I carry a cane." Why?

Because I thought people would think I was helpless, because, after

all, blind people are helpless. Since I was not helpless, I felt I

was not blind. Since I was not blind, I did not need to carry a

cane, and I refused.

I gave little consideration to the fact that I got into more

accidents than did the average sighted person, and this was not due

to clumsiness. Literally, I fell down steps, tripped over curbs,

and otherwise bumped into obstacles in my way that I could easily

have avoided by simply walking around them.

To justify this state of affairs, I said, "Well, I don't get

into accidents that often, not that often." But I did not ask

myself why I should get into any accidents at all.

Then I found the National Federation of the Blind, and I

attended my first national convention last year. For the first

time, for the very first time, I gained a full sense of who and

what I was, and I know who and what I am. I am a person who happens

to be blind, equal in every way. I am equal in capability and

competence. We are neither tragically deprived nor wondrously

gifted. I now know, because of the National Federation of the

Blind, that the obstacles that we as blind people face can be


After last year, when I returned from the NFB convention, I

knew that I had a challenge ahead of me, that of telling my parents

that I wasn't ashamed of being blind any longer. So when I walked

in the door carrying a long white cane for the very first time,

they said it was the most pitiful state in which they had ever seen


"You have never carried a cane in your life; why do you need

one now? After all, you haven't been getting into that many

accidents, and even if you were to get into some, at least you

weren't carrying a cane." I asked them what was wrong with carrying

a cane. They said, "If you carry a cane, don't you understand,

people will think you are blind."

I said, "So people think that I am blind." They said, "But

don't you see that if people think you are blind, they'll think

that you are helpless." Thus raged the battle. It got to the point

of a heated argument.

One of them said, "If you carry that thing when you are with

me in public, I will not acknowledge that I know you." Later we had

a discussion about Braille. I told my parents that I was going to

learn it. They responded that Braille was just for totally blind

people. "I don't want anyone to know that you are blind."

I said, "Look, all my life I have been a poor reader because

I had to read print, and look where it has gotten me. I have done

well enough, but I could have done better."

"Well," they said, "We are not going to budge." I said that I

would not budge either. They thought they wouldn't, but they did.

They budged, and in time they grew to understand.

But I can't help thinking, if only my parents had known when

I was a child, what they know now, if only they had had within them

the beliefs of the National Federation of the Blind, things would

have been so different in my life. They would have fought for me to

learn Braille. They would have made sure that I was trained in cane

travel. Most important, they would have known that it is

respectable to be blind.


by Dan Crawford

Dan Crawford is the only genuine horse trader I know■blind or

sighted. Since most of you probably don't know any horse traders

either, I thought you might like to hear his story. Here is how he

tells it:

I was born in Garden Prairie, Illinois, in a farming community

and raised on a dairy farm that my parents operated. I lost my left

eye at the age of five and only had ten percent vision in my right

eye. I attended the Illinois Braille and Sight Saving School in

Jacksonville through my sophomore year. And I guess everybody at

Jacksonville could have predicted my future. I used to slip away to

the local stable and eventually got caught and got in trouble. So

from then on my future was definitely predictable.

At the end of my sophomore year I transferred to Belvedere

High School. And it was during my junior and senior year of high

school that I really started working horses.

I was very fortunate in that my father was an excellent

horseman and able to teach me a lot. I also associated with

qualified horse people, as well as excellent veterinarians and


I never will forget the first horse that I trained for money.

I was offered $35 a month to ride this horse, and back in those

days $35 was a lot of money, so I jumped at the chance. Believe me,

I needed every dollar.

From then on, horses started coming in for training on a

regular basis. And between training horses, helping to milk cows,

and going to school I kept quite busy. After graduation I still

continued to train horses. By then I'd upped my rate to $50 a


Then the horses still continued to come in for training. I

attended college for a while and worked horses on the side.

Eventually I upped my rate to $100 a month. And people still

continued to send me horses.

About this time I incorporated a new aspect of the horse

business. I started buying untrained horses and training them for

resale. I found that I could make far more money than I could

training them for their owners. And so I continued this practice.

Then, I took a factory job working for the Green Giant

Canneries, but I still worked horses on the side.

And it was about this time that some of my friends and I

decided that we'd like to rodeo a little bit. We started roping and

tying a little bit with Mom and Dad's dairy cows. Needless to say

this did not make my mother too happy.

And about the same time one of my friends got hold of a real

outstanding bareback bronco. One of the times I had my pride hurt

the most was when this bronk bucked me off, kicked me in the head,

and knocked me out for eight hours. Unfortunately, all of this was

completely documented on color film.

Well, enough about my rodeo days. I still continued to train

horses. About this time I realized that there was more money to be

made in strictly buying and selling horses because there was far

less chance of getting my bones broken. So I continued buying and

selling horses.

But this didn't put enough bread on the table, so I took a

better factory job at Belvedere Products, where I worked as an

upholsterer. Fortunately the two jobs seemed to work quite well

together--that is, for a few years. Eventually the horse business

got big enough that I had to give up the factory job.

At this time I might add that while I was working at Belvedere

Products, I lost the remaining sight in my right eye. I was

twenty-seven years old, and I wondered if I'd still be able to

continue the horse business. Somehow I just knew I could.

In some respects it was easier continuing the business after

I lost my sight than before. During the last couple of years of

seeing, I found my sight was actually more of a hindrance.

The strange thing was that all this time that I was buying,

selling, and trading horses, I never thought of it as a career or

anything to base a future on--just something to while away time and

keep myself busy. I was probably thirty years old before it dawned

on me: Well, I'm probably born to be a horse trader and probably

will be the rest of my life.

And so I still continue buying and selling horses. But I also

started buying and selling saddles and horse trailers. I found

that the three seemed to work quite well together.

And so I practiced this for a few years and traveled around

the country having a good time. But in 1975 a big change came into

my life. I met my wife to be, Sue, and we were married.

At this time we specialize in the Arabian horse. I will have

to admit that I am just a little bit prejudiced toward the

Arabian--lthough, in fairness, we have owned some outstanding

quarter horses, appaloosas, thoroughbreds, Tennessee Walkers, and

a few Morgans, as well as a few other breeds. But our business is

basically geared around the Arabian.

The next major change in our lives occurred in 1981. We moved

away from Illinois and into Tennessee on a twenty-acre farm near

Estill Springs. Estill is located exactly half way between

Nashville and Chattanooga on Interstate 24. Our farm has four

stock-filled ponds. We have in our ponds catfish, bass, and

crappies, as well as a year round spring fed creek.

So I thought perhaps when we moved to Tennessee that I might

retire from the horse business--strictly relax and fish and have a

good time.

But as things will happen, they don't always work out that

way. When I moved from Illinois, I sold every horse that we owned.

But a good deal came along with some horses, and before I knew it,

we were back in the horse business bigger than ever. We had to

build a new barn to expand our facilities. And if all goes well, we

hope to build a new house this year. It's about time. Sue deserves


I often have people tell me they think it's just amazing the

way I handle and get along with horses. And they wonder if I think

other blind people could do the same thing. And my answer is

immediate. Yes.

If I were a young blind person and wanted to get into the

horse business, there are ways in which I feel this could be

accomplished. I would start buying and selling saddles and bridles

and other related accessories. It would take approximately six

months to a year to learn most of the horse equipment. But

hopefully this would be a way the beginner could start to meet

competent and qualified horse people and also a way for the

beginner to start his or her education in becoming a genuine horse


To become a horse trader it's a long drawn out process. It's

just like going to college. It's going to take from three to five

years to understand completely and learn the horses' anatomy and

conformation, as well as various good and bad points about the

horse, as well as studying up on pedigree.

So that is why I think I would start handling horse-related

accessories. This would bring in a source of income while learning

the business.

There is no reason why other blind people can't become genuine

horse traders. The horse business is a multi-billion dollar

business. And ninety to ninety-five per cent of the people who get

into the business fail. Now I know that may seem hard to believe.

Let me assure you that it is true. Therefore, there is money to be

made for the remaining five percent. So I say if you are at all

interested in becoming a horse trader, go for it.


by Deborah Kent Stein

Deborah Kent Stein is a recognized professional author. She is

also blind and a member of the National Federation of the Blind of

Illinois. From time to time she writes profiles of fellow

Federation members■always lively without being melodramatic and

sensitive without being sentimental. Here is one such profile.

To this day, Bill Reif has vivid memories of the National

Federation of the Blind student seminar he attended during his

senior year in high school. "What they kept saying was that we had

to take responsibility for ourselves," he explains. "People there

were telling me I shouldn't just accept what the so-called experts

said I should be doing■I should push to learn whatever skills I

needed and figure out the techniques that would work best for me."

During the summer after he graduated from high school, Bill

put the advice he heard at the NFB seminar into action. He knew he

would have to hand in assignments in print when he started college

in the fall. So he taught himself typing, a skill which the experts

had somehow considered unnecessary for a blind student.

Even in high school, Bill knew that he wanted to become a

lawyer. He attended the College of Du Page for two years and then

transferred to Illinois Benedictine College in Lisle, where he had

the chance to live away from home for the first time. After

receiving his B.A., he entered law school at the University of

Illinois in Champaign.

Law school was more challenging than anything he had tackled

before. In college lectures he had relied heavily on his memory,

but now he realized that he needed an effective way of taking notes

in class. So he taught himself to write Braille using the slate and


After graduation from law school, Bill decided to look for a

job in Champaign, where he had made many friends. For a while he

did legal research, but he found full-time jobs were hard to come

by. After two years he moved to Springfield, taking a job with the

Illinois Department of Insurance, a state agency which regulates

the insurance industry. The position lasted only ten months; then

he was sending out resumes again.

Over the next two years Bill flooded the job market with

applications and went on dozens of interviews. But employers were

highly skeptical of hiring a blind lawyer. "Who brought you here?"

they would ask him during interviews. "Is your mother waiting for

you out there?" They questioned how he could handle travel on the

job and what he would do about the heavy reading load. While Bill

tried to focus attention on his professional skills and interests,

the employers all too often couldn't find their way past

blindness-related concerns. "You know, this building is awfully big

and complicated, and the washrooms are up on the second floor...."

When a job finally came his way, it was through a fluke he

could never have foreseen. A friend was taking a journalism class

and wrote an article about Bill, which was published in the

Springfield paper. The article was straightforward and

unsentimental. It described how Bill had taught himself to cook,

how he enjoyed roller skating, and how he was searching diligently

for a job. A few days after the article appeared, the telephone

rang. The caller was Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan.

"I was utterly amazed," Bill recalls. "He not only invited me

to come in for an interview, he offered me a choice of working in

practically any division I wanted within his office. I couldn't

believe it was really happening!"

In April, 1983, Bill went to work in the Department of

Consumer Protection within the Attorney General's office. "I

selected that particular area because it's very deeply concerned

with justice," he explains. "It's really a matter of seeing that

people get their rights."

Federation philosophy has proved an asset as Bill resolves

blindness-related problems on the job. Each time he has had a

change of supervisor, he has had to prove his abilities over again.

Some, for example, have reassigned cases which they feared would

require more research than they thought he could handle. Others

have been reluctant to give him direct courtroom experience. He has

learned to be assertive, to explain his techniques for getting the

job done, and to insist on gaining experience which will enhance

his professional development. "If you're not careful," he warns,

"the job will get structured according to what others think you can


Bill got married in 1985. He met his wife, Roberta, through

the Lutheran church, where he is an active member. Their son Bruce

is two years old.Even when he planned to marry and raise a family, Bill

encountered some people who told him he would never be able to

manage such responsibilities. Again his personal philosophy,

supported by his involvement in the National Federation of the

Blind, strengthened his belief in himself. "You can't let anybody

else tell you what you can do and can't do," he advises. "Be honest

with yourself about your abilities and limitations but never be

afraid to take chances."


by Barbara Freeman

Mike Freeman, a blind computer analyst, and his wife Barbara

(who is sighted) are long-time leaders in the Washington state

affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. When Mike and

Barbara began the adoption process about four years ago, they were

a little nervous. Not only did they have to deal with the usual

bewildering mass of paperwork, interviews, and unexpected pitfalls

associated with the adoption■especially overseas adoption■process,

but they had to deal with questions and doubts about Mike's ability

to care for a child. Why? For no other reason than the fact that

Mike is blind. Fortunately, it is no longer rare or unusual for

blind individuals successfully to adopt children. The National

Federation of the Blind has been providing help and encouragement

to prospective blind adoptive parents for over twenty years.

As a consequence, blind persons generally have fewer

difficulties today in overcoming negative attitudes and ignorance

about blindness among adoption social workers. So it was with Mike

and Barbara, and eventually Shanthi joined her family in America.

But a whole new set of challenges awaited Mike and Barbara.

Shanthi, too, is blind, and for nearly a year she had been in a

less than ideal environment. Here is Barbara's story of "Shanthi's

First American Year."

My husband, Mike, and I met our new daughter, Shanthi Anne, at

the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on November 13, 1990.

Shanthi, then aged eleven and a half months, flew to us from India.

Our social worker had recommended this baby to us because she was

outstandingly responsive and alert when she observed her on a trip

to India the previous April. Shanthi is anophthalmic, this means

she was born without eyes.

When Shanthi arrived at our home in November, she had changed

little since she had been placed in the foundling home the previous

April. She could not bear weight; she could sit up, but not get to

a sitting position by herself; and she could roll, but not crawl or

creep. She examined people's faces, hands, and clothing, but never

reached out to find anything beyond the person holding her. Most

disturbing of all, Shanthi did not know what a bottle was and could

not use a cup or eat from a spoon.

Another set of parents had visited her foundling home and had

observed the babies being fed. Because of a nipple-borne infection,

the doctor had forbidden bottles. As a result, at every feeding one

caretaker would hold the babies down and pry open their mouths

while another caretaker would pour thick water-buffalo milk in from

above. The babies would scream and gag the whole time. The social

worker who brought Shanthi from India had been feeding her with a

little medicine syringe. She would squirt formula into Shanthi's

mouth while Shanthi sucked her thumb. Shanthi expected to be fed

lying down, and never took her thumb out of her mouth. She got more

formula on her than in her.

We drove home with our baby without any idea about how we were

going to feed her. Upon the advice of our pediatrician, we decided

to train Shanthi to a cup instead of back to a bottle. Our doctor

also advised us to start feeding her a wide variety of foods

immediately. Shanthi was underweight and had mild anemia. There was

no time to introduce solid foods gradually. Shanthi's front teeth

were coming in when she arrived so it was doubly important that she

learn to bite and chew right away. A child who does not learn to

use her teeth when they are coming in often has eating problems. A

delay in learning how to eat plus the early trauma of forced

feeding might very well have caused a life-long problem.

Thus began an extremely intense three weeks. My goals were

twofold: first, to teach her how to eat a mixed diet and second, to

give her control over her food intake as soon as possible. I bought

training cups with lids that allowed the formula to flow when the

cup was tipped. I wanted Shanthi to know that tipping the cup

caused the milk to flow. Some training cups are so spill-proof that

the milk must be sucked out.

I insisted from the first that Shanthi sit up to eat or drink.

I sat her in my lap with my left arm behind her back so she could

not lie down. By the third feeding, she was sitting in the

highchair. When I gave her a drink, she learned she could control

intake by pushing my hand away. I also got her to eat a little

strained food but I had to chase her mouth as she moved her head

back and forth. She also kept her thumb in her mouth most of the

time and I had to catch her when it came out. I learned to keep the

spoon in one place and let her come to it. Within ten days Shanthi

could eat graham crackers and even a fig newton cookie. Upon the

advice of an eating therapist, I stopped using baby-food the same

day she learned how to eat the graham crackers.

I taught her how to pick up the cup by placing her hands on it

and showing her what to do. After she learned how to pick it up, it

took several more days to learn how to tip up the cup to get the

formula. I placed crackers or large sticks of food in her hand and

moved her hand from the tray to her mouth. Soon she could feed

herself finger-food. As Shanthi practiced feeding herself, she

slowly learned how to get smaller bits of food into her mouth. As

soon as Shanthi discovered that she could feed herself, she refused

to take anything from a spoon. She began to use a spoon again only

when I showed her how to use it herself.

Shanthi attended the NFB National Convention in New Orleans in

the summer where she became much more aware of how adults drink out

of open cups because she sat in our laps a lot while we talked with

friends. She heard the tinkling ice in water, juice, and tea and

started reaching for them. I would help her taste them. When we got

home, I taught her how to drink from an open cup. I moved her hands

from behind. Because she was having trouble moving the full cup to

her mouth, I fed her a few times in just her diaper without a bib

so she could feel right away what movement made the milk spill. She

learned in four days.

We also began helping Shanthi with her motor skills shortly

after she arrived. Shanthi began walking with us holding on with

two hands in January, 1991, and could walk holding on with one hand

by May. In early Fall, I taught her how to climb stairs while I

held her hands.

As Shanthi's second birthday approached, she was rapidly

developing new language, charm, and musical ability. Shanthi has

quite a wide vocabulary now. She will ask her daddy to play the

piano and says, "See book" when she comes across anything with

Braille on it. She celebrated entering the "Terrible Twos" by

singing the entire Star-Spangled Banner substituting "no" for each


Shanthi has great dignity. Her daddy and I hope to be able to

teach her the skills she needs to put her proud independence into

practice without crushing her spirit in the process.

I have learned that if I am to teach Shanthi a new skill, we

must both be ready. I will not always know just how I, as the

mother, get ready to move with Shanthi to the next phase of

development. I believe my membership in the National Federation of

the Blind will continue to give me the faith to believe that if I

teach, she will learn.


by Geerat J. Vermeij

Scientific research is not a career most people believe to be

suitable for the blind, but such beliefs are changing. Dr. Geerat

Vermeij is a nationally recognized marine biologist. He conducts

research and teaches students at the doctoral level. Dr. Vermeij

tells us that science is competitive, tedious, and hard■and, that

he loves it. Here is what he has to say:

How, a skeptic might ask, could a blind person ever hope to be

a scientist? After all, science is difficult if not impenetrable

even for many sighted people; and, in any case, there is almost

nothing in the way of books about science available to the blind.

How would one carry out experiments? How would one gain access

to the huge scientific literature? Perhaps a blind person could be

a physicist, at least a theoretical physicist, but surely not a

biologist. Why would the blind willingly choose biology, that most

visual of all the sciences?

The answer is very simple. Science, and for me biology in

particular, is absolutely fascinating. Someone is actually paying

me to study shells■some of the most beautiful works of architecture

in all of nature■in the expectation that broad principles with

implications for our own species will emerge.

What is more, I get to travel to exotic places, to read the

scientific literature in all its fantastic diversity, to see my own

papers and books published, and to teach others about science, that

most powerful of all ways of knowing. What more could one ask of a


Like many of my colleagues, I came to science early in life.

Even as a small boy growing up in the Netherlands, I picked up

shells, pine cones, pretty stones, and the like. My parents, both

of whom are avid natural historians, took pains to acquaint me with

all kinds of creatures that lived in the grassy polders and in the

innumerable ditches that crisscrossed the Low Land.

The fact that I was totally blind made no difference at all.

At the age of ten, shortly after moving to the United States, I

became seriously interested in shells. Almost immediately I started

my own collection, which soon grew to include all manner of other

objects of natural history. My parents and brother were

enthusiastic; they read aloud, transcribed, or dictated every book

on natural history they could find.

The reactions of my teachers in the local public elementary

school ranged from polite acceptance to genuine enthusiasm when I

told them of my intentions to become a conchologist, a

malacologist, or a biologist. If they thought about the

incompatibility between blindness and biology, they kept it to

themselves, or perhaps they expected my obsession to be a passing

fancy soon to be replaced by more realistic plans.

The interest in biology did not flag. As counselors more

openly expressed their fears that I would be unable to find

employment if I persisted in my plans to study biology, I entered

Princeton University to concentrate on biology and geology. There

I received strong support from nearly all my professors; they were

giants in their fields, and their enthusiasm sustained my youthful


I applied to do doctoral work at Yale. When I arrived for my

interview in the biology department, the director of graduate

studies was more than a little apprehensive. During my talk with

him, he took me down to the university's shell collection in the

basement of the Peabody Museum. Casually he picked up two shells

and asked me if I knew them. He fully expected me to draw a blank,

in which case he planned to tell me as gently as possible that

biology was not for me after all.

Fortunately, however, the shells were familiar to me. All of

the misgivings of the director instantly evaporated. Thanks to his

enthusiastic endorsement, I was able to enter Yale with a full

graduate fellowship that left me free to travel and to carry out an

ambitious research project culminating in the Ph.D. dissertation.

After Yale, I joined the Department of Zoology at the

University of Maryland at College Park in 1971, first as an

instructor. Moving up through the academic ranks, I was appointed

professor in 1980. Along the way, I married Edith Zipser, a fellow

biologist whom I had met at Yale, and we had a daughter Hermine,

who is now six. Very recently I accepted a new appointment to

become Professor of Geology at the University of California, Davis.

What do I actually do in my job that seemed so improbable to

the skeptics? Again the answer is simple. I do what my sighted

colleagues do: research, teaching, and service.

My research centers on how animals and plants have evolved to

cope with their biological enemies■predators, competitors, and

parasites■over the course of the last six hundred million years of

earth history. When I was still a graduate student, working at the

University of Guam Marine Laboratory, I noticed that many of the

shells I was finding on the island's reef-flats were broken despite

their considerable thickness and strength.

It soon became clear that shell-breaking predators, especially

crabs and fishes, were responsible for this damage. I began to

suspect that many of the elegant features of tropical shells■their

knobby and spiny surfaces, their tight coiling, and the narrow

shell opening often partially occluded by knob-like

thickenings■were interpretable as adaptations which enabled the

snails that built the shells to withstand the onslaughts of their


Most interestingly, the shells I had collected in the West

Indies and the Atlantic coasts of South America and Africa seemed

to be less well endowed with this kind of armor than were the

shells from comparable sites in the tropical Western Pacific. Armed

with these observations and hypotheses, I applied for funding from

the National Science Foundation to continue my work upon my arrival

at Maryland.

When the program director called me to say that I would be

funded, he also informed me that the Foundation would not sponsor

my proposed field work in the Indian Ocean because he could not

conceive of a blind person's doing field work. I reminded him that

I had already worked in field situations throughout the tropics,

and that the proposed research critically depended on the work in

the Indian Ocean. After a few minutes of conversation he relented

and awarded me the full amount.

How do I do my research? It is a combination of field,

laboratory, museum, and library work that has taken me all over the

world to coral reefs, mangrove swamps, mud-flats, rock-bound open

coasts, deserts, rain forests, research vessels, marine biological

stations, secret military installations, great libraries, and

big-city museums.

I make large collections of specimens in the field, work with

living animals in laboratory aquaria, measure shells in museums and

in my own very large research collection, and read voraciously.

Wherever I go I am in the company of a sighted assistant or


Often this is my wife, but there are many others as well.

There is nothing unusual about this; every scientist I know has

assistants. I keep detailed field and laboratory notebooks in

Braille, usually written with slate and stylus.

Once a week I go to the U.S. National Museum of Natural

History, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in order

to work with the outstanding collection of mollusks and to peruse

carefully all the scientific periodicals that came into the library

the previous week. While my reader reads to me, I transcribe

extensive notes on the Perkins Brailler. Sometimes I will make just

a few notations of the main point of a scientific paper, but at

other times I transcribe all the data contained in a paper. My

Braille scientific library now comprises more than eight thousand

publications compiled in more than one hundred forty thick Braille


Like many of my colleagues, I spend a great deal of time

writing. First, I prepare drafts on the Perkins Brailler, using the

seemingly inexhaustible supply of memos and announcements that

flood my mailbox daily. Once I am satisfied with the text, I type

the manuscript on an ink typewriter. An assistant proofreads and

corrects the manuscript, which is then submitted to an appropriate

scientific periodical or book publisher for a thorough evaluation.

In all my work I find Braille to be vastly more efficient than

any other form of communication. I also prefer live readers to tape

recorders. How can you ask a machine to spell words, to ferret out

a detail in a graph or table, and most importantly to skip whole

sections or to scan the text for a particular point?

Teaching has always been inextricably intertwined with

research for me. I can point to several papers that would not have

been written were it not for the fact that I was forced to think

about problems in connection with a lecture on a topic quite far

removed from my immediate research interests.

Over the years I have taught a great variety of courses■animal

diversity, evolutionary biology, ecology, marine ecology,

malacology, the mathematics and physics of organic form, and a

seminar on extinction■ranging from the introductory to the advanced

graduate level.

In the large introductory courses, teaching assistants take

charge of the laboratory sections and help in grading papers.

Again, there is nothing unusual in this. Professors in science

departments at most universities depend heavily on teaching

assistants. Like other research-oriented professors, I train

graduate students. Thus far, seven students have received their

Ph.D. degrees under my direction.

The service part of the job is highly varied as well. There

are the inevitable committee meetings and the many tasks that help

make the department or the university run smoothly. I head search

committees to find new faculty members, I conduct reviews of

faculty performance, and I write as few memos as I can. An

important service to the profession is the review of dozens of

manuscripts and grant proposals. If one writes them, one ought to

be willing to review them as well.

Of course, science isn't all fun and games. Science is

competitive; it is hard work, full of tedious calculations,

revising manuscripts for the nth time, of coping with the

disappointment of having a cherished paper or grant proposal

summarily rejected, and of quibbling about grades with a

frustratingly inept student. Nobody in science is exempt from

pressures and feelings such as these, but in the end the work is

immensely rewarding and intellectually fulfilling.

In short, there is nothing about my job that makes it

unsuitable for a blind person. Of course, there are inherent risks

in the field work; I have been stung by rays, bitten by crabs, and

detained by police who mistook my partner and me for operatives

trying to overthrow the government of their African country, and I

have slipped on rocks, scraped my hand on sharp oysters and

pinnacles of coral, and suffered from stomach cramps.

There isn't a field scientist alive or dead who hasn't had

similar experiences. Life without risk is life without challenge;

one cannot hope to understand nature without experiencing it

firsthand. The blind, no more than the sighted, must act sensibly

and with appropriate caution. Along with independence comes the

responsibility of assuming risks.

What would I say to a blind person who is contemplating a

career in science? Very simple. I would tell that person exactly

what I would tell a sighted one: Love your subject, be prepared to

work hard, don't be discouraged by doubters and by the occasional

failure, be willing to take risks, get as much basic science and

mathematics as you can take, and perhaps above all display a

reasoned self-confidence without carrying a chip on your shoulder.

You will need stamina, good grades, the support of influential

scientists, and a willingness and ability to discover new facts and

new ideas. It is not enough to do well in courses; one must make

new observations, design and carry out tests of hypotheses that

have been carefully thought out, and interpret and present the

results in such a way that the work is both believable and

interesting to others. Science is not for everyone, but I can think

of no field that is more satisfying.

What would I say to the educational establishment? I would

tell them that the prevailing attitudes about science and the blind

must be reformed. For too long the scientifically inclined blind

have been steered only toward the social sciences and other "safe"

disciplines, and away from fields in which laboratory and outdoor

studies are important.

I believe that the chief factor holding the blind back from

science is ignorance, not only by virtue of woefully inadequate

reading materials in the schools and libraries, but also because of

the pervasive fear and discouragement by the establishment to let

the blind observe nature firsthand. I once met a blind woman who

professed an interest in biology, yet she had never been encouraged

to touch the spiny leaves of the holly.

Observation is the first, and in many ways the most important,

step in a scientific inquiry. Without the freedom and encouragement

to observe, a blind person (or anyone else, for that matter) is

subtly but decisively turned away from science.

The key to this freedom is equality, and the key to equality

is opportunity and respect. The National Federation of the Blind

has long championed the philosophy that the blind are fully as

capable as the sighted given sufficient opportunity and training.

Education with this philosophy as its cornerstone is built on the

assumption that no discipline is closed to the blind. By a logical

extension, this basic respect will open more doors to the world of

science as we continue to work for full participation in society.

If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation

of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following


"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the

Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Suite 300, Baltimore, Maryland 21230,

a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $ --- (or

"--- percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and

bonds: ---") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind


National Federation of the Blind

You can help us spread the word...

...about our Braille Readers Are Leaders contest for blind

schoolchildren, a project which encourages blind children to

achieve literacy through Braille.

...about our scholarships for deserving blind college


...about Job Opportunities for the Blind, a program that

matches capable blind people with employers who need their skills.

...about where to turn for accurate information about

blindness and the abilities of the blind.

Most importantly, you can help us by sharing what you've

learned about blindness in these pages with your family and

friends. If you know anyone who needs assistance with the problems

of blindness, please write:

Marc Maurer, President

1800 Johnson Street, Suite 300

Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

Your contribution is tax-deductible.