TOOTHPASTE AND RAILROAD TRACKS

Kenneth Jernigan, Editor

Large Type Edition

A KERNEL BOOK

published by

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

Copyright 1995
by the National Federation of the Blind
ISBN 1-885218-02-8
All Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States of America

Table of Contents

Editor's Introduction

Of Toothpaste and Shaving Cream

Looking Back at Trains and Tracks

The Axe and the Law Book

Learning to Read

Keeping the Rent Current

Pioneering in the Courts

We Don't Have North Here

The Blind Beak of Bow Street

Marsha's Test

Editor's Introduction

What do toothpaste and railroad tracks have in common? Just

about the same that axes and law books do--nothing and

everything. They are the building blocks of the routine of daily

existence. In a very real sense they are the essence of humanity

itself.

When I was younger (maybe 40 years ago), there was a popular

song called "Little Things Mean a Lot." It dealt with what the

title implies, but its message was much more than that. It was

that each little incident (relatively unimportant in and of

itself) combines with all of the other trivial events that are

constantly happening to us to form the pattern of our lives. It

is not the major events but the recurring details that make us

what we are--that determine whether we will succeed or fail, be

happy and productive or sad and miserable.

This is the eighth Kernel book, and it is the logical

extension of those that went before it. Some of you have been

with us from the beginning, but for those who haven't, let me

give you in the order of their production the titles of the first

seven Kernel books. We began with "What Color is the Sun" in

1991. Then we followed with "The Freedom Bell," "As the Twig is

Bent," "Making Hay," "The Journey," "Standing on One Foot," and

"When the Blizzard Blows." Now we come to "Toothpaste and

Railroad Tracks."

The Kernel books have a constant theme and a common purpose.

It is to let you know something about the details of everyday

life as blind persons live it. Mostly we are not world famous

celebrities but ordinary people just like you--people who laugh

and cry, work and play, hope and dream--just like you.

The stories that appear in these pages are true. They are

written by those who have lived them. These are people I know

personally--former students, colleagues in the National

Federation of the Blind, blind men and women of almost every age

and social background. There is, of course, one exception. I

did not know the blind beak of Bow Street. He lived before my

time, but his story is so interesting that I wanted you to have

it.

Since I am blind myself, I think I know something about

blindness; and since I am a member of the National Federation of

the Blind, I think I know what blind people as a group are trying

to do and how they feel.

We feel about the same way and want about the same things

that you do, and when we fail (which all of us do now and again),

it usually isn't because of our blindness. Rather, it has to do

with lack of opportunity and the fact that too many of the

general public believe we are unable to make our way and do for

ourselves. Since we are part of the broader society, we

sometimes tend to accept the public view of our limitations, and

thus do much to make those limitations a reality.

But overwhelmingly the future is bright for the blind.

Because of our own efforts and because of help and understanding

from an increasing number of sighted friends, we are changing

what it means to be blind. And the Kernel books are helping make

it happen--just as you who read them are helping make it happen.

The National Federation of the Blind is a nationwide

organization primarily composed of blind people. It is the blind

speaking for themselves with their own voice, and the Kernel

books are an important part of that voice.

I hope you will enjoy this book and that through its pages

you will make new friends. I also hope that you will also gain

new insights concerning both toothpaste and railroad tracks.

Kenneth Jernigan

Baltimore, Maryland

1995

WHY LARGE TYPE?

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 what type

size is helpful for people with limited sight.

The second reason is that 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.

OF TOOTHPASTE AND SHAVING CREAM

by Kenneth Jernigan

Almost everybody who thinks about blindness begins with the

assumption that if you are blind, you are at a tremendous

disadvantage in dealing with the everyday tasks of getting along

and managing your life. To some extent, of course, that is true.

Regardless of other things, the world is structured for the

sighted. Most books are in print, not Braille; an increasing

number of electrical appliances have lights that flash and

flicker instead of knobs that turn and click; and pictures are

replacing words on everything from the cash register at

McDonald's to the sign on the bathroom door.

Most of these items and appliances could be marked and

produced in nonvisual ways, but the fact that they aren't (and

that they won't be) is not an overwhelming problem. There are

techniques for dealing with the reading, the flickering lights

under transparent plates, and the pictures that tell you where to

go and what to do.

Functioning as a blind person in a world designed for the

sighted keeps you on your toes, but with a little thought and

ingenuity you can manage. In fact, you can manage quite well.

But that isn't the way most people look at it. They figure

that if you are blind, your days are miserably bleak and limited.

I've been blind all of my life, and I think I am about as happy

and successful as most of the sighted people I know. It is true

that I haven't made a million dollars or been elected president

of the United States--but I get along, pay my bills, and look

forward to a good dinner and a Sunday afternoon. So do the

majority of blind people I know. And I know a lot of them--some

successful, some just managing to get by, and most somewhere

between.

And let me hasten to add that I am not just talking about

people who have been blind from birth but about all of the other

variations--those who became blind as children, those who became

blind as young adults, and those who became blind in middle age

or later.

But if blindness is how I say it is--if you can have as much

fun, make as much money, and be as successful as anybody else--

why do people think blindness is so tragic and limiting? I have

given a lot of thought to that question, and I believe the answer

is less involved with the major activities of life than with the

insignificant details.

It is true that over seventy percent of working-age blind

people are unemployed--not because they can't do the job but

because people think they can't do it and because they haven't

had opportunity. But most people don't know that. More to the

point, they don't think about it, and even if they did, they

would simply take it for granted that the majority of blind

people are not unemployed but unemployable, and then they would

pass on to something else.

No, it is not the big things that cause the average member

of the public to think of blindness as tragic and limiting. It is

the routine activities, the details.

More specifically, it is the fact that when there is more

than one way to do a thing and when one of those ways involves

using sight, the sighted person will almost inevitably use the

visual technique. It will be done without a second thought, with

the automatic assumption that the visual technique is superior.

Some visual techniques are superior, of course; some are

approximately equal; and some are inferior.

Let me give you an example. A few mornings ago, my wife

(who, incidently, is sighted) expressed some annoyance that her

toothpaste had fallen off of the brush. I was quite surprised,

for I realized that something I had always taken for granted

wasn't so.

"Do you squeeze your toothpaste on to your toothbrush,

looking at it as you do it, and then put the toothbrush loaded

with toothpaste into your mouth?" I asked.

"Why, yes," she said. "Doesn't everybody do it that way?"

"I don't," I said. "I put the tube up to my mouth, bite off

what I want, and then put the brush on my teeth and go at it."

My wife was as surprised by my technique as I was by hers.

"It makes sense," she said. "I'll try it."

She did, and she said how much more efficient my technique

was than the visual method she had been using. About a week later

I asked her if she was still using my toothpaste technique, and

she rather sheepishly said that she wasn't. When I asked her why,

she thought about it a minute and then said, "I guess I'm so used

to looking at it that it's just too hard to change."

Here's a case where the nonvisual technique is clearly

superior but where the visual method is automatically used even

though it is not as good. My wife (along with most of the other

sighted people I have asked) has always, without even thinking

about it, taken it for granted that the sighted technique is

superior.

If she had considered it at all before our conversation, she

would probably have felt that my method of putting toothpaste on

the brush would be the same as hers except that I would need to

feel for the brush, which would be a little harder than just

looking at it.

Certainly the world doesn't turn on whether you bite your

toothpaste or squeeze it onto a brush, but life is a matter of

daily routine, not dramatic events. So let me move from

toothbrushes to razors.

I shave everyday (or almost everyday), and I do it with an

ordinary razor with a blade. Many of the sighted men I know tell

me that they shave in front of a mirror. Yet, I have known a

great many sighted men who have worked at schools or training

centers for the blind and who, after seeing blind boys and men

shaving in the shower, have tried the technique and adopted it. I

have never known one of them to return to the visual technique.

In fact, even those who shave in front of a mirror almost

always rub their hand across their face to feel if it is clean

shaven. Even so, the average person tends to think that shaving

without sight is difficult. It isn't. The nonvisual method is

easier and offers more flexibility.

Like most men who shave with a blade, I use shaving cream,

the kind that comes from a can under pressure and makes a big

pile of foam. Since I have to wash my face anyway, I combine the

operation with shaving. I get my face (including my forehead)

wet, and I then spread shaving cream all over it. When I am

finished, I rinse and am done.

A few years ago, when I was making television announcements

for the National Federation of the Blind, I thought it might be

interesting to demonstrate different techniques used by the

blind. I had shots made of me walking down the street, carrying

wood to a fireplace, tying my tie, and shaving.

As the TV editors looked at the pictures, everything was all

right until they came to the shaving sequence. One of them said,

"We can't show that. It would look like a vaudeville act, like

somebody throwing a pie at your face."

I gathered from my questions to them that they were

accustomed to seeing TV commercials about shaving and that in

those commercials a small amount of shaving cream is put on a

part of the face. Those commercials, it would seem, had formed

their image of what was normal and acceptable. As with some of

the other things I have been discussing, I had always assumed

that other men used shaving cream the way I did. Apparently such

is not the case.

I said to one of the TV editors: "Don't you wash your face

in the morning?"

"Yes," he said, "but I don't do it with shaving cream. I

wash my face and forehead with soap. I rinse my face; and then I

put shaving cream on and shave." It seemed to me that this was a

time-wasting, inefficient way to do it, but I thought I would

keep my opinion to myself.

When I was Director of Programs for the Blind in the state

of Iowa, we bought an old YMCA building for a headquarters and

training center. It had seven floors, and the only way to get

from the basement to the top was either by climbing the stairs or

by using the elevator.

It was, to say the least, not a modern elevator. In fact, it

was one of the old-fashioned kind using direct current. It had a

grille-work at the front of the cab and a lever that you pushed

one way to go up and the other way to go down. There was no way

to tell when you got to a given floor except by looking--or, at

least, that's what we thought when we moved in.

But those of us who were blind had the strongest possible

incentive to devise a nonvisual technique, for we couldn't afford

to hire an elevator operator--and we didn't want to walk up and

down the stairs between the seven floors all day.

My first thought was that if we couldn't see the floors,

perhaps we could string a cable from the top to the bottom of the

elevator shaft with some kind of tabs on it that would brush the

elevator car and make a noise at each floor. That would have been

expensive and complicated and we never got around to it. In the

meantime we walked--at least, those of us who were blind did.

Then, one of the blind trainees found that he could stick a

knife or comb through the grille-work and touch the bar on the

elevator door at each floor, thus allowing a blind person to

operate the elevator easily and efficiently. A little later we

learned that we had been going about the whole thing wrong. If we

paid attention, we could feel the air currents coming off of the

floors as we passed them and could level the elevator without any

mechanical devices at all.

Why did it take us so long to discover this technique? I

believe it was because it never occurred to us to think in any

other way except in visual terms. We thought that if we couldn't

see the floors, we needed to devise a substitute to do the same

thing, to touch them in one way or another. Only when we opened

our minds and let our imaginations run free did we get the

solution.

The elevator technique we developed was not superior to the

visual technique used by the sighted occupants of the building,

but it was just as good. The fact that it was different didn't

make it inferior. It just meant that it was different.

There is more opportunity for blind people today than there

has ever been in the history of the world, and we are only

beginning to realize our possibilities. We are truly changing

what it means to be blind, and one of the ways we are doing it is

by coming to understand that visual techniques are not

necessarily superior to nonvisual techniques. And it isn't just

blind people who are learning this. It is also an increasing

number of the sighted public. We who are blind must lead the way

and do for ourselves, but we must do it in partnership with the

sighted. And we must do it with imagination and new ways of

thinking.

LOOKING BACK AT TRAINS AND TRACKS

by Maureen Pranghofer

An unnamed terror, needless and debilitating accompanied

Maureen Pranghofer from early childhood to middle age. In the

story that follows Maureen tells of her struggle to get on the

right track. Here is what she has to say:

My fascination with trains began on the north side of the

living room and gradually spread south. For it was on the north

side that the television was located just a little to the right

of the front door. And it was just south of this where I played

"train" with my great aunt Nora.

As it did with other young children in the early 1960's,

television was playing an increasingly important role in my daily

life. There were certain TV programs which were rallying points

for the entire family. Paramount among these were the famous ones

which grabbed the rest of the U.S.--"The Flintstones," "The

Jetsons," and the "Mickey Mouse Club."

But the most central fixture on the tube which came blasting

into the north side of the living room was the program featuring

the train of Casey Jones. At noon channel 11, an independent

station, delighted area children by presenting "Lunch with

Casey."

As the sound of a chugging train was heard in the distance a

booming voice would announce "Now arriving on track 11..." Casey

Jones would get off the train, which had come to a tooting

screeching halt, and run into the club house. He would sit down

at his lunch table and remove the napkin from atop his meal and

say something like "Well, well, what do we have here? It looks

like a peach and cottage cheese and oh yes, a chicken sandwich

and a big glass of milk. I'm ready for my lunch. How about you?"

Then the cartoon-filled half hour would progress along as

quickly as an Amtrak train speeding along to its destination. I

liked hearing the sound of that train. I liked watching Casey hop

off. And I was always interested in what he had for lunch.

My concept of tracks, trains, and railroads would have

probably just remained in a television realm had it not been for

my younger brother's birthday gift. In a large square box came a

present meant for my 2-year-old brother which I immediately

claimed. It was a train set, complete with plastic tracks,

switching mechanism, and little cars which hooked together.

Truthfully I can never remember playing with the cars much, but

the tracks and switching device were major highlights in my

seven-year-old life.

At least three times a week I built and then tore down my

railroad empire which was situated just south of the TV and which

usually ran in an east-west direction. Building was accomplished

by arranging the tracks in whatever way seemed to fit my fancy at

the moment.

There were countless possibilities. One had only to use

imagination and hook the tracks together. Hooking the track

together meant simply that you would take each piece of plastic

track and fit the end with the round notch sticking out into an

accompanying piece of track which had the round notch indented.

These track pieces were of various lengths, shapes, and sizes.

When fit together they formed one continuous track.

This in and of itself was not all that wonderful, but the

switching mechanism was the hallmark and centerpiece of the

entire toy.

This mechanism was plastic like the tracks and was shaped

like a capital "T." There was a small crank which when rotated

turned the track until it cut across the opposite track and thus

made the train turn around.

Now, if you have been around trains you already know how all

this works. But for me, a seven-year-old who had only seen two

minutes of an engineer disembarking from a television locomotive

it was a big deal.

In addition to my younger sisters and brother I had an

occasional lunch time buddy who was equally fascinated with

trains. That was my great aunt Nora. Now Nora was the dream fairy

godmother of any child. When she came to visit her purse was

stocked full of surprises like gum and Life Savers.

If you wanted to read, color, play a game or watch

television, your wish was her command. She would read as long as

one was willing to listen, talk about important childhood things

which were seen as being silly to any other adult, and enter into

a child's world of play as though she, too, were a kid.

Whether or not she was in actuality personally as interested

in Casey's train as I was is something I'll never know. But if I

was interested in trains then she, too, could be captivated by

them as well in order to please me.

So I was not surprised when one noon hour while we were

jointly watching the tube, she said, "Maybe we'll take the train

somewhere. How would you like that?" I was beside myself with

delight. Awaiting the day when we would actually be real live

passengers aboard a for real train ride was almost more than I

could stand. But finally the day arrived.

Nora, my mother, two younger sisters and younger brother

drove into Minneapolis where we would catch the train which would

take us across the river to St. Paul. There we would eat dinner

at the depot and meet my father, who would drive us home. The

entire time on the train was less than a half hour but that

didn't matter to me.

With a stomach full of butterflies I walked into the depot.

Tickets were purchased, and then a voice over the loudspeaker

boomed, "Now arriving on track 29, train bound for St. Paul."

"Just like TV," I thought as I walked out of the main area

of the depot and over to the waiting train.

The moment I stepped through the glass doors out into the

boarding area my excitement turned to fear. It was an intangible

eery feeling, but one I was sadly familiar with and was to

experience for years to come.

The first time I'd experienced this unnamed fear was after

visiting a friend. My mother was carrying me out to the car. It

was night and, though I was in her arms, I felt totally panicked.

Later I again recognized this nightmarish feeling when my aunt

Carla took me to a theater to see "West Side Story." And again

this envelope of fright would surround me while riding in the car

at night, alone in the back seat, while my mother and grandmother

talked in the front seat.

It was a feeling I couldn't put into words--a terror which

would leave me crying at times and unable to explain to

questioning adults what was happening. It was a fear which left

my palms sweaty and my heart pounding. And as I grew older, it

did not diminish as do childish fears of the monster under the

bed or the boogieman in the corner.

As a nine or ten-year-old, I was followed by it when I

walked across the busy street by my grandmother's home. It

accompanied me to restaurants and to new places. It accompanied

me as I was walking at night.

Finally as a 40-year-old woman, I now understand what caused

my joyful fascination of trains to turn to fear. I now know why

going out to eat in a fancy restaurant was nerve-racking and why

an evening walk in our quiet neighborhood was not enjoyable.

It all had to do with blindness. As an individual born with

partial sight I did not live in the world of blind people. I used

my vision and was not considered to be blind as far as my family

was concerned. Yes they knew I had "problems seeing" but they

were never talked about openly.

Like a train on the right track I did fine as long as I

could use my vision. But, put me into a situation where this

wasn't possible, and I immediately became derailed.

It took an accident in the summer of 1993 which left me

totally blind to get me truly on the right track. Not having any

sight was at first terrifying, confusing, and depressing. But

through the help of the National Federation of the Blind, I have

learned at long last that blindness does not have to be a scary

thing. I have learned that independence is possible and that

travel, in even in unfamiliar environments, does not have to be

equated with terror.

I think of all the times when I couldn't enjoy evening

walks, couldn't enjoy dimly lit restaurants and of the special

time with Nora and the "real live train" that I could not enjoy

because I couldn't see where I was going in the unfamiliar poorly

lit boarding area. How many others are uneasy about doing these

same things and too ashamed to talk about it?

Today I travel confidently thanks to the National Federation

of the Blind. I know where I'm going, and I'm glad I'm on the

right track.

THE AXE AND THE LAW BOOK

by Marc Maurer

Abraham Lincoln wielded and axe, and he also became a

lawyer. Although Marc Maurer has never been elected President of

the United States, he has followed Lincoln's footsteps with the

axe and the lawbook. Living in different centuries, both Lincoln

and Maurer had hardships to overcome--and both succeeded when

they might have despaired and given up.

No, Marc Maurer has never been elected President of the

United States--but he has been elected President of the National

Federation of the Blind, a position he holds today. And the

lives of countless blind people are better as a result. Here is

how he tells the story of his development.Many of the toys I was given as a child were mechanical. Toy

cars and trucks often contained mechanisms attached to the wheels

that made a noise when the vehicle was pushed across the floor. I

wanted to know what was inside, and I took them apart. But this

was not all. Alarm clocks, mechanical ice-cream dippers, egg

beaters, door knob assemblies, electric motors, our family lawn

mower, the vacuum cleaner, and anything else I hadn't been

forbidden to touch--I took them all apart.

Then came the question of putting them together again. Those

who have taken an alarm clock to pieces know how difficult this

can be. The spring shoots out, and the pieces go everywhere. Even

if you can find all the parts, it is hard to tell which tiny

wheel or spring goes where.

The first time that I dismantled a piece of machinery which

was not working and reassembled it so that it functioned

properly, I was delighted. I began to examine everything with the

idea that I might "fix it."

Although I was then--as I am now--blind, I became the fixer

for our family. My father was the principal fixer, but he was a

traveling salesman, and he was often away from home. If an

electrical cord needed a new plug, if a curtain rod needed

hanging, if a hinge on a door had become loosened, if the washers

in a faucet needed to be replaced--I was the one to be called

upon to put it right.

I even got to work on our second car, a nineteen fifty-four

Plymouth. My Dad forbade me to monkey with the internal

mechanisms of the new car. He drove that one for work, and he did

not want me fiddling with it. He would let me change the tires if

they were flat or put the new license plates on. He would even

let me look at the engine if I wanted to. I just couldn't do

anything to it.

My father had many tools, and he shared them with me and

taught me to use them. But he had very little experience with

blindness, and he did not know how blind people use power

machinery. He gave me an electric drill, and he let me use his

disk sander, but he did not encourage me to use the power saws.

He thought that using them was beyond the capabilities of a blind

boy, and I agreed with him.

In 1969, I met Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was then serving as

President of the National Federation of the Blind. I was a

student in Dr. Jernigan's program for training blind adults. In

that program there was no prohibition against blind students

using power tools.

There were hand tools, of course, but there were the big

ones, too--a table saw, a planer, a radial arm saw, a joiner, a

wood lathe, a metal lathe, a vertical mill, a drill press, and

more. And best of all, I was not prohibited from using them. I

was expected to make them function. I was expected to learn how

to use the machines and to demonstrate my knowledge by building

something. During the time that I was in the program I hoisted an

engine out of a car, tore it to pieces, and rebuilt it.

One cold winter day we traveled to a wooded area. I took one

end of a two-man cross cut saw, and before the day was through we

had cut down a tree more than three feet thick. It was exciting

and fun.

Although I was a student in Dr. Jernigan's program, I knew

that the time was approaching for me to go to college. The fun

that I had had manipulating tools made me wonder whether I should

study engineering.

Dr. Jernigan encouraged me not to be limited by a single

perspective. How mechanical things fit together can be

interesting, he told me, but there are other fascinating ideas as

well. How do organizations accomplish their goals? How do

governments achieve their objectives? What is it that makes

people persuasive? What are the characteristics that cause an

individual to be a leader? How is opportunity created? What are

the driving forces behind social change? How are the decisions

reached within society to select one direction over another? Not

only did Dr. Jernigan pose these challenging questions, but he

also introduced me to a startling new idea.

I, as a blind person, could--if I possessed the ability and

the willingness to work--help to decide the answers. If I could

learn how social structures worked, and if I could discover how

change was created, I might be able to help contribute to the

building of a nation.

Before I became a part of the National Federation of the

Blind, I believed that I might be able to replace a broken leaf

spring or to balance a flywheel. But I never imagined that I

would be able to participate in determining broader questions.

With the help of my friends in the National Federation of

the Blind, I enrolled at the University of Notre Dame. After

graduating with honor from Notre Dame, I entered law school. For

many centuries the law has been among the honored professions.

In law school I learned that the law, the courts, and the

judicial system are not mysterious or unknowable--not beyond the

mental capacity of a blind student--not an unattainable goal. The

law is a tool to be used to achieve a stable and a civilized

society. It changes to meet the demands of that society. In the

hands of a skillful artisan the law can be used to bring about

the most worthwhile results. And it possesses a great deal of

power.

Early in my legal career I learned that a seventy-six year

old woman had (four years earlier) been declared criminally

insane. Agnes had been placed behind bars in the mental hospital

for criminals. When I questioned the doctor about her case, he

told me that Agnes was perfectly sane. I asked for permission to

interview her in the hospital, and she asked me to represent her

in the courts.

Agnes had been good friends with her neighbor Clara--a woman

somewhat younger than she. To Agnes' amazement, Clara stole

Agnes' husband. There was a fight, and Agnes was hauled off by

the police. Clara told the arresting officer that Agnes was

having strange hallucinations, and she repeated her testimony in

the court. Agnes was adjudged to be insane.

Unless something could be done to change the circumstances,

Agnes would live out the remainder of her life in the mental

hospital. I prepared a petition of habeas corpus and presented it

to the court. The prosecuting attorney refused to consider an

adjudication without court proceedings. The matter came on for

hearing, and I prepared witnesses to present evidence. The doctor

repeated under oath what he had told me in our private

conversation. Medical evidence indicated that Agnes was sane.

After the evidence had been presented it was time for

argument to the court. Locking a person who is sane in a hospital

for the criminally insane is the same as putting that person in

jail. Our law states unequivocally that no person may be put

permanently in jail unless that person has been convicted of a

crime. Even if a conviction has occurred, a judge must decide how

long the sentence will be.

Agnes had already been in the hospital for four years and

she was facing the real possibility of life behind bars. I asked

the court to release this seventy-six year old lady. The judge

gave the order that we wanted.

Although I have handled many different kinds of cases in my

career, most of the legal practice that I do today involves

individuals who are blind, or corporations established to assist

the blind. The diversity of experience I have had in the courts

has helped to give me perspective and understanding in the things

I do today.

As I think about the tools that I have used in my lifetime

(both those that are mechanical and those that are not), I am

astonished and pleased to note that the learning never stops. In

1993 my son David joined the Cub Scouts. A new pack was being

formed at the church we attend. Despite my inexperience (I had

never been a Scout), I was asked to serve as an assistant leader.

As a part of my responsibility, I participated in the 1994 fall

Camporee.

In this event the scouts go out into the woods, set up

tents, build fires, cook their meals, and practice outdoor

skills: recognizing and following tracks, tying different kinds

of knots, building shelters with the materials at hand in the

forest, learning to load a backpack, and chopping wood. The wood

chopping exercise demands precision. A wooden match stick is

placed on the chopping block with its striking end up. The Scout

is expected to split the match with a hatchet. Extra points are

given (they say) if the match lights as you cut it.

I was the leader, so I was not asked to perform this feat. I

was glad not to be expected to perform in public. Even though I

have a great respect and a great appreciation for good tools, I

had never used a hatchet or an axe.

I thought about why this was so. I remember quite well the

story of the tin woodman from the Wizard of Oz. He made a number

of mistakes with his axe. One at a time he cut off each of his

legs and each of his arms. They had to be replaced with tin. Then

he slipped once more and cut his body so that it had to be

replaced as well.

I came to understand that using an axe was a dangerous thing

to do. Although I would probably not have said so, I thought it

was too dangerous and too impractical for a blind person.

Consequently, I never tried. All of this is what I thought on

that camping trip. How often we create our own limitations and

restrict our activities because we don't believe there is any

possibility of doing otherwise.

Later in the fall of 1994 I borrowed a hatchet and, working

with my son David, chopped out a stump in the yard of one of my

neighbors. I have always liked physical work with tools. Perhaps

this is because I spend most of my working days in an office,

meeting with people and managing documents.

The fireplace in my house needs wood to make the evenings

pleasant. Each fire requires kindling. I suppose it is possible

to buy it, but my son and I have begun making it ourselves. He

uses the hatchet he got for Christmas, and I use an axe. Neither

one of us is very good at it yet. But we enjoy being with each

other; we enjoy the outdoors; and we enjoy the physical exertion.

We also feel good about learning a new skill. We hope to become

competent at using the tools that helped to clear the forests

from our nation to give us the productive farm land that has fed

this country for so many years, and we like to have kindling for

the fire.

We keep the tin woodman in mind. We don't want to have

artificial legs, so we play it safe. But we don't let the worries

about safety keep us from using the tools.

In the National Federation of the Blind we offer hope and

encouragement to blind people who believe that the possibility

for having a full life is ended by blindness. We know that blind

people can perform most jobs that are done by the sighted. We

know that blindness is not the thing that will stop a blind

person but that negative attitudes about blindness are. I learned

this when I joined the organization in 1969, and I have had this

learning reinforced from time to time throughout the years.

In the fall of 1994 with an axe in my hand, I learned it

again. I may never spend a significant amount of my time using

an axe, but it isn't because I'm blind. I thought that it

couldn't be done--that my muscles might do many things, but they

would never feel the bite of the axe blade in the wood. Because

the Federation taught me to explore what I thought I could not

do, and because my son wanted to go camping, I have learned to

swing an axe.

LEARNING TO READ

by Patricia Maurer

Patricia Maurer, the wife of the President of the National

Federation of the Blind, didn't learn to read until she was well

along in school. Her blindness wasn't the problem. It was

simply that nobody had offered her the opportunity and the

stimulation to learn Braille. Today she has a college degree, is

a certified teacher, and is the mother of two active sighted

children--a boy named David and a girl named Dianna. Here, as

she tells it, is the story of how she learned to read.

I was standing in the check out line at the grocery store

with a friend. She was reading from the front covers of the

magazines displayed on the rack. She read quickly and fluently.

She was reading aloud because she knew I was interested in the

information on the cover if only in passing.

As she read to me, I thought of the millions of things that

are out there to read and how people often take reading for

granted. At this stage in my life, I suppose I do myself, but I

doubt I will ever do so in the way that others may do.

I have been blind all of my life. As a child I had some

residual vision. I grew up in a small town in Iowa, where my

family had very little contact with any programs serving the

blind, and certainly no direct contact with blind people--not, at

least, when I was a child.

Although I had very little sight, my parents decided to send

me to the public school in our community. In kindergarten I

noticed that the other children did not have to get so close to

their work. They did not have to bend way over to see the paper

on their desks. When I cut things out of paper I very often could

not see the line which was there for me to follow. I think I knew

then that school work was different for me from what it was for

my classmates.

As I progressed through that small town public school, my

teachers, my friends, and my parents read the material aloud to

me. I would tell them the answers to the questions on the tests

and they would write them down for me. If I wrote the answers

myself, very often neither the teacher nor I could read what I

had written.

As the material to be read grew in volume, I was spending

more and more time in the evenings reading with my parents. There

were hours and hours of homework. Many blind people will find

this story familiar.

When we would take trips to the library, I would check out a

few books and bring them home. I would sit by a strong light or

use a lighted magnifier to try to make out the words on the page.

I finished very few library books that way.

When I was in the sixth grade my family learned about the

library for the blind in Iowa. We contacted it and I began

receiving books on long playing records. For the first time in my

life I could read books whenever I wanted to do so. It was

wonderful then, and it still is.

I still had the problem of getting my school work done.

Someone had to be there to read for me and to write down answers

to questions. There was a teacher who decided that it would be

advantageous for me to learn to touch type. This was a great

help.

Now I could write things down for others to read, but I

still could not read them myself. Looking back, I think math was

the most difficult thing for me to do. I would be given the

problem and I would try to figure it out in my head. I would try

to recite the steps for solving the problem, and the person with

me would write them down. I still could not read and write for

myself. By this time I was in high school.

One evening on the television I heard a public service

announcement regarding services for blind people. My father and I

spoke to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and he told us that I should learn

to read and write Braille. He gave me a Braille textbook to take

home. It contained the alphabet.

I was to enroll in the training program in two weeks for my

first lesson. I met my Braille teacher. Oh, I was thrilled. I

took that book home and learned the alphabet. When I went for my

first lesson I knew it all. At the end of that summer I could

read and write Braille. For the first time in my life I could

read and write.

I went on to college and got a teaching degree. I used a

combination of methods for getting the work done in the

classroom. I used Braille. I used books on record and on cassette

tape. I used a person to read materials and I often Brailled

portions of textbooks. I worked hard. I discovered how much

easier it could be with a variety of options--lots easier when I

could read and write for myself.

Yes, I got my degree. It was a degree in teaching elementary

school. My first job was teaching remedial reading to third and

fourth graders. The children could see. They needed help learning

to read.

As I sat in that classroom working with those children, I

thought about what a joy it is to be able to read. I hope that I

was able to pass on to those children a little of that joy. It is

a joy which is with me now and I know that will stay with me for

the rest of my life.

KEEPING THE RENT CURRENT

by Hazel Staley

The strength of the National Federation of the Blind lies in

its members from the very young to the not so young. Here one of

our senior members tells about her life. Her story reminds me of

something I frequently tell people about us: We laugh and cry,

work and play, hope and dream--just like you. Here is what she

has to say:

I was number five in a line of six children born to a farm

family in Union County, North Carolina in August of 1916. I lost

my sight when I was two years old as a result of meningitis. I

graduated from the North Carolina School for the Blind and

received by A.B. degree from Flora McDonald College (now St.

Andrews) with majors in French and English and a minor in

psychology.

When I first entered Flora McDonald, the faculty was at a

loss as to how to deal with me. There had been blind students

there before, but they had all majored in music and the faculty

didn't know how I was going to do the lab work in science, which

was a requirement for an A.B. degree.

After considerable discussion they decided to put me on

probation for the first semester to see if I could make it.

Science just isn't my bag, but I felt diminished by being on

probation; so I decided to do whatever I had to do to prove that

I could handle the lab. My other subjects came easy to me; so I

zeroed in on science and made the honor roll that first semester.

I had hoped to teach English in the state secondary school

system; but finding this field closed to blind people, I enrolled

in the graduate school of social work at the University of North

Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was employed as a social worker with

the North Carolina Commission for the Blind for almost six years.

I met and married Bob Staley and resigned my position. Bob

was in the U.S. Army, and I wanted to be free to go wherever he

went. That was in 1947. Our only son, Ken, was born in 1951. Bob

died of lung cancer in 1986. I have two lovely little

granddaughters.

We were stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, when Ken entered

school, and I immediately got involved in the PTA. I served as

vice president and president of the PTA, and I think I must have

served as the chairman of almost every committee there was. I

received a lifetime PTA membership from the state of Georgia.

One day in 1969 (I was again living in Charlotte, North

Carolina) my employer, the director of the local agency for the

blind, told me that a group of blind people wanted to meet in our

conference room on Sunday afternoon, and that I should come and

be responsible for opening and closing the building.

That meeting turned out to be one of the best things that

ever happened to me. Leaders of the National Federation of the

Blind had come to organize a chapter of the Federation in

Charlotte. I had never heard of the Federation, but I realized at

once that its philosophy had been mine all my life. I joined that

day and immediately became active in the movement.

I have lived a very full life. I served two years as

president of my homeowners' association and have been teaching

Sunday School for more than twenty years. I have also served as

president of my church's Women's Missionary Society and as

director of church training. In 1978 I was named Charlotte's

Outstanding Citizen and in 1989 I received the Jacobus tenBroek

Award for my service in the National Federation of the Blind.

Someone has said that service to others is the rent we pay

for the space we occupy on earth. I plan to keep the rent on my

space current.

PIONEERING IN THE COURTS

By Sandy Halverson

Kernel book readers are accustomed to encountering in these

pages blind people who are pursuing unusual careers. In the story

that follows, Sandy Halverson (totally blind) tells of her work

as a court reporter. Here is what she has to say:

I am a blind person who has a wide range of job skills.

Besides working as a telephone solicitor for Olan Mills

Photography Studios while I was in college, I have performed a

variety of jobs in a sheltered workshop as well as working for

several years as a medical transcriptionist.

As happens with many careers, I reached a point where I felt

I could go no further in medical transcription; I didn't want to

assume responsibilities of an Accredited Records Librarian and

was not particularly interested in returning to school to obtain

a Master's degree in psychology.

Therefore, I decided that my combination of skills could be

most useful in court reporting. I obviously had the medical

background (spelling, grammar, punctuation, and keyboard skills

necessary) needing only to learn another keyboard and shorthand

code. The rehabilitation agency where I lived said it couldn't be

done, since no technology existed which would allow a person to

read back the notes taken on a stenograph machine. But what this

agency failed to consider was the fact that members of the

National Federation of the Blind have accumulated a great deal of

expertise in developing specialized technology to help blind

people function productively on the job.

A blind electrical engineer, who is a member of the

Federation, researched the computer equipment that would be

necessary, wrote the program to translate the shorthand symbols

into Braille, and taught me how to use the equipment and system

he developed.

After completing my training, I became employed as the first

totally blind court reporter in the country using stenograph

equipment. Although the court reporting school I attended had

reservations about whether a blind person could do the work, I

was given the chance to try and completed the work without any

more difficulty than the other students had.

When it came time to compete for a job, I was lucky. Very

often when an employer interviews a blind person, the only

characteristic considered is blindness. But the judge

interviewing me was different. He wanted someone who understood

medical terminology and who could take medical testimony and get

it right.

He was delighted to find someone with both court reporting

and medical terminology skills. In his view my years of

experience in transcribing medical records outweighed my

inexperience in court reporting. I guess he figured that my

blindness was my problem; and if I had worked out the techniques

to be a successful medical transcriber, I could do the same for

court reporting. How refreshing it was to find this common sense

attitude, and how many of our problems will be solved when more

employers come to view blindness in this way.

I loved my job as a court reporter; and I am grateful to the

National Federation of the Blind not only for the technical

expertise, which made it possible, but for the emotional support

as I waded through these untried waters.

My job ended with a legislative decision to replace county

court reporters with tape recorders--a decision I'm confident

will be reversed at a later date, but because of my positive

experience, many other blind persons are considering this as a

career opportunity, which never would have happened without the

National Federation of the Blind.

WE DON'T HAVE NORTH HERE

by Barbara Pierce

People tend to be curious about blindness. Perhaps the

single item which arouses the most curiosity is how a person can,

without seeing where he or she is going, move about without

assistance both inside and out. Despite appearances there's no

magic involved. Barbara Pierce addresses the subject in the story

that follows. Here is what she has to say:

Blindness is both frightening and puzzling to most people.

It's frightening because most people depend completely on their

eyes to tell them about the world, so the idea of moving and

working and playing without that information is more than

unnerving. It's puzzling because people have no notion how

anybody could gather enough information using a cane to travel

safely.

Some years ago the five-year-old daughter of an acquaintance

began talking to her mother about the magic lady who passed their

house every day. My friend could not imagine what the child meant

until the day she called her mother to the window to see me

walking past on my way to the hospital where I served as

chaplain. I was moving my long white cane in an arc in front of

me, and the little girl triumphantly explained that I had to be

magic since I was there, and the leash was there, but the dog I

was walking was invisible.

Even without believing in invisible dogs, many people tend

to behave as though some sort of magic were associated with the

use of the white cane. It doesn't seem possible to them that a

person could move safely and confidently by moving a cane,

listening to traffic noise and the echoes made by the cane tip,

noting wind and sun direction, and feeling the contours of the

ground.

In reality blind people depend on finding objects with a

light tap of the cane and then avoiding them. The long white cane

is very good at identifying cars parked across sidewalks, holes

in the street, and parking meters.

It is hard for sighted people to believe that blind people

really do know where they are and where they are bound. I have a

blind friend who entered the elevator in her office building one

morning to find that the only other passenger was a gentleman. As

she stepped in, he inquired, "Do you know what floor you want?"

She smiled and pushed the correct button, but she wondered what

he thought she was planning to do in the elevator if she didn't

know where she was going.

As a blind traveler I always appreciate receiving accurate

information in an unfamiliar area. In my work I travel a good

deal, so I frequently find myself in unfamiliar airports. I was

once walking toward the ground transportation area of an airport

new to me when I became aware that a man was following me down

the almost deserted concourse.

My cane touched a sign post, and I detoured around it and

continued toward the exit. The man said, "I don't understand how

you walk so straight." I commented that I had obviously not been

walking quite straight or I would not have touched the sign. He

replied, "I have been watching you for a hundred yards, and I

know what you've done. I explained that the public address

speakers in the ceiling, the periodic metal strips running across

the concourse, and the conversation of other people all helped me

walk along the proper path.

As we came to the terminal, I asked him for directions to

the escalator. Without a pause he said, "Thirty feet ahead at two

o'clock." I thanked him and commented that he must be a pilot. He

was surprised that I had guessed his occupation, but pilots, too,

have to know where they are and how to talk about it.

Many people find it hard to give good directions to a blind

person, and sometimes the stress of giving directions is just too

much. I will never forget a conversation I had with a member of

the staff of a hotel in which I was staying for a week.

On the first morning of my visit I was standing in the lobby

with my secretary, asking her questions about the floor plan of

the area. We were having a hard time communicating without using

the points of the compass for reference. So I stopped an employee

to ask which way north was. The woman paused a moment and then

announced, "We don't have north here."

I assured her that even though the river flowing through the

city meant that the streets did not run exactly north-south and

east-west, compasses still indicated north in that part of the

world, but she couldn't tell me which way it was. In the end I

had to put my question to someone else.

In short, there is nothing magical about using a long white

cane. It takes practice, common sense, and good information. You

can help.

THE BLIND BEAK OF BOW STREET

by John Dashney

Can a blind man be a policeman? This one was--and he lived

more than 200 years ago. Here is his story as it appeared in

Lifeprints.

One of England's first and greatest policemen was blind.

Sir John Fielding, the younger half-brother of the great

English novelist Henry Fielding, was born in 1721. He joined the

navy as a youth, but an accident cost him his sight at the age of

nineteen. This was in 1740, nearly 70 years before Louis Braille

would be born. There were no radios, no tapes--no known way for a

blind person to be able to read. So what did John Fielding do?

He opened a business which he called the Universal Register

Office. This was a combination labor exchange, travel agency,

information office, real estate agency, and insurance company.

John ran it single-handed. In his spare time, his brother Henry

taught him law.

Henry Fielding, when not writing novels such as Tom Jones,

had become a magistrate. This was an office something like that

of a justice of the peace.

Henry had the power to investigate crimes, question

suspects, and then either release them or order them held for

trial. He was successful enough to be given the title of Chief

Magistrate. He was, in fact, what we today would call a chief of

police--except that London of the 1750's had no organized police

at all!

Imagine a city of over half a million people, terrible

slums, a high crime rate, and no real police. The few parish

constables were chosen by lot, much as we choose juries today, to

serve for one year. Most paid substitutes to take their place,

and many of the substitutes were as dishonest as the criminals

they were supposed to control. Most of the rest, along with the

night watchmen, were too disorganized, too feeble, or too

frightened of the powerful street gangs to be of any use.

Henry Fielding tried to change all this. He drew up plans

for controlling crime, turned his house in Bow Street into a kind

of police station, and hired a few of the best constables to

serve as more or less permanent police officers--"Bow Street

Runners" was the name by which they would soon be known.

But Henry's health was failing, and in 1754 he had to

retire. The position, which would become known as Chief of the

Metropolitan Police, was offered to his blind half-brother. John

Fielding accepted it and held it until his death in 1780.

John immediately set out to put Henry's plans to work.

Within two years his runners had broken up most of the gangs of

street robbers. John then organized a horse patrol to combat the

mounted highwaymen who prowled the roads leading to and from

London. He set up systems of rapid communication and published

descriptions of wanted criminals and stolen goods. We take these

things for granted now, but the Fieldings were the first to think

of them.

John's main skills were in questioning witnesses and

suspects. Usually he left the legwork to his runners. But

sometimes he investigated cases personally. When, in 1763, Lord

Harrington's house was robbed of more than three thousand pounds

worth of silver, gold, and jewels (nearly one hundred thousand

dollars in today's money!), John investigated the theft

personally.

Using one of his helpers for his eyes, he spent the whole

day and most of the night examining and questioning. He

determined that what was made to look like a burglary was really

an inside job. His suspicions fell on a servant, who later

confessed.

Elementary? Perhaps. But this was more than one hundred

years before the first Sherlock Holmes story was written.

About this time John was knighted for his services and

became Sir John Fielding. The common people, though, gave him

another title--"The Blind Beak of Bow Street." ("Beak" was the

18th century slang for anyone in a position of authority.)

A contemporary described Sir John as wearing a black bandage

over his eyes and carrying a switch, which he flicked in front of

him as he entered or left his courtroom. He was strict with

hardened criminals and was responsible for sending many men (and

some women) to the gallows. But he was lenient with young people,

especially first-time offenders.

There was no welfare or aid for dependent children in the

1700's. Most of London's slum children died before they grew up.

Most of the boys who survived became thieves, and most of the

girls who survived became prostitutes.

Sir John tried to save as many as he could. He helped

organize charities to feed and clothe abandoned children, and

institutions to teach them reading, writing, and some kind of a

trade. As a police official, he saw that the best way to stop

criminals was to get to them before they became criminals. In

this he was almost two hundred years ahead of his time.

In his role of keeper of the peace, Sir John Fielding often

had to intervene in labor disputes and sometimes even control

rioting, angry mobs. As a negotiator, he became known for his

fairness toward the workers and apprentices, the poor and

underprivileged.

Curiously enough, the one group that Sir John Fielding did

not make any special efforts to help was the blind. This was

because he considered his own blindness as no great handicap, and

assumed that other blind people felt the same way.

London would not have a regular police force until nearly

fifty years after Sir John Fielding's death, but many of the

rules and guidelines he set down for his Bow Street Runners are

still used in police training manuals today.

People often feel that law enforcement is no field for a

blind person even to consider. They don't realize that one of the

first and greatest police officials ran the London Metropolitan

Police for twenty-six years without the aid of any sight.

A LESSON FROM MARSHA

by Barbara Walker

Almost all children test their parents to see just what they

can get away with. What if the parent is blind? And what if the

parent is blind and the child takes advantage of the blindness?

Is it fair? And what does it say about the child's attitude

toward the parent and the parent's blindness? With sensitivity,

love, and true understanding of herself, her blindness, and her

daughter, Barbara Walker (one of the leaders of the National

Federation of the Blind) explores these questions in the story

that follows.

"Mom, someone asked me today if I can read Braille because I

was wearing my Braille Readers are Leaders sweatshirt." I felt

again the depth of my daughter Marsha's acceptance. I know that

as she grows, a time may come when she won't want to champion the

cause of the blind. I thought that junior high might be that

time. But not only has she worn that sweatshirt, but she has also

proudly worn her "Braille is finger food for the mind" T-shirt

with the "cool Federation logo" on the back.

One day she took a copy of some titles she had Brailled

along with the print version to show her teacher. She did them on

an IBM Braille typewriter which was recently donated to our

affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. Without much

thought, I can bring to mind many times she has promoted our

cause.

There was the time when she took copies of our first Kernel

book, What Color is the Sun, to each of her teachers. Inside, she

had tucked a Christmas tree shaped note pointing out that the

title article was written by her aunt.

When she ran for student council in the fifth grade, she

wanted to mention in her speech that I was president of the

National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska. I told her how

pleased I was that she wanted to do that, but suggested that

since she was the one seeking office, it would be more

appropriate for her to talk about some of the things she herself

has done to further our cause--stamping and stuffing envelopes,

helping younger children at our conventions, assisting in sorting

and distribution of literature, participating in fundraising, and

so on.

That same year, she involved friends of hers in our walk-a-

thon, created Braille art, and made a Braille picture card game

with me. She is very interested in art, and believes people

should be allowed to touch three-dimensional creations whether or

not they can visually see them because you experience them more

fully that way.

I have complimented her insight and have encouraged her to

present that perspective often to others. Since our society tends

to emphasize visual learning and to underestimate the value of

education through other senses, many, including some artists, may

otherwise never consider the treasure which feels so natural to

her.

Last summer, while volunteering at a day care home, she took

copies of The Encounter (a cartoon book about blindness) for the

children to color in. She said, when asking to do that, "If they

take them home to their parents, which they usually do with

things they make, their parents will read it and learn about

blindness."

On another occasion, when I was not present, a man in our

church suggested to her that she should see to it that her

brother wore clean and appropriate clothes to church. When I

heard that this had happened, I asked her what she had said. She

told me she had been a little embarrassed about how to answer

him, but had ultimately said, "I think that's mom's job."

In the midst of all of this, there was one situation which

at first seemed to contradict all of the foregoing. Marsha had

been wanting to have someone over one evening, and I had said she

couldn't because she hadn't earned the privilege. A little while

later, she went to the door. I asked if someone had come. She

said something noncommittal which, since her brother came in

shortly thereafter, I took to mean that he had been the one who

was out there.

Moments later, John asked why Seana's bike was in our

driveway. I felt stunned. Trembling in disbelief, I went to

Marsha's room and knocked on the door. I asked if she was alone

in there. When she didn't immediately answer, I opened the door.

The smell of Seana's perfume brought with it a suffocating

mixture of hurt, anger, mockery, and betrayal.

When I found my voice, it was surprisingly low, even, and

cool. I asked Seana to leave at once, saying that I was

disappointed in both of them. She started to speak, but I cut her

off, stating that I didn't want to hear from her then. I added

that if she was intending to have me consider her innocent, I

didn't. She could have, at several points, rejected the idea,

even if Marsha had initiated it.

After she left, Marsha wanted to talk to me. I said I would

seek her out when I was ready. I went to my room and cried. There

are many kinds of tears. Mine, on that occasion, were not tears

accompanied by audible sobs which invite sharing. They were

silent tears, spilling unbidden from one too full of pain to

contain them; too deep in the aloneness of betrayal to seek human

companionship.

I prayed for guidance and strength as I again approached

Marsha's room, believing that our relationship would be forever

changed by this incident. I was not prepared for what followed.

She received me calmly, continuing to tape a poster to her

door as I began to talk to her. I asked how she felt about what

had happened. She said she didn't feel good about it. I said I

felt for the first time that she had deliberately included

someone outside our family in taking advantage of my blindness

and in doing so she had shaken my trust. She said she knew she

had done that and she was sorry. Then she added, "If you were

sighted, I would have found a different way to have Seana come."

Again I felt stunned. What was she really saying to me? I

said to her that I was willing to rebuild our trust. She said she

was too.

As I left her room, I began to consider that perhaps we had

taken a step forward. Why, after all, should the characteristic

of blindness be some sort of touch-me-not fortress protected by

delusion from the throes of children's testing? And had it

really, through the years, been untested?

When, at last, I felt the fresh air sweeping through his

deepest hole in my cover, I realized that it was riddled with

snags and I was finally willing to let it fall away.

We have all known, all along, that blindness brings with it

opportunities for the creative tester. But we often succumb to

confusing equal with identical--that is, it's o.k. to acknowledge

that children of blind parents will test them in the usual ways,

but it's not o.k. to put blindness-related tests in that same

category. They are worse, somehow. They take the child beyond the

realm of fair game testing into the arena of the dirty player.

That night, I had to ask myself why that is.

Over time, I have come to understand that the answer relates

to perceptions about blindness. All of us, blind and sighted

alike, consider blindness a characteristic with so much on the

negative side that even children, whose natural bent is to test

limits and explore ramifications of human characteristics, should

treat this one with kid gloves. The unfortunate outcome of that

process is that the unexplored trait becomes stagnant or brittle,

and neither parent nor child knows what it's made of.

I believe, of course, that Marsha's actions were wrong. Both

the disobedience and the conspiracy were unacceptable. She

endured consequences of that behavior. But after the initial

shock of her having included someone outside of the family in

this test passed, I realized that it was not in any way a

contradiction of the positive approach to blindness she has

always expressed.

She is not bamboozled by the facade we so often build when

we want to be treated identically rather than equally. Blindness

is, in her mind, no more or less sacred than other potentially

fertile testing grounds of her parent. I hope we've all learned

the lesson well enough that we won't need a refresher course any

time soon. If we haven't, it won't surprise me at all if younger

brother John steps up to teach it.

*************

You can help us spread the wordž

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 students.

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

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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

National Federation of the Blind

1800 Johnson Street, Suite 300

Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

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