Beginnings and Blueprints
A Kernel Book
Beginnings and Blueprints
Large Type Edition
A Kernel Book
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Copyright 1996 by the National Federation
of the Blind
All Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Table of Contents
Beginnings and Blueprints
The Leaky Roof, the Children, and the Future
Hook, Line, and Golf Balls
Reaching for the Stars
The Metal Pole
The Loving Congregation
Ride Like the Wind
Homework: This Mom's Perspective
Five years ago we printed What Color is the Sun, the
first volume in the Kernel Book series. Now we come to the
eleventh, Beginnings and Blueprints.
Although the previous ten and this volume contain widely
divergent subject matter they have a constant theme--what it
is like to live on a daily basis as a blind person. Just as
with the others, the stories in this book are true. They are
the firsthand accounts of blind men and women as they live and
love, work and play, laugh and cry.
The people who appear in these pages are friends of mine.
I know them through our joint efforts in the National
Federation of the Blind. We have come together to help and
encourage each other, to find other blind people who can
benefit from being part of the Federation, to participate in
joint activities for self-improvement, and to inform the
sighted public about what we are and what we are trying to do.
In short, we are changing what it means to be blind, and an
increasing number of you our readers are helping us do it.
If we are to achieve our goal, we think it must be done
with a lighter touch than preaching and statistics. That is
why we began the publication of the Kernel Books and why we
try to produce at least two of them each year. They tell of
the everyday happenings in the lives of ordinary men and
women--people just like you: a man and his children who repair
a roof, a mother who wonders what the future holds for her
daughter, and a man who likes to go fishing.
These are people who might live next door--people who go
to work, raise children, experience disappointments, make
successes, plan for the future, think about tomorrow's dinner,
wonder about taxes and wage increases, and hope for better
things ahead--people who yearn and dream, laugh and cry--just
We hope that when you read this book, you will feel that
you know those of us who appear in its pages and that you
will, in a very real sense, regard us as friends and
acquaintances. We are trying to take the mystery out of
blindness, for our lives as we lead them are not mysterious.
In many instances they could better be described as run-of-
the-mill. I say this even though I know that it is not
possible for a blind person to live a completely run-of-the-
mill life in today's society as it is currently structured.
Too many people believe we are either thoroughly helpless or
thoroughly marvelous (or perhaps both) to permit it.
Since around 50,000 people become blind in this country
each year there is a perfectly good reason for every member of
the sighted public to learn about blindness and what it is
like. It will inevitably happen to a family member, a friend,
or a neighbor.
But that is not the principal reason for you to learn
what this book has to tell. All of us (blind and sighted
alike) will have richer lives if we see each other
realistically and with understanding. It is better for all of
us to achieve our full potential than for some of us to be
left behind unnecessarily.
Above all, I hope you will enjoy this book, that you will
find it interesting and worthwhile. Beyond that, I hope you
will contact us if you need our help or want information about
blindness, or if a friend or family member needs help. The
Kernel Books are becoming a major factor in changing what it
means to be blind, and you are an important part of the
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.
BEGINNINGS AND BLUEPRINTS
by Kenneth Jernigan
When does a beginning turn into a blueprint? I don't
know, but of one thing I am certain. Blueprints have played an
important part in my life. And not just in the work I have
done managing and remodeling buildings but also in the
disappointments and opportunities that have shaped my being
and made me what I am.
As readers of the Kernel Books know, I have been blind
since birth. I grew up on a farm in Tennessee in the late
twenties and early thirties, and as might be imagined, jobs
and money were much on the minds of my parents and their
neighbors. Such things were on my mind too, but not from the
perspective of my elders. I knew that there was a depression,
of course, and that things were bad. But that wasn't what
mainly concerned me.
From my earliest hazy memories, I recall wondering what
would happen to me when I grew up. My blindness didn't bother
me (I took it for granted--just as I did that I was a boy and
not a girl), but I didn't ignore it. It was there. It was part
of me. My mother and dad didn't believe I would have very many
options. They didn't say so, but I could tell how they felt.
They had seen a blind person preaching once, so they thought
I might do that. They also thought I might be able to play
some kind of musical instrument. In fact, they went so far as
to buy me a second-hand piano somewhere along the way; and
early on, my Aunt Ethel (she was my dad's sister) gave me a
violin that had belonged to her husband's brother Scott.
But all of this was to come to nothing. For although I was
required to memorize a great many chapters from the Bible when
I went to the Tennessee School for the Blind, and although
some of the speeches of my adult years have been likened
(sometimes happily and sometimes not) to sermons, preaching
was not for me. Nor was music.
Soon after I entered the Tennessee School for the Blind
in Nashville in January of 1933, I was enrolled in the violin
class. After all, I had a violin of my own. Simultaneously (or
soon thereafter) I joined the school band, vainly moving from
horn to horn in a futile attempt to find my niche. But for me,
trying to learn the notes was like memorizing a string of
telephone numbers. I couldn't play the simplest melody, and I
still can't today. I continued band and violin for five years,
being thoroughly bored with both.
I ultimately quit band to take what was called manual
arts, which in reality was a high-toned name for chair caning
and broom making; and I quit violin to take piano, an even
greater disaster since I spent the bulk of my practice time
disassembling the piano and engaging in similar mischief.
Occasionally I tried sleeping, but the bench was too short. In
brief, neither music nor preaching fit the blueprint.
In previous Kernel Books I have talked about my
activities in high school and college, my building and selling
of furniture, and my work as an insurance salesman; so I will
not deal with those things here. Suffice it to say that
(although furniture and insurance were rewarding, both
financially and otherwise) they did not suit the ultimate
blueprint of my life. Nor did real estate, which I considered
for a while--going so far as to get a broker's license once.
No, it was not to be music or preaching or furniture or
insurance or real estate even though I made beginnings in some
After college, I did a stint of high school teaching for
a few years, and then I had my first formal acquaintance with
blueprints. It happened like this.
There was an opening for the Superintendency of the
Kentucky School for the Blind, and I applied. Happy Chandler
(former baseball commissioner and erstwhile senator) was
governor of Kentucky at the time, and I had his support; so it
seemed likely that I would get the job.
But a snag developed. When I talked with the hiring
officer (I think he was called Superintendent of Education or
some such), all went well until we came to the question of
working with architects. Some 300,000 dollars' worth of
remodeling was to be done at the school, and the hiring
officer wanted to know how I as a blind person would read
I told him I had never thought about the matter but that
I was sure it wouldn't be a problem. That wasn't good enough,
and I didn't get the job--a fact that is laughable in light of
my later experience.
When I became director of state programs for the blind in
Iowa in the late 1950's, we bought an old YMCA building (it
was seven stories tall) and made it into a training center and
headquarters. As the years went by, we did many millions of
dollars of remodeling, and I directed it all.
As to the matter of blueprints, it was amazingly simple.
The architects and I sat down one morning for a couple of
hours and worked it out. The architects did their normal
measuring and drafting, and then produced their regular
blueprints. All that was necessary for me to read them was for
the architects to trace each line with a narrow piece of
Most people think of blueprints as mysterious and
complex, but they aren't. A series of parallel lines close
together indicates stairs, and a line drawn at an angle in a
doorway shows which way the door is to swing. Narrow lines
represent windows, and wider lines represent walls, with
squares or rounds appropriately placed marking columns. All of
this can be done with tape of proper width, and it can be done
in a very short time. The resulting blueprint is completely
accurate and easily useable by both the sighted and the blind.
Yet, in the attempted beginning in Kentucky a few years
earlier my lack of experience cost me the job. Maybe that is
the way it always is. If beginnings and blueprints don't go
hand in hand, there isn't much chance of success.
When I came to Baltimore in 1978 to establish the
headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind, we got
a complex of old factory buildings and began the process of
remodeling. By now, working with blueprints was routine, as
easy for the blind as the sighted. I could in a few minutes
teach any architect how to prepare blueprints for me, and as
the Baltimore years have gone by, I have done it repeatedly.
The National Center for the Blind is visible proof of how it
works. The buildings are the envy of all who see them,
attractive and well proportioned.
So far, I have said almost nothing about the National
Federation of the Blind, but in a very real sense it is key to
everything--the beginnings, the blueprints, the career, the
full life, and all of the rest. I first became acquainted with
the Federation in the late 1940's, and it gave me a whole new
perspective about blindness and what I could hope to be and
It was not just an organization for the blind. It was the
blind, speaking, thinking, and doing for themselves--helping
and encouraging each other, exchanging ideas, and working to
bring new insights to the public.
With its more than 50,000 members throughout the country,
the National Federation of the Blind has, in my opinion, been
the biggest single factor in improving the quality of life for
blind people in the United States in the twentieth century.
Most of the work of the Federation is done by volunteers,
by those of us who are blind and by our sighted friends. On a
daily basis we do our work with new beginnings and expanding
blueprints, and the encouraging thing is that we who are blind
are no longer doing it alone. An increasing number of sighted
friends and associates are helping us change what it means to
be blind. In the circumstances how can we do other than to
look forward to the future with hope and confidence?
THE LEAKY ROOF,
THE CHILDREN, AND THE FUTURE
by Marc Maurer
Marc Maurer is now in the full flower of his Presidency
of the National Federation of the Blind. Both he and his wife
Patricia are totally blind, but this does not interfere with
the raising of their two children, David and Dianna. If the
realization of the American dream means a full life of
satisfying work and busy activity, the Maurers qualify, and it
is not a passive life. Here is how Marc describes one of his
joint projects with the children:
Raising children is challenging, and for me at least, it
cannot occupy all (or even most) of my time because--like so
many other parents--I spend a major part of every week on the
job. This, of course, creates tension; but both the raising of
the children and the requirements of other work must be done,
and each of these activities is entirely worthwhile.
There are two children in the Maurer household--David,
who is twelve, and Dianna, who is nine. My wife Patricia and
I are both blind, but our children are not. We the blind
parents of these sighted children have many of the same
problems and frustrations that all parents come to know.
How can we provide our children a decent education? How
can we teach them to be independent? How can we teach them to
be honest and open and upright? How can we teach them to
recognize that there is danger and skulduggery in a sometimes
wicked world and that they must approach unfamiliar situations
with sufficient caution to avoid trouble? How can we teach
them responsibility? How can we teach them to be joyous and
free of fear? How can we teach them to embrace the exploration
of new things and to be aware of wonder and the splendor of
living in a world that, with all of its problems, can be
glorious and generous and exciting? How can we get them to
take out the garbage and do the dishes and pick up their
We have owned a house in Baltimore for many years. Last
summer the back porch roof began to leak. I asked a contractor
to give me an estimate for repairing it, and he said that he
But after a month, the estimate had not come, and I began
to wonder whether I would ever get it. Perhaps it would be
better, I thought, if I did the work myself, and I also
thought that this was an opportunity to give my children David
and Dianna a little education of a practical kind.
Sometimes my children appear to be more interested in
television and less interested in physical exercise than is
good for them. In fact, they are sometimes downright
lackadaisical. This is especially true of David.
The work that I do is frequently administrative. This
means that my children do not often see me doing physical
things. Although they don't say it (and they are probably
unaware of the tendency), they occasionally avoid physical
effort unless it is in the form of a game such as skating or
basketball. I must find a way to help my children understand
that physical exertion is enjoyable and productive. Maybe we
could fix the back porch roof together, I thought. They might
learn something about the value of work, and they might learn
how to put on a roof.
The first step was to climb onto the porch to assess the
extent of the needed repairs. We found a hole straight through
the shingles, and there were rotten places in the planking
underneath, which would have to be replaced. Precisely how
much of the roof could be saved would depend on what we found
when we began tearing into it.
We started demolition early on a Saturday morning with
the dew still on the grass and the sun beginning to warm the
earth. The first point of attack for our hammers and crowbars
was the hole in the shingles. Underneath these was rotten
planking. Our crowbars lifted a large portion of the roof, and
away it went, exposing even more rotten wood. Another piece of
roof was pried loose and dropped to the back yard. But there
was still more deterioration. After awhile, we decided that it
would be harder to fix the roof than replace it, so off it
Perhaps we should have anticipated the problem. The
shingles and planking were not the only damaged portions of
the structure. Several of the two-by-fours which had supported
the roof had rotted almost all the way through. I began to
feel most uneasy. I had been walking on a roof with a hole in
it. When we took the shingles away, the boards underneath were
rotten. When we took the rotten boards away, the rafters had
also rotted.here I was--standing on rafters, wondering whether they
would hold my weight. What about the support for the rafters?
Not only did I feel anxiety for myself, but my children
were with me. Of course, they weigh less than half as much as
I do--so maybe the rotten two-by-fours would support them, but
I didn't really want to find out. We tore out the boards and
headed for the lumberyard to get more.
How does a blind person cut two-by-fours so that the
angles required for a pitched roof come out right? Measuring
the length of a board is no problem. A tool called a click
rule is used for measuring. This is a piece of threaded rod
inside a metal sleeve. The threaded rod has one thread for
each sixteenth of an inch. When you push the threaded rod out
of the sleeve, a little spring clicks against the threads to
hold the rod in place.
The threads on one side of the rod are milled off except
for one thread each half inch. By feeling the half-inch
threads it is easy to count the number of half-inch lengths.
With this tool measurements can be made to within one-
But how do you ensure that the angles are right? I don't
know what other people do, but this is what I did.
A sliding bevel square has a handle with a piece of
slotted steel in it. The piece of steel can be set at any
angle to the handle. The two pieces can be held rigidly at
that angle by tightening a thumb screw on the square. I got
out the sliding bevel square and put it on the roof to measure
the angle at which the rafters met the exterior wall of the
With the sliding bevel square set to the proper angle, I
put a straightedge on my two-by-four to guide the saw to make
the cut. We were using a portable circular saw--the kind that
you see on a construction site. The frame around the blade on
such a saw is about ten inches long and eight inches wide. The
blade is perhaps two inches from one side and six inches from
I measured the distance between the saw blade and the
edge of the frame and clamped my straightedge on the two-by-
four with enough space between the straightedge and the end of
the board so that the blade would cut the length I needed.
David and Dianna observed what I was doing and asked
dozens of questions. David wanted to operate the saw, and I
reminded him about the safety rules. He took the machine in
hand, and the saw blade bit through the two-by-four following
the desired angle. When we put the board in place, it fitted
snugly, and we hammered the nails home.
With the two-by-fours installed, it was time to begin the
sheathing process. We used four-by-eight-foot sheets of
plywood to form the underlayment for the roof. Four-by-eight
sheets of plywood are fairly heavy, and my helpers David and
Dianna each weigh less than eighty pounds. We wrestled the
plywood sheets up the ladder and onto the rafters.
As soon as the first one was fastened to the two-by-fours
with epoxy-coated nails, I felt a little better. There would
be no more walking on open rafters. We would all still need to
pay attention--so that we wouldn't fall off the edge. But at
least there was footing.
Along about noon, we knocked off for lunch and a little
rest. The day had turned into a real scorcher. The temperature
on the ground was approaching the mid-nineties, and the sun on
the roof seemed hotter yet. We were all hungry and thirsty and
covered with grime. There was dust in our hair and down our
necks and all over our clothes.
We scrubbed as best we could and sat down for the
sandwiches. The job was far from finished, but we had
completed the demolition phase and were well into
reconstruction, and we felt good about it.
At the beginning of a job there is the excitement of
discovery and the newness involved to keep a guy interested.
As the project goes forward, the "new" wears off, and
determination is needed to persevere to the finish. I was
proud of David's work during the morning, and I appreciated
David had been with me on the roof using a hammer, a
crowbar, a saw, or some other tool all morning. But I wondered
at lunch if his energy, his willingness to take direction, his
interest, and his enthusiasm would flag during the afternoon.
The effort during the morning had been steady and demanding.
David had stuck with it, followed directions, remembered
safety precautions, and been anxious to do his part. But I
knew his muscles would be tired when we resumed in the
We took a break for a few hours to rest a little and let
the sun get farther west so that there might be a little shade
in the yard. About three thirty we went back to the job.
We finished the sheathing and started sealing the roof
with tar paper. A good seal requires overlapping the tar paper
a lot. So, there were many, many sheets of tar paper to cut
off the roll and tack into place.
As we worked, I was reminded that tar paper gets hot when
the sun shines on it. I told David how the pioneers on the
prairies of the midwest had used these same materials (pine
boards and tar paper) to build shelters against the sun, the
rain, the cold, and the snow.
After the tar papering was finished, we put on the
shingles. A row of shingles is nailed to the edge of the roof
with a little overhang to give the roof an edge. The second
row of shingles overlaps the first. This continues until the
entire roof is covered. Each shingle must be lined up, nailed
down, properly overlapped with its neighbors, and not damaged
in the process.
Hot weather is good for roofing; it helps the shingles
create a good firm seal. When they get hot, they get soft, and
they mold to the roof and close any openings. But a good hot
shingle can become so soft that it is easily ruined. We picked
a good day for it, but the handle of my hammer was wet with
perspiration during the afternoon and evening hours. As the
sun struck the roof, the shingles reflected the heat, which
seemed to boil up around us.
The final step was to cover the edges of the shingles
where they met the wall of the house with roofing tar to
ensure that there would be no leaks. It was late when we came
to this part of the job. David asked what was to be done and
requested the chance to do it. With the tar brush in his hand
David put the finishing touches on the roof. We cleaned our
tools, picked up the trash, and congratulated ourselves on a
job well done.
Two days later, it rained hard. We stood on the back
porch under the new roof--no leaks. The roof was tight, and we
were dry. Each of us took satisfaction in watching the rain.
Blind people often find it difficult to get jobs.
Sometimes we haven't been able to obtain proper training. Even
when we know the techniques to be used, the opportunity is not
always available because employers occasionally feel that they
would not be able to do the work if they were to become blind.
Because of this experience, I value work more than I might
have if it had always been easy to get. But this is not the
only reason I like it. Good work is its own reward--worthwhile
to do and productive for the worker and the community.
In the National Federation of the Blind, I learned that I
should not sell myself short--that I have talents which can be
used to help make the world a better place. This understanding
has served me well, and I am doing my best to pass it on to my
We must be prepared to be independent and stand on our
own. But we must also recognize that we need the help and
support of our friends. The only way to get it is to be
willing to give that same help and support to those who need
This is exactly what we are doing in the National
Federation of the Blind. This is what we are teaching blind
Americans to do in every corner of our land. This is the
education that I hope I can pass on to my children--along with
a tight roof and no leaks.
HOOK, LINE, AND GOLF BALLS
by David Walker
David Walker lives in Missouri with his wife Betty, who
is also blind. Both work hard in the National Federation of
the Blind, helping others come to have the independence which
they have achieved for themselves. David, an avid sportsman,
loves to fish; and neither his blindness nor golf balls
whizzing across the path to the lake are going to keep him
from it. Here is what he has to say:
I love to fish and find it neither difficult nor unusual
in any way. I enjoy it regularly and as a matter of routine.
It does not take extraordinary skill for a blind person to do.
My visual acuity is light perception; I see only bright light
and shadows. A long white cane is necessary for my safe and
The road to the lake near my home used to be a nice path
to follow, but the redesign of the golf course changed that a
few years ago. Two new fairways were put in crossing this
road, leaving only a small section of road near the lake. My
route to go fishing now requires me to cross the fairway near
the sixth tee, which I refer to as "the artillery range."
I meet other fishers at the lake, and some seem to be
interested in how I do my fishing. Surprisingly enough, I
don't get many ridiculous questions and comments about how
amazing it is for a blind guy to travel to the lake and fish
Crossing the fairway and maneuvering around the tee area
to get to the lake is not very difficult. It's crossing the
artillery range, where those little hard projectiles are
landing, that sometimes gets a little difficult.
Crossing that zone takes a simple, common-sense approach.
I stop at the edge of the fairway at the point where I need to
cross; determine whether or not any golfers are playing
through; and listen for the distinctive crack of the club on
the ball, voices of approaching golfers, and the thump of
landing golf balls.
While doing this, I use my Braille compass to line myself
up in a west by southwest direction so I will come out near
the sixth tee and a paved golf-cart path which will lead me
down the hill to the old road to the lake. Since there are
many contours and no real landmarks in this open area, the
long white cane and compass are essential tools. Once I line
up and go, I don't stop until I am across the fairway; this
reduces my chances of being hit. Once, on my way home, I
stopped to check my compass when I thought there were no
players near, and a golf ball driven from the fifth tee struck
my tackle box--I was happy it was not my knee just below the
This risk is greatly reduced when I go fishing at night.
It's not that I like danger, but crossing the fairway is the
most efficient way to the lake because of the layout of the
golf course and the location of the lake.
Besides the compass, I use other information to confirm
my travel such as particular slopes, the height of the grass,
ground texture, location of the sun as I feel it on my face or
back, wind direction, and the honk of the Canada geese that
frequent the lake. Traffic noise on the roads and highways
surrounding the golf course differs depending on the time of
day, and it is a good reference on direction, as is the sun's
direction as it moves during the day.
I find the golfers to be very courteous when I cross
their turf. Many who see me waiting to cross say hello as they
play through; some offer to let me cross before they tee off;
and some wish me luck. I wish them a good game in return. I
have never had a golfer tell me that a blind guy should not be
crossing the fairway.
When I get to the road along the lake, I walk until I get
to a point where I think I would like to start. There is no
beaten path down from the road, so I just work my way down the
steep slope through the thick brush and dead wood. I carry my
rod with the tip behind me so I don't snap it off on a tree as
I move along. Because of the thick brush, steep slope, and
rough ground, my long white cane is necessary in finding the
easiest path ahead of me. When I get to the edge of the lake,
there is a path, and I use the cane to find it and follow the
When I find one of the landmarks that tell me where some
of my favorite spots are, I set down my tackle box, slip off
my pack, and tune in my favorite country music on a pocket
radio, which I place near my tackle box. Not only does the
radio provide entertainment, but it is an audio marker when I
have to leave the site to untangle a snag or try to catch some
fish that just jumped nearby and want to locate my tackle box
When I look for a new spot, the white cane is an
important tool. I use it to reach into the water to check the
slope and depth of the water. It also keeps me from
accidentally stepping into the drink.
The cane is also helpful in locating structures that will
steal valuable tackle. I use it to check for branches that
might catch my line or lures when I cast. It is not foolproof,
but it generally gives me an indication of objects in my way.
Once while I was checking for the edge of the lake and
underwater objects, a bass pounced on the shiny tip of my
cane--too bad there wasn't a hook. In addition to using the
cane to check for potential snags, I use the fishing rod,
which is longer, to reach and sweep in the area where I might
be back-casting.To check for snags out of reach of my cane in new areas,
I usually put a cheap set-up on my rod to test the waters. If
there are any snags out there, I lose only the cheap tackle
and not the more expensive lures. Besides, I might even get a
bass to take the bait while testing.
After I have found that the area is mostly snag-free, I
switch to more expensive lures. Some of these get lost to out-
of-reach snags, but that's what keeps the tackle industry
alive. Sighted fishers lose a lot of tackle, too.
Because modern lines are more supple and finer than in
the past, they are harder to feel and thread through the eyes
of hooks and swivels. I have devised a simple little fine-wire
pinched hook similar to but faster than a needle-threader to
use. This helps me rig up faster. For smaller hook eyes and
finer lines, I also use self-threading needles or fine wire
For fine tippets and very small flies, I use a fly-
threading tool that I purchased from a mail order supplier for
fly fishers. It holds the eye of the fly while I hold the tool
and guide the fine leader into the slot that guides the leader
through the eye of the fly. These eyes are too small for a
needle or other threader.
Fly fishing is one of my greatest pleasures. I am not a
polished caster, but I get the fly or popper out there and
catch fish. I first learned to fly fish when I was just out of
high school. My dad often took my brother Jim and me fishing
when we were growing up in Michigan, but Jim was not as
enthusiastic as I, and as we grew older and Jim moved away,
Dad and I became good fishing buddies. Then I became
interested in fly fishing, and I was given my first fly reel
for graduation from high school. I bought some inexpensive
tackle to build the system, and my parents bought me a fly rod
for my birthday that summer.
One day my dad came home with a new pair of waders for me
and said we were going up north the next week. I was soon
stepping out into the current of a northern Michigan stream to
try and outsmart some trout. The feeling of this new adventure
was great! I was hooked immediately.
Dad never seemed to worry about my wading alone. I guess
he had confidence in me, and if he did worry, he never let it
show. His teaching me how to feel the bottom of a stream and
to judge and respect the current were valuable lessons. He
would go his way, and I would go mine, then we would meet back
Sometimes when I was done fishing before Dad, I would
follow the trail on the high bank along the stream to find him
and see how his luck was. I would listen for the swishing of
his nine-foot bamboo rod. If Dad was finished before I was,
sometimes he would come looking for me. Back then I had some
usable vision and could see most large branches of trees near
me, log jams, pools, and bends in the river within a short
distance. Now I have only light perception, but I still enjoy
using a fly rod despite the occasional tree that grabs my fly.
Dad and Mom raised Jim and me in a positive way and never
really held us back from venturing out. They allowed us to
join Scouts with neighborhood friends.
In addition to what I learned in scouting, Dad also
taught me much about the outdoors and fishing, and I guess
that's why I have such a sense of adventure and an
appreciation and love for angling, wildlife, and the outdoors.
My positive experiences as a boy and my parents' and
friends' confidence in me as I grew up set the pattern for me
to become an independent blind person. This independence was
developed even further through my involvement in the National
Federation of the Blind.
This commitment opened new horizons in my life, and
meeting so many competent members who taught me alternative
techniques expanded and sustained this independence. I found
that learning alternative techniques from others helped me
develop my own techniques, which I have applied in other areas
of life, and in turn I enjoy sharing these with other blind
If it hadn't been for my parents and the National
Federation of the Blind, I doubt if I would have developed my
sense of adventure and independence and would not be dodging
golf balls today.
REACHING FOR THE STARS
by Julie Hunter
Bob and Julie Hunter rejoiced at the birth of their new
baby daughter--perfect in every way. Aglow with anticipation,
they brought her home from the hospital. Then as their baby's
vision faded, so did their hopes and dreams for her future.
Here Julie relates the heartwarming story of how she and her
husband Bob not only rekindled those dreams, but learned to
reach for the stars as well.
Fifteen years ago on a warm June morning my husband Bob
and I drove to the hospital for our appointment with destiny.
Because of delivery problems with our first child, we had the
luxury of being able to choose the day and time of our second
child's surgical delivery. Later that morning, we were
overjoyed to welcome a baby girl into our family--finally, a
girl where for generations (on my husband's side) there had
only been boys!
She was a perfect baby--healthy, dark hair, big blue
eyes, and a pretty little face. We couldn't have been happier!
Little did we know that this tiny, innocent babe in arms would
turn our world on its ear.
Our new daughter, Lauren, thrived in her first few months
at home. She was begrudgingly accepted by her two-year-old
brother, Mark, and gradually our family life fell into a happy
new routine. But as she grew, some little concerns tickled the
backs of our minds. She squinted when she was out in the
sunlight--typical of newborns we were told.
She didn't smile when someone came to her crib, but she
would smile when held or spoken to. Finally, a jerky eye
movement that we assumed would pass with her infancy became
more and more obvious.
Then came that fateful day when the doctors' tests
concluded that our daughter's retinas were not functioning
properly. She would have visual impairment, but no one knew to
what extent. She might even be able to drive, we were told.
Of course we were optimistic and clung to the best case
scenario--that the condition wouldn't worsen, that she would
be mildly visually impaired, but not (God forbid) blind. As
the months passed, it became obvious that this was not a
stable condition. Her visual acuity was gradually fading. We
mourned for every lost dream. We felt guilty that we had
unknowingly passed on what we were told was a recessive
genetic defect. We felt depressed about the future.
But it's no fun living in depression, so something had to
give! That something was our first change in attitude about
blindness. This was our child! She was bright and charming,
and we vowed that vision or lack of it would not define her
life. We didn't want to hear any more sympathetic words from
well-meaning neighbors and friends. Give up your dreams? Not
on your life!
And so we were inaugurated into a whole new world--a
world which has caused us to re-examine our values and broaden
our horizon--a world which has brought us support, friendship,
and a cause we believe in. Who would have thought that such
a tiny baby born on a warm June morning would be responsible
for all of that?
At what point do we move from seeing the glass as half-
empty to seeing it as half-full? For us it came gradually as
we learned, through the National Federation of the Blind, that
the possibility was there that our dreams for Lauren could be
fulfilled. That foundation was in place for us when we
sustained our second blow--discovering that Lauren also has a
progressive hearing loss.
As with the vision loss, which is now total, the hearing
loss has been gradual. Lauren is now fifteen years old. She
got her first set of hearing aids when she was eight. Her
hearing loss has progressed from mild to moderate, and now
hovers on the line between moderate and severe. Again, doctors
are no help to us. They don't know why and can't predict what
the future holds in store. We just live our lives and take
But one thing we have learned over the years is that fear
about the future results from ignorance and failing to take
control. If you do all you can to learn about your nemesis,
never lose sight of your goal (which in our case is to achieve
maximum independence), and stay in charge of your destiny,
then the future is not so frightening. The more we learn, the
less scary the future seems.
As we meet and talk to other parents with deaf/blind
children and with deaf/blind adults, we are reassured that
there can be a quality life for an individual who is blind and
deaf. Our job is to make sure that Lauren has the adaptive
skills necessary to remain an interactive member of society.
There is work to do, but I feel confident that my daughter
will achieve her potential, and no matter what the future
brings, we will never stop reaching for the stars.
The Metal Pole
Homer Page is a leader in the National Federation of the
Blind of Colorado. When he was six years old he learned a
lesson from a metal pole, and he remembers it well to this
day. Here is how he tells it:
I was born seven weeks before Pearl Harbor. As were so
many young men of his generation my father was soon caught up
in the war. For a number of years during my early life he was
away from home in the army.
My younger brother and I lived with our mother and
grandmother on our family farm. My mother and grandmother were
blind, as was I. They ran the farm, while we waited and prayed
for my father to come home. In time, he did return safely. But
during this time we were rather isolated.
During these years I really didn't understand that I was
blind. I enjoyed enormously running in the open fields that
made up our farm. I fell off a table and broke my arm, and
then another time I slipped in the water on the back porch,
where my mother was washing clothes. I fell out the back door
and broke my arm again. In each instance I hardly slowed down
while I wore a cast. Later, when I was nine, I broke my
collarbone playing tackle football at school, and still later,
when I was 15, I broke my arm again in a bicycle accident.
Sometimes my cousin, who was a few years older would come to
visit. He would tell me about going to school. It sounded
exciting. I could hardly wait until I would be old enough to
catch the school bus and go to school. I spent many of my days
playing school and dreaming of reading books.
Finally the day came when I could start school. My father
was home by then. He and my mother took me to school. No one
mentioned that I was blind. When it was time to play that
first day, I joined the other children and went outside.
Children who are six years old run. They run without purpose.
They run in packs for the simple joy of running. The children
began to run. I joined them, and I too began to run.
My next memory from this day long ago is still vivid. I
ran into the metal pole that braced the playground slide. In
a split second I was flat on my back. My nose had squarely
struck the pole. I was in a great deal of pain, and the other
children were going on without me. In that moment I realized
that I was blind.
I knew that if I lay there, or if I cried, I could not
play with the other children. I got up to join my new friends.
They never commented nor did I. I spent my childhood and
adolescence with many of those children. We seldom talked
about blindness. I just took part in whatever activity
There was no pity or sentimentality shown to me. When
teams were chosen to play softball, I was chosen last. But
when teams were chosen for math or social studies
competitions, I was chosen first. Those selections were fair
and neither I nor anyone else questioned them. It meant
nothing to me to be selected last. What was important was that
I played, that I played hard, and that I looked for ways to
make a positive contribution to my team.
In my decades since my encounter with the metal pole, I
have more than once found myself figuratively lying on the
ground. What I learned at six years of age, and have relearned
several times since, is that getting up is the best option.
The other option is to play it safe and not really play.
In 1981 I was elected to the Boulder, Colorado, City
Council. In 1986 I was chosen to be Deputy Mayor of the city.
In 1988 I was elected to the Boulder County Board of
Commissioners. During all but one of my years as a county
commissioner I was either Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the
Board. However, things were not always easy.
In 1980 I ran for the Colorado legislature. The race was
very close. Near the end of the campaign, workers representing
my opponent began going door to door in the district telling
voters that since I was blind, I could not represent them,
that I would only represent the interests of the blind. I lost
that election by 120 votes. That metal pole had just blocked
my path once again.
I got up and started to run again. I found that I had won
the respect of my community. A year later, I was elected to
the Boulder City Council.
Four years later I ran for re-election. As top vote
getter in the election, I was in line to be mayor, but once
again my blindness became an issue. I was not selected to be
mayor. I was, however, chosen to be deputy mayor. Once again,
that metal pole had gotten in the way.
In 1988 I ran for the Board of County Commissioners. I
unseated a popular incumbent. In 1991 I was unopposed. My
blindness had simply ceased to be an issue that could help a
On September 1, 1995, I assumed the responsibility of
directing the National Federation of the Blind's training
center in Colorado. Students at the Colorado Center for the
Blind learn the alternative skills that they need to live
independent and productive lives, and they learn the attitudes
that they need to accept and manage their blindness.
As I work with Center students there is a perspective
that I hope to be able to share with them. Perhaps I can state
it like this: In the lives of blind persons there are
occasional metal poles. Once it was believed that those poles
made life too dangerous or too difficult for us to be able
really to participate with sighted persons on terms of
equality, but now we know that this is simply not true.
However we also know that when those poles appear in our
paths and flatten us, we must get back up and continue to run
without bitterness or self-pity. We must also improve our
travel skills through life, so we can avoid as many of those
poles as possible. We must be tough enough to play without
sentimentality, and smart enough to know that in this way life
will shower us with abundance.
THE LOVING CONGREGATION
by Harvey Lauer
In the following story Harvey Lauer captures the
experience that many blind church members have had and
demonstrates the most effective way of educating, reassuring,
and witnessing to congregations filled with ordinary people
who fear blindness and are uncertain how to behave with blind
people. Here is what he has to say:
"We can't ask them to help. What could they do? They are
blind!" When we were new members of our congregation,
Bethlehem in Broadview, Illinois, that's almost the first
remark my wife and I overheard. It didn't surprise me because
I had met professors who wouldn't let me take their courses
and some who wanted to give me a good grade just because I was
blind. By the time we moved to Broadview, I was employed as a
rehabilitation teacher and had to deal regularly with
stereotyped notions about disability.
My wife, Lueth, had just come from a rural community in
which blindness was poorly understood by her family and
friends. They meant well but perceived her as dependent, even
as an adult. She came to the city with hopes of being accepted
as a contributing member of society.
Because of her shyness she reacted by feeling ill at ease
and withdrawing. She hoped that we could find a friendlier
church, but I saw the problem differently. I knew that only
time and acquaintance would reveal whether such remarks were
based on clannishness, ignorance, or pity.
People were friendly, but that didn't help much. They
told her how amazing it was that she read and wrote Braille,
something she had learned in school and which she felt should
not be considered unusual. As a result, she felt self-
conscious and would not read aloud in public.
At church gatherings we both sat a lot and must have
appeared rather helpless. People may have wondered how we did
our housework. We kept a reasonably good house, but there were
two big obstacles to functioning in church.
The first was unfamiliarity with the territory. At home
we knew where to find things. At church almost nothing was
ever in the same place twice. At home awkward behavior could
be laughed off; in public the appearance of awkwardness brings
not only needed assistance but sometimes too much help and
expressions of pity that are hard to take.Talk was futile. There were two barriers. It was hard for
Lueth to try new things, and some people were reluctant to
give her a chance. Some wanted to help but didn't know how to
While she couldn't wait on tables efficiently, she could
have helped in the kitchen if she had known where things were
kept. She couldn't watch children on the playground, but she
could have helped in the nursery if people had believed in her
ability. She couldn't make posters, but she had developed the
ability to write and dramatize stories. Yet she needed
encouragement and acceptance. My own road to acceptance and
involvement was just as rocky.
Over the course of several years, and with the help of
prayer and good friends, our strategy took shape. We
volunteered to organize the coffee hours. Then we "forgot" to
find someone to go in early to make coffee and prepare for the
activity, so the job fell to us.
We went a half hour early in order to familiarize
ourselves with the kitchen and find everything we needed. The
members who came later with coffee cakes were surprised to
find us there and more surprised to find the place set up for
In calling people for the next coffee hour, we found that
it's easy to get people to bring things, but harder to find
someone who will go early and set everything up. Lueth said,
"Why don't we do it again?" So we did it again and many more
times after that. Each time different people who were taking
their turns would come in and find us working.
Good working relationships were formed. Lueth began to
help with other activities. People found out what she could do
efficiently and gave her those tasks.
The years went by. We had birthday parties for our
children and invited members' children. We joined neighborhood
Bible study groups, where Lueth gradually gained the
confidence to read passages and contribute to the discussion.
She volunteered to be a friendly visitor in convalescent
homes, where she could talk with people individually, then
later read stories to groups, and finally lead a Bible class.
Now she is on the evangelism team and an officer on the church
I did not learn about the final incident in my story
until twenty years after it happened. Some people in town told
a group of church members that we should be investigated
because we were blind and probably couldn't take proper care
of our children.
Nothing was done about the suggestion because the members
assured them that blindness was no reason for such a concern.
They said that our children were at least as well cared for as
theirs. It turned out that ours is not only a friendly church,
but an observant and loving one as well.
RIDE LIKE THE WIND
by Margie Watson
What do you do when your five-year-old announces that she
wants to go bike riding with you--and, the five-year-old
happens to be blind? Here is how Margie Watson solved the
My five-year-old daughter, Katie, likes to ride her bike.
That surprises most people, because Katie is blind. My husband
or I walk about ten feet in front of Katie and tell her when
to turn the corner, but otherwise she rides straight ahead on
Last spring, we were getting our bikes out from the
basement, (Wisconsin snow keeps us off of them in the winter),
and Katie told us that she wanted to ride with us and not ride
behind us while we walked. Our first thought was to look into
purchasing a tandem bike.
We learned that we could add on something called a stoker
kit which would make the back seat the right size for a child.
The problem with this idea was that it was expensive--about
Another problem with the tandem bike was that the back-
seat rider would have to pedal at the pace of the front-seat
rider. That would be difficult for a five-year-old child.
Disappointed, we figured that we would have to forego family
bike rides until Katie was big enough for a tandem bike.
Then we heard about a bike called the Allycat Shadow. It
was designed for bike-riding enthusiasts who also happened to
be parents. Essentially, it is a child-sized bike without a
front tire. A bar extends up from the handlebars which is then
attached to an adult's bike just below the seat.
The Allycat Shadow would make our own bike into a
detachable children's tandem. It was the right size for Katie,
and the price was reasonable. We immediately ordered one.
We are thrilled with Katie's new bike. For us it means an
affordable bike for Katie and that we can use the adult bike
we already have. For Katie it means that she can pedal (or not
pedal) at her own pace. And while riding with mom and dad, she
is getting the feel of balancing and learning to turn, as well
as riding much faster.
You can ask Katie how much fun she is having riding her
new bike--that is, if you can catch her.
HOMEWORK: THIS MOM'S PERSPECTIVE
by Patricia Maurer
Blind parents face the same challenges as sighted
parents. Here Patricia Maurer brings us her perspective on one
common to all--getting the children to do their homework. Here
is what she has to say:
My husband and I are both blind. We have two wonderful
children, David and Dianna. My daughter, who is eight, does
not find her homework much of a chore. She doesn't really
enjoy it--she just is rather indifferent about it.
Our son, on the other hand, does anything he can to get
out of it. The punishment and penalties continue, but
sometimes the homework just doesn't get done.
I went to a public elementary school in a small town in
Iowa. It was the only school in the community. I was blind at
My friends, teachers, and parents read to me and, in many
instances, wrote information down on paper for me. I could not
read what I had written although I was taught to print and was
taught handwriting. In the fourth grade I learned to type on
a standard typewriter so that I could write and others could
No one ever considered teaching me Braille because there
was no one there to teach it to me. Each evening my father
would read my homework assignments to me. Once in a while he
would go to sleep reading, and I would wake him up. He had
worked all day and was tired. He wanted to help me and did,
but sometimes it was not easy.
Later in junior high or high school I learned about the
Library for the Blind, and some of my textbooks became
available on record. I listened to them on a long-playing
I had a tiny amount of vision, and although I tried, I
could not ever really effectively use large-print materials.
But, oh, when those books came to me on record--I not only
read textbooks but began reading novels. You see, I had never
read many novels because there was never time for anyone to
read them to me. I would occasionally check something out from
the public library, but it took too much effort to read it.
In high school I learned Braille. I spent an entire
summer learning to read and write Braille. Now, for the first
time in my life, I had a way to write something down, and I
could read it for myself.
Although I did not have much confidence, others in the
National Federation of the Blind, both by example and just by
taking the time to talk to me, made me begin to understand
that I could do more. I went to college, and boy, did I read
and write. I studied all the time. Well, most of the time. I
got a degree in elementary education and became certified to
teach elementary and special education.
My first teaching job was in a small school in Iowa
teaching reading to third and fourth-grade children. These
children were sighted, and I was blind. I remember talking
with the administration of the school and landing the job.
When I got it I thought, now I have to figure out how to get
I hired a high-school student to read to me. He and I
made games, and I Brailled materials. The children used print,
and I used Braille. It was a wonderful summer, and I got a
contract for the next year. I took another offer, and my
husband and I were married and moved away from that small
You see, I was thinking about my reading and my homework,
because I am trying to figure out how to get that boy of ours
to do his work. I want him to learn to love to read, because
it is so important when it comes to learning and living a
complete life. He's not blind. He can pick up any book and
just read. It seems so much easier for him than it was for me
when I was doing my homework.
But for now his books and homework pages sometimes get
lost. The assignments seem very hard. He doesn't want to read
them out loud so that we can help. He just wants us to know
the answers. Soon, I hope he will begin to look for the
answers and read the assignments. Because if he does, I know
he will find at least some of it interesting.
I know there will be the nights when my husband and I
nearly fall asleep helping the children with their homework.
There are the nights that we are relieved just as much as the
children because there is not much homework. I believe that if
I ever go back to teaching I won't be able to help the fact
that I now have a mom's perspective on homework.
by Carol Castellano
Carol Castellano and her husband Bill are leaders in the
National Federation of the Blind's organization for parents of
blind children. They live in New Jersey with their children
Serena and John. Serena is blind and John is sighted. For both
of these children, the future is filled with exhilarating
possibilities. With sparkle, pride, and belief Carol shares
some of them with us. Here is what she has to say:
It took my daughter Serena a long time to decide just
what she wanted to be when she grew up. Whereas my son was
only four when he decided that he would be a dinosaur
scientist, it wasn't until she was seven that Serena realized
that her destiny in life was to be a folksinger. Happily she
played the chords to her favorite song, "Michael Row the Boat
Ashore," on my guitar.
Then came the Presidential campaign of 1992. Serena was
eight. She sat rapt before the television listening intently
to the speeches of both parties. After the summer's two
national conventions, she realized that it wasn't a folksinger
that she wanted to be after all--it was a folksinging Senator.
By late fall, having heard all three Presidential debates,
Serena was going to be President.
Her barrage of questions about how she could learn to be
President and conversations about what politicians do kept up
for so long that my husband and I were convinced she really
might go into politics when she was older.
In the late spring of this year, Serena went out with her
father to pick early snow peas from the garden. Coming inside
with her basket of peas, she told me she was very interested
in gardening. "That's wonderful," I replied. "You'll be a big
help to Daddy."
Overnight Serena's interest must really have taken root,
because the next day she asked me if I thought the gardens at
the White House were too big for the President to tend, since
the President is such a busy person. "Yes," I replied. "I'm
sure there's a staff of people who take care of the White
House gardens." "Well then, I won't be a gardening President,"
she told me. "I'll just be a gardener."
The desire to be a gardener was still but a tender shoot
when Serena took a piano lesson--just a few weeks after
picking those peas--and realized it was a pianist she wanted
Serena is at such a wonderful stage of life! Interested
in everything, trying everything out, she sees the world as
her plum, ripe for the picking. She believes in herself, as we
believe in her. And since what people believe largely
determines what they do, it is critically important for
parents of blind children (and other adults in the child's
life) to have positive beliefs about blindness and what blind
people can do.
If we are told (in a journal article or by a teacher of
the blind, say) that blind children usually do not or cannot
learn how to do a certain task, and if we come to believe
this, chances are we will not give our child the experience or
opportunity anyone would need in order to do this task. And
chances are the child won't learn to do it.
Imagine, though, if we--and our blind children--were
never told that blind people couldn't accomplish a certain
thing. Imagine what the results might be if everyone believed
that blind people could do anything they wanted to! Well, I
believe this--and attending NFB National Conventions has
solidified this belief for me. It is this belief which guides
the way I bring up my daughter.
My husband and I know personally or have heard speak a
blind high school teacher, college professor, mathematician,
scientist, car body mechanic, industrial arts teacher, Foreign
Service officer, engineer, a high-performance engine builder,
and a man who has sailed solo in races from San Francisco to
Hawaii. This makes it possible for us to glory in the
exhilarating feeling of watching a child look toward the
future and see only possibilities.
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
...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
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street, Suite 300
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
Other Ways You Can Help the
National Federation of the Blind
Write to us for tax-saving information on bequests and
planned giving programs.
Include the following language in your will:
"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 on blind persons."
Your contributions are tax-deductible