Beginnings and Blueprints

A Kernel Book

Edited by
Kenneth Jernigan

Beginnings and Blueprints
Kenneth Jernigan

Large Type Edition

A Kernel Book

published by


Copyright 1996 by the National Federation of the Blind
ISBN 1-885218-06-0
All Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States of America

Table of Contents

Editor's Introduction

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


Editor's Introduction

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

like you.

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


Kenneth Jernigan

Baltimore, Maryland


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.


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

of them.

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

plastic tape.

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?



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 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-

sixteenth-inch accuracy.

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

the other.

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

Dianna's helpfulness.

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.


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

independent travel.

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

irregular shoreline.

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

needle threaders.

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

at camp.

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.


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

what comes.

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

presented itself.

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

political opponent.

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.


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.


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

her own.

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.


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

that time.

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

read it.

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

record player.

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

it done.

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

to be!

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