National Federation of the Blind


by Marc Maurer

During the past twelve months the endeavors of the National Federation of the Blind—the largest, most dynamic organization of blind people in the nation—have been diversified, extensive, and energetic. The oneness of spirit and the harmony within the Federation are as great as they have ever been. As we have come together in this convention to plan for the year ahead and reflect on the year just ended, our mood is upbeat, enthusiastic, self-assured. The influence of the organized blind in matters dealing with blind people continues to increase. The problems for the blind are many, but we have the know-how, the determination, the dedication, and the talent to solve them.

When we think of the work of the Federation, many images come to mind—teaching Braille and the other skills of blindness to blind children or adults, seeking the adoption of laws or regulations that will protect the rights or promote opportunities for the blind, collecting technology of use to the blind, distributing information about employment to the blind, planning meetings with public officials to persuade them to follow a certain course of action beneficial to the blind, assisting the parents of a blind child, speaking to the public about the normality and respectability of being blind, and assembling in our meetings and conventions at the local, state, and national levels to discuss the matters that affect our daily lives. As the members of the public come to understand blindness, and as our sighted colleagues become aware of our hopes and dreams, much of the difficulty that we as blind people face will be a thing of the past.

Our name and activities have become so well-known throughout the United States as to be almost household words, but our philosophy and point of view are also recognized and sought in nations beyond our borders. This spring Dr. Kenneth Jernigan (our Executive Director, the most widely recognized author in the field of work with the blind today, our teacher, and our leader) was invited by the American government to represent the United States in matters concerning blindness at the Eastern European Conference on Disabilities in Prague, Czechoslovakia. When Dr. Jernigan indicated that his schedule would not conveniently permit him to attend, the government officials involved urged him to change his plans and made it clear that he, as the primary spokesman knowledgeable about blindness in our country, would be a keynote speaker for the conference. As reported in the June, 1992, Braille Monitor, Dr. Jernigan went, and he carried our message.

In addition, Dr. Jernigan, at the invitation of the Director of the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services, traveled to Puerto Rico last year to be the featured speaker at a conference to discuss the importance and the meaning of the Americans With Disabilities Act. We in the National Federation of the Blind have been a powerful force—perhaps more effective than anybody else—in bringing blind people into the workplace. The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services has shown its commitment to equal rights for the handicapped. It has been very much interested in working with us to see that disabled people are employed on terms of equality with others.

Last year I reported to you that the National Federation of the Blind had created the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, which is now called the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind because included within it are products from many countries and because this Center is available for use and study by individuals from any nation on Earth. Collected in one place is every piece of hardware which we have been able to locate (and most of the software packages) capable of producing information in Braille or in speech. The perspective gained by an examination of this array of computer technology is not merely helpful from an intellectual point of view. It provides technical solutions to everyday problems and inspiration for imaginative methods of employing electronic equipment.

The establishment of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (along with the far-ranging interaction of the National Federation of the Blind with others throughout the blindness system) helped stimulate the convening of the U.S.-Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind, which took place in Baltimore at the National Center for the Blind last September. This conference brought together for the first time in history the leaders of all of the major entities in the field of work with the blind in this country and many of those from Canada, along with the principal manufacturers and distributors of technology for the blind. This international conference (which nobody else could have called and organized) is noteworthy because it engendered a spirit of unity never before achieved in the field of work with the blind. Leaders from the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the Library of Congress, the private agencies for the blind, the vision consultants, the professional organizations for the blind, the producers of technological devices and software for the blind, and blind consumers came together to discuss common problems, share information, learn from each other, and plan for future cooperation. Such a meeting could not have taken place as recently as ten years ago (or, for that matter, even five years ago) because of the fragmentation, distrust, and hostility which then existed in the field of work with the blind. But the hostility, the distrust, and the fragmentation are diminishing, and the blind are receiving better services and expanded opportunities as a result.

Dr. Kenneth Jernigan serves as President of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. As the elected leader of the world organization from our area of the globe, he attended meetings this year in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Canada. The international cooperation among agencies and organizations dealing with blindness has been tremendously beneficial to the blind of the United States and to other countries as well. Not only have we gained knowledge of matters dealing with blindness in other lands and perspective regarding our efforts at home, but we have also been stimulated to plan cooperative ventures with other entities in the field of work with the blind that would never have occurred without our involvement in the international arena. Indeed at the National Center for the Blind we have welcomed over a thousand visitors during the last twelve months—many of them from nations beyond our borders, including: Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. In the fall of 1992 at the quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union scheduled to be held in Cairo, we will be participating actively to expand opportunities for the blind. Not only in our own country, but throughout the world, we are changing what it means to be blind.

One of the best known medical research centers dealing with vision loss is the Wilmer Eye Institute, a department of Johns Hopkins University. In 1989, working in conjunction with this prestigious medical facility, the National Federation of the Blind published the book Blindness and Disorders of the Eye. In 1992 the Wilmer Eye Institute has released its publication, Vision Loss Information and Resources. In this brief document the National Federation of the Blind is mentioned seven times. As is the case with others, the medical professionals are discovering that they can serve their clients better when they become associated with the organized blind.

Two of the best known writers in the field of education of children with disabilities are Daniel P. Hallihan and James M. Kauffman, authors of the volume Exceptional Children: Introduction to Special Education. In 1988 Professors Hallihan and Kauffman released a new edition of their textbook, which contained statements indicating that the blind could not be as competitive as those with eyesight. At the invitation of the National Federation of the Blind, these authors attended and participated in our 1991 National Convention. After returning home, Professors Hallihan and Kauffman wrote to the Federation indicating that the information about blindness they intended to include in the next edition of their book would be much more positive, and they give credit where credit is due—to the National Federation of the Blind. The blind children of today (the oncoming generation of blind adults of the decades ahead) must be given the opportunity to be treated like the normal human beings they are, and deserve the right to be—and we (you and I, the members of the National Federation of the Blind) are the ones to get the job done. We can do it—and we will do it!

One of the most positive programs for the blind is the Books for the Blind Program conducted by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. For a number of years the National Federation of the Blind has been working cooperatively with Mr. Frank Kurt Cylke, the Director of the NLS program, and other officials at the Library of Congress. The resulting interaction between blind consumers and library officials has provided the opportunity for give and take, joint planning, and imaginative exploration of technological and programmatic alternatives.

This spring the National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals was held in Baltimore. All two hundred of these librarians came to the National Center for the Blind and were our guests for lunch and a tour of the facility. The dining room at the National Center for the Blind is a sizable area, but until May of 1992, it had never been quite so full. Many of the librarians had not previously visited the National Center, but the response makes it clear that this first meeting will not be the last.

The National Federation of the Blind is among the most outspoken proponents of Braille. In addition to publishing the Braille Monitor in Braille, circulating tens of thousands of documents in Braille, establishing the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, supporting Braille lending libraries, serving on a committee to advise the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped regarding the development of a Braille competency examination, creating the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, and initiating other actions to support Braille, we have authored, taken to the state legislatures, and fought for the passage of Braille literacy bills entitled the "Blind Persons Literacy Rights and Education Act." These proposals have been introduced in the legislative halls of over twenty states and have been adopted in a dozen of them. In Kentucky the Braille literacy bill passed both houses of the legislature without a dissenting vote.

In Maryland the state Education Department tried to weaken the measure by eliminating the presumption in favor of Braille for blind students. Education Department officials claimed (if you can believe it) that legislation with such a presumption would violate federal law. But we know better—and, incidentally, so did they. It is not against the law to support Braille or literacy for the blind. We asked the Attorney General of Maryland to consider this question: "Does a presumption in favor of Braille violate federal requirements?" When the opinion of the Attorney General became public, we learned that he agreed with us. A presumption in favor of Braille complies fully with federal law. The Maryland Braille literacy bill was adopted without alteration, exactly as we had drafted it.

Let no one be deceived. We will not quit or rest until every blind child in this nation has the chance to become literate—and that means the chance to learn Braille. We will do it by negotiation and gentleness if we can—by stronger means if we must. But make no mistake about it: We absolutely intend to get the job done.

The public service announcements of the National Federation of the Blind continue to receive recognition as among the most positive portrayals of blindness available on radio or television. Our messages are broadcast by all of the major radio and television networks and a number of cable systems. It is estimated that this upbeat depiction of the blind has gone into the homes of almost two hundred million Americans.

Not all of the radio and television coverage about blindness during the past twelve months has been positive. The ABC program "Good & Evil," which made fun of the blind, is a malodorous reminder—a reminder that many of the attitudes about the blind held by entertainers and others are still both superficial and negative. ABC personnel had the effrontery to tell us that the blind character on "Good & Evil," shown as a clumsy oaf who used blindness as an excuse to fondle indiscriminately the sex organs of both men and women, was a positive portrayal of us as blind people. But we of the National Federation of the Blind were not prepared to take this abuse without a fight. And if it ever happens again, we won't take it next time without a fight either.

Dr. Jernigan appeared on the nationwide television broadcast of "Entertainment Tonight" to inform the public that "Good & Evil" should be cut from the entertainment lineup because its characterization of blind people was deliberately misleading, degrading to the blind, and a straight-out lie. Blind Federation members marched with picket signs in front of ABC headquarters in New York and Washington. We were interviewed by newspaper reporters throughout the nation. "Good & Evil" quickly reached the cutting room floor, and today it is only a disgusting memory. Let no one doubt it: The reason for its demise was the National Federation of the Blind.

Shortly after Dr. Jernigan appeared on the television program "Entertainment Tonight," the Cable News Network conducted an interview with him about blind people serving on juries. A number of us had been rejected for jury service, and there were certain so-called experts saying that blind people could not judge the facts. Dr. Jernigan pointed out that the task of a juror does not require eyesight but the capacity to understand, make judgments, and reach conclusions. It is not so much the state of the eye but the condition of the brain that matters. In this respect blind jurors are quite as capable as their sighted colleagues. CNN carried the message to millions—the message of competence, the message of ability—the message of the National Federation of the Blind.

Last spring the producers of "L.A. Law" contacted the National Federation of the Blind with questions about the portrayal of blindness. An actor playing the part of a blind lawyer was scheduled to appear in several episodes. What would be believable, they wanted to know. What would be most realistic? The information was provided. As it happens, several of the leaders of our organization have experience with the legal profession. Blindness is no bar to the competent and effective practice of law, and we demonstrated this to the screenwriters.

In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by the President of the United States. One of the requirements of this law is that information be made available to the blind in forms accessible to them. In partnership with the United States Department of Justice, the National Federation of the Blind established, last October, the Information Access Project. Through this project we are providing private companies and government institutions with assistance and technical support in meeting the needs of the blind for information. This project operates through the National Information Access Center (a subdivision of the National Federation of the Blind) and uses the facilities, equipment, and expertise of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, another of our subdivisions. Volunteers are available in each state to help solve the problems of obtaining access to information on the local level. During the first eight months that we provided service through this project, approximately five thousand people participated in meetings and seminars about alternative methods for providing information. From October to May approximately a hundred people a month visited the National Information Access Center for hands-on demonstrations. More than thirteen thousand copies of the brochure Toward Equal Access: Providing Information Access Services to Blind and Visually Impaired Persons Under the Americans With Disabilities Act were distributed in Braille, in large print, in recorded form, on computer disk, and in digital format through computers.

One of the features of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind is our computer bulletin board, NFB NET, established about a year ago. This bulletin board is a computer that can be reached by telephone by people who have computers that know how to talk on the phone. Our computer has a lot of storage in its memory. The memory bank is so big that you could stuff an entire encyclopedia into it and have room left over. It will hold over 100,000 pages of print, and it talks very rapidly.

Included in the information available from this computer bulletin board are the Braille Monitor, other NFB literature, computer games, and specialized computer programs such as synthesized voice software. Our bulletin board has received more than five thousand telephone calls, and the number is growing exponentially. Over twenty-eight million bytes of message and file information have been transmitted to the board, and more than one hundred forty-nine million bytes have been disseminated. We try to make information about blindness available in every possible way. No matter what the medium, we will use it to send our message throughout the nation and the world. The blind have the need—and we have the know-how; we have the resources; and we have the determination.

When I joined the National Federation of the Blind, over twenty years ago, our movement had a reputation which combined toughness with generosity and tenderness with a hard-as-hell practicality. We try to be gentle, but we won't be walked on—and we have good memories. We do our best to avoid conflict, but when combat becomes unavoidable, we fight to win—and we never quit.

In 1984 several members of the National Federation of the Blind were fired from the Idaho Commission for the Blind because they were a part of the organized blind movement. For the past eight years we have been involved in a lawsuit to protect the rights of the two blind supervisors who were dismissed, Frank Smith (who has since died) and Ray Martin. The lawsuit charged unlawful dismissal on two counts: discrimination on the basis of blindness, and violation of the constitutional right to freedom of association. The defendants asked that the case be dismissed on technicalities. They objected to a trial by jury. They urged the court to rule that even if they admitted the truth of what we said, the Constitution and the laws of the United States had not been violated. There was a trial in the federal court, followed by a proceeding in the Court of Appeals. We had lost in our arguments at the lower court level, but the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and ordered a second trial, which was scheduled to occur later this summer. As the second trial became imminent, officials in Idaho asked if it wouldn't be possible to settle the case. Although the documents filed for settlement carefully avoided admitting wrongdoing, the payment involved may suggest the extent to which the state officials believed the charges were true. I have been informed that I am not to disclose the size of the payment. However, the amount is sizable. The cash to be paid would not quite buy a new Rolls Royce which might sell for upwards of $200,000, but I believe it is in the range.

In 1986 John Jones, who was then employed as a fire fighter in the Baltimore City Fire Department, became blind. His superiors forced him to accept disability retirement. In November of 1989, we assisted John Jones with a federal lawsuit charging that the forced retirement was discrimination. After much maneuvering in the court, the case has now come to a favorable conclusion. It is helpful to have knowledgeable, determined friends; it is worthwhile to belong to the National Federation of the Blind. John Jones is presently reporting to work in the Fire Prevention and Inspection Section of the Baltimore Fire Department, and he has received back wages. The total amount of the payment to him is $108,000. Oh yes, we who are blind have found our voice—and we have also found our strength. We have found it through the National Federation of the Blind.

Sheryl Pilcher, who is a sighted woman living in Texas, has a five-year-old blind daughter named Ashley. Recently, she attempted to buy insurance for Ashley, but she was informed by Security General Insurance Company that they did not insure the blind. When Sheryl Pilcher brought the matter to the attention of the Texas Insurance Department, officials there indicated that nothing could be done. This sighted mother could buy insurance on her blind daughter from another company or go without. Then, the National Federation of the Blind came to her assistance. We examined Texas insurance discrimination laws, and we reached the conclusion that the Security General Insurance Company had violated the code. Our findings were brought forcibly to the attention of the Texas insurance commissioner. Under date of June 2, 1992, the supervisor of Consumer Services of the Texas Department of Insurance wrote to Security General requesting that a change in the underwriting guidelines be filed with the Commission within ten days. The insurance company was told that it may not refuse to sell insurance to the blind. This is the law. It was adopted because of the National Federation of the Blind, and it is being enforced because of the National Federation of the Blind. We care; we follow through; and we take care of our own.

Karen Small is a blind parent living in Illinois. During a custody dispute in the early 1980s, a misguided judge ordered that Karen (because she is blind) could not have custody of Eric, her own son. The court said that Eric must be placed with sighted grandparents and that Karen could visit the boy only with sighted supervision. Although our initial efforts in the courts were only partially successful, we did not quit. In 1984 we persuaded the judge to eliminate the requirement for sighted supervision, but custody remained with the grandparents. Today, as a result of our continuing support and work, a complete change in the custody order has been made. Eric now lives with his mother. Karen Small has her son—and we have preserved and strengthened our self-respect.

The National Federation of the Blind is helping Jerry Vaughn, a blind businessman, who operates a sand and gravel pit in Tennessee. In 1986 he filed an application to become a minority small business enterprise contractor under Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act. Participants in this program must demonstrate that they are both socially and economically disadvantaged. Those who are members of certain minority groups are presumed by law to be socially disadvantaged, but the blind are not within this classification. The SBA demanded that Jerry Vaughn prove that he is socially disadvantaged. (You sometimes wonder whether to laugh or cry.) For five years Jerry Vaughn carried on a regular correspondence with them. He would ask for minority contractor status; they would demand additional documentation; he would send the paperwork; they would demand still more. When the SBA had finally become convinced that he was both socially and economically disadvantaged, they rejected the application because, they said, Jerry Vaughn had not been in an active business during each of the last two years.

The sand and gravel contracts in the area where Jerry Vaughn is in business are largely government orders. Those who get them are either very large corporations with the economic backing and influence to build multi-million-dollar projects or small business operators like Jerry Vaughn. If the small business operators are not part of the minority small business program, they are prohibited from competing for a very substantial amount of the business. In other words, the failure of the Small Business Administration to grant the application for participation in the small business enterprise program drove Jerry Vaughn out of business. Now that his company has failed, the SBA is claiming that they cannot grant the application. Such treatment will not do. We will not permit it. We have assisted Jerry Vaughn in bringing legal action in the federal court, and we intend to win.

We continue to be active to protect the interests of blind vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard program. As Federationists know from discussions at these conventions year after year, Dennis Groshel is a blind vendor in Minnesota who operates a facility at the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in St. Cloud. The income from this facility is about $30,000 a year. The Department of Veterans Affairs first argued that Dennis should not be permitted to have a vending facility at the VA Hospital at all, but the arbitration panel convened to hear the case ruled against them. However, the VA asked that it be paid a commission amounting to seventeen percent of the gross receipts from the vending facility (about $15,000, or half of the profit). The arbitration panel erroneously granted this request, so we are helping with an appeal.

The Dennis Groshel arbitration is, to say the least, quite unusual. The vending facility in question is operated by Dennis Groshel; the money being taken is the income of Dennis Groshel; and the person who reports to work is Dennis Groshel. It seemed only reasonable that one of the parties in the case should be Dennis Groshel. However the lawyer for the Department of Veterans Affairs has tried to keep him out. But this is simply not fair. We are helping Dennis intervene in his own case. He will be involved, and we intend to help him keep the money that is rightfully his under the law. Incidentally, all other vendors should take note, for this case has implications for every one of them throughout the nation.

Kenneth Godwin has, for a number of years, been a blind vendor in Kansas. On May 1, 1991, officials of the state licensing agency summarily dismissed him from his vending facility. Although the Randolph-Sheppard Act requires a hearing before termination of a vendor's license, state officials claimed that they did not violate the law because they were not terminating the license. They were (if you can believe the hypocrisy) merely preventing him from operating his business. He still had the license, they said.

Lynn Webb Bary is a member of the National Federation of the Blind, a blind vendor, and one of our leaders in Kansas. She heard about the abrupt and unfair dismissal of Kenneth Godwin, and she came to his assistance. She was present at the administrative hearing in support of Godwin, and she was prepared to offer testimony. Agency officials were saying that Godwin had been caught drinking in the vending facility, but they couldn't produce evidence to substantiate the claim. The record at the hearing strongly suggests that they had decided to get rid of him because he insisted on his rights and would not be bullied by agency personnel. He would have been completely out of the program, however, without the help of Lynn Webb Bary and others in the National Federation of the Blind. The decision in the vending hearing has not yet been reached, but we expect it to be favorable. Even if it is, it will not solve all the problems in the Kansas vending program. There appears to be a pattern developing—a pattern of harassment by vending officials in Kansas. And who would you guess is the object of this harassment? It is the person who supported Kenneth Godwin in his efforts to gain fairness in his dealings with the agency; it is Lynn Webb Bary. If agency personnel take reprisals against this blind vendor for protecting the rights of her blind colleague, we want here and now to make them a promise. They will face all of us; they will face the organized blind; they will face the collective power of the National Federation of the Blind. We will not be silenced—and we will not be bullied into meekly giving up our rights.

We have also been involved in a number of Social Security cases. Gary Metzler is a blind vendor living in Florida. He was advised by the Social Security Administration that he was no longer eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Their notice indicated that he had been overpaid $32,698.10. The accounting procedures in the vending program in Florida make it appear that blind vendors are employees of the state. Blind vendors, operating under the rules applicable to self-employed individuals, may deduct a number of work-related expenses that are not applicable in the case of state employees. Consequently, the erroneous determination that this blind vendor was employed by the state deprived him of work-related deductions to income which should have been available. The lawyers for the Social Security Administration did not understand the distinctions involved, but we know the law, and we know how the facts should be applied. The decision in this case has now been received. Mr. Metzler does not owe $32,698.10. In fact, he has not been overpaid at all. He is entitled to monthly benefits, and he is currently receiving the checks.

A year ago the Social Security Disability benefits being paid to David Dillon of Massachusetts were unceremoniously cut off. He was unemployed, but this fact seemed insignificant to officials at the Social Security Administration, who were drawing their own checks on a monthly basis without interruption. David Dillon had worked for a newspaper on a part-time basis for a few months in 1989 and 1990. Social Security officials said that this demonstrated his ability to work, and the ability to work made him ineligible for benefits. They insisted that he return over $10,000 in Social Security benefits that had been paid to him during the two years that he had done part- time work. David Dillon felt desperate. He was unemployed; Social Security declared that he was no longer eligible for benefits; and they demanded that he pay $10,000. He turned to the National Federation of the Blind.

A hearing has now been held before the Social Security Administration, and the decision has been reached. There has been no overpayment; David Dillon is not required to return $10,000; and Social Security benefits should continue to be received. This is not the only result of the hearing. The record shows that the Social Security benefit for David Dillon was figured incorrectly. When the calculations have been properly made, there should also be a substantial back pay award. This is one more reason why we have formed the National Federation of the Blind. If we don't take care of ourselves and each other, others will certainly not do it for us.

Harvey Heagy works as a disk jockey at an FM radio station known as Oldies 106.5 located in the New Orleans area. Most of his work is done at night and on weekends when public transportation is not available. He gets to work by taxi, which costs a bundle. A year ago he was notified by the Social Security Administration that he could no longer receive benefits and that he had been overpaid about $20,000. Social Security ignored the costs of job-related transportation. During the past year we have assisted him in receiving a correct determination of his eligibility. The case is not yet over, but there has almost certainly been no overpayment, and Harvey Heagy should be receiving a substantial amount of back benefits.

The National Center for the Blind (the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind) is a facility both functional and impressive. Renovations during the past twelve months have been extensive. The front entrance has been completely redesigned. There is currently a front portico, which is a hundred and thirty-two feet long and adorned with a decorative wrought iron railing. At our front door there is a staircase twenty-two feet wide, topped with a twenty-five foot internally lighted canopy. Displayed in light is the name of our building, the National Center for the Blind. This newly installed front entrance is wheelchair-accessible.

We have also constructed a conference center on the second floor. This area has office and meeting room space, and a kitchen.

All of the metal and wood on the outside of the National Center for the Blind is being painted with a dark green acrylic aliphatic urethane. This modern product resists abrasion, water, corrosive fumes, chemicals, and weather conditions of all kinds. We estimate that the amount of paint being applied weighs approximately 3,500 pounds, one and three-quarter tons.

In August of 1991 on the roof of our building, we installed a forty-foot aluminum flag pole with a ten by fifteen-foot United States flag. Illuminated with four spotlights, the flag flies above and behind our National Federation of the Blind sign. This combination creates a commanding impression for the fifty thousand drivers who pass our building each day.

In addition to the programs and cases we have initiated this year, we in the Federation have continued our other ongoing activities. Our publications are the most widely distributed and recognized in the field of work with the blind. We circulate in print, in Braille, and in recorded form approximately 30,000 copies of the Braille Monitor each month. We have available almost five hundred items of literature about blindness, and we have mailed tens of thousands of our Kernel book What Color is the Sun. The second Kernel book, The Freedom Bell, is being released at this convention, and if it has an impact as great as the first, this Kernel book will do much to change the image of blindness in the public mind. We will soon be releasing the third Kernel book, entitled As the Twig is Bent. We continue to produce over 30,000 copies of the Voice of the Diabetic each quarter, and our magazine for parents and educators of blind children, Future Reflections, is received by more than ten thousand individuals and institutions. In our studio we record the Braille Monitor; Job Opportunities for the Blind Bulletins; the Student Slate, which is the magazine for students; the American Bar Association Journal; and a number of other newsletters and individual pieces of literature. The National Federation of the Blind is by far the largest publisher of information about blindness in the world.

From our Materials Center we distribute aids, appliances, and literature. Our NFB canes, lightweight and strong, have come to be recognized as the world standard. In the past twelve months we have distributed over 7,000 cane tips. We have also continued to distribute literature at a record rate. We have shipped over thirteen thousand of our new Diabetics Division brochure, almost 700,000 What is the National Federation of the Blind, more than 350,000 Do You Know a Blind Person, and a number of other materials. Almost 25,000 different aids and appliances have been sent, and the total of all items distributed from the Materials Center since last year is almost two million. In April, 1992, we released a new book entitled What You Should Know About Blindness, Services for the Blind, and the Organized Blind Movement. In the first two months that it has been available, more than five thousand copies have been sent to provide information about blindness and the organized blind movement. This large print pocket-sized book is the best general information quick reference guide about blindness available.

In 1975 the National Federation of the Blind completed the organizing of affiliates in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. In 1992 an additional affiliate was added to the roll. We welcome to the family of the Federation the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico.

The blind of America have been traveling to the National Center for the Blind, the nerve center of programs and activities in the blindness system, for the past decade and a half. Increasingly, agency representatives, government officials, and those considering a career in programs for the blind have also been coming. In October of last year Dr. William Wiener, the president of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, brought his class of orientation and mobility students from Western Michigan University to visit the National Center for the Blind and to interact with Federation members and leaders. The directors of publishing houses for the blind, state agencies for the blind, schools for the blind, and federal programs have also come. The National Center for the Blind is ideal for such interaction, but the reason they come is the imagination and spirit which they find. The National Center for the Blind is a symbol as well as a superb physical plant. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan had the wisdom to imagine such a Center and the talent and energy to focus resources on its acquisition and development. Now that the Center is in place, it is easy to see how much it is needed. The same is true of the largest gathering of blind people in the nation, the convention of the National Federation of the Blind.

Much of our work is done in meetings and by telephone, but there is also the mail. We receive thousands of letters a year. Many of them are routine, but there are many which contain the very essence of the reason for the National Federation of the Blind. The diabetic mother who is becoming blind writes to ask for help because she can no longer have children of her own, and she is convinced that her growing loss of sight prevents her from adopting. A woman whose father has become blind tells us she is glad we exist because her father has given up hope, and she needs our support in bringing him to believe he can use his talents again. A sighted seventh-grader who writes for the school newspaper and has read our Kernel book What Color is the Sun wants to interview a blind student for the paper. She says: "I want to show everybody that blind people are just like everybody else. I figure if we start showing everybody the truth now, we will have fewer problems. Remember we are the future." Then there are those who in writing (sometimes without even knowing it) express their fear and shame about blindness, but there are fewer of these than there used to be. We try to address each of the problems, and we do our best to help.

Whether it is a blind parent seeking to adopt a child, a mother trying to find an educational opportunity for a blind student, a blind high school graduate seeking the chance for a college education, a blind adult looking for a job, or a blind senior citizen seeking the means and the understanding to remain active and involved in the community, we are there. With our publications in almost every field, with our chapter meetings in almost every city, with our support groups in virtually every profession and calling, we are able to give the advice and encouragement that are needed.

As President of this dynamic nationwide organization, I have had the good fortune to be with thousands of you during the course of the year. There are certainly problems—some of them large and complex. But we have the organization; we have the means of collecting the resources; and most important of all, we have the spirit that is required. It will not be easy—the simple things are for those who do not share our commitment, our dedication. The ignorance about blindness is ancient; the misunderstandings we face are widespread; and the misconceptions about us are great. Nevertheless, I have met with you, the members of this organization, in meetings all over the nation in our hundreds and thousands. I have shared with you our hopes, our disappointments, our realities, and our dreams. And I know—I am certain—that there is nothing on Earth that can stop us or hold us back. We have the courage, the gentleness, the practical good sense, the willingness to work—and we have the boldness to dream of the time when the problems we face will be no more. This is the promise and the reality of the National Federation of the Blind—and this is my report to you.

Back to Top
Updated: March 14, 2002