National Federation of the Blind
DETROIT, MICHIGAN, JULY 4, 1994
by Marc Maurer
The activities of the National Federation of the Blind during the past year have been extensive and diversified. The change in the scope and breadth of our undertakings from the time we first organized has been dramatic. We have become much bigger, much more complex, and much more vigorously involved in a broad spectrum of endeavors than we were even as recently as a decade ago. The Federation might seem to be different from its former self to those who have known it only superficially, but our essential character as a nationwide movement of the blind working on a volunteer basis, along with our sighted colleagues and friends, has never altered. The spirit which is the driving force of our organization is as clear, as distinct, and as alive today as it was when our founder Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and those few other blind people established the Federation at Wilkes- Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940.
We are the blind, organized in every part of the nationthose who have recently become blind and those who have been blind for a long time; the older blind; the parents of blind children and the children themselves; those in the field of work with the blind; blind students; those blind people who are hunting employment and those who have employment (the teachers, the lawyers, the factory workers, the vending operators, the office employees, the farmers, the day laborers)volunteers from every level of society, from every ethnic background, from every kind of employment, and from every cultural setting. As we assemble in the largest gathering of blind people that will take place anywhere in our country this year (probably the largest that has ever taken place in the history of the world), our dedication is strong; our purpose is unified; and our mood is harmonious.
A few weeks before this convention, the television program "Jeopardy!" asked us to verify that the National Federation of the Blind initiated White Cane Safety Day. This day was first established in 1964 by Congressional resolution, which had been introduced at the request of the National Federation of the Blind to encourage official public recognition of the white cane as a symbol of the right of blind people to be fully independent and to be an equal part of the community. National White Cane Safety Day and the National Federation of the Blind, we were told, would be included in the questioning on the "Jeopardy!" program. The white cane has sometimes been regarded as a mark of inferiority rather than an emblem of independence. The National Federation of the Blind is the vehicle for gaining acceptance and recognition of this independence, and our message is being carried, even on the "Jeopardy!" program.
It is vital that an in-depth understanding of the real meaning of blindness be internalized in the thinking of society. Our publications, especially our Kernel BooksWhat Color is the Sun, As the Twig Is Bent, The Freedom Bell, Making Hay, The Journey, Standing on One Foot, and soon When the Blizzard Blowsare among the most powerful tools that have ever been created for illustrating the innate normality and ability of blind people. Not all families in the United States have one of our Kernel Books, but an increasing number do. Since our last convention we have distributed over four hundred thousand of themapproximately fifty million pages of information about what we are and what we are doing. Blindness is not the crippling malady that many people think it is. Our Kernel Books are disseminating a positive understanding about blindness.
The Kernel Books are not our only method of public education. There are the radio and television spots which we have transmitted by satellite to thousands of stations this year for broadcast to the homes of an estimated hundred million people. There are the news and information programs on television which have featured prominently the work of the National Federation of the Blind, including NBC's "Today Show." Our television appearances have numbered more than fifteen hundred in the last twelve months. There have also been more than five thousand newspaper articles about us.
Paul Kay is a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and a dedicated member and supporter of the Federation. He and I were interviewed on the Larry King radio program last winter about the programs of the Federation and our efforts to gain equal opportunity.
For most of recorded history blindness has been synonymous with disadvantage, isolation, and inability to compete. However, we are changing that mistaken image one article, one mailing, one book, one public service announcement, one television appearance, one radio program, and one daily life of a Federationist at a time. The combined impact of all of this public education is immeasurable and sweeping. The new understanding throughout the nation is not yet complete, but we are getting there.
More and more the influence of the National Federation of the Blind is being felt not only in the United States but in other parts of the world as well. A letter which came to us this spring requests permission to translate into the Russian language Dr. Kenneth Jernigan's banquet address entitled "Blindness: The Pattern of Freedom." This request came from the City Library for the Blind of St. Petersburg, Russia. If you want to know about the real meaning of blindness, look for our literature in the libraries. From Boise to Baltimore, from San Francisco to St. Petersburg, you can look us up in the library.
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan serves as President Emeritus of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. Our participation in international meetings during the past year has provided unprecedented opportunities for interaction with organizations of and for the blind and with blind individuals throughout the world.
At a meeting of the World Blind Union Executive Committee in Melbourne, Australia, held earlier this year, Dr. Jernigan learned that the birthplace of Louis Braille, the blind Frenchman who invented the Braille system more than a hundred and fifty years ago, had been closed to the public because of needed repairs. This historic structure, now a museum, must be saved. Louis Braille gave us literacy, which opened to our minds the great panoply of learning. Joining people and organizations from many parts of the world, we in the United States committed ourselves to provide leadership and financial support in the restoration of the museum. Dr. and Mrs. Jernigan traveled to Coupvray, France, to visit the Louis Braille home to examine the condition of the building and to discuss renovations. They carried with them the initial gift from the blind of the United States$10,000.
Dr. Jernigan stood on the threshold of the Louis Braille home and spoke for the blind of the United States. While he was there, in the place where the system of writing for the blind was invented, he reached back in spirit to touch the events of a former timeto be at one with the creator of the Braille systemand he reached forward to a time when Braille literacy will be available not only for five or ten or fifteen percent of blind people, but for all of us. The commitment that we reaffirmed forty miles outside of Paris in Coupvray, France, is that we will never forget our heritage. We will never relinquish the right of the blind to meaningful education, the right to full participation in society, the right to equalityin short, the right to read.
Several years ago we initiated a nationwide Braille literacy campaign, which continues today. We drafted model legislation which declares that blind students have the right to learn Braille and that the school systems everywhere in the country must provide both Braille textbooks and instruction in Braille whenever this is warranted. Furthermore, textbook publishers wishing to sell materials in print to the school systems are required to provide an electronic copy of the text in a format that can be used by the school system to produce the book in Braille. Comprehensive Braille literacy statutes sponsored and promoted by the National Federation of the Blind have been adopted this year in New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Ohio, Georgia, and Colorado. This brings the number of states that have Braille literacy laws to twenty-five. We continue to fight for the introduction and passage of these bills, and we will not rest until every state has adopted our model law.
Braille literacy legislation was adopted in Wisconsin in 1992, but the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (along with a number of teachers of the blind who said they represented the Wisconsin Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired), decided to nullify the law by regulation. Although the clear language of the statute declares that teachers of the blind must be able to demonstrate their competence in reading and writing Braille, the proposed regulations to implement the law said otherwise. Teachers of the blind could receive certification, these proposed rules said, without demonstrating the ability to read and write Braille. A passing grade in a college course that dealt with the subject of Braille would be enough.
The blind were not buying it. We could not be bamboozled. Those who are supposed to teach Braille must know it. Led by Bonnie Peterson, the able President of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, the blind of that state gathered to protest. Members of the legislature were contacted; testimony was prepared; articles were written; and the experiences of blind men and women who had been denied the opportunity to learn Braille were recounted. On June 3, 1994, the regulations were finally completed. Those who seek certification as teachers of the blind in Wisconsin will be required to take and pass the National Literary Braille Competency Test administered by the Library of Congress. This would not have happened without the efforts of the organized blind. We know Braille works; we want the teachers of the blind in Wisconsin and elsewhere to know it too. And we intend to have something to say about what is in the curriculum.
Our Braille Literacy Training program is a joint effort between the National Federation of the Blind and the American Printing House for the Blind. In this program we are developing teaching materials which incorporate the experience of competent educators and literate blind persons. Those lessons go beyond the formal academic setting to our daily lives. Although an eminently sensible idea, this approach to the study of Braille is completely novel. Sometimes blind people have taught each other to read. Sometimes teachers of the blind have done it. In our Braille Literacy Training program, the teachers and the blind are working cooperatively, both in the teaching of the skill and in the development of the materials to be used in the classes. Is there any doubt that expanded literacy for blind readers will be the result? Of course not.
In 1991 the first U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind was convened at the National Center for the Blind. It was an historic meeting because, for the first time, every major organization of and for the blind in the United States and Canada participated. Hosted by the National Federation of the Blind, the Second U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind occurred in the fall of 1993. This meeting was even more far-reaching than the first had been. Cooperative interaction among producers of technology, service providers, and blind consumers stimulates accelerated development of new products and innovative technology for the blind. The Second U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind was an overwhelming success, and we are pleased to have been able to host and chair it. Its value can be seen in both the new attitudes and the new technology that are now emerging.
The proceedings of this conference were printed in the January, 1994, issue of the Braille Monitor, which has received broad distribution. One indication of the value of this conference is contained in a letter from the Executive Officer of the United States District Court for the Central District of California to the Assistant Director of the Administrative Office for the entire federal court system. The letter says:
The enclosed magazine, titled Braille Monitor, is a publication of the National Federation of the Blind. A management analyst from the Bankruptcy Court, Donovan Cooper, sent me a copy of the publication. The contents focus on the subject of twenty-first-century technology for the blind.
I thought you might wish to share this publication with appropriate members of your division staff that might be called upon to address hardware/technology issues for special needs court personnel.
Besides being a very talented statistician [the letter continues], Mr. Cooper is extraordinarily active in the blind community and knowledgeable of the issues challenging the non-sighted in the work force.
Mr. Cooper would be an excellent court resource if the need arises.
This letter shows what can be done when we use the resources that we have. Throughout the entire administrative structure of the federal court system, the resource in matters dealing with blindness is the organized blind movement, the National Federation of the Blind.
In conjunction with the Second U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind, we opened the newly renovated and expanded International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. After this major upgrade, the IBTC consists of a main display hall two-and-a-half times as large as the area previously used, an office for the director, ten additional offices, conference facilities, a kitchen, a pantry, space for a museum, an office for the museum director, and a maintenance area. The construction in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind is typical of what we have done and continue to do at the National Center for the Blind. The interior walls are over six inches thick, made of paneling over heavy-duty dry wall for extra strength. In this one operation we used 33,728 square feet of paneling and over a hundred thousand pounds of dry wall.
The main display hall of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, which is truly the gem of the renovated area, has a number of custom-designed features. More than sixteen hundred square feet of built-in desk-top space is available to display the technology. Forty-four electrical circuits feed over six hundred different outlets for the approximately one hundred and seventy-five technological products now on display.
We have installed thirty-one new products and upgraded thirty-five others this year. These include five Braille embossers, six Braille translators, six speech synthesizers, sixteen screen review programs (three of which are for Microsoft Windows), five refreshable Braille displays, two money identifiers, one color identifier, two telecommunications devices for the deaf-blind, one note taker, six stand-alone reading machines or PC-based reading systems, a number of software packages, and several new computers to operate these devices, as well as associated peripherals, cables, connectors, and related material.
I emphasize that all of what I have mentioned has been added during the past year. It is in addition to the main body of technology that we already had in place. The added value of this new technology represents a great deal of money, but it represents an even greater asset to the blind of our country and the world. The replacement cost for our technological products is approaching two million dollars. This, of course, does not count the value of the structural upgrade, the furniture, and the built-in desks and circuitry.
When we opened the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind in 1990 on our fiftieth birthday, we undertook a tremendous task. We said that we would get and keep current a truly awesome collection of technology. We would provide (for examination, study, and evaluation) at least one of every device for producing hard copy and refreshable Braille being made anywhere in the world, and we would do the same for speech-producing devices. We would do likewise for reading machines that would convert the printed page to spoken words, and we would also keep current on other devices, such as money identifiers, communication devices for the deaf-blind, and calculators.
The pledge that we made to ourselves and the world in 1990 has been kept. No other comparable collection of technology has ever been assembled, and regardless of the cost we will continue the program and keep the technology current. The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind serves as a testing and learning center for manufacturers of devices for the blind, for educators and administrators, for governmental officials, for employers, for the general public, and (by no means least) for the blind themselves both here and abroad. Technology is being built. We will collect it; we will help design it; we will help distribute it; and we will work to see that it truly serves the needs of the blindthe purpose for which it was created in the first place.
Our computer bulletin board service, NFB NET, continues to expand. More than 8,000 calls were made to the board during the past year. Approximately 500 new users registered with the service. Discussions of blindness and the National Federation of the Blind are not only carried on NFB NET but are also distributed through our bulletin board service to almost 250 other bulletin boards. In addition to the Braille Monitor, Future Reflections, and a wide variety of other NFB literature, our bulletin board carries substantial collections of computer information, electronic magazines, reference materials, computer programs, and electronic copies of classical literature. Some of the books we have on the bulletin board are the writings of Aristotle, Aristophanes, Confucius, Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burrows, and Mark Twain. To handle all of this information we have increased our telephone lines and obtained a new, faster computer, with lots of memory and multi-gigabytes.
Because we are the organized blind, we serve as a watchdog over programs for the blind. At times this role causes certain agencies and institutions to feel uneasiness, or worse. However, more and more of the agencies in the blindness field are coming to recognize the positive value of this function and are working with us. Cooperation is growing among agencies and organizations dealing with the blind. In March of this year Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our President Emeritus and the most prolific writer and brilliant philosopher in the field of work with the blind, was invited to make a keynote address to the American Foundation for the Blind's Josephine Taylor Leadership Institute. This invitation is one more indication of the shifting emphasis and balances in the blindness field. It is a signpost on the road of progress which we are traveling. Not all of the disagreements between the organized blind and the agencies serving the blind are at an end, but there is now a mechanism for handling disagreements and a climate to make it possible.
Along these lines it should be noted that we went with three other groups last fall to meet with Judy Heumann, the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. The meeting was harmonious and resulted in positive outcomes. It is illustrative of an increasing number of joint activities that we are undertaking.
There have been many legal cases this year. Our files indicate that in the course of our history we have assisted blind people in over eleven hundred legal matters. A number of them were actively pursued during the last twelve months.
Carol Ducote has served as an assistant principal at Brunswick High School in Glynn County, Georgia, for eight years. She became blind during the 1992-93 school year but continued to perform her duties. Evaluations of her performance indicate that she is competent at handling her job.
A year ago Carol Ducote was told by the school district superintendent not to return to work in the fall of 1993 because she was blind. The superintendent's directive was, of course, a violation of the law. The school system had offered this blind teacher a contract for the 1993-94 school year, and she intended to fulfil it. Carol Ducote contacted leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia, and we in the National Office also assisted with the case. At a meeting in mid-November last fall, we told the school board that their choices were simpleeither Carol Ducote could be returned to her position as an assistant principal, or the National Federation of the Blind would go with her to federal court. The school board did not take long to make up its mind. Within a week Carol Ducote was back at work. She completed her assignments for the school year that has just ended, and she has signed a new contract for the one that is about to begin. Blindness didn't stop her, and we didn't let prejudice stop her either.
Richard Stanley had been a police officer for the city of Winter Haven, Florida, before he lost his sight. Although he had become blind in the line of duty, he was denied disability benefits through the police department because the officers in charge of disability payments concluded that Richard Stanley was not blind. The evidence for this conclusion is contained on a videotape which shows Richard Stanley trimming his shrubbery. Blind people, so the argument went, cannot trim shrubbery, so Richard Stanley must be faking it. We explained the facts to the pension board and assisted in gathering evidence to establish the nature of the injury that resulted in disability. Richard Stanley is now receiving benefits, and he can trim his shrubbery in peace.
For several years Geneva Teagarden worked at Foley's department store in Fort Worth, Texas. A year ago, before she became blind, Geneva Teagarden had been one of the most valuable employees at Foley's. When she reported her blindness to store management, they asked her to retire. But Geneva Teagarden did not want to retire. She felt that she had much to contribute, but she needed training in the alternative skills of blindness. We helped her arrange for the Texas Commission for the Blind to send her to our Louisiana Center for the Blind, where she is presently a student. We also assisted her to secure a leave of absence. She can return to her job at Foley's in December. The training is essential, but so is the job, and so is the part played by the National Federation of the Blind. Geneva Teagarden is succeeding because of the collective efforts of all of us, because of the National Federation of the Blind.
Eric Baenen is a twenty-nine-year-old blind man living in North Dakota. He has been trying for many years to get financial assistance from the state rehabilitation agency to help him go to college. Last winter, when his plans for attending school were disapproved because the rehabilitation agency told him there was only money for priority cases and that he wasn't one, he contacted the National Federation of the Blind to find out what could be done. On a Friday afternoon we communicated with the North Dakota office of rehabilitation to insist that the long years of waiting come to an end. By the following Monday the decision of the agency had changed. Eric Baenen received his chance to go to school with full funding for tuition and related services.
In the name of providing equal access to education, a number of universities have established an office for assisting disabled students. Sheila Ritchhart (formerly Sheila Hall) discovered while she was attending Indiana University that she could not make her own arrangements for taking tests, planning schedules, and arranging for readers. The office for disabled students did that, she was told. And in addition this office routinely scheduled special psychological examinations for blind students as a part of the intake process. Sheila objected to having the disabled students' office arrange her life for her, and she most certainly objected to having to take special and extra psychological tests. But the people who ran the disabled students' office told her that they knew best.
When, however, it became clear to decision makers at the University that the National Federation of the Blind was involved, attitudes changed. Sheila Ritchhart reports that the custodial policies have been dropped, not only for her but for others as well. Blind students now attend their classes and take their tests without interference, and there are no special psychological examinations because of blindness. As a tangible demonstration of the responsiveness of Indiana University, officials from the Office of Adaptive Educational Services, including the director, Pamela King, are with us at this conventionand so is Sheila Ritchhart.
Last year I reported to you on the case of Henrietta Brewer, a blind child-care provider living here in Michigan. When she applied to the Michigan Department of Social Services for a license to provide child care, the application was deniedbecause blind people (they said) cannot safely provide this service. With our help Henrietta Brewer filed a complaint, charging the licensing department with discrimination. The Justice Department has now issued its decision. The denial of the day-care license violated federal law. Blind people can care for children. Henrietta Brewer knows it; we know it; the Justice Department knows it; and the Michigan Department of Social Services is learning it.
In the fall of 1992 Monica Horodenski, a blind student, was finishing her work for a teaching degree at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. One of the requirements for the degree is successful student teaching. The supervising professor for student teaching failed Monica Horodenski because the professor believed that a blind teacher could not assure the safety of the students in the class or adequately supervise them. All other courses were completed satisfactorily. The only bar to the teaching license was this one student teaching course. We have assisted Monica Horodenski with an appeal. The matter has now been resolved. Monica Horodenski will have the opportunity to demonstrate her competence in a setting which will measure her abilities without prejudice. Edinboro University will pay the tab, not only for the student teaching course but also for her living arrangements. She will have the chance to succeed or fail according to her ability, her ingenuity, and her willingness to work. That is all she asks. That is all we ask. It is all we ever ask for. It is all we want, in this or any other case. I have every confidence that Monica Horodenski will get her teaching credential.
Four years ago Scott LaBarre, Curtis Chong, and several other Federationists in Minnesota decided to challenge the so-called safety policies of Valleyfair Amusement Park, which declared that blind visitors must be accompanied by a responsible adult or be denied boarding on the rides and access to many areas of the park. A responsible adult, according to Valleyfair Amusement Park, is anybody who is at least four feet tall, as long as that person can see. In most places being an adult means attaining the age of majoritytwenty-one, or at least eighteen. But not at Valleyfair. Age has nothing to do with itit is length that matters. Four feet tall, and you're in. Do they measure them with or without their shoes, I wonder?
A complaint was filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, and the decision has now been rendered. The Valleyfair policy concerning blind people exists no more. We are welcome to visit the park and to ride the rides on the same terms and conditions as others. There are no longer any special rules or procedures for the blind. The four-foot theory has been abandoned. Because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind, Valleyfair Amusement Park is a good deal more amusing and a lot more fair.
About fifteen years ago the National Federation of the Blind introduced white canes for blind children. Although it had been the popular wisdom in rehabilitation circles that cane travel should be taught only to adults, canes for children soon became extremely popularbecause they work. In the fall of 1992 the parents of Linda Perez Delker asked school officials in South Dakota to teach cane travel to their seven-year-old blind daughter. Officials responded that this was not appropriate, that a pre-cane travel aid should be used, and that Linda Perez Delker would not be permitted to have a cane with her at school. The Delkers requested an independent evaluation, but the school district refused.
This did not stop the Delkers. They know Karen Mayry, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota, and they have become part of the Federation family. A Federation member provided private lessons to Linda. Prior to her using a white cane, Linda would not venture off the front porch. After she had learned to use it, this little girl traveled independently outside her home both on her parents' property and in public places. Yet she was refused the opportunity to carry her cane at school, to use it on the school grounds, or to receive further instruction. We helped with the appeal, and the decision has now been reached. The independent evaluation has been completed. It shows that Linda should be using a white cane. This blind student will be receiving the cane travel instruction she needs in school because of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind.
We have assisted a number of blind vendors during the year. Two years ago Paul Howard, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana, was operating a vending facility at the main post office in Gary. In September of 1992 he was summarily ordered by the state rehabilitation agency to leave the facility because post office officials had requested his removal. There was no hearing, no discussion, no negotiationjust an order. With our help Paul Howard filed a complaint. The law is clear. A state agency is prohibited from removing a vendor unless there is just cause, and even then it cannot be done unless there has been a hearing to evaluate the rights of the vendor. The Paul Howard case took more than two years, but it has come to an end. The State of Indiana paid for improperly removing Paul Howard from the vending facility. In the meantime he has become a teacher in the Gary public schools, but he received the back pay which he had been deniedall $10,728.95 of it.
On several previous occasions I have reported on the Dennis Groshel case. He operates a vending facility located at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Although the Randolph-Sheppard Act grants to blind vendors an unequivocal priority to operate vending facilities on federal property, officials at the veterans hospital attempted to dismiss Dennis Groshel from the vending facility because he would not pay almost fifty percent of his income to the hospital. Working with the Minnesota attorney general's office, the Minnesota rehabilitation agency, and Dennis Groshel, we took legal steps to prevent this injustice. At each step in the proceedings, we received favorable rulings, but the Department of Veterans Affairs continued to balk.
On March 11, 1994, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled decisively on the Groshel case. The Randolph-Sheppard Act, they said, does apply to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Cloud. Dennis Groshel is secure in his vending facility. This decision also applies to many other veterans medical centers. It is likely that the ruling of the court will be precedent-setting for the nation. This ruling has already been followed in an arbitration in Maryland. The decision of the arbitration panel was unanimous. Blind vendors are entitled to a priority in the operation of vending facilities in the veterans hospitals. It will not surprise you to learn that one of the arbitration panel members is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
In this past year we have continued to help blind people with Social Security claims. Marc Graff is a blind person living in Oregon. Three years ago he applied for Social Security disability benefits, but his claim was rejected because officials said he had not met eligibility requirements. However, these officials had not applied the special rules for the blind. The President of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, Carla McQuillan, with assistance from the National Office represented Marc Graff. In a hearing before an administrative law judge, she insisted that the special rules for blind applicants be applied. Marc Graff is now receiving monthly disability benefits, and he has received a back pay award of $34,764.20.
We continue to welcome visitors to the National Center for the Blind. The questions we are asked and the information we provide help to instill a greater understanding of blindness and bring a wider range of opportunity to blind people. More than twelve hundred people visited the National Center for the Blind this year, including visitors from Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Cyprus, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tobago, Uganda, and Ukraine.
There are also the ongoing activities of the Federation. We publish in print, in Braille, and in recorded form more literature about blindness than anyone else in the nation. In our recording studio we produce the master tapes for our magazinesthe Braille Monitor, Future Reflections, the Voice of the Diabetic, and a number of other publications. To ensure high quality for these publications, we have upgraded the recording equipment with a computer- driven studio audio digital editor. This is a word-processing system for sound. It can handle eight different tracks at one time. The computer screen displays the sound as a series of lines. Errors can be eliminated electronically; noise can be reduced; and alterations in volume, frequency, and pitch can be made by reshaping the lines. This is the same system being used by the British Broadcasting Company, Voice of America, and a number of music studios in Nashville.
From our Materials Center we have continued to distribute aids, appliances, and materials. There are now over 400 different kinds of aids and appliances and over 800 different publications. Included in these items are extra-long carbon fiber canesup to sixty-nine inches; jackets and t-shirts bearing the name and logo of the National Federation of the Blind; all of our Kernel Books; our general information publication, If Blindness Comes, which is the most comprehensive quick reference guide regarding blindness now available; our general information publication for the parents of blind children, Future Reflections, Introductory Issue; and a collection of special Christmas recordings. We are producing our catalogs of literature, and aids and appliances in large print, in Braille, and on computer disk. Within the last year we have shipped from the Materials Center two million separate items with a total weight of more than thirty-one tons.
Through our Job Opportunities for the Blind Program (JOB) we continue to assist blind people in finding employment. Because of our efforts more than a hundred blind people who were not employed last year are now reporting for work. The jobs of those who have been hired range from accountant to administrative assistant, from bill collector to busboy, from teacher to tool grinderand all of them are above the minimum wage.
Many thousands of calls come to the National Office of the Federation each year. Most are what might be called routine, but some are of special significance. Just before our last convention we received a series of calls from Connecticut. A child, Aaron McCullon, had been born to a blind couple, Tammy and Jim McCullon. But the baby was premature and small enough that he must wear a heart monitor. The blind parents requested information about how to handle the situation. The infant's grandmother called to ask about techniques used by blind parents. Officials at the hospital where the baby was born wanted to know whether blind parents can competently care for childrenespecially premature children. These officials at the hospital thought that the baby should be kept in the medical center to ensure proper care. If the baby were sent home, they believed that either a full-time nurse or the child's grandparents should, perhaps, live with the McCullons.
As it happens, this situation is not new. In 1984 my wife Patricia and I became the parents of a premature infant, David Patrick. He needed a heart monitor. When David Patrick was born, hospital officials wondered if we, his blind parents, Patricia and I, had the ability to care for hima tiny, premature infant. We didand we have. Our experience and understanding from the 1980's helped these blind parents in the 1990's. Aaron McCullon received his heart monitor and wore it home. His parents were the ones to bring him and to give him the care he needed. The heartache and pain of family separation never happened. The support, the information, and the encouragement that these parents needed were readily provided. We in the National Federation of the Blind showed the officials at the hospital that blind parents have as much ability to care for their children as sighted parents. Having the right to raise our familiesthis, too, is why we have organized.
As I consider the activities of the National Federation of the Blind during the past year, I have every confidence in our future. The problems we face are manygaining an education, finding recognition, attaining equal treatment, changing the negative attitudes of the public about blindness, and finding enough money to finance it all. All of these demand our attention. Our goal is nothing short of altering the beliefs and modifying the behavior of the entire society. The administrators of programs for the blind, the educators, the hospital officials, the government personnel, and the sighted public must come to accept a new belief and a new understanding.
And we must accept it toowe who are blind. We must grow in it, embrace it, and live it with increasing fullness every day. The task ahead of us is monumental. But so is our need and so is our determination. We have a pact with each other, you as members and I as President. You have the right to expect from me that I will give all that I possess in the way of ability and work and commitment to this organization; that I will stand in the front line where danger threatens and not ask you to take more risks than I am prepared to take or make more sacrifices than I am willing to make; that I will lead with firmness, make decisions, and stand by those decisions. And I have the right to expect certain things from youyour work to make our programs possible, your unified support to give our policies strength and credibility, and your trust to make my presidency viable. These things we have the right to expect from each other; but there is something more, something which cannot be demanded but which is the essential ingredient that makes us what we are, that binds us together as a family, a movement, and a power. It is the love and care we have for each other. Let us lose that love, and we lose more than political strength. We lose our organizational soul, our right to be called a movement. But let us keep our love for each other, and no force on earth can stand against us. And, of course, we will keep it.
We have kept faith with the founders of our movement and with the tens of thousands of members who have joined through the decades. We have pledged to support each other, and we have promised that the commitment and dedication which come to us from those who have made this organization what it is will remain unshakable. No matter what comes, I know as surely as I know the members of this organization that we will find the strength, gather the resources, and muster the spirit to meet the challenge. I am absolutely certain that we will gain equality and go the rest of the way to freedom. This is the meaning of the National Federation of the Blind. And this is my report to you for 1994.Back to Top