National Federation of the Blind
Dallas, Texas, July 7, 1998
by Marc Maurer
During the past twelve months the National Federation of the Blind has experienced unprecedented growth, and our leadership in matters dealing with blindness has expanded to an unparalleled level. Even with the accelerated pace of activity within the Federation, the essence of what we are remains the same. We continue to be the blind speaking and acting for ourselvesthe blind teachers, the blind lawyers, the blind merchants, the blind vendors, the blind students, the blind factory workers, the blind sheltered shop employees, the blind musicians, the blind members of religious communities, the blind government employees, the parents of blind children, and othersthose blind people who are unemployed, those who have recently become blind, those who are in rehabilitation facilities, and all others who believe in the innate capacity and normality of the blind. We are the people of the organized blind movement.
The work of the National Federation of the Blind continues to be recognized for outstanding leadership both within the field of work with the blind and elsewhere. Several years ago Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, President Emeritus of the National Federation of the Blind, wrote an article entitled "The Pitfalls of Political Correctness." This article has been reprinted many times. This spring we received a request from the Harcourt Brace College Publishing Company to include it in a college-level textbook by Jane McGrath entitled Point/Counterpoint. The thinking, the philosophy, and the leadership of Dr. Jernigan will be included in college courses throughout the United States and in a number of other countries.
On Wednesday, April 22, 1998, the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind awarded the first lifetime achievement award ever given by that organization. Jamie Hilton, President of the Council, said: "In recognition of more than four decades of exceptional leadership, advocacy, and unwavering dedication to promoting the capabilities and fortifying respect for the rights of individuals who are blind worldwide; in celebration of the life of one who embodies the attributes of courage, spirit, and devotion. Know the manknow the legend." With those words the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind presented its award to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.
For many years Dr. Jernigan has served as our representative in international programs dealing with blindness. Last summer, shortly after the close of our convention, Dr. Jernigan traveled to Sao Paolo, Brazil, to present the keynote address at the convention of the International Conference on the Education of the Visually Handicapped, the world body concerned with the education of the blind. The address was delivered before an audience of more than a thousand representatives from countries throughout the world. It has already induced a substantial increase in cooperation among organizations dealing with blindness.
As Federation members know, Dr. Jernigan has served as President of the World Blind Union, North America/Caribbean Region, for the past dozen years. For health reasons he resigned last fall, and I was elected President. In this capacity I have participated this spring in meetings of the officers of the World Blind Union held in Madrid, Spain. Our continued membership in this world organization provides us information and opportunity for interaction which we would not otherwise possess. We do what we can to provide educational materials, and we are always anxious to learn from our colleagues in other nations.
Last summer, shortly after the close of our convention, I was filmed for a program called "Cultural Affairs." This program describes in brief the work of the National Federation of the Blind. Most people begin with a fear of blindness. However, when this fear is overcome, the abilities possessed by the blind are revealed. Blindness cannot stop us, but the mistaken attitudes about blindness canif we let them. This "Cultural Affairs" program shows me teaching a blind man from Cyprus how to cut wood with a chain saw. He is a reporter for a newspaper there. He came to the Federation to learn about computer technology. We recognized that teaching him to use a chain saw would enhance his skill in the use of the computer. It would show him that the limitations which he had thought might prevent him from engaging in a broad range of activity have been overstated. With imagination and a proper understanding of blindness, these limitations can be overcome.
A year ago, as we gathered at our National Convention, we had become aware that the Walt Disney Company was planning to release a new movie featuring the clumsy, bumbling, almost blind character Mr. Magoo. We adopted a resolution opposing the production of the film and calling upon the Walt Disney Company to scrap it. Disney responded to our resolution by telling the members of the press that Magoo was not blindonly nearsightedand that the film was only a comedy, offered in good fun, so how could anybody object? Of course there have always been jokes about blindness, but most of them are not funny to the blind. Blind people do not (as Magoo does) speak to the coat rack, thinking it is a person, or pat the top of a fire plug, thinking it is the head of a small child. The problem with the portrayal is that the misunderstanding of blindness is accentuated by Magoo, and blind people are hurt by the experience. Some blind people have been spat upon; some have been kicked; and many have been the butt of this so-called humor. This is the legacy for us of Mr. Magoo, along with a substantial measure of misunderstanding and lost opportunity.
After our convention the magazine Entertainment Weekly in its July 18th column called "Jim Mullen's Hot Sheet: What the Country Is Talking About This Week" said that one of the top stories was Mr. Magoo and the National Federation of the Blind. We stayed among the top stories week after week in Entertainment Weekly, on radio talk shows, in newspaper columns, and on television. The coverage continued until the beginning of 1998. Sometimes the National Federation of the Blind was portrayed as a bunch of ridiculous malcontents, and sometimes we were represented as a group trying to protect the blind against the power of a giant, the Walt Disney Company. The ABC program "20/20" of October 9, 1997, interviewed me and described the Mr. Magoo controversy as a foolish argument instigated by the blind for no valuable purpose. It's only a joke, they said. The blind, they thought, would be an admirable target for the so-called humor.
The CBS program "Public Eye" of November 12, 1997, carried a segment entitled "Laugh until It Hurts." Three Federation leaders, Joanne Wilson, Barbara Pierce, and I, told the viewing audience about the damage the Magoo image has done to the prospects of blind children and blind adults. The commentator got the point. He summed it up by saying that, if it's unfair to tell jokes about Jews or members of other minority groups, it's just as unfair to make fun of the blind.
In the meantime a senior vice president from Walt Disney came to the National Center for the Blind several times to negotiate. When the Magoo film appeared on Christmas Day, 1997, it contained a statement that the film was not intended to be an accurate portrayal of blindness or blind people and that we who are blind can lead productive lives. In addition to the statement the Disney Company made in its film, senior officials have indicated that they want to support the National Federation of the Blind. They have told us that they are prepared to assist us in a number of ways, including letting people know about our programs.
When the Magoo film appeared in the theaters, it lasted only a few days. Our objection to its release helped the public to give it the proper perspective, and it received the reception it deserved.
Last August we created the Technology Department of the National Federation of the Blind. This part of the organization considers existing technology and works to develop additional applications for it. It also explores the development of new technology and coordinates all of our efforts in this direction.
One of our most innovative and exciting programs is the NEWSLINE for the BlindŽ network, which reads newspapers to the blind over touch-tone telephones. This service has expanded substantially. Since last year additional NEWSLINEŽ local service centers have been established in Hartford, Connecticut;
Los Angeles, California; Montgomery County, Marylandjust outside the District of Columbia; New Brunswick, New Jersey; New York City; Huntington, West Virginia; Madison, Wisconsin;
Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and Seattle, Washington. There are currently forty-three local service centers in the United States and Canada, and we are exploring establishment of NEWSLINEŽ local service centers in a number of other countries.
The six national newspapers and seventeen local papers now being offered by NEWSLINEŽ will soon be joined by the Wall Street Journal. A satellite dish has been installed at the National Center for the Blind to receive daily feeds from that paper.
An outgrowth of the NEWSLINEŽ technology is America's JoblineŽ system, which provides tens of thousands of employment listings to job seekers by touch-tone telephone. We have completed final development and testing of this system and established the first local service center in Maryland. We anticipate that a majority of the states will have America's JoblineŽ within the next year. The JoblineŽ technology will benefit not only blind people but also anybody else who wants to search for jobs by telephone.
Access to information over the World Wide Web continues to be a major focus. Through our Technology Department we are providing leadership in Web accessibility. Guidelines for constructing accessible Web sites are now available on our own Web site or in print from the Technology Department. These guidelines offer substantive direction to Webpage designers to make information on the Web fully accessible to the blind.
Curtis Chong, Director of the Technology Department of the National Federation of the Blind, has been designated as our representative to participate in ongoing discussions with the Microsoft Corporation about accessibility to its programs such as Windows and other graphics-based applications. Last February Mr. Chong attended a two-day meeting on accessibility held at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft has committed to assign an increased number of staff members to the task of making its programming accessible to the blind. Furthermore, it has also promised to work more closely with us, and it is sending a representative to this convention.
In conjunction with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), we are participating in the development of standards for the digital talking book, the replacement for books on tape now being offered by the Library. This effort is being coordinated by the National Information Standards Organization. A document describing the text-navigation features that we hope will be incorporated in the most sophisticated digital talking book machine is now available for review and comment from our Technology Department or from NLS.
Of course we continue to maintain the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. This center contains at least one of every device of which we are aware that is being manufactured anywhere in the world to provide access to information through voice, through Braille, or through refreshable Braille. During the past twelve months we have purchased or upgraded four electronic note takers, six refreshable Braille displays, six optical character recognition software packages, two screen readers for Microsoft Windows NT, six screen readers for Windows 95, six Braille embossers, four stand-alone reading machines, two digital talking book machines, three voice-recognition programs, one tactile mouse, four software synthesizers, five hard-wired speech synthesizers, two Braille-translation programs, four screen-enlargement programs, and one color identifier. We have also purchased for use with these software packages ten additional Pentium-class computers. In the International Braille and Technology Center we now have ten Internet work stations, using a variety of screen-reading software programs, Web-browsers, refreshable Braille displays, and Braille printers.
The Federation is helping train people in the use of technology for the blind. There is a tremendous need for this skill, and we are attempting to meet the need. Within the last year we have taught more than a dozen classes in information technology for the blind to rehabilitation professionals, parents of blind children, teachers of the blind, and blind individuals. And in the year to come we expect that the number of these classes will increase. Nowhere else on earth are there, collected in one place, the hardware, the programs, and the talent required to offer the kinds of classes we are able to give.
For the past few years we have maintained a substantial portion of the extensive body of literature of the Federation on the Internet. Our goal is to create the best possible research library on blindness. During the past year we have provided more than 365,000 pages of information to more than 98,000 people. The number of people who have asked for information has more than tripled in the last year. We have provided information to people from eighty different countries, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Bermuda, British West Indies, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.
Last year we prepared a model Braille bill to be used in states to require equal access to information for the blind. This model legislation declares that technology purchased by the states must be constructed to afford equivalent non-visual access to information. Technology bills have already been adopted in Texas, Minnesota, and Maryland. We will continue to work until this principle has become law in every state. Manufacturers of information technology are capable of producing very complex systems to present information in Technicolor and Surround Sound for the sighted. They must not exclude the blind, and we will see that they do not.
Last December the Governor's Office of the state of Maryland sponsored a Maryland Technology Showcase to bring attention to the most innovative technologies being invented in the state. The National Federation of the Blind demonstrated America's JoblineŽ, the national NEWSLINEŽ network for the blind, and other computer access technologies. Over eight thousand people attended the Showcase. The kick-off ceremony of the Showcase was the initial breakfast attended by the most prominent technology developers. At that breakfast the Governor of the state of Maryland praised the National Federation of the Blind for its innovative information-access programs. Immediately following this presentation I addressed the gathering and presented Maryland's Governor with an engraved National Federation of the Blind mug.
The National Federation of the Blind is working closely with the International Braille Research Center for the Blind in cooperation with the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to build a tactile image printer. This three-year project will create a multi-level tactile graphics printer suitable for topographic presentations and other similar applications. One element of this undertaking is the creation of a set of principles to be used in editing pictures and graphics so that the essence of these images is retained and presented in a way that can be understood. Dr. T.V. Cranmer, the Director of Research for the National Federation of the Blind, has planned this project and will be directing it.
Dr. Cranmer was featured last March on the CBS program "Sixty Minutes," as the best-known inventor of products for the blind in the United States. CBS told the nation that he is the Thomas Edison of the blindness field.
On an increasing basis we receive calls from the press wanting to know our position on issues relating to technology and other matters dealing with blindness. In just the last few months we have been quoted extensively in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Wall Street Journal, and a number of computer magazines.
We have also been involved in a number of legal cases on behalf of blind people during the last year. Dennis Groshel operates a vending facility at a Department of Veterans Affairs installation in St. Cloud, Minnesota. More than ten years ago the Department of Veterans Affairs decided to take the facility away from Dennis Groshel. This was a violation of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, but the Department of Veterans Affairs was unimpressed when we asked them to obey the law. There was no choice except to take the matter to court. After a number of proceedings we won the case. Then the Department of Veterans Affairs decided to install vending machines next to the vending facility operated by Dennis Groshel in direct competition with him. If they could not throw him out, they planned to drive him out. This, too, was a violation of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, but the Department of Veterans Affairs did it anyway. We went back to court, and once again we won. Dennis Groshel could continue to earn his livelihood in the vending program.
Last fall we asked the Federal Court to review the case and make a determination that the actions of the Department of Veterans Affairs regarding Dennis Groshel had been without foundation. This would entitle Dennis Groshel to an award of attorney's fees. Of course the National Federation of the Blind had been assisting throughout the case with technical support and financial backing. We paid the lawyers. In November of 1997 we received a check for the attorneys' fees in the amount of $47,219.91.
Of the federal agencies that resist the blind vendor priority under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, none is more openly hostile than the Department of Veterans Affairs. Last fall the Department tried to have Congress adopt a provision of law dealing with food service concessions which would give the Department exclusive control over all vending operations in veterans facilities and eliminate the priority of blind vendors under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. The bill including this provision was scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives under suspension of the rules, which meant that it could not be amended.
We learned about the plan late Friday afternoon, October 3, 1997. The vote would occur Monday afternoon, October 6. When Congressional offices opened on Monday morning, the odds against changing the bill were overwhelming, but this has never stopped the Federation. Calls came flooding into the Capitol, but Congressional staff members informed us that the scheduled bill could not be changed. When it passed later that day, the provision dealing with food service had been deleted. The organized blind had accomplished what many said could not be done. This is the power of the National Federation of the Blind.
We have supported amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which funds the federal/state program that pays for training and employment services for the blind and other handicapped. Bills which have been adopted by the Senate and the House of Representatives strengthen provisions regarding client choice, declare that those who receive Social Security benefits are eligible for rehabilitation, and increase access to electronic information technology. We have worked closely with the Rehabilitation Services Administration on the amendments to the Rehabilitation Act.
I reported to you last year that the Federation had assisted three blind law school applicants, Ross Kaplan, Latonya Phipps, and Shannon Dillon, in bringing a lawsuit in the federal court against the Law School Admissions Council because this testing service would not permit them to use their own readers or even take Braille notes during the Law School Admission Test. This test is one of the requirements for entrance into law school. Sighted applicants may take all the notes they want, but the blind were prohibited.
After months of legal maneuvering and negotiation, the case has been settled. Blind applicants for the test will select from a pool of readers until they find one of acceptable quality. And, of course, we may take all the notes we please. The Law School Admissions Council thought the blind could conveniently be ignored. But we in the National Federation of the Blind believe that all people should obey the law, including the lawyers and administrators of the Law School Admissions Council.
Brad Carroll, living in Alabama, is the blind father of two small children. In a family court proceeding last March, he attempted to gain visitation rights. The court decreed that he was permitted to visit his own children only if they were in the presence and under the supervision of a non-disabled adult. Implicit in the order is the misguided belief that blindness prevents a father from supervising his own children and that it is necessary for the safety of the children that the court force a stranger into the family of a blind father. Such an order deprives blind parents of the rights and obligations associated with one of the most fundamental relationships there is.
We in the National Federation of the Blind are not prepared to surrender our rights, our love and affection for our children, and our dignity as human beings because of a misunderstanding about blindness. The president of our Alabama affiliate sought counsel from our national office and urged Brad Carroll to seek a reconsideration from the court. Blindness does not prevent a person from being a good father, and we asked the court to revise its order and remove the restriction.
The ruling in the court was not long in coming. The revised order declares that the blind father and his children need not be supervised by an able-bodied adult. Instead the supervision must be given by an able-bodied teenager. The order makes it perfectly clear that the judge believes blindness is synonymous with helplessness and inferiority. Even a teenager, says the court, is better able to care for children than their own father if he is blind. We have commenced an appeal. We came to this case late, but we are now a part of it, and we intend to win!
In the spring of 1997 Arthur Schreiber, President of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico, received a call from Sherrie Abraham, the mother of a blind boy named David who was not being taught by the school system to read and write Braille. She felt desperate because she had done all she could to get a decent education for her son, but it was not happening. Then the Federation offered assistance. Christine Hall, one of the leaders of our New Mexico affiliate, began tutoring David in Braille. An appeal was filed demanding that the Albuquerque Public School System evaluate David to get a realistic picture of the services he needed and that it act upon this evaluation. To prepare for the case, we helped to secure an independent assessment of David's educational abilities.
The case has now come to a conclusion. The school system is working closely with us to meet the needs of this blind student;
David is receiving classes in Braille; and the other recommendations that came from the evaluation are slowly being implemented. One more blind child is receiving an education. As Sherrie Abraham told us, it would not have happened without the support and sustained help of the National Federation of the Blind.
Rodney Botellho is a blind computer expert living in New Mexico. Something over a year ago he applied for a job as a database administrator with Software Research and Development, a contract database manager for the Wells Fargo Bank. He supplied documents showing his ability and answered all the questions they asked. He was offered the job, and he accepted.
All of this was done by telephone and mail. At the last moment Software Research and Development and the Wells Fargo Bank learned that Rodney Botellho is blind. Within twenty-four hours they had rescinded their job offer and rejected his application for employment. We helped him with an appeal. A settlement has now been reached. The Wells Fargo Bank will change its policies so that there is no more discrimination against the blind. Rodney Botellho will also receive a cash payment. I am requested not to disclose the amount, but I believe it would be fair to say that Rodney Botellho could soon be the proud owner of a brand new car, and he would own it because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind.
We have helped with a number of Social Security cases. Russell Jeffreys is a blind vendor living in Ohio who had been receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits until the early 1990's, when he was told by the Social Security Administration that he had been overpaid by $92,000. The calculations of the Social Security Administration were incorrect, and we helped with an appeal. Within a short time the overpayment was waived, but Social Security continued to insist that Russell Jeffreys was no longer eligible for benefits. It has taken many years. The most recent proceeding in the case occurred last August, and the letter from Social Security arrived in February. It said that the first check for back benefits would be $77,417.60. A second check for more than $8,000 has also been sent, and monthly benefits are now being paid.
We continue to publish the Kernel Books. Last fall we released the thirteenth Kernel Book, entitled Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving. The fourteenth, entitled Gray Pancakes and Gold Horses, is being released at this convention. These easy-to-read volumes contain first-person accounts of the lives of the blind told in a way to attract the interest and capture the imagination. To understand blindness, it is necessary to learn something about it, and these Kernel Books are the best broad-based educational program on the topic that has ever been devised. With well over three million of them now in circulation, the message of the normality and ability of blind people is being spread throughout the nation, and a growing number of interested people are responding.
We have also published a number of other books. A Resource Guide to Training and Employment of the Blind and Visually Impaired for Staff and Customers of One-Stop Career Centers offers practical advice to staff members at the one-stop vocational and career centers, which have been established to provide assistance to members of the public in finding jobs. Generally personnel at these career centers know nothing about blindness, and they need assistance in approaching blind applicants in the most effective way.
We published Techniques Used by Blind Cane Travel Instructors by Maria Morais, Paul Lorensen, Roland Allen, Edward Bell, Arlene Hill, and Eric Woods, which gives detailed instructions for blind cane travel instructors. We are also distributing Dr. C. Edwin Vaughan's book Social and Cultural Perspectives on Blindness, which contrasts socialization, educational opportunities, and expectations for the blind in a number of cultures. The National Federation of the Blind is quoted extensively.
We have produced a number of new video tapes. Two of these, White Canes for Blind Kids and Avoiding an IEP Disaster, have been prepared to assist parents and educators of blind children to approach education for blind youth with an increased emphasis on the skills essential to independence. Too often blind children are prevented from gaining the broadest possible education, and this leads to loss of opportunity in later life. These two videos will help to change that thinking and offer new direction.
During the past year we have done extensive remodeling at the National Center for the Blind. A twenty-five-ton air conditioning unit was installed on the roof of our building to upgrade and expand our air conditioning system. Shortly before this convention one of our tenants departed, releasing more than eight thousand feet of floor space. We have begun extensive remodeling of that space to put it into shape for our own use.
Cable trays and conduit have been installed throughout the building to permit the laying of cable for an upgraded computer network. This network is now big enough that it has required 850 feet of cable tray and 150 conduit cable drops. One of the principal elements of this system is fiber-optic cabling and accessories, which permit information to be transmitted at 100 megabits per second.
A new masonry store room, with approximately 850 feet of floor space, has been constructed at the first floor level in an unused area south of the Johnson Street elevator. The top of this store room is an outside deck. Immediately above it is another deck of the same size at the third-floor level. At the fourth floor we have added the Skydeck, which is much bigger than any of the others. It is 185 feet long, and for most of its length it is 32 feet wide, which adds over 5,000 feet of outdoor meeting space to our Center.
This deck was constructed by pouring 108 yards of concrete weighing 432,000 pounds on steel decking supported by beams and columns. The steel weighs eighty-eight tons. Although the National Center for the Blind is unique among facilities for the blind, the addition of the Skydeck will offer opportunities unlike any we have ever known. And all of this fiber-optic cable, these tons of concrete and steel, and everything associated with them belong to usto you and meto the blind of the nation.
Through our Diabetes Action Network we have been working to convince drug manufacturers and the Food and Drug Administration to put insulin into bottles with tactile markings. This spring agreement was reached; in the future insulin vials will carry different raised markings to identify the kind of insulin they contain. We expect the FDA to issue a final rule incorporating this agreement within the next few months.
The most widely distributed publication dealing with blindness in the United States is the Voice of the Diabetic. We are now producing 225,000 issues per quarter. The message of the National Federation of the Blind is being read by medical professionals and diabetics in record numbers.
The Braille Monitor, now being circulated to more than 35,000 people per month, is the most widely distributed general-interest publication in the field of work with the blind. And there are many other publications: more than 8,000 Presidential Releases; over 11,000 copies per quarter of Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children; The American Bar Association Journal recorded edition; more than 17,000 Job Opportunities for the Blind publications; and all of the other newsletters, brochures, and magazines produced by chapters, state affiliates, and divisions.
To assist in addressing the crisis in Braille literacy, we are, in conjunction with the International Braille Research Center, in the final stages of producing a text entitled The National Braille Competency Test Self-Preparation Manual. More than 50 percent of the people who have taken the National Braille Competency Test have not passed. We are offering this book to encourage the study and understanding of Braille by the professionals who must teach it and promote its use. In schools and agencies for the blind there is a growing trend to require staff members to know Braille. This should have a real impact in bringing literacy to the blind, and we are doing what we can to accelerate this trend.
During the past year approximately twelve hundred people came to the National Center for the Blind to discuss programs dealing with blindness and to learn from the organized blind of the United States. We had visitors from all fifty-two of our state affiliates and from twenty-two countries beyond our borders.
The facts and statistics are important, but they come to have added meaning when we realize how much they touch the lives of individual blind people. A letter which came to the National Center for the Blind last April says in part, "My name is Marilyn Barr, and my daughter Jessica, who is totally blind, is going to be attending the national Scripps Howard Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., on May 24th through the 30th. She won our regional spelling bee and is now eligible to participate on the national level. This is a great honor for her. I think that the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest put on by the National Federation of the Blind has had a hand in helping her to like the Brailled word. I was hoping that someone could give me information on what is good to see for a totally blind thirteen-year-old in Washington. I want to make sure she gets everything possible out of this wonderful trip that we will be embarking on."
This is what the letter from Marilyn Barr said to us about her thirteen-year-old totally blind daughter, and how do we respond? We feel exactly the way Jessica's mother does; we want Jessica to have all the wonderful experiences of life. And we are prepared to help her get them through a knowledge of Braille, through programs that will expand her understanding and independence, through association with other blind people who will encourage her to think big, to believe in herself, and to persist in the search for the tremendous future that can and should be hers.
As we gather at this convention and consider the events of the past year, we come with a sense of optimism and hope. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek founded our movement in 1940. Under his leadership the Federation continued to grow for more than a quarter of a century. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan worked with him and was inspired by him. Dr. Jernigan became the leader of our organization, assuming the presidency in 1968, and he has become an inseparable part of the Federation. Dr. Jernigan taught and inspired me and the members of my generation, and I have now served as President of the Federation for twelve years.
I know that one day we in the Federation will not have Dr. Jernigan's counsel and advice on a daily basis. Indeed we wondered if this would be the year. With immeasurable gratitude we hope and believe that the extraordinary steps Dr. Jernigan has taken are bringing him back to good health and strength. He is not only a colleague, not only a leader, not only a teacher, but our dear friend, and we love him.
But we say to you, Dr. Jernigan, if the time comes that your step is no longer felt in the convention hall, we will carry on. We will continue to build. The Federation is too important to let it be otherwise. We have learned strength from you, and we will find the commitment and the dedication that must exist to bring true independence to the blind. The journey that began in 1940 will be completed.
There is nothing on earth that can prevent us from going the rest of the way, for we will accept nothing else. The future will be bright because we will make it bright. Our determination demands it; our imagination affirms it; and our lives proclaim it! This is my report for 1998.
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Updated: March 14, 2002