Future Reflections April/May/June 1985, Vol. 4 No. 2
The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information which exist. If a blind person has proper training, and opportunity, blindness is only a physical nuisance.
The National Federation of the Blind is the largest organization of the blind in America. Interested sighted persons also join. Founded in 1940, the Federation has grown to include more than ten percent of the nation's blind (over 50,000 members).
The Federation is organized in every state and has local chapters in almost every community of any size in the nation. Where there is no local chapter, there are members at large. Each year the National Convention of the Federation is attended by approximately 2,500 blind persons--the largest gathering of blind people in the history of the world and growing each year.
The ultimate purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is the complete integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality. This objective involves the removal of legal, economic, and social discriminations; the education of the public to new concepts concerning blindness; and the achievement by all blind people of the right to exercise to the fullest their individual talents and capacities. It means the right of the blind to work along with their sighted neighbors in the professions, common callings, skilled trades, and regular occupations.
THE NEWLY BLIND
The newly blinded person faces a difficult adjustment. One of the best medicines is to meet other blind people and learn of their jobs and the techniques they use in doing things without sight. Membership in the NFB provides this common meeting ground and, even more important, a sense of participation and restoration of confidence. Members of the NFB contact newly blinded persons to help them with problems of adjustment and orientation.
Information is also given concerning available services from governmental and private agencies, as well as facts about laws and regulations concerning the blind.
A DISTINCTIVE ROLE
The Federation corresponds to blind people in the same way that labor unions correspond to workers, the Chamber of Commerce to business people, the American Bar Association to lawyers, the NAACP to blacks, the American Medical Association to doctors, and the Farm Bureau to farmers. It is a vehicle for joint action by the blind. In other words, the National Federation of the Blind is the voice of the blind. It is the blind speaking for themselves.
WHO REPRESENTS THE BLIND
There are numerous governmental agencies and private charitable organizations and foundations providing services for blind people, but only the blind themselves (acting through their own organization, the National Federation of the Blind) are able to speak for the blind, This is a basic concept of democracy.
The government has a Department of Labor, but it cannot truly speak for workers. They speak for themselves. Likewise the Department of Agriculture does not replace farm organizations, nor do governmental agencies or private foundations take the place of democratic membership organizations of minority groups. This is true even if the agency or foundation is headed or largely staffed by members of the minority. As with others, so with the blind.
More and more of the governmental agencies and private foundations are becoming responsive to the views and needs of the blind and are learning new concepts and attitudes about blindness. The future looks bright. There is an overwhelming feeling of goodwill and a wish to help on the part of the general public.
Most important of all, the blind are moving forward to speak for themselves and take a hand in the management of their own affairs through their organization, the National Federation of the Blind.
PROGRAMS AND SERVICES
By means of speeches, pamphlets, radio, and TV appearances, members of the NFB strive to educate the general public to the fact that the blind are normal individuals who can compete on terms of equality with others.
The Braille Monitor is a monthly publication of the NFB devoted to news and discussion of issues important to the blind. It is published in Braille, in print, and on record, and is available to the blind and the sighted alike upon request.
Detailed studies of state programs for the blind are carried out by the NFB when offically requested by state governors or legislatures.
Scholarships are awarded to blind students. Assistance is given to blind persons who are the victims of discrimination or whose rights have been denied. Such assistance takes the form of initiating court action, negotiating with public officials, conferring with private groups or individuals, and seeking publicity in the press and otherwise. Future Reflections is the NFB magazine for parents of blind children. Through this magazine and other means, the blind of this generation reach out to offer help and encouragement (through Parents) to the blind of the next generation. New state and federal laws and regulations concerning the blind are researched.
The blind are informed of services available to them and of their rights under the law. Consultation is provided to congressional committees and state legislatures, as well as to federal and state administrators. Local and state leaders of the blind from throughout the country are brought together for seminars to give them information to take back to their home communities and pass on to others. The Federation recently promoted and helped develop and evaluate a reading machine which translates the printed page into spoken words. Other new technology is also being evaluated and promoted. In short, the National Federation of the Blind is prepared to take whatever action may be necessary to improve the lives of the blind.
JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE BLIND
The NFB works to insure that training in the techniques necessary to function efficiently without sight is available. Some kind of training is available in every state, but often it leads only to sitting at home, or making brooms in a sheltered workshop for less that $1.00 an hour.
Blind people today work as lawyers, psychologists, machinists, farmers, hairdressers; but the best estimates indicate that 70 percent of those who are able to work still do not have jobs or work only a few days a month in sheltered workshops. Many thoroughly capable blind persons have never had a job.
To respond to this critically high unemployment rate, the National Federation of the Blind, in cooperation with the United States Department of Labor, developed a program of Job Opportunities for the Blind. JOB helps qualified blind people who are looking for work find employers with job openings. JOB also helps employers who have affirmative action requirements for hiring the handicapped find truly qualified employees, not just token blind people to meet a mandated government order. JOB conducts educational seminars about blindness for employers, and career planning seminars for unemployed blind people.
PROTECTION OF RIGHTS
There are barriers to full participation in society by the blind. The National Federation of the Blind stands ready to help blind people overcome these barriers when collective action is necessary.
Many blind mothers and fathers are currently experiencing challenges from social service agencies who want to take their children. The recent increase in the number of such reported instances reflects not just an increase in government meddling or custodialism (although there is plenty of that), but heightened awareness and determination to take action on the part of the blind and their friends.
The National Federation of the Blind is responding to the challenge. A blind mother in Florida is once again busy raising her child without interference from a social service agency. The agency backed down when the National Federation of the Blind came to her defense. Several cases are currently underway in which blindness is a central question of a custody suit. Because the National Federation of the Blind was not contacted, it is already too late for some blind mothers and fathers. The organization is determined to establish sound case law on this issue.
THE NFB IS IMPORTANT TO YOU
Blindness knows no discrimination. Any child can be born blind. Any individual can become blind in childhood or in later life. It is in the best interest of every individual to understand blindness and how to cope with its problems.
YOU CAN HELP
The most important thing you can do is help us spread the new concepts about blindness. When you see our literature in the mail or meet one of us on the street, remember that we are people, just like you--with all the range of talents and capacities, wits and wants that you possess. You can also help by making cash contributions to our organization or remembering the National Federation of the Blind in your will. The National Federation of the Blind is principally supported by public contributions. Donations are tax deductible.
Interested sighted people are encouraged to join the National Federation of the Blind. You can help us in our work by becoming a member-at-large and an Associate. Associates receive regular mailings providing updated information of programs and activities of the organization. Many sighted people have already become Associates in the following classifications:
Sponsoring Associate--$ 10 0
Member of the President's Club-- $1000
To become a member-at-large send your
name, address, and your dues and
Associate contribution to:
The National Federation of the Blind,
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230.
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