Future Reflections  Convention Report 2006

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Joe Cutter Wins the Fredric K. Schroeder Award


Editor’s Note: The following award presentation took place on Monday morning of the 2006 Convention at the meeting of the NFB board of directors. The speech gives the details, but no words can fully express the respect, the love, and the graditude hundreds of parents feel for Joe Cutter. He truly embodies the spirit of this special award. Here is the excerpt from the article, “Awards Presented at the 2006 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind,” published in the August/September issue of the Braille Monitor:

Joe CutterLate in the board meeting President Maurer called Allen Harris, president of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, to the platform. He introduced James Omvig to present the 2006 Schroeder Award. This is what Mr. Omvig said:

The officers and directors of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) are pleased to present the 2006 Fredric K. Schroeder Award for outstanding contributions to the field of travel training for the blind. In bestowing this high honor, the NBPCB follows the lead of the National Federation of the Blind: that is, the honor is not automatically presented each year, but only as often as it has been earned through exemplary service in the field of work with the blind. Our first recipient (in 2002) was Roland Allen, NOMC [National Orientation and Mobility Certification], of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and the second (in 2003) was Doug Boone, NOMC, of Pennsylvania.

Before presenting our 2006 recipient, let me offer just a word about the award. In the field of orientation and mobility (O&M), no name holds more weight or lends more prestige and credibility than that of Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder. Therefore it is particularly fitting that the NBPCB’s highest recognition be named in his honor. Fred Schroeder’s background and record of achievement set a singularly high standard of excellence for this award. Many newer NFB members may not be aware of it, but Fred was the first blind American to earn a master’s degree in one of the old-line O&M university programs. It is not of course remarkable at all that Fred graduated with high honors, earning a master’s in O&M. He is extremely intelligent and highly motivated. More remarkable are the facts and circumstances surrounding his matriculation into the O&M program at San Francisco State University and his subsequent efforts to become certified in the profession.

By the late 1970’s Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was being implemented. It prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities by entities that received federal funds. This prohibition included universities. To try to insulate themselves from charges and findings of discrimination for closing the university O&M programs to blind candidates, the good old boys who ran them in the 1960s and 70s agreed to stand as one on the presumption that sight was absolutely essential to teach travel to the blind. They reasoned that, if they were all to insist that sight was an essential function of the position, then excluding the blind could not be found discriminatory. However, the man who ran the San Francisco State program broke ranks. He met Fred, liked him, and admitted him to the program. Fred completed the program with high honors.

Then, since professional certification was completely closed to all blind candidates at the time of his graduation (discrimination against the blind was rampant), Fred never received AAWB/AER [American Association of Workers for the Blind/Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind] professional certification, but, to give you, as Paul Harvey says, “the rest of the story,” I would like to state here for the record that Dr. Fred Schroeder is now a certified O&M instructor. It seemed only fitting that he receive the very first National Orientation and Mobility Certification ever presented by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board.

These then are a few of the salient facts about Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder, NOMC, but even these facts do not reveal all of the evidence of the true character and spirit of the man. Still this brief history tells the story of why it is fitting that our award for excellence be named for him. Intelligence, drive, patience, compassion, stick-to-itiveness, good sense, and a fierce passion for justice for the blind: what more can be said; what more could be wanted?

With this bit of history as a backdrop, we turn to our 2006 award recipient. He first earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from Bloomfield College in New Jersey. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in special education with a special certificate as a teacher of blind children from Trenton State College (now known as the College of New Jersey). He is Mr. Joe Cutter. Joe, will you please make your way to the podium?

Many Federationists may not be aware of the name of Joe Cutter, but wherever people discuss teaching travel to blind infants, toddlers, and young children, Joe’s name is ubiquitous. In case you don’t already know it, Joe is sighted. His story demonstrates conclusively that it is not eyesight--or the lack of it--that defines a true professional in work with the blind. What distinguishes the true professional from the rest of the pack, the wheat from the chaff, is a complete understanding of and profound belief in the truth about blindness--the normality of the blind as a group and the concomitant high expectations for success which necessarily follow from an understanding of this enlightening truth.

Joe’s first job was working with a special group of blind high-school-age residents of the Johnstone Training and Research Center in Bordentown, New Jersey. Before long, Johnstone requested that someone come to the institution to train Joe in O&M. A year or so later (in 1972) the New Jersey Commission for the Blind had a vacancy for an O&M instructor, and Joe got the job.

Within a couple of years the Commission identified a serious problem--an enormous void in real independence and mobility skills among the blind youth of New Jersey. Joe was asked if he would like to work with very young children. Thus began the Early Childhood O&M Program of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind. Joe’s new program focused on blind children from birth to age seven, the first such program in the country.

By 1990 Joe was recognized by the New Jersey Commission as its Teacher of the Year. As a part of this recognition, Joe was presented with a cash award. Consistent with the character of the man, Joe used the money from his award to enable parents of blind children to attend infant development lectures at Rutgers University and organized a trip for blind children and their families to the newly created audio-described performance of the New Jersey Ballet’s Nutcracker Suite. Then our own Carol Castellano met Joe Cutter and persuaded him to become involved in the National Federation of the Blind.

In 1994 Joe initiated the Cane Walk at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind: an event which has grown in popularity every year and in which he still takes part. At that same convention Joe was presented with the Federation’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. He is currently hard at work on a book that will be out sometime in the coming year. It is called, Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model.

Although he is sighted, Joe exhibits a fierce passion for justice for the blind, and he exemplifies the personal dedication, teaching skills, and professional excellence that are the hallmarks of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. His teaching services have had a profound, positive, and lasting impact upon countless blind consumers of services.

Joe, in order to memorialize this special occasion, I am pleased to present you with this engraved walnut plaque. It reads:

JULY 3, 2006

Joe Cutter came to the stage to receive the award. In accepting it he said:

Wow! This has certainly caught me by surprise. What an honor! You guys--the National Federation of the Blind…. When I was at a point in my professional career of--perhaps burnout is too strong a word, but approaching that--through Carol Castellano and Bill Cucco and other parents of blind children in New Jersey, I was introduced to the National Federation of the Blind and its philosophy and Joe Ruffalo and other New Jersey Federationists. I took to the philosophy like a duck to water. What I had to say seemed to be of interest to Federationists as well. It became a natural marriage.

I am so overwhelmed today to receive this honor. Especially since my first introduction to the Federation was at a state convention, where I shared a parents seminar with Dr. Schroeder and was mentored by his philosophy and his early writings, particularly his articles talking about blind preschoolers using canes. I was fueled and motivated by that because I was not motivated by the conventional profession of O&M. So my model changed from more deficit to asset thinking. And burnout was no longer in the picture. It was fuel--high octane.

This is a total surprise to me today and quite an honor. Just when I think I have perhaps reached my professional best and when I think that I have given what I have to give, this organization has always raised me up to more than I can be. Thank you so much, thank you.

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