Braille Monitor January 2007
From the Editor:
Though brief profiles of the members of the current board of directors can be
found on our Web site at any time, we periodically revise and reprint in the
Braille Monitor a compilation we have used for years. It includes profiles
of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and members of the current NFB board of directors.
It is high time to provide it again, so here it is:
The National Federation of the Blind has become by far the most significant force in the affairs of the blind today, and its actions have had an impact on many other groups and programs. The Federation's president, Marc Maurer, radiates confidence and persuasiveness. He says, "If I can find twenty people who care about a thing, then we can get it done. And if there are two hundred, two thousand, or twenty thousand, that's even better."
The National Federation of the Blind is a civil rights movement with all that the term implies. President Maurer says, "You can't expect to obtain freedom by having somebody else hand it to you. You have to do the job yourself. The French could not have won the American Revolution for us. That would merely have shifted the governing authority from one colonial power to another. So too we the blind are the only ones who can win freedom for the blind, which is both frightening and reassuring. If we don't get out and do what we must, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We have control of the essential elements."
Although many organizations and agencies for the blind exist in the United States today, there is only one National Federation of the Blind. This organization was established in 1940 when the blind of seven states--California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin--sent delegates to its first convention at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Since that time progress has been rapid and steady. The Federation is recognized by blind men and women throughout the entire country as their primary means of joint expression; and today--with active affiliates in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico--it is the primary voice of the nation's blind.
To explain this spectacular growth, three questions must be asked and answered: (1) What are the conditions in the general environment of the blind which have impelled them to organize? (2) What are the purpose, belief, and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind? (3) Who are its leaders, and what are their qualifications to understand and solve the problems of blindness? Even a brief answer to these questions is instructive.
When the Federation came into being in 1940, the outlook for the blind was anything but bright. The nation's welfare system was so discouraging to individual initiative that those forced to accept public assistance had little hope of ever achieving self-support again, and those who sought competitive employment in regular industry or the professions found most of the doors barred against them. The universal good will expressed toward the blind was not the wholesome good will of respect felt toward equals; it was the misguided good will of pity felt toward inferiors. In effect the system said to the blind, "Sit on the sidelines of life. This game is not for you. If you have creative talents, we are sorry, but we cannot use them." The Federation came into being to combat these expressions of discrimination and to promote new ways of thought concerning blindness. Although great progress has been made toward the achievement of these goals, much still remains to be done.
The Federation believes that blind people are essentially normal and that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap. It can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. Legal, economic, and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that the blind are somehow different from the sighted must be abolished, and equal opportunity must be made available to blind people. Because of their personal experience with blindness, the blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems, but the general public should be invited to participate in finding solutions. Upon these fundamentals the National Federation of the Blind predicates its philosophy.
As for the leadership of
the organization, all of the officers and members of the board of directors
are blind, and all give generously of their time and resources in promoting
the work of the Federation. The board consists of seventeen elected members,
five of whom are the constitutional officers of the organization. These members
of the board of directors represent a wide cross-section of the blind population
of the United States. Their backgrounds are different, and their experiences
vary widely; but they are drawn together by the common bond of having met blindness
individually and successfully in their own lives and by their united desire
to see other blind people have the opportunity to do likewise. A profile of
the leadership of the organization shows why it is so effective and demonstrates
the progress made by blind people during the past half-century and more--for
in the story of the lives of these leaders can be found the greatest testimonial
to the soundness of the Federation's philosophy. The cumulative record of their
individual achievements is an overwhelming proof, leading to an inescapable
Founder of the National Federation of the Blind
(Author, Jurist, and Professor)
The moving force in the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, and its spiritual and intellectual father, was Jacobus tenBroek. Born in 1911, young tenBroek (the son of a prairie homesteader in Canada) lost the sight of one eye as the result of a bow-and-arrow accident at the age of seven. His remaining eyesight deteriorated until at the age of fourteen he was totally blind. Shortly afterward he and his family traveled to Berkeley so that he could attend the California School for the Blind. Within three years he was an active part of the local organization of the blind.
By 1934 he had joined Dr. Newel Perry and others to form the California Council of the Blind, which later became the National Federation of the Blind of California. This organization was a prototype for the nationwide federation that tenBroek would form six years later.
The same year the Federation was founded (1940), Jacobus tenBroek received his doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of California, completed a year as Brandeis Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, and was appointed to the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School.
Two years later he began
teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, becoming a full professor
in 1953, chairman of the department of speech in 1955, and professor of political
science in 1963. During this period Professor tenBroek published several books
and more than fifty articles and monographs in the fields of welfare, government,
and law--establishing a reputation as one of the nation's foremost scholars
on matters of constitutional law. One of his books, Prejudice, War, and the
Constitution, won the Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science
Association in 1955 as the best book of the year on government and democracy.
Other books are California's Dual System of Family Law (1964), Hope Deferred:
Public Welfare and the Blind (1959), The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth
Amendment (1951)--revised and republished in 1965 as Equal Under Law, and The
Law of the Poor (edited in 1966).
In the course of his academic career Professor tenBroek was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto and was twice the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1947 he earned the degree of S.J.D. from Harvard Law School. In addition he was awarded honorary degrees by two institutions of higher learning.
Dr. tenBroek's lifelong companion was his devoted wife Hazel. Together they raised three children and worked inseparably on research, writing, and academic and Federation projects. Until her declining health prevented travel, Mrs. tenBroek continued as an active member of the organized blind movement. She died October 7, 2005.
In 1950 Dr. tenBroek was made a member of the California State Board of Social Welfare by Governor Earl Warren. Later reappointed to the board three times, he was elected its chairman in 1960 and served in that capacity until 1963.
The brilliance of Jacobus tenBroek's career led some skeptics to suggest that his achievements were beyond the reach of what they called the "ordinary blind person." What tenBroek recognized in himself was not that he was exceptional, but that he was normal--that his blindness had nothing to do with whether he could be a successful husband and father, do scholarly research, write a book, make a speech, guide students engaged in social action, or otherwise lead a productive life.
Jacobus tenBroek died of cancer at the age of fifty-six in 1968. His successor, Kenneth Jernigan, in a memorial address, said truly of him: "The relationship of this man to the organized blind movement, which he brought into being in the United States and around the world, was such that it would be equally accurate to say that the man was the embodiment of the movement or that the movement was the expression of the man.
"For tens of thousands
of blind Americans over more than a quarter of a century, he was leader, mentor,
spokesman, and philosopher. He gave to the organized blind movement the force
of his intellect and the shape of his dreams. He made it the symbol of a cause
barely imagined before his coming: the cause of self-expression, self-direction,
and self-sufficiency on the part of blind people. Step by step, year by year,
action by action, he made that cause succeed."
(Teacher, Writer, and Administrator)
Kenneth Jernigan was a leader in the National Federation of the Blind for more than forty-six years. He was president (with one brief interruption) from 1968 until July of 1986. Even after Jernigan ceased to be president of the Federation, he continued as one of its principal leaders until his death on October 12, 1998. He was loved and respected by tens of thousands--members and nonmembers of the Federation, both blind and sighted.
Born in 1926, Kenneth Jernigan grew up on a farm in central Tennessee. He received his elementary and secondary education at the school for the blind in Nashville. After high school Jernigan managed a furniture shop in Beech Grove, Tennessee, making all the furniture and operating the business.
In the fall of 1945 Jernigan matriculated at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Active in campus affairs from the outset, he was soon elected to office in his class and to important positions in other student organizations. Jernigan graduated with honors in 1948 with a B.S. degree in social science. In 1949 he received a master's degree in English from Peabody College in Nashville, where he subsequently completed additional graduate study. While at Peabody he was a staff writer for the school newspaper, co-founder of an independent literary magazine, and member of the Writers' Club. In 1949 he received the Captain Charles W. Browne Award, at that time presented annually by the American Foundation for the Blind to the nation's outstanding blind student.
Jernigan then spent four years as a teacher of English at the Tennessee School for the Blind. During this period he became active in the Tennessee Association of the Blind (now the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee). He was elected to the vice presidency of the organization in 1950 and to the presidency in 1951. In that position he planned the 1952 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, which was held in Nashville, and he then planned every NFB national convention through 1998.
In 1952 Jernigan was first
elected to the NFB board of directors, and in 1953 he was appointed to the faculty
of the California Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland, where he played
a major role in developing the best program of its kind then in existence.
From 1958 until 1978 he served as director of the Iowa State Commission for the Blind. In this capacity he was responsible for administering state rehabilitation programs, home teaching, home industries, an orientation and adjustment center, and library services for the blind and physically handicapped. The improvements made in services to the blind of Iowa under the Jernigan administration have never before or since been equaled anywhere in the country.
In 1960 the Federation presented Jernigan with its Newel Perry Award for outstanding accomplishment in services for the blind. In 1968 he was given a special citation by the president of the United States. Harold Russell, the chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, came to Des Moines to present the award. He said: "If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than anywhere else in the nation or in the world. This statement," the citation went on to say, "sums up the story of the Iowa Commission for the Blind during the Jernigan years and more pertinently of its director, Kenneth Jernigan. That narrative is much more than a success story. It is the story of high aspiration magnificently accomplished--of an impossible dream become reality."
Jernigan received too many honors and awards to enumerate individually, including honorary doctorates from four institutions of higher education. He was also asked to serve as a special consultant to or member of numerous boards and advisory bodies. The most notable among these are member of the National Advisory Committee on Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (appointed in 1972 by the secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare); special consultant on services for the blind (appointed in 1975 by the federal commissioner of rehabilitation); advisor on museum programs for blind visitors to the Smithsonian Institution (appointed in 1975); special advisor to the White House Conference on Library and Information Services (appointed in 1977 by President Gerald Ford). In July of 1990 Jernigan received an award for distinguished service from the president of the United States.
To date he has been the only person ever to be invited to deliver keynote addresses to the primary gatherings of the two worldwide blindness organizations in a single year: the fourth quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union in August 1996 and the annual meeting of the International Council for the Education of the Visually Impaired in spring 1997. In 1998 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the first ever International Leadership Award from the American Foundation for the Blind, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's Winston Gordon Award for his leadership in establishing NEWSLINE® for the Blind.
Kenneth Jernigan's writings and speeches on blindness are better known and have touched the lives of more blind people than those of any other person writing today. From 1991 until his death he edited the NFB's immensely popular series of paperbacks known as the Kernel Books. On July 23, 1975, he spoke before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and his address was broadcast live throughout the nation on National Public Radio. Through the years he appeared repeatedly on network radio and television interview programs.
In 1978 Jernigan moved to Baltimore to become executive director of the American Brotherhood for the Blind (now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults) and director of the National Center for the Blind. As president of the National Federation of the Blind at that time, he led the organization through the most impressive period of growth in its history to date. The creation and development of the National Center for the Blind and the NFB's expansion into its position today as the most influential voice and force in the affairs of the blind stand as the culmination of Kenneth Jernigan's lifework and a tribute to his brilliance and commitment to the blind of this nation.
From 1987 to 1997 he played an active role internationally as president of the North America/Caribbean region of the World Blind Union. He traveled widely and spoke frequently before international groups about blindness and the NFB's positive philosophy that changes lives and society.
Jernigan's dynamic wife Mary Ellen remains an active member of the Federation. Although sighted, she works with dedication in the movement and is known and loved by thousands of Federationists throughout the country.
Speaking at a convention
of the National Federation of the Blind, Jernigan said of the organization and
its philosophy (and also of his own philosophy):
"As we look ahead, the world holds more hope than gloom for us--and, best of all, the future is in our own hands. For the first time in history we can be our own masters and do with our lives what we will; and the sighted (as they learn who we are and what we are) can and will work with us as equals and partners. In other words we are capable of full membership in society, and the sighted are capable of accepting us as such--and, for the most part, they want to.
"We want no Uncle Toms--no sellouts, no apologists, no rationalizers; but we also want no militant hell-raisers or unbudging radicals. One will hurt our cause as much as the other. We must win true equality in society, but we must not dehumanize ourselves in the process; and we must not forget the graces and amenities, the compassions and courtesies which comprise civilization itself and distinguish people from animals and life from existence.
"Let people call us what they will and say what they please about our motives and our movement. There is only one way for the blind to achieve first-class citizenship and true equality. It must be done through collective action and concerted effort; and that means the National Federation of the Blind. There is no other way, and those who say otherwise are either uninformed or unwilling to face the facts.
"We are the strongest
force in the affairs of the blind today, and we must also recognize the responsibilities
of power and the fact that we must build a world that is worth living in when
the war is over--and, for that matter, while we are fighting it. In short, we
must use both love and a club, and we must have sense enough to know when to
do which--long on compassion, short on hatred; and, above all, not using our
philosophy as a cop-out for cowardice or inaction or rationalization. We know
who we are and what we must do--and we will never go back. The public is not
against us. Our determination proclaims it; our gains confirm it; our humanity
(Attorney and Executive)
Born in 1951, Marc Maurer was the second in a family of six children. His blindness was caused by overexposure to oxygen after his premature birth, but he and his parents were determined that this should not prevent him from living a full and normal life.
He began his education at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, where he became an avid Braille reader. In the fifth grade he returned home to Boone, Iowa, where he attended parochial schools. During high school (having taken all the courses in the curriculum), he simultaneously took classes at the junior college.
Maurer ran three different businesses before finishing high school: a paper route, a lawn care business, and an enterprise producing and marketing maternity garter belts designed by his mother. This last venture was so successful that his younger brother took over the business when Maurer left home.
In the summer of 1969, after graduating from high school, Maurer enrolled as a student at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and attended his first convention of the NFB. He was delighted to discover in both places that blind people and what they thought mattered. This was a new phenomenon in his experience, and it changed his life. Kenneth Jernigan was director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind at the time, and Maurer soon grew to admire and respect him. When Maurer expressed an interest in overhauling a car engine, the Commission for the Blind purchased the necessary equipment. Maurer completed that project and actually worked for a time as an automobile mechanic. He believes today that mastering engine repair played an important part in changing his attitudes about blindness.
Maurer graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. As an undergraduate he took an active part in campus life, including election to the Honor Society. Then he enrolled at the University of Indiana School of Law, where he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1977.
Maurer was elected president of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind in 1971 and reelected in 1973 and 1975. Also in 1971 at the age of twenty he was elected vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana. He was elected president in 1973 and reelected in 1975.
During law school Maurer worked summers for the office of the secretary of state of Indiana. After graduation he moved to Toledo, Ohio, to accept a position as the director of the Senior Legal Assistance Project operated by ABLE (Advocates for Basic Legal Equality).
In 1978 Maurer moved to Washington, D.C., to become an attorney with the Rates and Routes Division in the office of the general counsel of the Civil Aeronautics Board. Initially he worked on rates cases but soon advanced to dealing with international matters and then to doing research and writing opinions on constitutional issues and board action. He wrote opinions for the chairman and made appearances before the full board to discuss those opinions.
In 1981 he went into private practice in Baltimore, Maryland, where he specialized in civil litigation and property matters. But increasingly he concentrated on representing blind individuals and groups in the courts. He has now become one of the most experienced and knowledgeable attorneys in the country regarding the laws, precedents, and administrative rulings concerning civil rights and discrimination against the blind. He is a member of the Bar in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Maryland and a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Maurer has always been active in civic and political affairs, having run for the state legislature from Baltimore. Through the years he has also served on the board of directors of his apartment complex's tenants association, the board of his community association, and the school board of his children's school. In 1981 Maurer was elected president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and served in that office until 1985. From 1984 until 1986 he served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.
An important companion in Maurer's activities and a leader in her own right is his wife Patricia. The Maurers were married in 1973, and they have two children--David Patrick, born March 10, 1984, and Dianna Marie, born July 12, 1987.
At the 1985 convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Kenneth Jernigan announced that he would not stand for re-election as president of the National Federation of the Blind the following year, and he recommended Marc Maurer as his successor. In Kansas City in 1986 the Convention elected Maurer by resounding acclamation, and he has served as president ever since. From 1997 to 2000 he also served as president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, and he chaired the WBU Committee on the Restoration of the Louis Braille Birthplace in Coupvray, France. In 2004 he became vice president of the World Blind Union North America/Caribbean Region, and in 2006 reassumed the presidency.
Maurer was honored with the Maryland Black Caucus's Leadership Award in 1985, the United States Presidential Medal for Leadership in 1990, the 1990 Heritage Award from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and the Baltimore Business Journal's 1999 Innovation Award for Excellence in Workplace Technology. Recent honors include the 2002 VME Robert Dole Award and the Daily Record's 2002 Innovator of the Year award. He joined President George W. Bush in the Oval Office in July of 2001 to celebrate the success of the NFB Everest Expedition and once again when President Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002. He received honorary degrees from California's Menlo College in 1998 and the University of Louisville in 1999. In 1987 he delivered an address at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and in 2000 he was invited to deliver addresses on civil rights at Oxford University and Birmingham University in the United Kingdom. He is now editor of the NFB's Kernel Book series of optimistic paperbacks written by blind people about blindness.
As president of the National
Federation of the Blind, Maurer is boldly leading the organization into a new
test of its resolve, beginning with the visionary expansion of the National
Center for the Blind--the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute,
which was completed in the spring of 2004. The facility, located on the grounds
of the National Center, has added more than 170,000 square feet to the NFB's
headquarters complex. The Institute, which is the first of its kind, conceived
and built by the blind for the blind, is developing innovative education, technologies,
products, and services that support independence for the world's blind. One
of the early products of the Institute is the Kurzweil–National Federation of
the Blind handheld reading machine, produced in conjunction with the noted futurist
and inventor, Raymond Kurzweil. Maurer's unswerving determination to succeed
and his absolute conviction that the organized blind are the best-equipped people
to solve the problems facing them have set the tone and are guiding the organization
into this exciting new period of growth and accomplishment.
First Vice President
(Research Professor and Orientation and Mobility Pioneer)
Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder was born in Lima, Peru, in 1957. He and his brother Steve were adopted and moved to the United States when he was nineteen months old. Born with normal vision, Dr. Schroeder became blind at the age of seven after suffering a severe allergic reaction known as Stephens-Johnson's Syndrome. The reaction did not immediately take all his sight, but his vision deteriorated gradually over a nine-year period, leaving him totally blind at the age of sixteen.
He attended public school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but received no special education services to teach him to read Braille or learn any alternative techniques that would allow him to function competitively. Although raised in New Mexico, Dr. Schroeder spent much time in San Francisco receiving medical treatment in an effort to save his vision. As a result he was living in California when he became totally blind. For this reason, following graduation from high school, Dr. Schroeder attended the Orientation Center for the Blind in Albany, California. There he found the Federation, and his involvement in the organization has been central to his life and work ever since.
Through the Federation
he met blind people from all walks of life who encouraged him, eventually convincing
him that he could live a normal, productive life. Dr. Schroeder attended San
Francisco State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1977
and a master's degree in special education in 1978. After completing that degree,
he went to work teaching cane travel in the Nebraska Services for the Visually
Impaired's orientation center in Lincoln. For the next two years he returned
each summer to California to complete postgraduate studies in orientation and
mobility in order to become eligible for national certification as a cane travel
teacher. This was revolutionary at the time. He was the first blind person ever
to be admitted to a university program in orientation and mobility. Although
he graduated with distinction, he was denied certification solely on the basis
of blindness. Nevertheless, that did not stop him from continuing with his career
or education. He earned a Ph.D. in education administration from the University
of New Mexico in May 1994.
His professional achievements are impressive. In 1980 Dr. Schroeder returned to New Mexico to work as a teacher of blind children for the Albuquerque Public Schools. Knowing how important the Federation had been in his own life he immediately began integrating Federation philosophy into his work. In a year he was running the program for blind children across the district. The results were dramatic and the program so effective that in the early 1980s the district's program for blind children was featured on the Today Show.
While at that time in New Mexico programs for blind children were the finest in the nation, services for blind adults were among the poorest. As president of the New Mexico affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Schroeder was deeply troubled by the lack of employment opportunities for blind people in the state.
In 1986, after a long, bitter legislative fight, the Federation succeeded in establishing the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. Dr. Schroeder was appointed the Commission's first executive director, giving him the opportunity to bring Federation philosophy into the work of the newly founded agency. In a short time the program was transformed, and soon the New Mexico Commission for the Blind stood out as the most progressive and successful rehabilitation agency in the country. Under Dr. Schroeder's leadership blind people in New Mexico were being assisted to go to work in very good jobs—in fact, jobs paying so well that they had higher earnings than blind people anywhere else in the nation.
Dr. Schroeder's accomplishments
did not go unnoticed. In 1994 President Bill Clinton appointed Schroeder to
serve as the ninth commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration
(RSA) within the U.S. Department of Education. As RSA commissioner he administered
a $2.5 billion dollar program providing services to more than one million people
with disabilities each year. He focused on high-quality employment--better jobs,
jobs with a future, jobs enabling people to achieve a good and equitable standard
of living. His crowning achievement as RSA commissioner was ending the shameful
practice of placing blind people in sheltered workshops, often at subminimum
wages, rather than providing training to enable them to obtain high-quality,
integrated employment with better wages and the opportunity for upward mobility.
Following his service as RSA commissioner, he joined the faculty of the Interwork
Institute at San Diego State University. He now works as a research professor
specializing in leadership and public policy in vocational rehabilitation.
His involvement in the National Federation of the Blind continues. On July 5, 2006, Dr. Schroeder was unanimously elected first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. In addition to his service on the Federation's board of directors, he serves as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and often represents the Federation at national and international meetings and conferences.
Dr. Schroeder is married to Cathy Nusser Schroeder. They have two children, Carrie, born in 1981, and Matthew, born in 1983. Dr. Schroeder is the first to admit that it is the Federation that has made the difference in his life, enabling him to achieve professionally and to live a normal, productive life. In his own words, "We still have much work to do. Far too many blind people still face discrimination, still live in isolation and poverty, still lack access to the encouragement and training they need to live productive, integrated lives. Nevertheless, in spite of all that remains to be done, because of the National Federation of the Blind, opportunities are better for blind people today than at any time in history. The change we have made cannot be turned back, cannot be taken away. We have changed forever what it means to be blind, and we and society are better off as a result."
Peggy and Doug Elliott
Second Vice President
(Attorney, Political Activist, and Community Leader)
Born in 1953 and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, Peggy Elliott attended regular schools until the middle of the ninth grade. When her eye condition was diagnosed as an irreversible decline into total blindness, her father cried for the first and only time in her life--at least as far as she knows.
Elliott then spent what she characterizes as two and a half unhappy years at the Iowa school for the blind. Academically she learned nothing that she had not already been taught in public schools. The students were discouraged from learning to use the white cane and were never allowed off campus unless they were accompanied by a sighted person. But, most soul-destroying of all, the students were discouraged from aspiring to success or from setting themselves challenging goals. Elliott resisted the stifling atmosphere and drew down upon herself the wrath of the school administration, which refused to permit her to complete high school there, forcing her to go back to public school.
Knowing that she was not
prepared to make this transition, she and her parents sought help from Kenneth
Jernigan, then director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Elliott enrolled
at the Orientation and Adjustment Center, where she mastered the skills of blindness
and explored for the first time the healthy and positive philosophy of blindness
that has subsequently directed her life.
Elliott went on to Iowa's Cornell College, where she achieved an excellent academic record and edited the Cornellian, the school newspaper. She then completed law school at Yale University, receiving her J.D. degree in 1979.
After graduation from law school, Elliott passed the Iowa Bar in January 1980. She then began a difficult job search. Although her academic standing at Yale was better than that of most of her classmates, she did not receive a single job offer despite the intensive interviewing she had done during her final year of law school. Virtually all Yale-trained attorneys leave the university with offers in hand. The inference was inescapable: employers were discriminating against Elliott because of her blindness. She was eventually hired as Assistant County Attorney for Woodbury County in Sioux City, Iowa, where she prosecuted defendants on behalf of the people. In 1985 she moved back to her hometown of Grinnell, where she established the private law practice she has worked in since that time.
Elliott's lifetime interest in helping to improve the world around her has been expressed in politics as well as in Federation activity. In 1976 she was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, during which she appeared on national television and in a national news magazine, acquainting the public with the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and the real needs of blind people. At the end of the convention she seconded the nomination of Senator Robert Dole to be the Republican candidate for vice president of the United States.
In 1986 she ran unsuccessfully for the Iowa State Senate as a Republican in District 27. Her interest in community service has continued through her election to four four-year terms on the Grinnell City Council and in other community organizations. During her tenure on city council she chaired the public works and grounds committee, which manages building, repair, and snow removal from streets, parks, the cemetery, and the jet-ready airport; provision and expansion of water and sewer service; and (of particular interest to her) handling of solid waste and recycling.
Elliott's work in the National
Federation of the Blind has been as impressive as her professional career. She
held office in the NFB student divisions in Iowa and Connecticut and then served
as president of the national student division from 1977 to 1979. She was president
of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa from 1981 through 2006, serving
the blind of the state with distinction for twenty-five years. Elliott was first
elected to the NFB board of directors in 1977, and in 1984 she was elected second
Since 1984 Elliott, a 1976 scholarship winner herself, has chaired the National Federation of the Blind's Scholarship Committee. Every year approximately thirty scholarships, ranging in value from $3,000 to $12,000, are presented to the best blind college students in the nation.
On December 28, 1993, Peggy
Pinder and Doug Elliott were married in Grinnell, Iowa, where the couple continues
to live happily in their hundred-year-old home. Before their marriage Doug was
president of the NFB of Nevada. He is a medical social worker by training and
now manages the couple's real estate holdings.
(Programmer Analyst-Expert and Electronics Technologist)
Gary Wunder was born three months prematurely in 1955, the oldest of four children. His family lived in Kansas City, Missouri, and Wunder remembers that, since he had been blind from birth, he managed to persuade everyone in his family except his father to do precisely what he wanted. It would be many years before Wunder could appreciate his father's instinctive understanding that Gary had to learn to do things for himself.
Wunder tells with amusement the story of his dawning awareness of his blindness. When he was quite young, his home had sliding glass doors separating the living room from the patio. When those doors were closed, he could not hear and therefore did not know what was happening on the other side and assumed that no one else could either. One day he found several soft drink bottles on the patio and broke them. His father then opened the doors and asked if he had broken the bottles. Gary said he had not and that he did not know how they had been broken. His father then astonished him by saying that both his parents had watched him break the bottles and that his mother was now crying because she had thought surely her baby couldn't tell a lie. Gary's response was to say, "Well, she knows better now."
Wunder attended grades one through five at a Kansas City public school. When he was ten, a boy who attended the Missouri School for the Blind persuaded him that he was missing real life by staying at home. At the school, his friend told him, kids rode trains and buses. They could bowl and swim and didn't have to listen to parents. As a result Wunder did some persuading at home and was on hand for sixth grade and some necessary but painful lessons about that real world.
At the close of seventh grade Wunder returned to public schools, having learned several vitally important lessons: he knew the basics of using a white cane; he recognized that his father's demands on him had sprung from strong love and eagerness for his son to succeed; and he understood that people beyond his own family had worth and deserved his respect. But he had also learned that the school for the blind was not the promised land, and he was delighted to be once more in public schools for eighth grade and high school. He was elected to the National Honor Society his senior year but struggled with the mechanics of getting his work done. Braille was not readily available, and readers were hard to recruit without money to pay them.
Wunder planned to attend
the University of Missouri at Kansas City in order to live with his grandmother,
but, after a taste of freedom at the orientation center in Columbia, Missouri,
the summer before college, he decided to enroll at the university's Columbia
campus, where everyone walked everywhere and where he could contrive as many
as three or four dates an evening if he hurried from place to place.
Wunder enjoys recounting the adventure which persuaded him that a blind person should always carry a white cane: "I was having dinner with a young woman who lived near me, so I had not brought my cane, figuring that I wouldn't need it. To my consternation and her distress, my plate of liver and onions slid into my lap. She asked if I wanted her to walk me home so that I could change. I was already so embarrassed that I assured her I would be right back and that I did not need her assistance. The busiest intersection in Columbia lay between me and clean slacks, and after I successfully survived that street crossing, I swore that I would never again be caught without my cane."
Wunder decided to major in political science and philosophy because he felt compelled to avoid the science and math that he loved but feared to take. During his sophomore year he met a professor from Central Missouri State University who suggested that he was ducking the challenge. Together they explored the question of whether or not a blind person could follow schematics and read voltmeters. The answers seemed to be yes, so Wunder transferred to Central Missouri State, where he graduated in 1977 with a degree in electronics technology.
He had done well with the courses, but he did not see how he could run a repair shop with its responsibility for mastering hundreds of schematics for appliances. He could teach electronics, but the professors from whom he had learned the most were those who had firsthand experience. He didn't want to be the theory-only kind of teacher.
Wunder looked for interim jobs after graduation while he tried to decide what to do, and he discovered the hard way that blind job-seekers have to be better than the competition in order to be considered at all. He vowed to become so well trained at doing something that would-be employers could not ignore him. He enrolled in a ten-month course in computer programming offered by the Extension Division of the University of Missouri. No blind person had ever entered the program before, but Wunder completed it successfully and was hired immediately (in the fall of 1978) by the Pathology Department of the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics in Columbia. Years and promotions later Wunder is still successfully working at the hospital and is now a programmer analyst-expert in the Information Services Department.
Wunder first learned about the National Federation of the Blind the summer before his senior year of high school. He says, "In the beginning I thought this talk about discrimination was a pretty good racket. No one did those things to me, and I assumed that all this Federation talk about jobs being denied and parents having children taken away from them was an effective way of raising funds. I didn't realize that my father's name and reputation in my hometown were protecting me from the worst of real life. So far I had gotten what I wanted, including a motorcycle to ride on our farm and my own horse. It was some time before I recognized that these talented and committed blind people whom I was getting to know in the Federation were trying to teach me about the world that I was going to inherit. They frightened me a little, but more and more I wanted to be like them."
In late 1973, several months after Wunder started college in Columbia, a Federation organizing team arrived to establish a new chapter, and he took an active part in the preparations. Wunder was elected president, and when he transferred to Central Missouri State two years later, he organized a chapter in Warrensburg. In 1977 Wunder was elected first vice president of the NFB of Missouri, and in 1979 he became president. Except for one two-year term he has continued in that post ever since. Wunder was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1985 and in 2002 was elected secretary of the organization.
Looking back over the years of his involvement with and commitment to the Federation, Wunder says: "Despite all I learned from my parents about honor, responsibility, and the necessity to be competent, what I could never get from them was a sense of where blind people fit in a world composed mostly of sighted people. Friends and loved ones had always told me how wonderful I was (wonderful for a blind person, that is), but until I came to know members of the National Federation of the Blind, no one had the experience or knowledge to say how I could expect to measure up alongside the sighted. The NFB was the first place where I didn't get a round of applause for performing the routine activities of life. If I wanted my Federation colleagues' recognition and admiration, I had to merit them.
It sounds contradictory, but while I was learning that I wouldn't be applauded for insignificant accomplishments, I was also learning that I didn't have to possess special compensatory senses or talents to make my way in the world. When you believe that your only opportunity for success lies in being a musician but you know that your only musical talent is in listening and then you suddenly find that you are capable of doing the average job in the average place of business, your sense of freedom, hope, and possibility knows no bounds."
Gary now lives with his
wife Debbie in their new home in Columbia, Missouri, where Debbie serves as
the corresponding secretary of the affiliate.
(Nonprofit Agency Administrator, Advocate, and Community Leader)
Pam Dubel was born in 1970 and grew up in Lancaster, New York. She became blind when she was approximately two years old as a result of retinal blastoma, a type of cancer. Although her parents were shocked by her loss of sight, they fortunately realized that she was still the same child except that she could no longer see. Through love and high expectations, they instilled in Pam a sense of pride and confidence in her ability to succeed. Growing up as the youngest of six children also helped her learn to be independent. Since she was the youngest, nobody, especially the brother a year older than she, let her get away with anything. Pam attended a private Catholic school, where she was the only blind student. Her itinerant teacher provided a sound foundation in Braille, which helped her excel in academics. Her parents expected her to do her best and to engage in activities that would make her a well-rounded person. She participated in horseback riding, skiing, and cheerleading during elementary school. During high school her interests shifted to performing in chorus, doing community service, and having fun with her friends.
While growing up, Pam had limited contact with other blind people her age. In general she had no desire to associate with other blind people. She understood that every high school senior experiences some trepidation about the transition to adulthood and independence. However, as high school graduation approached, she began to grapple with questions that her sighted peers couldn't answer. She planned to attend college, and she hoped that she would eventually find a job, but she secretly wondered if she would truly be able to obtain employment. After all, she had had difficulty finding part-time work during high school. She had also never lived on her own, and she wondered how successful she would be at that.
Although she entered college with some apprehension, she was determined to achieve her best. Her small liberal arts college provided an exciting environment in which to learn and grow. But those unanswered questions continued to nag at her. If people were amazed that she could accomplish the most insignificant tasks, would they ever treat her as an equal? She realized that she had to meet other blind people with more experience than she who could serve as role models.
Her search exposed her to a wide variety of groups and organizations of and for the blind. However, not until she attended a student seminar hosted by the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio did she begin to find the answers for which she had been searching. Although she didn't realize it at the time, the seminar marked the beginning of a new chapter of her life. At the seminar she met Barbara Pierce, president of the NFB of Ohio, who told Pam about the Louisiana Center for the Blind. More than that, she spoke with Joanne Wilson, the director, and arranged for Pam to complete an internship at the center the following May. As soon as that was completed, Joanne invited her to work as a counselor in the children's summer program that year.
Pam was a 1991 National Federation of the Blind scholarship winner when she was a senior at Denison University, where she majored in psychology and minored in women's studies. She served as vice president of the Ohio Association of Blind Students and a board member of the National Association of Blind Students, and throughout college she worked summers for Joanne Wilson at the Louisiana Center for the Blind with the Children's Program.
After graduation from college Pam decided to become a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She recognized that she still needed to gain some confidence in her skills and in her ability to be a successful blind person.
Today Pam Allen is the director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind after having been the director of youth services there for many years. In that position she worked with blind infants and toddlers and their parents and also supervised the training of classroom aides to teach Braille throughout Louisiana. She coordinated summer camps and developed programs for blind children and teenagers.
People often ask her what makes the Louisiana Center for the Blind such a special place. She responds, "What sets our alumni apart from those of other kinds of rehabilitation facilities? The answer is that, by attending our center and the other centers conducted by Federationists, students are exposed to the National Federation of the Blind and its philosophy. The NFB is more than an organization; it is a loving family. Regardless of where you are, you can find members of the NFB who can give you support and encouragement when you need it. The NFB also provides a constant supply of role models who challenge you to set goals for yourself."
Allen recalls that she used to believe that she did not need other blind people. She thought that being independent meant succeeding without the help of others. Her involvement with the National Federation of the Blind has taught her that this is not true. She has learned that she needs reinforcement from her blind colleagues and friends.
Pam lives in Ruston, Louisiana,
with her husband Roland Allen, an orientation and mobility instructor at Louisiana
Tech University, whom she met at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She is
currently the president of the NFB of Louisiana and secretary of the National
Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals. In July of 2002 she was elected
to the National Federation of the Blind board of directors. Four years later,
in 2006, she was elected to serve as treasurer of the National Federation of
the Blind. Allen is also involved in a variety of community and professional
organizations. She says, "Being elected to the national board has allowed
me to give back and to spread the message of our movement."
(Businessman and Advocate)
Ron Brown was born in Gary, Indiana, the first of eight children, to Marzette and Myra Brown on May 15, 1956. When he was a senior in high school, he became blind after he was shot on his way home from a basketball game. At the time he knew nothing about blindness and was overwhelmed by the feeling that his entire life had been radically changed in an instant. One of the first painful lessons he learned was that many of his friends could not deal with his blindness and stayed away from him. Luckily he began to make new friends, members of the National Federation of the Blind. They became inspiring role models for Ron, teaching him that it was respectable to be blind and that he could continue to strive for the goals he had set himself.
Armed with this newfound freedom, Ron graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor of science degree in health science. He then went to work at Tradewinds Rehabilitation Center in Indiana, where he met his wife Jean, who was on the staff.
Eventually he was offered a job in the Business Enterprise Program. He had always wanted to own his own business, and this gave him the opportunity to do so. He has now been in business for himself for twenty years. Recently Ron returned to school and earned a master's degree in educational psychology with a certification in orientation and mobility from Louisiana Tech University. He now owns a second business, teaching cane travel to blind people in the state of Indiana.
As Ron Brown has developed and matured in his personal life, his commitment to and service in the National Federation of the Blind have deepened as well. In the early years he was a chapter president and was then elected to the NFB of Indiana's board of directors. He was first elected president of the affiliate in 1996 and has been reelected every two years since. In 2001 he was elected to serve on the NFB board of directors.
Looking back, Ron Brown
says, "Becoming a member of the national board is the fulfillment of a
life dream. I have been an advocate for blind people for more than twenty-five
years, and with every passing year my commitment to serving the blind of this
nation increases. My life indeed changed the night I became blind, but with
the perspective I now have, I must say that it was for the better."
(Rehabilitation Counselor, Advocate, and Mother)
Today Amy Rut Buresh says, “My blindness is simply another of my characteristics like my auburn hair.” She didn’t always feel that way. Amy Rut was born prematurely June 4, 1974, in Fairbury, Nebraska, and has been blind since then from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). When she was five, her family moved from their farm to Nebraska City so that she could attend the Nebraska School for the Visually Handicapped (NSVH). Her parents made the difficult decision to relocate to a new community far away from family, friends, and all they knew so that Amy could continue to live at home during her school years rather than in a dormitory. Young Amy received a solid education and had a normal family life, complete with two pesky little brothers, family campouts, picnics, dress-up, and backyard sports. Amy has said her family’s sacrifice was crucial to her peace of mind in her formative years, and she has always been grateful her parents made the choice they did.
While a student at NSVH, Amy received training in many blindness skills, the most critical of which was Braille, which helped her to excel academically. She participated in countless musicals, the track team, cheerleading, and speech competition. In her freshman year Amy began taking classes at the public school in Nebraska City. Although she was active in extra-curricular activities, including service as president of her school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Amy found it hard to make friends. She recalls that throughout her public school years she sat through many lonely lunches. With an outgoing personality Amy easily made acquaintances, but no one invited her to parties or asked her to go to the movies.
Amy took piano lessons from kindergarten through her sophomore year and voice lessons from her freshman to her senior year. She still sings at churches, banquets, and karaoke as often as she can. She taught summer enrichment courses on the basics of Braille to school children in her hometown. Through the Nebraska Human Resources Department at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Amy also participated in a Big-Sister-style program, in which she was paired with a blind elementary school student whom she continued to mentor well after the program’s conclusion.
Growing up, Amy had few positive blind role models and limited contact with her blind peers. During her teenage years she first participated in youth programs sponsored by the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCBVI), where she gained many valuable skills and met her future husband.
For several summers Amy worked as a volunteer counselor at the Summer Kids Independence Program (SKIP) Camp, a program for children ages five to twelve, sponsored by NCBVI. She wanted to share with other blind youth the things she had learned during her high school journey: which plans had worked for her, and which hadn’t. She believed then and believes more absolutely today that mentoring is important in improving one’s attitude toward blindness and a great way to learn how to handle being different in our society.
Whether at home or at school, participating in music, academics, or athletics, Amy was successfully working and competing with her sighted peers. She was even named second runner-up in the 1990 Nebraska City Miss Applejack Pageant. Yet in addition she had to face another, deeply personal aspect of life. As a senior in high school she began wrestling with life questions that neither her family and teachers nor her sighted peers could answer. Could she really be successful as an independent blind adult? Would she ever marry and have a family? What about employment? Could she get a job and do it well?
Following graduation, Amy
began conquering her fears and seeking answers to these nagging questions by
attending the Orientation Training Center of the Nebraska Commission for the
Blind and Visually Impaired in Lincoln. There she was first introduced to the
underpinning philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and, equally
important, to kind and inspirational Federationists.
Armed with newfound confidence and skills, Amy enrolled in Peru State College, graduating with a BS in psychology, sociology, and criminal justice. Throughout her time on campus she was active as a peer mentor, in student senate, and in residence hall government. She also soloed and toured with the concert choir. She helped found and held several offices in the Association for Challenged and Enabled Students (ACES), a group dedicated to breaking down stereotypes and removing discrimination against those with disabilities. ACES sought to educate the non-disabled public about the challenges people with disabilities face. During the years at Peru State College Amy began working with women and children who experience domestic violence, a field to which she still devotes time when she can. She served as a volunteer counselor for a nonprofit in Southeast Nebraska and other agencies. She has worked tirelessly as an advocate, role model, and leader for both women and the blind. She attributes her success with blind people to her discovery of and involvement in the National Federation of the Blind.
In 1993 the NFB of Nebraska established a scholarship program, and Amy won that first scholarship. With this award she faced a turning point in the evolution of her personal philosophy and in her affiliation with the National Federation of the Blind. Growing up, she had been warned that the NFB was an organization of militants whom she should avoid. Thanks to the scholarship program, Amy attended her first state convention in the fall of 1993, discovered the warmth of the members of the NFB and the important work we are doing, and hasn't looked back since.
In fact, the very next year, in October of 1994, Amy and a handful of other concerned blind Nebraska students were granted the charter for the Nebraska Association of Blind Students within the Nebraska affiliate. She was elected president of the student division, an office she held for two years.
Since those early days in the Federation, Amy has held a number of chapter and affiliate positions in Nebraska. In 2003 she was elected to serve as affiliate president, and in the summer of 2006 she was elected by the National Convention to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
Amy and her husband Shane
(a leader and dedicated Federationist in his own right) live in Lincoln with
their son Noah (born May 2, 2006). She is employed as a rehabilitation counselor
with the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
(Counselor, Father, and Advocate)
Dan Burke says about himself, “I was born a poor-sighted child, but I was in my mid-thirties before I admitted to myself that the visual techniques I employed at work and at home were less functional than those of friends who had no vision.” By that time in his life he had been a single father for six years, completed a master's degree, worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and served on the board of the Montana Association for Rehabilitation.
Dissatisfied with the limitations presented by his lack of alternative blindness skills, he began to seek out colleagues who were blind to find out how they used alternative techniques such as the white cane and Braille. One of those colleagues was a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
Although he'd heard of the NFB, Burke had not been willing to adopt its ideas. He was now ready to test its version of the truth about blindness—that he did not have to accept a life of diminished achievement. With effective skills and healthy attitudes he could gain and enjoy the personal and professional opportunities made possible by his innate talents. Soon he was carrying a long white cane, taking part in a Braille self-study group with other Federationists and referring to himself as "blind," rather than "visually impaired" or "legally blind." He found his life was being transformed for the better.
Burke was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1957, the first of four children--three of whom would be diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive condition leading to blindness. Burke’s parents did all they could to help their children live normal, active lives. Because of their efforts he grew up with a love of the natural environment of Colorado and competent in outdoor activities such as fishing, backpacking, and camping. On the other hand, because his family did not know about the NFB's philosophy or the achievements of its thousands of blind members, for them blindness was a looming tragedy in the future of the family. Without access to better counsel, they accepted the assumption that the more their children could see, the better off they would be. They dreaded the future. Thus Burke grew up believing that even poor strategies that relied on his remaining vision were superior to blindness and nonvisual skills. He remembers always being assigned to the front row in school so that he could see the blackboard; indeed he continued to accept front-row seating when reading the board was no longer possible.
When he was sixteen, Burke was denied a driver's license because of poor vision, and his parents appealed for a restricted license in the belief that a normal life for Dan would require a driver’s license to approximate the experience of his friends. The restricted license was denied, and he was secretly relieved. His grades were below his potential in high school, but he was admitted to the University of Northern Colorado. Just before his graduation from high school, his mother learned of a teacher of blind students in the district, and with her advice Burke took the ACT, using a reader for the first time. He also learned about recorded textbooks. Using readers and listening to recorded texts were the only alternative skills he took with him to college, where he struggled with shame and embarrassment despite excelling in many courses. Throughout college and for some years afterward, he cast about for career options that he thought realistic for a blind person. But without a proper understanding of blindness skills and knowing no successful blind people, he received and acted upon consistent advice to ignore his dreams and to lower his personal expectations.
In 1982 Burke moved from Colorado to Montana, but as his vision progressively worsened, his frustrations and disappointments grew. Eventually he completed a graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling at the University of Montana at Billings and went to work again. After moving to Missoula in 1992 with his seven-year-old son Sean, he was faced with new responsibilities as a single parent. "I couldn't tell my son he couldn't participate in soccer or Cub Scouts because his father was blind," he recalls. "I couldn't continue to let my world shrink--and his as well." Thus began Burke’s quest for blind role models and better techniques for dealing with vision loss.
In 1997 Burke headed for New Orleans to attend his first NFB convention. Of that experience he says: "I had eliminated so many careers for myself because I didn't think a blind person could succeed in them; suddenly at this convention I found blind people who had been doing those jobs--many of them since long before I had decided they couldn't be done by a blind person." That's when Burke began to understand the power of the NFB and its philosophy. He went home and became active in his local chapter and state affiliate. He attended Washington Seminars and lobbied for Braille literacy and changes in the Rehabilitation Act. He became involved in the reimplementation of the blind vendors program in Montana. In 2001 he helped draft and pass a purchasing requirement for state government to buy technology that was accessible by nonvisual means, and in 2005 he worked on the passage of Braille literacy legislation in Montana as well as other key legislation affecting the blind of the state.
Although his parents hadn't known the truth about blindness, they had taught him not to accept the status quo, to approach problems creatively, to get involved, and to give back to his community. With his discovery of the truth about blindness through the National Federation of the Blind, his growth as an individual now sure of his ability to handle the normal give and take of life along with his peers was complete. The NFB philosophy added to his parents’ philosophy gave him the confidence to change his life as well as the techniques with which to do it. Since finding the NFB and its positive philosophy of blindness, he has devoted much of his time and effort to the organization. He was elected to his affiliate's board of directors in 2002 and to the office of affiliate first vice president in 2003. At the 2005 Montana convention he was elected affiliate president. Then, on July 5, 2006, he was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
Burke lives in Missoula, Montana, where he continues to enjoy the outdoors and other hobbies. He is the assistant director of disability services at the University of Montana and serves on the board of Montana Business Enterprises, Inc. He also serves on the board of VSA Arts Montana and the Montana Vocational Rehabilitation Council.
"I may have been born
a poor-sighted child," Burke reflects, "but embracing my blindness,
accepting NFB philosophy, and learning from my friends in the Federation have
made my life immeasurably rich."
Donald C. Capps
(Insurance Executive and Civic Leader)
Few more compelling examples of personal independence and social contribution can be found among either sighted or blind Americans than Donald C. Capps of Columbia, South Carolina. Since the inception of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina in 1956, he served fifteen two-year terms as president, retiring for the last time from this office in the year 2000. He has subsequently served as president emeritus of the affiliate. Capps was elected second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind in 1959 and served in that capacity until 1968 when he was elected first vice president and served in that position until 1984. For health reasons that year he asked that his name not be placed in nomination. In 1985 Capps (restored in health) was again unanimously elected to membership on the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, a position which he still holds as the senior member of the board.
Born in 1928, Capps was educated at the South Carolina School for the Blind and later in public schools. Following his graduation from high school, he enrolled in Draughon's Business College in Columbia and after graduation joined the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company in Columbia as a claims examiner trainee. By the time of his retirement, he had risen to the position of staff manager of the claims department.
Capps first became interested in the organized blind movement in 1953 and the following year was elected president of the Columbia Chapter of the Aurora Club of the Blind (now the NFB of South Carolina), before assuming the presidency of the state organization. Under Capps's energetic leadership the NFB of South Carolina successfully backed thirty-six pieces of legislation affecting the blind citizens of the state, including establishment of a separate agency serving the blind. He edits the Palmetto Blind, the quarterly publication of the NFB of South Carolina. In 1960 he directed a campaign leading to construction of the NFB of South Carolina's $230,000 education and recreation center, which was expanded in 1970 and again in 1978. He now serves as a member of its board of trustees. He has been instrumental in establishing full-time daily operation of the Federation Center.
In December of 1972 the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company presented Capps with an award for "twenty-five years of efficient, faithful, and loyal service." In 1985 he retired after thirty-eight years of service to his company.
Through the years Don Capps has received many awards and honors. In 1965 he was honored as Handicapped Man of the Year by both the city of Columbia and the state of South Carolina. He has held numerous appointments on community and state boards and bodies and has been a leader in Rotary, church, and civic organizations. In 1977 he was elected vice chairman of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind Consumer Advisory Committee. Also in 1977, at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Don Capps received the highest honor bestowed by the organized blind movement, the Jacobus tenBroek Award. In 1981 he was appointed by the governor of South Carolina to membership on the board of commissioners of the South Carolina School for the Blind, where he served as vice chairman until 2005, at which time he retired from the board.
Other awards and honors Capps has received include the Outstanding Leader in Education Award in 1994 (given by the National School Public Relations Association). In 1999 he received the Colonel Sanders Colonel's Way Award. Also that year the CBS television affiliate in Columbia presented him the Jefferson Award for community leadership. In late 2000, in appreciation for his contributions to the school and to the lives of blind South Carolinians, the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind dedicated to Capps its book celebrating its 150 years of service to the community.
In 2000 he also received
the Order of the Palmetto, the highest honor conferred by the state of South
Carolina. In 2001 the University of South Carolina awarded him an honorary doctorate
in public service. Also in 2001 he was honored by the South Carolina General
Assembly with the adoption of a concurrent resolution by the house of representatives
and senate for his outstanding service to the blind.
In 2003 Betty and Don celebrated their fiftieth anniversary of service to the blind. Betty Capps has been an active Federationist as long as her husband has. The Cappses have two grown children, Craig and Beth, and three grandchildren. Although Don has retired from business, he continues to be as active and effective as ever in the Federation, exemplifying leadership and confidence. His ongoing dedication to the NFB provides inspiration and encouragement to his many colleagues and friends both inside and outside the Federation.
(Businessman and Ordained Minister)
In 1947 Vicksburg, Mississippi, was not an ideal place for a black child to be born with congenital cataracts. For years no one even noticed that little Sam Gleese had difficulty seeing, least of all Sam himself. He simply assumed that everyone else saw things with the hazy imprecision that he did.
One day when he was in the second grade, the teacher in the segregated school he attended sent a note home asking his mother to come to school for a conference. To the Gleese family's astonishment she told them that Sam had significant difficulty seeing to read and do board work. By the fourth grade the bouts of surgery had begun. Glasses (which Sam hated and forgot to wear most of the time) were prescribed. But none of this effort enabled young Sam to make out much of what his friends could see. Then in 1962, when he was fifteen, Gleese underwent surgery that gave him enough vision to show him by comparison just how little he had seen until that time.
He graduated from high school in 1966 and enrolled that fall at Jackson State College, where he majored in business administration. Looking back, Gleese is sure that he was legally blind throughout these years, but he never considered that he might have anything in common with the blind students he saw on campus. His struggle was always to see, and that made him sighted. Occasionally he was forced to deal with his difficulty in reading, particularly when a fellow student or teacher pointed out what he seemed to be missing, but for the most part he denied his situation and resented those who tried to make him face his problem.
After graduation in 1970, Gleese joined a management training program conducted by K-Mart. Everyone agreed that he was excellent on the floor and dealing with employees, but, though he did not realize it, he was extremely unreliable in doing paperwork. He consistently put information on the wrong line. His supervisor confronted him with the problem and told him he had vision trouble. He hotly denied it, but within the year he was out of the program.
During the following years Gleese applied repeatedly for jobs that would use his business training. When he supplied information about his medical history and his vision, would-be employers lost interest. Finally in late 1972 he got a job as assistant night stock clerk with a grocery chain. He had a wife to support--he and Vanessa Smith had married in August of 1970--and he needed whatever job he could find. Gradually he worked his way up to assistant frozen food manager in the chain, though it wasn't easy.
Then in 1979 his retinas detached, and within a few weeks late in the year he had become almost totally blind. For a month or two he was profoundly depressed. His wife, however, refused to give up on him or his situation. Gradually Gleese began to realize that she was right. He could still provide for his family and find meaningful work to do. He just had to master the alternative methods used by blind people.
Early in 1980 he enrolled in an adult training center in Jackson, where he learned Braille, cane travel, and daily living skills. He is still remembered in the program for the speed with which he completed his training. By the following summer he was working as a volunteer counselor at the center, and in the fall, with the help of the state vocational rehabilitation agency, he and his wife Vanessa were working in their own tax preparation business.
It was difficult, however, to maintain a sufficient income year round, and the Gleeses had a daughter, Nicole, born in 1976, to think about. In 1983 he decided to try taking a job making mops in the area sheltered workshop for the blind. He worked there for two years until a staff member pointed out that he could do better for himself in the state's Randolph-Sheppard vending program, which had finally been opened to African Americans in 1980-81.
In January of 1985 Gleese
was assigned the worst vending stand in the state of Mississippi. Because of
his degree in business administration, his phenomenal record in personal rehabilitation,
and his work history in the grocery business, officials decided that he needed
no training, but could learn the program in his own location. He spent two years
in that facility, mastering the business and improving his techniques. Then
during the next several years he had somewhat better locations. But in 1992
he bid on an excellent facility and then appealed the decision that awarded
it to another vendor. Though the appeal decision, which eventually came down,
did not give him personal redress, it did correct unfair practices that had
plagued many vendors in Mississippi for years. In April of 1994 Sam, with the
help of his wife Vanessa, became the manager of one of the largest food service
operations in the state vending program.
Gleese has always been active in the Missionary Baptist Church. From 1973 to 1990 he taught the adult Sunday school class in his own church, and in 1980 he became a deacon. He was ordained to the ministry in November of 1992 and is now senior associate minister at the College Hill Baptist Church. He headed the scouting and the taping ministry. Currently he heads the members’ ministry and works with several other ministries.
Gleese first heard about the National Federation of the Blind in the early 1980s and attended his first national convention in 1983. He reports that from that moment he has been a committed Federationist. Vanessa has worked steadily beside him through the years as he has struggled to improve the lives of Mississippi's blind citizens. He became president of one of the state's local chapters in 1985, and the following year he was elected state president. He has continued to serve in that office ever since. Under his leadership the number of chapters in the Mississippi affiliate has nearly tripled.
In 1992 Gleese was first elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, where he continues to serve with distinction. He has dedicated his life to educating the public, blind and sighted alike, about the abilities of blind people. According to him, too many people in Mississippi believe--as he did for many years--that blind people can do nothing and belong in rocking chairs and back rooms. Sam Gleese is making a difference everywhere he puts his hand.
In May of 1999 the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, chose Sam to serve as chairperson of the newly formed Mayor's Advisory Committee on Disabilities. In September of that year he was appointed and confirmed by the city council of Jackson as the first blind person to serve on the Jackson-Hinds Library administrative board. This board oversees the services of public libraries in each of the seven towns in the Hinds County area.
In August of 2000 Gleese retired from the vending program for health reasons. He served one year in the Ameri-Corps volunteer program. The project with which he was associated encourages and enables people with disabilities to become fully involved in the community. The program is the only one of its kind in Mississippi and is staffed by disabled people. Sam explains that other Ameri-Corps programs are designed to assist in education--tutoring and the like--but this program allowed him to increase his outreach to blind people and the general disability community. It provided yet one more way of living his Federationism and ministering to the people he has been called to serve.
In August of 2001 Gleese accepted a position as an Independent Living Specialist with LIFE (Living Independence for Everyone) of central Mississippi. This position provided opportunities to work with adolescents with special health care needs between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one in Mississippi. The project, called Healthy Futures, is funded by a four-year grant through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In January of 2002 Gleese became the statewide project director for the Healthy Futures grant. This position enhances his opportunity to serve all adolescents with special health care needs, including blind people.
Sam Gleese makes it clear
by word and action that each advancement he has made through the years has been
in large measure the result of the hope and determination the NFB has instilled
in its members.
(Businessman, Community Activist, and Teacher)
Carl Jacobsen was born on December 22, 1946, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where his father had immigrated from Norway and his mother from Scotland. When he was sixteen, he lost his sight over a four-month period due to Lieber’s Syndrome. Although it would be some time before he found the NFB, Carl says he employed Federation philosophy in his approach to his blindness from the day he learned his diagnosis.
He transferred from Brooklyn Tech to Erasmus Hall High School because that's where the resource room was located. At Erasmus he met two adults who would have a positive influence on his life: his resource teacher, Sam Ellis, and his orientation and mobility instructor, Ed Townes. Carl tells the story of how this instructor, now a member of Congress, gave him a dry cleaning claim ticket and some cash and told him to pick up his suit. When Carl asked where the dry cleaner was located, Townes responded that, since he was such a wise guy, he could figure it out for himself. While at Erasmus, Carl also met Sally Rupp, one of the volunteer readers in the resource room, whom he would later marry. After graduation from high school Carl attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, for two years while Sally attended nursing school in Brooklyn. They decided the separation was too stressful, however, so Carl left school to marry Sally.
Soon he and Sally began their family with son Bradley and daughter Christine, born in their first five years of marriage. Later, in 1991, they adopted their son Andrew from Korea. While the older children were growing up, Carl returned to school and finished his bachelor's degree at Hunter College in New York City. He also attended Union Seminary for three years but decided not to seek ordination.
Carl attended his first NFB national convention in 1989 and has missed only one since, the year his wife Sally was critically ill. In the fall of 1989 he was elected second vice president of the New York affiliate. In 1991 he was elected president of the New York City Chapter, an office he held until 2005. Later that year he was elected first vice president of the state affiliate and subsequently elected affiliate president in 1997, a position he continues to hold. Carl also served on the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Merchants until July of 2006.
Throughout his life Carl has pursued various careers, including factory management and business enterprise management. He says his favorite work is teaching. Though he has never taught school, in addition to training entrants into the Randolph-Sheppard Program, he works with blind children and teens on cane travel and other blindness skills as well as on attitudes about blindness. He also gives presentations to parents and educators of blind children on the truth about blindness the Federation way. Throughout the 1970s and 80s Carl was instrumental in establishing several programs for preschool children through local churches.
Carl was elected to the
NFB board of directors in 2004. His daughter Christine has presented him with
twin grandchildren, Jason and Caitlin. His wife Sally died in February 2002.
Consistent with his and Sally's passion for education, in her memory Carl has
endowed an NFB scholarship, which has been given at each national convention
since 2002. On May 20, 2006, Carl married Mindy Fliegelman. Together they continue
to work for the independence of blind people in New York and across the country.
(Advocate, Braille Specialist, and Mother)
Mary Catherine Brothers (Cathy) was born on October 25, 1949, in Louisville, Kentucky, to Charles and Catherine Brothers. She is the third of nine children, four girls and five boys.
Cathy was born with congenital cataracts. In 1949 few resources were available to parents of blind children. The National Federation of the Blind was only nine years old, and the Kentucky affiliate was only two years old. The Brothers family had not heard of either. Her parents had never known any other blind people and couldn't imagine what the future might hold for their daughter. However, they decided that a common-sense approach was their best avenue. Luckily for Cathy, they never considered any approach to raising their blind daughter other than the methods they were using to raise their two older boys.
After several eye surgeries Cathy gained some usable vision in her right eye. At age five she was enrolled in a Roman Catholic school. Her parents chose this educational setting since the school offered a sight-saving class, where she would have access to large-print books and other materials that would make classroom work easier. Then in the fall of 1960 Cathy was enrolled at the Kentucky School for the Blind, where she remained until graduating from high school in 1967. Her parents and teachers decided that it would be more beneficial for her to attend school where she would have access to all of her textbooks in large print and, perhaps more important, where she could learn Braille.
This was Cathy's first exposure to totally blind peers and adults. Although she had been around other visually impaired students at her elementary school, the majority of them could see considerably better than she. She and her parents soon learned that blindness was simply a physical condition, certainly not one that would keep her from achieving whatever goals she set for herself. During these seven years while attending the Kentucky School for the Blind, she began to learn not to be ashamed of her blindness. She learned to advocate for herself and others. Being student council president during her junior and senior years launched her political career.
During the summer of 1967 Cathy attended the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. An ill-advised rehabilitation counselor thought this training would be the crowning touch to prepare her for college in the fall. That summer school Lighthouse class of 1967 was comprised of very bright, outgoing, normal young adults, who turned the tables on the Lighthouse staff and teachers. As Cathy remembers the experience, the adults were the ones to get the education when the students refused to be bound by the low expectations and negative attitudes of the staff. At this point in her life she still had not heard about the National Federation of the Blind but was already preaching and practicing NFB philosophy.
Upon graduation from high school Cathy attended Spalding University, formerly Catherine Spalding College in Louisville, Kentucky. She majored in psychology, minored in sociology, and took an active part in academic, student government, and social organizations. The blindness skills and attitudes she had learned at the Kentucky School for the Blind and even the negative attitudes she had been exposed to at the Lighthouse the summer before college were beginning to pay dividends. Cathy was growing into an adult with increasingly resolute convictions and positive attitudes.
In 1972 Cathy met Betty Niceley, the longtime leader of the Kentucky affiliate and for many years a member of the NFB board of directors. The rest is history. This friendship began her formal Federation education. Although Cathy was slow to join the Federation, Betty never gave up on recruiting her. In 1975 Cathy became a member of the Louisville Association of the Blind, the former name of the local NFB chapter. Through the years Cathy eventually served as secretary, vice president, and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Greater Louisville. She was also treasurer of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille of Kentucky. In the Kentucky affiliate she has served as board member, treasurer, first vice president, and now president. At the 2002 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind held in Louisville, she was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
Cathy has held a variety of jobs through the years. During college she was employed at the Kentucky Industries for the Blind (now New Vision Enterprises for the Blind) to do seasonal contract work. For a short time after college Cathy worked for the state of Kentucky as a social worker in the Food Stamp Office. After staying home to raise her daughter, Cathy has worked successively as the program coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky Braille Service Center, a clerical support staff member in a law office, and the Braille clerk for the Jefferson County school system. But her favorite job of all was stay-at-home mom to her daughter Dana Nicole. She volunteered as a classroom aide, did substitute teaching, and worked as a secretary in the principal's office. She served as president of the school Parent Teacher Association, secretary of the athletic club, and member of the parish council. In addition she coached both the peewee basketball team and the cheerleading squad.
Cathy has received a number
of awards for academic and athletic achievement, but the two awards she cherishes
most are the Susan B. Rarick and Harold L. Reagan awards presented to her by
the NFB of Kentucky. Cathy comments that her roots and commitment to the NFB
go deep and that the past twenty-seven years are just the beginning.
(Counselor, Advocate, and Father)
Anil Lewis was born in 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the third of four children. Both his older brother and older sister became legally blind at an early age from retinitis pigmentosa. Lewis was originally labeled educably mentally retarded but eventually became the first member of his family to attend a four-year college. He has excelled academically, received many awards, participated as a leader in many extracurricular activities, and received several college scholarships. Although he was finally diagnosed at age nine with retinitis pigmentosa, his vision was fairly unaffected until age twenty-five.
As a sighted man he fairly easily found respectable employment with wages high above the minimum wage. Then in 1989, while pursuing his bachelor’s of business administration in computer information systems at Georgia State University (GSU), he became blind from retinitis pigmentosa. "All of a sudden doors that had been open to me slammed shut." At that point, although he had always considered himself socially aware, he became personally acquainted with actual social injustice and discrimination. "I am ashamed that only personal experience brought this awakening and decision to take action. But I am proud that I did take action and remain committed today to making a difference in the lives of others."
Lewis received blindness skills training while completing his course requirements for his degree at GSU. He quickly learned the alternative skills of blindness, including Braille, activities of daily living, assistive technology, and use of the white cane. He capitalized on them to graduate from Georgia State in 1993. "It was a struggle to regain the life that blindness had appeared to take from me. Almost everyone who had once respected me now pitied me, but I was determined not to be redefined by my blindness." Armed with these new skills and this new determination, he quickly became committed to ensuring that others in similar situations could get appropriate training and unlimited opportunities.
Lewis got a job as a Braille and assistive technology instructor. Within a year he was given the greater responsibility of job development/placement specialist, helping clients develop employment skills and get jobs. "I had had no experience helping anyone other than myself get a job. I certainly did not have expertise in job placement for blind people." It was during this time that he first became aware of the National Federation of the Blind. A friend referred him to the NFB when he had questions about Social Security work incentives and needed information about tools and strategies to help blind people obtain employment. As a result he attended his first NFB convention in Chicago, Illinois, in 1995 and became aware of the empowering philosophy and tremendous resource of the National Federation of the Blind. The technical assistance materials produced by the NFB’s Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) program and the NFB’s Social Security and technical assistance information provided resources enabling him to motivate, educate, and encourage other blind people to achieve successful gainful employment. "My success as a job placement specialist was a direct result of my ability to infuse NFB philosophy into the clients I worked with."
Lewis went on to develop and manage a job placement program for people with disabilities as the manager of the Disability Employment Initiative with Randstad Staffing, one of the largest employment staffing companies in the world, during the Atlanta Olympic and Para-Olympic Games in 1996. From then until early 2006 he was employed by the law offices of Martin and Jones as the Georgia Client Assistance Program (CAP) counselor/advocate, representing people with disabilities every day. He is currently a disability consultant working with companies in Georgia.
He became president of the Atlanta Metropolitan Chapter of the NFB of Georgia in 2000 and was elected president of the NFB of Georgia in 2002. In that year he also received the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship, the NFB’s most prestigious award presented to a blind student, which he used to obtain his master’s degree in public administration with emphasis in policy analysis and program evaluation from GSU in 2003. That year he was also elected as a member of the National Federation of the Blind board of directors. He received an Outstanding Alumnus award from GSU and was also a 2003 GSU Torch Bearer of Peace Award recipient. In 2006 Lewis was named alumnus of the year by Leadership Dekalb, a community leadership development organization in Dekalb County, Georgia.
Lewis has dedicated his leadership skills to the development and growth of disability rights organizations that promote independence and improved quality of life. He was appointed by the governor as a board member and is the current president of the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) of Georgia, an organization promoting independent living for those with severe disabilities. He also serves as chairman of the board of directors of the Disability Law and Policy Center (DLPC) of Georgia, which uses a variety of methods to influence and enforce disability policy. All of these organizations recognize that people with disabilities are integral, necessary members of society and reflect the world’s normal diversity. Further, each works to ensure that the policies and programs developed for people with disabilities are created and implemented by people with disabilities. By helping to develop and strengthen such institutions to serve as a cornerstone in protecting the rights of people with disabilities, he hopes to secure the commitment and support of others. He also hopes to reduce the barriers disabled people face by encouraging the implementation of public policy securing the rights and promoting the responsible participation of people with disabilities as productive citizens.
Lewis volunteers as a teacher and mentor for blind kids, working with promising blind students who, because of limited resources and lack of trained professionals to teach them, are inappropriately encouraged to pursue special education diplomas. He wants blind students to set higher goals for themselves and to receive the training and tools they need to acquire the skills to reach their full potential.
Speaking of his personal life, Anil Lewis says that his proudest accomplishment is his bright, ambitious son Amari, born in 1997. Balancing his many civic responsibilities with his personal life as a father is undoubtedly his greatest challenge. His greatest success, he thinks, has been overcoming the temptation to subside into becoming an unmotivated, self-pitying person with a disability. He thinks his greatest contribution so far has been to encourage other people with disabilities to believe in themselves and to understand that they can make a difference.
Lewis says that lack of awareness of individuals with traits outside society’s accepted norms promotes extreme ignorance, which in turn results in unjustified fear, negative stereotypes, and discrimination. In an effort to combat that ignorance, he aggressively recruits, refers, and supports other like-minded people to become active in the National Federation of the Blind and other organizations in the disability rights movement. He hopes to promote social change by fostering the active participation of more people with disabilities in every facet of society, thereby replacing ignorance with understanding, fear with awareness, and negative stereotypes with mutual understanding. In the process he believes that we will eliminate discrimination.
"With a working knowledge
of most disability law and policy and extended experience in advocating for
the rights of others, I am committed to improving the quality of life for all
people with disabilities by working to remove the barriers of ignorance while
creating equal opportunities for all. My personal mission is simple: I want
to make a difference in the lives of others."
(Rehabilitation Teacher, Counselor, and Advocate)
Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, Chris McKenzie was the only child of young parents who knew little about blindness. McKenzie was born with cataracts, and after many surgeries before the age of one she developed glaucoma, which left her with light and color perception, but not enough vision to read print, no matter how large. She later lost all her vision.
Fortunately for her a doctor told her parents that they could mold her into a dependent or an independent adult--whichever they chose. McKenzie began kindergarten as a day student at the Arkansas School for the Blind in the fall of 1963. Though she took one class in a local high school, her primary elementary and secondary education was at the school for the blind, from which she graduated in 1976.
After attending Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, where she received a bachelor's in psychology, McKenzie proceeded to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where she received a master's in counselor education. During summers, school holidays, and any other day she could get away, McKenzie worked in the mailroom at the Arkansas Farm Bureau. "It was a wonderful summer job," McKenzie says. "It helped me to maintain good grades in college and graduate school--mailroom work is hard and tedious!"
Her first professional job was working for the Pulaski County Municipal Court as a counselor in a new, grant-funded first-offenders' program under the direction of Judge David Hale. Unfortunately, when the grant was not renewed, McKenzie was forced to look for work once more. She transferred to the Arkansas Division of Services for the Blind (DSB) in Fort Smith as an independent living counselor--a position now known as a rehabilitation teacher. During the next eleven years McKenzie worked with blind children and their families and blind adults. In 1994 she moved back to Little Rock, continuing to work for DSB. During the next several years McKenzie did a combination of rehabilitation teaching and vocational counseling.
In May of 1996 McKenzie discovered the National Federation of the Blind as a result of having attended one of the BNATT (Braille Nonvisual Access Techonology Training) workshops at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. While there, she spent much of her off time with blind people who opened McKenzie's eyes to the amazing history, positive philosophy, and family-like support system of the organization. McKenzie left Baltimore a committed Federationist and two months later became a chapter officer back home in Arkansas. Much to her amazement and sometimes exasperation, she was elected the Arkansas affiliate president in October 1996.
McKenzie had the privilege of attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston for four months in 1997, observing a model program in which blind staff members teach blind students and achieve extraordinary results. She describes the experience as "The most memorable and helpful thing for me to do. It also helped to cement my Federation philosophy."
Chris McKenzie is always
in search of learning more and becoming better at what she does. She recently
completed a seven class, two-year rehabilitation training program for leadership
development known as CLICK (Community Leadership Institute for Change Knowledge)
and is now enrolled in another master's program, rehabilitation teaching, at
the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. There's no telling what Chris McKenzie
might do after that, but one thing is certain: she will be doing it as a Federationist.
(Veteran and Advocate)
The needs of the blind of Puerto Rico are legion. With the support of the membership of the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico, this board member has made it his personal mission to lead his affiliate to work for improved and modernized opportunities for education, employment, and daily life for all blind people in this somewhat isolated part of the United States. Now on the national board, he is expanding his work to include improved opportunities for all blind people nationwide.
Alpidio Rolón, the only child of Marcela García and Alpidio Rolón, was born on June 20, 1949, in New York City. Seven years later his family moved back to Puerto Rico, where he has lived since 1956. He volunteered for service in the Army in July 1969, completed basic and advanced infantry training, then was sent to Vietnam in January of 1970. A rifle-propelled grenade that blew up in front of him blinded him on April 7, 1970. Three weeks later young Rolón was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he learned basic orientation and mobility skills and was treated for perforated eardrums caused by the exploding grenade. He later spent six months at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center of the Hines Veterans Administration Hospital in Chicago. There he learned the blindness skills that would permit him to live independently.
Rolón graduated magna cum laude from the University of Puerto Rico in 1976, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with an Hispanic Studies major. Continuing his interest in Hispanic studies at the master’s level, he completed both courses and comprehensive test requirements. At the University of Puerto Rico be began advocating for the rights of blind people. Although he had belonged to other blind consumer organizations, he says that it wasn’t until 1991—when he became part of the NFB of Puerto Rico organizing committee—that he began to believe that he could really do something worthwhile to help the blind, that joining the National Federation of the Blind was like coming home. Rolón was first elected as treasurer of the NFB of Puerto Rico in 1992 and has served as its president since 1996. He was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind in July of 2006.
Rolón has combined his love of Spanish and his commitment to the National Federation of the Blind by translating NFB materials into Spanish. He was first motivated to do so when he heard Dr. Kenneth Jernigan’s speech "On the Nature of Independence" at the NFB national convention in 1993, in Dallas, Texas. He has since translated other speeches and Braille Monitor articles, served as a real-time translator of banquet speeches at national conventions, and edited inspirational personal stories of the kind that appear in the NFB Kernel Books, written by members of the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico.
Alpidio Rolón is
the president of the Society of Friends of the Regional Library for the Blind
and Physically Handicapped of Puerto Rico. In that capacity he has guided the
Society into producing Braille and recorded books in Spanish for blind children
in Puerto Rico. To further his goal of improving educational opportunities for
blind children, he serves as secretary of the Special Education Advisory Panel
for the Puerto Rico Department of Education.
Joseph Ruffalo, Jr.
(Massage Therapist, Community Leader, and Activist)
Born July 6, 1949, in Montclair and raised in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Joseph Ruffalo, Jr., had already graduated from Bloomfield High School, attended Montclair State College, and served America in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star, before he learned in 1976 that retinitis pigmentosa would slowly claim his vision. For six years he continued his work as a manager in a Thom McAn shoe store, but by 1983 he began looking for guidance about how to achieve greater proficiency and control over his life as a blind adult.
The staff at the Joseph Kohn Rehabilitation Center (JKRC), then located in Newark, told him he should not learn to use a cane, read Braille, or master any adaptive devices because he still had enough vision to do without them. Though eager to obtain the necessary skills, at the time Joe believed he had no recourse but to adhere to the advice of the only professionals he knew. Not until 1986 did he learn to use a cane, and he accomplished that by teaching himself. While at JKRC, Joe discovered a talent for baking, which led to a successful nine-year career as the owner of a pastry business.
In 1988 Joe tentatively attended his first NFB chapter meeting in Newark. He reports that after ten minutes he knew that his life was about to change dramatically. Realizing that the NFB was a place of fraternity and empowerment, empathy and accomplishment, Joe says, “I saw blind people doing things I wanted to do. They were holding jobs, volunteering, and achieving in every pursuit.” This was the beginning of Joe's own growth and achievement. In 1990 he became second vice president of the New Jersey affiliate; two years later he was first vice president; and by 1993 he was president of the NFB of New Jersey, a position he maintains to this day. “It is a tremendous honor and responsibility to promote positive attitudes about blindness and the abilities of blind people,” Joe comments.
But Joe's community involvement has not been limited to the National Federation of the Blind. He has been a leader in the Lions Club for over eighteen years, serving as president for three. He has also held positions as zone/regent chair and serves on the District 16-E cabinet. In the Knights of Columbus Joe has held the positions of guard, warden, and deputy grand knight, and while in the Cub Scouts of America he has been both a den leader and cubmaster. As past president of the Special Education Parent and Professional Organization and past chairman of the board of trustees of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, he has further worked to assure the full integration of people with disabilities into society.
Joe attended the Therapeutic Massage Center to obtain certification in massage therapy and from 1998 to 2000 provided massage for staff, patients, and visitors at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, before moving his practice to a private office. He has served as a consultant to the Somerset School of Massage, making recommendations to staff and students and answering questions about training methods for blind students.
Joe also works to smooth others' transitions from dependence to independence as a leader in two programs sponsored by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He is employed by the First Occupational Center of New Jersey as a program specialist in the Senior Community Independent Living Services (SCILS) program, which identifies people over age fifty-five in Essex and Ocean counties who have experienced vision loss, with the goal of teaching independence skills so that these seniors can remain active in the community and independent in their homes. As state program director and northern region coordinator of the Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Determination (LEAD) program, administered in partnership with Heightened Independence and Progress, Joe provides mentoring activities for blind teenagers and their families.
Joe’s many contributions to the community were recognized in November 2000 when he was honored with the Partnership for Progress Award at the New Jersey Commission's Believe and Achieve ninetieth Anniversary celebration. In July 2001 his leadership in the blindness community was again acknowledged when he was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind. In October of 2002 the State of New Jersey honored Joe by presenting him with the New Jersey Vietnam Service Medal.
Joe has always been encouraged and supported by his wife of twenty-eight years, Judy, and his two sons, Joseph and James. In his spare time Joe likes sports of all kinds, especially baseball and basketball, and enjoys hosting Thru Our Eyes, an Internet radio program (www.thruoureyes.org) that highlights blindness issues, discusses technology, and promotes positive attitudes about blindness.
Joe’s life and work express
his commitment to the blind and their struggle for equality in society. His
achievements stand as an example for others, like those of the Federationists
who deeply impressed him at his first chapter meeting. He achieves and grows,
facing every challenge with energy, enthusiasm, and common sense. In so doing,
he exemplifies his belief that “one of the most important things for members
of the blind community to do is to teach the public that blindness is only a
characteristic. With the proper training, skills, attitude, and techniques,
blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance.”
(Educator, Administrator, and Father)
Dan Wenzel, son of Dan and Rolane Wenzel, was born on March 2, 1970. Educated in public schools, Dan graduated from Alimita High School in Lakewood, Colorado. He earned his BS degree in history education from the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in Greeley. He anticipates enrolling in a master’s program in education administration.
During college Dan worked in telemarketing and was involved in the management of the UNC Alumni Association. The trajectory of his career, though, was set with his hiring in the 1992 summer program of the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB). Dan says:
My job as a summer counselor at the CCB changed the course of my career. Prior to accepting this position, I had given little thought to my blindness or the needs of our community. I realized that summer that I wanted to work with and for blind people. Because of my experience at the CCB I joined the National Federation of the Blind. I came to understand that through advocacy and training blind people could play a role in changing their own lives and those of other blind people. I discovered that the empowering philosophy of the Federation was awesome. I was converted.
After graduation Dan worked briefly as a teacher in the Aurora, Colorado, public schools. He worked during successive summers as director of the middle and high school programs for the CCB. He was hired full-time to teach orientation and mobility and to direct the center’s emerging youth programs in February 1995. Advancing in his career, he was promoted to assistant director of the CCB in 1999. He served in this capacity until February 2001.
Wanting to broaden his professional experience and to live closer to his spouse’s family, Dan accepted a position as regional support specialist with the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (WCBVI). In September 2003 he laterally transferred to the position of transition specialist, where he returned to his passion for helping teenage youth move from school to work or higher education. Drawing upon his previous experience, he has built and directed the WCBVI Employment Skills Experience Program from 2002 through 2006, a model summer job-training program for blind youth living in the Badger State. Dan’s visionary talents as a leader and program administrator were recognized in August 2006 when he was offered and accepted the position of director of the WCBVI, the Wisconsin governmental entity that houses the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped and other outreach and social services to blind youth living in the state.
Dan is deeply committed to the NFB. While resident in Colorado, he served on the affiliate’s board of directors. In recognition of his commitment to the Federation, he was the first recipient of the Ray McGeorge Award, bestowed by the Colorado Association of Blind Students. He served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin from 2003 until August 2006, when he resigned in order to achieve a better balance between work and family obligations. He was elected to the NFB’s national board in July 2006 in Dallas, Texas.
Dan identifies sports and music as personal pleasures. He served as head coach of the WCBVI goalball team, leading his team to a 2005 state championship. In 2002 he demonstrated his commitment to athletics and sports in general through his service as vice president of the Wisconsin Association of Blind Athletes. A holdover from his years of service at the CCB is his love of rock climbing. He is also a blues fan, holding a membership in the Crossroads Blues Society.
Dan is married to Jennifer Lehman Wenzel, a Federation leader in her own right. She is president of the Rock County chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin. They have three children: Roland (born in 1999), Stephen (born in 2001), and Tanner (born in 2004).
Abundantly successful in
his personal, professional, and Federation roles, Dan offers some commonsense
advice about our responsibilities as blind people in society, and he acknowledges
those who have supported him along the way. He says: “One of the most important
things we can do is to be positive blind role models for everybody. The Federation
is a rich resource for person-to-person mentoring. Before my involvement with
the NFB I was truly unaware of the abilities of blind people. The NFB showed
me that blind people could be successful in every walk of life. I will always
be personally grateful to my Federation mentors. They have brought me along
and have given me hope. I now try to do the same for others.”