by Gary Wunder
One of my jobs as the state president in Missouri has been to deliver eulogies for Federationists whose long service and love of the organization deserve a tribute. I have written them for two past affiliate presidents, several other leaders of prominence, and many friends. The honor in being asked to deliver a eulogy is that you may be saying the most important words that have been or will ever be said about someone's life. The sadness is that it isn't being said to the person we are honoring. At best one must take on faith that the remarks will be heard, felt, sensed, or known by the one being honored, and at worse the comments come too late to matter to that person.
What a pleasure it is when sometimes we are able to say thank you to a gem while he or she is still around to appreciate it, correct us when we don't quite get it right, and tell us just a bit more that we don't quite know as we write the remarks to share their lives with those who may not have known them as well as their family and friends. So it is that I have drawn an ace from the deck and have the honor of putting down some part of Jim Omvig's life story: an inspiration, a tribute to what can happen when one works hard, meets the right people, is encouraged, and takes advantage of the opportunities offered.
Jim was raised in Slater, Iowa, and for a time attended the public school there. Though he tried hard, much of his effort focused on using vision he simply didn't have. Eventually he went to the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton. While competing academically and athletically was made easier by the lack of emphasis on vision, the school brought with it other difficulties. Foremost among these was the attitude held by the school about its blind charges. Those with the most sight were the most blessed: those called upon for giving the school tours, for pitching the tents during scouting events, and for looking after “the totals” (those without any usable vision). The school believed the blind could be educated, but the fields in which they could participate were quite limited, and, given this philosophy, the school provided vocational technical training in the few jobs they believed their graduates could do. The staff members were good, honest people, but they saw their calling to be to teach the blind some academic skills, help them compete with other blind people athletically, and acquaint them early on with the limitations of blindness. These would not have been the words they used, but certainly the attitude they conveyed to Jim and his fellow students.
After high school Jim lived at home almost eight years. Most of his days were not so much living as existing, always waiting for that piece of medical news that would change his life. His mother so wanted him to see that she went to eye doctors, offering one of her eyes if only they could give it to Jim so that he might have vision. Since no operation, regardless of the sacrifice, could give him the vision he would need to be a productive citizen, he and his family lived from day to day, with Jim doing what little he could to help with family chores. Occasionally he got work in a local creamery, where his strength could be used in moving butter and loading trucks with products bound for the city. This was not the kind of work that could provide a real income, but any extra money was helpful, and so too was any reason to get up in the morning. This was not the life he wanted, but it was the life he had been given, and people from Iowa knew there was only so much time that could be given over to grief about what one had lost and wanted back.
Jim lived what he now regards as an isolated life. Though tall and good looking, he decided early on that it would be irresponsible to get involved with women. In his mind a man's role was to be the provider, the leader in his home. He believed that being blind precluded this, so there was no reason to offer his heart or to ask for the heart of another.
When he was twenty-five, Jim was contacted by the Iowa Commission for the Blind and invited to go to Des Moines to tour the agency. His sister Jan was then a student and encouraged him to come. He figured he already knew much of what there was to know about what blind people could do and become from his time at the school in Vinton, but he agreed to visit if for no other reason than for the brief change in daily routine the visit would afford.
Mr. Omvig remembers his first interview with agency Director Kenneth Jernigan and the questions that set him on a path he never thought possible. The first question was whether or not he was blind, and Mr. Omvig gave what he regarded as a cutesy but accurate answer. "I am hard of seeing," he said, at which point Mr. Jernigan asked "How many fingers am I holding up?" and then told Jim unequivocally that he was blind. Jim remembers that this answer cut deeply and stung bitterly. Mr. Jernigan asked Jim his age. When Jim said he was twenty-five, Mr. Jernigan said, "My, my, twenty-five. So a man your age can expect to live for another fifty years. Jim, what are you going to do for the next fifty years?" As he considered his answer, he remembers feeling sick at heart. Fifty years was more a sentence than a promise. Jim's reply was that he didn't know, but what he feared was that he did and that those years would be spent doing just what he had done since high school graduation.
But the very asking of the question hinted that there were possibilities beyond returning to Slater and living out his life as the dependent son and brother. Kenneth Jernigan suggested that Jim come to the Orientation and Adjustment Center for training and told him that a man with some motivation and brains could be a productive citizen. Jim wasn't sure he believed it, but he could clearly see that the man offering the opportunity did. What was the risk? Unrealized hopes would hurt, but so would returning to Slater, where nothing was happening or likely to happen for a blind man named Omvig.
Although Jim agreed during his visit to come to the center for training, he still had one hope—that he might regain his vision. Friends told him about a doctor in South Dakota doing miraculous work, so he took all of his money, got a friend to drive him, and once again got the sad news that vision was not in his future.
Jim spent nine months at the center: learning Braille, cane travel, typing, wood working, and engaging in challenge activities he had previously thought to be well beyond what blind people could do. Nearing the end of his training, Jim was asked what he would like to do with his future—what he might like to do for a living. Full of enthusiasm for what he was experiencing, he replied that he would like to run a training center and do what Mr. Jernigan was doing to help the blind.
Mr. Jernigan responded with a question: "Mr. Omvig, do you want to go into work with the blind and run a center because you think you would truly love it and be good at it or because you really believe you can't succeed at anything else and that getting into work with the blind will be easy?" When Jim said that he didn't know if he could answer the question honestly, Mr. Jernigan suggested that he consider another career.
What Jim had considered foolish and impossible only a year before was reshaping his life. Those crazy people from the commission were offering him the chance to go to college and promised financial support that his family could never hope to provide. Beyond the financial support, they convinced Jim that they believed in him, let him observe a few blind people who were successfully pursuing careers and raising families, and suggested to him that he could do the same. What he came to understand later was that he was being given the opportunity to be a modern-day pioneer, to assume a special place as part of a social experiment to determine if the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind was simply a fine-sounding theory or whether it would prove to be true and could change lives in the way its proponents proclaimed.
Jim finished his training at the commission, went to college, and was the first blind person to attend and graduate from the Loyola University of Chicago's School of Law. He recalls that 144 students entered the school, and of those only thirty-six were granted law degrees. Having this degree meant that the man who once had nothing to do and plenty of time to do it in would find himself busy for the rest of his life, taking his place as a senior warrior in the civil rights struggle of the blind and eventually appearing before the justices of the United States Supreme Court to be granted the right to practice law before that august body.
But, after graduating in 1966 with good grades and a degree from a prestigious law school, Jim had to arrange and participate in 150 interviews before he landed a job. Even this took some political intervention from his friend and mentor, Kenneth Jernigan. Mr. Omvig moved to Washington, DC, and became the first blind employee of the National Labor Relations Board. Although he was admired and well-liked by his fellow employees, several did try to convince him that his long hours and prodigious output raised the bar for them and let it be known that they were none too happy about this. Jim told them that they were free to work as much or as little as they liked, but he was there to do more than earn an income and provide for himself: he was there to convince the world that blind people could do high-quality work and do it as well as their sighted coworkers. His fellows saw the logic in this, and it added to their respect for him. But the secretary who had been assigned to him said, "Mr. Omvig, you are a damned workaholic, and you're not going to make one out of me." Given the friction, Mr. Omvig asked for a different secretary and got one, and his former employee was transferred.
While rewarding, his job in DC primarily involved doing administrative research and paperwork. But Jim wanted real courtroom experience and requested a transfer. It was granted, and he moved to New York to continue his work with the agency. He found the work more rewarding, but it posed some challenges he had not faced in DC. He had relied primarily on volunteer readers in his first appointment, but when, as a field attorney, he began serving as a hearing officer, there were times when he was presented with written material and required to decide whether or not it should be admitted into the record. In these cases it is traditional for the hearing to be recessed while the hearing officer studies the material. It was not practical for Jim to send the material out for recording or to expect a volunteer to sit with him throughout his workday. The solution he arrived at was ideal: he asked that the stenographer, who was already being paid, act as his reader during the recess, and in this way he had access to printed documents without incurring additional cost or inconvenience to himself or his employer.
As he settled into his job, Jim began to be asked by President Jernigan to visit state affiliates as a national representative. He appreciated being asked, thrived on being able to serve, and gladly took up the task. What he found surprised him. At some level he knew that Iowa represented something tremendously different in rehabilitation than could be found in the rest of the country, but knowing this wasn't quite the same as seeing firsthand the denials that blind people were facing when they sought to become self-sufficient and to exercise some control over their education and careers.
Jim recalls meeting a woman from New Hampshire who had always wanted to be a teacher. Having gone blind in her teens, she approached the rehabilitation agency there and was told by her counselor that her goal was unrealistic and that certainly he would not approve the college education that teaching would require. Having read in the Braille Monitor about Judy Young, a blind teacher in Iowa, the woman in New Hampshire took her case to the agency director. He agreed with the counselor, telling her that a college education was unrealistic and that any thought of landing a teaching job was foolish. When she told him about the article she had read in the magazine of the National Federation of the Blind, he said that he knew about that Jernigan guy, a crazy man who was setting blind people up to fail. He, the agency director, would have none of it, and he suggested that she continue at the workshop, where she was making twenty-four dollars a week. In this case, like so many, Jim knew that the answer was not for everyone to move to Iowa, but to build and strengthen the Federation in each state and then to bring about the changes that the National Federation of the Blind and the Iowa Commission for the Blind were proving possible. Encounters such as these pushed Jim in the direction of trying to answer the question Mr. Jernigan had posed to him on his graduation from the orientation center.
Eventually Jim gained enough self-confidence to say to Mr. Jernigan that he really did want to learn to direct a training center, that he had convinced himself and others that he could cut it alongside his sighted colleagues, and that his turning to the blindness field for employment was not to hide but actively to contribute to what had so changed his life and the way he would spend the most productive years of it. Jim wanted to be a part of encouraging blind people to dream and to see those dreams become reality. Mr. Jernigan agreed, and Jim moved back to Iowa, first to work as a rehabilitation counselor and later to head the orientation center.
While in training to become a counselor, Jim accompanied coworkers to learn the ropes. Knowing that his primary job was to observe, Jim nevertheless wanted to become involved in the sessions so clients would come to know him. One day he asked a client how long he had been blind. The newly blinded client was angered and put off. On the drive to their next appointment, Jim learned from his coworker that coming to understand that one is blind is often a gradual process and that asking how long the client had been having trouble with his vision would have been more appropriate. Coming to understand and admitting that one is blind is crucial to acceptance and getting on with one's life, but for some people the subject should be approached with gentleness and understanding. Jim took the advice as sound and has tried to be mindful that the journey to accepting one's blindness and a new understanding of what it means to be blind sometimes takes a firm, direct approach and that sometimes it takes time, patience, and gentleness.
Although Jim's return to Iowa put the right man in the right place, the transition was not without difficulty. He had decided that he could be a provider and that risking to become involved with another was not precluded by being a blind man. He married Jan, a fellow Iowan, and together they brought Jamie Omvig into the world in 1966. But their marriage ended in 1972, and the door that closed led to the opening of one that would lead James Omvig and Sharon Lewis to find that they were soul mates. Meeting for a casual drink one evening in the fall of 1973, they found that their talking kept them for hours. Sharon describes their courtship and marriage this way: "It may not have been the love story of the century, but I'm sure it was the love story of the decade." On January 31, 1974, Jim and Sharon Omvig were united in marriage, and since then they have been inseparable in their faith, love, and work. From the time they became two hearts beating as one, any mention of Jim could, if not for the cumbersomeness of the construction, be Jim and Sharon or Sharon and Jim.
The man who once believed that he could never share his heart not only has enjoyed a wonderful marriage but has composed two songs in honor of his soulmate. One of them, titled, “She’s My Wife,” says:
Before leaving the National Labor Relations Board, Jim learned from a colleague that a decision of the NLRB made in 1960 declared that blind people did not enjoy the same rights as other workers when it came to organizing and being represented by a union. He highlighted this unfair segregation of the blind in a speech delivered at the NFB convention in 1969. Appearing with him were prominent members of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) who agreed, after some tough questioning from President Jernigan, to help the blind change laws forbidding blind people from organizing.
Have you seen her?
She's the loveliness of spring.
Have you seen her?
She's the song that I sing.
With her tender lips and her glowing eyes,
Her smile is a wondrous thing.
And her arms can make a man a king.
You should know her.
She's an angel from above.
With a heart that's filled with love.
Oh, you should know her; she is my life.
She's my lady, she's my lover, she’s my wife.
Work started that year to build a Sheltered Shop Division in the NFB and to find blind people who wanted to be represented by a union. Mr. Omvig warned that gaining the right to organize and be represented would take a long time. A request to organize had to be made and rejected, and an appeal would have to be made to the members of the National Labor Relations Board. It took more than half a decade, but in 1976 the NLRB reversed itself and said that blind people, like other workers, did indeed have the right to be represented by a union if they chose. This delightful news came the day before Jim was to attend the national convention in Los Angeles, so he hurriedly constructed and delivered a speech at the convention.
The Federation knew from long years of experience that blind people were the victims of discrimination in the sale of insurance. Deciding to test the waters for themselves, Jim and Sharon went to the ticket counter prior to their trip to the Los Angeles convention, purchased insurance for Sharon in the amount of $350,000, and then tried to purchase insurance for Jim. To his surprise, Jim learned that he could purchase insurance, but the maximum amount he could buy was $20,000. The ticket agent could offer no reason for the rule, and arguments that Jim did not want to fly the plane but only ride on it were wasted. Rules were rules.
On his return from Los Angeles Jim contacted the insurance commissioner for the state of Iowa, Herbert Anderson, and convinced him to accept a charge of unfair discrimination against the blind using the Iowa Unfair Trade Practices Act. The commissioner conducted a survey of all insurance companies doing business in Iowa, and the findings were so disturbing that he caused regulations to be created prohibiting discrimination against the blind by any company licensed to do business in the state. Mr. Anderson then took his findings to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and that organization passed a resolution condemning such discrimination. Just as it did with the Model White Cane Law, the national body of the Federation drafted a model insurance regulation and encouraged its enactment by state insurance regulators. Jim was extremely helpful in providing guidance to state affiliates and even testified before state insurance commissions in support of the prohibition.
As Fredric Schroeder observes: "Today, we do not think much about the ability to purchase life insurance, and that is due in large part to Mr. Omvig. In the 70s and 80s, many blind people were denied life insurance on the assumption that blind people were more likely to die as a result of accidents. Mr. Omvig understood that assumptions about blind people were at the heart of lost opportunities: lack of access to a good education, lack of access to employment, lack of access to renting hotel rooms, and lack of access to buses and trains. In short, Mr. Omvig knew that discrimination was the major barrier facing blind people, and discrimination in all its forms had to be opposed."
After nine wonderful years working at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, Jim accepted a Federation assignment and moved to Baltimore to work for the Social Security Administration. At the time about 150 blind people were working for the agency, but they were limited to answering telephones and fielding questions from the public. James Gashel, the head of the National Federation of the Blind's Washington office, was instrumental in convincing officials of the agency that the way to greater employment opportunities for the blind and avoiding a lawsuit from the Federation lay in hiring someone who could look at the procedures of the agency and figure out how to open other employment opportunities. It seemed to President Jernigan and Mr. Gashel that Jim would be the perfect fit, being a lawyer and having previous experience in the federal government.
Jim was hired, and in 1981 the glass ceiling preventing blind people from accepting other positions within the agency was shattered. Nearly three years of work resulted in the following policy statement being read by the newly appointed director of the Social Security Administration: "Today, I wish to announce a clarification of the policy which affects employment and promotional opportunity for otherwise qualified partially and totally blind SSA employees. I have determined that there are no significant factors which make it impossible for blind persons to perform the full range of the GS 10 claims representative (CR) position. Therefore, it is SSA policy that otherwise qualified partially or totally blind individuals may be promoted to the journeyman GS 10 CR position within the standard CR position description . . . . I am committed not only to providing equal employment opportunity for blind persons, but also for all qualified handicapped individuals." This breakthrough was significant not only for the Social Security Administration but for other agencies in the federal government that had good, quality jobs blind people were capable of performing.
In the late 1970s the National Federation of the Blind found that regulations which had been passed to assist the blind and otherwise physically disabled in air travel were being used to limit them. Many Federationists were arrested for insisting on their right to use and keep with them the canes that provided independent mobility. Some of us were asked to sit on blankets, the logic being that some handicapped people had accidents and soiled airline seats. Mr. Omvig was one of those who were arrested, and he and many others testified at hearings sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration. As a result of those hearings blind people can now travel with their guide dogs and canes; there is no limit as to the number of blind passengers who can fly on an aircraft; there is no requirement that we sit on blankets or other items used in dealing with incontinence. We are prevented from sitting in exit rows, but the frustration we encounter with airlines today is far less than it was, and this is due in no small part to the work of Mr. Omvig's talent in writing, speaking, and developing important relationships with the policymakers of that era.
After five years working for the Social Security Administration, Mr. Omvig once again returned to the pursuit of his dream to direct an orientation and training center. This took him to the state of Alaska in the fall of 1984. When he arrived, he found himself in charge of an agency that was housed in a World War II Quonset hut. Bleakness and despair were in evidence in the blind people seeking services. In January of 1985 Mr. Omvig went to the governor and the legislature, and the funds to run the agency were doubled. A new five-unit apartment building was purchased and remodeled to become a residential training center for blind adults. It contained sleeping rooms for twelve residents, one staff apartment, and administrative offices. Putting the building into service as a training center required asking the city of Anchorage to rezone the property, which they did. In the spring of 1986 governor Bill Sheffield dedicated the Alaska Center for Blind Adults. Though the willingness of state officials to purchase and remodel the center was commendable, they did not provide funds to furnish the building. To Mr. Omvig and other leaders of the NFB in Alaska fell the task of going to Lions Clubs with the request that they help in furnishing the center. Through the work of individual clubs and the statewide body, the center was furnished and began serving students.
In 1987 Jim found himself troubled with bad health, and by the end of that year his doctor told him that he had no choice but to stop working. It would take several years for Jim to be diagnosed with a rare condition known as porphyria. Jim and Sharon moved to Arizona, and both became active in the affiliate, assisting significantly and advancing its legislative agenda for providing better services to blind people. He continued writing about the value of separate agencies for the blind and what proper training in those agencies could do, and, as he began to exert better control over his health, he was asked to visit many states to evaluate their programs and make recommendations for improvement.
Although one of the goals of the Federation is to see that quality rehabilitation is available to all blind people regardless of where they live, the reality is that not all rehabilitation centers are equal, and not all of them are guided by the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. In 1992 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act were passed and signed into law. One of those amendments introduced the concept of informed choice into the act, providing in federal law the opportunity for recipients of rehabilitation services to decide where they would go to receive service. In theory this would mean that a person living in Montana could go to a rehabilitation center in Louisiana, or that a person living in Maryland could go to Colorado or Minnesota. Practically speaking, however, rights guaranteed in federal law have been slow to be implemented in the states, and they have strongly favored either rehabilitation centers that they fund or centers with which they have done business in the past. Implementing informed choice in practice has often meant finding people who want to go to a center outside their state, helping them to appeal the denial of the rehabilitation counselor, and getting and winning a fair hearing. Mr. Omvig has used his skills as a lawyer and an advocate in helping to draft these appeals and has traveled extensively to participate in these hearings.
In all of the assignments he has been given as a Federation member, none was more difficult than the one that brought him to work to advance the rights of blind people working in sheltered workshops. President Maurer and other colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind believed we needed someone to work from the inside to make changes in the system that employed thousands of blind people at wages that were far below their productive capacity. Mr. Omvig was persuaded to apply for and was appointed by President George W. Bush to the President's Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. He was initially appointed in 2003 and was reappointed in 2007. During his tenure Mr. Omvig served on a number of important subcommittees and task forces and was elected as vice chairman of the committee.
When accepting his newest Federation assignment, Jim knew that there was little the National Federation of the Blind and what would come to be called the AbilityOne Commission had in common. Certainly each group had little respect for the other. What the organizations knew about one another they didn't like. The committee viewed the NFB as a group of malcontents and rabble-rousers who knew nothing about running businesses that employed the blind. The NFB believed the committee to be composed of self-serving agency directors who cared less about uplifting the blind people they were to serve than they did about increasing their own prestige and income. In the opinion of the Federation, these were people who may have come to do good but who stayed to do well. Their salaries and their place in the community came on the backs of hard-working blind people, who got little from their effort in money, benefits, or their productive work.
When Mr. Omvig began his work with the committee, he followed a strategy that had evolved from a question Dr. Jernigan had once asked him and his fellow students: "What is the purpose of a speech?" The answer was "To get people to love you. If you can't get them to love you, they won't pay much attention to what you have to say." This became Jim's compass. He would not go to make war—soldiers on each side knew full well how that could be done. Instead, he would go as an ambassador, a man in search of friends, a human face that would go the first few steps in dispelling the myths about Federationists as unreasonable, militant, and foolish dreamers who believed in a future the blind could never have because they weren't capable enough to earn or retain it. Jim would build relationships based on common traits and would show that this commonality could be used as a foundation to build trust. On that trust he and his new-found friends could begin to make change that might one day revolutionize the sheltered workshop system where thousands of blind people worked and sometimes lived.
But the Omvig strategy was not obvious to some of his Federation colleagues and disappointed more than a few of his friends. He had gone to the committee to represent the Federation, so where were his protests? Why wasn't he using his seat to make changes so long overdue? Because Jim was a part of the Federation family, some who loved and cared about him and who cared deeply about rights for shop workers came to him with their concerns. Although he appreciated the chance to clarify his strategy, to explain his understanding that most fundamental changes take time, and to show the incremental changes his participation was having, the idea that he might not be trusted hurt, and carrying out this work proved to be one of the hardest assignments he ever undertook. He gave nine years of his life to traveling, negotiating, and trying to change how those in the system felt about blind people.
Even with his sadness at having his motives—or at least his strategy—questioned, Mr. Omvig is proud of the change in workshops he has witnessed over the past forty years and is proud to count among his friends people who once thought that he and his fellow Federation members were meatheads—people who were dead from the neck up. He is proud of the expanded employment opportunities that have resulted from his service on the committee, and he is proud to have played some small part in National Industries for the Blind paying at least the minimum wage in all of its sheltered shops having AbilityOne contracts and requiring that any agency doing business with it do likewise. In its most recent move, National Industries for the Blind has decided that no person affiliated with a workshop that holds a section 14(C) certificate can hold a position on its Board of Directors.
Jim has been active in a number of other efforts to help in the education and rehabilitation of the blind. He has served on the board of directors of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. This is the first institute of its kind to implement the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind in teacher-training programs. In addition to needing better teacher training, Jim and other Federation colleagues realized that the certifying authority for providing training to the blind often used vision as a requirement for certification. And so was born the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB), whose purpose was to develop standards that did not discriminate against the blind and which also emphasized competence in teaching the skills that were most likely to lead to an education, a job, and a life equal to those enjoyed by sighted Americans. He also served proudly on this board and has also been instrumental in helping to develop the policies and standards of the body.
Increasingly over the last two decades Mr. Omvig has turned his attention from writing articles to writing books. Freedom for the Blind: The Secret is Empowerment has won widespread praise in the field of rehabilitation, and many students credit this book with encouraging them to go into the field. The Blindness Revolution: Jernigan in His Own Words has also figured prominently in documenting the challenges and triumphs of what many have called "the miracle of Iowa," but Mr. Omvig concludes that there was no miracle there, only the application of good, solid attitudes and the willingness to believe in blind people.
One of the things Mr. Omvig is most proud about is that his service extends well beyond organizations of and for the blind. He became the founding president of the Des Moines East Town Lions Club and was elected as president of the congregation of the Grant Park Christian Church in Des Moines. He was vice president of the Catonsville, Maryland, Lions Club and was a deacon (which came with the job of serving communion) and a member of the board of trustees of the Christian Temple in the Disciples of Christ Church in Baltimore. He has also served as the president of the International Air Crossroads Lions Club in Anchorage, Alaska.
Of all the honors and awards Mr. Omvig has received, none has touched him more deeply than the Jacobus tenBroek award in 1986. He received this award for helping gain the right of blind shop workers to unionize, for leading the effort to eliminate insurance discrimination against the blind, for helping to end discrimination against blind air travelers, and for his writings on how to provide quality training to vocational rehabilitation clients.
No single article can do justice to the life's work of Jim Omvig. Thankfully there are others who have committed his story to paper and places where he gives first-hand accounts of what it has been like to be one of the pioneers in the civil rights movement for the blind. I can think of no better way to conclude this article than with comments made by two of Mr. Omvig's finest friends and admirers. Not surprisingly both have given a significant amount of their energy to the field of rehabilitation, taking the improvement of it as one of their Federation responsibilities and assignments. About her friends, the Omvigs, Joanne Wilson says: "Jim and Sharon worked with a tireless passion to give back to the movement what they got from the NFB. They worked on systemic problems that would make the lives of the blind better, but they also spent hours and hours talking with individuals, both blind and sighted, over dinners in their home, at conventions, on a plane, in a discussion group, and anywhere they were—sharing the truth about blindness. They have truly dedicated their lives to giving back what they learned about blindness so others could have more enriched lives. Thanks for asking me to be a small part in giving them this tribute."
And Fred Schroeder says: "When I think of Mr. Omvig, I think of kindness; I think of a man with tremendous ability and one blessed with the power of persuasion. Mr. Omvig knows how to lead, knows how to inspire others to do more than they believe they are capable of doing, and knows what it means to share the disappointment of exclusion and heartache that come from society's low expectations. He is not a man to live according to the assumptions of others; he is not content to build a life just for himself and his family; he is a man who gives all that he has on behalf of blind people. He is a role model, a mentor, a leader, and, most of all, a friend."
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