Braille Monitor                                                                  December 1985


The Shoeshine, Blindness, and the NFB

by Marc Maurer

(This article appeared in the fall, 1985, Braille Spectator, the official publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.)

The other morning I stopped at a shoe shine stand for a polish. While I sat the shoeshine man and I discussed old music. We both agreed that it was much better than the more modern product. Then we talked about politics--always a good topic in Maryland. During our conversation the shoeshine man was shining and polishing away. A normal shoeshine was about to come to a close.

Except it wasn't.

When I stepped from the chair the man told me that there would be no charge. He said that he was blind in one eye himself and that he had wondered if he would become totally blind. He said it was the policy of the house not to charge the blind.

My choices were simple. I could try to pay the man, thus preventing him from giving me charity. I could argue the matter. I could explain that blindness is not the tragedy he believes it to be. Probably the result would be to make him angry. Or I could accept the charity. I could understand that he felt sorry for me. I could recognize that we make progress each day, but the real problem of blindness is the misunderstanding in the public mind--the misunderstanding of the shoeshine man.

I must find a way to change his mind. I cannot go each week and get a shine from him. I cannot demand that he give me charity. Therefore, I am prevented from getting my shine at his stand. I have less opportunity than the sighted. My options are limited. This is all because of charity and kindness.

I hope and believe that we, through our efforts in the NFB, will win the battle of understanding. I am sure that we will find a way for people to realize that blindness does not require free shoeshines and that equality requires the individual to pay for service given. I am sure that one day charity will not be used to limit the opportunities of the blind. That is why we have the National Federation of the Blind. We must be sensitive to the need of others to help us. We need and want the help of our sighted neighbors. However, we must also be sensitive to the need we have to help others. Full equality requires the blind to help their sighted neighbors. Furthermore, we must be sensitive to the need for us not to be limited by the wish of our sighted neighbors to custodialize or dominate us--even in the name of charity.