Vol. 33, No.
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, Braille, on talking-book disc,
and cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
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Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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National Federation of the Blind
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND IS NOT
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 33, No. 1 January 1990
OF RESOLUTIONS AND RETROSPECTION
SOUTH CAROLINA DIRECTOR PERMITTED TO RESIGN:
ORGANIZED BLIND PREVAIL
by Donald C. Capps
SWEEPING UP THE KRUMS: CALIFORNIA STATE POLICE
INVESTIGATE THE BUSINESS ENTERPRISE PROGRAM
by Barbara Pierce
by Mike Pearson
SCHOLARS ARE SOMETIMES STUMBLING BLOCKS
by C. Edwin Vaughan, Ph.D.
STATE DEPARTMENT THINKS TWICE ABOUT
THE WISDOM OF BREAKING FEDERAL LAW
THE BLIND SCIENTIST AT LOS ALAMOS
by John Rowley, Ph.D.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE JOB
by Curtis Chong
LITERACY: THE KEY TO OPPORTUNITY
by Fred Schroeder
ETHEL INCHAUSTI: LOCAL LEADER
FROM FARCE TO SLAPSTICK: HOW MUCH LOWER
CAN THE IOWA DEPARTMENT FOR THE BLIND SINK?
SHACKLED IMAGINATION: LITERARY ILLUSIONS ABOUT BLINDNESS
by Deborah Kent Stein
BLINDNESS: IS LITERATURE AGAINST US?
by Kenneth Jernigan
SOCIAL SECURITY, SSI, AND MEDICARE FACTS FOR 1990
LETTER FROM A STATE DIRECTOR
WHITE CANE/GUIDE DOG SAFETY DAY
Copyright, National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1990
OF RESOLUTIONS AND RETROSPECTION
From the Editors: We wrote it; we believe it; and we hope you will do something about it. Here it is:
Whether you are a purist, believing that no new decade begins until the date ends in the number 1, or whether your view is the simpler one that, when the digit in the tens place changes, the new decade has arrived, we can all agree that the Nineties really are here. The National Federation of the Blind enters the last eleven (or is it ten) years of the century and, for that matter, of the millennium in a much more vigorous and active position than it did the Eighties. Our growth since the National Center for the Blind opened for business in February, 1979, has been meteoric. We came from Iowa with a staff of three in the spring of 1978 and rented an office which doubled as a bedroom. The boxes of material were stacked so high that the spaces between them seemed more like tunnels than pathways. When we took possession of 1800 Johnson Street with somewhat under 10,000 square feet of office space for our use, we thought ourselves incredibly lucky, and so we were.
But the best still lay ahead. In the almost eleven years that we have occupied the Center, we have renovated for our own use an additional 140,000 square feet of space, as well as remodeling virtually all of the areas rented by our tenants. At the same time our staff has grown more than a thousand percent. This personnel expansion has occurred in an effort to keep pace with the explosion of crises and challenges demanding our attention. Luckily, with hard work and dedication on the part of committed Federationists at every level of the organization, our income has increased enough thus far to keep pace with the cost of our escalating programs. In 1989 the National Federation of the Blind raised more money than ever before in a single year. This would be a statement worthy of rejoicing if our expenses had not increased at a still greater rate.
We are doing what we can to conserve our resources since, unlike the federal government, we cannot print money when we find ourselves running a little short. But everyone will have to help if we are to avoid slashing programs that blind people have come to depend upon.
If you are a frequent reader of the Braille Monitor , you will remember reading the notice that says, Members are invited and non-members are requested to cover the costs of their subscriptions. Though the cassette and Braille editions cost considerably more than either the print or the disc versions, we have established $25 as the subscription rate for the Monitor . If you enjoy reading this periodical and truly cannot afford to contribute the cost of your subscription, we want you to continue to receive the publication anyway. Getting the information included in these pages into the hands of the blind of the nation is one of the most important services we perform. But if remembering to send your subscription check for the Monitor is one of those little tasks that keep slipping your mind, this is the moment to drop everything and go write it. While we are mentioning small notices that readers begin and then skip, remember the one that starts, If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will,... ? Have you taken the time to do something about that suggestion? Almost all of us have a little financial worth, and even a token remembrance will help us carry on our struggle for justice and equality in your memory. Together we can insure that the work of the Federation continues, but it will take all of us to accomplish this goal.
You can help by working with your local and state affiliates to strengthen the organization and to meet the needs of blind people in your area. You can recruit your friends and acquaintances as members-at-large and invite them to become associates of the Federation. You can also contribute whatever you can to support our work, and you can pay for your 1990 subscription to the most influential publication in the field of work with the blind right now.
Together we can insure that none of our programs has to be cut back painfully in the coming year. Happy New Year to you, and may 1990 be filled with accomplishment and prosperity for us all.
SOUTH CAROLINA DIRECTOR PERMITTED TO RESIGN:
ORGANIZED BLIND PREVAIL
by Donald C. Capps
As Monitor readers know, the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina has been engaged for a number of years in a struggle to improve the quality of service provided by the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. (See the February, 1989, Braille Monitor story about audit shenanigans and telephone abuses in the Commission.) William James, Director of the Commission, has never been a friend to the blind. He has refused to be accountable to the people he serves, and beyond that, he has done everything he could to make life difficult for the organized blind movement.
When word began filtering out, therefore, on September 20, 1989, that the Commission Board had permitted James to tender his resignation provided that he clear out his desk within two days, there was rejoicing among the blind of the state. The straw that broke the camel's (or in this case the Commission's) back was a nasty problem with a senior staff member who was making racial slurs and in other ways setting a tone in which charges of racial discrimination were rocking the agency. James did nothing decisive to clean up the situation despite an outcry made by virtually all the Commission's black employees. (See the Monitor Miniature section of the October, 1989, issue of the Braille Monitor .) The situation provided the excuse the Board needed to respond to the growing pressure brought by the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina for the removal of the Commissioner. The temperature had been rising steadily on Board members since the NFB of South Carolina's legislative banquet in February, 1989, where legislators were given copies of a brochure detailing the serious problems within the agency and making clear the Federation's contention that James was ultimately responsible.
In the two days James was given to wind things up, he apparently intended to call a staff meeting for Friday the 22nd, but hurricane Hugo canceled that plan. Instead James wrote a bizarre farewell message to the staff, part of which is reprinted in this article. It is not surprising that a man who had just been fired should try to put the best, most cheerful face he could on the situation, but the tone of William James's comments is peculiar, to say the least. He is clearly a bitter man with little judgment, who is striving to appear to have a sense of humor. Perhaps if he had treated the blind of South Carolina with respect and dignity, if he had been committed to working with them to solve their problems, he would not have found himself in this difficult and painful situation. Perhaps, too, his successor will have the intelligence to learn from James's mistakes. Let us hope so. The blind of South Carolina deserve better than William James.
Here is the article that appeared in the Fall, 1989, edition of The Palmetto Blind, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina:
On Wednesday, September 20, in Executive Session the Board of Commissioners of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind accepted the resignation of William K. James, who had served as commissioner of the agency since July, 1984. The resignation was not unexpected by the NFB of South Carolina. At the August convention of the NFB of South Carolina, the state president told the members that the Commission was actually sitting on a powder keg. A few days following the Federation convention a lengthy article appeared in the [Columbia, South Carolina] State which covered racial strife at the Commission caused by the racial slurs by Paul Jones, Director of Administrative Services, who was hired by Mr. James only a few months ago. News of Mr. James's resignation was carried by several newspapers. The State contained the following comments by Mr. James. He said that he felt powerless to bring about a speedy solution...[to] a serious racial problem within the agency. I feel that somebody can, James said, I think it is very important that it be done for the agency to continue on course. I would like to say I have enjoyed working for the agency...I think it's an excellent agency certainly one of the best in the country...I can't say enough good things about the staff. The September 22 edition of USA Today stated the following: William James, 58, head of State Commission for the Blind that's been investigated since four black workers cited bias in August, leaves office today. He said he felt, `powerless to solve agency's racial problems.'
One obvious thing the NFB of South Carolina believes Mr. James could and should have done was to fire Paul Jones immediately when his racial slurs were brought to James's attention. After all, the Commission for the Blind has a number of black staff members and also serves hundreds of black blind people across South Carolina. Had Mr. Jones been immediately discharged by Mr. James, the terrible and damaging press received by the Commission for the Blind would have been avoided. No doubt the concerns and grievances of black staff members have validity and should be fairly and effectively addressed. At the same time, the NFB of South Carolina is concerned that the public now has the perception that Mr. James's resignation was based entirely upon racial strife, which of course is not the case. It is also unfair to the black staff members to be blamed solely for the resignation of Mr. James as reported by the media. The NFB of South Carolina supports graceful resignations whenever and wherever possible, but at the same time, the affairs of the blind are too important for the public to be given a distorted picture.
At last January's legislative dinner the NFB of South Carolina presented brochures to all legislators containing well-researched and documented information outlining the very serious problems associated with the administration of the Commission for the Blind. Copies of these brochures are still available.
That is what The Palmetto Blind had to say about the exit of William James. It is interesting to consider what Mr. James thought it worthwhile to say to his staff upon the occasion of his precipitous departure.
Memorandum from William James
September 22, 1989
I deeply regret having to cancel the scheduled staff meeting because of the pending hurricane. I wanted to have the opportunity to personally express my appreciation to all of you for the outstanding job that you have done and for the support which you have given me. I also wanted to have the opportunity to pick a few bones with you before I left.
First of all, you need to have a funny bone. Most of us take ourselves too seriously but do not take life seriously enough. If anybody wants to know why I resigned, you can tell them it was because of illness and exhaustion. The Board said they were sick and tired of having me around. I want you to know that I carry a grudge against no one I just get even. I must admit that I do have mixed feelings about leaving joy and ecstasy.
Next, you need to have a wishbone. That's what sets us apart from other animals. We can catch a glimpse of how life can be better for others, as well as ourselves. The clearer this vision is and how our portion fits into the overall scheme of things, the more likely we are to realize our dreams. All of you have the opportunity to make your dreams come true. Don't let them slip through your fingers.
The remaining portion of Mr. James's statement was the conventional commendatory sentiment about the staff and the work they have done. We certainly wish Mr. James no ill, but it seems clear to an outside observer that the South Carolina Commission for the Blind as well as the blind of South Carolina will be better off starting over. Let us hope that this time those charged with searching for and selecting a new Commissioner will avail themselves of the experience and expertise of the organized blind movement.
SWEEPING UP THE KRUMS:
CALIFORNIA STATE POLICE INVESTIGATE
THE BUSINESS ENTERPRISE PROGRAM
by Barbara Pierce
Anyone who has ever suffered an injury knows that, unless you take great care to rehabilitate and strengthen the affected part, you will always experience twinges of pain and weakness in the area. Unfortunately, the same phenomenon is also frequently true of institutions. Old habits of sloppy practice and impulses to cut corners and blur distinctions die hard in bureaucracies. New brooms must sweep very carefully and very zealously indeed if they are to clean up old messes.
Early in 1977 the San Francisco Examiner ran a series of articles exposing to the light of public notice a number of unsavory problems in California's Business Enterprise Program (BEP). Briefly, these included overpricing of equipment and supplies, disappearance of millions of dollars of inventory, and misappropriation of considerable amounts of the trust fund intended to assist the vendors in the BEP. Despite the then Director of the Division of Rehabilitation Ed Roberts's characterization of the problems as minor administrative and bookkeeping difficulties, major investigations were undertaken, and heads rolled as a result.
One Roger Krum was brought in to head the BEP, and many thought that he was being demoted or punished (according to his own statement in the Examiner ) by being handed this assignment. But he went on to assure the reporter that he wanted the job because he knew that the man who could clean up this mess and did so would have his reputation made. He allowed as how he welcomed the challenge, or was it the opportunity.
In the light of recent events in California, it is instructive to read the final article in the newspaper series. It appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on January 14, 1977. Here it is:
Help to be Sought on Blind Mess
by Jim Wood and Larry Kramer
Senator Bill Greene, D-Los Angeles, says he will go personally to Governor Brown in an attempt to straighten out the state's tangled program for blind businessmen.
Greene also has called on the state auditor general's office for a full report on the Business Enterprise Program. Greene said he was requesting action because the Department of Rehabilitation has never been able to present an accurate, definitive accounting of the BEP trust funds.
For well over 10 years requests for precise figures have been met with evasions, he said.
Greene also noted that there are compelling reasons to believe that accepted accounting and fiscal procedures have been violated. He said that disbursements have been made for purposes other than those spelled out in the state and federal laws concerning the BEP. Some of these have been challenged and others have been arbitrarily continued for lack of challenge, he said. Greene met last week with critics of the fund's management and with representatives of the auditor general's office to plan the investigation.
Greene urged that particular note be taken by the auditors of using trust funds for administrative purposes and consultants' fees. Calling the program a morass of mismanagement, he said that the department had used single source vendors when competitive bids could have been obtained, spot purchases made for expediency, and obsolete equipment continued in use in the name of economy.
All the foregoing has been done at costs far beyond any reasonable standards of good business practices and management, he said. Greene also told the auditor general's office that there is no precise central inventory of BEP equipment. Over the years, a considerable amount of BEP equipment has been disposed of in one way or another, he said. The accounting for this equipment, if any, is very suspect.
At a news conference yesterday, Edward Roberts, director of rehabilitation, said the state auditor general has been quoted as saying there is no scandal in the fund.
John Williams, the state auditor general, said, however: There is no way I can say at this time whether allegations that have been made are or are not true. That is the purpose of this audit. We don't have any documentation at this point that indicates any form of scandal, but we've just barely begun our field work, Williams said.
At the news conference, Roberts called reports in the Examiner concerning the program false and misleading and said he fears they may do irreparable damage to our service for the blind generally.
Roberts said he was proud of the program and regretted seeing it bruited in the public press.
The program has minor administrative and bookkeeping problems. These have been rectified and have been corrected. he said. The series, quoting from taped interviews, said that Roger Krum, the program administrator, called the problem mind boggling and an eightball situation, and former administrator Robert Melody said the program faced a hell of a serious problem.
At the news conference Elliott Allen, deputy director for administration, was asked whether it was possible for an individual to misappropriate funds or property from the program. The series had quoted a state report noting such a potential. The potential does exist. Allen answered. We are concerned about it. That is one of the things we are working on. Roberts added, however, that he is convinced that no corruption exists, even though central inventory is not complete. Krum was asked if the existence or location of equipment could be verified. He replied:
The equipment in location can be verified. The equipment in the warehouses, most of it, can be covered. One of the things we're working on is a problem of having stuff not show up on a printout, or show up two or three times.
Roberts said that we think of it in terms of a problem in accounting and the inventory system. We are in the process of rectifying these problems by establishing a new system.
That's what the Examiner had to say twelve years ago. And what it is fair to ask has happened in the intervening years to rectify the situation? Surely with the computer revolution an inventory-management system has been put in place to keep track of the materials in use and warehoused in the nation's largest BE Program. At the very least the Trust Fund is now safe from sticky fingers, and the administrative staff has come to work with the BEP business people in an atmosphere of mutual respect and good will. After all, Mr. Krum came in intending to make his reputation for better or worse on what he could do with the Business Enterprise Program. And so he has!
His attitude toward vendors has been clear for years. The BEP vendors report that he refers to them as the boys, a term which even the male vendors find demeaning. Mr. Krum also enjoys putting his feet up on his desk in his office and on tables when he is taking part in meetings in other rooms. Participants in these gatherings report that he points the toe of one shoe at the person whom he is addressing, particularly if he does not agree with or respect the individual. These are small things, but Californians find them indicative of his general attitude toward blind people who are not willing to be subservient.
On May 5, 1989, the Vendors' Chapter of the NFB of California conducted a seminar for interested business people with an emphasis on issues of concern to those associated with the Business Enterprise Program. Jim Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs for the Federation, was the keynote speaker, and the seminar was scheduled so that those interested in attending the spring meeting of the California Vendors Policy Committee (CVPC) could do so since both events were taking place in Sacramento at different times on the same day. The seminar was by all accounts a great success, and most of the attendees went on to the CVPC meeting.
The regulations that established the Vendors Policy Committee stipulate that the Director of the Business Enterprise Program or his or her designee should attend this meeting, but Roger Krum has always brought a crowd of staffers (six were present on May 5) to participate in the meeting and, many vendors feel, to keep the Policy Committee in line. But this time a number of CVPC members requested that Mr. Krum or his designee stay in the room and that the rest of the staff members leave. Instead of complying with state regulations, Krum, his staff, and several members of the CVPC (including Krum's hand-picked Chairmen of the Policy Committee) walked out.
A quorum of the Committee was left, however, and John Friesen was elected as chairman. So the group got down to work on the agenda of the meeting. Without the usual help of the BE Program support staff, minutes were taken, duplicated, and circulated. But Krum has steadfastly refused to recognize the actions of the Policy Committee taken that day, and one more festering problem has been added to the concerns of blind people in California.
Sharon Gold, President of the NFB of California, wrote a long and informative letter to the state's vendors on May 20, 1989. She reviewed for them several issues and cases of general interest to blind vendors and offered the Federation's assistance to those who needed it. Then, in an effort to prepare the ground generally for the dispute that was clearly on the horizon, she raised several points for vendor consideration. The concluding paragraphs of her letter read as follows:
As you know, the California Vendors Policy Committee (CVPC) is mandated by federal and state law. The CVPC is to function separately from the Business Enterprise Program to present the views of the vendors
to the licensing agency and is to represent the interests of the vendors in the policy- making decisions of the agency. Recently, certain disputes have arisen between the CVPC and Roger Krum, the Administrator of the Business Enterprise Program. Throughout California vendors are being prevailed upon to pass judgment and take sides. Information from both sides has come to me as well, and I have considered the following:
Has the CVPC been functioning separately from the Business Enterprise Program as mandated by federal and state law? Have members of the CVPC been free to express their concerns during committee meetings without a threat of reprisal? Do vendors want a committee which is free to present the views of vendors to the BEP administration or a committee which is expected to transmit to the Business Enterprise Program policy suggestions which have been planned and solicited by the BEP administration and which rubber stamp the actions of the administration?
Are the elected delegates taking an active part in the Vendors Policy Committee meetings?
Does the Business Enterprise Program administrator have a moral or legal right to declare a CVPC meeting concluded when the delegates have not chosen to adjourn the meeting?
Should the elected delegates be required to submit to the orders of the administrator and leave a CVPC meeting without carrying out the business on the agenda?
To whom do the set-aside fees belong, and should the Policy Committee or the Administrator of the Business Enterprise Program have control over the expenditure of these funds?
Do the delegates to the CVPC have authority to choose the chair of the Committee, or does the chair serve at the pleasure of the Administrator of the BEP, to be automatically accepted by the committee?
These questions sent me to reread federal and state statutes relevant to the Business Enterprise Program. For the Vendors Policy Committee to function properly, it must be free to hold its meetings and conduct its business without undue influence of the licensing agency. It is not an accident that neither federal nor state statutes or regulations mandate that the licensing agency send a representative to the meetings of the Vendors. Policy Committee Bylaws (as amended January 17, 1989) do not mandate the presence of an agency representative but state that (m)eetings of the Committee may be attended by the Director or his designated representative... [not Directors or representatives]. The responsibility of the Licensing Agency is to provide to the Vendors Policy Committee such information as may be necessary for the Committee to make reasonable and educated decisions on behalf of the blind vendors. Further, the Licensing Agency must consider and respond to the recommendations of the Vendors Policy Committee. Where a licensing agency makes an effort to intimidate or otherwise to control the process of the functioning of the Vendors Policy Committee, it is almost certain that vendors will eventually notice the development of dissension between the administration and the vendors.
A final note: following the May 5th CVPC meeting and under dates of May 8th and May 9th, letters were sent to Westley Whitelaw [the CVPC Chairman who walked out of the May 20 meeting] stating the Department's position concerning the chair of the Vendors Policy Committee. One letter was signed by Roger Krum, Administrator of the Business Enterprise Program, and one was signed by Hao Lam, Deputy Director, Program Management and Support Division. In reading the two letters, one finds much identical language. One also finds that the letters were prepared by the same secretary and that they were both printed on letterhead bearing the telephone number of the Office of the Business Enterprise Program.
The program for blind vendors is an old and respected business opportunity for blind persons. The National Federation of the Blind of California stands firm in support of this program and the California vendors who are striving to bring their program into conformity with federal and state statutes and regulations.
Sharon Gold, President
National Federation of the Blind
That is what Sharon Gold wrote on May 20, in the wake of the high-handed actions of Roger Krum and company. Life in the Business Enterprise Program apparently went on pretty much as usual across the summer.
Then, on September 2, the Friday of the Labor Day weekend, the California State Police blew the whistle on what had been going on under the table. Officers escorted Krum and three others from their offices and off State property, and they changed all the locks on the warehouse doors so that no one could tamper further with the equipment and supplies supposed to be available for vendors. A Department of Rehabilitation spokesman repeatedly assured the Braille Monitor that the disappearance of 1.2 million dollars worth of inventory had been discovered during an internal Department audit and not by the police. Given the department's track record in identifying fraud, embezzlement, and payoffs in the past, perhaps the fact that the 1989 problems were discovered through an internal audit is worthy of commendation, but it hardly generates confidence in the objective observer or the vendor whose livelihood depends in significant measure upon the honesty of the Business Enterprise Program managers. Regardless of who discovered the discrepancy, however, the fact of the missing material was of real importance to California's blind vendors, so the NFB of California circulated a letter to them that weekend. Here it is:
September 2, 1989
Dear California Vendors:
An investigation has been launched in Sacramento which is of great importance to blind vendors in the Business Enterprise Program (BEP). According to the Sacramento Bee , Channel 3 News, and other informed sources, on September 1, 1989, four executives of the Business Enterprise Program were escorted from the Department of Rehabilitation BEP Office by State Police after an internal audit revealed that part of the Program's multi-million dollar equipment inventory is missing. While the news reports did not cite names, informants have identified the officials as Roger Krum, BEP Administrator; Jim Flint, Assistant Administrator; Joe Parlio, Supervising Business Enterprise Consultant (SBEC); and Tony Budmark, Property Manager. The four officials were placed on administrative leave until State Police can complete their investigation. During the investigation Hao Lam, Deputy Director, Program Management and Support Division of the Department of Rehabilitation, is serving as Acting Administrator of the Business Enterprise Program. The investigation reportedly involves 1.2 million dollars worth of allegedly missing BEP equipment equipment purchased with California Vendor Trust Fund monies. The National Federation of the Blind of California has received anonymously a copy of the Conference Notes concerning the missing equipment, which outlines eight findings concerning BEP equipment:
1. Physical Inventories
2. Correction Documents
3. Decal Tagging
4. Surveys and Dispositions
5. Transfers to Outside State Agencies
6. Lack of Monthly Reconciliation
7. Volunteer in Los Angeles Office
8. Notification of Alleged Theft of Equipment
For your information a copy of the Conference Notes is included herewith. All five Business Enterprise Program equipment warehouses have been searched, and State Police have changed the locks on each warehouse to prevent tampering. The Department has announced that the BEP officials have been notified not to return to their BEP offices until further advised, not to go to BEP locations, and not to communicate with BEP staff, vendors, and contractors.
A similar situation was discovered in 1976, shortly before Roger Krum became Administrator. During the week of January 10, 1977, a series of articles which revealed much about the 1976 investigation was published in the San Francisco Examiner . For your information, the 1977 series of articles is included with this letter. It is amazing how easily one could shift the date from 1977 to 1989 and have the content of the articles apply to the many problems which continue to plague the Business Enterprise Program today. For some time there has been rising dissension throughout the Business Enterprise Program between the vendors and the administrator. Blind vendors throughout the state have expressed concern about the unwillingness by the BEP Administration to disclose information relevant to the Vendors Trust Fund, into which each blind vendor pays the monthly six percent set-aside fee. An increasing number of vendors have been speaking out about irregularities and unfair practices in the Selection Committee process used to assign vendors to locations.
The California Vendors Policy Committee Bylaws (as amended January 17, 1989) do not mandate the presence of an agency representative but state that meetings of the Committee may be attended by the Director or his designated representative... (not Directors or representatives). Therefore at the May California Vendors Policy Committee meeting, the delegates insisted that the Bylaws of the Committee be followed and invited Mr. Krum or his designee to remain in the meeting and instructed that the remaining six staff members leave in the past there have been as many as 8 staff members present at a given CVPC meeting for which there are 14 elected delegates. When Roger Krum tried to cancel the meeting, an intimidated few Policy Committee delegates followed Mr. Krum's orders and left the meeting, leaving behind a quorum to conduct the May business of the CVPC. Since the Committee meeting, Roger Krum has failed to recognize the CVPC's selection of its new Chairman, John Friesen. He has refused to address the new Chair or to recognize the other Committee-elected officers.
This is a critical time for the Business Enterprise Program. If there was ever a time for vendors to unite, it is now! Inquiry should be made as to the management of the Vendor Trust Fund monies and the management of the equipment purchased with these monies. If a new administrator is to be chosen, vendors should insure that they play a role in the selection process. Some vendors have suggested the establishment of an Escrow Account to handle Vendor Trust Fund monies until the completion of the current investigation and until vendors receive assurances from the Department of Rehabilitation that proper audit controls are established for the Vendor Trust Fund and the equipment purchased from the Fund. Vendors wishing to join the Merchants Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California or to make a donation to help with the distribution of these materials may send $10.00 annual dues and/or donations to Nick Medina, Treasurer, Merchants Chapter, NFB of California, 2018 Newton Way, Concord, CA 94518. Vendors may also contact Frank Rompal, Jr., President of the Merchants Chapter of the NFB of California, at 415-236-3800.
Sharon Gold, President
National Federation of the Blind of California
That was the news that the NFB of California communicated to the vendors around the state the day after the police escorted Roger Krum and his minions off State property. Federationists were pleased to know that state government was prepared to hunt for the missing inventory and assign responsibility for the disappearances, but there were very real fears that the trouble ran still deeper. As in the late Seventies there was worry about the trust fund. Vendors pay a monthly charge (six percent of net proceeds in the case of California). This is called a set-aside, and out of this pool the Department of Rehabilitation pays certain costs of conducting the Business Enterprise Program. With so much else going wrong in the BEP, Vendors were naturally worried about the safety of the trust fund. Blind people began asking whether it wouldn't be prudent to appoint a conservator to manage the trust fund until the investigation was completed. Sharon Gold approached Congressman Robert Matsui's staff with our concerns, and they too were alarmed. As a result, on September 11 Congressman Matsui's office asked the Attorney General of California to appoint a conservator, and he agreed to do so within ten days.
Meanwhile, the NFB called a meeting of all interested parties for September 22 so that vendors could hear from everyone involved and make up their own minds about what was happening. A staffer from Congressman Matsui's Sacramento office came, as did Sharon Gold and other Federationists; John Friesen, the newly elected chairman of the California Vendors Policy Committee; and concerned vendors approximately fifty in all. Some of these were concerned about Department practices, and some (about ten in number) were there to cause trouble and stir up ill-feeling any way they could. The one group that was conspicuous by its absence was the Department of Rehabilitation. Neither Hao Lam nor those whom he appointed to administer the Business Enterprise Program during the crisis were available to explain things to the vendors or reassure desperately worried people that the Department wanted to preserve their livelihoods perhaps no one in the Department was prepared to give such comfort.
An attorney representing the Department of Rehabilitation did try to slip in unobserved, but he was forced to introduce himself and admit who he was and whom he represented. According to Federation participants, at one point during the meeting the Matsui staffer said to the Department's attorney that he was glad that the attorney had come because he had a message he wanted carried back to the Department. He said that he, as Congressman Matsui's representative, found it outrageous that members of the Department of Rehabilitation staff were not present, and he then announced that the Attorney General had indicated that he intended to appoint a conservator for the trust fund very soon. This article is being completed in late October. The California Attorney General has changed his mind about appointing a conservator, having decided (with who knows how much externally-applied encouragement) that, since the Department of Rehabilitation is undergoing an investigation, he will wait until it is completed before determining whether or not a conservator is necessary. There is no way of telling how long the investigation will take. The State Police recently told Sharon Gold that it would probably be eight months to two years, during which time the trust fund continues to be vulnerable. And in the meantime, the people of California will pay Roger Krum's salary and those of his cronies sharing his administrative leave. No one can know with certainty whether the trust fund is safe, and no one is looking into the question of whether funds have disappeared from it in recent months or years.
But Roger Krum is keeping busy despite his paid leave from state employment. Again this year he is the director of a local jazz festival, for which he receives a hefty salary of some $43,000, according to sources in the community. It is comforting to know that his cultural work this year runs no risk of interfering with his state job. In the past some people have expressed concern that a man who was holding down two full-time jobs might be tempted to short-change one employer or both, but the festival people, at least, seem satisfied with Roger Krum's performance. In many ways the saga of the California Business Enterprise Program is a disturbing story. It is far from over, and the vendors of California are very far from being able to count on their state agency to help them or protect their interests. The good news is that the National Federation of the Blind is still on the job, working with the State Police, attempting to persuade the Attorney General to protect the trust fund, and informing vendors about what is happening and what their rights are.
In the midst of all this, the affiliate goes right on doing all the other things that Federationists should be doing week in and week out. In September the state organization contacted Governor Deukmejian to request his annual proclamation of October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. The Governor wrote the proclamation, but he also wrote a letter to the NFB of California. It is clear that the work of the organized blind movement is not going unnoticed, and it is good to know also that at some levels of state government our efforts are receiving the recognition they deserve. Here is what the Governor of California spontaneously and without solicitation wrote: ____________________
October 4, 1989
TO: National Federation of the Blind
On behalf of the citizens of California, I would like to commend your dedicated efforts to provide services and programs to meet the special needs of visually impaired citizens throughout our state.
Visually impaired citizens rely on organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind of California to provide counseling and support, job training, and employment opportunities so that they may realize a greater sense of independence and self-sufficiency. As October 15, 1989, is White Cane Safety Day in California, I would like to join in this celebration by honoring your many contributions to the health and productivity of blind and visually impaired citizens throughout our state.
Your efforts are most commendable and have earned the respect and appreciation of all Californians. Please accept my best wishes for every future success.
Governor of California
by Mike Pearson
From the Associate Editor: On July 2, 1989, just as delegates to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind were beginning to gather in Denver, the Rocky Mountain News Sunday Magazine printed a feature article about the technical rock-climbing course offered to the students at the Colorado Center for the Blind. The pictures were breath-taking, and the story (reprinted here by permission) was positive and well done. For those of us who had signed up to go rock-climbing with a group the next day or one a week later, it was also sobering. I, for example, began to doubt whether I had the necessary strength to haul myself up rock faces as sheer as the ones described by the writer. Judy Nichols, the secretary of the Public Relations Committee, realized for the first time that her fear of heights might be a problem since she was not going to be scrambling over rocks as she had assumed.
Reports circulated through the convention that the group who went climbing on July 3 had had a wonderful time. Those of us who gathered out front of the Radisson Hotel early on the morning of July 10 were excited and a little nervous. We were all bone-weary after the stimulation of the convention. Several admitted to feeling some anticipatory fear, but I did not worry at all about danger. Our instructors were climbers who had tackled cliffs all over the world, and they said that we could trust the ropes, so I was prepared to believe them.
Everyone talks about the beauty of the Rockies, but somehow I was unprepared for it when we arrived at the International Alpine School. We were fitted with climbing boots, harnesses, and hard hats. Stowing this equipment, our water bottles, and lunches in our backpacks, we began hiking. The air was incredibly clear, and though it was hot, the shade was cool and the breeze invigorating. There were thousands of birds who had had the good sense to take up residence in this ruggedly beautiful country, and not many insects. Much of the way we were accompanied by a noisy little stream rushing over rocks and generally adding a great deal to our appreciation of the place.
The guides had been busy before our arrival placing ropes at several points on rock faces for us to climb. As far as I could gather, this entailed someone's climbing without the protection of a rope to the top of the rock to fix an anchor into the ground, through which the rope was then passed. When one of us decided to try a particular climb, an experienced climber would sit down at the bottom and control one end of the rope. The other end was passed through the special loops on the novice climber's harness and tied securely and quite mysteriously. We were shown how to tie these knots, but I, for one, was happy to let the experts do the job for me. Then, with the rope securely connecting climber to stationary belayer by way of the anchor at the top of the rock, one began to climb. The early rock faces had obvious hand and foot holds as well as some slant. These were steeper scrambles than I had ever tried before, but with a rope and climbing boots, they were physically taxing but not hard. Then came an all but vertical rock face with a few a very few cracks in it. The people from the climbing school protested that these were not very challenging, but they seemed pretty formidable to us. The October, 1989, issue of the Braille Monitor includes a picture of me walking backwards down this climb a process which requires the climber to lean backwards until he or she is perpendicular to the rock face. The rope holds the climber in this position, enabling him or her to walk backwards down the distance that has so laboriously been crawled up. My grin in that picture is a measure of the exhilaration one feels after having pitted oneself against the rock and won. Those of us who wanted to try something even more difficult were then directed to a small cliff I use the word advisedly. As President Maurer commented incredulously, it was absolutely vertical, and there was almost nothing to stand on. He was the first one to pit himself against that rock, and he made it further than any of the rest of us who were new at the game. When it was my turn, I began to understand what he had been talking about.
I did not get more than ten or twelve feet off the ground, though at the time that seemed quite an accomplishment. My undoing came while I was sprawled across the rock. My left foot was more or less anchored in a shallow hollow in the rock, and my hands were spread wide far above my head, clinging to outcrops that were no wider than a quarter of an inch. The guide who was holding my rope said in a calm (not to say placid) voice, Now find a place to put your right foot, (which was, as I remember it, flailing around in a frantic effort to do just that). She told me to look higher, that there was a nice hold about two feet above my out-thrust foot. Eventually, I found what she was talking about. It is no exaggeration to say that the crack in question was at the level of my right shoulder. When I got my foot up there, it felt like it was above my head. Then the guide said, Now, just transfer your weight to your right foot.
She was so calm about it, as if such a thing could be done. I suggested that she had better begin singing Climb Every Mountain, and several folks obligingly began doing so. This was the point at which the absurdity of the situation made me begin to laugh, and I peeled off the rock and hung there, helpless with laughter.
My guide told me to rest before trying again. I did so, but by this time my limbs were shaking with fatigue, and eventually I asked her to lower me to the ground.
If I had been a member of a real class, however, I would not have been able to get off so easily. For the only time that day I was glad that I was not engaged in a real rock-climbing course. This entire experience is a small jewel in my personal collection of memories. Beauty; the camaraderie of adventure shared with good friends; the encouragement and help of warm, calm, and unsentimental experts; and the exhilaration of testing myself against a formidable challenge: these things set that day apart in my memory. I can readily understand how valuable a whole course of rock-climbing would be as a part of a rehabilitation program. One emerges from such an experience more confident and self-assured. This is the very essence of rehabilitation.
One word must be said about the International Alpine School and its staff. Joanne Yankovich, the Director of the Blind Program, and Alison Sheets, who works with her, are dedicated to providing climbing experience to blind people. They and their other instructors are wonderful people to work with. They begin with the premise that all climbers can benefit from experience on the rocks. They are unflappable and very encouraging without being at all supercilious, but above all, they are inspiring climbers, who believe that there is no reason why blind people can't learn to climb well too.
Climbing programs can be established for any organizations that are interested. For more information about the International Alpine School contact: Alison Sheets, International Alpine School, Boulder Mountain Guides, Inc., Box 3037, Eldorado Springs, CO 80025, (303) 494-4904.
Here is the story that was printed in the Sunday Magazine of the Rocky Mountain News on July 2, 1989:
F aith and fear are fraternal twins born a heartbeat apart. On a cold May morning at the tail end of sunrise, the twins lie in wait in a canyon in Eldorado Springs. They watch silently as a group of seven students disembark a bus and prepare for their first climb up a jagged rock wall.
Muscular, cheerful instructors from the International Alpine School scurry around untangling ropes, threading harnesses, handing out soft-soled shoes. The students are a bit more tentative in their enthusiasm.
The scent of a challenge hangs heavy in the air, and casual conversation masks their apprehension.
The idea of scrambling up the face of a 200-foot-high rock would take most mortals aback. Falling is not a pleasant concept. But these mortals, armed with backpacks and water bottles and guts, are more extraordinary than most.
They're from the Colorado Center for the Blind in Denver, and on this morning they will defy the conventional wisdom of the sighted and stalk the mountain sky.
As instructors make last-minute adjustments to equipment and brief their charges on the quarter-mile hike up the canyon, Diane McGeorge stands off to one side smiling as though she has just won an Academy Award. As director of the Center for the Blind, McGeorge has accompanied two previous groups of students through the six-week program. She is a veteran mountain tamer, no less fierce for her lack of sight, with unshakable praise for the program.
This has really been great for our students, she says, a hint of anticipation in her voice. One of the neatest things it's done for blind students is challenge their self-discipline. It's also been a great way of teaching team travel and building confidence in skills they don't get an opportunity to use in the city. Sure, the students are worried. All of us come here with a lot of fear and a lot of misgivings.
But perhaps the most important part of the program is that it teaches us that we can reach way down inside and do a lot of the things we didn't think we could do. We can overcome our fears physical, mental, and emotional.
The best way to undermine a stereotype is to confront it head-on, she says pointedly. Don't argue the absurdity of the notion that blind people should be shuttled off to schools and quietly cared for. Prove it wrong.
I really believe this program dispels stereotypes, she says. People say, `How can you do that when you're blind?' They don't expect blind people to be out tramping around in the wilderness using their white canes. They think of us on a hike as having to hang onto a sighted guide or use a bell. Well, we are using our canes to see what's in front of us to give us that freedom. One of the most common things I hear people say is, `It's probably easier for you because you don't have to worry about the fear of looking down.' I tell them everybody has fears, and it doesn't have anything to do with being blind.
If you're climbing and you realize, `My God, I'm 100 feet in the air,' or you hear the river rushing way down below, you really learn the meaning of trust. This is an extremely safe sport, or we wouldn't be doing it. But fear is inside you all the time. If you're afraid, you're afraid whether you're sighted or not. And you have to conquer that fear every day.
The sun has finally burned off the morning mist as the caravan starts down the trail into the canyon. The students can't see the sheer beauty of their surroundings, the angry curve of the rock, the sliver of sky that forms a canopy as they hike farther along the trail. But they can hear and smell and touch the world around them. The chatter of birds, the thrashing of a swollen stream are as vivid as any colors known to man. As the wind brushes by with a soothing sigh, they know the adventure has just begun. In the summer of 1983 Paul DiBello was working with handicapped youths in North Conway, New Hampshire, when he thought of teaching them rock climbing.
People immediately thought it was a great idea; it was just a little surprising because you don't normally expect blind people to participate in a program like that, he recalled. But I got together with some other climbers, and we took seven kids out to White Horse Ledge with the idea of having them do rappelling: nothing very strenuous or dangerous. It was a two-day program where we taught the history of rock climbing and some of the basic mechanics. At the end of the first day, the other climbers and I realized that the kids were adapting to being on the rocks faster than anyone had expected. We thought they could probably handle climbing up, rather than just rappelling down. So the next day we scrapped our original plan and took them to the first pitch of a standard ridge, and they completed it. The instructors and kids were equally elated.
That was the first and only time the program was run in New Hampshire. Yes, it was a success. But it was temporary an exciting, one-time occurrence. Nobody imagined or even suggested that it could be done on a regular basis and provide more than esthetic thrills. No one saw it as a tool for teaching mobility. Still, DiBello knew there was more potential to the program than the first group of students had realized. They had spent only two days on the rocks. What if a group of blind students were to spend a week, even eight days, climbing?
By 1984, after DiBello moved to Winter Park and became director of the Handicapped Competition Program, the concept of blind rock climbers became an obsessive pursuit mild but persistent. He joined forces with Paul Sibley and Sandy East, who owned the International Alpine School in Eldorado Springs, and they made a video guide for those interested in leading blind rock climbers. A year later DiBello met Homer Page, a blind Boulder County commissioner who was toying with the idea of opening a school for the blind in Denver, a school of limited enrollment with a curriculum that stressed self-reliance.
The meeting occurred in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Page had gone to cover the ski competition for The Handicapped Coloradan , a newsletter he runs when he's not teaching experiential education at the University of Colorado.
When Paul told me that he'd been trying to get a rock-climbing program started for the blind, I said: `That sounds really interesting, but I'm not interested,' Page recalled. Why should I want to go out and kill myself when I've got a lot of life left to live?
Paul said, `I think blind people can do this, but all these professionals tell me that they can't.' Immediately that changed my position. While I hadn't thought much about climbing, the idea that blind people can't climb was insulting. So I said, `Let's do it.' I got two of my students, and the three of us climbed with Paul.
Convinced of the sport's benefits, Page made the rock-climbing class mandatory when he launched the Colorado Center for the Blind in January, 1988. Students would learn to read Braille. They'd learn how to travel independently, cook for themselves, and live on their own. And they'd learn to climb rocks. The most recent class was the third to complete the course (it's offered in the spring and fall). About 20 students have participated in the program, the only one of its kind in the country, and so far no one has been seriously hurt.
Most blind children growing up today don't receive the kind of education, positive attitudes, and skills needed to become solid adults, Page said. In most cases, families love the children, but they don't really know how to relate to a blind child. They tend to protect them, and they don't understand that a blind person can be a competitive part of society. They try to make life easier rather than making it realistic.
Students at the Colorado Center for the Blind will spend six to 12 months learning to cope with life in an urban environment. By the time they graduate (each course is individualized), they are prepared to go to college or enter the job market.
Page believes rock climbing forces blind students to confront their fears.
Some of them never do like it, whereas others want to continue climbing for years, he said. You can tell people that blind people aren't limited by lack of sight, and it goes in one ear and out the other. It's just not the same as going out and tackling a tough physical challenge. We want them to come away with a feeling that they can do many things they never imagined. They don't have to quit. They don't have to be afraid of life. I t's high noon on a sweltering June day in Gregory Canyon on the outskirts of Boulder. The sun bleeds sweat from the pale pink rock, banishing shadows to the safety of an occasional crack.
This is the fabled amphitheater, where the last class of each session takes place.
And today is graduation day.
The group's composition has changed somewhat. A few of those who started six weeks earlier are gone. In their place are some new faces. Eager. Anxious. Unbowed.
The objective is for students to top-rope it up this unforgiving rock and rappel back down. By this final day, the instructor's primary role is to offer encouragement from below. It will be a test of blind faith. Courage and commitment.
Yet, unlike the first day of class, when anxiety was the prevalent emotion, today the talk is boisterous, the laughter common, and the energy level high.
For 40-year-old James Wolcott, the six-week span has brought a big change.
This is the first time I've ever taken a class like this, and I think it's great, he said, lightly stepping over a carpet of broken rocks. It's definitely been a challenge. The hardest part has been forcing myself beyond what I thought I could do. Society probably doesn't understand what we're doing here. They probably don't think something like this is possible, but I know it's very possible. I'm scared every time I climb up there. But afterward I feel really great.
For group leader Joanne Yankovich, who has been leading the class since its inception, such an endorsement makes the long hours and tiring regimen including a couple of 3-mile death marches to condition the students worthwhile.
The funny thing is how much I learn about myself through this class, she said, securing a top rope for the first of the students. The climbing issues are the same as any other class fear, athletic self-doubt, and learning to trust your equipment and your partner. But the fact that these are people who don't have sight brings up special issues, especially social stereotypes about what they can or can't do. Whenever I tell (sighted) people about this class, they're surprised. They've just never considered a blind person's being able to climb a rock, or even wanting to.
Of course, the school's main objective is mobility. If they can get through this, it gives them a lot of confidence to try other things. This is probably the most complicated set of mobility problems you can give anybody, blind or sighted. I mean, in an urban environment everything is normally square or rectangular. When you're climbing a rock wall, a cane isn't of much use. Every challenge provides an opportunity for growth.
It's about assuming responsibility for one's self in an age when people are more and more willing to abdicate that, she said. Yes, there is risk involved. But it's like anything else: if you want to test your limits it can be hard. But ultimately, it is also rewarding.
For Tom Anderson, 36, who teaches typing and Braille at the Center for the Blind, there's nothing quite like the thrill of a climb.
I think a person goes through different feelings when climbing, he said of his third time in the class. At first, it's kind of scary because a person may not be sure where the footholds and handholds are. But as one gains more confidence, the feeling changes from one of being really scared to one of exhilaration. It's reminiscent of when I was a kid and used to climb around on things. Some climbs are plain hard work, but once you make it, there is a real sense of accomplishment. There is also a valid practicality to the course, he added. If you can climb a rock, crossing Broadway and Evans in Denver isn't so scary, he said. Something like this gives you a sense of perspective.
SCHOLARS ARE SOMETIMES STUMBLING BLOCKS
by C. Edwin Vaughan, Ph.D.
In his presidential address to the 49th Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, July 1989, President Marc Maurer focused on the importance of language to the future of the blind. One of the major purposes of this largest consumer organization of blind persons is to change the meaning of blindness in this society. Images of blindness carried in our popular culture, earned from advertising, humor, newspaper accounts, etc., provide the symbols which prospective employers, new friends, or strangers use to guide their behavior toward and treatment of blind people. Maurer noted, If the language is positive, our prospects will be correspondingly bright. If the words used to describe the condition of the blind are dismal, we will find that our chances for equality are equally bleak.
In addition to folk or popular images of blindness existing in a society are the images or symbols created by the intellectuals or experts who make careers out of studying the peculiar conditions of the blind. Symbols, created by experts, frequently guide or at least are a part of public policy decisions about programs for the blind. Scientific protocol, the creation of complex new constructs to further explain the problems of blind people, and the frequent use of mathematical manipulation of newly created data all lend heightened status to the images of blindness created by professionals. This article will examine one such academic effort to explain the concept of self-esteem as it applies to the development of the self-concept of blind people a book by Professor Dean Tuttle of the University of Northern Colorado entitled Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness. This book attempts to interpret self-esteem and the development of the self of blind persons using a wide array of concepts from the history of developmental psychology ranging from William James to contemporary writers. Tuttle also analyzes problems encountered in adjusting to the trauma of blindness. Using trauma either as a medical or psychological concept, the book describes a severe condition requiring significant intervention and often having lasting or permanent consequences.
At four different places in the book, Professor Tuttle briefly mentions that no special psychological principles are necessary to understand blind people. He notes that personality traits are as variable among the visually impaired as among the sighted (Page 38). After his brief statements about no new psychological principles being required he goes on to write a 300-page book describing the special and peculiar problems blind people encounter as they experience self-development. To support or illustrate his arguments he uses quotations from more than fifty biographical and autobiographical works of blind individuals. A social scientist and educator in the field of blindness and a blind person as well would presumably present a fair balance and evenhanded approach as he described the peculiar and special situations of blind people. I will analyze several aspects of this book to illustrate how supposedly scientific and scholarly work can contribute unnecessarily to negative images about blindness. I will also show how the narrow focus displayed by this book can create an artificial and restricted picture of the world in which blind people are socialized.
He supports his argument by more than 250 quotations from the approximately 50 biographical and autobiographical books and articles cited in his text. These biographies and autobiographies usually describe the lives of fairly successful, and sometimes quite successful, blind people who have published their life stories for sale to the general public. Most of these life stories reflect successful adaptations to blindness. Whether one is illustrating the concept of self- esteem, relationships to significant others, or any other of the dozens of psychological concepts illustrated by Professor Tuttle, one could have selected, at least, one half of the illustrative citations which would have reflected positive or successful adaptations. When I first read Professor Tuttle's book, I was so struck by the pervasiveness of the negative language about blindness reflected in these biographical quotes that I re-read the text. Of his more than 250 quotations, less than 25 reflect positive images of blindness. Another 20 could be called neutral with respect to positive or negative images about blindness, while approximately 200 portray negative or dismal images about blind people. The following are three examples of quotations of the type I judge to be negative:
I got along the pavement as best I could and that is another frightening experience difficult to describe to anyone who has not been blind, because though you are surrounded by noise, you have no coherent mental picture of what is around you.... I walked along in an enclosed gray little world a two-foot-square box of sounds around me. p. 22), No other day in my life stands out quite so clearly or so horribly as the day on which I got the verdict. His manner had kept full realization at bay until I was out in the street, then it struck with such force as to make it touch and go whether I did not go raving and screaming through the heart of Melbourne. (p. 161), and ... A numbing terror fastened itself upon me when I was thus brought to realize that I was doomed to live the rest of my life in complete darkness. There was an agonizing feeling of helplessness and dismay at the thought of going through day after day without eyesight... (p. 175).
I am not arguing that any scholar should necessarily present a positive interpretation about blindness, although it would be refreshing. I do suggest that the overwhelming preponderance of negative imagery reflects an unrecognized bias on the part of Professor Tuttle. Despite his claim to a sociological perspective on self- development, Mr. Tuttle also completely ignores the organized blind as a source of influence on blind people being socialized in our society. In discussing significant others and reference groups, he advises that a blind person should be introduced to a teacher, school superintendent, counselor, friend, etc., and at one point he goes so far as to suggest meeting another blind person to learn some practical strategies. However there is a time when the credibility of a message is much stronger coming from another blind person. The professional may want to arrange for a competent blind person to meet with the individual who is mourning. Areas of concern to be discussed with the recently blinded might include some `tricks of the trade' or some quickly and easily learned adaptive techniques (pp. 179-8O). He does not suggest that it would be useful for a blind person to encounter groups of blind people who have positive images about blindness and who are committed to assisting themselves and others in the development of their human potentials. Richard Scott and Father Caroll made this same mistake that of ignoring the organized blind in their major works about blindness. However, I would have hoped that by 1984 a specialist in the field of blindness such as Mr. Tuttle would have been aware of the sociological importance for images about blindness and for the importance that the organized blind movement has been in the lives of a great many blind people. He seems almost to go out of his way to interpret the influence of high technology gadgetry as a potential influence on the lives of blind people, but he has not a single quote from Jacobus tenBroek and Kenneth Jernigan or countless hundreds of other people who have published successful stories of adaptation in the Braille Monitor or other periodicals about blindness. In fact, after he departs from the mainstream of literature about self-development, most of his scientific material about blindness comes from a very narrow range of publication outlets usually associated directly or indirectly with the American Foundation for the Blind. How are we to explain the negative imagery that characterizes this text and the lack of attention to a major positive influence in the lives of many blind people as well as the general public? This book is just one more example of the self serving nature of much that passes for scientific research about blindness it provides, to the true believer, much additional evidence about the special and peculiar problems that blind people encounter and which require the exclusive attention and assistance of especially trained professionals. Professionals are needed in the education of blind persons, just as they are for anyone else, but they, as a minimum requirement, must be knowledgeable about the organized blind. In his dozens of pages of advice to professionals he neglects to instruct them to learn about the positive philosophies, programs, and legislative successes of the several consumer organizations that should be a part of the professionals' understanding as he or she approaches rehabilitative relationships. Positive attitudes and images on the part of rehabilitation workers and educators can make a major contribution to the developing self-understanding of a blind person.
It is an example of professional ideology in the sense described by Carl Mannheim in his book Ideology and Utopia. Thus, it is not men in general who think, or even isolated individuals who do the thinking, but men in certain groups who have developed a particular style of thought in an endless series of responses to certain typical situations characterizing their common position. He analyses the relationships between the intellectual point of view held and the social position occupied. Sociologically and historically he clarifies how the interests and purposes of certain social groups come to find expression in certain theories, doctrines, and intellectual movements. My interpretation of Mannheim's work would locate Professor Tuttle's effort as one more example of the creation of images about blindness that serve the self-interests of a social network of professionals and academicians who are making careers out of the study of and care of blind people. It is also an example of the narrowness and departmentalization of the social sciences that leads scholars to focus narrowly on some aspects of self- development while being oblivious to major social movements that are changing the conditions in which blind people live. It is a shame that the vast resources represented by the agencies and professionals are so irrelevant, sometimes even harmful, to the education and rehabilitation of many blind people. These vast resources will be better used when agencies and their employees drop defensive posturing and educate themselves in the positive views and aspirations reflected in the organized efforts of blind people themselves.
Mannheim, Karl. Ideology and Utopia. Harcourt Brace, 1936.
Tuttle, Dean W. Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness. Charles C. Thomas, Publisher. 1984.
STATE DEPARTMENT THINKS
ABOUT THE WISDOM OF BREAKING FEDERAL LAW
At its annual banquet on July 8, 1989, the National Federation of the Blind presented its Newel Perry Award to Congressman Gerry Sikorski of Minnesota for his outstanding service to the blind of the nation in championing our struggle to establish the right of blind citizens to serve in the United States Foreign Service. During his address to the convention (see the December, 1989, issue of the Braille Monitor ) Mr. Sikorski pledged that he would continue this fight for justice until the State Department changed its policy.
Sikorski has been as good as his word. In mid-October he and Congressman Merwin Dymally arranged a joint hearing before their respective committees: the Sub-Committee on Civil Service of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee and the Sub-Committee on International Operations of the Foreign Relations Committee. On October 12 the Undersecretary for Management of the Department of State, Ivan Selin, was called to testify before the two committees at their hearing. There he announced that the Department had reversed its earlier decision to prohibit blind applicants from taking its written and oral examinations using Braille or human readers and notetakers. He went on to say that the Department of State had also abandoned its opposition to the concept of employing blind foreign service officers and would soon make a job offer to a qualified blind candidate. It was soon clear that the qualified candidate was Rami Rabby, whose case triggered the most recent round of controversy between the Federation and the State Department over its policy of discrimination against the blind.
Within the week Mr. Rabby was contacted and offered a contract for his consideration. Already a diplomatist with all of the requisite negotiating skill, Rabby countered with alternative language that more clearly delineated his specific requirements for reader and computer support. Before these negotiations could be completed, however, Rabby was required to leave the country for a number of weeks on business. But assuming that all goes well and one can never be certain that it will he will return to begin two months of intensive training and ongoing talks about an appropriate assignment in the Foreign Service. In an interview with Congressman Sikorski the Associate Editor of the Braille Monitor asked him why he thought that the Department of State had changed its policy concerning the blind. He replied that he believed that Department of State officials were eventually convinced that they were going to have to deal with an irate Polish Congressman from Minnesota, and that I was in it for the long haul. He also pointed out that the Department was in an embarrassing position. The National Federation of the Blind had made it look bad, and public officials do not like to be on the short end of the public relations stick.
When asked whether he thought that the State Department was serious about its decision to hire blind foreign service officers, Mr. Sikorski said, I don't care whether they think they're serious or not; they're going to be serious. The door is now open, and it's not going to close, ever.
So there it is. Whether or not the Department of State yet recognizes the fact, the day is past when it can pretend that the laws prohibiting discrimination against the disabled by the federal government do not apply to it. Here is the press release circulated by the National Federation of the Blind on the day following Undersecretary Selin's history-making announcement:
Foreign Service Open to Blind:
State Department Says
Baltimore, October 13/PRNewswire/ In a dramatic (180 degree) turnaround Undersecretary of State Ivan Selin has announced that his agency will begin to offer positions in the Foreign Service to qualified blind persons. Selin's announcement came Thursday during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
Congressman Gerry Sikorski, who chairs a House civil service panel, has been pressing the State Department to employ qualified blind people in overseas posts. Selin told Sikorski, Thursday, We have considered your objections to our former policy and decided that we agree with you. You are right.
One year ago, the State Department decided that its Foreign Service qualifying examinations could not be taken by blind persons who were unable to read the printed tests by themselves. At that time, and for several years before, State Department officials had come under fire from the National Federation of the Blind for pursuing discriminatory hiring practices, Federation leaders said. Marc Maurer, President of the 50,000-member Blind Federation, hailed Thursday's announcement as a Victory for equal rights and human rights. Blindness should not be a barrier to service in foreign lands, Maurer said. The Federation President cited the case of Mr. Avraham Rabby, a blind applicant already found qualified for the Foreign Service. Rabby's case caught national attention last year when State Department officials refused to allow him to have a sighted person present to read printed documents during a test. Rabby had previously passed identical tests and had been designated as qualified for the Foreign Service. Under pressure from Congress at the time, State Department officials admitted that Rabby's blindness was considered to be a barrier to any overseas assignment. Maurer said of Thursday's change in policy: The State Department would now show its good faith and a true change of its policy if Mr. Rabby is offered a job to serve our country abroad.
That's what the press release said, and the story was picked up all over the country. The Cable News Network conducted a lengthy interview with Rami Rabby about the change of events, and their coverage of the story included a good bit of footage showing Rabby walking around Washington, D.C., and discussing the competence of blind people. And still people ask why the National Federation of the Blind? What does it do for blind people? The answer is clear and unequivocal. Without the National Federation of the Blind the Department of State would still be discriminating against blind applicants and calling it common sense. Tomorrow's corps of Foreign Service officers will be stronger and more effective because of the work of the Federation. The United States of America has established for itself a little more integrity now that its international pleas for human rights are no longer being made by those whose agency refuses to admit or respect the qualifications of its country's blind citizens. Make no mistake about it: the National Federation of the Blind is responsible for what has happened. And we will continue to fight for the right of every blind person to demonstrate his or her individual capacity to contribute to the well-being of this nation. This victory is one more reason for the National Federation of the Blind.
THE BLIND SCIENTIST AT LOS ALAMOS
by John Rowley, Ph.D.
From the Associate Editor: We in the National Federation of the Blind remind ourselves often that we are changing what it means to be blind in America, and it is most certainly true. But some things seem to take more time to alter than others. We successfully work for the passage of a law, and the conditions affected by that law change relatively swiftly. We persuade one educator teaching blind children of the importance of early Braille and cane instruction, and those youngsters are immediately better off. We establish one training center that bases its instruction on a sound philosophy of blindness, and suddenly the blind of the entire area receive a new lease on life.
But some things take a very long time indeed to change. When attitudes are involved, when an individual or a family must struggle to find the private courage to take a difficult course of action, then we are reminded just how slowly progress is made. Nearly fifty years ago Dr. Jernigan was told by his rehabilitation counselor that his ambition to be an attorney was not feasible. Twenty-five years ago I was told that Advanced Placement high school English would be too difficult for me. Fifteen years ago a Federationist in Ohio, who did not then know about the NFB, was denied enrollment in an advanced college chemistry course which she needed for a pre-med major. And it still happens every day all across this country.
Experts, friends, family, and blind people themselves conduct well-intentioned campaigns to protect blind youngsters from the strain and stretch of serious challenge. Social work, teaching blind children, rehabilitation: these are today's safe occupations the ones that make sense for blind people. In fact some people are gifted in these areas, and some such individuals happen to be blind. But it is no accident that most of the blind engineering and science majors who have applied for Federation scholarships in recent years have had a good bit of residual sight.
It is desperately important that we not close off the options for blind children before they have a chance to determine for themselves whether or not they have what it takes in the vocational fields they find attractive, whatever they are. Dr. John Rowley, who addressed the 1989 convention of the National Federation of the Blind on Saturday afternoon, July 8, made this point very clearly when he said that anyone interested in science had better want to do science and be prepared to work hard at it, but that he saw no reason why blind students should not pursue such careers if they had the dedication to do so. He knows what he is talking about.
A scientist and engineer for many years before the onset of blindness, John Rowley returned to the Los Alamos Laboratory after completing several months of hard work at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in October of 1988. He was given his choice of several projects and chose one that required his special combination of scientific and engineering skills. He was charged with moving to Las Vegas, Nevada, for about two years to establish and strengthen the management office for the High Level Waste Project conducted by the University of California Los Alamos National Laboratory on the west side of the Nevada test site. The Department of Energy's project here is supported by the University of California, and Dr. Rowley's task is to hire staff, establish the office, compile large technical documents, and generally bring to bear his expertise to get the project started efficiently. When he finishes this project late in 1990, he will be assigned another trouble- shooting job. Here is what he had to say about his work as a blind scientist:
What I want to talk about I have titled Reflections at the Interfaces. There are really two interfaces I want to talk about. One is the type of science I practiced for a third of a century (well, actually, forty years is probably closer), and the second one, of course, is the interface between sight and blindness.
I'll try to touch on two other questions in the meantime. Should young blind people consider a career in science, and is blindness an important issue in studying for being a scientist? I will assert the answer to those two now, and then I'll try to convince you, through my example, that indeed I would encourage young blind people to go into science, but only under certain conditions. You must really want to practice science. You must prepare yourself thoroughly, and you must be prepared to work very hard. I don't believe and I think I can speak from experience that blindness is a very important issue at all in practicing science. Here I must be very careful because I've only been practicing science for about a year as a blind person. Actually I think it's added a little bit of spice to the game. Some people might say challenge, but science is enough challenge already, so I think really spice might be a better term. The first interface I want to talk about had to do with the type of science I practiced. Probably it's true that scientists and engineers (and I'm both) do as many different things as there are individuals. By the way, there aren't many of us scientists. I think there are only a half a million or so (maybe a little more) in the country. It's a pretty specialized trade. One of the things that I tried to do when I was young was to learn everything there was about science. My parents just thought I couldn't make up my mind, which actually was the truth. You know, many young people can't decide exactly what it is they want to do. But I hid that very nicely by studying chemistry and mathematics and chemical engineering and physics and I've forgotten what all else. As a graduate student I worked on many applied projects. I found applications of science that is, engineering quite fascinating. So I really trained myself in a lot of areas during that process of not being able to make up my mind.
When the time came to look for a job, I found it very difficult because it turns out the job market in physics, chemistry, and many other fields of engineering is really very narrow, and that wasn't my game. So I looked around the country (this was in about 1955), and I found a place which takes concepts, ideas, findings, discoveries that is, the research aspects of science and converts them into hardware prototypes, working models. That happened to be the Los Alamos National Laboratory. I've practiced that interface between the two areas that is, research discovery (findings if you will) and the application of these for a third of a century.
Now I'd like to talk about the other interface, which is a more recent one the interface between blindness and sight. I perhaps was quite fortunate. When I was a teen-ager before the second world war, I had an ophthalmologist who very carefully explained to me the risk factors to my vision. I was very, very near sighted, and I used an alternative technique all those years. I used glasses refraction, you know. And I actually had no problem. My retinas did not detach, which was one of the risks. And I did not avoid all the things he said not to do. I enjoyed football, parachuting, and a number of other activities. But he also mentioned that maybe, later on in life, the retinal material would deteriorate, although he suggested (and the literature I read at that time suggested) that I might outlive all that or die before it happened. And so I really didn't ignore it; I think I was forewarned and prepared.
However, in 1982 I noticed my right eye was clearly starting down hill, and I lost my peripheral vision. By 1984 I believe I was essentially blind. The testing was a little nominal, but I gave up driving at that time. And soon thereafter, I had to start making a decision. At first I thought it was simple. In my laboratory, as far as I'm able to determine, everyone who was blinded or had gone blind before had retired. It turns out that our laboratory has a very generous medical retirement program and, quite frankly, has a very, very tough safety program. Ours is a very hazardous workplace. By the way, we're also extremely safe people. The two go hand in hand, I might add. So everyone else prior to my case (I use the word lightly, although my view of it was a little tougher than that) had retired. So I thought I would retire. Maybe that was the alternative to take. But you know, I really liked work. In fact, I wasn't really bothered by the second interface although I was having a little trouble getting to work, and my productivity was dropping. I found myself doing different kinds of work still interesting, still productive in some ways, but certainly not with the amount of reading and writing that I was used to. So what did we do?
Well, my wife Mary and I went to a nice retirement seminar two days delightfully done by our laboratory. At the end of those two days, I was totally convinced I didn't want to retire. Now, how does one manage? What is the tactic? Well I started getting books out of the library on blindness. I opened a notebook on retirement on the one hand; I opened another notebook on blindness on the other hand. And I found you can learn Braille. So I signed up for a correspondence course. I got hold of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. An itinerant teacher came up and said, Why you know, there's orientation and mobility. (You see, I got the buzz words right away, too, and I got a white cane.) By the way, I got some literature about the National Federation of the Blind at the same time, I might add. I went down to the drugstore and got a pair of sleepshades because, even now, I have a little bit of vision in my left eye, and I started practicing. After a few months of that, I figured that it might take five years if I worked rather diligently at it, and I was starting to work quite diligently. So clearly that wasn't a very good way to get from where I was across this interface. I wanted to be a working scientist, but how to do it?
Well, pretty soon my supervisor got worried, and with good reason. I was bumping into things, particularly in unfamiliar areas. I was having trouble in low-light conditions. My productivity in reading and writing (even though I tried to divert some of my activities away from that) was getting lower. Fortunately, he brought up the issue of safety. I was clearly a safety hazard to my laboratory. What was to be done?
I must say I was a little bit upset about that, but on the other hand, I realized they really were talking about liability (although, of course, that issue never really came up). However, I thought, there must be a way around this. Then it dawned on me that our laboratory has a policy that will pay for safety training. I don't believe they're allowed to pay for rehabilitation training access, accommodation, all kinds of things, but not rehabilitation. So I explored the possibility of getting orientation and mobility training at the laboratory. I thought, well I'll take a month or two off, I'll get somebody good in here. They'll take me all over the lab and my home area all that. And I'll be safe. I started calling around the country, and I was very, very fortunate in contacting, among other people, Mary Ellen Reihing (at that time) on the staff at NFB Headquarters. And she said, It's an interesting idea. I'll try to find you an O&M instructor.
How lucky I was that she didn't find one! She also said in her own very persuasive (well, not too subtle but very persuasive) way, Really you need six to nine months or perhaps a year of good rehabilitation training if you're going to do what you want to do. I was convinced. I admit that I think I was very receptive. I have never in my life believed that blind people couldn't do what they wanted to do. I find out now there are many people who do. I was fortunate, so what to do next? I made many phone calls, talked to many institutions, and finally I heard about the Louisiana Center for the Blind. To make a long story short, I called Joanne Fernandes. In November of 1987 we visited the Center around Thanksgiving time, and I'm very thankful I might add. We found it precisely as described.
One of the criteria that I established at that time was that I wanted instructors who were blind. I was anxious for that. I've trained myself in many, many areas before. I've also trained many other people. And I'm firmly convinced that's the absolute best way to go. I found the Center to be exactly as represented. I felt it would totally satisfy my needs. It did, absolutely. I spent from January to July last year, 1988, at the Center; and I believe I graduated with some honors. I really enjoyed that experience. I've heard it called a boot camp. Now let me tell you that if you do go through a boot camp, you're going to know precisely what it is you want to do along with being able to do it. So, if you have any hesitation about one of the centers, please come and speak to one of the graduates. I assure you that this has changed my life because I think I probably would have had to retire had I not gone to that center.
What happened when I returned to my laboratory? Well there is some indication you can be a nice senior science advisor you know, kind of a soft nice job demanding in a way, but not too taxing. After a few months, however, they offered me a position in Las Vegas to solve a very tough problem. I couldn't resist. I have solved lots of problems in the last third of a century from my laboratory. But what a delightful challenge this was, what a blessing. Here I had to do all those things that Joanne and her staff had taught me. I had to find an apartment. I had to cook for myself, and the cane travel! I must confess, I've tried to reach as far out into Las Vegas as I can. The strip is a thing you wouldn't believe. I must say, I could tell you a few stories well never mind. That's a fascinating thing to do. I've been able to extend every one of my skills and use it. The only one I'm deficient in still is Braille, and I'm going to get back at that. But I suspect it's going to take me perhaps another year to complete solving this problem. We've hired a number of people, got the office set up, and the projects moving. We're starting to produce deliverables. The science is coming together. The people are coming together. And soon, I think, we'll close this one. Could I have done that without the NFB? No way! There is no way. I've looked back and said, Oh, I could have learned all that. There is no way. And I certainly want to thank you all.
I want to share in closing one small bit of philosophy that I think we share in common: scientists and the NFB. That is the old, time- honored phrase: You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Thank you.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE JOB
by Curtis Chong
As Monitor readers know, Curtis Chong is the President of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science (the NFB's computer science division) and an active member of the NFB Research and Development Committee. In recent months he has been asked to address groups of potential employers of the blind in conjunction with Job Opportunities for the Blind seminars sponsored by several state affiliates. The following article is drawn from these speeches. Mr. Chong's expertise and solid common sense make his remarks valuable to everyone who is interested in the subject of technology and the blind. Here is what he has been saying to employers about technology and the blind:
T here is no question that with the advent of so-called high technology, more jobs have been opened up to blind people. What kind of jobs are we talking about? Consider these for starters: electrical engineer, computer programmer, systems analyst, software developer and marketer, airline reservationist, customer service representative, technical consultant the list could go on and on. Just as technology has created jobs for the sighted and eliminated others, so it is with the blind. It seems, however, that in the latter case technology has come to be regarded with an almost unhealthy fascination. Part of the reason for this lies in the lack of information about what technology can really do for a blind person. The other part is closely related to society's basic notions about blindness and what we believe blind people are capable of doing.
Here are some of the more useful devices that technology has spawned: the talking clock; the talking calculator; the talking scale; the talking cash register; the Braille 'n Speak; the VersaBraille; the Braille Blazer; the Speaqualizer; the Kurzweil Personal Reader; the Optacon; the Romeo Brailler; the Thiel Braille embosser; the speech synthesizer; talking programs for the Apple computer; Grade 2 Braille translation systems; optical character recognition systems; and a tremendous variety of speech, Braille, and large print screen reading systems for the IBM Personal Computer (PC). In fact, when viewed in perspective, technology can also be said to have brought us the slate and stylus, the long white cane, the Braille writer, the Braille watch, the cassette recorder, and every other mechanical or electronic device that blind people have found useful.
You may be surprised to know that two of the most valuable assets in my job as a systems programmer are my Perkins Braille Writer and my sighted reader, and they have nothing to do with technology. Yes, I have access to a variety of talking computers and a Braille embosser. I can even connect to my employer's mainframe from anywhere in the country to access my electronic mail and diagnose some network problems. However, my Braille writer enables me to take notes without electricity, and my sighted reader allows me to visit any office in the company to assist users who are having trouble with one or more of their terminals or PC's.
Let's examine some of the technology that has resulted from the so-called computer age. The Braille 'n Speak, a portable talking note taker, has captured the imagination of a lot of blind people. It is the one piece of technology that appeals even to the person who classifies him or herself as a computer illiterate. For about a thousand dollars a blind person can purchase his or her very own Braille 'n Speak, including clock, stopwatch, and four-function calculator. What can a user do with it? It's easy to take notes; store names and addresses; perform some basic text editing functions; transmit data to and receive it from a computer; and carry around the equivalent of 180 Braille pages of information in a single portable unit. The Braille 'n Speak can be attached to a Braille embosser; and if the notes have been entered in Grade 2 Braille, they can be embossed that way. The Braille 'n Speak can even be hooked up to a standard printer in order to print the material entered. What are some of this device's limitations? For those of us who have used commercial, off-the-shelf word processors such as WordPerfect or WordStar, the Braille 'n Speak simply cannot compete nor is it meant to. The Braille 'n Speak cannot run commercial programs written for other computers. Proficient Braille readers might well have difficulty studying for final exams with their notes stored only in the Braille 'n Speak. Without a Braille printer, the only way of reviewing what has been entered is to use the built-in synthetic speech. The Braille 'n Speak has a limited amount of storage: about 180 Braille pages. A typical college student will fill that up in less than a week. How does the Braille 'n Speak compare to the good old slate and stylus? To put some perspective on the matter, let me say that I still carry around a slate and stylus everywhere I go.
Although I find that the Braille 'n Speak is much more convenient for taking notes in bulk, I also find that I cannot do without the slate and stylus for communicating information to other blind people and for providing a backup system for note-taking when the Braille 'n Speak fails, as any piece of technology will. I firmly believe that, before anyone acquires a Braille 'n Speak, he or she should be a competent slate and stylus user not to mention being proficient in the reading and writing of Braille. The Apple computer is an interesting and useful piece of technology for those blind people who can't be bothered with screen layouts and disk operating systems but who still require the power of a full-fledged computer. A whole series of talking programs for the blind have been developed to run on the Apple II series of computers. These programs are significant in that one need not learn anything about a screen review system. They are designed to talk when they are supposed to. The user doesn't have to move a review cursor around the screen to hear what the computer has to say. If the goal is to acquire a working system that will bring the user into the computer age and if there is no need to run software that sighted people use, check out the Apple computer. Particularly, check out Raised Dot Computing, located in Madison, Wisconsin, and Computer Aids Corporation, located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to see what kind of talking programs they market. Speaking of the microcomputer, I think we can safely say that no one type of computer has played as significant a role in our entrance into the computer age as has the IBM PC and related compatibles. A tremendous variety of speech, Braille, and large print mechanisms now exist which permit blind people to have independent access to most text-based programs that a PC can run programs such as word processors, spreadsheets, database systems, and terminal emulators. Consider these popular software packages: WordPerfect, WordStar, Lotus 1-2-3, DBASE III, PROCOMM, QMODEM, Attachmate Extra!, IBM 3270 Entry Level Program, and Novell. With the proper combination of hardware and software, every single one of these packages can be used by the blind without the assistance of a sighted reader, and this list is far from complete.
Beyond the programs themselves, there are the systems and networks to which they provide access. Using PROCOMM, for example, a blind person can dial into a variety of mainframe systems and, using the proper terminal emulation facilities of PROCOMM, can work with just about any mainframe online application. Even more exciting to blind people is the very real ability to have that information converted into Braille, simply by attaching a Braille embosser to one of the computer's communication ports.
Using the Novell network operating system, a blind person can share information over a local area network with colleagues in the office and can do so with the same programs that everybody else uses. With a 3270 emulation system a blind person can independently access text applications on just about any IBM mainframe. This hitherto impossible task has tremendous potential benefit for the blind when one considers the widespread use of IBM equipment in this country.
What impact does this have on the world of work? Consider that, with the IBM PC and the proper screen reading mechanisms, chances are very high that the blind person will be able to use the same software as his or her sighted co-workers. The blind secretary is now in an excellent position to use the same word processor as others in the office. The blind programmer or engineer has access to most of the mainframe applications, even to the point of putting up with the annoying flood of notes, messages, and documents occasioned by electronic mail systems. Consider the blind executive whose sighted secretary regularly uses a word processor to type memos and reports. Technology now exists that enables the secretary to convert those memos and reports into Braille without having to know anything about the Braille code itself. Or consider the blind secretary who is required to proofread documents before printing them in final form. With a word processor, a Braille translation program, and a Braille embosser, this task is a snap.
In my office everyone uses IBM's Display Write 4 word processors to produce memos and reports that are eventually printed on paper. I sometimes ask my coworkers to furnish me with a diskette containing their documents. I can then feed them into the PC on my desk. From there it is a simple matter to convert the document into Braille or to read it using synthetic speech. Let me hasten to point out, however, that in most cases I find that a sighted reader is far more efficient to handle the mountain of paperwork that comes across my desk. I find the technology useful when it is necessary for me to lift passages from someone else's work for inclusion in a report that I am preparing. The blind themselves, through the National Federation of the Blind, are taking a hand in helping to shape the technology that is being developed. When it became clear that the IBM PC would play a significant role in today's industry, the Federation embarked upon the development of a hardware-based screen-reading speech-output system for the IBM PC and compatibles. We searched long and hard to come up with a name for this system, and it was our own Rami Rabby who proposed the name Speaqualizer. The Speaqualizer can be obtained from the American Printing House for the Blind for about $800 and works with more programs than any software-based screen reading system for the PC. Recently the National Federation of the Blind, in cooperation with officials from the Discover Card Company, developed a talking card-verification system that can be used by blind retail clerks to check on credit cards. The actual development consisted of attaching a speech synthesizer to an already-existing credit card checking computer and slightly modifying the system software in order to send verbal prompts to the synthesizer. It is important to note that the Discover Card Company wisely chose to discuss the project with the people whom it was designed to benefit namely, the blind, themselves. Consequently, the system that has emerged is one that is truly useful to blind people across the country.
Any time one considers applying technology to solve a problem involving a blind person, it is important to keep in mind that the technological solution may represent a long and painful road fraught with many obstacles and problems. Not all screen reading systems for the IBM PC are equally flexible, and not all screen reading systems for the IBM PC work with all programs that need to be used in the office. In other words, one must consider the issue of compatibility. For example, I know from personal experience that if a blind person needs to use a 3270 emulation system, a great deal of care needs to be exercised in the selection of a screen reading system for the PC. I also happen to know that people wishing to use Microsoft Word as their word processor are likely to experience problems with its relationship to their screen-reading software. Consider, too, that only recently has the Apple Macintosh computer become accessible, even partially, to the blind. The problem is to find the right person who has all of the information about what works with what all in all, a rather difficult task.
Some of you may have heard about optical character recognition systems and reading machines that supposedly convert printed information into speech or electronic digital media that can be processed by a computer. It is true that equipment (costing anywhere from five to ten thousand dollars) is available to convert print into a form that can be used by a blind person. However, this technology still has a number of significant limitations. For one thing, although it can read a lot of printed information, it can't handle handwriting or poor-quality print. For another, reading machines and optical character recognition systems lend themselves to sequential reading that is, reading a document from cover to cover. They are not at all useful to a blind person who has to read small amounts of information scattered across a large number of pages that are not arranged in sequence. In my job, I am often placed in a position where I have to glean information from three or four computer manuals at a time. I am often forced to scan each manual repeatedly, lifting a bit of information from, say, page 150, going back to page 50 to look at something else, and then turning to another book to page 45 to round out my research. This task would be extremely cumbersome and time-consuming with an optical character recognition system.
We must be careful, I think, not to fall into the trap of trying to solve every problem with a piece of technology. Recently, in my home state of Minnesota, I heard a story about a blind person who, after four months, was in danger of losing his position as a programmer because some technology had failed to arrive. Simply put, the problem was that the blind programmer did not have independent access to the company's mainframe system. Further investigation revealed that no one not even the blind person had considered the possibility of hiring a sighted reader while waiting for the technology to arrive. In other words, the blind person did virtually nothing for four months. If the programmer, the employer, and the rehabilitation agency had not been lulled into a false sense of security because of the availability of technology, the short- term solution for the problem would have been apparent early on.
Many employers do not really believe that the blind can be just as productive, mobile, and competent as their sighted peers. They are too quick to accept the notion that the technology is the determining factor when it comes to productivity. For example, it never occurs to many of them that in order for a writer to use a word processor effectively, that person must, first and foremost, be a decent writer. It never occurs to some of them that a fancy computer terminal does not a programmer make. And I would bet you that a lot of employers never even knew that thousands of blind people held professional, high-paying jobs long before the Braille or talking microcomputer was invented.
Is technology the total answer when we are considering the employment of the blind? I don't believe so. Although technology can help a lot of blind people to better their lives and has done so and although technology has opened up some jobs for the blind, it can in no way be viewed as the total answer to the problem of the seventy-percent unemployment rate that now plagues blind Americans of working age. Employers still require information and education about the competence and innate normality of the blind. Rehabilitation officials need to stop regarding technology as a panacea for the blind and recognize it for the tool that it is. Sure, technology can be a tremendous help. But more important than any technology are acceptance; equal treatment; a positive attitude toward blindness and blind people; and a belief on everyone's part that we, the blind, are just as capable as the sighted of living normal productive lives and getting the job done.
LITERACY: THE KEY TO OPPORTUNITY
by Fred Schroeder
On February 3, 1989, Fred Schroeder (member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, and authority on the education of blind children) addressed the Josephine Taylor Leadership Seminar, sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind. The seminar was held in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Schroeder's remarks were insightful and very much to the point, so we have decided to print his entire text. Here it is:
I n today's information age there can be no question that literacy represents the primary tool by which individuals compete. Literacy unlike other skills is not an end in itself, but rather the means to a virtually unlimited variety of ends. It is the very key to prosperity since literacy opens the way to information by tearing down barriers of myth and ignorance. Blind people have come to value Braille, recognizing its role as the primary means to literacy for the blind. Dr. Abraham Nemeth has described Braille as having liberated a whole class of people from a condition of illiteracy and dependency and given them the means for self-fulfillment and enrichment. Nevertheless, large numbers of blind people do not know Braille and, therefore, find themselves in a state of functional illiteracy. As a result, blind people have lacked many of the fundamental opportunities which enable them to become self-supporting, contributing members of society.
It is estimated that seventy percent of working-age blind people are unemployed. Those who are employed are frequently under-employed or trapped in entry level jobs. While it would not be fair to say that the staggeringly high unemployment rate among the blind is due solely to lack of Braille literacy, Dr. Nemeth observes that, Braille makes it possible for a blind person to assume a role of equality in modern society, and it can unlock the potential within him to become a contributing member of his community on a par with his sighted fellows. Many professionals have sought to explain away the low level of Braille literacy through claims that Braille is too complicated and difficult to learn, too bulky and costly to produce, and made obsolete by tapes and speech technology. In addition, they argue that many of today's blind children are multi-handicapped and therefore cannot be expected to master Braille reading. Finally, modern pedagogy has asserted that many blind people, given appropriate low vision aids, can become competent print readers, thereby rendering Braille unnecessary.
Yet, alternatives to Braille frequently come with problems of their own. Tapes, while helpful for reading large quantities of text, do nothing to enhance spelling or teach a child about punctuation or format. Similarly, while tapes may be relatively compact and inexpensive, it is difficult to skim a tape or turn readily to a specific section of the text. In terms of writing, unlike tapes, Braille allows the individual a portable means of making notes, keeping name and address files, making grocery lists, keeping recipes, and so on. This is not to say that tapes have no place. My point is simply that their role is not to replace Braille. Other alternatives, such as low vision aids, often reduce reading speed and comprehension by virtue of diminishing the amount of material that can be seen at one time. Still other low vision aids (the closed circuit television, for example) are certainly large and cumbersome. Nevertheless, as with the use of tapes, low vision aids have an important function, provided that their use is kept in perspective. Braille, tapes, low vision aids, and speech technology comprise a cadre of techniques which, when applied correctly, enables the blind person to function on terms of real equality.
The small number of blind people using Braille is a problem receiving increasingly sharp attention from the National Federation of the Blind. We believe that, given proper training and opportunity, blind people can compete on terms of equality with the sighted. Central to this conviction is the understanding that true equality is a product of having the skills necessary to compete and the confidence to put those skills into practice. It is our conviction that, while blind people need training, training alone is not sufficient. For it to be effective, the blind person must believe that it is respectable to be blind and that he or she possesses the capacity to compete on an equal footing with his or her sighted peers. As with many other issues facing the blind in education and rehabilitation, blind people and professionals often have strikingly different views concerning the cause of this problem.
The profession tends to view problems from the perspective of the technocrat. Declining Braille literacy indicates a flaw in the code, a problem of cost, or proof that Braille is antiquated. Similarly, the profession may acknowledge a lack of skilled personnel, summing up the Braille literacy problem as merely a training issue. Given this orientation, the solutions proposed by the profession are predictable provide more money for teacher preparation, simplify the Braille code, or replace Braille with low vision aids or speech technology. The blind, however, believe that the real cause of Braille illiteracy is rooted in societal beliefs and misconceptions about blindness. What professionals believe about blindness has direct bearing on both their methodology and their expectations. As a result, if a teacher does not believe that a blind child can truly compete on terms of equality, the teacher will settle for and even praise inferior performance. The teacher's conception of blindness becomes the yardstick by which performance is measured.
Professional judgments become clouded and are ultimately shaped by age- old myths and misconceptions about the abilities of the blind. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind, observed that Many of the very people who administer and work in the governmental and private agencies established to provide services to the blind have all of the misconceptions and false notions about blindness possessed by the public at large. If a teacher harbors negative attitudes about blindness, then he or she may wish to avoid dealing directly with blindness and, therefore, avoid the teaching of Braille. As a result, parents and educators find themselves increasingly at odds over the question of which children should be taught to read print and which should be taught to read Braille.
A case in point concerns a young blind child who possesses a fair quantity of residual vision. When this child began kindergarten the school he was attending felt that his vision was not adequate for all of his reading needs and, therefore, began the process of teaching the child to read Braille. In the first grade his family moved to another state. Being convinced of the importance of Braille they sought Braille instruction from the new school district in which their child was enrolled. The new district agreed and continued Braille instruction throughout first, second, and third grade.
Beginning in fourth grade the family again moved, enrolling their child in yet another school district. This one conducted its own educational assessment and determined that Braille instruction was not needed. If the story were to end here, it could be written off as nothing more than a lack of precision in generally accepted assessment criteria. However, the story does not end here. The district in question not only refused to teach Braille, but launched a vicious attack against the parents, accusing them of treating their child as if he were blind, thereby causing him significant emotional and educational damage. The district asserted that a child could not be taught to learn both print and Braille. To do so (they alleged) would result in the child's functioning poorly in both reading media. When the parents pointed out that their son would never be a fully competent print reader because of his impaired vision, the district argued that they were wrong, pointing to the fact that their son was reading print at grade level at least for short periods of time.
This shows the first in a long series of ensuing contradictions. If the child was reading at grade level in the fourth grade and yet had received both print and Braille instruction from kindergarten through third grade, then what evidence is there to show that simultaneous instruction in print and Braille will reduce efficiency in both? The parents, concerned for their son's future, sought three independent evaluations by qualified professionals to determine whether their son should, in fact, receive instruction in Braille reading and writing. I conducted one of the evaluations in November of 1987. I hold a master's degree in the education of blind children from San Francisco State University and have worked as a teacher of blind children and as a special education administrator responsible for programs for blind children in the Albuquerque Public Schools. The other two evaluators were similarly qualified, experienced teachers of blind children. Although each of the evaluations was done independently, all three of us agreed that this child should be instructed in Braille. The basis of our findings was not a wild-eyed fanaticism that all children, regardless of degree of visual functioning, should be taught Braille. Instead, our conclusions were based on experience and direct observation of the child's visual functioning. For my own part I considered such factors as the child's suffering eye fatigue after a period of only 20 to 30 minutes of reading. In addition, the child had great difficulty copying material and was virtually unable to read back his own handwriting. He was unable to read small print such as a conventional dictionary and was not helped by low vision aids. Large print was not beneficial since this child's eye condition includes a field restriction. Large print simply reduced the number of words or letters he could see at a time, reducing his reading efficiency. Again, because of his particular eye condition, glare was a problem making him highly dependent on particular lighting conditions. In short, I concluded that this child needed Braille both as a reading and writing system. Armed with three independent evaluations and a renewed conviction that their child needed Braille, the parents again approached the district. Nevertheless, the district persisted in its refusal to teach Braille, resulting in the matter's being brought to a hearing. The hearing officer, appointed by the district, concluded that the district was correct in refusing to teach the child Braille. In spite of the fact that the child had received Braille instruction for four years and in spite of the fact that three qualified evaluators had independently arrived at a recommendation for Braille instruction, the hearing officer brushed the evidence aside and concluded that the district was correct in refusing Braille instruction. To add insult to injury, the hearing officer dismissed my evaluation by saying that since I knew the parents through my affiliation with the National Federation of the Blind, my report contained the smell of doubt, thereby discounting its validity.
At this point, fourth grade had drawn to a close. The child had lost an entire year of critical instruction. Last August, in a final attempt to secure Braille instruction, the parents arranged for a hearing before a panel representing the State Board of Education. At that hearing the parents presented all of the relevant documentation, including the three independent evaluations which they had secured. The district, presumably operating on the smell of doubt principle, stated that the evaluations were not independent. In particular they discounted my evaluation as being suspect because of my affiliation with the National Federation of the Blind. The district's representative stated that the National Federation of the Blind believed that any visually impaired child regardless of circumstance should automatically receive Braille instruction.
The district asserted that it had alternatively proposed its own impartial evaluation which the parents had refused. It came out that the district had given the parents a list of names prepared by the district and had offered to allow the parents to select any name they chose from the list. As could be anticipated, the parents questioned whether this process would truly yield an independent, impartial evaluation. It was finally agreed that the parents and the county would jointly select an individual to conduct the evaluation. The individual selected was perhaps the most renowned expert in Braille instruction in the United States. The parents hoped that by employing a professional of her caliber the question of Braille instruction could be settled once and for all. It looked promising since the district agreed during the hearing to accept the findings of this expert as representing a truly independent evaluation. In late September, 1988, the evaluation was conducted and shortly thereafter the report received. It contained a recommendation for a minimum of three-forty minute periods of Braille instruction each week. Was it finally over? No.
In November, the district proposed an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that included a grudging provision for including Braille in the curriculum. Rather than recognizing the validity of Braille as a reading system and the need for Braille for this particular student, the district characterized Braille as a subordinate, substandard, laborious method only to be used as a last ditch alternative. One of the short term instructional objectives identified in the proposed IEP was that to alleviate fatigue, the child will use his existing Braille skills when occasionally appropriate. Regardless of the technical inadequacies of this instructional objective, the tone is very clear. The district, in a cloud of bitterness and professional arrogance, persists in its conviction that Braille is nothing more than a second-class reading medium, connoting inferiority. It is interesting to observe that, while the district accused the National Federation of the Blind of holding an arbitrary view that all visually impaired children be taught Braille, the district, on the other hand, seemed unshakably rooted to the equally arbitrary albeit opposite point of view that a low vision child, regardless of need, should be taught print to the exclusion of Braille. It is not difficult to understand what drives this kind of thinking. To the district and to many others in society, Braille equates to blindness while print equates to sight, and on an emotional level, be it conscious or unconscious, the attitude persists that to be sighted is the be normal while to be blind is to be dependent and inferior. This thinking, not learned research and educational theory, drives the decision-making process of selecting which children will be print readers and which will be Braille readers. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan tells the story of visiting a classroom of blind children and being told by the teacher: This little girl reads print. This little girl has to read Braille.
The development of negative attitudes toward Braille can be traced back to the instruction provided in some of our nation's teacher preparation programs. Many teacher preparation programs regard the slate and stylus as a relic of bygone days, assuming that they are mentioned at all. Throughout the nation it is not unusual to see blind children using Braille writers for taking notes in class. As recently as a generation ago, teachers of the blind would have thought it ridiculous to use Braille writers in class. Braille writers are awkward and heavy to carry around, not to mention noisy and disruptive to others. The truth of my assertion can be seen in the marketing strategies being used by manufacturers of portable Braille note taking devices. They point out that these high tech, portable Braille writers are smaller and quieter than Braille writers, making them superior to Braille writers for note taking. While I cannot disagree that many high tech devices offer advantages over lugging a Braille writer from class to class, it strikes me as significant that the profession does not automatically recognize the important role that the slate and stylus play in personal note-taking. The slate is certainly more economical $10.00 as compared to $1,000.00 or more and is still the smallest and most portable note-taking device. The battery never gives out and I have never known a slate to crash. I do not mean to suggest that high tech devices do not offer real advantages in specific situations. Instead I believe it is necessary to understand that for a blind person the slate and stylus is equivalent to the sighted person's pen or pencil. The sighted, as well as the blind, are finding laptop computers convenient and efficient, yet use of the pen and pencil is not a vanishing skill for the sighted.
Why then is use of the slate and stylus virtually a lost art? I believe it is because today's teachers of blind children have never worked with a slate long enough to become comfortable with it and thereby convinced of its usefulness. Instead, I am frequently told that the slate is too difficult because children have to learn to write backward.
Problems with teacher preparation are not limited to the slate and stylus. In a very real sense teachers of blind children receive only nominal instruction in reading and writing Braille. Poor mastery of Braille coupled with prevailing social attitudes about blindness combine to lead teachers to seek alternatives to Braille. In my professional life I started as a teacher of blind children. I have observed children using print in situations and under conditions which defy reason. In particular I can vividly remember watching a child being instructed in print using a closed circuit television at full magnification. This child could not see well if there was any glare in the room, so before he started reading, the blinds were closed. To complicate matters further, this child could not read letters that were at all stylized. Therefore, the teacher would first retype all of the child's material, using a sans serif, large print typewriter, which made very plain typewritten letters. After the teacher had retyped the child's material, closed the venetian blinds, and turned the CCTV to full magnification, this child was able to read a few letters at a time with excruciating slowness. In another case, after a dispute with parents, a teacher was compelled to instruct a young blind child in Braille. The teacher attempted to comply with the order in a way which would seem laughable if it were not so painfully tragic. The child had almost no sight. Yet she tried to teach him Braille by using flash cards with large print representations of Braille dots. I do not wish my comments to be construed as an attack on all professionals in the field of work with the blind. There are many professionals who have devoted their lives and talents in the fields of education and rehabilitation. It is not simply lip service to say that dedicated professionals have made significant contributions to the advancement of work with the blind and specifically in the area of Braille instruction. Were the problems not so widespread it would be enough to say that all chains have their weak links and that the good work of the many should not be overlooked because of the failings of a few. Unfortunately, the problem of Braille literacy is not isolated to a few poorly trained individuals. It is for this reason that the profession finds itself at odds with blind adults and parents of blind children over the question of Braille instruction.
Many parent organizations throughout the nation have sought introduction of Braille bills in their respective states. These Braille bills have been viewed by the profession as an attack against the role of professionals in identifying which children should receive instruction in Braille. As a result, opposition to various Braille bills has been widespread and intense. I believe the introduction of Braille bills is perhaps the best example of the gulf that exists between modern educational thinking and the desire of parents to prepare their children for a complex and competitive future. Each of the Braille bills with which I am familiar holds as its primary purpose to make Braille instruction available to any legally blind child upon the request of the child's parents. Opponents of Braille bills invariably argue that these bills would require that all visually impaired children, regardless of need, would be forced to learn Braille, often against their will, resulting in educational and psychological harm. They argue that the decision to teach Braille must, as a matter of law, be decided individually through the IEP process. They argue that the IEP is collaborative between teachers and parents. In the case previously described it is not hard to understand why parents might feel that the IEP process is only collaborative when parents agree with the recommendations of professionals.
No Braille bill that I have seen requires Braille to be forced on visually impaired children. In fact, Braille bills do not even require that all legally blind children be taught Braille. Instead, they simply provide that a legally blind child, as a matter of right, have available Braille instruction upon the parent's request.
Why should such a simple and eminently reasonable provision be fought so forcefully? What should have ever brought us to the point where parents of blind children would feel it necessary to take the decision of Braille instruction out of the hands of the IEP process? The answer is simple. There clearly exists a large segment of parents who cannot get their local school districts to provide Braille instruction to their children. As in the case discussed earlier, many parents are frustrated by the lost time and wasted energy of pursuing lengthy hearing processes to obtain simple literacy for their children. If the problem were isolated or limited only to the views of a few radicals, then it would not be receiving the concerted action reflected in the introduction of numerous Braille bills. Instead, the problem is widespread. Today, adult rehabilitation centers throughout the nation are teaching Braille not only to the newly blinded, but to young adults who grew up as legally blind children. Many of these young adults attended public school programs for the visually impaired and others are graduates of schools for the blind, yet they never received instruction in Braille reading and writing. As a consequence they find themselves functionally illiterate and unable to pursue meaningful careers. The Braille bills represent a commitment to seizing opportunity for blind children of today. As Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, has said, We have come to understand the importance (indeed, the necessity) of knowing when to refuse to wait, when to reject patience, when to say no to delay the courage and judgment to insist that freedom and opportunity must be now, not tomorrow!
A parent wishing to have his or her child read print, no matter how slowly or inefficiently, is routinely encouraged in this conviction. On the other hand, a parent wishing to have his or her child be instructed in Braille is accused of causing psychological damage by treating the child as if he or she is blind and threatened with being responsible for educational harm on the grounds that Braille and print reading taught together will cause a child to be deficient in both. A number of years ago a leading professional organization circulated a proposed position paper prepared by a nationally recognized expert in the field of education of blind children. This expert, who heads up a teacher preparation program, proposed that if a child could read print at a minimum of ten words per minute, then that child should be taught to read print to the exclusion of Braille. The message is clear. Use of vision, regardless of efficiency, is preferable to techniques associated with blindness. Last May, a parent of a blind child attended an awards ceremony at a residential school for the blind. One of the awards given was a mobility award. The parent expected that the award would have something to do with improvement in on-campus travel. Instead, the mobility award was given to a student who had demonstrated the most advancement in the use of his residual vision. Astounding as it may be, the school offered no award for Braille reading.
When we as blind people seek to change the conception of blindness held by professionals and by society at large, we meet resistance founded in the belief that it is the professional who knows what is best for the blind. Never mind high unemployment and lost opportunity we are asked to accept that the training and technology with which we are plied are the best that can be offered. Never mind that many of us lack the basic dignity that comes from true literacy. As Dr. Jernigan puts it, For all the good will beamed at us by public opinion; for all the aids and services, boosts and assists, props and prosthetics pressed upon us, we, the blind people of this great society, are not yet really free not yet fully independent not yet truly equal. What bars us from first-class status is not inferiority inherent in blindness, but rather the tacit acceptance of a diminished role with minimal expectations and minimal opportunity for full participation. The message I wish to bring is not one of bitterness or hopelessness. Instead, it is my conviction that out of strife and conflict can emerge a new image of the blind as able to compete on terms of equality. To do this we must have available the tools to make it possible. We must develop an attitude that it is respectable to be blind and that the tools associated with blindness constitute the very foundation on which first-class status can be based. It is the negative conditioning of society which leads us to believe that blindness constitutes inferiority and that the tools of blindness likewise equate to inferiority. When we rid ourselves of this false doctrine, then we will be able to free ourselves from the failure concept associated with Braille a concept which promotes the idea that Braille is a last alternative only to be used when all else fails.
Braille has been proven time and time again to be the way to literacy for the blind. It can be produced more easily and more cheaply than ever before in history. With Braille and the other skills of blindness, we as blind people can fulfill our potential and take our true place as contributing, participating, taxpaying members of society. To achieve this goal will take concerted and collective action. As Mr. Maurer has said, The blind of this nation (organized in the National Federation of the Blind) are committed to achieving equality and first-class citizenship. We regret that there is apparently a certain amount of conflict built into the transition from second- to first-class status. But we know that blind individuals, blind people as a group, and our entire society will benefit if the worth we represent is recognized and given its proper place.
ETHEL INCHAUSTI: LOCAL LEADER
From the Editor: The Federation has many strengths, but one of the greatest is its growing corps of local leaders. They build the chapters, make the telephone calls, and carry on the daily activities. They constitute the base of power, the foundation of strength upon which our movement is built.
Here (as reported in the Fall, 1989, Gem State Milestones, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho) is a profile of one of these local leaders, Ethel Inchausti. Of such as Ethel Inchausti is the Federation made, and the future is in good hands.
If Ethel had time, she could tell us many stories about Idaho sixty years ago or more. She has been independent and resourceful all her life. At eighty-one she still is. Elected president of the Magic Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho last spring, Ethel Inchausti is part of the reason the membership of that chapter has multiplied several times during the last six months. Someone told her she looks younger than she did five years ago, and Ethel wasn't surprised. Five years ago Ethel was struggling with blindness which seemed almost overwhelming. Cooking, dialing the telephone, and many other activities had become complicated or frightening. Ethel didn't know where to go for help.
One day John Cheadle and Ramona Walhof, part of an organizing team for the NFB in the Magic Valley, knocked on Ethel's door. She told them of her concern, and they told her about the National Federation of the Blind. They also told her of other services. Ethel says that was a turning point for her. Within a few months she had enrolled at the Orientation Center of the Idaho Commission for the Blind. She made friends with blind people who were members of the Federation, and she attended her first national convention in Denver, Colorado, in 1989. In 1926 Ethel moved from Norwich, Kansas, to Twin Falls, Idaho, bringing her three-year-old son with her. Since then she has worked as a cook for the Wells Sheep Ranch; she managed the Green Spot Cafe in Castleford, Idaho; and she sorted beans and did a variety of jobs that women did in rural Idaho.
Shortly after arriving in Idaho, Ethel married her husband of more than thirty years (now deceased), who was a farm worker. In addition to her son, Robert, Ethel and her husband had a daughter, Billie Rae. Now Ethel has seven grandchildren, fifteen great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren. Ethel remembers when Blue Lakes Boulevard had no businesses, only houses along it. When you stop to think of it, she says, it is hard to believe the change! I got lost every time I went to town. Twin Falls was little then. Now I know my way everywhere. And she does. Traveling with a white cane, directing a driver, or catching the bus Ethel Inchausti goes wherever she wants.
She thinks maybe she talks on the phone as much as anything. I spend a lot of time talking to blind people. I know what they can do for themselves. I threatened to quit calling one lady if she didn't come out to a meeting, which I knew would be good for her. Of course, I wouldn't have quit calling, but she came and was glad she did. Ethel Inchausti local leader, woman of strength.
FROM FARCE TO SLAPSTICK:
HOW MUCH LOWER CAN THE
IOWA DEPARTMENT FOR THE BLIND SINK?
The Iowa Commission for the Blind was the focus of worldwide attention and admiration during the years when Dr. Jernigan was its director, blazing a new trail for services to the blind. Today, people who have never even heard of Dr. Jernigan model their library services after the program he established. Orientation and job placement workers are all aware of the high standard he set in Iowa a standard which has drawn them all a little closer to real service and a little further away from lip service. Dr. Jernigan left Iowa to devote his full-time effort to leading the entire national movement of blind people to its current flourishing state. Some Iowans, too timid or too lethargic, failed to expand their horizons with him, but they continued to yearn for importance and still today believe that Iowa has never once moved from center stage. The blind of the nation know better.
In one sense the Iowa agency continues to occupy the center of the stage, but it is now a stage on which most agencies would not choose to star. It is instructive to check on the Iowa agency every year or so to learn what new arena of poor judgment, misconduct, or malfeasance it has stumbled into. One year, the director figured out a way to be her own boss in defiance of both state and federal provisions. Another, the hiring pattern made it clear that no blind people need apply for jobs at the Department for the Blind. This year the focus of public attention is theft. During Dr. Jernigan's administration both federal and state audits of the agency's basic fiscal operations were always filled with glowing praises of the thoroughness and accuracy of fiscal management and detail. After he left, the audits changed, and now the simple rule of probity has changed, too.
The chief accountant, one Terry Pepper, has given indication for some years of poor judgment and unscrupulousness. At the close of the 1984 fiscal year, he discovered that the agency would have surplus funds. He therefore decided independently that he would order new office chairs for members of the staff. Moreover, he arbitrarily established a pecking order among his colleagues awarding increasingly elegant chairs to staff members according to his estimation of their importance. It wasn't long before the employees realized what he was doing and began bartering their chairs for other perquisites. The chaos that ensued was ludicrous and embarrassingly unprofessional.
Several years later someone noticed that a number of long distance telephone calls had popped up on the phone as having been made from Terry Pepper's office. Since a number of these were to South Dakota and others to Switzerland, and since to no one's knowledge was the agency doing business with entities in either location, Pepper was asked for an explanation. He explained that his finger had slipped, and instead of dialing 0 as he had intended, he had inadvertently dialed a 1. Apparently the agency director concluded that it was a mistake that anyone could have made because Pepper was allowed to pay for the calls and then forget about the intellectual (or, perhaps more accurately, the ethical) lapse.
But let us return to the most recent adventure in the accounting department. It seems that, back in August, 1989, Pepper deposited a check into his own personal account in excess of $346,000 made out to the agency. While few details have emerged, it is rumored that this was a big chunk of the agency's federal money. An alert bank official, noticing an agency check going into a personal account, called the director, who called Pepper, who said he was sorry and that it had all been a mistake. Eventually that check found its way into the correct account. Then, two weeks later, the same thing happened again, this time with a check worth $12,000 generated by the sale of equipment from a vending facility. The check was apparently deposited by Pepper into his personal account on the same day it was written. This means that Pepper must have handled the transaction entirely on his own, driving to the sale so that he could be sure of picking up the check in person. It is most unusual for the accountant to handle matters belonging to the Business Enterprise Program, let alone driving from Des Moines to a small outlying town to get his hands personally on a check.
Now, six weeks later, another check has been found in the wrong place, this one in the amount of $49,000, donated by an Iowa citizen to assist blind Iowans. This bequest check, it seems, was also deposited by Pepper into his personal account. Internal and external audits stretching over several months are reportedly under way, with officials privately skeptical that the actual loss can ever be determined. Two of the three checks that have been publicly discussed came to the agency from outside the rehabilitation system, making it easy for anyone so inclined simply to obliterate all traces of the check in official records and take off with the money. Talk around the agency now suggests that the proven loss tops $80,000 and that unknown additional losses will never be traced.
Here is what the Des Moines Register had to say on October 26, 1989, while the magnitude of the story was still unfolding:
Amount Raised in Theft Case
by Lou Ortiz
Prosecutors have increased the amount of money a former administrator for the Iowa Department for the Blind is accused of stealing from the agency.
Terry G. Pepper pleaded innocent Wednesday to two counts of first-degree theft in the disappearance of more than $61,000 from the department. Pepper, 40, originally was charged last month with stealing $12,000. But prosecutors now also accuse Pepper of stealing $49,346 in May, 1987, court records show. His trial is scheduled for Jan. 16.
Pepper, of 1100 50th Street in West Des Moines, was the agency's senior program administrator.
Records show that R. Creig Slayton, the department's director, was contacted on August 28 by a representative of Valley National Bank and informed that a check to the department for $346,145 had been deposited in Pepper's personal account.
When Mr. Slayton confronted the defendant, the defendant admitted that it was his checking account, records show. But he told Slayton, a big mistake had been made, and the money was returned. On September 12 Slayton learned that a check for $12,000 also had been deposited in Pepper's account. According to records, Pepper admitted taking the $12,000 check.
Pepper told Slayton he felt sorry about the incident and desired to make restitution, records show.
Slayton said Pepper resigned when it became apparent charges would be filed. If found guilty of the theft charges, Pepper faces up to 20 years in prison.
That's what the Register had to say, and it is all pretty routine, grubby, everyday theft, you say. True enough. But the reaction of one of the agency's commissioners provides the instructive counterpoint. In a meeting shortly after the fate of the second and third checks had been revealed, Commissioner Bob Martin had something to say on the subject. Martin is a legally blind accountant who has worked at the federal government's arsenal in Rock Island, Illinois, for a number of years. Martin and the other commissioners oversee agency policy, including fiscal policy, for which they bear statutory responsibility. In addition Martin, during his tenure on the Commission, had made a point of closeting himself with Pepper before meetings and of offering opinions and analysis on the financial statements presented at public meetings. His comments were usually restricted to fulsome praise for Pepper's hard work and high-quality product along with strong assurances to his non-accountant colleagues on the Commission that the financial statements, reviewed personally by him, were splendid. At the recent Commission meeting, with stories of the three checks on the table and audits still vigorously under way, Commissioner Martin told his colleagues and the members of the public in the audience that he wanted everyone to know that he was fond of Pepper and had respect for his work. He also wanted everyone to know that he cared about what happened to Pepper and planned to call him periodically to check on his situation.
How do you go about explaining reality to a person like that? How do you convey that he, along with the other two commissioners and the director, bear responsibility for effectively supervising agency activity and that such supervision includes preventing employees from stealing money? How do you convince such a man that his respect for Pepper's work is respect for a man who has admitted that he stole at the very least $12,000? And how do you explain that a little less respect for fawning staff members and a little more respect for blind people could improve the agency's performance in serving the blind? But, never mind. Explanations are the last thing the Department for the Blind wants. All we can say is: Tune in next year to find out what new shenanigans or chicanery the Iowa Department for the Blind has gotten itself into.
LITERARY ILLUSIONS ABOUT BLINDNESS
by Deborah Kent Stein
To the members of the Chicago Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, she is known as Debby Stein, but to the thousands of fans of her dozen books for young adults, she is Deborah Kent, an author who understands what it's like growing up in the 1980s. In addition to her fiction Deborah Kent has written thoughtfully and with insight about blindness and disability in general as well as authoring several in a series of children's books about the states of the Union. After earning a master's of social work from Smith College, Debby Stein worked for several years in community mental health. Then, in 1975, she decided to spend a year in a writers' colony in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, learning whether or not she could make it as a writer. Her year stretched into five, and the answer to her question was a resounding yes. Her first book, Belonging , was published in 1978. It is an exploration of the struggles of a blind teenager to fit into her high school. Four of Ms. Kent's books are part of the National Library Service collection: Belonging, Te Amo Means I Love You, Heartwaves, and Jody. One Step At a Time, published in September, 1989, is the story of a teenage girl who learns that she has retinitis pigmentosa. It may soon become part of the NLS collection as well. Deborah Kent lives in Chicago with her husband, Dick Stein, and their six-year-old daughter Janna. She is an active member of the National Federation of the Blind. The following is an expanded version of a paper presented in February, 1988, at the Second International Symposium on Vision Loss sponsored jointly by the American Foundation for the Blind and the Foundation for the Junior Blind. One hundred eighty speakers were brought to the Beverly Hills Hilton in Los Angeles, California, to take part in the five-day-long program. Ms. Kent's analysis of the literary handling of blind characters down through the ages and particularly today is both penetrating and accurate. It seems useful to print this successful blind author's assessment of historic and current literary treatment of blind characters. Here it is:
T here isn't much to tell, says Hester when asked to describe herself. When you're blind it's all inside. ...People wait on me. They have to. And I think a lot, listen to music, I'm fond of flowers. (Sontag, 1967, p. 45).
Hester, in Susan Sontag's novel, Death Kit , has many of the traits commonly found in literary representations of people who are blind. She is almost helpless, she does not contribute to society, and she is miserable beneath her tranquil veneer. Sontag depicts Hester here as inhabiting a world of darkness akin to a living death.
In his study, The Meaning of Blindness (1973), Michael Monbeck identifies 15 traits frequently ascribed to blind characters in literature through the ages. Nearly all these traits are negative, reflecting the low social status blind people are usually accorded. These fictional blind characters are miserable, helpless, useless, maladjusted, mysterious, evil, or pitiful. They may be fools or beggars. On the one hand, they live in a terrifying, death-like world of darkness, are being punished for past sins (often sexual in nature), and are to be feared and avoided. On the other hand, they may possess superhuman powers and insights, to compensate for their blindness, or they are morally superior to sighted people because they are not tarnished by the shallowness of the visual world (Monbeck, 1973, p. 25).
Other traits can be added to Monbeck's list. Blind characters are asexual or not allowed to express their sexuality because of their disability. They are bitter about their condition and envious of sighted people. When they are cheerful and well-adjusted, they are merely concealing a profound depression. Contradictions abound in these lists. Blind characters may be diabolically evil or sublimely good: blindness may be divine punishment or it may be compensated for with heavenly gifts. But whether the blind character is inferior or extraordinary, she or he is set apart; to most writers, as well as to the general public, blind people are a unique class because they are blind. Regardless of gender, age, or social origin, blind people are thought to have much in common with one another and little in common with anyone else.
Some blind people do reflect the popular literary image, failing to adjust to vision loss and remaining helpless and miserable. A few are beggars, and some like a number of sighted people are fools. But most of the traits possessed by blind characters have no factual basis. Blind people do not have extraordinary powers, and they fall prey to the same vices that sighted people do. After a period of adjustment lack of sight is not comparable to darkness, and it is not connected to death. In short, fiction's blind characters have little to do with real blind people. Blind people comprise a random sampling of individuals with all the diversity of the general population. It is ironic that writers creative people who pride themselves on their powers of observation and their insight have embraced such commonly held beliefs about people who are blind. Leonard Kriegel's remarks about the writer's concept of the cripple are equally true for the writer's concept of the blind person:
Writers, by and large, view the world from the vantage point of the normals. Writers like to think of themselves as rebels, but the rebellions they are interested in usually reinforce society's concepts of what is and what is not desirable. And most writers look at the cripple...with the same suspicion and distaste that are found in other normals. ...The world of the crippled and disabled is strange and dark, and it is held up to judgment by those who live in fear of it (Kriegel, 1987, p. 33).
Perhaps one reason writers insist upon such views of blindness is that their experience with blind people is limited. Blind people have always constituted a tiny minority, about one percent of the total population (Twersky, 1955, p. 10). Deafness, orthopedic disabilities, and a host of other handicaps are far more common. Yet blindness especially fascinates the public, perhaps because of a primordial dread of the dark and the conviction that blind people live in a world of perpetual gloom. Writers choose to portray blindness more often than any other disability.
The blind character can be a shortcut to pathos or horror or both. Blindness is also a rich mine for metaphor: it can represent blind prejudice; it may stand for purity or for freedom from the tainted, physically viewed world; or, it, as it does for Sontag, can symbolize forces of darkness and death. Writers' imaginations are shackled to notions about blindness that they have accepted as literary fact, despite all evidence to the contrary. Several scholars (Twersky, 1955; Kirtley, 1975; Monbeck, 1973) have analyzed hundreds of works in which blind characters appear. The period of these works ranges from Classical Greece to modern times. A few of their findings are offered here, before some recent works are discussed. In these contemporary representations the use of old themes, as well as interesting new trends in the portrayal of blind characters, are examined.
A well-known early depiction of a blind man appears in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus . Oedipus, who put out his eyes when he discovered that he had murdered his father and married his mother, wanders for 20 years, scorned and pathetic, unable to care for himself, and depending on his daughter, who must lead him everywhere. Here blindness is seen as a fate worse than death. In Antigone , Tiresias' sight is destroyed by the gods, but he is granted the gift of prophecy in recompense, and he is also able to travel because he has a magic staff to guide him. The image of the helpless blind person reappears in Elizabethan English literature. Shakespeare, ordinarily the master interpreter of the human condition, presents the Earl of Gloucester, blinded as punishment for adultery and led about by his son, Edgar. Blindness renders Gloucester so unaware of his surroundings that Edgar convinces him that they are climbing a hill overlooking the sea, when in fact they are crossing level ground inland. Wishing to die, Gloucester attempts to leap to his death. Edgar persuades him that he has fallen a great distance. By the nineteenth century, the pioneering era in the education of blind children, at least one author has a different attitude. Elizabeth Maclure, in Sir Walter Scott's Old Mortality , is an elderly blind woman who operates a successful boardinghouse, assisted only by her twelve-year-old granddaughter. Another Scott character, Old Alice, in The Bride of Lammermoor , supports herself by keeping bees. Though both characters are idealized and are held up to the reader as examples of what can be accomplished through faith and perseverance, they are a vast improvement over Oedipus and Gloucester.
Such portrayals of competent blind people, functioning in society through the use of their ears and hands, and through common sense, are all the more remarkable because they are so rare. Through the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, blindness remains synonymous with pathos. In Lord Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii (1834; reissued by Dodd Mead in 1946), the blind flower seller Nydia travels throughout the city. A fairly complex character, torn between love and jealousy, she is always called the poor blind girl. Rejected by the man she loves, who cannot comprehend that a blind girl could entertain romantic feelings, she commits suicide. The association of blindness with death is demonstrated in Nydia's song to prospective customers:
Ye have a world of light,
Where love in the loved rejoices;
But the blind girl's home is the House of Night, And its beings are empty voices.
... Hark! How the sweet [flowers] sigh
(for they have a voice like ours),
The breath of the blind girl closes
The leaves of the saddening roses--
We are tender, we sons of light.
We shrink from this child of night.
From the grasp of the blind girl free us
We yearn for the eyes that see us... (Bulwer-Lytton, p. 6)
Blind characters as special beings blessed by God appear frequently in nineteenth-century literature. In The Man Who Laughed , Victor Hugo writes of the blind girl Dea: [She was] absorbed by that kind of ecstasy peculiar to the blind, which seems at times to give them a song to listen to in their souls and to make up to them for the light they lack by some strain of ideal music. Blindness is a cavern to which reaches the deep harmony of the Eternal (Hugo, quoted by Twersky, 1955, p. 32).
Also in the nineteenth century are some first examples of the blind character as evil. The pirate Pew in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island , the villain Stagg in Charles Dickens' Barnaby Rudge , and malevolent Captain Wolf Larsen in Jack London's The Sea Wolf are superbly competent as they pursue their evil goals. Their agility renders them particularly horrifying, as though they were aided by Satan himself. This image of the blind character (usually male) as evil survives deep into the twentieth century. In Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again (1940), George is chilled by his encounter with the wicked Judge Rumford Bland:
At the corners of the mouth he thought he also caught the shadow of a smile faint, evil, ghostly and at the sight of it a sudden and unreasoning terror seized him.... He just sat quietly,... the sightless eyes fixed in vacancy, the thin and sunken face listening with that terrible intense stillness that only the blind know; and around the mouth hovered that faint suggestion of a smile which...had in it a kind of terrible vitality and the mercurial attractiveness of a ruined angel (Wolfe, p. 60).
Sinister blind characters appeared at a time when blind people were becoming educated, participating members of society. It's as though authors believed God intended blind people to remain helpless but pure. While they stayed in their place they could be pitied and given charity, or even admired for their innocence. But if they entered the real world to compete on equal terms with sighted people, then perhaps they came as disciples of the devil. All the stereotyped notions described here persisted well into the 1950s. However, one might hope to find some improvements during the 1960s and 1970s. During these crucial decades minority groups, including disabled people, became a political force and demanded equal access to education, employment, housing, and other amenities. In a growing body of work, minority authors spoke with new voices about issues and feelings long suppressed and previously considered too inconsequential or too offbeat for literary treatment. Blacks, Native Americans, women, and gays molded their life stories into fiction and drama.
As shown by the blind characters discussed so far, the public has long held negative stereotypes about blind people stereotypes that have helped to keep blind people from realizing their full potential. Though in every historical period some blind people have been assimilated, the blind, generally, have been subject to discrimination. Blocked by protective parents, skeptical teachers, and employers who refuse to accept their credentials, blind people know about the dream deferred. Blind people and others with disabilities often spend a lifetime searching for their niche in society, for good feelings about themselves.
A host of articles and personal essays written by people who are blind and directed at a blind audience emphasize again and again that public prejudice is the most relentlessly difficult aspect of being unable to see. An era obsessed with political and personal liberation should afford a perfect opportunity for blind writers to channel their experiences into fiction aimed at the public at large. The actual experiences of blind people, rather than assumptions about what those experiences must be, might even spark the imagination of a sighted writer or two. Keeping these possibilities in mind, I will examine the portrayal of blind characters in a number of works, both popular and serious, which appeared between the mid 1960s and late 1980s.
The blind character as evil has nearly disappeared in contemporary fiction. The only such character who comes to mind is Margaret Durie in Stanley Ellin's suspense novel, Very Old Money (1985). Margaret is helpless, depressed, and sinister. After losing her sight at the age of eighteen, she retires to her room for 50 years to brood before taking horrifying revenge on the woman who caused her blindness.
The sweet, innocent blind girl, blessedly removed from an impure world, is alive and well in Charlton Ogburn's novel, Winespring Mountain (1973). Raised in rural West Virginia, Letty is at home among the birds and flowers, but has had little contact with people outside her family. Wick Carter, a young man from the city, is stunned by her beauty when he sees her from a distance. But when he realizes that she is blind, he rejects her as a romantic partner. Their platonic friendship does not blossom into true love until Letty's sight is miraculously restored. Then Letty is deluged with invitations from people who never paid her the slightest attention when she was blind. No one in the novel expresses a glimmer of resentment at such treatment, and seemingly Ogburn never questions it himself. Blindness made Letty an outcast; sight made her acceptable to society.
This novel notwithstanding, recent fiction has carried blind characters a long way toward full participation in society. Sexuality is one realm that reflects a change in attitude. Once treated as almost neuter, blind characters have benefited from the sexual revolution. Letty is one of the few fictional characters in the past two decades who while blind is denied sexual expression. If anything, contemporary authors are inclined to endow blind characters with extraordinary sexual prowess and sometimes tilt toward the ancient theme that blind people are amoral. Even the helpless, passive Hester in Sontag's Death Kit , described at the opening of this article, is not only sexually active, but also aggressive and uninhibited. Within half an hour of meeting Dalton on a train, she leads him into an empty washroom for a scene of passion.
Hester's sexuality is a metaphorical land mine. Rather than establishing her as a bona fide woman, it allows Sontag to explore an underlying theme the psychic and spiritual connection between sex and death. Hester's blindness, we are told, is a suffocating darkness that gradually extinguishes Dalton's life force.
Several other works break free of the tragic image, fostered by Bulwer-Lytton's rejected Nydia, of the isolated blind woman who is destined never to be loved by a man. In Blind Love (1975), Paul Cauvin recounts the summer affair between Jacques, a quiet French schoolteacher, and Laura, his blind love. Jacques accepts Laura without reservation at once, but it is Laura who objects to their relationship. Her adventurous spirit masks a profound depression over the loss of her sight, a loss she says she never forgets. In one scene Laura puts on dark glasses and gets out the white cane she normally refuses to use, trying to shock her lover with the insignia of her infirmity. Convinced that she would only be a burden to him, she warns him that he is not cut out to play nursemaid for the rest of his life. Laura never breaks free of this self-loathing, and the novel never examines the social landscape that brought it into being.
Two best-selling authors, Irving Wallace and Fred Mustard Stewart, also depict attractive, desirable blind women. In Stewart's Ellis Island (1983), Georgie O'Donnell's lover, Marco, rejects her not because she is blind but because he succumbs to another woman's wealth and prestige. Devastated, Georgie prepares to spend the rest of her life alone. Stewart makes it clear, however, that she has other options. Her family wants to introduce her to suitable men, but Georgie takes no interest in them. Then, after years of unhappy marriage, Marco is widowed; and he and Georgie are reunited. Georgie proves to be an ideal mother; and when Marco is elected to the Senate, she is perfect in the role of senator's wife. Though this novel is superficial, it does present a blind woman who is not an outcast, but rather fulfills the feminine role as it is idealized in popular fiction. Wallace's portrayal of Nataly Rinaldi in The Miracle (1984) relies more heavily on conventional devices. Nataly, a beautiful actress who lost her sight three years earlier, hastens to Lourdes when the Pope announces that the Virgin Mary will reappear to effect a cure. She promptly wins the love of a young man staying at her hotel but does not suspect that her lover is a Basque terrorist intent upon dynamiting the shrine. At last the Virgin appears to her and restores her sight. The would-be terrorist is also redeemed, and the two go off together, in the standard happy ending.
Nearly all these fictional blind women, though attractive to men, are passive and helpless. Only Georgie O'Donnell in Ellis Island learns even minimal travel skills. The use of a cane is generally pictured as degrading. These women are easily victimized, too, and in need of help and protection. On the night of their first meeting, Nataly's soon-to-be lover rescues her from a would-be rapist.
The depiction of these blind women as sexual beings marks an enormous stride from the portrayal of Nydia. It is interesting, however, that blind women are cast as romantic leads at a time when women in general are increasingly independent. Even in romantic fiction, female characters are in control of their lives. Perhaps the perceived helplessness of blind women appeals to writers and readers who feel uneasy with today's liberated woman.
Blind men, too, are sexual beings in contemporary novels. Mitchell Ashley, in Robert O'Neill Bristow's Laughter in Darkness (1974), scandalizes his landlady by entertaining a stream of female readers and housekeepers. His lover Georgia, though hurt and outraged by Mitchell's conduct, cannot bring herself to leave him, for no other man has ever so gratified her. And rerunning the myth that blind people are compensated with extraordinary insight, she wondered if God had given him a sense, and he was seeing her as no man would ever see her, deep, deep inside where there were no lies. (Bristow, 1974, p. 114).
Though Mitchell's competence in bed is well established, he is astonishingly helpless in nearly every other activity. Unlike the female characters described above, Mitchell insists on being allowed to do things for himself. In the novel's opening scene, he drops several bags of groceries on the sidewalk. Though a friend offers to assist him, Mitchell refuses all help as he proceeds to step on the bread and slither about in the eggs. Later, Mitchell forces his friend to stand silently by as he attempts to make himself a sandwich. He first slathers the bread with horseradish, believing he is using mayonnaise. When he realizes his mistake, he gets a fresh slice of bread and daubs it with bacon grease. Even in his own apartment, Mitchell cannot move about freely without the help of his dog guide.
Nevertheless, despite its misrepresentations, Laughter in Darkness depicts blindness with a refreshing twist of humor. There is an adolescent quality to much of Mitchell's behavior he rewards his guide dog with slurps of beer and boasts of his involvement in a barroom fight but he also has a genuine sense of wonder and adventure. Central to Mitchell's story and to several other recent works portraying blind characters is the theme of independence. After Mitchell loses his sight, his mother begs him to move back home, but he is determined to make his own way in the world. He trains with a dog guide and lands a teaching job at a small college. Yet he still finds:
people preconditioned to serve him and the only way, unless one surrendered, was to fight for independence. Because he suspected at first and knew later that surrender was like, exactly like the loss of his sight, gradual, more and more, and if he let them, they would feel virtuous, close to God while they destroyed him (Bristow, 1974, p. 67).
Writing at the height of the Me Generation, Bristow tries to demonstrate that no man is an island, that all human beings need love and support. Unfortunately, however, Mitchell's need for closeness is tied to his blindness. His pleas for independence are absurd when he is clearly unable to handle responsibility and to care for himself. At last, after a cathartic LSD trip during which he imagines that he can see again, Mitchell is reconciled to his blindness and to his need for Georgia's love. When he invites her to live with him, he tells her he needs her to help grade student papers as well as to share his bed. In the end Bristow indicates that Mitchell must bow to his limitations by living with a woman who will nurture him.
The theme of independence pervades the Broadway play Butterflies Are Free , by Leonard Gershe (1969). Don Baker, a young blind man, has been coddled by his clinging, domineering mother, but he finally persuades her to let him rent an apartment in Greenwich Village on a two-month trial basis. As the play opens, he meets Jill Tanner, his next-door neighbor a free spirit. After some light banter and a picnic of apples and cheese on the floor, Jill seduces Don, and he looks forward to an ongoing relationship. When Don's mother warns her about his needs and limitations, however, Jill is frightened away. Don is so depressed by this that he is ready to abandon his dreams of independence, and he implores his mother to take him home again. It is Mrs. Baker, however, who insists that he accept life's disappointments and learn to survive on his own. Jill learns an essential lesson as well. In a confrontation, Don tells her that she needs him as much as he needs her, and she joins him for another picnic. This work, too, avoids depicting blindness as a tragedy, and injects some humor into the story. Yet the premise seems to be that for Don, as for Mitchell, independence is an illusion. After a month in his apartment, he must leave his door unlocked so that visitors can let themselves in, since it would take him too long to answer the door himself. In his neighborhood he has learned only to travel to the delicatessen and the laundromat, and this only by counting steps. Tutored at home, he has no experience of the world, no training that would equip him to hold a job. Don's only salvation is a link with a woman who will tend to his needs. Preposterously, Gershe implies that Jill, whose greatest commitment to date has been a six-day marriage, must and will become that woman.
The old theme of blindness as retribution surfaces in Jonathan Penner's novel of guilt and atonement, Going Blind (1977). While his close friend August is slowly dying of cancer, Paul Held becomes sexually involved with August's wife, Ruth. Like Oedipus, Paul brings about his own blindness through an automobile accident caused by his own carelessness. Again, blindness is compared with death. Having lost the vision of his right eye, Paul ponders: And my Ruth?...How could she marry a Cyclops,...or any man less than whole after her life with August? If something happened to my remaining eye, she would be worse off with me than she had been with him (Penner, pp. 29-30).
For a time Paul manages to conceal the gradual loss of vision in his remaining eye. As expected, Ruth is aghast when she learns of his impending blindness and tearfully leaves him. Paul also faces the loss of his college teaching position, and he again hides his visual loss. Only when his tenure is secured does he admit his disability. News of his tenure brings Ruth back into his life, and when she becomes pregnant they joyfully plan to marry. By the novel's close, Paul has learned Braille and can travel with a cane. After his months of anguish, blindness is no longer an obstacle in his professional or personal life. He emerges, a man restored after a sojourn in purgatory. But he never even thinks to challenge the attitudes of Ruth, the college, or the world. The problems lie not in society but rather in Paul himself. He feels that it is only natural that he be rejected because of his blindness. James Dickey's novel, Alnilam (1987), offers a different perspective on a blind character's relationship to society. A loner most of his life, Frank Cahill feels that he has tacit permission to live outside the law when be becomes blind. In the opening scene Frank is unable to find the bathroom while spending the night at a rooming house. Without compunction he makes his way outside and relieves himself in the yard. Later he reflects, [Blindness] placed him beyond or to one side of the law. He knew that everyone who came into contact with him...would sense this to be the case. It was provable and he was living it (Dickey, p. 26). Blindness, according to Dickey, also gives Frank a unique window on the truth. A doctor tells him:
... you're headed for the big dark, the solution to the universal puzzle...You'll be seeing in other ways now....Your other senses will become far more acute. You'll be able to hear a baby cry through a stone wall. Music, any music, will have so many levels it'll be like whole buildings, floors or sounds. And your nose...is going to be an entirely new implement. Whatever's in the wind or in the air of a room, you'll know and the others won't. (Dickey, p. 16).
To heighten the sense that Frank is privy to special knowledge, Dickey frequently divides the pages of the book into two columns, DARK and LIGHT. In the LIGHT column the narrator recounts events as they occur; in the DARK, Frank himself interprets these events.
Before the novel opens, Frank had received a telegram that his son Joel had died in a training accident at an Air Corps base. Though he had never seen his son, since his wife had left him before Joel was born, out of curiosity he begins an odyssey to learn what he can of Joel.
At the training base Frank gradually unravels the truth about his son that he had inspired a secret cadet society, Alnilam, bent on the spread of anarchy. The members of Alnilam's inner circle perceive Frank as a seeker and bearer of truth and revere him as a being free of the constraints of law. After they cause a fatal flying accident, the cadets are triumphant, telling Frank that he has become the symbol they will carry with them forever. Alnilam offers a complex portrait of a blind character. Frank Cahill, often abrasive and self-indulgent, has moments of gentleness and sensitivity as well. With no close connections to other people, he nonetheless is intensely interested in everyone around him. A seeker of truth, he is also a master of deception as the owner of an Atlanta carnival.
Frank's almost egotistical self-confidence helps him adapt quickly to his blindness, rarely regarding it as an impediment but rather taking each situation in stride. Blindness is a loss but not a tragedy; it simply requires that he learn new techniques for such activities as traveling and carpentry. But this realistic portrait is distorted by Dickey's conviction that blind people, as a class, have a direct line to truth. Even in his exploration of Frank's relationship to law and anarchy, Dickey never perceives him as a member of a minority group forcibly excluded from society.
Most of these works concentrate on the individual's adjustment to vision loss, as though once she or he has come to terms with blindness on a personal level, there are no more issues with which to grapple. Even Don Baker in Butterflies Are Free , though he has been blind all his life, is entering the adjustment process as he tries for the first time to survive on his own. This emphasis on the adjustment period keeps blindness at center stage in most of these works. It is seldom allowed to recede into the background, to blend in with the other aspects of a character's life and situation.
All of the works I have discussed so far have been written from the outside, by sighted authors trying to depict the experiences of people who are blind. In many cases the author does not even try to enter the blind character's world but conveys it indirectly, through the perceptions of sighted people in the story. To my knowledge only two authors who are themselves blind, Gary Adelman and Jacob Twersky, have written adult novels which involve blind characters.
In Honey Out of Stone (1970), Adelman recounts the inner journey of Ben Storch, who lost his sight from diabetic retinopathy. Ben, a poet and a professor of literature, at the opening of the book is in prison for aiding draft resisters during the Vietnam War. Through intricate flashbacks and poems, Adelman braids together the many strands of Ben's past and present his loves and friendships and his political convictions and artistic passion. Blindness brings no mystical compensation; he is neither better nor worse than other people. After an initial period of mourning, he resumes his life where it had left off. Yet, as in Penner's Going Blind , the loss of sight becomes a metaphor for death, and Ben's adjustment to blindness a kind of resurrection. In his opening paragraph Adelman writes: I would describe this place. I am blind, yes, but that coffin had its key. (Adelman, 1970, p. 1).
The other novel by a writer who is blind is The Face of the Deep by Jacob Twersky (1953). It precedes the period under discussion by more than a decade, yet it is the only novel written in any era which focuses squarely upon the issue most crucial to people who are blind: the struggle for genuine equality. Twersky tells the interlocking stories of five blind men and women from childhood to adulthood. Through many vivid incidents the reader is shown blind children rejected by their families and educated by teachers who regard them as inferior and unable to compete in the world. Twersky recounts the patronizing remarks of strangers on the street and shows the devastating rejections of would-be employers. Yet this novel is far more than a tract about negative attitudes, for its main purpose is to explore the effects of prejudice upon blind people themselves.
Though all these characters Rosie, Ken, Fred, Clare, and Joe perceive themselves as stigmatized, they respond in a variety of ways. Rosie and Ken cling to the blindness system, cultivating only blind friends, and working in sheltered shops; they never attempt to find a place in broader society. Fred, on the other hand, tries to dissociate himself from his blindness to prove that he is superior to ordinary blind people. Clare pretends to be the sweet bringer of sunshine most sighted people want and expect her to be. The most powerful theme here is the divisiveness of self-hatred. Fred and Clare dream of finding sighted partners, and their deepening love for each other is destroyed because neither of them wants a blind mate. Fred, who has entered his father's business, refuses to give Ken a job when he is out of work, fearing that his colleagues will not respect him if he is supervising only blind workers. Ken also represents everything Fred despises about blindness. In the novel's closing scene Ken stands on a corner with a tin cup, the victim of another blind man's prejudice and contempt.
The novel's last blind character is Joe, who earns a doctorate in history and, after a series of rejections because of his disability, obtains a teaching position. He also marries one of his readers. Despite his success Joe continues to feel a profound kinship with other blind people. Contemplating the good things in his life, he realizes how easily he might not have had any of them. Joe describes himself as a man at a banquet, surrounded by starving people.
Blindness is never a tragedy in The Face of the Deep , but the discrimination that blind people encounter is shown to have devastating consequences.
As this brief sampling shows, the blind characters in Western literature of the past two decades are more competent, mobile, attractive, and well-rounded than ever before. Nevertheless, the old stereotypes flourish. Ironically, such popular authors as Fred Mustard Stewart seem best able to avoid stereotyped images. Georgie O'Donnell is neither a saint nor a villain, neither a bearer of truth nor a harbinger of death.
A young Irish immigrant, disappointed in love, she happens to be blind. Writers of serious fiction, however, almost inevitably write about their blind characters using all the old images and ideas, in part because serious fiction is founded upon metaphor. Thus such writers as Sontag, Penner, and Dickey included their blind characters for their metaphorical value. Yet serious literature is learning new ways to interpret what it means to be black or female. It is time for writers to question their hackneyed notions about blindness and to discover new ways for blind characters to function within a literary context. One of the most serious problems in depicting blind characters is the tendency of both author and reader to assume that a particular character is a blind Everyman, though there are novels, such as The Face of the Deep , which present more than one blind character and thus convey the diversity of the blind population. However, if an author takes the trouble to become educated about blindness, and has a sincerely positive attitude, even the portrait of a single depressed, helpless blind person need not stand for all blind people. White-Eye Ramford, a minor character in Anne Tyler's novel, Searching for Caleb (1976), is a blind street musician in New Orleans. In The String-Tail Blues, he laments his life of dependence: Once I walked proud, once I pranced up and down/Now I holds to a string and they leads me around (p. 278).
But Tyler does not accept this helplessness as inevitable. She explains, He had lost his sight at twelve, or maybe twenty, his stories differed; and by the time he reached middle age he should have learned how to navigate but he hadn't. He was hopeless. In two sentences, Tyler shows that Ramford's life could have been different, that not every blind person sings The String-Tail Blues. Ramford is resigned to hopelessness, but he does not speak for the millions of other blind people who walk the earth. If writers come to follow Tyler's example, they might break the shackles of stereotype and free themselves to portray blind people as the diverse collection of individuals they truly are.
POSTSCRIPT: Since I wrote this article in 1988, several new novels which include characters who are blind have appeared on the scene. Blindsight by Michael Stewart is based on the notion that blindness is a fate worse than death. Stewart's protagonist submits to a series of painful, life-threatening experimental treatments which may restore his sight, though major brain damage is a possible side effect. This novel perpetuates some of the worst and most bizarre notions about blindness Stewart even has his hero cut his toast diagonally, because it is easier for him to angle it into his mouth point first. Overall, however, the most recent books veer away from the tragic mode, portraying blind people who are self-assured, inventive, and adventurous. In Loving Little Egypt by Thomas A. McMahon, a brilliant student at a school for the blind sabotages the telephone system and triggers a series of madcap escapades across the country. In Peggy Payne's Revelation , a twelve-y ear-old boy adjusts to the loss of his sight after he meets a group of active blind children his age. John Moon in Joanne Greenberg's powerful novel Of Such Small Differences is a deaf-blind poet who struggles for dignity in a world which would prefer to keep him out of sight. Greenberg exposes the custodialism of sheltered workshops and the misconceptions of the general public and depicts some acutely painful moments between John and his guilt-ridden family. These books seem to be setting an encouraging new trend, portraying people who are blind more honestly than ever before. Let us hope that the trend will continue as we carry on the work of educating the public about the realities of blindness.
BLINDNESS: IS LITERATURE AGAINST US
AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BY
President, National Federation of the Blind
AT THE BANQUET OF THE ANNUAL CONVENTION
Chicago, Illinois, July 3, 1974
From the Editors: In view of the article in this issue by Deborah Kent Stein we thought it might be appropriate to reprint the 1974 banquet speech, which deals with the same subject and which is as timely now as it was then so here it is.
History, we are told, is the record of what human being have done; literature, the record of what they have thought. Last year I examined with you the place of the blind in history not just what we have done but what the historians have remembered and said we have done. The two, as we found, are vastly different.
This year I would like to talk with you about the place of the blind in literature. How have we been perceived? What has been our role? How have the poets and novelists, the essayists and dramatists seen us? Have they told it like it is, or merely liked it as they've told it?
With history there is at least a supposed foundation of fact. Whatever the twisting or omission or misinterpretation or downright falsehood, that foundation presumably remains a tether and a touchstone, always subject to re-examination and new proof. Not so with literature. The author is free to cut through facts to the essence, to dream and soar and surmise. Going deeper than history, the myths and feelings of a people are enshrined in its literature. Literary culture in all its forms constitutes possibly the main transmission belt of our society's beliefs and values more important even than the schools, the churches, the news media, or the family. How, then, have we fared in literature? The literary record reveals no single theme or unitary view of the life of the blind. Instead, it displays a bewildering variety of images often conflicting and contradictory, not only as between different ages or cultures, or among the works of various writers, but even within the pages of a single book.
Yet, upon closer examination the principal themes and motifs of literature and popular culture are nine in number and may be summarized as follows: blindness as compensatory or miraculous power; blindness as total tragedy; blindness as foolishness and helplessness; blindness as unrelieved wickedness and evil; blindness as perfect virtue; blindness as punishment for sin; blindness as abnormality or dehumanization; blindness as purification; and blindness as symbol or parable.
Let us begin with blindness and compensatory powers. Suppose one of you should ask me whether I think there is any advantage in being blind; and suppose I should answer like this: Not an advantage perhaps: still it has compensations that one might not think of. A new world to explore, new experiences, new powers awakening; strange new perceptions; life in the fourth dimension. 1 How would you react to that? You would, I suspect, laugh me out of the room. I doubt that a single person here would buy such stereotyped stupidity. You and I know from firsthand experience that there is no fourth dimension to blindness no miraculous new powers awakening, no strange new perceptions, no brave new worlds to explore. Yet, the words I have quoted are those of a blind character in a popular novel of some time back. (I don't know whether the term has significance, but a blind private eye, no less.)
The association of blindness with compensatory powers, illustrated by the blind detective I have just mentioned, represents a venerable tradition, reaching back to classical mythology. A favorite method of punishment among the gods of ancient Greece was blinding regarded apparently as a fate worse than death following which, more often than not, the gods so pitied the blinded victim that they relented and conferred upon him extraordinary gifts, usually the power of prophecy or some other exceptional skill. Thus, Homer was widely regarded as having been compensated by the gift of poetry. In the same way Tiresias, who wandered through the plays of Sophocles, received for his blindness the gift of prophecy.
The theme of divine compensation following divine retribution survived the passage of the ages and the decline of the pagan religions. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (one of the most eminent novelists of the last century, and the creator of Sherlock Holmes) conjured up a blind character with something of Holmes's sleuthing talents, in a book entitled Sir Nigel . This figure is introduced as one who has the mysterious ability to detect by hearing a hidden tunnel, which runs beneath the besieged castle. His compensatory powers are described in a conversation between two other people in the novel:
This man was once rich and of good repute [says one], but he was beggared by this robber lord who afterwards put out his eyes, so that he has lived for many years in darkness at the charity of others.
How can he help in our enterprise if he be indeed blind? [asks his companion.]
It is for that very reason, fair Lord, that he can be of greater service than any other man. For it often happens that when a man has lost a sense, the good God will strengthen those that remain. Hence it is that Andreas has such ears that he can hear the sap in the trees or the cheep of the mouse in its burrow... 2
The great nineteenth-century novelist Victor Hugo, in The Man Who Laughs , reflected the view of a host of modern writers that blindness carries with it a certain purity and ecstasy, which somehow makes up for the loss of sight. His blind heroine, Dea, is portrayed as absorbed by that kind of ecstasy peculiar to the blind, which seems at times to give them a song to listen to in their souls and to make up to them for the light which they lack by some strain of ideal music. Blindness, says Hugo, is a cavern to which reaches the deep harmony of the Eternal. 3
Probably it is this mystical notion of a sixth sense accompanying blindness that accounts for the rash of blind detectives and investigators in popular fiction. Max Carrados, the man who talked of living in the fourth dimension, first appeared in 1914 and went on to survive a number of superhuman escapades through the nineteen twenties. In 1915 came another sightless sleuth the remarkable Damon Gaunt, who never lost a case. 4 So it is with Thomley Colton, Blind Detective, the brainchild of Clinton H. Stagg; and so it is with the most illustrious of all the private eyes without eyes, Captain Duncan Maclain, whose special qualities are set forth in the deathless prose of a dust jacket: Shooting to kill by sound, playing chess with fantastic precision, and, of course, quickening the hearts of the opposite sex, Captain Maclain has won the unreserved admiration of reviewers. 5
Even the author is carried away with the genius of his hero: There were moments, he writes, when powers slightly greater than those possessed by ordinary mortals seemed bestowed on Duncan Maclain. Such moments worried him. 6
They might worry us, as well; for all of this mumbo jumbo about abnormal or supernatural powers doesn't lessen the stereotype of the blind person as alien and different, unnatural and peculiar. It makes it worse.
Not only is it untrue, but it is also a profound disservice to the blind; for it suggests that whatever a blind person may accomplish is not due to his own ability but to some magic inherent in blindness itself. This assumption of compensatory powers removes the blind person at a stroke of the pen from the realm of the normal the ordinary, everyday world of plain people and places him in a limbo of abnormality. Whether supernormal or subnormal does not matter he is without responsibility, without rights, and without society. We have been conned into this view of second-class status long enough. The play is over. We want no more of magic powers and compensations. We want our rights as citizens and human beings and we intend to have them!
It is significant that, for all his supposed charm and talent, Maclain never gets the girl or any girl. The author plainly regards him as ineligible for such normal human relationships as love, sex, and marriage. Max Carrados put it this way in replying to an acquaintance who expressed great comfort in his presence: Blindness invites confidence, he says. We are out of the running for us human rivalry ceases to exist. 7
This notion of compensatory powers the doctrine that blindness is its own reward is no compliment but an insult. It robs us of all credit for our achievements and all responsibility for our failings. It neatly relieves society of any obligation to equalize conditions or provide opportunities or help us help ourselves. It leaves us in the end without the capacity to lead a regular, competitive, and participating life in the community around us. The blind, in short, may (according to this view) be extraordinary, but we can never be ordinary. Don't you believe it! We are normal people neither especially blessed nor especially cursed and the fiction to the contrary must come to an end! It is not mumbo jumbo we want, or magical powers but our rights as free people, our responsibilities as citizens, and our dignity as human beings. Negative as it is, this image of compensatory powers is less vicious and destructive than some others which run through the literature of fiction and fantasy. The most damaging of all is also the oldest and most persistent: namely, the theme of blindness as total tragedy, the image summed up in the ancient Hebrew saying, The blind man is as one dead. The Oedipus cycle of Greek tragic plays pressed the death-in-life stereotype to its farthest extreme. Thus, in Oedipus Rex , in which the king puts out his own eyes, the statement occurs: Thou art better off dead than living blind. It remained, however, for an Englishman, blind himself, to write the last word (what today would be called "the bottom line") on blindness as total disaster. John Milton says in Samson Agonistes:
Blind among enemies, O worse than chains, Dungeon, or beggary, or decrepit age!... Inferior to the vilest now become Of man or worm; the vilest here excel me, They creep, yet see; I, dark in light, exposed To daily fraud, contempt, abuse, and wrong, Within doors, or without, still as a fool, In power of others, never in my own; Scarce half I seem to live, Dead more than half...a moving grave, 8
What is most striking about this epic poem is not the presence of the disaster concept (that might have been expected) but the fact that Milton of all people was the author. His greatest writing (including Paradise Lost ) was done after his blindness. Then why did he do it? The answer is simple: We the blind tend to see ourselves as others see us. Even when we know to the contrary, we tend to accept the public view of our limitations. Thus, we help make those limitations a reality. Betrayed by the forces of literature and tradition, Milton (in his turn) betrayed himself and all others who are blind. In fact, he actually strengthened and reinforced the stereotype and he did it in spite of his own personal experience to the contrary. The force of literature is strong, indeed!
The disaster concept of blindness did not stop with Milton. William Tell , the eighteenth-century play by Schiller, shows us an old man, blinded and forced to become a beggar. His son says: Oh, the eye's light, of all the gifts of Heaven the dearest, best!... And he must drag on through all his days in endless darkness!... To die is nothing. But to have life, and not have sight Oh, that is misery indeed! 9
A century later the disaster concept was as popular as ever. In Kipling's book, The Light That Failed , no opportunity is lost to tell us that blindness is worse than death. The hero, Dick Heldar, upon learning that he is to become blind, remarks: It's the living death.... We're to be shut up in the dark .and we shan't see anybody, and we shall never have anything we want, not though we live to be a hundred. 10 Later in the book, he rages against the whole world because it was alive and could see, while he, Dick, was dead in the death of the blind, who, at the best, are only burdens upon their associates. 11 And when this self-pitying character finally manages to get himself killed (to the relief of all concerned), the best Kipling can say of him is that his luck had held till the last, even to the crowning mercy of a kindly bullet through his head. 12
Joseph Conrad, in The End of the Tether , kills off Captain Whalley by drowning, as a fate much preferable to remaining alive without sight. In D.H. Lawrence's The Blind Man , there is a war-blinded casualty named Maurice, whose total despair and misery are unrelieved by any hint of future hope; and Rosamond Lehmann, in her novel Invitation to the Waltz , goes Lawrence one better or, rather, one worse. Her war-blinded hero, although he appears to be living a respectable life, is portrayed as if for all practical purposes he were a walking corpse. He leads, we are told, a counterfeit of life bred from his murdered youth. And when he brings himself somehow to dance with a former sweetheart, it is a sorry spectacle: She danced with him, says the author, in love and sorrow. He held her close to him, and he was far away from her, far from the music, buried and indifferent. She danced with his youth and his death. 13 For writers such as these, the supposed tragedy of blindness is so unbearable that only two solutions can be imagined: either the victim must be cured or he must be killed. A typical illustration is Susan Glaspell's The Glory of the Conquered , of which an unkind critic has written: It is a rather easy solution of the problem to make her hero die at the end of the book, but probably the author did not know what else to do with him. 14
Let us now leave tragedy and move to foolishness and helplessness. The blind man as a figure of fun and the butt of ridicule is no doubt as old as farce and slapstick. In the Middle Ages the role was regularly acted out on festive holidays when blind beggars were rounded up and outfitted in donkey's ears, than made to gibber and gesticulate to the delight of country bumpkins. Reflecting this general hilarity, Chaucer (in The Merchant's Tale ) presents a young wife, married to an old blind man, who deceives him by meeting her lover in a tree while taking the husband for a walk. The Chaucerian twist is that the old man suddenly regains his sight as the couple are making love in the branches whereupon the quick-witted girl explains that her amorous behavior was solely for the purpose of restoring his sight. Shakespeare is just as bad. He makes the blinded Gloucester in King Lear so thoroughly confused and helpless that he can be persuaded of anything and deceived by any trick. Isaac, in the Old Testament, is duped by his son Jacob, who masquerades as Esau, disguising himself in goatskins, and substituting kid meat for the venison his father craves all without a glimmer of recognition on the part of the old man, who must have taken leave of the rest of his senses as well as his sense of sight.
An unusually harsh example of the duping of blind people is found in the sixteenth-century play Der Eulenspiegel mit den Blinden . The hero meets three blind beggars and promises them a valuable coin to pay for their food and lodging at a nearby inn; but when they all reach out for the money, he gives it to none of them, and each supposes that the others have received it. You can imagine the so-called funny ending. After they go to the inn and dine lavishly, the innkeeper demands his payment; and each of the blind beggars thereupon accuses the others of lying, thievery, and assorted crimes. The innkeeper shouting You people defraud everyone! drives the three into his pigsty and locks the gate, lamenting to his wife: What shall we do with them, let them go without punishment after they have eaten and drunk so much, for nothing? But if we keep them, they will spread lice and fleas and we will have to feed them. I wish they were on the gallows. 15 The play has a happy ending, but what an image persists of the character of those who are blind: criminal and corrupt, contagious and contaminated, confounded and confused, wandering homeless and helpless in an alien landscape. Their book of life might well he called Gullible's Travels. The helpless blind man is a universal stereotype. In Maeterlinck's play, The Blind , all of the characters are portrayed as sightless in order to make a philosophical point; but what emerges on the stage is a ridiculous tableau of groping, groaning, and grasping at the air.
One of the very worst offenders against the truth about blindness is the eminent French author of our own day, Andre Gide, in La Symphonie Pastorale. A blind reviewer of the novel has described it well: The girl Gertrude at fifteen, before the pastor begins to educate her, has all the signs of an outright idiot. This is explained simply as the result of her blindness.... [Gide] asserts that without physical sight one cannot really know the truth. Gertrude lives happily in the good, pure world the pastor creates for her.... Gertrude knows next to nothing about the evil and pain in the actual world. As a sightless person she cannot consciously know sin, is blissfully ignorant, like Adam and Eve before eating of the forbidden fruit. Only when her sight is restored does she really know evil for what it is and recognize sin. Then, on account of the sinning she has done with the pastor without knowing it was sinning, she is miserable and commits suicide. 16
In literature not only is blindness depicted as stupidity but also as wickedness, the very incarnation of pure evil. The best-known model is the old pirate Blind Pew, in Stevenson's Treasure Island . When the young hero, Jim Hawkins, first encounters Pew, he feels that he never saw a more dreadful figure than this horrible, soft-spoken, eyeless creature ; and when Pew gets the boy in his clutches, Jim observes that he never heard a voice so cruel, and cold, and ugly as that blind man's. 17
A much earlier version of the wicked blind man theme is seen in the picaresque romance of the sixteenth century, Lazarillo de Tormes . Lazarillo is apprenticed as a guide to an old blind man, who is the very personification of evil. When the blind man told the boy to put his ear to a statue and listen for a peculiar noise, Lazarillo obeyed. Then the old man knocked the boy's head sharply against the stone, so his ears rang for three days.... 18 Throughout the ages the connection between blindness and meanness has been very nearly irresistible to authors, and it has struck a responsive note with audiences audiences already conditioned through folklore and fable to believe that blindness brings out the worst in people. Given the casual cruelty with which the blind have generally been treated, such villainous caricatures have also provided a convenient excuse and justification. After all, if the blind are rascals and rapscallions, they should be handled accordingly and no pity wasted. Alternating with the theme of blindness as perfect evil is its exact reverse: the theme of blindness as perfect virtue. On the surface these two popular stereotypes appear to be contradictory; but it takes no great psychological insight to recognize them as opposite sides of the same counterfeit coin. What they have in common is the notion that blindness is a transforming event, entirely removing the victim from the ordinary dimensions of life and humanity. Blindness must either be the product of sin and the devil or of angels and halos. Of the latter type is Melody, in Laura Richards' novel of the same name: The blind child, we are told, touched life with her hand, and knew it. She knew every tree of the forest by its bark; knew when it blossomed, and how.... Not a cat or dog in the village but would leave his own master or mistress at a single call from Melody. 19 She is not merely virtuous; she is magical. She rescues a baby from a burning building, cures the sick by her singing, and redeems alcoholics from the curse of drink.
It is passing strange, and what is strangest of all is that this absurd creature is the invention of Laura Richards, the daughter of Samuel Gridley Howe, a pioneer educator of the blind. Like Milton, Mrs. Richards knew better. She was betrayed by the forces of tradition and custom, of folklore and literature. In turn she betrayed herself and the blind, and gave reinforcement to the stereotype. Worst of all, she doubtless never knew what she had done, and thought of herself as a benefactor of the blind and a champion of their cause. Ignorance is truly the greatest of all tragedies.
The sickest of all the romantic illusions is the pious opinion that blindness is only a blessing in disguise. In The Blind Girl of Wittenberg , by John G. Morris, a young man says to the heroine: God has deprived you of sight but only that your heart might be illuminated with more brilliant light. Every blind girl I know would have slapped his face for such insulting drivel; but the reply of this fictional female is worse than the original remark: Do you not think, sir, she says, that we blind people have a world within us which is perhaps more beautiful than yours, and that we have a light within us which shines more brilliantly than your sun? 20
So it goes with the saccharine sweet that has robbed us of humanity and made the legend and hurt our cause. There is Caleb, the little blind seer of James Ludlow's awful novel, Deborah . There is Bertha, Dickens' ineffably sweet and noble blind heroine of The Cricket on the Hearth , who comes off almost as an imbecile. There is the self-sacrificing Nydia, in The Last Days of Pompeii; and there is Naomi, in Hall Caine's novel, Scapegoat. But enough! It is sweetness without light, and literature without enlightment. One of the oldest and cruelest themes in the archives of fiction is the notion of blindness as a punishment for sin. Thus, Oedipus was blinded as a punishment for incest, and Shakespeare's Gloucester for adultery. The theme often goes hand in hand with the stereotype of blindness as a kind of purification rite an act which wipes the slate clean and transforms human character into purity and goodness. So Amyas Leigh, in Kingsley's Westward Ho , having been blinded by a stroke of lightening, is instantly converted from a crook to a saint.
Running like an ugly stain through many of these master plots and, perhaps, in a subtle way underlying all of them is the image of blindness as dehumanization , a kind of banishment from the world of normal life and relationships. Neither Dickens' blind Bertha, nor Bulwer-Lytton's Nydia, when they find themselves in love, have the slightest idea that anybody could ever love them back nor does the reader; nor, for that matter, do the other characters in the novels. Kipling, in a story entitled They, tells of a charming and apparently competent blind woman, Miss Florence, who loves children but of course cannot have any of her own. Kipling doesn't say why she can't, but it's plain that she is unable to imagine a blind person either married or raising children. Miss Florence, however, is magically compensated. She is surrounded on her estate by the ghosts of little children who have died in the neighborhood and have thereupon rushed to her in spirit. We are not meant to infer that she is as crazy as a hoot owl only that she is blind , and therefore entitled to her spooky fantasies. The last of the popular literary themes is that which deals with blindness not literally but symbolically, for purposes of satire or parable. From folklore to film the image recurs of blindness as a form of death or damnation, or as a symbol of other kinds of unseeing (as in the maxim, where there is no vision, the people perish ). In this category would come H.G. Well's classic The Country of the Blind ; also, The Planet of the Blind , by Paul Corey; and Maeterlinck's The Blind . In the short story by Conrad Aiken, Silent Snow, Secret Snow, blindness becomes a metaphor for schizophrenia.
In virtually all of these symbolic treatments, there is an implied acceptance of blindness as a state of ignorance and confusion, of the inversion of normal perceptions and values, and of a condition equal to if not worse than death. The havoc wrought upon the lives of blind people in ages past by these literary traditions is done, and it cannot be undone; but the future is yet to be determined. And that future, shaped by the instrument of truth, will be determined by us. Self-aware and self-reliant neither unreasonably belligerent nor unduly self-effacing we must, in a matter-of-fact way, take up the challenge of determining our own destiny. We know who we are; we know what we can do; and we know how to act in concert.
And what can we learn from this study of literature? What does it all mean? For one thing, it places in totally new perspective the pronouncements and writings of many of the so-called experts who today hold forth in the field of work with the blind. They tell us (these would-be professionals, these hirelings of the American Foundation for the Blind and HEW, these pseudoscientists with their government grants and lofty titles and impressive papers) that blindness is not just the loss of sight, but a total transformation of the person. They tell us that blindness is not merely a loss to the eyes, but to the personality as well that it is a death, a blow to the very being of the individual. They tell us that the eye is a sex symbol, and that the blind person cannot be a whole man or, for that matter, presumably a whole woman either. They tell us that we have multiple lacks and losses. 21 The American Foundation for the Blind devises a 239-page guidebook22 for our personal management, with sixteen steps to help us take a bath, and specific techniques for clapping our hands and shaking our heads. We are given detailed instructions for buttering our bread, tying our shoes, and even understanding the meaning of the words up and down. And all of this is done with federal grants, and much insistence that it is new discovery and modern thought.
But our study of literature gives it the lie. These are not new concepts. They are as unenlightened as the Middle Ages. They are as old as Oedipus Rex. As for science, they have about as much of it as man's ancient fear of the dark. They are not fact, but fiction; not new truths, but medieval witchcraft, decked out in modern garb computerized mythology. What we have bought with our federal tax dollars and our technology and our numerous government grants is only a restatement of the tired old fables of primitive astrology and dread of the night. And let us not forget NAC (The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped). When the members of NAC and its accredited minions try to act as our custodians and wardens, they are only behaving in the time honored way of the Elizabethan keepers of the poor. When they seek to deck us out in donkey's ears and try to make us gibber and gesticulate, they are only attempting what the country bumpkins of 600 years ago did with better grace and more efficiency.
We have repudiated these false myths of our inferiority and helplessness. We have rejected the notion of magical powers and special innocence and naivete. Those who would try to compel us to live in the past would do well to look to their going. Once people have tasted freedom, they cannot go back. We will never again return to the ward status and second-class citizenship of the old custodialism. There are many of us (sighted and blind alike) who will take to the streets and fight with our bare hands if we must before we will let it happen.
And we must never forget the power of literature. Revolutions do not begin in the streets, but in the libraries and the classrooms. It has been so throughout history. In the terrible battles of the American Civil War, for example, the writers and poets fought, too. When the Southern armies came to Bull Run, they brought with them Sir Walter Scott and the image of life he had taught them to believe. Ivanhoe and brave King Richard stood in the lines with Stonewall Jackson to hurl the Yankees back. The War would have ended sooner except for the dreams of the poets. And when the Northern troops went down to Richmond, through the bloody miles that barred the way, they carried with them the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was Uncle Tom and little Eliza who fired the shots and led the charges that broke the Southern lines. Never mind that neither Scott nor Stowe told it exactly as it was. What they said was believed, and believing made it come true.
To the question IS LITERATURE AGAINST US, there can be no unqualified response. If we consider only the past, the answer is certainly yes.
We have had a bad press. Conventional fiction, like conventional history, has told it like it isn't. Although there have been notable exceptions,23the story has been monotonously and negatively the same.
If we consider the present, the answer is mixed. There are signs of change, but the old stereotypes and the false images still predominate and they are reinforced and given weight by the writings and beliefs of many of the experts in our own field of work with the blind. If we turn to the future, the answer is that the future in literature as in life is not predetermined but self-determined. As we shape our lives, singly and collectively, so will we shape our literature. Blindness will be a tragedy only if we see ourselves as authors see us. The contents of the page, in the last analysis, reflect the conscience of the age. The structure of literature is but a hall of mirrors, giving us back (in images slightly larger or smaller than life) exactly what we put in. The challenge for us is to help our age raise its consciousness and reform its conscience. We must rid our fiction of fantasy and imbue it with fact. Then we shall have a literature to match reality, and a popular image of blindness to match the truth, and our image of ourselves. Poetry is the song of the spirit and the language of the soul. In the drama of our struggle to be free in the story of our movement and the fight to rid the blind of old custodialism and man's ancient fear of the dark there are epics which cry to be written, and songs which ask to be sung. The poets and novelists can write the words, but we must create the music.
We stand at a critical time in the history of the blind. If we falter or turn back, the tragedy of blindness will be great, indeed. But, of course, we will not falter, and we will not turn back. Instead, we will go forward with joy in our hearts and a song of gladness on our lips. The future is ours, and the novelists and the poets will record it. Come! Join me on the barricades, and we will make it come true!
1. Ernest Bramah, Best Max Carrados Detective Stories, p. 6.
2. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Nigel, p. 102.
3. Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs, p. 316.
4. Isabel Ostrander, At One-Thirty: A Mystery, p. 6.
5. Baynard Kendrick, Make Mine Maclain, dust jacket.
6. Ibid ., p. 43.
7. Bramah, op. cit., p. 7.
8. John Milton, The Portable Milton, pp. 615-616.
9. Friedrich Schiller, Complete Works of Friedrich Schiller, p. 447.
10. Rudyard Kipling, Selected Prose and Poetry of Rudyard Kipling, p. 131.
11. Ibid ., p. 156.
12. Ibid ., p. 185.
13. Rosamond Lehmann, Invitation to the Waltz, p. 48, quoted in Jacob Twersky, Blindness in Literature.
14. Jessica L. Langworthy, Blindness in Fiction: A Study of the Attitude of Authors Towards their Blind Characters, Journal of Applied Psychology,14:282, 1930.
15. Twersky, op. cit., p. 15.
16. Ibid., p. 47.
17. Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, p. 36.
18. The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, summarized in Magill's Masterplots, p. 2573.
19. Laura E. Richards, Melody, pp. 47-48.
20. John G. Morris, The Blind Girl of Wittenberg, p. 103.
21. Reverend Thomas J. Carroll, Blindness: What It Is, What It Does, and How to Live With It. This entire book deals with the concept of blindness as a dying, and with the multiple lacks and losses of blindness.
22. American Foundation for the Blind, Inc., A Step-by-Step Guide to Personal Management for Blind People. This entire book is taken up with lists of so-called how to details about the routines of daily living for blind persons.
23. There is a tenth theme to be found here and there on the shelves of literature a rare and fugitive image that stands out in the literary gloom like a light at the end of a tunnel. This image of truth is at least as old as Charles Lamb's tale of Rosamund Gray, which presents an elderly blind woman who is not only normally competent but normally cantankerous. The image is prominent in two of Sir Walter Scott's novels, Old Mortality and The Bride of Lammermoor, in both of which blind persons are depicted realistically and unsentimentally. It is evident again, to the extent at least of the author's knowledge and ability, in Wilkie Collin's Poor Miss Finch, written after Collins had made a serious study of Diderot's Letter on the Blind (a scientific treatise not without its errors but remarkable for its understanding). The image is manifest in Charles D. Stewart's Valley Waters, in which there is an important character who is blind and yet there is about him no aura of miracle nor even of mystery, no brooding or mischief, no special powers, nothing in fact but naturalness and normality. Similarly, in a novel entitled Far in the Forest, H. Weir Mitchell has drawn from life (so he tells us) a formidable but entirely recognizable character named Philetus Richmond who had lost his sight at the age of fifty but could still swing an axe with the best of the woodsmen.
American Foundation for the Blind, Inc., A Step-by-Step Guide to Personal Management for Blind People, New York, 1970.
Barreyre, Gene, The Blind Ship, New York, Dial, 1926.
Bramah, Ernest, Best Max Carrados Detective Stories, New York, Dover, 1972.
Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre, New York, Dutton, 1963.
Caine, Hall, The Scapegoat, New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1879.
Carroll, Reverend Thomas J., Blindness: What It Is, What It Does, and How To Live With It, Boston, Toronto, Little, Brown and Company, 1961.
Chaucer, Geoffrey, Canterbury Tales, Garden City, translated by J.U. Nicolson, 1936.
Collins, Wilkie, Poor Miss Finch, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1902.
Conrad, Joseph, The End of the Tether, Garden City, Doubleday, 1951.
Corey, Paul, The Planet of the Blind, New York, Paperback Library, 1969.
Craig, Dinah Mulock, John Halifax, Gentleman, New York, A.L. Burt, nd.
Davis, William Sterns, Falaise of the Blessed Voice, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1904.
Dickens, Charles, Barnaby Rudge, New York, Oxford University Press, 1968.
Dickens, Charles, Cricket On the Hearth, London, Oxford University Press, 1956.
Diderot, Denis, Lettre sur les Avengles, Geneva, E. Droz, 1951.
Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir Nigel, New York, McClure, Philips and Company, 1906.
Gide, Andre, La Symphonie Pastorale, Paris, Gallimard, 1966.
Glaspell, Susan, The Glory of the Conquered, New York, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1909.
Hugo, Victor, The Man Who Laughs, New York, Grosset and Dunlap, nd.
Kendrick, Baynard, Make Mine Maclain, New York, Morrow, 1947.
Kipling, Rudyard, Selected Prose and Poetry of Rudyard Kipling, Garden City, Garden City Publishing Company, 1937.
Kingsley, Charles, Westward Ho!, New York, J.F. Taylor and Company, 1899.
Lamb, Charles, The Tale of Rosamund Gray and Old Blind Margaret, London, 1798.
Langworthy, Jessica L., Blindness in Fiction: A Study of the Attitude of Authors Toward their Blind Characters, Journal of Applied Psychology, 14:282, 1930.
Lawrence, D.H., England, My England and Other Short Stories, New York, T. Seltzer, 1922.
Lehmann, Rosamond, Invitation to the Waltz, New York, 1933.
Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, 1553, summarized in Frank Nathen Magill, Magill's Masterplots, New York, Salem Press, 1964.
London, Jack, The Sea Wolf, New York, Grosset and Dunlap, 1904.
Ludlow, James M., Deborah, A Tale of the Times of Judas Maccabaeus, New York, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1901.
Lytton, Bulwer, The Last Days of Pompeii, Garden City, International Collectors Library, 1946.
Maeterlinck, Maurice, The Plays of Maurice Maeterlinck, translated by Richard Hovey, New York, Duffield, 1908.
Marryat, Frederick, The Little Savage, New York, E.P. Dutton and Company, 1907.
Milton, John, Paradise Lost, New York, Heritage Press, 1940.
Milton, John, The Portable Milton, New York, Viking Press, 1949.
Mitchell, H. Weir, Far in the Forest, New York, Century Company, 1899.
Morris, John G., The Blind Girl of Wittenberg, Philadelphia, Lindsay and Blakison, 1856.
Ostrander, Isabel, At One-Thirty: A Mystery, New York, W.J. Watt, 1915.
Richards, Laura E., Melody, Boston, Estes and Lauriat, 1897.
Sachs, Hans, Der Eulenspiegel mit den Blinden.
Schiller, Friedrich, William Tell, translated by Robert Waller Deering, Boston, Heath, 1961.
Schiller, Don Carlos, Infant of Spain, translated by Charles E. Passage, New York, Ungar Publishing Company, 1959.
Scott, Sir Walter, Old Mortality, London, Oxford University Press, 1925.
Scott, Sir Walter, The Bride of Lammermoor, London, Oxford University Press, 1925.
Shakespeare, William, King Lear, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1947.
Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, translated by Robert Fitzgerald and Dudley Fitts, New York, Harcourt Brace, 1949.
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonnus, translated by Charles R. Walker, Garden City, Anchor Books, 1966.
Stagg, Clinton H., Thornley Colton, Blind Detective, New York, G. Howard Watt, 1925.
Stevenson, Robert Louis, Treasure Island, Keith Jennison large-type edition, New York, Watt, nd.
Stevenson, Robert Louis, Kidnapped, New York, A.L. Burt, 1883.
Stewart, Charles D., Valley Waters, New York, E.P. Dutton and Company, 1922.
Twersky, Jacob, Blindness in Literature, New York, American Foundation for the Blind, 1955.
Wells, H.G., The Country of the Blind, Strand Magazine, London, 1904.
West, V. Sackville, The
Dragon in Shallow Waters, New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1922.
SOCIAL SECURITY, SSI, AND MEDICARE
FACTS FOR 1990
The beginning of each year brings with it certain annual adjustments in Social Security programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, Social Security and SSI cost-of-living increases, and changes in deductible and co-insurance requirements under Medicare. Here are the new facts for 1990:
FICA (Social Security) Tax Rate: The tax rate for employees and their employers during 1989 was 7.51%. The rate will be 7.65% in 1990. The maximum FICA amount to be paid by an employee during 1990 is $3,855.60, up from $3,604.80 during 1989. The increase results from a higher ceiling on earnings subject to tax, effective January 1, 1990. Self-employed persons will pay a Social Security tax of 15.3% during 1990, and their maximum Social Security contribution will be $7,711.20.
Ceiling on Earnings Subject to Tax: Social Security contributions will be paid during 1990 on the first $50,400.00 of earnings for employees and self-employed persons. This compares to the 1989 ceiling of $48,000.00.
Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for retirement, survivors, and disability insurance benefits is based in large part on the number of quarters of coverage earned by an individual during periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage during a single year. During 1989 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $500.00 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $2,000.00 for the year (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) was given four quarters of coverage. In 1990 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $520.00 for a calendar quarter, and four quarters can be earned with annual earnings of $2,080.00.
Exempt Earnings: The earnings exemption for blind people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is the same as the exempt amount for individuals age 65 through 69 who receive Social Security retirement benefits. The monthly exempt amount in 1989 was $740.00 of gross earned income. During 1990 the exempt amount will be $780.00. Technically, this exemption is referred to as an amount of monthly gross earnings which does not show substantial gainful activity. Earnings of $780.00 or more per month before taxes for a blind SSDI beneficiary in 1990 will show substantial gainful activity after subtracting any unearned (or subsidy) income and applying any deductions for impairment-related work expenses.
Social Security Benefit Amounts for 1990: All Social Security benefits, including retirement, survivors, disability, and dependents benefits are increased by 4.7% beginning January, 1990. The exact dollar increase for any individual will depend upon the amount being paid. Under pressure from senior citizens, Congress has repealed the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act. Among other things, that Act required Medicare beneficiaries to pay additional monthly premiums. Beginning January 1, 1990, both the benefits and the premiums resulting from the Catastrophic Coverage Act are gone. Therefore, monthly Social Security checks for Medicare beneficiaries will be increased to reflect lower Medicare premiums. Beneficiaries should expect the decrease in Medicare premiums to be reflected in Social Security checks some time during 1990. A Medicare premium refund check should also be sent to each beneficiary for excess premiums withheld during 1990. Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January, 1990, the federal payment amounts for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $386.00 per month; couples, $579.00 per month. These amounts are increased from: individuals, $368.00 per month; couples, $553.00 per month.
Medicare Deductibles and Co-insurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The co-insurance payment is the charge that the hospital makes to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's co-insurance amount. The basic co-insurance amount for Medicare Part A was $560.00 for a hospital stay in 1989. There was no co-insurance amount for beneficiaries to pay for hospital stays longer than sixty days. This was one of the benefits of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, which became effective January 1, 1989. That Act has now been repealed, effective January 1, 1990. As a result, the Part A co-insurance amount for hospital stays from sixty-one through ninety days is $148.00 a day. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty reserve days for hospital stays longer than ninety days. The co-insurance amount to be paid during each reserve day is $296.00.
The Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductible remains at an annual $75.00. The Medicare Part B basic monthly premium rate will be reduced from $31.90 charged to each beneficiary during 1989, to $28.60 per month during 1990. This reduction results from the repeal of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act. The Part B premium is automatically deducted from Social Security checks. The monthly deduction for the first several months of 1990 will be $33.90. All beneficiaries can expect to receive a refund some time during 1990 for excess Medicare premiums paid. For anyone who pays the basic Medicare Part B premium, the refund should be the difference between $33.90 and $28.60, times the number of months of higher premium payments.
LETTER FROM A STATE DIRECTOR
From the Editor: David Miller is the Director of State Services for the Blind in South Dakota. For several years Karen Mayry, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota, has been trying to get him to attend an NFB national convention, telling him that he would find it both pleasant and beneficial. In 1989 he responded. Here is his reaction:
Pierre, South Dakota
August 14, 1989
Previously I promised to send you a letter concerning my thoughts on attending the National Federation of the Blind national convention this past year. In an attempt to organize my thoughts, I have divided my observations into three areas.
The programming was outstanding. As director of a state agency serving the blind, each year I have the opportunity to attend several national meetings or conferences concerning issues affecting the blind. The program at these meetings tends to be quite specific. The program at the National NFB convention was broad, current, and authoritative. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to listen to national leaders in government and business discuss the issues facing blind citizens. The opportunity to visit with so many different individuals who are blind is rare. The informal visits, the exchange of views, and the sharing of experiences possibly outweighed the program in terms of personal benefit to me. Although I am an active participant in the blind community of our state, most of my interactions evolve around the business of administering a state agency for the blind. The convention gave me an opportunity to meet with consumers in their backyard. Over lunch at McDonald's I gained new insights into the needs and concerns of the elderly blind while visiting with an 84-year-old NFB member. At dinner I discussed what goes into a good rehabilitation center for the blind with a 24-year-old NFB member.
I visited with people from California, Washington, Florida, Oklahoma, Minnesota, New York, and Maryland concerning their communities, their ideas, and their hopes for the future. Lastly, there was a great exchange of professional information through both formal and informal means. The exhibit area was excellent. I was surprised by the scope and variety of specialists in the blindness field attending the convention. In one brief exchange concerning computer software I gained information that assisted me in saving several thousand dollars for a local agency. That information alone made the cost of attending the convention a real bargain.
In closing I would like to thank you for your dogged persistence in encouraging me to attend the NFB national convention. It was an excellent investment of my time all the more so in light of the camaraderie, enthusiasm, and hospitality. I wish that all learning could be conducted in such pleasant surroundings.
David L. Miller, Division Director
Services for the Visually Impaired
WHITE CANE/GUIDE DOG SAFETY DAY
From the Editor: Dr. Ed Eames is President of the Fresno Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California. Under date of October 23, 1989, he wrote me as follows:
I am enclosing a copy of the proclamation signed by our mayor on October 13, proclaiming October 15 White Cane/Guide Dog Safety Day. I have had the feeling that our guide dogs are given short shrift in the format of prior proclamations and hope we can put them on an equal footing in the future by changing the language used. The tremendous significance of language is a point noted by you many times in the past and central to President Maurer's 1989 presidential address.
Dr. Eames makes a point that is worth pondering. Here is the proclamation:
Whereas, the white cane or guide dog, which every blind citizen of our city has the right to use, demonstrates and symbolizes his or her ability to achieve a full and independent life and her or his capacity to work productively in competitive employment, and Whereas, the white cane and guide dog, by allowing every blind person to move freely and safely from place to place, makes it possible for him or her fully to participate in and contribute to our society, and
Whereas, every citizen should be aware that the law requires that motorists exercise appropriate caution when approaching a blind person carrying a white cane or using a guide dog, and
Whereas, California law also calls upon employers, both public and private, to be aware of and utilize the employment skills of our blind citizens by recognizing their worth as individuals and their productive capacities, and
Whereas, the State of California through its public agencies and with the cooperative assistance of the National Federation of the Blind of California can look forward to continued expansion of employment opportunities for and greater acceptance of blind persons in the competitive labor market.
Now, Therefore, I, Karen Humphrey, Mayor of the City of Fresno, hereby proclaim October 15, 1989, as
White Cane/Guide Dog Safety Day
in the City of Fresno and call upon our schools to offer full opportunities for training to blind persons and for employers and the public to utilize the available skills of competent blind persons and to open new opportunities for the blind in our rapidly changing society, and all citizens to recognize the white cane and the guide dog as instruments of safety and self-help for blind pedestrians on our streets and highways.
January is a time for recovering from the excesses of the
holiday season. Springtime begins to be on the horizon of the
mind, and taking off a few pounds in preparation for the swimsuit
season makes increasing sense. Here are a few recipes that may
help some will assist in the calorie-counting more than others.
But all are delicious.
LOW-CALORIE CHICKEN SALAD MOLD, MICROWAVED
by Carlene McKenzie
Carlene McKenzie is an active member of the Mountain City Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 cup water
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) condensed cream-of-chicken or cream-of-mushroom soup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 can (5 ounce) boned chicken
3 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced green pepper
2 tablespoons chopped pimento
2 tablespoons minced onion
crisp lettuce leaves
Method : Soften gelatin in 1/2 cup water in medium- size glass bowl. Cook uncovered for 1 minute on high in microwave until dissolved. Blend in soup, remaining water, lemon juice, and pepper. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes on high in microwave, stirring after 2 minutes. Chill slightly. Fold in chicken, eggs, celery, green pepper, pimento, and onion. Pour into individual 1-cup molds and refrigerate until set. Unmold and serve on lettuce leaves. Serves 4.
by Karen S. Mayry
Karen Mayry is the energetic president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota and the Diabetics Division of the National Federation of the Blind. She is also an excellent cook.
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup minced onion
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
2 small cans shrimp, cleaned
1 box or 1/2 9-ounce can shoestring potatoes
Mayonnaise (mixed with prepared
mustard) to moisten
Method : Combine first 6 ingredients and blend with mustard-flavored mayonnaise to taste. Chill.
by Doris Sharp
Doris Sharp of North Ft. Myers, Florida, was a loyal volunteer for several years at the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota office. She has now moved to Florida to be near her son, but she still clips articles about diabetes for the publication of the Diabetics Division, the Voice of the Diabetic.
1/2 package linguini
1 10-ounce package frozen peas
1/2 Bermuda onion, sliced
1/2 pound sliced cooked ham,
cut into small pieces
1 bottle Italian dressing
Method : Cook linguini 10 minutes in salted, boiling water or until noodles are just barely done (al dente). Stir frequently. Drain linguini by pouring the noodles and boiling water into a colander containing the frozen peas. Allow colander to drain for a few minutes. Place linguini and peas in a large bowl. Add ham and Bermuda onion. Pour the entire bottle of Italian dressing over the salad and allow it to sit for several hours. You may substitute chicken for the ham.
ORIENTAL NOODLE CASSEROLE
by Cherry King
Cherry King is an active member of the Sligo Creek Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. She is always ready to put her hand to any task that needs doing, including cooking or providing the Monitor with good recipes.
2 (3-ounce) packages of oriental noodles 2 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch slices 2 thinly sliced carrots
1 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup canned, frozen, or fresh crab meat
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Method : Steam vegetables in 1 cup of water until tender, adding mushrooms 2 minutes before end of cooking time. Drain vegetables and save liquid. Cook and drain noodles, according to label directions, adding package of seasoning sauce which comes with the noodles. Stir corn starch and soysauce into the reserved liquid in which vegetables were cooked. Cook this mixture, stirring constantly, until sauce is slightly thickened and clear. Combine noodles, vegetables, crab meat, and almonds. Pour sauce over mixture and toss thoroughly. Reheat briefly in microwave before serving.
BRUNCH POTATO BAKE
by Arthur Segal
Arthur Segal is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. He also has a well-deserved reputation as a gourmet chef. An invitation to his holiday brunch is a prize much treasured by his acquaintances.
5 pounds potatoes, peeled, cubed, and boiled
8 ounces grated cheddar cheese
8 ounces butter
1 pint sour cream
4 tablespoons horseradish
1 teaspoon chives
freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 ounces grated fresh parmesan cheese
Method : Combine all ingredients except parmesan cheese and blend well using an electric mixer. Pour into buttered baking pan. Sprinkle with 3 ounces grated parmesan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. For variety, try adding crumbled bacon, other cheeses, or seasoning.
by Arthur Segal
Method : With sweet (unsalted) butter, liberally coat 4 large, thick fish fillets. In a small bowl mix 1 tablespoon ground red pepper; 1 teaspoon white pepper; 1 tablespoon onion flakes; pinches of dill, parsley flakes, fennel seed, and dry mustard. Press mixture evenly into fish with fingers. When skillet is very hot, melt 2 ounces sweet butter and drop the fish in. Cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
**Salems Receive Miller Service Award:
Earl and Elaine Salems of Morris, Illinois, received the Miller Service Award at the annual Christmas dinner of the Prairie State Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. The award was named in honor of the chapter's first president, Carl Miller. It is given in recognition of outstanding service and dedication. Gary Jones of Joliet, Award Chairman, made the presentation. Since 1985 the Salems have been active in the Prairie State Chapter. Elaine serves as Vice President and Earl is on the Board of Directors. Their work has been outstanding in membership and financial development. In addition to their Federation work, they are both active in the First Presbyterian Church of Morris, and Earl serves as Secretary of the Morris Boat Club. They have two sons and four grandchildren. The Salems received many tributes from Federationists in appreciation of their outstanding contribution to the blind of Illinois and the nation.
**New Computer Game:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
There is a new computer game for IBM and IBM compatible computers. It is called CASINO. It actually is three games in one: blackjack; slot machine; and a four-card poker game called flash poker. It is fully usable with a screen-reading program and a speech synthesizer or by a sighted person from the screen. It has sound effects and other features. For your copy, send a check in the sum of $15 to: Richard De Steno, 20 Meadowbrook Road, Short Hills, New Jersey 07078; or call (201) 379-7471 for more information. The game will be sent on a five and a quarter inch diskette unless a three and a half inch is requested.
**Comptuer Aids Closes:
We have received the following letter from William L. Grimm, President of Computer Aids Corporation:
It is with great sadness that I must inform you of the immediate closing of Computer Aids Corporation. Eight years of pioneering efforts and tremendous support from the blind community just has not been enough to make our company profitable. We all want to offer our heartfelt apologies to anyone who may be inconvenienced by our closing. We also want to express our warmest appreciation to the many who have allowed us to serve.
The spirit of Computer Aids will live on through its people. Doug Geoffray, author of most of our current software products and Technical Support Specialist, will be continuing to sell and support our Apple Software as well as Braille-Talk IBM through his own independent business. To contact Doug, you may call or write: MicroSolutions, 5805 Breconshire Drive, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46804; (219) 436- 4391.
Dan Weirich, our Chief Engineer, will be providing service for Computer Aids products and other related products. He is also interested in providing custom engineering services for your individual needs. Dan will be acting as an independent business person and may be contacted at: Renaissance Engineering, 1731 Graham Drive, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46818; (219) 489-2733. Soon I hope to be able to offer a new and advanced PC screen reader. You may correspond with me at: William L. Grimm, Post Office Box 150685, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32715- 0685; (407) 339-3980.
**A Wish for Leaders:
From the Editor: Recently Barbara Cheadle, Editor of Future Reflections, shared the following item with me. She says it was written by Earl Reum and that it came from the publication of the Iowa Pilot Parents. Whoever said it and wherever she got it, I think it is worth passing on. It's a good way to start the new year. Here it is:
I sincerely wish you will have the experience of thinking up a new idea, planning it, organizing it, and following it through to completion, and then have it be magnificently successful. I also hope you'll go through the same process and have something bomb out. I wish you could know how it feels to run with all your heart and lose...horribly!
I wish that you could achieve some great good for mankind, but have nobody know about it except for you.
I wish you could find something so worthwhile that you deem it worthy of investing your life within it.
I hope you become frustrated and challenged enough to begin to push back the very barriers of your own personal limitations. I hope you make a stupid mistake and get caught redhanded and are big enough to say those magic words: I was wrong. I hope you give so much of yourself that some days you wonder if it's all worth the effort.
I wish for you a magnificent obsession that will give you reason for living and purpose and direction in life.
I wish for you the worst kind of criticism for everything you do, because that makes you fight to achieve beyond what you normally would.
I wish for you the experience of leadership .
Ellen Robertson is one of the long-time leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of New York. We recently received the following item in the National Office:
Ellen Robertson of Wappingers Falls, New York, was married to Frank di Nardo of Albany, New York, on September 9, 1989, at the chapel at Castle Point, Virginia, where Ellen worked for 13-1/2 years. The couple plan to live in Albany, and Ellen will be looking for a job as a social worker as soon as they are settled.
**Attention Parents and Educators:
Boyd Wolfe, Chairman of the Committee on Concerns of the Deaf-Blind, asks that we carry the following announcement: Attention, educators and parents. We would like to know how many of you are either educating now, or have experience in educating, deaf-blind children and youth. Please send us your name, a summary of your experience, and the name of the school or agency where you taught. Please tell us how many children you taught, and include any other pertinent information. The Committee on Concerns of the Deaf-Blind would like to know what kind of education deaf-blind children are receiving. Please contact me at: 1314 North 1st Street, Apartment 214, Phoenix, Arizona 85004.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I would like to buy a Braille dictionary. Contact: C. Ronnie Strote, 1711 Notre Dame Road, Rockford, Illinois 61103.
Vital Speeches of the Day is the most prestigious speech magazine in the United States. It is received by most colleges and many high schools and is a standard reference for students studying debate and oratory techniques. The October 15, 1989, issue of Vital Speeches carries Language and the Future of the Blind, President Maurer's 1989 banquet address. This is one more evidence of the standing of the National Federation of the Blind and the caliber of its leadership.
The Fall, 1989, Barricades (the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa) reports as follows:
On Saturday, September 23, 1989, the Northeast Iowa Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa was formed at the MHI Canteen in Independence. Leonard and Mary Oberlander had been planting the seed for a new Federation Chapter in northeast Iowa. Now that seed has sprouted, and a new chapter has been formed, with the following officers elected: Leonard Oberlander, Independence, President; John Gipper, Fairbanks, Vice President; Jeannette Delagardelle, Jesup, Secretary-Treasurer; Arlo Knoploh, Sumner, Board Member; and Myron Chapman, Independence, Board Member.
The November, 1989, edition of the Alaska News , the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Alaska, includes an announcement that Corinne Whitesell, editor of the Alaska newsletter, has been appointed to the Board of the Louise Rude Center for Blind and Deaf Adults. As Ms. Whitesell comments, Having a member of the NFB on the board is part of the outreach efforts of this affiliate to contribute to the betterment of the blind of Alaska wherever those opportunities occur.
Franklin Ace 1000 computer. Single disc drive, software, text talker, Echo speech synthesizer, print and tape instructions. $1,200 or best offer. Contact: Dennis Turner, 700 North Denning Drive #104, Winter Park, Florida 32789.
**Elected and Proclaimed:
At the October, 1989, meeting of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland the following persons were elected: Eileen Rivera, President; Fred Flowers, First Vice President; Raymond Lowder, Second Vice President; Patricia Maurer, Treasurer; and Shirley Trexler, Secretary. Kathleen Chapman, Michael Harris, Doris Johnson, and Carol Smith were elected to serve on the Board of Directors. Also at that meeting the Honorable Kurt L. Schmoke, Mayor of Baltimore, presented a proclamation, declaring October National Federation of the Blind Month in Baltimore.
The Writers Division of the National Federation of the Blind makes the following announcement:
The Writers Division is again holding both a fiction and a poetry contest. Deadline for submission is March 31, 1990. Fiction should be sent to: Tom Stevens, 1203 Fairview Road, Columbia, Missouri 65203, and should be accompanied by a $3 entry fee. Stories should be no more than two thousand words or approximately eight pages, typed and double-spaced. Send poetry entries to: Lori Stayer, 2704 Beach Drive, Merrick, New York 11566. Each entry must be accompanied by a $3 entry fee. You may enter either contest as often as you like. Entries should be typed and should not exceed 35 lines. Previously published material will not be considered. Entries may not be sent elsewhere for publication until 60 days after the contest ends. First prize in each contest is $35. Second prize is $15. Entrants do not need to be members of the Division. Include self-addressed, stamped envelope if you wish your work returned.
Don Morris, one of the long-time leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, was recently appointed by the Governor of the State to serve on the Board of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. Mr. Morris operates a vending facility at the National Fire Academy at Emmitsburg, Maryland, and was formerly the Vice President of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. He is also one of the leaders of the Merchants Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Congratulations to Don Morris. His appointment to the BISM Board has been universally acclaimed by the blind of Maryland as a positive and constructive step.
The following item appears in the Fall, 1989, issue of the Oregon Outlook, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon:
On Thursday, October 5, 1989, Michael Bullis was named as Disabled Citizen of the Year in a ceremony with Governor Neil Goldschmidt and Secretary of State, Barbara Roberts. Michael currently serves as secretary of the NFB of Oregon and has held numerous offices in the organization over the last twelve years. During 1988 Michael administered the Governor's Task Force on the Disabled, which produced some fifteen bills that went before the Oregon Legislative Assembly. In 1989 he shepherded the bills through the Legislative Session and saw several of them enacted into law. In his acceptance speech Mike noted that the real problem of disability is one of attitude. In an interview with the Salem, Oregon, Statesman Journal newspaper Michael said, Disabled people should be hired (and, for that matter, fired) just like any other employee. Employers are in business to make money, and the employee who produces will be retained, regardless of disability.
On Friday, September 29, 1989, Jerry Hemphill died of cancer. Jerry and her husband Victor worked hard to help bring about the phenominal growth which the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana has experienced in recent years. Jerry first learned that she had cancer in 1987. She waged a courageous battle against the disease, undergoing four operations in eighteen months and also having extensive chemotherapy and radiation. Victor was with her at the time of her death. She was a brave and dedicated woman, who will be greatly missed.
Bernadette Krajewski recently wrote to us as follows: Saturday, September 30, 1989, at 1:27 p.m. marked the beginning of our first chapter meeting of the Green Bay Area Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, which was held at the home of Bernadette Krajewski. The following people were elected to office: Bernadette Krajewski, President; Robert Heiser, Vice President/Secretary; and Martin (Pete) Howe, Treasurer. Present were as follows: Bernadette Krajewski, Robert Heiser, Martin (Pete) Howe, Kathleen Howe, Lori Compton, Wilfred Thomas Callahan, Jr. all from Green Bay. I am extremely proud to acknowledge our participants from Milwaukee, who are as follows: Bonnie Peterson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin; Joel Peterson, Bonnie's delightful husband; and Judith K. Congdon, all from the Milwaukee Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin. Items on the agenda included: state and national reports, both given by Bonnie Peterson. Lots of participation and questions concerning this information followed.
**Promising Career Ahead:
Dan Frye is the President of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. He is also a senior at Erskine College and an active participant in campus life. The impression he is making on his fellow students and the public in general can be seen from the article which appeared in the Greenwood, South Carolina, newspaper on October 3, 1989. Here is how the article begins:
Two terms on the judicial council; one term in the student senate; staff reporter for the college newspaper; three years as a bass in the Choraleers, a traveling musical group. A 3.0 average as a History major and Government minor. Strong credentials for a college senior with law school as a goal. The strength of these activities is amplified by the fact that the student is totally blind. But Erskine College senior Dan Frye doesn't dwell on the handicap, or as he prefers to call it, the inconvenience ... or characteristic.
**Appointed to Important Post:
We are constantly urging our members to become involved in community affairs, particularly political activities. Every time a blind person makes a public appearance or is placed in an important position, all of us benefit. Harold Snider, long-time Federationist and President of the National Federation of the Blind of the District of Columbia, has been appointed Director of Outreach for Persons with Disabilities at the Republican National Committee in Washington. This is a key position with broad implications. The person who holds this job will have access to top congressional and administration leaders and will have input at the decision-making level.
One never knows what interesting things Federationists have been up to. Peggy Pinder, who was recently the national representative at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Wyoming, discovered that Ernie Hagen, treasurer of the Wyoming affiliate, is a composer and librettist with a full-length opera score to his credit. Beret and Per Hansa, a work based on the O.E. Rolvaag novel, Giants in the Earth , had its world premiere in April of 1978. It was performed at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock while Ernie Hagen was a rehabilitation student at Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind. The opera received a good deal of acclaim in Little Rock, and Mr. Hagen is currently revising it with plans to show it to European opera companies in hopes of performances there.
We recently received the following letter:
October 16, 1989
Dear Mr. Maurer:
I am writing to inform you that our Christian radio station WCVJ 90.9 FM has free, nondenominational Christian Bible lessons available for the blind. The lessons are available on cassette or in Braille. They are available through the mail to any blind person who requests them. We just wanted you to be aware of this service.
Very truly yours,
WCVJ 90.9 FM
Post Office Box 112
Jefferson, Ohio 44047
**Interest-Free Software and Hardware Purchase Program:
R. Clayton Hutchenson, founder of Computer Conversations, Inc., sent us the following information:
Computer Conversations announces the availability of a special interest-free payment plan to assist visually impaired individuals in purchasing the company's interactive voice output software, The Verbal Operating System. The VOS program, which sells for $550, and VOS Basic, which costs $350, can be purchased with a $100 downpayment followed by monthly installments of at least $50. If hardware such as voice synthesizer, keyboard, modem, or interface card is purchased with VOS or VOS Basic, the purchaser can put down half the cost of this equipment and pay it off in monthly installments along with the software. Purchasers of VOS Basic can upgrade to the complete Verbal Operating System at any time for $200. In addition, certain VOS modules (Verbal Macros, Verbal Rainbows, Verbal Master, and the Verbal File document reader) can be purchased separately for $49.95 each. This means that VOS users can purchase precisely the voice output capabilities they need. The company has recently released VOS 5.0, an update of its Verbal Operating System software, providing improved speech output capabilities for the IBM PC and compatible computers, including 286 and 386 machines and all models of the IBM PS/2. The software works well with the MS DOS and PC DOS operating systems and a wide variety of speech synthesizers to create speech output with about 95 percent of the software available for MS DOS computers. The program is completely interactive, making review modes obsolete. It is extremely transparent, which allows it to work with more applications. The Verbal Operating System uses only one cursor. It is not copy protected. Updates of The Verbal Operating System are available to current users for $30. For further information, contact Computer Conversations at (614) 924-2885.
**Greek To Me:
Robert Greenberg, winner of the $10,000 Ezra Davis Memorial Scholarship at the 1986 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, is making a notable splash in his chosen field of Slavic linguistics. In April of 1989 he delivered a paper before the American Association of Slavic and East European Languages at Yale University, where Robert is earning a Ph.D. His review From Common Slavic to Slovenian will appear in the 1987 edition of the International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics , one of the leading journals in the world in the field of Slavic linguistics and philology, even if it is not remarkably punctual. The 1987 edition of the journal is expected to appear during the current academic year, but don't look for it on your favorite newsstand. We congratulate Robert Greenberg heartily, even if we can't understand what he is talking about.
**Hospital Audiences, Inc.:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Hospital Audiences, Inc.'s (HAI's) Audio Description Service provides trained volunteer describers to assist blind and visually impaired theatergoers to `see' a play. Through the use of tiny radio receivers, the blind or visually impaired audience hears a live description of the action, scenery, costumes, and actors' nuances. These devices are non-obtrusive (the size of a cigarette box) and can be used almost anywhere in the theater. HAI's Audio Description Service is now available for any individual in the New York metropolitan area who wants to take advantage of the service. For further details, please contact Trisha Hennessey at (212) 575-7660 or write: HAI, 220 West 42nd Street, New York, New York 10036.
Cheryl McCaslin asks that we carry the following announcement: The Cultural Exchange and International Program Committee of the National Federation of the Blind is venturing forth with a new fund-raising project. We are planning to produce a cookbook, and guess the title? It will be called International Dining . We will have it for sale in both print and Braille. And guess how each of you can help us with this project? You're right. We are asking for recipes from each and every one of you. Be sure these foreign recipes that you send have ingredients that can be purchased in the States. After selecting a wide delicious variety of recipes, please send them to: NFB of Minnesota, Attention: Joyce Scanlan CEIP Committee Chairman, Suite 715 Chamber of Commerce Building, 15 South 5th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55472. We will be anxiously awaiting to hear from each and every one of you with your delicious foreign recipes. See you at the National Federation of the Blind convention in Dallas, Texas, in 1990!
**New York Convention:
At the 1989 fall convention of the National Federation of the Blind of New York the following people were elected to office: David Arocho, President; Gisela Distel, First Vice President; Carl Jacobsen, Second Vice President; Laura Herman, Secretary; and Ray Wayne, Treasurer.