34, No. 10 November 1991
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille,
on cassette and
the World Wide Web and FTP on the Internet
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
NFB Net BBS: (612) 696-1975
Web Page Address: http//www.nfb.org
Letters to the president,
subscription requests, orders for NFB literature,
articles for the Monitor, and letters to the editor
should be sent to the National Office.
cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year.
Members are invited, and non-members are requested, to cover
the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to
National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND IS NOT
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
CABBAGE, BREAD, AND DOUGH
by Marc Maurer
CHANGING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLIND: THE 1991 SEMINAR FOR PARENTS
OF BLIND CHILDREN
by Barbara Pierce
PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON CHANGING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLIND
by James Gashel
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLIND IN OUR HEARTS AND IN OUR MINDS
CHANGE THROUGH ROLE MODELING AND NETWORKING
by Jude Lincicome
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND CHILDREN AWARD FOR 1992
by Sharon Maneki
THE BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR AWARD FOR 1992
by Steve Benson
OF BLINDNESS, ATTITUDES, REHABILITATION, AND SOCIETY
by Mike Freeman
BLINDNESS: FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF CHILDREN
by Lauren L. Eckery
by Dr. Elizabeth Browne
WITHOUT HOPE: LIFE IN THE SETTLEMENT FOR THE BLIND
by Inna Cazpovich
THE COMMITTEE ON ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
by Curtis Chong
THE COMMITTEE ON THE MULTIPLY HANDICAPPED BLIND CHILD: WHAT IS IT
AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
by Colleen Roth
by William D. Meeker
AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING
by Kenneth Jernigan
Copyright National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1991
by Marc Maurer
The power of a nation may be measured by its capacity for moral suasion, by its intellectual accomplishments, by the cultural artifacts which result from the efforts of its people, by its military might, or by the magnificence of its architecture. Most of these tests are a measure of what the country has already done--not what it will do. There is, however, a less well-known and more pervasive standard for indicating the position or power of a nation. This is the willingness of others to accept its money. Historically within a region of the world the currency of one nation predominates. The Roman denarius traveled with the Roman army during the conquest of Europe and the Middle East. The influence of this Roman coin was so great that it remained a standard unit of money in parts of Europe from the time of the Roman Empire until the French Revolution in the late 18th Century.
In the latter half of the 15th century and during much of the 16th Spain built and maintained the most powerful naval force in the western world. Spanish explorers sent treasure ships to the mother country from Central and South America. Because of the large amount of gold and silver that came into the European economic system, there was a period of major inflation. However, the predominance of Spain in the world was felt in the economies of European countries. The business of the Continent was conducted largely with Spanish money.
In 1588 an English fleet defeated the Spanish armada. At about the same time English explorers circumnavigated the globe. By the 19th century there were English colonies in every part of the world. It was said that the sun never set on the British flag. The monetary system of the world also changed. The British pound sterling became the international currency. London became the banking center (and, to some extent, the power center) of the world.
In the first half of the 20th century the most readily accepted international currency changed again. President Theodore Roosevelt called a summit conference to discuss monetary standards and to stabilize world trade. The dollar became the predominant unit of international exchange. Whenever the money of a country was to be valued, the standard of measure was the U.S. dollar. At the same time the military power of the United States was regarded as second to none, and the intangible commodity called "yankee ingenuity" was envied and admired.
If a nation is to be a predominant world power, its money will have preeminence in world trade. Whether it is that the nation makes the money important or that the money makes the nation important is immaterial. It is true that no important monetary system has ever been established except in connection with a powerful nation. It is not that preeminence in economic affairs is necessarily a precondition to a country's becoming a world power. However, a nation which holds preeminence in its currency will inevitably be among the most powerful in the world.
Until recently there were those who wondered whether the Soviet Union would conquer the world. It now appears that this will not be the case. However, if there should be a threat from the Soviets in the future, it is unlikely to be determinative unless a major portion of world trade begins to be transacted in rubles.
One of the significant currencies in the world today is the Japanese yen. During much of this century Japan has been a major participant in world affairs. In the early 1900s the naval power of Japan defeated Russia. During the past twenty-five years the Japanese have increasingly captured important segments of the American and European markets. It is worth wondering whether the military power of Japan failed to achieve victory in World War II because the Japanese had not achieved sufficient economic strength at that time. Perhaps more attention to monetary matters would have won more battles for Japan.
Such speculation is given heightened plausibility when we remember that one of the weapons used in war is usually counterfeit money. The theory is that if a sizable amount of well-made counterfeit money is distributed in the enemy country, it will cause disruption of the economic system because of fear of accepting that country's currency.
We in the National Federation of the Blind devote a great deal of time and effort to fund raising. This is among our most significant activities--not only because of the money we generate (though that is of tremendous importance), but also because fund raising requires us as blind people to adopt roles essential for success. The transformation of a segment of society from one class to another demands that many members of that class undertake tasks which they have not traditionally performed. To do fund raising we as blind people must organize our time, offer a service to others, consider the problems of administration, solve the difficulties of transportation, recognize the need to establish systems of accounting and security, and cope with all of the other details incident to the operation of a complex structure of daily performance and coordinated effort. Whether they say it or not (and, for that matter, whether they even know it consciously), most people begin with the underlying notion that this level of sophisticated activity is too much for the blind--and unfortunately many of us who are blind (at least subconsciously and by our behavior) agree. We of the National Federation of the Blind reject this idea, not only in specifics but also as a general principle of philosophy and commitment. Make no mistake. The money we get through fund raising is important, but even more valuable may be the establishment and continuation of the patterns of daily conduct made necessary by the demands of funding our movement--the patterns of self- respecting, responsible, first-class human beings.
The moral of the story is clear: Build a program, raise money, believe in ourselves and our cause, and behave like the successful people we are and are increasingly becoming. Let us do these things, and we will inevitably be preeminent in matters concerning the blind. This message is not aimed just at state and chapter leaders. It is meant for all of us, from the newest member to the national president. Find a way to recruit Associates; join the PAC Plan; raise money to buy DIG policies, for yourself and as a chapter project; sell candy or cookies (the task is not too humble); seek donations from corporations and individuals; and find imaginative ways to attract contributions. These activities will be helpful to the organization because they will broaden our economic base--but they will be at least as important to you and me (and also to the organization as a whole) because in the process of building, we will move ever closer to our final goal of first-class status and full membership in society. Day by day the average Federationist is becoming increasingly more self-assured, confident, knowledgeable, and successful.
by Barbara Pierce
The telephone rang at about seven one evening last June. I was alone at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, preparing my dinner and anxious to return to my computer. I answered the call--one is never sure what such evening conversations will cover--and found that I was talking with a young father from Louisiana. His infant had just been diagnosed as blind, and he was looking for help. Someone had mentioned that a big convention of blind people would take place soon in New Orleans and that there might be some information there that would help him and his family. He had made a number of phone calls trying to learn the name of the organization and the time and place of the convention. None of the professionals in the blindness field with whom he spoke seemed to know anything about the event, a fact which puzzled and frustrated him. Finally someone at the Chamber of Commerce told him that the organization was the National Federation of the Blind and gave him the phone number for the National Center.
I told this father about the upcoming convention and the seminar for parents of blind children that was scheduled for Sunday, June 30, and assured him that if he and his wife attended it, they would meet a number of people who could help him get started the right way with his baby. I also talked with him about the importance of changing his own notions and expectations about blindness and what blind people can do. He did attend the seminar, and though I did not meet him, I have learned that he talked with other parents of blind children. I don't know what impact the event had on him, but I do know that this was one of the most exciting and constructive parent seminars we have ever conducted.
From their various perspectives, a number of speakers addressed the subject of "Changing What it Means to Be Blind." The morning began with a look at the parent's responsibility to mold the blind child's attitudes and experience in order to nurture the development of competent, resilient blind adults. Then other speakers looked at their own experience and the ways in which the National Federation of the Blind has assisted them to succeed in their own lives and work. What follows is a selection of the presentations at the morning session of the 1991 Parents of Blind Children (POBC) Division seminar. There is no way to convey the information and excitement communicated in the afternoon small group sessions. One had to be there to appreciate the scope and usefulness of the entire seminar and the warmth and support of the members of the Parents Division. After welcoming remarks by President Maurer, the morning session of the seminar opened with the introduction of the keynote speaker by Barbara Cheadle, president of the Parents of Blind Children Division. Here are several of the morning agenda items, beginning with the keynote address:
The Parent's Role in Changing What It Means to be Blind
by Barbara Pierce
With Barbara's unerring wisdom, she has called me forward to be an expert. My last child just graduated from high school, which means that, for better or worse, I've done what I can as a parent--except for paying the college bills and worrying. I'm in effect finished with what I can do to shape my children, which in turn means that I will necessarily begin to forget all the tough times. This makes me an expert, but I hope you will take what I have to say seriously, despite my now lofty status.
One of the most important jobs that parents have to do is to set standards and to communicate those standards to their children. We do that all the time. Probably the most frequently used and least effective method we employ as parents is precept. "Tuck in your shirt." "Keep your mouth closed when you chew." "Have you written that thank you note?": those kinds of things. Far more pervasively and more effectively, we establish standards in our children's lives by example and by expectation. This is certainly true in every area of life, but it is nowhere more evident than in teaching blindness-connected skills and attitudes. For after all, your blind children, whether they be your students or your own youngsters, are surrounded by some pretty lousy attitudes and some pretty low standards.
Your job is to wave the flag and to make sure that the expectations and the standards they adopt as their own are high. What your attitudes are will, in significant measure, determine what your children think about blindness and think about themselves as blind people. So you've got to be careful and watchful and mindful at all times about what it is that you are doing and saying and demonstrating and communicating to your child.
You should keep a close eye on what sighted children of your youngster's own age and ability level are doing. Are they choosing their own clothing in the morning? Then your child ought to be learning that stripes and plaids--whatever those are--don't go together, that red and orange are not a happy combination, that Bermuda shorts are not the appropriate thing to wear to church on Sunday morning. Blind children need to learn those things, and they don't learn them by having the clothing plunked down on the bottom of their beds every morning for them with the instruction to climb into them.
Do you expect your other children to do chores around the house? Then don't give the blind child the easy ones. The way to make siblings dislike a blind child is always to give him or her the easy things to do or always to let the blind kid off. "But it's hard." "I didn't get the window clean because I can't see it."
"Go back and do it again, kid." As a parent or a teacher, you've got to keep your standards high.
I remember being twelve. My mother didn't know other blind children. It was I who discovered that my friends all washed their own hair. At that time we set our hair and slept on curlers. Remember? They were all doing that for themselves. I wasn't, and I brought this to my mother's attention. I hope that, as alert parents, you would be the ones to notice this and bring it to your child's attention. She simply didn't have any way of recognizing that gap, but she had the wit and the good sense to say, "Here's the shampoo. I think it'll be easier for you the first time to go wash it in the basement than in the bathtub. Shout when you think it's clean, and I'll check you." That was the last time she had anything to do with washing my hair. You've got to be alert to that sort of situation.
I'm going to give you some notions about principles that you can apply in helping yourself to establish good, healthy standards and expectations for your youngsters. The first, I would say, is to make sure you understand and live out the distinction between explanations about blindness and using blindness as an excuse. For example, when a sighted person walks down the street and bumps into parked tricycles, garbage cans, an individual looking at store window displays, or parking meters, one assumes--with some reason--that the person has probably had two or three too many to drink. When a blind person using a white cane brings the cane tip in contact with objects immediately in his or her path, that is an appropriate use of the white cane. He does not need to feel apologetic about it. This does not mean, by the way, that a blind person shouldn't apologize if she taps the cane on somebody's ankle. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't attempt to alter the technique of a child who uses a cane like a scythe, trying to cut people off at the ankles, or like a lance, attempting to impale people. You certainly need to discourage that kind of cane use. It is appropriate to use a cane and to move it in an arc adapted to the density of the crowd in front of a child or an adult, for that matter. That is a reasonable explanation of the cane technique used by blind people.
When a blind or low vision person drops something and doesn't see where it lands, it is appropriate for that person, in an orderly, efficient way, to search the area--to listen for where the thing fell and then to quarter the area, seeking it tactilely. It is no more inappropriate to search with the hands in an orderly fashion for something than it is to glance around and survey an area to see where the thing landed and pick it up. You do not benefit the child by always handing back things that have been dropped. A kid will not be discouraged from dropping a stylus on the floor constantly if you always retrieve it. It doesn't help anyone for you to think of such an activity or to describe it to the child as "groping around" for something. It certainly does not help for you to say to a child with limited vision, "If you just stand there and look for it, you'd do better." If the child has seen where it fell and can go and pick it up, that's fine. Otherwise, the most effective way is usually to hunt for it tactilely.
That is very different from allowing a child, yourself, or anybody else to use blindness as an excuse. It is simply not appropriate to say, "The child is blind and doesn't know where the speaker is standing and therefore shouldn't be expected to face him or her." In this society it is courteous to look at the person speaking. It is appropriate for you to give information to the child who hasn't figured out where the speaker is. Quietly say, "Turn around and look behind you," or "I'm over here. Look at me when we're talking." These are important pieces of information for a child who hasn't figured out where the speaker is.
I was at an end-of-the-year school banquet this spring, and the principal spoke from one side of the room without a microphone to start parents through the dinner line. I thought, aha, that's where the head table is. When the program began and the amplified voices were sounding a little bit further off to my right from there, I thought, oh well, he wasn't at the microphone. He's now moved to the podium. It's there at the head table. I therefore looked in the direction from which I heard the voices. It was halfway through the dinner when my husband said, "The speaker is on the other side of you." In reality, the podium was very close to me and on the opposite side from the direction I had been facing. A public address system speaker was at the back of the room, and that is what I was hearing. The school had bought a new P.A. system, and I had made assumptions. I was annoyed with my husband because he hadn't given me the information earlier, and I was furious with myself for not checking on where the speaker was. My performance was simply not acceptable.
Worry when your kid comes home in the fifth grade and says, "Teacher says I don't have to take spelling tests. If I work with the V.I. teacher on the spelling, it'll be okay. Since when was it okay for your child to have fewer grades in spelling than everybody else? The message given is that spelling is not important for a blind child. Object.
Worry when your high school sophomore dreads for an entire semester the assignment of the research paper, and then comes home higher than a kite because she's just been told by her English teacher that he realizes research would be extremely hard for her, and therefore if she will do a little bit of research and then sit down and tell him about it on a cassette tape, that will be sufficient. That child has just lost seventy-five percent of the value of a research paper. As an old English teacher and as the wife of an English professor, I can tell you that the discipline of organizing your thinking, shaping it into paragraphs, finding the right words, spelling them accurately, punctuating them correctly, and then figuring out a way of getting them legibly presented for consideration by the teacher is a significant measure of the discipline. Since when did your child not need that kind of practice in order to succeed in life?
Be careful when you see your child trying to use blindness as an excuse for getting out of punishment. Now it's confession time. I hadn't thought about this story in years. I was in the seventh grade when somebody in my home room sent a spitball toward the homeroom teacher, and he didn't know who the offender was. The guy didn't stand up and confess. Nobody would rat on him, so the teacher said, "All right, you all stay in for detention until somebody tells me who did this." Whenever I missed my school bus I had to take the streetcar unless I worked it out with my mother that she'd pick me up from school. I wasn't certain of the route home on that streetcar. I was nervous about it. I didn't want to have to stay after school for detention. It wasn't convenient or helpful to me.
I walked up to that man and said, "I don't think that I was guilty of doing whatever it was, but would you tell me what a spitball is?" The man should have known that any twelve-year-old knows what a spitball is, even if she's not certain about how to propel it through the air at the speed with which that one had come at him.
He should have said to me, "You'll stay a week longer than everybody else does," but he didn't. His eyes misted over, and he told me that I certainly didn't have to stay. I am ashamed to admit this to you.
I also recognize that if your kid has any sense you will be the last to hear such stories, but you have my permission to use this story in a sort of prophylactic way. "You try something like that, kiddo, and we'll have home detention." That is not appropriate behavior for anybody, and what does it do to a child's image in the classroom? It is horrible to contemplate! It took me years, I'm sure, to recover in the eyes of my classmates from that particular episode.
Well, I've given you the easy examples for distinguishing between right and wrong behavior. Unfortunately, when the problems really arise, they tend to come in shades of gray, not black and white, and they tend to come at about ten o'clock at night when everybody's exhausted. What do you do when your youngster announces at 9:30 that there are twenty-four math problems to be done by tomorrow and then brightly points out that the math teacher has said that it would be all right for him to do every other problem?
If that child cannot manage to stay up to do all twenty-four problems, it will be more salutary to take the lowered grade on the homework assignment for having done the first twelve than to get full marks for having done the even-numbered problems. What you really have to teach that child is that maybe he ought to start the math before 9:30 at night. "If you're having trouble with it, let's work on it together. Let's find a way of solving the problem, but let's not get out of the assignment." Since when are blind people so much better at math that they don't need to get all the exercise and practice that everybody else does?
Here is an even harder one. Your youngster brings to you the English assignment that has just been laboriously typed on the typewriter, and you discover that the two-year-old was messing with the keyboard and flipped the stencil key or that the typewriter ribbon ran out. What do you do then? You don't say, "I'll write a note tomorrow telling the teacher that you really did it, but that, because you are blind, you didn't notice that the print wasn't on the page."
I think of a time when I was a dinner guest in the home of a family with a blind youngster. The mother was busy entertaining the guests, preparing the meal, and supervising the homework process going on downstairs in the basement, where the computer was. The youngster did the homework with some grumbling. He has a tidy mind and doesn't like to have extra things left on his directory when he finishes with assignments. When he gets out of a document and is finished with it--like a homework assignment-- he, as a matter of reflex habit, erases the document. He meant to send this one to the printer; instead he sent it into oblivion. What did Mom say? "Oh, poor child. I'll fix it with the teacher," or "I'll help you with it after dinner." Maybe it was easier to do the right thing because there was a guest present, and she had no alternative. She sent him back down with the cheering news that "It will be easier to do the second time around, because you'll remember some of the answers, and maybe you'll also remember not to send it into oblivion before you've printed it the next time around."
It's a hard way to go, but you are shaping your child's character. You are building self-respect and the implicit knowledge in your youngster that he or she is as good as everybody else. There are times when, from a parent's standpoint, it seems easier to give in and take some of the perks that are offered. You'll see signs some places, "Disabled people half price," "Disabled children free." It's tempting when it's an $8.00 fee to line right up and take advantage of that sort of thing. It's very tempting when you see a long line at an amusement park, and people are willing to let you cut in at the front because you have a blind child. But there isn't any privilege that doesn't have its repercussions, and there is no such thing as a free lunch.
If people give freebies to blind people, it is because they think they are pitiable. If they let--as my children used to say- -you take cuts in a line, it's because they think that a blind child is fragile, can't stand up, can't wait in line. They feel sorry for the child and for you for having such a child. Is that really the message you want to give about competence?
I was talking to the parent of a disabled youngster, who said, "You know, I just don't understand why you fuss about pre- boarding aircraft. We have always been invited to pre-board, and it saves such a hassle."
I said to him, "Look, all parents with young children are invited to pre-board. It's easier to stow an infant, diaper bags, toddler, and Teddy bears--all of the paraphernalia that goes with young children--without people standing in the aisle behind you mentally or literally tapping their feet, waiting for you to get out of the way. That is appropriate. It is also appropriate, if with an older disabled child you genuinely require more time to get down the jetway or into your row, to take that invitation to pre-board. But if you don't need the time, if the child really can move along as fast as anyone else, then do you really want to give your child the message that he or she has to go first, has to be singled out, has to endure being stared at with a lump in the throat and tears in the eyes, has to have different rules applied to him or her?"
Let me be clear. One of the most important things you need to do is to help your child come to an accurate understanding of the amount of help he or she really does need. Last fall I was on an international flight alone. When you are up at forty-thousand feet, they pass out these forms that you have to fill out before you can get through Immigration. I was in a row with no other people. There was nobody I could charm into volunteering to help me fill out this form. I stopped a crew member and said, "Unless you think that I can fill out this form in Immigration, I think probably a crew member, at a convenient time, could help me a great deal by filling out this form to my dictation." She came back when she had a moment and filled out the form. That was an appropriate request for assistance because I really did need the help.
It is important that your child learn to understand what is a legitimate and appropriate request for additional assistance. Part of your job is to help your child define for himself or herself what constitutes independence. I once learned of an elderly gentleman who had lost his sight late in life. He made the comment that he loved to go grocery shopping since he had gone blind, because his daughter walked along in front of the cart pulling it, and he walked along behind it with his hands on the cart handle and he didn't have to use his cane. His definition of independence was not looking blind. That was the only time in his life that he didn't look blind. He wasn't independent. He wasn't traveling alone; he didn't even have a cane with him. If his daughter had wandered off, he would have been stranded. That was not independence. He was seventy-five, and there was no changing his point of view. But your children are young.
Independence is going where you want to, when you want to, and doing what you want to by yourself, organizing what you want to do and getting it done. If you can do that, whether you're using readers or taxis or canes or a dog, you're independent. It is important that you understand that that's what constitutes independence. Your job is to teach your child and the people around your child the value of some of the things that are so very important about blindness: why it is necessary for a blind youngster to master Braille and to be able to use a slate and stylus efficiently, rapidly, and effectively; why it's important for your child to be doing all of the schoolwork; why it's important not to jump ahead in line; why audible traffic signals, for example, are a dangerous and lousy exchange for good cane travel training.
How do you know? How do you know what the most important things are? I've told you a number of them today. I guarantee you there are ten thousand more and at least seventy-three times every single day when you have got to know what it is that blind people need to have and do and how they ought to be thinking about themselves and what is the right choice for your child today. There aren't any absolute black-and-white, yes-or-no answers that can be laid down. Otherwise, we could print them all up, and everybody would then know. It doesn't work that way.
How do you know? You look around you. You find blind adults who are the kind of people you would like to see your child grow up to be. And you can be sure that if that person is the kind of person that you hope your child will be, then the standards and the attitudes that person has are probably the ones you want to instill in your youngster. You read the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections--I might say that the summer issue is absolutely smashing; it's just wonderful! You read the articles and ponder them in your heart. We try to include things that help people to develop good attitudes about blindness. These should be of some real help and instruction to you so that gradually your reflexes will become good and solid, and you will begin to teach your child.
You will find, as your child grows in the normal natural progression that happens with all children, that your child will begin to assume the responsibility for initiating the explanations of why it is that he or she has to submit the English paper in print rather than on cassette, for explaining to the college professor why, although the map drill isn't very useful, he or she expects to be held responsible for all the geographic information that the other students will get from drawing maps. Your child will begin to have the solid, strong attitudes about blindness that will result in his or her living a full and productive life, and your job will be complete.
by James Gashel
From the Associate Editor: James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, has worked for many years to change society's understanding of what it means to be blind. He addressed the Parents of Blind Children seminar on Sunday morning, June 30, 1991. Here is what he said:
Thank you all for being here this morning, especially those of you who haven't been to one of these conventions before; thank you for coming because what we're doing here is vital to the lives of blind people, to your family, and to your youngsters, who will be the blind adults of the future.
The theme of this morning is, "We're Changing What It Means to Be Blind." As I walked into the room, I thought back--I don't know, thirty or forty years ago, let's put it that way--when I could have been here with my parents. I wasn't because we didn't have meetings like this. There weren't opportunities for my parents and me to meet with other blind people and to get to know how blind people can organize and take charge of their own lives.
When I was growing up, the best thing that a blind child's parents could do, really their only option, was to send the blind child away. Think about that. Think what it does to family life. I don't need to talk about all that, but the point is, that's what happened to me and to many of the blind people here. I well recall what happened to me. I was age eighteen, a graduate of the school for the blind, visiting at home on a weekend a year or so after graduation. I said to my mother, "I think I will go downtown tomorrow and do some shopping; there are a few things I need to pick up." We didn't live in a huge city, but it was a town of about 30,000. They had bus service. By that time I had been living in Des Moines, Iowa, which was a city of a quarter of a million people. I had traveled all over Des Moines and to other cities. I was thoroughly confident about getting around, so I said to my mother, "I think I'll go downtown and do a little shopping tomorrow."
She said, "Don't you think you ought to take somebody with you?"
I thought about that and said, "It wouldn't really be too convenient," besides which I didn't really want to.
As that discussion continued, her worry became clear, and finally she said, "Are you sure you can cross the street alone?" I was eighteen years old. This is something you say to a four- year-old: "Are you sure you can cross the street alone?" Of course, I could and I did. But think about this.
This is the consequence--really a small consequence with major implications--of what happened when parents used to have to send a child away. My parents had no exposure to what it does mean to be blind. Their only experience was, I've got to look after this child, and I'm not sure he can cross the street alone at age eighteen. Well, she doesn't ask me whether I can cross the street alone anymore.
Things do change. We are changing what it means to be blind, and principally we are doing it through political action. But political action must have philosophical underpinnings. You have to want something; you have to believe in something; you have to have a philosophy, a set of values to shoot for. In the matter of blindness, you can summarize that set of values in the phrase, the National Federation of the Blind, because we do have a set of values, a philosophy about blindness that the other speakers this morning have articulated. In the National Federation of the Blind we believe that, when you are blind, you can compete on terms of absolute equality with people who are sighted. We believe that blindness is only one of several hundred or a thousand other characteristics that people have, that it isn't necessarily more significant or more outstanding than any other, that while it isn't always positive, there are other characteristics that can offset blindness. You need to look at the totality of a person rather than setting him or her apart because of one particular characteristic.
Now with respect to teaching the rest of this country--let alone the world--our philosophy, we have a very long way to go. We're truly only beginning, but we had to start somewhere. Twenty years ago, the mother who said to me, "Are you sure you can cross the street alone?" was at a much different point. Now we have parents who know that blind people can cross the street alone when they are age eighteen. We have made a lot of progress, but we have much further to go. We won't all be free as blind people or parents of blind children until we have gotten to the point where all of us believe in our hearts and down deep in our guts, as well as in our minds, that blindness is a normal characteristic, that it can be reduced to the level of a mere nuisance. But we will get there.
Consider laws that have been passed, 94-142 for example, which in the case of blind people simply speeded up the process whereby children were educated in their own homes and communities. It also gave parents a greater role in learning about blindness and blindness issues. As I was saying, when I was a child, the only option parents had was sending their blind children away. But now you have the responsibility if you think about it; laws like 94-142 brought the responsibility back to the parents. It happened through political action.
Take the recent passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which is a non-discrimination law. It says that in employment, public accommodations, and many other areas, you cannot be discriminated against on the basis of a disability. It won't make people believe in equality; it won't get us to the point overnight where everybody has accepted the idea that blindness can be reduced to the level of a mere nuisance or that blindness is a normal characteristic. But it will speed up the process of integration so that blind people are closer to the mainstream of society, so that we can get into the board rooms and work rooms. We will be where sighted people are, and we will be seen. Our talents and abilities can be used. And over the course of time, people will begin to find that blindness is just another characteristic.
There are equal housing laws, which say that you cannot be discriminated against in housing. Just last year a situation arose in Anchorage, Alaska. (These things don't happen a lot, but they could happen to your blind youngsters as they grow up and begin to get their own housing.) The people running this apartment building said that the mother of a blind person in her late teens or early twenties would have to move out of her apartment building because the blind daughter visited occasionally. Think about that. This mother and daughter turned to the National Federation of the Blind to figure out what to do. We got hold of the housing people and told them what to do [Applause], and the mother still lives there.
But you see, that's what can happen through political action. Let me mention court actions. We've had situations in which blind people have not been hired for employment or have been released from jobs. We're dealing with one case right now, in which a blind man who was living down in Texas was doing a good job for the Pillsbury Company. All of a sudden Pillsbury was dissatisfied because he was becoming more blind. When he started the job, he could see pretty well. As the years went by, his retinitis pigmentosa brought more limited vision, and he had to start using computers and adaptive devices. That wasn't good enough for Pillsbury, and they found reasons to let him go. He didn't have anywhere to turn. He was losing his job until he came to the National Federation of the Blind. We have taken that case to the United States Department of Labor, which found that the Pillsbury dough boy had violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Don't buy Pillsbury. Whenever you buy a roll of that cookie dough, think of what happened to Dave Schuh. The Pillsbury Company is now faced with the charge of violating a federal law for removing a blind person from his employment. The case isn't done yet, but before it is, we are going to prove that blind people have the right to work at Pillsbury just as much as they have the right to work anywhere else.
In the blindness field you can't go to your special education teachers and have them talk to you about employment protection because it's not their territory. When you are looking for political action, when you're looking for a movement that can change what people think about blindness, the only thing you have to turn to in this country is the National Federation of the Blind. I have learned that from personal experience.
I think of situations in which sighted people in my educational career, for example, the superintendent at the school for the blind, told me I couldn't be a school teacher. When I was two weeks away from graduating, he said I should be a speech therapist rather than a classroom speech teacher. I respected this gentleman. He was the superintendent of the school for the blind. At that age I was greatly impressed by his position. Yet it wasn't until I met the National Federation of the Blind that I learned I could be a teacher. I did teach school, and it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life in proving to myself that blindness does not prevent one from succeeding as an educator.
I would not have learned that lesson if it had not been for the National Federation of the Blind; if it had not been for the fact that the Federation was out there opening up opportunities in school teaching, doing surveys in states, attacking situations of discrimination; if the Federation had not been out there working with institutions of higher education to open the doors which had been closed to us in entering the teaching profession. The Federation worked hard at that in the 1950s and early 1960s. By the time I came along in the late 1960s, the doors of opportunity to be a school teacher were open. But the superintendent of the school for the blind believed that they were still closed. No blind person belonged in teaching. He said, "Why don't you be a speech therapist?" But the National Federation of the Blind (the blind people who came before me) was out there working, opening up those opportunities. By the time I was ready to take advantage of those opportunities, they were there. That's my point. So a lot of us have been laboring for many, many years in the political vineyards--in the Congress, in the state legislatures, and throughout our country--to provide these opportunities.
In the state legislatures one of our latest projects is a Braille literacy campaign with model legislation. We have found that blind people are being discriminated against in that the educators and society have tried to keep us illiterate. The literacy rates among blind people, particularly blind youngsters, are declining sharply. This has serious, devastating consequences for the future. All of us need to join the literacy campaign. We need to pass those literacy laws so that, when your blind youngsters get into school, they will have the opportunities some of us have had to become literate in Braille. But it won't happen because of the educators. It will only happen because of the blind and the parents who now recognize their responsibility and their opportunity to help their children learn what it really means to be blind. We can be blind, we can be successful, and we can make progress in our society. We can be taxpayers rather than tax burdens. It will only happen because of the political process, and the essence of the political process in this field is the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you very much.
From the Associate Editor: Following the remarks of seasoned Federation leaders who talked about the roles of parents and of the NFB in improving the lives of today's blind children, the participants in the June 30, 1991, seminar for the parents of blind children next heard from a panel of students who have experienced first-hand the problems blind children face and the impact of the National Federation of the Blind in solving them. Peggy Pinder, Second Vice President of the Federation and Chairman of the NFB Scholarship Committee, moderated the panel. Here is the way the discussion went:
Peggy Pinder: It is a humbling experience to have the opportunity to follow three such powerful, effective, and experienced speakers, and since I don't have to worry about that, I am sure that the panel participants are also very humbled. [Laughter] I think it is very fitting that we have had three long-time, effective, and capable leaders in the National Federation of the Blind--Barbara Pierce, Dr. Jernigan, and Jim Gashel--telling you about themselves and how they reflect on the blind child and the blind child's future.
We're lucky to have three students to balance those three leaders--three of our young leaders of the blind to serve on this panel, discussing "Blindness in Our Hearts and in Our Minds." As I have thought about these three panelists, it seems to me that there are three things they have in common: all three of them are blind; all three of them have achieved academic success and distinction (proved not only by their winning National Federation of the Blind scholarships, but also, as you will hear, being genuinely distinguished, capable, scholars in their chosen fields). That's the second thing they have in common--academic distinction and success in objective terms. The third thing is a commitment to change. It would seem that these last two are inconsistent. Why would they want to change if things are working for them now? Why change? Change what? And change to what? I think those are the questions that the panelists are here this morning to talk about.
I will begin by introducing to you one of this year's scholarship winners, Olegario Cantos from California. Ollie will be a senior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he is working on a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. Last year he was appointed to serve as vice president in charge of student services. He has an office as well as having his academic responsibilities. This coming academic year, he will be serving as executive vice president and chair of the Student Senate. That is an elected position. He was elected by his peers to serve, as he put it, "second in command of the students." He has also been serving and will continue to serve on the Legal Aid Foundation for the city of Los Angeles, and growing out of that and his other work, he was nominated for and has now been presented one of the outstanding youth awards that the city of Los Angeles grants.
In addition to these and other achievements that I won't go into, Ollie was also recently selected to serve on a jury. Jury service for blind people isn't common and isn't taken for granted. Most blind people called for such service are excused. Ollie was not excused. He was seated on the jury, and he was selected as the foreman. And in this criminal trial (being a former prosecutor I have to tell you the end of the story) the jury found the defendant guilty. With all of these credentials, as you can see, this is a gentleman who has made a success. Here is Ollie Cantos.
Olegario Cantos: When I was asked by Barbara Cheadle to speak about the National Federation of the Blind's changing what it means to be blind, I gave the topic a great deal of thought. How could I put this into words? Then I remembered a Chinese proverb that was given to me by my mentor Sharon Gold, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California. The proverb goes like this: "Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still." It was then I realized in looking back that coming to a deeper understanding of the reality of blindness was a result of a constant process of growth and
I was born two months prematurely, being diagnosed as having retrolental-fibroplasia. As a result I had no vision in my left eye and partial vision in my right. Since I did have some residual vision, all emphasis in my life in everything I did was placed on the use of that vision, and my attitudes were shaped accordingly.
I remember as a child what I thought about blindness. At first I did not know what blindness was. Then, as I grew older, I interacted with other children, children who happened to be fully sighted. They were allowed to run around, play tag, and use playground equipment. Though this was sometimes true in my case, there was a subtle difference. More often than with other children, I was either prevented from or discouraged from engaging in any vigorous activities. "Why can't I do things like everyone else?" I asked.
The reply was, "Well you can't see too well, and there are just some things that you can't do." This was in reference to vigorous activity. Gradually I acquired a misconception of myself, that I was inferior to the sighted, that having sight meant having ability, and that my lack of sight necessarily meant that I was not quite as capable as those with full visual capacity. By the same token, I also felt lucky. After all, I did have some vision, unlike totally blind people, who were unfortunate enough to be, I believed at that time, in need of constant care and special attention. Based upon this misconception about blindness, I often remarked, "Oh God, don't accuse me of being blind; I am not helpless." This was my philosophy about blindness--the philosophy of avoidance, and it affected every area of my life. It affected what I believed about certain issues, including Braille.
When I was in first grade, I was taught how to read and write print just as were children who were sighted. At first it was slow. We were all slow because reading and writing were still new to us, but soon a gap developed. This gap between their reading and writing speed and mine began to increase. In time fellow students became faster and faster in both reading and writing while I generally remained at the same level. In fourth grade something else happened. The print in the text books became smaller. In addition, the reading assignments were longer and more complex, requiring more time. Moreover, they were made more often than in the earlier grades.
Now I was faced with a dilemma. What was I to do? This material was really hard, and I had to find a way to deal with it. I thought that the most important factor was that I could read print, and I must do this at all costs so help me God, and that is what I did, for a while. I increased my use of adaptive devices such as magnifying glasses and closed circuit televisions, and, to some degree, it did work. However, there was a drawback. I could read at a maximum speed--and I tried very hard--of twenty words per minute for fifteen minutes at most. Yet I was very, very happy with this performance. After all, I managed to avoid having to learn Braille, which I believed was only for totally blind people and was a last resort if a person could not read one letter of print. This conviction was strengthened by my belief that Braille was bulky and slow. I thought, especially later in the light of various developments in equipment and technology, that Braille was obsolete.
My beliefs with regard to the use of Braille also affected my belief in the use of the long white cane, or of any cane for that matter. I vowed, "I don't need to carry a cane. I will never, never carry a cane; not until the day I die will I carry a cane." Why? Because I thought people would think I was helpless, because, after all, blind people are helpless. Since I was not helpless, I felt I was not blind. Since I was not blind, I did not need to carry a cane, and I refused. This was my stance, but I gave little consideration to the fact that I got into more accidents than did the average sighted person, and this was not due to clumsiness. Literally, I fell down steps, tripped over curbs, and otherwise bumped into obstacles in my way that I could easily have avoided by simply walking around them. To justify this state of affairs, I said, "Well, I don't get into accidents that often, not that often." But I did not ask myself why I should get into any accidents at all.
Then I found the National Federation of the Blind, and I attended my first national convention last year. I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, for the first time, for the very first time, I gained a full sense of who and what I was, and I know who and what I am. I am a person who happens to be blind, equal in every way. I am equal in capability and competence. We are neither tragically deprived nor wondrously gifted. Rather we are equal to the sighted except in not having the physical ability to see. I now know, because of the National Federation of the Blind, that the obstacles that we as blind people face do not come from blindness itself but rather from prevailing public attitudes. The reality is that, given the proper training in basic skills and the opportunity to succeed, we will be able to compete with the sighted on terms of full equality. If only my parents had known back then what they know now, if only they had had within them the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, things would have been so different in my life. They would have fought for me to learn Braille. They would have made sure that I was well versed in cane travel. Most important, they would have known that it is respectable to be blind.
After last year, when I returned from the convention, I knew that I had a challenge ahead of me, that of telling my parents about the new philosophy I had found. So when I walked in the door carrying a long white cane for the very first time, they said it was the most pitiful state in which they had ever seen me. "You have never carried a cane in your life; why do you need one now? After all, you haven't been getting into that many accidents, and even if you were to get into some, at least you weren't carrying a cane." I asked them what was wrong with carrying a cane. They said, "If you carry a cane, don't you understand, people will think you are blind."
I said, "So people think that I am blind."
They said, "But don't you see that if people think you are blind, they'll think that you are helpless." Thus raged the battle. It got to the point of a heated argument. One of them said, "If you carry that thing when you are with me in public, I will not acknowledge that I know you." Later we had a discussion about Braille. I told my parents that I was going to learn it. They responded that Braille was just for totally blind people. "I don't want anyone to know that you are blind."
I said, "Look, all my life I have sacrificed efficiency because I had to read print, and look where it has gotten me. I have done well enough, but I could have done better."
"Well," they said, "We are not going to budge." I said that I would not budge either. They thought they wouldn't, but they did. They budged, and in time they grew to understand and to see, especially my mother. When she returned from the convention of the National Federation of the Blind of California in November, she said, "Look Ollie, you better make sure to learn all that Braille, and learn it fast. I am watching you. Make sure to carry your cane at all times." I am proud to say, ladies and gentlemen- -and believe me that last year I would not have dreamed this would happen--but I am proud to say that they are here at this meeting today. Mom and Dad, where are you? Stand up. [Applause]
This is illustrative of the way that each of us has the power to touch the lives of everyone else. We must persevere. What often happens--many of you may have had this experience--is that school districts may resist or completely refuse to give Braille instruction to your children. They may refuse to teach your child how to use the long white cane or any cane. Remain persistent, because when they see that you mean business, when they see that we as an organization mean business, they will at least listen. When they listen, they will begin to learn. When they learn, they will begin to transform their newly acquired knowledge into actions in their own lives. Once that happens, a ripple effect occurs. One person affects a few, who affect a few more,who affect a few more, who affect countless others. Can one person change the world? Yes indeed.
One year ago, I attended the convention of the National Federation of the Blind not knowing one character of Braille. I can say with pride today that I am increasingly making Braille an integral part of my life. In fact, the speech that I have given to you today was the result of Braille notes right here. [Applause] And July 2, 1991, will mark the very first anniversary of my use of the long white cane, and I know who I am, and I will never go back. [Applause]
It has been said that the National Federation of the Blind changes what it means to be blind, but what should it mean to be blind? It means that your blind children have the right to learn how to read Braille alongside sighted children who are learning to read print. [Applause] It means that your child has the right to carry and to learn to use the long white cane so that he or she can travel independently in society. It means that some day, when your children grow up to be the leaders of tomorrow, they will apply for jobs and be considered on the basis of their abilities and not be victims of discrimination. It means, ladies and gentlemen, that finally, some day, we will all walk down the streets knowing that we have been accepted by society as the first-class citizens we are. This is our motivation. This is our drive. This is why we have the Parents Division. This is why we have the National Federation of the Blind. May we remember always to grow and never to stop, and may the future be brighter for your children and for your children's children. Thank you.
Peggy Pinder: You can see that this gentleman will be a long-time leader of the National Federation of the Blind.
We go now to our next panelist, who won her National Federation of the Blind scholarship in 1988. Melissa Lagroue will be a senior next fall at Birmingham Southern College, where she is earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education. During her college years Melissa has faced what many blind people have, one way or another--discrimination based on blindness. This last academic year Melissa, who is in process of doing the course work and student teaching to become a credentialed teacher in Alabama, was told by the Education Department that her application for teaching credentials was going to be reviewed. The professor who told her this believed that, as a blind person, she could not be a teacher and should be removed completely from the Department of Education. Melissa didn't agree. She responded, and through not only her strong efforts and advocacy, not only through her contacts with the National Federation of the Blind and the resources and encouragement she drew on here, but also from other professors on the Education Department faculty who were convinced that Melissa could and would be a teacher, Melissa, was victorious. She will remain in the Department of Education and will earn her degree and her teaching credential.
In addition to Melissa's work, she also does other things such as volunteering to teach non-English speakers English. She volunteers a great deal of time to the National Federation of the Blind itself. She serves as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama Student Division and has worked hard to organize student divisions in other states. She has also worked on the very, very difficult question of standardized testing for blind people, which is a difficult issue. Through her work and that of others in recent years, some day blind people will be able to take standardized tests with valid scores, exactly as do sighted students.
Finally, I'd like to mention something else about Melissa, which some of you may not know. Not long ago Melissa came to New Orleans for another purpose. She heard and accepted a marriage proposal from John Williamson. So New Orleans has meaning for Melissa beyond the NFB convention, and I want you to join me in congratulating as well as welcoming Melissa Lagroue.
Melissa Lagroue: Why have you come? Why are you here? What can the Federation do for you, and most important, what can the Federation do for your kids? A lot! When I came to the National Federation of the Blind convention in 1988, which was my first convention and my first exposure to the National Federation of the Blind, I had some really nifty ideas about blindness. I thought all blind people should know Braille. I thought that some blind people should use canes. And I thought that a few blind people could succeed and be competent. I was wrong. Of course, blind people should use Braille; that we know is true. But let's talk a little about the cane.
I started out in first or second grade--I lost my sight when I was six--using Braille. That was fine. I understood that. I even thought it was equal to print, and all was well and right with that. Then my mother said, "You really ought to use a cane. You go around holding people's hands, and that is not going to do very well for you in junior high and high school." I said, "No, there's no way."
What my mother didn't do was to shove a cane into my hand and tell me to "use it or you will not get where you want to go." What she did was to hold my hand and lead me around. What I did was hold on to people all the way through high school. It was a great way to meet guys, I thought. [Laughter] I can tell you that I didn't meet John that way.
Let me say some other things about blind people's succeeding. I applied for a National Federation of the Blind scholarship, and I thought, "There's no way I won't get one. Blind people aren't competent; they're not making the grades that I am. They are not out there doing the extracurriculars that I am doing. There's no way that I won't get one." Well I did get one, actually, and I came to the convention thinking, "Hah, this is going to be a cinch; this is not going to be a problem." As some of you know, the Student Division conducts a poker-a-thon, where you can go and play cards. That was going on the first night when I came to the convention for the first time. I went over and found that place, using my munchkin cane that came up to here, and I found the place. I thought, "This is where I am supposed to be, and now I can meet all of these dorky blind people." That's honestly what I thought. I walked in and met people who are today some of my best friends. It was amazing to me because, you see, the only blind people I had ever known were those guys that didn't have the training they needed, that didn't have the skills they needed, that didn't have highly qualified, competent role models from the very beginning to show them that they could be more than society thought they could be. Those were the guys that I knew. Those were the guys that I refused to associate with.
When I first came to a National Federation of the Blind convention, I thought, "They're making me come because they want to look at me. I don't want to be around these blind people, so I'll come, and I'll get the money, and I'll leave, and I'll never think of the National Federation of the Blind again." That was three years ago; this is my fourth convention.
That's what I thought, and that's what I believed. But I've learned something different now. You see, I was academically successful; I did a lot of extracurriculars; I was a debater, a drama person wandering around the stage. I thought that was neat, but where I was not successful was in my own personal attitudes towards blindness. I didn't think that it was respectable to be blind. I thought it was embarrassing to be blind. I thought that it was horrible to get up in front of a whole group of people, holding a white cane, for instance. I thought that the white cane was this huge signpost that said, "You are blind," and as Ollie would say, "You are helpless." He is right; that's where a lot of us are coming from.
His experience was different from mine; he didn't get the skills. I got the skills. I got the opportunity to get more skills than I did because my parents knew that blind people could do stuff; they just didn't quite know what. Before I went to my first convention, I told my parents that I had to go because these ridiculous people wanted me to, and why didn't they just give me the money? They said, "To that organization? They are so militant; they are so obnoxious! We hear that they have a guy who stands out on the runway in front of airplanes." [Laughter] Well, times have changed since then, and my parents' ideas are a little more positive about the National Federation of the Blind, as are the ideas of some other parents we know.
But what you can get is something that I never got. What you can give to your children is something my parents couldn't give to me. It is going to take some strength on your part. You're going to have to make your child sit down and learn Braille. There's no question about it. You're going to have to sit down and hand your child a cane and talk to him about the merits of cane travel, why it is necessary. Then, when he throws the cane down and refuses to use it, you're going to have to leave him. I don't quite mean literally standing in the middle of a shopping mall, but if it takes walking away from your child to make him pick up that cane and get where he needs to go, then you'll have to do it. If you don't, your child will be hanging on to people all the way through high school.
In some ways, I feel I am preaching to the choir because you guys are here, but this is why you need to bring more people with you. Their kids are going to be hanging on to people, let me tell you. Do you want to know one of the most uncomfortable situations you can be in? It is going out on a date with someone and not being able to get to the bathroom by yourself. Can you imagine walking up to your date and saying, "Excuse me, could you take me to the bathroom? And while I am in there bumbling around, trying to find where to go, could you please stand outside the door and wait for me? It is not a pleasant experience. I speak as one who knows. I've done it. You do all sorts of stupid things to try to hide your blindness.
You can also teach your kids philosophically. You can teach them that it is respectable to be blind. How can you do that? By providing them with the role models that we have in the Federation. We have some incredible people running around here--some awfully successful people and some awfully fun people. That's what it comes down to. I always thought that blind people were boring. They didn't succeed and weren't fun, and I found out that I was wrong. You need to sit down with your kids and talk to them about blindness. There are going to be some pretty painful and uncomfortable times.
This is something else that my parents didn't do because they didn't know they needed to. I was seventeen years old, and I was sitting down with my father, who was teaching me how to sign my name. That hurt. As you know, when you are in first or second grade, you learned how to sign your name. Everybody else does. When you are sighted, you do it that way. I didn't. I was seventeen years old, scribbling out M, E loops over, L is a little taller, I--that's a straight line; and I couldn't do it, I couldn't make it legible. That was one of the hard times, and my mother couldn't do it. She just did not have the heart to do it. She sat down and said, "I can't do this; it hurts me that you are blind right now." That may sound strange, yet it might hit home.
Remember, get done early what you can do. Teach Braille early. Make sure your child learns how to sign his or her name early. Get the cane in your child's hands. Make sure that the skills your child needs will be taught. Make sure that the philosophical attitudes are there.
I remember going to EPCOT in high school when I didn't use a cane. I held on to my mother, and we got to go to the front of the line. I would die before I would do that now, but I didn't know any better at the time. I did not think about tomorrow, but you have to. I suppose there are things now that I do that many people don't understand. There are privileges I don't accept now, and people don't know why I don't. You have got to teach your kids not to take what they don't need. You have got to teach yourself not to allow them to take what they don't need. You must provide them with the role models. You can tell them why they shouldn't take what they don't need. Explaining takes a lot of patience. It took a lot of tears on the part of my parents anyway. But you can do it; I know you can, and with the Federation's help you will.
Peggy Pinder: Our final panelist is Michael Gosse from Connecticut. He is a Ph.D. candidate in the field of electrical engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Michael was a 1985 scholarship winner. He will receive his Ph.D. in the spring of 1992. His area of expertise, and the subject of his thesis, is data transmission through the use of microwaves, and he tells me that his concentration is in the area of stability, which he says is not an obvious thing to want. I am not sure I agree with him. [Laughter] He has also published on the topic "Monolithic up-converters"--just in case any of you were wondering about the topic of his published works thus far.
Michael has also experienced, as has Melissa, that blatant kind of discrimination that a blind person can face, you never know when. In the course of his work towards his Ph.D., Michael has served as a teaching assistant, as many Ph.D. candidates do. We will shortly get a sample of his classroom manner. But in the course of his studies, he sought at one point to become an instructor of nuclear physics not only to civilians but also to Navy classes. Now the United States Navy categorizes its instructors in nuclear physics as combat-ready personnel. And since they are, they cannot be blind people. Michael could not be the teacher since they'd have to commission him as an officer and treat him as a combat-ready person. Now the logic of that argument has always escaped me. I think it escaped Michael, and I think that some day one of the things we need to accomplish is acceptance of the notion that our blind men and women want to serve our country in its armed services just as other people do. While combat may not be an option for blind people, there are a great many things in the armed services that blind people can do.
Michael also writes poetry. He is a triathlon competitor, and the longest one he has completed is thirty-two miles of consecutive swimming, running, and biking, which makes me tired even to think about. Here, for our final panel presentation, is not only the person I have already described to you but somebody who, since 1985, has shown a great deal of dedication and increasing commitment to the National Federation of the Blind and who was recently elected by the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut to serve as its president: Michael Gosse.
Michael Gosse: Before I start, I just want to point out that our first speaker, Ollie, is a 1991 scholarship winner and that our second speaker, Melissa, was an '88 winner and I was an '85 winner. I love patterns; three years separate each of us. I love that sort of thing. [Laughter] I could go into patterns, but I won't. Next Monday I am going to be teaching my first course ever, as a professor, and I'll walk into the classroom, and lay down the rules of the course as every professor does, and I will also make the students aware of the fact that I am blind. After giving my little speech--raising your hand won't do you much good in my class--I'll pick up a piece of chalk and start writing my equations all over the blackboard. That will confuse a lot of people, not the stuff I will be writing, although that will confuse them some, but just the fact that I am writing on the blackboard when I just finished telling them I was blind. Whether I had joined the National Federation of the Blind or not, I would probably have told the class that I was blind, because when I was little my parents made it clear to me that there was nothing wrong with it. And I didn't know any other blind people or any of the stereotypes. I was kind of a sheltered child. If I didn't have to read it, I didn't read it. There was never any information about blindness coming to me other than my parents' telling me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, so I didn't know that the stereotypical blind person stood on the street corner and sold pencils. I had none of that in me, so I wasn't afraid to admit to anybody that I was blind.
My parents did a very good job teaching me that achievement was something that you did for yourself and that you had to get around other people to do it sometimes but it was up to you. And that was the early lesson of childhood when I was still under their guidance. But later on when I started to want to do things that interested me, I would occasionally run into "Well you can't do that."
"Because you are blind."
"But that doesn't make sense; that's not what you taught me when I was little." Blindness at that stage of my life, say around nine to twelve, started becoming an excuse, not for me, but for them. If I didn't succeed in something, the question was raised, "Does this have something to do with your vision?" And that used to annoy me a lot. I used to cry when they did that.
I remember French class and getting a progress report, which meant you weren't doing well. That didn't surprise me at all because I knew I wasn't doing well, but it surprised my parents. So they sat me down, and we had this long discussion. "Do you think it's because of your vision?" That made me very upset, and I said to them something along the lines of "Why can't I just fail like everybody else can?" It was just French; it wasn't anything to do with my lack of intelligence, or whatnot. I just didn't like French, and I didn't want to do well in French, didn't care about French. But it was obvious to me that, if I had really wanted to, I could have done well in French because, after all, I was doing well in history and things like that, and French wasn't all that different, so it couldn't be my vision. I wasn't going to let them get away with that.
They did that throughout my high school career, and at that point I started looking for an identity. I didn't have one. Before I was fine; I was legally blind. I could explain that to people and what it meant to me, but as my parents started compartmentalizing me--"Well are you not able to do this because you are blind?"--I started thinking that maybe I shouldn't be blind. Maybe I should be sighted. And I can probably go through my life as a sighted person and use the excuse occasionally that I can't do that because I can't see too well, but not let people know that I am blind. I could probably do that. But that's not the identity I want.
Like Melissa, in my college years I got an application for an NFB scholarship. One of the scholarships was specifically for scientists, lawyers, engineers, and so forth; and I figured, "How many engineers can there be in the country who are blind, come on? I'll apply and win this scholarship." But unlike Melissa, I didn't win the first time I applied, but I went to a convention and found out quickly why I hadn't won. [Laughter] There are people like Melissa and Ollie running around doing very well, and I was doing well but hadn't really come to terms with my identity.
Also, occasionally you run into a little discrimination. And even though you can step around it as an individual maybe, that doesn't sit well with me. I can't just think of myself. If I thought only of myself, what kind of teacher would I be? I would go in and teach my class for an hour and say well if you didn't catch it then you wouldn't catch it any time. Or I could give myself a little more room and help other people at the same time as I am helping myself.
When I was seven or eight, we started doing phonics. I don't know if people in the audience know what phonics is or not or if it has gone out of style. I thought it was out of style then. It was, learn how to say the words properly and then you can learn how to spell them properly. Well, I didn't want to do phonics, so I told my parents that I couldn't read the phonics workbook. They said, "Okay, you don't have to do phonics."
The teacher said, "Okay, you don't have to do phonics." When I was in high school, I had a fifth grade spelling level, and it is all because parents and teachers listened to a seven- or eight-year-old kid lie to them, frankly lie to them; and they didn't think "We'll have to find another way." That's what you as parents always have to keep in mind; you have to find another way. There is always another way; there's always a solution. That's what engineers like to think anyway. There is always something we can rig up, something to make things work. Good old Star Trek's Scotty would never give up, right? [Laughter]
I remember my first convention; it was actually a state convention in Connecticut. I walked into that room knowing that I was a finalist for a state scholarship, and I met other blind people for the first time. I realized that you could get blinder than I was, which should have occurred to me before then. They were doing all sorts of things. Throughout the morning, hearing them speak, I could see that this was my identity. In each one of these people--that is how I thought of them then, these people-- there was a part of me. There was something I could identify with in each one of them. I didn't need to look for the part of me to identify with the sighted community because there were plenty of people like me. But I could identify with each of these blind people, with some experience. When I heard them speak and I heard them say that blind people can do this and blind people can do that, I knew they were right, right then, and so I decided to join. But I didn't decide to get involved; they decided that for me. [Laughter] But it was finally walking into a room and having people understand me that was significant. I think that the worst thing a blind child can do is grow up isolated from other blind children or other blind people. I made do when I was a child and made up my own rules and regulations about blindness. I was so naive; I really was. I was eighteen years old, I think, when I had my first itinerant teacher who was blind, and he was a special blind person. he must have been really rich because he had a driver. [Laughter] I was eighteen years old, and I didn't figure out that the state was paying for his driver. I thought it was really cool, though, and I wanted one. [Laughter]
In my freshman year of college, I took a lot of flack from the chemistry teacher, who didn't want me in her lab. I was a hazard. I had gone through two years of high school chemistry (one extra year, including independent research), so I knew I could go into her lab and could perform any experiment she wanted me to. She allowed me in after I talked her into it, and it is a two-semester course. Halfway through the second semester, after I had been doing my lab work for a semester and a half, she comes in and stands next to me at my lab bench and says, "Can I help you do that?"
I said, "sure." What we were doing was taking stranded pieces of copper and wrapping them around a piece of zinc and sticking it into a tube. So I let her do that for me--wadding up the copper and shoving it in the tube. Then while she was standing there, I made sure that I carefully measured out all the necessary acids to pour into this tube on top of this wadded piece of copper and perform the rest of the experiment.
She said, "Wow, you can actually do this, can't you?"
I said, "No, I've been faking it for a semester and a half." It turned out, and this shocked me a great deal, that she had a fourteen-year-old son, who was legally blind. Just imagine, if she didn't think I could wad up a piece of copper and put it into a tube, what does she think her son can do? That's why you have to get involved and do something. Thanks.
Peggy Pinder: Listening to our three panelists, I have heard something, and I hope you have heard it too. I've heard all of them say in their own ways that they are responsible for their own competence, that they are responsible for the skills by which they do things and the attitudes that form those skills. They are responsible for their competence, and they are proud of the competence that they have. I've heard them say that, but I have also heard them say something else, and I want to join with them. In each of their own ways they've said to you, join with us. Become a part of us. That's partly where the competence comes from. That is where the pride comes from, and that is where the change comes. Change what? Change the notions of incompetence, change the fact that we can't do some things unless we get a different skill and a different attitude about it. Change the old notion of blindness as helplessness, which each one of these people held, and so did I. Change that. Change it to the pride and competence, and change it through the National Federation of the Blind. So I join with them in inviting you to join with us to change what it means to be blind.
From the Associate Editor: The final presentation of the morning session at the 1991 seminar for parents and educators of blind children was a panel of parents, moderated by Carol Castellano, second vice president of the NFB's Parents of Blind Children Division (POBC). They discussed what the Federation had taught them and offered some excellent advice to parents based on their own experience. The other members of the panel were Debby Day of Bellingham, Washington, who chairs the POBC Network on Blindness and Adoption; Marty Greiser of Dillon, Montana, a member of the POBC Board of Directors; and Linda Balek of Berryton, Kansas, who is a parent leader in Kansas, and whose husband Tom is Secretary of the POBC. Here is what they had to say:
Carol Castellano: This morning we will be talking about how we are changing what it means to be blind through role modeling and networking. I'd like to share some experiences that my family has had. We are from New Jersey. I have two children, Serena, who is seven and is blind, and John, who is four. We had early exposure to the Federation, which I think was very lucky, especially after hearing the scholarship winners discuss the disadvantages they faced while growing up. When my daughter was nine months old and in the hospital for eye surgery at Duke University, the social worker gave me a lot of pamphlets of information about groups and resources. He handed me Doris Willoughby's book, A Resource Guide for Parents and Educators of Blind Children, and he told me that I really needed to know about this organization--not to get too close--"they are really outrageous, militant, and uncooperative, but they have some pretty good literature. So I read the book while my daughter was undergoing surgery, and it put us on the road to success. I feel that the Federation hasn't let us down yet and that we are really on that road.
Here I have seen blind people--totally blind, partially blind, whatever--in control, articulate, running things. They are very good role models for me. No one can tell me that my daughter, who happens to be totally blind, can't do that too someday, if she has the other attributes that support that kind of leadership. This came home to me very strongly recently in a parents support group that I attended, run by our state agency for the blind, which provides our services: teaching Braille, cane travel, etc. At this support group about thirty parents were in the room, mostly parents of young children--babies to maybe three or four years old. Some spoke up, saying that their children were in regular nursery schools as opposed to a pre- school handicapped setting. The counselor from the Commission, our state agency, pointed out that the children that were in regular schools had plenty of vision. It seemed to me that our agency believes that the most important attribute a blind child can have for success is vision. I raised my hand, before I could stop myself, and said, "Gee, I'm really glad nobody told me that when my child was young, because she is totally blind and in kindergarten now and is doing fine. I am glad that I didn't hear that she needed vision to succeed." So I do have a strong role model here, and with the people we heard speak this morning, you can't get much better than that. I wish I could speak that well.
Another time that it came home to us was when we were applying for admission to a private school. We were talking to the admissions director, and she told me that they had had a blind student once at that school. I know that can be good or bad. She said that she therefore knew what it would mean to have a blind child in her school. When this seventh grader enrolled, she did not know how to tell time. She had no table manners (this was a sort of fancy private school that was concerned about manners), and of course she couldn't find her way around the building, and anyway she was late for all her classes because she had to lug that big Braille writer around. I was glad that many times I had seen people in this organization taking notes with a slate and stylus. It really brought it home; you need to know how to write using a slate. I don't want my child to have to lug a cart or have a sighted person assisting her, getting her from class to class. I know that it doesn't have to be so, and I was able to educate that admissions director gently on the subject.
Another thing that I have learned here is that sometimes what's necessary is a polite but firm "no thank you" to unneeded help. Everybody wants to help my daughter. That's the first thing that jumps into anybody's mind when they see her. She's a cute little thing, walking around with her little cane, and everybody thinks, "how can I help you?" Serena couldn't talk for a long time; now she sure can. We were concerned for a while about how we would get her to take the responsibility of saying a polite but firm "no thank you." Now she says things like "Why are you taking my hand? I can do it myself. I don't need your help." Maybe we went a little overboard in that lesson.
The last thing I want to mention is that I learned that blindness in and of itself need never stop my daughter from doing an activity or accomplishing a task. She may not be able to do it for other reasons, but not because of blindness. I learned that by finding out--again in this organization with so many blind adults around--that if even one person has done a task, blindness doesn't have to stop you. And if you have the necessary attributes, you can go ahead.
I would like to illustrate this by telling you about a family vacation we took. We went to northern California, about four hours north of San Francisco, and we went on a hike through a forest to a waterfall. We are from New Jersey and not the biggest hikers in the world. I was on this hike with my mom, who was about seventy at the time; my sister-in-law, who is a California native and really knows what she is doing in the woods; my son, who was two-and-a-half; and my daughter, who was five-and-a-half. There were some times when the trail narrowed to about two feet. There was a mountain face on the one side and a drop-off on the other side, and way down below was a river that you could hear but hardly see. There we all were, walking through. It was a wonderful experience, and we had such a wonderful time being close to nature and accomplishing this kind of hike.
We made it to the falls, and we came down again and thought it was terrific. It never occurred to me even once to leave my daughter out of that trip because she was blind--never. There were times that I held hands with somebody because I was scared, and we held hands with the children and my mom, but we all did it on an equal footing. That's what I would like to say about our family's experiences and the change in my heart and mind; I know that all things are possible.
Our next panelist is Debbie Day.
Debbie Day: Good morning. I'm the parent of six children. Two of my sons, Tim and Tom, are both blind and joined our family by way of adoption. Tim came first. He arrived in 1986 at the age of three-and-a-half. But even before he arrived, we began searching for any and all possible resources to help us to raise a blind child. I am a pretty determined person, and I made contact with every agency, organization, person, place, or thing that had anything to do with the blind. When we delved into all of the literature and spoke with numerous agencies and organizations for the blind, there was one that stood out. That was the National Federation of the Blind because it was the NFB that shared our natural instinct to see blindness not as a debilitating handicap but merely an inconvenience that makes it necessary to learn other ways of doing things that we would typically do by sight. It was the NFB that shared our belief in this child's abilities and potential and encouraged us to have strong expectations despite some professionals who had feelings and comments to the contrary. And it was NFB who challenged and still challenges our attitudes toward blindness and, by doing so, helps create in us a stronger and healthier climate in which our child can grow.
My son Tim is now labeled the miracle child by our state's Family Consultant for the Blind. I will begin by telling you a little about Tim. The first three-and-a-half years of his life were ones of much love but extreme deprivation. There were virtually no expectations of him, and because he was either held or kept in a crib at all times, he had little opportunity for even any accidental learning. Tim arrived at age three-and-a-half seriously developmentally delayed, non-verbal, non-mobile, and functioning on a six- to twelve-month level in all areas. But under the circumstances it wasn't at all surprising.
What did surprise and confuse me were my encounters with certain professionals working to help the blind. Not only were their remarks concerning Tim's potential discouraging, but so were their expectations of the blind population in general. If I had held their low expectations, Tim would not be where he is today. Now, four years later at age seven, he is a bright and out-going boy who just finished his kindergarten year in a typical class in his neighborhood school. He reads and writes Braille on a second grade level, and he is a cane traveler.
Yes, Tim has made great gains, but no, he is not a miracle child. He is a good example of the damage that can be inflicted on a blind child by not embracing a healthy attitude about blindness and by allowing so-called professionals to map out your child's potential in life by their substandard expectations of the blind. If in fact any miracle did occur, the NFB was responsible because it was the support, words of encouragement, and experience we received from NFB members that made the difference.
Our older son Tom, after spending nine years in many orphanages overseas and three years in-state, moving from home to home, joined our family in November of last year. At that time he was a residential student at the Washington State School for the Blind and continued there until mid-January, at which time he transferred to our local school district. Whereas I realize that some blind individuals have had successful experiences at residential schools, it was not so in Tom's case. A big area of contention for us was cane travel. Early on we learned that Tom was not using a cane on campus, nor was he receiving orientation and mobility training. Tom was twelve-and-a-half years old. He had very limited vision. He could not independently cross an intersection or travel the shortest distance in unfamiliar territory. He could and did memorize frequently traveled routes such as the school campus, but he couldn't successfully or confidently deal with any changes that might occur on those routes. Knowing that, was it too much to assume that cane travel and orientation and mobility training would be an important part of this child's education at a school for the blind? Well, that was my assumption, but it was not correct. And even more upsetting to me than the actual loss of independence that this was inflicting on Tom were the unspoken messages that he was receiving about his blindness due to their poor attitudes.
No matter whether your child is attending your neighborhood school or a residential school for the blind, if the program is inadequate, I am here to tell you you can change it. You are and must be your child's best advocate. NFB's support, encouragement, and information are invaluable, but you must be willing to take up the fight for your child when it is necessary. Go to the Individual Education Plan workshop later this week. Know what the laws are. Determine what your child's educational needs are. Decide what you are willing to compromise on and what you will stand firm on. Our district now has a very strong program for the visually impaired, but it wasn't always that way. We started out with virtually nothing. After two years of constantly assertive and perhaps sometimes aggressive behavior on my part (if only to get me off his back) our Special Education Director hired a specialist for the visually impaired (our very own Federationist Ruby Ryles); an orientation and mobility instructor; a Braillist; and two Braille teachers. It can be done.
I might note that, in the five short months that he has been in our local district after transferring from the School for the Blind, Tom made great strides in mobility. He receives three hours of orientation and mobility training per week, and he has progressed academically two grade levels in nearly all subjects. Because of the Federation my boys are growing up with strong and healthy attitudes about their blindness, and they have excellent role models.
But being involved in adoption issues as well, I am concerned for those blind children waiting for adoption in the foster care system here and in orphanages overseas. I'm concerned about blind adults who face discrimination in the adoption process, and I am concerned about case workers and adoption agencies, their misconceptions and their poor attitudes about blindness. Several months ago Barbara Cheadle asked me to chair the POBC Network on Blindness and Adoption, and these are the issues that we deal with. With networks like these, we can change and are changing what it means to be blind, and I am very happy to be a part of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.
Carol Castellano: Thank you, Debbie. Our next speaker is Marty Greiser.
Marty Greiser: I am from Montana and the father of twin four-year-olds, a boy and a girl. My son Cody is blind, and today I want to talk a little about our efforts to create an educational program in a rural school, where no such program has ever existed.
The old saying about the blind leading the blind has been around quite a lot longer than most of us. It is certainly nothing new to the Federation, but in our community and our school, this phrase just doesn't have a positive meaning. Our son will be the first blind child ever to go through our school district, so they really don't know what to do. Our resource consultant from the state school is ineffective at best; he's hardly ever there.
Our big problem was finding a teacher. Eventually the school did come around to the understanding that my son had to learn Braille and cane travel. They didn't know how they were going to provide this because there wasn't anyone within one hundred and fifty miles who could teach Braille, let alone cane travel or Nemeth Code or slate and stylus or positive attitudes toward blindness. We didn't know what to do. We were at an impasse. Our IEP called for Braille instruction. So we called the Federation, and I talked to Mrs. Cheadle. She said she would see what she could do.
A few days after that we received a phone call from a woman in South Dakota who had just graduated with a degree in elementary education, and she was blind herself. She was looking for a job, and I thought what a good deal. She had all the skills we were looking for and some others besides all rolled into one person. She is a former scholarship winner, by the way, whose name is Kim Hoffman; and she will be Cody's aide next year in kindergarten. He will be receiving his Braille instruction, slate and stylus, and cane travel; and we are anticipating a very successful elementary program. It looks like we are off to a good start. She will be at our school next fall, and everything just seems to be falling into place.
The school was a little reluctant to hire her. There are no blind people in our community, and they didn't know what to expect. They asked us questions about how she would do this or that. I really couldn't answer because I am not an expert on blindness. Once they interviewed her, they were much relieved because she could actually talk and seemed very competent. [Laughter] We are very optimistic, and now the school is too. We hope that she can stay for a long time, until our son learns how to read, knowing she will become less and less involved with his education as he becomes more independent. This provides an opportunity for her to get her foot in the door as a public educator. So if anyone is in a similar circumstance, I would encourage you to contact the NFB or the Job Opportunities for the Blind program. Anyone in the Parents' Division can help.
These scholarship winners are also a real resource, just wonderful people. Kim is an excellent role model for our son since, as I said, there are no other blind people in the community, and he is very much alone. We think that everything Kim has to offer, besides her academic skills, is absolutely essential. I will be sure to let the Parents' Division know how this experiment turns out. I can't help but think it will be successful.
Carol Castellano: Thanks, Marty. We will be looking forward to hearing the next chapter. Our final panelist is Linda Balek.
Linda Balek: I have an eleven-year-old son; he is the red- headed one. You'll see him; he'll just come right at you.
The first thing I want you to do as parents when you come to the NFB convention--some of you are here for the first time--is to take notes on speakers. Jot down my name; jot down anybody's name; circle it. Then six months from now, a year, two years, three years from now, when you're having a problem, it will come back to your mind that you heard a person talking about something like it. Call Barbara Cheadle and say, "I need to talk to this or that person!" That's what I have done. We are talking about networking. Barbara knows that I have been on the phone; I walk up to people at these conventions and I say, "What is your phone number? Someday I think I am going to have to talk to you." I have talked to them two or three years later, and they don't know who the hell I am, [Laughter] but they answer my question. Sometimes we need somebody to say, "Yeah, you're right." We get a lot of people we talk to on a daily basis in our school system who say we're wrong, and we need somebody who knows what needs to be done in the education field, not a professional who went to school but has no kids. No offense to anybody that's a teacher, but the majority of my son's teachers have been single women, and they don't even know how to deal on a personal level with a child, let alone on our level. So that's why networking is so important. Belong to your local NFB chapter; that's another important resource. We call ours a family; we party together; we fight together; we do everything together like one big family. It's great to get on the phone with them and say, "I know that this sounds stupid, but how do you put your shorts on?" That may be a little elementary--that may not be exactly what I ask--but ask anything. Get on a family level, so you can talk to blind people and say what is important. Should your child learn how to print if he is totally blind? Should he do this or should he do that? Is this appropriate? Be with the people who can tell you a lot, and you will learn from them.
Jeff is eleven years old. Last year he spoke to the House and the Senate in Kansas. We got a Braille bill passed, and now every child in Kansas has the right to learn Braille. [Applause] That is something not every state has, and that is something that is very important to work for.
I want to tell you just one quick little story because we are running out of time. I talked to a little girl today. I think she is ten or eleven years old. She asked me, "What kind of cane does Jeff have?"
"Well, he has an NFB cane." She wanted to know all about his cane, and I said to her, "Well, your cane is a little short."
She said, "The school says that I have to use it."
"Do any of those people who are telling you to use this cane use one themselves?" I asked.
Her answer was no. The point is, nobody can tell you how long your cane should be except a blind person. Nobody can tell you when you need to learn how to use a slate and stylus except a blind person. You can get all of these professionals that say you don't need to learn Braille, but how are you going to read? You need to talk to blind people to get this information, and the NFB can help you. Any time you need to talk to somebody, just call Barbara. You may have questions like "My son wants to learn to play drums, or my son wants to learn this," and she'll point you to someone who can help. The NFB isn't here to spoon-feed you. We are not here to say, "Well, now I'm going to take you over to this spot, and this will all work out, and this person will do your job for you." That is not what we are here for. But we are here to network, and that's what we do. Jeff takes Karate, Jeff is a drummer, and I mean he plays a whole set of drums, and they are loud. (We didn't bring them and you are lucky.) But networking is really what the NFB is about. We as parents needed that more than anything. To think that you are the only parent in the world--I think every parent has felt that way.... All of us have even overlooked our kids' being blind. I felt like I was the only parent of a blind child in the world. I knew other blind people, but I never knew other parents of a blind child. I think that was harder, and that is where the NFB can help.
We are going to have some meetings this evening; they are in your agenda. You can bring your kids. Come up and sit around and talk and get some information that way. There will be seminars this afternoon that can help you. Tom, my husband, is in chairman of the POBC Technology Committee; we get phone calls from a lot of other people too. It is a great way to learn and to have another resource besides the professionals; we all need that. Thank you.
Carol Castellano: Thanks, Linda. I'd like to conclude this segment by saying that we will create the future. And if we get out from under the negative assumptions and the low expectations and if we bring up our kids to be normal, productive citizens, then instead of wearing our children's disabilities like credentials, we can make changes from a position of strength. Thank you.
by Jude Lincicome
From the Associate Editor: Anytime a group of blind adults begins reminiscing about childhood, the topic of family life, particularly parents, comes up. We all know what damage guilt-ridden, frightened, or unwise parents can do to a disabled child. We have also seen--and some of us have been lucky enough to experience--the miracles of health, satisfaction, and success that parental love and guidance can work when they are informed by common sense and an unwavering belief in the capacity of the child. In the Summer, 1991, issue of Future Reflections, the quarterly magazine of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind, the Editor Barbara Cheadle introduced readers to a remarkable parent. She represents all that is finest in parents of blind children, and her talk should be an inspiration to all parents and everyone who works with disabled children. Here is Barbara Cheadle's introductory note:
When Jude Lincicome came to her first National Federation of the Blind function with her three preschoolers in tow, everyone who met her agreed on one thing: she had a great bunch of kids. Sarah was bright and personable, Danny was cute and polite, and you could just hear the wheels turning in Jeremy's head as he took everything in. They were curious and alert, and they sparkled with the joy of living. The paraphernalia which marked these kids as physically disabled (motorized wheelchairs, leg braces, etc.) quickly receded into the background within a few moments of one's meeting these personable children.
The woman who can take credit for these lovely children is Jude Lincicome. Currently, Jude is the single adoptive or foster parent of seven children, all multiply handicapped and medically fragile. Right now she has three children at home, including three-year-old Jeremy, who is blind. (Shortly after Jude gave this talk, she added one more child to her family.) Jeremy, like her other children, doesn't have just one disability (blindness). He was a preemie whose multiple problems began when he was three days old. He had an intestinal perforation requiring immediate surgery to remove about a third of the intestine. As a result he had an ileostomy for many months. Later, he developed a lung disease (broncho-pulmonary dysplasia and reactive airway disease, which according to his mother is rather like having continuous asthma) and suffered intra-ventricular bleeding on both sides of the brain. As a consequence of the bleeding, Jeremy has mild cerebral palsy, which has weakened the left side of his body. In addition to the retinopathy of prematurity (the major cause of his blindness), he also has glaucoma in his left eye. Of his development, Jude says, "For a child that was supposed to be a vegetable all his life [because of the intra-ventricular bleeding] he's turned out to be pretty much on age level." Eating was a problem at first because of difficulties caused by the broncho-pulmonary dysplasia/reactive airway disease/cerebral palsy combination of conditions. However, Jude and Jeremy persisted, and today he can scoop with a spoon, feed himself, and handle a cup independently. Jude also expects Jeremy to master both cane travel and Braille. He is working on learning his shapes, loves to read (with his finger) along with Mom as she reads to him, and knows where to find the page number in a book (though he can't read it yet). But best of all, Jeremy enjoys books and looks forward to learning to read. He will soon have a cane. So far, he is very mobile in his environment--walking to and from the bus on his own--and loves to run, Jude says. She is afraid, however, that if he does not get a cane soon, he will lose this momentum. The professionals have resisted, but Jude is persistent and is confident that he will have cane instruction soon.
Busy as she is with her own children, Jude finds time to advocate for other parents who call on her for information and advice and also to help find adoptive homes for disabled children who need a family. Because of her pediatric nursing background and her practical experience in mothering disabled, medically fragile children, she is also often called for consultation by hospital social workers, doctors, and nurses.
The following article is based on a speech Jude gave at a parents seminar sponsored by the Maryland Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind. In it Jude shares her very personal feelings and philosophy about raising multiply disabled, medically fragile children. She is plainspoken with strong opinions and is not afraid to raise issues that others consider taboo. Now meet Jude and Jeremy:
I will begin by saying that all of my kids are adopted. I'm working on getting my seventh child, and she will probably be with us in about a month and a half. All of them have been multiply handicapped. The little boy sitting next to me is my most handicapped child right now. When I found him he was totally unable to do anything. He had never been expected to do anything, and therefore he didn't. He was thirteen months old, and he could not hold his head up. He did not swallow; he did not reach for toys; he did not roll over. His eyes turned toward the bridge of his nose. His left arm and both legs were paralyzed, and he had no social smile. That is pretty much the picture of a child who is a slug. He was literally slimy. He had discharge coming out everywhere on his body. I guess because of that no one had ever picked him up and rocked him.
Well, what you see now before you is a little boy who can count from one to ten (although his mouth doesn't work too well). He's extremely polite. Last weekend we had to take him to the hospital because he was in shunt failure. When the paramedics left, he was lying there almost unable to breathe, but he said to them, "Thank you." He's a real special little fellow.
I wanted to share with you a few ideas about being a parent. I think I can qualify although I've never had any biological children. But then I've raised more children than most mothers. Being a parent of a handicapped child is being an expert when all the professionals around you think that you're only a mother. You know your child. You know exactly what your child can and cannot do. And believe me, it's a whole lot more than anybody else will want you to believe. I was told that this child here would never sit up, never sit up! [Jeremy was sitting independently next to her as she spoke to the group.] I have another little girl out there who is in a motorized chair, but she can walk. I was told she would never sit up either, that she would be retarded. She's very bright. She is going to be mainstreamed as soon as she is old enough to go to school. She's been walking since she was about fifteen months old. I had to make her first braces because no one would let me have any. "She'll never walk," they said.
In the school system I am the expert at the Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) team meetings for other children. Other parents call me and say, "Come with me; I need some help."
The professionals look at me and say, "Wow, we are lucky to have this lady here because we can really get some good plans made for this child." But I go from an ARD meeting for someone else's child, where I am the expert, into an ARD meeting for my own child (and the only thing that's changed is that I have eaten lunch), and I am stupid. I am a mother. I don't know what I am talking about. My expectations for my child are totally unrealistic.
Being the parent of a special needs child has a lot of implications that one would never think of. (When I get finished with this list, I suspect that you guys will think that I've been peeking into your house.) You get out of the shower before you're done, with the soap still on you, because your kid's started to cry and you have to know what's going on. Or you have to stop going to the bathroom real quick, right? You have to miss a lot of work because your kid is sick and nobody else knows how to take care of him or her.
You and your husband have planned for a long time to go somewhere, and all of a sudden you can't go because your kid doesn't look exactly right or your baby-sitter says, "I'm sorry, but I have something else I need to do." Everybody else is going, but you're sitting at home. The friend that you have had all your life, the one you have shared all your intimate secrets with and who had so much in common with you--all of a sudden you're strangers.
You do an awful lot of soul-searching, an awful lot of self-examination. You feel like you're banging your head against a blank wall. You try to figure out what is going on: "I don't understand this. Why am I so different? Why did all this happen to me?"
You almost feel that you're growing another part to your body, and it's shaped like a kid, and it's attached. You can't get it off. It goes with you when you wash the dishes. It goes with you into the bathroom. It goes with you to work. Even when it's not with you, it's there. Right? It invades your thinking, your planning, your work, your play, your body functions. You now have something added to your body, to your whole being.
Is it any wonder then that your spouse has no idea what you look like anymore? Does it stop you from talking to one another because even he or she doesn't understand? That's a real big problem, people. We need to keep talking to one another. Talk about important things. Talk about how you don't like this, how you're not having very much fun at this party. Believe me, your spouse isn't having very much fun at this party either.
Here's a biggy--you never thought you'd cry so much in your life. You have so many tears. Where do they all come from? They can't possibly come from me. I never cried like this before in my life! But you know, the tears that you cry are not just tears of pain. Those tears will also become tears of joy. I have never in my life experienced the joys that I now know because of my children. Believe me, I know what the pain is. I had a doctor who let one of my children die because he wouldn't recognize me as an expert. So I know the pain.
But being the parent of a special needs child, a multiply handicapped child, is kind of like the metamorphosis of a butterfly. When you first discover that you are the parent of a special needs child, you feel like a caterpillar. You don't like to touch yourself. You don't like the way you look. You're sure you look yucky to everybody else. You feel like that caterpillar. But the thing is that you're eating up everything. You're learning everything. You're taking everything in. You're watching everything. You're probably reading everything you can find, right? You are slowly but surely making that caterpillar large and full, and soon it will go into that chrysalis. Something is going to click in your head, and you'll say, "This wasn't so bad after all." You look at your child. You've been really, really working hard, and all of a sudden your child starts to blossom and meet your expectations and his or her own expectations. The people around you are doing a pretty good job. Do you know what's happening to you? You've come out of that cocoon, and you're a full-blown butterfly. Believe me, you're a whole lot better person because you've gone through this with your child--this thing attached to your body--right? Somehow you now know more joy than anybody else.
Eastern religions have the concept of yin and yang. Has anybody heard of that? By golly, it is real. Because your pain is so intense, your ability to feel joy is multiplied ten-fold. That is the yin yang. Without that pain you would never be able to feel joy, that euphoria over your kid's reaching for a toy for the first time. He didn't know it was there, but he had faith that it was. He was right! Does that bring tears to your eyes? Do you remember that? I remember that.
It's a very scary world, but it's also a very, very happy world. The joys that you feel are sparked by the tiniest things. Once, one of my sons was having difficulty in passing urine. When he finally had a big diaper full of urine, I was ecstatic! If anybody had ever told me twenty years ago that I would be ecstatic over.... Well, it's not something you can tell most of your friends.
I have a friend who has a child that was born with no brain. She has a brain stem, so that means the heart beats. She breathes. Somehow she can suck a little bit, but even that ability is going. She is blind and deaf. She doesn't have the front part of the brain, which would allow her to feel any kind of pleasure. So she just lies there. That mother said the most outrageously wonderful thing to me. She said, "Jude, you will never, never know how blessed I am with this baby. She has taught me the true meaning of love, of giving, of learning, of accepting, of cooperating, of communicating." When you come to think of it, guys, why are we here on this earth? Isn't all of that it? And she learned that from her child with no brain. How many of us have ever felt like maybe somebody played a dirty trick on us? But this lady feels genuinely and thoroughly blessed with her child, who will never even smile at her; never reach for her; never give her anything but herself, whatever that is.
We've been talking about pain, and we've been talking about joy, but there's one other emotion that's very much present when you parent a special needs child. It's not one that you need to keep around. You need to keep joy around for obvious reasons. You need to keep pain around, too, because without the pain you can't know the joy. But guilt is a very, very destructive emotion. It serves absolutely no purpose. But for some reason we human beings think we need to tuck it into our pockets, keep it, and treasure it. We think, "I must have done something for this to have happened. My husband has to have done something to make this happen. It's in my genes. God must be punishing me." Did you ever think any of those things? In the soul searching and the self-examination that I talked about before, somehow you don't come up with, "Wow, were you ever a neat lady!" or "Wow, you are some super man." You come up with, "I must have done something wrong." These feelings can be very damaging, especially in the way they affect your child, because if you are guilty of something, then you have somehow to make it all right. You end up making it all right by saying, "Oh, isn't he cute? Don't make him do that, he's crying. He doesn't want to do that today. Oh, go get it for him. Look at him. He's trying so hard." That attitude, ladies and gentlemen, is the one thing that will kill your child's chances. He or she will begin to think that this world owes him or her something, but this world does not owe any of us anything. It will never give us anything that we don't take for ourselves.
So take the guilt that you have. Look at it. Examine it. Do whatever it is that you need to in order to understand it, and then throw it in the trash because that's where it belongs. To begin with, it doesn't make any difference whose fault it was or whether it was anybody's fault. Here you are. It is you and your child. The only way your child is going to perform those miracles that I know you can help him or her to is for you to accept yourself and accept your child for whatever and whoever you both are. I've performed three miracles so far, and I'm about ready for a fourth one. She's coming to live with us soon.
by Sharon Maneki
Sharon Maneki is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. She also chairs the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 1992.
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 1992 convention June 29 to July 5, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $500, an appropriate plaque at the banquet, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Federation of the Blind Parents of Blind Children Division early in the convention.
Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind children or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the National Convention. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or friends. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.
The nominee must meet two additional requirements: write a one-page letter describing his or her beliefs and approach to teaching, and answer the following ten questions:
1. List your degrees, the institutions from which they were received, and your major area or areas of study.
2. How long and in what programs have you taught blind children?
3. In what setting do you teach? (Example: classroom in school for the blind, special education classroom, itinerant program, etc.)
4. How many students do you teach regularly this year? What subjects do you teach?
5. How many of your students read and write primarily using: a) Braille, b) large print, c) closed-circuit television, d) recorded materials, e) small print?
6. How many of your students use both print and Braille? 7. At what age do you recommend that your students begin: a) reading Braille, b) writing with a slate and stylus, c) writing with a Braille writer?
8. At what age do you recommend that your students begin to learn independent cane travel?
9. How do you determine which children should learn cane travel and which should not?
10. a) At what age do you recommend that students begin typing? b) When do you expect them to be able to hand in typed assignments?
Send all material by April 15, 1992, to Sharon Maneki, Chairman, Teacher Award Committee, 9736 Basket Ring Road, Columbia, Maryland 21045; telephone: (301) 992-9608.
The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher's experience by affording the opportunity to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this announcement and encouraging teachers to submit their applications. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to nominations from many well-qualified educators.
by Stephen O. Benson
From the Associate Editor: Steve Benson is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB of Illinois. He also serves as the chair of the selection committee which annually chooses the NFB's Blind Educator of the Year. Here is his important notice:
The National Federation of the Blind was founded by an outstanding scholar and teacher, whose influence upon us as individuals and as an organization has never stopped. Jacobus tenBroek took seriously his responsibility as a teacher. He understood the impact of his actions and those of the organized blind movement on future generations of Americans, blind and sighted alike.
Dr. Jernigan, too, has always been acutely aware of the consequences of his teachings and of the actions of The National Federation of the Blind. No one else in work with the blind has compiled a body of writing that has had comparable influence on thought and action in this field.
President Maurer, while not a credentialed educator himself, has received his training as a teacher from Dr. Jernigan directly and from studying the writings of Dr. tenBroek. He understands and appreciates the heritage that has been passed, teacher to student, down the generations to him and to all of us in the Federation.
As an educational organization, the National Federation of the Blind is dedicated to improving the lives of all blind people. Among those who have been affected profoundly by the thought and actions of the NFB are blind teachers. We have worked hard to open this profession to able, qualified teachers who happen to be blind. Many of these teachers have responded to the challenge of the classroom with style and aplomb.
Several years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Association of Blind Educators (the teachers division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to individual teachers whose outstanding classroom performance, distinguished community service, and active commitment to the NFB merited national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became, not an honor bestowed by a single division of the organized blind movement, but an honor presented by the entire national body. This change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching on all of us.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual banquet of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees, who must be present at the NFB's National Convention and at the banquet, receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $500.
The members of the committee which will select the 1992 Blind Educator of the Year are Steve Benson, chairman, Illinois; Patricia Munson, California; Homer Page, Colorado; Judy Sanders, Minnesota; and Adelmo Vigil, New Mexico. Nominations should be sent to Steve Benson, 3032 N. Albany Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60618. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a current resume and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairman by April 30, 1992, to be considered for this year's award.
by Mike Freeman
From the Associate Editor: Mike Freeman is the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. Last winter, the Freemans adopted daughter arrived from India. When one becomes the parent of a blind child, one thinks a lot about the role of rehabilitation professionals in the lives and successful adjustments of the blind people who come in contact with them. Here are some of Mike Freeman's thoughts on the subject:
Two attitudes toward blindness prevail in society today. One holds that blindness is an unmitigated tragedy. It causes cognitive, psychological, and social deficits and personality disorders which render the blind incapable of competing with the sighted on an equal basis. In order to compensate for the tragic loss of vision, the blind possess heightened sensory awareness, extra talents or gifts, and unusual insight. Finally, this view holds that the suffering of the blind due to their affliction may be alleviated, if only to a small degree, by the provision of palliatives such as recreational activities and special privileges.
The other attitude holds that, with training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance; that the blind are simply normal people who cannot see; that the problems they face are not due to the physical disability of blindness, but rather to the misconceptions held by the public and the blind themselves; and that the blind are capable of competing on terms of equality with the sighted. This attitude forms the core of the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, and it is espoused by an increasing proportion of the public, the blind, and rehabilitation personnel. Nevertheless, the attitude that blindness means tragedy and helplessness is still distressingly prevalent in society in general and in the rehabilitation system in particular. Often rehabilitation personnel blame case failures on the supposed incompetence of the blind or on the psychological and social problems which are supposedly inherent in blindness, ignoring the difficulties caused by the prevailing psychological and social climate in our society. Let us examine how this climate affects the rehabilitation process.
The all-pervasive message that blindness means helplessness and inferiority is conveyed to blind people in both obvious and subtle ways. We face blatant discrimination when seeking employment, and we are often treated like small children when traveling by air or frequenting restaurants and other facilities. When we are accompanied by the sighted, people ignore us and direct questions to the sighted friend or family member. We are often presumed incapable of walking great distances, climbing stairs, or mastering skills such as cooking, personal care, independent travel, and Braille--incapable, that is, without prodigious effort and the intervention of instructors possessing extremely specialized and arcane knowledge.
At the same time, pressure is brought to bear upon us to accept special privileges such as two-for-one bus fares and handicapped seating or parking facilities, despite the fact that we do not need or, increasingly, want such benefits. Such privileges have a price: they identify the blind person as abnormal, not subject to the same conditions and rules as others in society. This notion of the blind as abnormal is often accentuated when people view as exceptional or miraculous accomplishments by the blind which would be considered routine for the sighted. But blind people are also stamped as abnormal when their accomplishments are attributed to special gifts rather than talents and capacities having nothing to do with blindness. Perhaps the strongest and subtlest indication of society's conviction that the blind are by and large inferior is conveyed by the connotations of the word "blind": blindness equals lack of reason, as in "a blind rage" or "blind faith"; blindness equals a dead end, as in "a blind alley"; blindness equals senselessness or stupidity, as in "blind drunk," etc.
Bombarded by these manifestations of society's attitudes about blindness, it is not surprising that the blind rehabilitation client tends to adopt these attitudes about himself or herself. Under these conditions, rehabilitation becomes difficult, if not impossible, for its goal is the independence of the blind client and his or her integration into society. This cannot be accomplished as long as the client feels himself or herself unworthy or unable to participate in society as a first-class citizen.
How can rehabilitation personnel counteract the pernicious effects of society's negative stereotypes about blindness? First and foremost, they must believe in the normality and capabilities of the blind. They must believe that the blind are capable of integration into society and that blindness need not keep the client from achieving a useful and productive life. In other words, rehabilitation personnel must root out their own prejudices concerning blindness, for only then can they hope to convey to their blind clients the positive attitudes that will enable them to compete successfully.
Second, as a consequence of this positive attitude toward blindness, rehabilitation personnel must let the normal mechanisms of competition in society have free rein. Clients should be allowed to succeed or fail by normal standards, without their interference. For example, clients who wish to attend institutions of higher learning should be allowed to do so without prejudgment by rehabilitation personnel about their fitness. Once in school, these clients should be allowed and expected to succeed or fail just like other students. This entails some risk for the rehabilitation counselor because there will undoubtedly be failures as well as successes. Nevertheless, the gains (confident, self-assured blind citizens) are worth the risk.
Third, rehabilitation personnel should not assume that all blind clients need psychological counseling or evaluation. To be sure, there are eccentrics and misfits among the blind just as there are among the sighted. We are equally likely to be peculiar or eccentric. But counselors should not feel constrained from pointing out to clients the ways in which their behavior affects, say, their attempts to find employment. Nor does it mean that antisocial behavior should be tolerated. It does mean that rehabilitation personnel should treat blind clients with respect and should view psychological intervention as appropriate only when they would recommend it for the sighted.
Fourth, the rehabilitation counselor should warn blind clients about the prejudice and discrimination they will face. They must have the chance to develop the self-confidence to deal with these challenges to their self-esteem. They have the right to be informed about the National Federation of the Blind as well as other consumer organizations. Such groups can be of immense value in helping blind people realize that the real problem of blindness is not the physical disability but the prejudices of society.
The foregoing can be summarized in one sentence: The rehabilitation counselor must believe that it is respectable to be blind. In doing so, he or she will imbue clients with that belief and thus equip them to cope with the continuing adventure that is life.
by Lauren L. Eckery
From the Associate Editor: Lauren Eckery is a contributing editor for News from Blind Nebraskans, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska. This article was first printed in the Fall, 1990 edition of that newsletter and reprinted in the July/August, 1991, issue of the Braille Examiner, the publication of the NFB of Illinois. Lauren Eckery has often shared with readers her reflections about her thoughtful and sensitive interactions with children. Here is another chapter:
We have said many times throughout the years that children are the hope for the future of the National Federation of the Blind. We do not limit our hope to blind children, since sighted children will also grow up either to help or to hinder our cause as we progress. The children who will help us most will be those who have learned early in life to recognize the real issues surrounding blindness. If they carry this knowledge with them for the rest of their lives and put it into useful practice, they will stand beside us, constantly aware and totally convinced that sight is not everything.
We often speak, particularly among ourselves, of the many incidents in our lives which reek of unintended discrimination against the blind and of the ways in which these words and actions bother us. I think it is important that we do this. Discrimination and oppression are an integral part of our reality.
However, our hope and enthusiasm in our Federation work and play can be greatly enhanced by the wisdom and humor which come from children who have given our blindness a second thought. I have shared examples of this nature with you in the past. I have some more recent examples, which I would now like to share with you.
Not long ago I was walking home from work, traveling up Webster Street. I heard the squeals and the roar of several small children in joyful play with their wagons, cars, Big Wheels, and tricycles. They were playing on the sidewalk. Suddenly, I heard a mother's shriek of terror, "Watch out! Take those toys off the sidewalk right now so she won't trip over them!" It sounded like a matter of life and death. As I continued walking toward the children, I heard them scurry to remove their toys from the sidewalk.
One little boy didn't make it. As he was tugging away at his vehicle, I approached him, saying "Hi" to him as I quickly maneuvered around him and his vehicle by using my long white cane. Immediately he asked, "What's that?" As I explained to him how and why I used my cane, I discovered other toys still on the sidewalk. I remarked to him that it might be a good idea to take the rest of the toys off the sidewalk since somebody might come along and trip over them. I was astonished by his response.
"But you finded 'em." Obviously he saw no need for panic since he had just witnessed a demonstration that one did not have to see to find the toys on the sidewalk.
Then there is my daughter Lynden. She seems to go through phases of pretending her father and I are not really blind; being angry about our blindness, complete with insulting behavior; and occasionally being unusually realistic about our blindness.
One day this past winter, when I was ill, Lynden wanted one of her school papers signed. My signature guide was not easily at hand. Neither of us wanted to go get it. In the past, in a situation like this, Lynden might have said, "Why can't I just sign it for you?" I have explained to her that this is never a good idea. As her mother, I can and will sign anything needing a parent's signature. Her father will do the same. On this particular day, Lynden left the room, busying herself in some mysterious activity. Returning, she presented me with a paper signature guide which she had fashioned herself. The accuracy of the shaping of this guide assured me that she had indeed noticed and accepted the tool I have used all these years to facilitate the independent signing of my name. This was not an act of shame and anger, but one of consideration, love, and respect.
Finally, I would like to share a poem which Lynden wrote. Her third-grade class was given an assignment to write a poem about the color green. Each poem was placed on a large green paper shamrock for St. Patrick's Day.
Most of the references to color I hear from sighted people come in predominantly visual terms. Although green is not Lynden's favorite color, I think her description of green, with its inclusion of other bodily senses--the good, the bad, and the fun of life--demonstrates an open, wholesome, and healthy perspective on the color green. With Lynden's permission, it is with a mother's pride and with an editor's pleasure that I now share this poem:
by Lynden Eckery (Spring, 1990)
Green is Spring
And a four-leaf clover,
And the feeling of running.
Green is the taste of mints.
Grass and fresh air smell green.
Green is the sound of a bird and a cricket.
Mouldy bread and a headache are green.
Green is camping.
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $_____ (or "_____ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: _____") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
by Dr. Elizabeth Browne
From the Associate Editor: Dr. Browne has appeared in these pages before. This article was first printed in the July/August, 1991 issue of the Blind Examiner, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. It proves again that every sound rule has an exception. Here it is:
"To be or not to be." That is indeed the question. Whether to note one's blindness in writing when applying for employment or not has troubled many people with various disabilities for far too long. This dilemma has, pardon the expression, dogged me for many years. As I have searched for teaching positions in various local colleges and universities, my practice has always been to let the quality of my credentials speak for me.
But last year something remarkable occurred when I found myself once more searching for openings in local colleges and universities. Having recently been first woman out when the Chicago Archdiocese began facing its financial problems (reduction in force--RIF, it was called), I began by flooding the market with resumes and letters of inquiry and following up with endless phone calls to countless local colleges and universities. The summer wore on, and I was wearing out.
Let me explain. Contracts are usually signed, sealed, and confirmed early in the new academic year, February or March at the very latest. In this surprising case the archdiocese had notified me far too late for me to search for anything with any substance at all. I was doomed to take any left-over position wherever I might find one.
As the fall semester drew near, I had determined to resign myself to the obvious fact that all positions were full and I should set about completing an extra degree I had been working on for a long time.
The week before classes were to begin, I received a phone call from the chair of the English department at Mundelein College, and she said, "I have your resume in front of me and just happened to notice how well-suited you are for our particular department's needs."
I listened, thinking sarcastic thoughts to myself, "Of course I am!" I muttered to myself. "It's about time somebody noticed." The summer search had been long, and interviews apparently fruitless.
Well, with many apologies for the short notice, the voice offered me a couple of classes, starting in five days. "Will you come aboard? We'd sure like to have you with us." But I had decided to complete yet another degree to make me more academically desirable than ever, so that, when I was turned down somewhere by someone again, they might at least pause and consider what they were losing.
I said, "I'm not interested." I have decided to forego the joy of part-time teaching for this term." Then it happened. "You'd be doing me a big favor, and I wouldn't forget it. Please say yes. You'd like our department, and the college is really a great place to work."
After several phone calls and deep soul-searching, I agreed, and then the following incredible thing happened. "I haven't time to interview you properly because of all the last-minute details, so I'll meet you after your first class next week, and we can have a cup of coffee together, get to know each other a little. Your contract, office key, and library card will be at the front desk. Just pop in and pick them up, and everyone will be saying, "Hi" to you because I told them you were coming. I knew you would accept." And she hung up.
I was stunned. I remember Rami Rabbi's book, Take Charge, which advised job seekers not to surprise a prospective employer by not telling him or her that you are blind. That's a bad start. I returned to the phone and tried to track her down in order to insist on an interview.
"Why?" she said, "I already know you from reading your excellent credentials. We'll have coffee after your first class when I will have a little time to chat about this and that." And again she hung up.
I agreed with her. My qualifications, my credentials are good. These are the basic reasons to hire someone for a job. But I could not forget that advice about not surprising your potential employer or, in my case, chair of the department. Once more I phoned, trying to break the news to her.
"Would it be okay if I dropped in and walked about the campus, getting used to it, so my dog, guide dog (I emphasized the word dog), would be accustomed to it? Would that be all right?" I had pictures of chairpersons hiding behind their secretaries, whispering that they were gone for the day, when I surprised them in their offices, and I was trying to avoid the chaos.
"I just want my guide dog-like Seeing Eye dog, to get used to the building." I said and she calmly responded, "Oh, you have a dog. Won't that be wonderful to have a dog on campus. I'll be so glad to meet both of you after your first class. See you on Tuesday." So, I retrieved the contract, signed it, wandered about meeting very friendly people, and then set about to get at least a few chapters of the texts taped.
Tuesday, after a long morning class, I emerged into the hallway outside my room and found the chair of the department waiting for me so we could have coffee together. "How was your first class? By the way, the dog is lovely. Welcome to both of you."
This is the way it should be. When one is prepared, qualified, capable, there should be no taint of stereotyping or prejudice. For the first time I had been hired sight unseen. I had dreamed of this miracle often, and now I have lived to tell the tale.
Postscript: Mundelein College has just been affiliated with its much larger neighbor, Loyola University, and I again set forth hoping the next department chair will display similar traits.
by Inna Cazpovich
From the Associate Editor: The following article is reprinted from a periodical entitled Soviet Youth. It was translated from the Russian by Eugene Soldatjonok. It is a grim reminder of how far the blind of the United States have come. Here it is:
In this dormitory at 14 Pales Street everything is typical of such Soviet institutions. The only shower is closed because of cosmetic repairs to the building, which last for several months. There is one bathroom in the whole building; it is in such condition that for a weak, nervous person it is better to stay away. Especially sensitive ones wash themselves at the toilet under the faucet. (There are several taps!)
It is unusual in this uncomfortable building that people living here do not see this whole nightmare. It is not surprising that they don't notice because the inhabitants are blind. That is why they are forgotten as people. All of them are from Latvia. They abandoned their flats and moved to the settlement for the blind in Riga because only at the settlement could they find any occupation. Edite fell ill when she was graduating from a medical institute. With nearly lost sight, she was treated for an illness, sitting at home for three years, and then she decided to move here with hope to obtain work. Now she is assembling folders.
"It seems we must be grateful for this," says Edite. "Who needs us at all?"
Edite told us about difficulties when three of them live in one room and about queues for the kitchen, which cannot accommodate everyone who wants to use it. People without sight cook for themselves. There is a restaurant at the enterprise, but it does not work on the weekends.
Laima and Peters, a young couple, explain that the building they live in was intended for a workshop, and it is not adaptable for living. The couple has a baby; there are swaddling clothes hanging everywhere in the room. They complain of a mode of life, but I'm withholding their intonation: "We shall live here eternally. We shall not have anything in our life anymore." They are deprived of any right to get a desirable education. They will have a right to be listed in the queue for a flat only after ten years of living in this dreadful hostel. At least able-bodied persons could change their destiny somehow.
Iren has lived all her short life in these state homes. She did well in her eight years of boarding school, but she didn't manage to enter the pedagogic college. Now she is living at the hostel and assembles brushes. She will have to wait the ten years to be listed for a flat, doing this, and she will then have a flat with a pension. What is the use of a flat to an old blind woman? Maybe it is easier to be wait-listed to the home of the old ones at once. Iren's brother is eight years old. He does not see as well as his sister does. Now he learns at the common school because a kind teacher has agreed to take trouble with him. But his future will be boarding school and a hostel, too. It is good that this happy blond boy does not know this yet.
"We don't want to live," says Edite. "There is no way out, even if you smash your head against the wall."
They propose to Edite to apply to live in a home for old people. There are bedrooms for two, common nutrition, and nursing; but this will be forever. They will never have a right to a flat. Old age pensioners who cannot care for themselves at all live there. The rest prefer to hope, a small belief in a miracle--all of a sudden the rest of the people will think about unhappier ones and will change severe laws. And one day society will recognize that it needs the hands, the minds, and the knowledge of those of us who are not in the mainstream so far.
"They simply don't know about us," repeats Edite in an anguished manner.
Remember the disabled ones, you powerful ones! Recall that illness does not have mercy, neither to the poor nor to the rich ones. All are equal in this sense. Trouble could come at any hour.
by Curtis Chong
From the Associate Editor: Sunday afternoon, June 30, 1991, the Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) Program conducted its annual seminar for blind job-seekers. A number of speakers presented valuable information about specific professions and general strategies in the job search, and a large and enthusiastic audience took careful note and asked pointed questions.
Curtis Chong, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, made a brief presentation of particular interest to many people. Lorraine Rovig, Director of the JOB Program, introduced him like this:
Lorraine Rovig: Money. Money. Money. How can I afford to buy adaptive equipment? Here's the man who knows quite a bit about how to answer that question, Curtis Chong from Minnesota. He is the President of the NFB in Computer Science, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, and the JOB computer consultant. When I get a question that's too tough for me, he's my man. When you get around to buying your own equipment, money is the big question. You know, once you get past--which one do I want and where is it? If you go to a bank and buy something to help you succeed in your business or your profession, quite a bit is charged for the money they give you. The NFB looked at the problem, and we raised some funds. We have a three-percent loan program available for purchasing adaptive aids. Curtis will tell us something about that. He chairs the NFB's Committee on Assistive Technology (COAT). Take it away, Curtis Chong.
Curtis Chong: I'm so glad you guys are awake. You know how hard it is to talk to an afternoon crowd! One time I went to a school and tried to talk to a class of kids, and they all fell asleep. As Lorraine Rovig said, the National Federation of the Blind has established a Committee on Assistive Technology. There are three people on that committee, Jim Willows, E. U. Parker, and me. The purpose of that committee is to make low-interest loans available for blind people who need computers or related special technology to help them enhance their jobs or advance their educations or simply to improve the quality of their lives.
This is, as I have repeated many, many times over the phone to a lot of people who have called me, not a grant program. Somewhere down the line, somebody is going to come down on you and collect, but if you understand that, from my point of view it is a wonderful thing. After all, what does it really mean? It means you then rely on your own resources to have the equipment that you need, and you ultimately own it. It is yours to keep, and no rehabilitation counselor on the face of this earth is going to take it away from you. So realistically, what am I talking about? Some people have come to me and said I'd like to buy a 386 SX 33 megahertz computer. I want to buy an Arkenstone reader, a Braille embosser and a printer, a modem, a CD ROM disk drive and library; and all that's going to cost--oh--maybe about $13,000. I unfortunately have to say to these people, "You're asking for a system that I would dearly love to have but can't afford myself." What we are in a position to do through the Committee on Assistive Technology is to make loans available, probably around $4,000 to $5,000. That'll get you one Arkenstone, but no computer, so alone it's useless. It'll get you a Romeo Braille Embosser, but again no computer. It would get you a laser printer and a computer but no Braille embosser or one of the following: an Arkenstone or a CD ROM drive or a modem. It can get you a computer and a print printer and maybe a Braille Blazer and maybe a Braille'n Speak, if you shop around so that you can get yourself a fairly decent system.
We can loan you money. We prefer that people be prepared when they borrow to pay at least $50 a month. Realistically, you'll probably wind up paying more than that because we'd like to have the loans paid off in three years, although when I say these numbers, I want you to know that I'm only giving you guidelines, which are like rules, always capable of being broken. We want to be flexible. If a person says, "My job is on the line, and I've got to have a computer," I'm not going to say, "No, we can't let you have it." You know, if we have the resources and the need is there, we're going to try to make it work.
So let me give you some rough figures. here's how we would like the process to work. If you think that you need some equipment, the first thing you should do is the research and find out exactly what you need. Part of that research could be calling up some of the people in the National Federation of the Blind who know about this technology, including me. I'd be glad to provide some advice. There are other people in the Federation such as Steve Jacobson, who is a member of the Computer Science Division, or Jim Willows or Dr. T.B. Cranmer. There are a lot of folks you can call to get advice about how or what you should buy.
Once you've decided that, and assuming that it's not a horrendously large amount of money--say $10,000--you can call me (at the end I'll give you my phone number), and I will send you a packet, including an application form which asks about as many embarrassing questions as a bank would. We want to know if you're paying alimony or child support, if you've ever been declared bankrupt, and if there is a court action against you. We will want to know what your income is, what your bills are, what sort of debt situation you have. But in all fairness I will say that we tend to be more generous than a bank in determining whether you qualify.
For example, people will assume that, if their only income is SSI, they automatically won't qualify. That is not true. If your income is SSI but your loan payments are relatively small, when compared to your overall income, you might well qualify for this program. There is a technology inventory form that we will ask you to fill out, which lists the items you want to buy, the prices, and the vendors, so that we can find out if those people intend to sell you something decent, particularly in the assistive technology area. If you're thinking about buying a screen reader, we don't want some local salesman to lure you into buying something that we know is not going to work. We will tell you that and warn you that what you're buying will probably not work.
There is also some information in the packet that tells you what your payments might be. Let me give you some idea about what we're talking about, bearing in mind that we will, for the most part, ask you to pay at least $50 a month. So, before you get yourself in debt, let me tell you what your payments might look like. If you borrowed $1,000 for one year, your payments would be $84.69 a month; for two years, $42; for three years, $29; for four years, $22; and for five years, $17. If you borrow $3,000 for one year, you'll probably pay roughly $254 per month. For two years it would be $128; for three years, $87; for four years $66; and for five years, $53. If you borrow five thousand, a one-year loan will cost you roughly $423 per month--that's almost like paying a mortgage. It would be $214 for two years, $145 for three, $110 a month for four, and $89 a month for a five-year-loan. So if you stay with our three-year guideline and if you borrowed $5,000, you'd have to pay $145 a month.
That's roughly what loans of various amounts will cost you, and as I say, we do supply you with a chart to show you about what you would pay so you can decide if, in fact, you really want to go into debt for that amount.
If you are looking for some grant assistance, we don't have that. However, I'm given to understand that Easter Seals Foundation may make some PC stuff available at a discount although I don't know what kind of hoops they make you go through. And, of course, in extremes you can always go back to the rehabilitation system. They have been sort of generous sometimes; sometimes, I say that advisedly--almost to a fault sometimes, and very meager in other cases. But that's another possibility.
So if you want to talk with me, I will be at this entire convention, but I want to discuss your plans with you before giving you an application packet. After the convention, if you want to get hold of me, my address is 3530 Dupont Avenue North, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55412, or I'm listed in the phone book under Curtis Chong. My number is (612) 521-3202. That's my home number. Please don't call me at work. I'll be glad to call you anytime in the evening.
by Colleen Roth
From the Associate Editor: The Summer, 1991, issue of Future Reflections, the quarterly magazine published by the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind, included a short report on the work of the Division's Committee on the Blind Multiply Handicapped Child. The work that this committee is doing has been growing rapidly, and since there may well be interested professionals and family members who need this information and since all blind people should know about the work of this committee, we are reprinting the article. Here it is:
The focus of the Committee on the Blind Multiply Handicapped Child is blind children and adults with an additional disability, which can be physical or mental. Individuals in this group range from those with above-average intelligence and a physical disability to those with profound mental retardation in addition to blindness. We share information with families and professionals who work with this special population. In general we find that blindness is not the primary disability when mental retardation or other developmental disabilities are involved.
We circulate a periodic update, which is sent to all the families and professionals who have requested information, and we continue to prepare new materials that these families and educators need. We currently have three hundred twenty-five families and professionals on our mailing list.
We also network families and professionals with others coping with similar situations. We get the information we need to match people by sending questionnaires. Each family that has requested information is sent a questionnaire which helps to determine the child or adult's functional level, age, and medical diagnosis and the areas in which the child or adult needs assistance. The responding individual can also indicate whether the family or care-giver wishes to network. A separate questionnaire is sent to professionals asking them about the settings in which they work and the population they serve. We also ask whether or not they wish to network with other professionals. All information received is confidential. Only the name, address, and a brief description of common characteristics are sent to those we match for networking.
The rest (making contact and determining how much and what kind of information to share) is left up to the network pair. So far we have matched fifty-two families and seventy-two professionals. We also circulate a Braille Monitor article entitled "Education of the Blind Mentally Retarded Child," a toy resource list (toys are selected on the basis of a child's mental age), and two articles on feeding. We have had several requests for information on dealing with self-injury, so we now have order forms for a pamphlet on this topic, published by the Institute for Disabilities Studies, University of Minnesota. If you are interested in receiving this booklet, please write to us for the order form, and we will be glad to send one to you.
Mrs. Ruth Van Ettinger serves as co-chair of the Parents of Blind Children Division's Committee on the Blind Multiply Handicapped Child. Her area of expertise and interest is higher functioning blind and otherwise disabled children. She will be corresponding with those who have an interest in these youngsters. She will also contribute material to the update and other mailings
If you wish to receive the update or any of the articles listed here or if you are interested in our committee network, please write to Mrs. Colleen Roth, Co-chair, POBC Committee on the Blind Multiply Handicapped Child, 1912 Tracy Road, Northwood, Ohio 43619, or call (419) 666-6212.
Requests for all items, including information about higher functioning blind children, should be sent to Colleen Roth at the Northwood address. If you have any ideas, suggestions, or comments for the update, please submit them in writing.
If you copy or pass on our materials to others, please be sure that the name and address of our committee is included so that those who get it know how to contact us directly for more help and information.
Please spread the word about this committee and network! Your support and involvement are vital to our committee's growth and effectiveness.
by William D. Meeker
From the Associate Editor: Bill Meeker is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin. This article first appeared in the Fall/Winter, 1991, edition of the Wisconsin Chronicle, the publication of the NFB of Wisconsin. Here it is:
The staff at the gym where I exercise attempt to lessen the boredom inherent in using the exercycle and rowing machine with a color TV in the workout area. One and a half years of rowing have given me not only additional muscle tissue, but also much tolerance for what spews out of the television between four and five p.m. week days. Sometimes I even become interested. One Wednesday last May was such a day.
I was proceeding under full steam using the rowing machine on an imaginary crossing of Lake Michigan (a contest sponsored by the health club), with what remained of my consciousness fixed on "Family Feud." This was a particularly good episode--a grudge match between Operation Desert Storm veterans, the Army versus the Air Force. About fifteen minutes into the show my attention was riveted and my interest was peaking, when some jerk changed the channel to that paragon of media circuses, "The Donahue Show." This had happened before--what rudeness, to change the TV channel without asking others in the room if they cared! There had been times when I remained silent at this behavior and burned my anger, but today I spoke up. "I was watching that show. Would you mind turning it back?"
"Ha!" barked the person astride the life cycle to my right. Phil Donahue remained on the screen.
What was funny? Maybe he thought that, since blind people can't see, we don't watch TV. I remembered that single bark of laughter from once before when I spoke up.
I stopped rowing, stood up, and, cane in hand, approached Phil (the TV). My fellow exercisers became silent. It was the stunned silence of those watching an infidel approaching an altar with clearly desecratory intent. I found the channel select button and flipped back to "Family Feud." Okay, back to the trip across Lake Michigan with the Air Force ahead of the Army. No comment from the exercise room.
I thought about what had just happened. Well, they now know that a blind person can not only watch TV but also change the channel and get angry at impoliteness. I felt at peace because I had done all that one person could do. The incident was resolved, and it could now slide into the past. Had I not acted, I would have stewed over the incident and replayed it in a hundred "I should have, I could have, I would have" variations.
A little while later a newly arrived person asked another woman, "who's watching the TV?"
"The asshole," she said, looking my way. The new arrival asked me if I was watching the program. I answered that I was, and the matter ended. My rowing time ended, too, as the five o'clock news burst upon the screen like a ripe, colorful pustule swollen with the day's accumulation of criminal horrors and political double-dealings.
The whirlpool and the shower afforded me time to think. Okay, I had done what I felt was necessary. I had, in a direct, adult fashion, stated, demanded, not that I get my own way by being able to watch the program that I wanted, but that I be accorded the same courtesy as others. That is, instead of assuming that, because I'm blind, I don't matter when it comes to TV viewing preferences, asking me if I am watching the program or if I would mind having the channel changed.
All that may be true, I thought, but won't they just see me as a cranky blind guy with a chip on my shoulder?
There are those who will understand and those who will jump at the chance to discount me. So be it. I'd rather be (as my detractor put it) an "asshole" with self-respect than a nice guy who is treated like a nonperson and hates himself (and others) for it.
Since that minor but significant interaction at the TV, things have happened. More people are saying hello to me and remembering my name when they do. People seem more inclined to chat in the locker room or at an exercise machine. And people do ask, not always, but more often than before, whether I'm watching a TV program--not exactly the reaction I would expect toward an irascible blind guy with a chip on his shoulder and hardly the way I would expect people to react to an asshole either, for that matter. Maybe their reactions are born of understanding; maybe they are born of respect.
by Kenneth Jernigan
If one manages simply to plod on from day to day and live long enough, he or she will inevitably become part of history. I think I have arrived at that stage. I don't know when I got there, but I believe I have done it. I keep finding that I remember events (in fact, participating in events) which my colleagues tell me are part of the Federation's history.
Take, for instance, the Braille Monitor. It was formerly known as the All Story Magazine, but it changed its name in 1957. We had been talking about the change for at least two years--and then it happened. The first print issue of the Monitor was published in July of 1957, and the difference between then and now can be seen both on the contents page and in the specifics of almost every article.
Since you who are Monitor subscribers are now reading the November, 1991, issue, I thought you might like to get a little of the flavor of what we were doing in November of 1957. I have chosen from that issue two brief articles--one (written by Dr. Newel Perry) on why state organizations of the blind should join the Federation, and the other (unsigned) on the upcoming 1958 NFB convention. Notice the subtle language differences between then and now, the perception of what blind people of that day were like, the expectations, the emphasis on social workers and assistance grants, the narrow focus on dealing with Congress as opposed to today's broader approach of total involvement, the talk about the timidity and weakness of the blind, the statement that "practically every Congressman has already become aware of our organization," and the absence of many of the things that have been second nature to our movement for so long that we take them for granted. I am not saying that Dr. Perry's article tells it like it isn't but only that it would not be accurate today. We have (as both he and Dr. tenBroek would fully have hoped and expected) gone far beyond where we were thirty-four years ago. This is underscored by the other brief article I am reprinting from the November, 1957, Monitor--the one on the 1958 NFB convention. Here, then, is a slice of our history--one that I lived through and remember vividly:
Why Should A State Organization of the Blind
Be A Member of the National Federation of the Blind?
by Dr. Newel Perry, President-Emeritus
California Council of the Blind
Such a question, when advanced by an American, will surprise anyone to whom it is addressed. In the twentieth century, organizing has become second nature to all of us. Daniel Webster would have replied simply that: "In Union there is strength." Aesop would have responded by narrating the fable regarding the boy, who after trying in vain to break a bundle of sticks, was advised to break each stick individually.
The weak can defend themselves from the strong only by uniting their individual efforts. This is the universal truth which all history teaches. Rome, who readily accepted the idea of organization, came to rule the world, while the Athenians, a much more gifted people, but who rejected organization, lost their independence and were overrun and humiliated by Philip of Macedonia.
The blind are weak, economically. Their number is small. The demand for their labor is practically nil. Their poverty subjects them to much humiliation. Though their wants are many, they are too timid to insist that society should provide them with remunerative employment. They are inarticulate. Their discomforts are many, yet they dare not complain. To do so might displease a Social Worker and result in increased want and additional embarrassment.
Unlike the blind, other members of society met a similar situation by resorting to the labor union, using the strike as a weapon. Why did not the blind resort to the strike? Obviously, because no demand for the labor of the blind existed. What then should the blind do? While it is true that the principle of the strike cannot be made use of by the blind, it is nevertheless true that a resort to organization can still yield benefits to them. Organization of the blind will provide them with a means of propaganda, and it has been frequently demonstrated that a united effort at propaganda can succeed, and has succeeded in raising the blind man's standard of living. To propagandize requires courage, and membership in an organization will provide both courage and strength.
A conviction almost universally entertained by the blind to the effect that they are frequently unjustly treated by the Social Workers is allowed to go unexpressed, due to fear. Membership in an organization of the blind, for the blind, and by the blind will help to remove this fear, and frank and bold criticism would reach the ears of legislators and would help greatly by enabling your Congressmen and the members of your legislature to understand your needs. Be assured these men do not now understand your problem. However, much of your dissatisfaction--now vented on your social workers--is misdirected. For example, your bitterness over the fact that your meager earnings are taken away from you through reductions in your aid is not to be blamed on your social worker. On the contrary, the fault rests with your Congressmen. Congress has forbidden the State authorities to permit you to retain any of your earnings. To whom, then, shall we address our complaints? The answer is clear. We must complain to our Congressmen in Washington. Through what vehicle, then, shall I communicate my wants and my criticism to the Congressmen in Washington? The answer is not a state organization of the blind. Remember, Congress legislates--not for a particular state--but for all the States. If, therefore, we wish to petition Congress, we must do so through a national organization. Since, from now on, we must look to Washington for relief, it follows that we must communicate with these federal legislators through a nationwide organization which speaks, not for the blind of a particular State only--but for the combined blind of the whole country.
We have every reason to be proud of the achievements of the NFB. Practically every Congressman has already become aware of our national organization and regards it with respect. We must not return to our follies of former years. We must not make the mistake of sending forty-eight separate groups to explain our needs to Congress. Such a procedure would inevitably result only in giving Congress the impression that the blind do not know what they want, and as a natural consequence it would decline to take any immediate action.
To impress Congress, we must send to Washington our most able and best trained representatives. Fortunately, under the energetic administration of our President, we have done just that. Our campaign in Washington has been intensive and carried on by men who possess ability, industry, zeal, and understanding of the present needs of the blind. Let us continue to present a united front in Washington.
NFB Preliminary Convention Bulletin
... The National Federation of the Blind will hold its 1958 convention in Boston at the Hotel Somerset. The convention will last four days--July 4, 5, 6, and 7.
Hotel reservations should be made directly with the Hotel Somerset with a carbon copy to Mr. Nagle. Reservations should be made as early as possible since we may need more rooms than the number presently estimated. When you write to the hotel be sure to say you are requesting the reservation in order to attend the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
The Hotel rates are as follows: One-room unit with one single bed, $5.00 (all rooms with bath); One-room unit with double bed, $9.00 (many but not all rooms); One-room unit with twin beds, $10.50 (are air-conditioned).
There are special group rates: Four people in a one-bedroom suite (one bedroom and parlor), $4.00 per person; Four people in a family unit (two connecting bedrooms, 4 beds), $4.00 per person; Four people in a two-bedroom suite (2 bedrooms, living room, and bath), $5.00 per person.
All meetings of the convention will be held in the Louis XIV
Ballroom. Beginning Thursday, July 3, the Regency Ballroom will
be set aside as a social room. The registration desk will be in
the West Lobby.
Yes, our circumstances are certainly different today from what they were in the fall of 1957. Think what they will be like thirty-four years from now, in 2025. Also think about the fact that if you are still around, you will be part of history and will remember how quaint 1991 will then seem. Finally, consider that the quaintness or sameness of it all will partly depend on what you do on a daily basis between now and then.
From the Associate Editor: November is a busy month. Aside from preparations for the biggest holiday season of the year in December, November is the calendrical home of Thanksgiving, that celebration of family, friendship, and gratitude. Many parts of our Federation family will be gathering on the twenty-eighth to share a meal and give thanks for victories won, challenges still ahead, and good friends with whom to share both. Our Board of Directors will meet in Baltimore at the National Center for the Blind to chart our course for the coming year but also to savor the good food and friendship that fill this busy holiday weekend in the Federation. Whether you will be celebrating Thanksgiving with individual or Federation family members, enjoy the day and the blessings we have all experienced this year in the National
Here are some recipes that may inspire you as you plan your own festivities. There is something here for every course of the feast and even an idea to help you deal with the left-overs.
by Barbara Pierce
1 6-pound turkey
6 cups water
1-1/2 cups imported soy sauce
3/4 cup dry sherry
3 slices fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon pepper corns
1 teaspoon salt
Method: Combine all ingredients except turkey in a large soup pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Wash bird and slip it gently into the liquid. Cover the pot and simmer for 4-1/2 minutes a pound, turning the bird over half way through cooking time. Then roast the turkey in an open roaster 6 minutes a pound at 350 degrees. Baste the bird with liquid from soup pot every 10 minutes. Amounts of ingredients can be adjusted for larger or smaller birds. This turkey is very moist and flavorful. Handling it with clean rubber gloves and paper towels makes the job easier and faster.
by Betty Capps
Betty Capps is the wife of Don Capps, member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB of South Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to this column.
3 pints any kind of summer-ripening squash, steamed or cooked in
very little water and topped with half a stick of oleo when
drained but still hot
1 large onion, sauteed in a half stick of oleo
1 roll Ritz crackers, crushed
1/4 pound grated cheese
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon sage (or to taste)
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
salt and pepper to taste
Method: Mix all ingredients and place in buttered casserole topped with fresh bread crumbs made from 5 slices bread and 1 stick oleo. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serves 12 to 15. Can divide and place in two casserole dishes and freeze one for later use.
FROSTY PUMPKIN PIE
by Betty Capps
1 package instant vanilla pudding and pie filling, 6-serving size
1 16-ounce can pumpkin
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
whipped topping, 9 oz. size
1 9-inch graham cracker pie crust
Method: Combine pie filling mix, pumpkin, milk, and spices in a mixing bowl. Mix slowly with electric mixer or by hand until just blended, about one minute. Fold in whipped topping and spoon mixture into pie crust. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours, or overnight. Let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes before cutting. Garnish with additional whipped topping if desired. Makes one 9-inch pie.
by Georgia Myers
Georgia Myers is an active member of the Cumberland chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. These rummy balls are a mainstay of all Maryland fund-raisers and make a popular appearance at every National Convention. Served around a cozy fire, they would also provide a fitting conclusion to a Thanksgiving Day celebration.
Ingredients: 1 cup coconut 50 vanilla wafers 1 cup powdered sugar 2 tablespoons cocoa 2 tablespoons light corn syrup 1/3 cup rum or whiskey
Method: Grind coconut, vanilla wafers, and powdered sugar. Mix all ingredients and roll into nickel-size balls and then roll in powdered sugar. Makes about 50 balls. Please, do not give to children!
TURKEY POT PIE
by Lori Duffy
Lori Duffy is the president of the Ohio Parents Division. She is also studying to become a teacher and hopes to work with blind children. As a student, she knows the value of budget- stretching dishes. She invented this ideal use for leftover turkey.
prepared pastry for two-crust 9-inch pie
1 10-oz. can of turkey gravy or a cup and a quarter of homemade gravy
1-1/2 cups diced, cooked turkey
1 cup mixed peas, carrots, and corn
1/4 cup semi-dry rose or other wine
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, optional
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup cooked potatoes, peeled and diced
Method: Mix all filling ingredients in large bowl. Spoon mixture into 9-inch pie plate lined with pastry. Arrange top crust on pie. Seal and flute edges. Cut steam vents in center of top crust. Bake pie at 375 degrees for 50 minutes or until golden brown.
**Seedlings Catalog Available
We have been asked to print the following:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children's new 1992 catalog will be available starting November 1, 1991. Twenty exciting new selections have been added, bringing the total number of books available in Braille to 144. Prices have not been raised for the sixth straight year, and the average price is just $8.00 per book (which is half of what it costs to produce the books).
The types of books offered range from board books for infants, complete with print, Braille, pictures, and textures, to the Newbery Award winner, Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry for 10- to 14-year olds. These books are always in stock--no back orders. Prompt shipping is a high priority, but please order early to avoid the holiday rush.
To obtain a catalog, write to Seedlings, P.O. Box 2395, Livonia, Michigan 48151-0395 or call (313) 427-8552.
**Business Continues to Operate:
From the Editor: On Thursday night, October 17, 1991, a fire occurred at the Blazie Engineering complex in Street, Maryland. The damage was extensive, but when I talked with Deane on October 22, he told me that he was continuing business as usual. He said that he had already started re-equipping, that he had not lost any of the paperwork on orders, and that there should not be more than possibly a two- or three-week delay in getting Braille 'n Speaks or other products to purchasers. He said that he would hope for patience and understanding on the part of customers but that he fully expected no serious delays. For purchase or information about the Braille 'n Speak, the Braille Blazer, or other items contact: Blazie Engineering, 3660 Mill Green Road, Street, Maryland 21154, phone: (301) 879-4944.
Peggy Pinder, who has been assisting the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico to make arrangements for this fund-raising project, asked us to print the following:
A company of aspiring actors, all living in New Mexico, has recently entered into an agreement with the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. The actors use their talents to provide audio productions (with full cast and sound effects) of mystery romances set in the exotic Southwest. The name of their production company is Wild Orchid Productions, which reflects their own amused enjoyment of their work. The first romance, Moondagger of Desire, is set in a New Mexico archeological dig. Others involve sabotage at the White Sands missile range and an international balloon race. All Wild Orchid offerings are of the romantic genre. Six titles are now available. The NFB of New Mexico receives one quarter of the basic price of every taped book bought by calling (800) 347-2160. Each tape costs $8.95 plus $2.00 shipping--a good price for this dramatization of a very popular type of casual reading. If you enjoy romances, please call to place your order today. If you know someone else who does, order now for a delightful Christmas gift. Romance readers, the NFB of New Mexico, and the aspiring actors all benefit.
From the Editor: It is with great sadness that I report the death of Shirley Trexler at 6:30 Tuesday evening, October 15, 1991, at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore. Eileen Rivera, president of the Baltimore Chapter, called to tell me the news, and it came as a complete shock. Shirley had been in the hospital for less than twenty-four hours, and her death was totally unexpected. She had diabetic complications, and at the end there was a cardiac arrest.
I first met Shirley over twenty years ago when she lived in Philadelphia and was one of the leaders of the movement in Pennsylvania. She was never neutral, and she always spoke her mind. Mixed with the sweetness of her personality was enough pepper to make her stimulating and interesting. She was always in the thick of Federation activities--marching on the picket lines, helping write NFB songs, serving as an officer at the state or local level, and regularly doing her part in whatever way she was needed. She received comparatively little recognition and was content to have it that way. Recently she had lived in Baltimore and had held office and been active in the local chapter. Also in recent years Shirley had sold and promoted products for the blind through her work with the company Aids Unlimited.
She and her husband Arthur Segal made their home a constant headquarters and gathering place for Federation activities. Arthur and Shirley were a team, serving as a focus of strength and unity at all levels of the movement. They worked together to build the Federation in every way that they could on a daily basis. Shirley is now gone, and she will be mourned throughout the movement. We join with Arthur in his grief and his memory of one of the best and most loyal people we have ever known.
We recently received the following letter:
I am a deaconess working with persons with multiple disabilities. I would like to obtain a Perkins Brailler to make individualized materials for some of my students who are deaf/blind and beginning to read Braille but not able to handle regular Braille materials. I would like to find a used Brailler in working condition since new ones are very expensive. The Board for Missions of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod suggested that you might know of such a Brailler or be able to help me find one. I would appreciate any information or help you might give me. Contact Linda Schaefer at Box 428, Atlanta, Illinois 61723.
We have been asked to print the following:
I have an electronic typewriter for sale, which is four years old and in excellent condition. Extra ribbons, correction tape, and a print wheel are included. Cost is $200. Please contact Cynthia Handel at 25 Pleasantview Ave., Willow Street, Pennsylvania 17584-9302, or call (717) 464-2110.
**New Computer Game Available:
We have been asked to print the following:
Run for President is a new computer game for IBM and IBM- compatible computers. It presents you with the challenge of running against the computer for the U.S. Presidency. You face the ups and downs of a political campaign. There are sound effects, and the game is fully usable with speech output. For a copy send a check in the sum of $20 to Richard DeSteno, 20 Meadowbrook Road, Short Hills, New Jersey 09078; 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 one is requested.
**Blind Ski Champion:
We recently received the following news release:
World Disabled Water Skiing Tournament--The 1991 World Disabled Trophy Water Ski Tournament was held in Michigan, where 12 countries represented by 80 participants competed. The USA team came in second to Great Britain. In addition to male/female divisions, there were categories for paraplegics (sit skiers), amputees (with and without prosthetics), and blind (total and partial) skiers.
Dr. Dennis Wyant, director of vocational rehabilitation for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the national secretary for the Blinded American Veterans Foundation, won four gold medals and set three world tournament best scores. His wins were in the slalom, tricks, and jump competitions. The fourth gold medal was for his performance as Best All-Around Male participant.
The world games are held every two years. The 1989 games were in Perth, Australia, where Wyant won one Gold and three Silver medals.
According to Wyant, "Water skiing is a great sport for disabled athletes. In the case of a blind skier, you just have to hold on to the rope and follow the boat."
If you are interested in competing as a disabled skier, contact: Dr. Dennis Wyant, National Secretary, Blinded American Veterans Foundation, P. O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035- 5900.
Next year the U.S. National Championships will again take place in Michigan. An 18-member team will be selected to represent the United States in the 1993 World Games, tentatively scheduled for the French Riviera.
**Course on the Catholic Faith Available:
We have been asked to print the following:
Catholic Inquiry for the Blind is a non-profit volunteer group, which is making a course of ten tapes (each tape costs fifty cents) and a free catalog available to anyone who would like to know more about the Catholic faith. For more information contact Catholic Inquiry for the Blind, 228 N. Walnut Street, Lansing, Michigan 48933, or call (517) 342-2500.
Larry Downs of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, has asked us to print the following:
I have for sale a seven-volume Braille set of the Americana Vest Pocket Dictionary and a Braille set of the Good News for Modern Man Bible. This contains six volumes, including the New Testament and the book of Psalms. Anyone interested in purchasing these items may contact Debbie at (717) 737-2380.
**Two Cookbooks Available:
We have been asked to print the following:
The Massachusetts Association for the Blind is offering two new Braille cookbooks. A Little New England Cookbook, in one volume ($10.00) is a delicious collection of classic recipes such as Boston brown bread, lobster rolls, and pumpkin pie. A Taste of Cherries, in one volume ($5.00), is full of cherry recipes for muffins, cakes, pies, tarts, and cobblers. Great for gifts! Call or write for a complete cookbook listing, including our popular 365 Microwave Recipes. If interested in ordering, contact MAB Braille Dept., 200 Ivy Street, Brookline, Massachusetts 02146, or call (617) 738-5110, TTY (617) 731-6444.
**New Ham Radio Directory:
Patrick Gormley of Greenbelt, Maryland, has asked us to print the following:
The NFB Amateur Radio Group, Curtis Willoughby President, met this past summer at our National Convention in New Orleans. During this meeting we decided to gather information for publication of a ham directory, scheduled for January, 1992. Federationist Phil Oliver is coordinating this project. His address is 109 Nelson Street, Leominster, Massachusetts 01453, and his telephone number is (508) 537-3099. He can be reached in Braille, print, tape, phone (no collect calls please), and electronic mail. He is systems operator of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind computerized bulletin board.
Sharon Gold, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California, has announced that on August 30, 1991, the parents support group that Shirley Baillif has worked hard to bring into being (see the May, 1991, issue of the Braille Monitor) officially became the North San Diego County Parents of Blind Children Support Group of the NFB of California's Parents of Blind Children Chapter. It is a committed and energetic group of parents who meet monthly. The newly elected officers are President, Shirley Baillif; Vice President, Maria Martinez; Secretary, Esther Kats; and Treasurer, Sharon Davis.
Congratulations to the parents and to the NFB of California.
Mildred Rivera of California has asked us to print the following information:
Talking adding machine with statistical functions for sale. Purchase value is $300, but I am asking $120, or best offer. Please contact me at 5 Commodore Drive, Apartment 201, Emeryville, California 94608 or call (415) 287-2651.
**Fordham School of Law Scholarship:
We have been asked to print the following:
Fordham University School of Law is offering a three-year scholarship for blind students. It will cover two-thirds of the student's tuition, provided that he or she maintains a grade point average of 2.3. The Law School's library is provided with a Kurzweil Reading Machine, IBM PC with Talking Westlaw Computer Base, and a Braille printer. We would like to publicize this scholarship as extensively as possible. For further information please contact Amy Reiss at (212) 535-4764 or by writing to her at Morrison, Cohen, Singer, & Weinstein, 750 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York 10022.
From the Editor: I am sorry to report the death on September 15, 1991, of Theresa (Terry) Herron after a short illness. Terry served for six years as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of New Hampshire and for four years in the early eighties as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. Recently she and her husband Bob had been living in Florida. I worked closely with Terry when she was president of the NFB of New Hampshire and was always impressed by her dedication and firmness of purpose in working for the good of the organization. She knew how to be restrained and diplomatic, but she also knew how to lecture a group with the sternness of a traditional New England school teacher. She was a no-nonsense state president, and you never had any doubt about what she thought or what she meant. As president in New Hampshire she was always busy with Federation work--testifying before legislative committees, recruiting members, raising funds, and planning for the months and the years ahead. Her health was precarious, but her spirit was indomitable.
On the National Board she was reliable and constant, not voluble but steady of purpose. If she approved of what was happening, she often left the talking to others; but if she disapproved, you knew it.
My last real talk with Terry occurred in the fall of 1989 when I attended the Florida convention in Miami. She is now gone, and our movement is poorer for her absence. When Bob called to tell me of her death, his words were few, but his grief could be felt. We share with him that grief and express our sorrow at Terry's passing.
Tuck Tinsley, President of the American Printing House for the Blind, has asked us to carry the following announcement:
There is good news about Reader's Digest on flexible discs! Effective with the January, 1992, issue, flexible discs will be mailed directly to homes of readers from the American Printing House for the Blind. Readers interested in receiving this service should contact their regional libraries or send postcards indicating interest to: APH Magazine Department, Post Office Box 6389, Louisville, Kentucky 40206. Due to limited staffing, APH is unable to accept phone orders regarding this subscription. The Braille edition of Reader's Digest will continue to be mailed directly to the homes of readers as it has in the past, free of charge, and the cassette edition will continue to be available by subscription for $16.80 for one year or $8.40 for six months.
**TV Magnifying Screens Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
My name is Jim Ursaki of URSA Marketing Group. I distribute TV Magnifying Screens which help visually impaired people watch TV with an enlarged screen.The Screen comes in 3 sizes: CTT-36A--For 20" to 28" TV sets. Enlarges picture to 36". Comes complete with sturdy stand and castors. Retail Price: $120.00 U.S. CTT- 30A--For 19" to 26" TV sets. Enlarges picture to 30". Television set sits on arms with screen in front. Retail Price: $70.00 U.S. CTT-25A--For 13" to 19" TV sets. Enlarges picture to 25". Television set sits on arms with screen in front. Retail Price: $56.00 U.S.
Also there are magnifying sheets: 3.75 in. X 5.30 in. with vinyl bag. Retail Price: $2.00 U.S. 8.25 in. X 10.80 in. Retail Price: $4.00 U.S.
I'm sure these products will interest you and your organization. For more information, please call, fax, or write: James Ursaki, URSA Marketing Group, #103-8080 Anderson Road, Richmond, B.C. CANADA V6Y 1S4. I am looking forward to receiving your comments.
**Ann Morris Enterprises:
We have been asked to print the following:
Ann Morris Enterprises, Inc., announces the availability of a talking thermometer which reads both medical and weather temperatures. Other products in volume 6 include a beeper locator, talking watch with a lithium battery, Braille calendar book, talking book player with radio, and much more. The large print and cassette editions of the catalogue are free. Send a formatted disk for an IBM copy or $8.00 for Braille. Address all correspondence to Ann Morris Enterprises, Inc., 26 Horseshoe Lane, Levittown, New York 11756, or telephone (516) 796-4938.
We received the following brief meditation from Colleen Roth, Vice President of the Toledo Federation of the Blind and Chair of the Committee on the Blind Multiply Handicapped Child of the Parents of Blind Children Division:
WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT HUGS?
There's no such thing as a bad hug--only good ones and great ones. They're not fattening, and they don't cause cancer or cavities. They're all natural--with no preservatives, artificial ingredients, or pesticide residue. They're cholesterol free, naturally sweet, 100 percent wholesome. And they're a completely renewable natural resource.
They don't require batteries, tune-ups, or x-rays. They're nontaxable, fully returnable, and energy efficient.
They're safe in all kinds of weather; in fact, they're especially good for cold or rainy days. And they're especially effective in treating problems like bad dreams or the Monday blahs.
Never wait until tomorrow to hug someone you could hug today!