The Braille Monitor                                                                                               _July 1997

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Gerald Moreno

PHOTO/CAPTION: Gerald Moreno

The Power of Being Plugged In

by Gerald Moreno

From the Editor: Those of us who have been members of the NFB for many years sometimes take for granted all the benefits we receive from the organization every day. It's fairly easy for those who read Federation material but remain aloof from contact with members to dismiss as propaganda the enthusiastic stories of those who have recently discovered what a difference the National Federation of the Blind has made in their lives. Gerald Moreno presented the following speech during the Job Opportunities for the Blind Seminar at the 1997 convention of the NFB of New Jersey on April 18. It is a salutary reminder to us all of how important it is that we share the gift of the Federation with every blind person willing to listen. This is what Gerald Moreno said:

I wanted to use the hair dryer last week. My daughter likes to keep it in her room, and I always have to look for it. She claims that I do not have enough hair to use a dryer. Annoyed by the search, I grabbed the plug and plugged it in. It didn't work. I had a perfectly good hair dryer, and it didn't work. Then I realized that I had plugged in the wrong cord. When I plugged in the right one, it worked.

It wasn't that the hair dryer wouldn't or couldn't work; it should have worked, but it didn't because I had grabbed the wrong plug. The same can be said for the about 70 percent of blind people in this nation who are unemployed. There are perfectly employable blind people out there who, for whatever reason, are not plugged in and not working. Others are working below their potential.

I would like to share my experiences with you about the power of being plugged in--how, why, where. I entered Rutgers in 1968. In late 1969 I had to stop driving because my eyesight had deteriorated. At that point I went through what many blind people go through. Many weeks and many tests later I was declared legally blind. Until this time I was not aware that there was a National Federation of the Blind.

I registered with the library in Trenton, RFB in Princeton, and the New Jersey Commission for the Blind. At that time the Commission paid for my tuition and books and gave me spending money. Still I didn't hear about the NFB.

I graduated in 1972 with a B.A. in economics. Thus I began my job search. No one was interested. I felt alone in a world full of people. It was sort of like being a plug that couldn't find the receptacle where the power was.

In November, 1973, I was shopping in the W.T. Grants Department Store and had stopped to ask questions of one of the employees. I related my story to him: no job and my wife four months pregnant. Little did I know that he was the store manager. He told me to file an application for a job, and I was hired on the spot. He gave me a chance.

Although I was working, this job did not pay enough. I continued to search and finally found a job as a social worker for the Essex County Division of Welfare. It was early 1974, and I still hadn't heard of the NFB.

In late 1974 there was a change in managers at my office. A gentleman by the name of William Waldman became the assistant field office supervisor. Mr. Waldman asked me to take oversight of the Work Registration Project. The fact that I was legally blind didn't enter into the equation.

Over the next five years I had contact with the New Jersey Commission for the Blind as I developed various needs. I also had contact with other agencies and groups, but I didn't learn about the NFB yet. One thing that I should have done was remain active with the Talking Book Library in Trenton. During my interview I inquired about receiving Talking Books again. After I reapplied, I was put on their mailing list.

The library's spring newsletter arrived in March of 1994. After being introduced to the technology available and seeing how it would increase my job performance, I was anxious to call a telephone number listed in the newsletter for more information about computers and adaptive technology.

The telephone number belonged to David Denotaris. I called David, and the rest is history. Not only did he talk to me about his computer, he introduced me to an organization that could benefit me. He introduced me to the National Federation of the Blind. Finally I heard! Because I had contact with fellow blind users of adaptive technology, I was better informed. When my employer was about to purchase my adaptive equipment, I found out that they had made some changes, and the substitutions were not compatible. I believe they were acting in good faith, but they didn't have the expertise to assemble a suitable package for me.

By that time I had been in contact with a member of the NFB by the name of Bob Kanish. He explained his system to me, and I wanted a similar one. Just before the altered package was purchased, I was able to intercept the order and have it modified. This technological catastrophe was averted because I was plugged in. A potential problem was converted into an advantage because I had contact with those who knew.

Due to a rather lengthy process (both the Commission's and my employer's) of testing, evaluations, questionnaires, and more, the adaptive equipment arrived in January of 1995. Should it have taken so long? No, but I did get the equipment. We should probably work on shortening the period between the first evaluation and the arrival of any assistance such as training or adaptive equipment.

Think about what would have happened if I hadn't been networking. That is why it is important to be plugged in. You can find out that someone before you has already invented the wheel so that you don't have to reinvent it.

When I met David in April, he asked me to go on a bus ride to the National Center in Baltimore the next month. That is where I attended my first NFB chapter meeting. I also purchased my first cane that day. I often wonder when I would have gotten around to buying one if I had not taken that trip.

It is very important to remain plugged in. Think of a rechargeable battery. As long as it remains connected to the power source, it is energized. The power in the battery would enable you to listen to a radio or tape this talk. If the batteries were run down, you would be powerless to do what you wanted to do.

Just as a battery needs to be charged, so do you. The blind job seeker needs to know how or where to look for a job. Not only the job seeker, but every blind person should take advantage of what is available. As I said earlier, the right equipment was purchased for me because I was plugged in.

You remain plugged in by attending local NFB chapter meetings and conventions and by getting on mailing lists such as Job Opportunities for the Blind, the Braille Monitor, and other worthwhile publications. Developing new relationships and networking with those who have walked the path you are about to walk can help guarantee that you will not succumb to the same pitfalls that others have.

My life has decisively changed since my introduction to the NFB. New friends, experiences, opportunities, and challenges have come my way. The question some might ask is, "How different would things be if you weren't plugged in?" The truth is that I am plugged in, so I don't have to wonder. What I do ponder is, what is next for me?

Recently I read an article by Carol Castellano in the Braille Monitor entitled "Possibilities." (By the way, this appears in the newest Kernel Book, entitled Beginnings and Blueprints.) In the article Carol recounts conversations that she had with her daughter Serena concerning her future. The article reminded me of some conversations that I had with my daughter concerning future possibilities. I said that I was considering going on to further my education. The other possibility was to change careers in a few years. My choices are limited only by my imagination.

The possibilities are countless. However, if you aren't plugged in, you will never be aware of the multitude of choices before you. Why limit yourself? Life has enough restrictions of its own. Don't add to them. Become plugged in and informed of the menu of choices in front of you. Place your order and enjoy. You are a peculiar type of hair dryer. You can decide to plug yourself in or not. Plug yourself in and get hot--on fire for success. The choice is yours.

I chose to be plugged in over three years ago. Being plugged in has revealed to me things that I wouldn't have known otherwise. This is my third state convention, and I am looking forward to my third national. If you have never attended a National Convention, by all means make an effort and meet us in New Orleans. You will assuredly feel the power of being plugged in.