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The decade of the 1950s was, for the organized blind movement in the United States, almost to the end a period of sustained development, of internal harmony and cooperation, and of broad new visions expressed in campaigns of unprecedented daring. Measured in terms of growth alone, the principle of self-organization by the blind was thoroughly vindicated in this decade and the National Federation of the Blind proven to be successful beyond question even by its foes. The 1949 convention had been held in Denver, the 1950 convention in Chicago, and the 1951 convention in Oklahoma City. During these years the Federation continued to expand and mature.
By 1952 some 150 delegates from 31 states were in attendance at the Nashville convention which was organized, as it happened, by a young Tennessee state president named Kenneth Jernigan, attending his first National Convention. At the San Francisco convention four years later, the total climbed to 42 state affiliates with more than 700 delegates. When the National Federation of the Blind convened in Miami for its twentieth anniversary convention in 1960, no fewer than 47 states sent a total of 900 delegates to the scene.
The fifties were also a decade of successive precedents and breakthroughs on a variety of fronts. The 1952 convention featured the first address by a state governor as well as the National Federation of the Blind's first nationwide broadcast (a fifteen-minute address by President tenBroek carried live on NBC). The year 1953, when the convention met in Milwaukee, witnessed the inauguration of the Federation's first substantial fund-raising campaign (which would bear mixed fruit in subsequent years with results both economically productive and internally disruptive). In 1954 at Louisville the first copies appeared of Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind and What is the National Federation of the Blind both of them written by Kenneth Jernigan (the first is reprinted in updated form in Appendix B to this volume). The next year saw the first of many National Federation of the Blind surveys of state programs for the blind carried out at gubernatorial request those of Colorado and Arkansas, authored jointly by Jernigan and First Vice President George Card. In 1953 as well, the Newel Perry Award for distinguished service to the blind was presented for the first time; it went to Governor Ed Johnson of Colorado for his courage in inviting the blind into his state to perform the unheard-of function of judging the agency for the blind. Another precedent of much greater significance which was achieved in the course of the decade was the breakthrough in Civil Service employment a slow and arduous process of persistent challenges to the entrance tests in all categories of the Civil Service. The first limited victory came in 1953 when the Civil Service Commission capitulated to mounting pressure and opened just one of its examinations, at that time known as the Junior Management Assistant Examination (reputedly the toughest of the lot), to blind candidates. The result was one of triumph and vindication; across the country, spurred by the National Federation of the Blind, twice as many blind applicants proportionally passed the examination as those possessing sight. (Some six percent of the blind, as opposed to three percent of the sighted, passed the examination.) By the early sixties, as a chastened Commission began to work cooperatively with the Federation, most of the civil service barriers came tumbling down, with the result that today blind men and women are at work for the federal government in ever-increasing numbers as attorneys, chemists, switchboard operators, transcribers, skilled workers, and much more.
Of all the campaigns of reform launched by the National Federation of the Blind during the dynamic decade of the fifties, none was more sweeping in ambition or momentous in significance than the struggle for the right to organize, which centered around embattled legislation known then and ever since as the Kennedy Bill after its co-sponsor, Senator (and future President) John F. Kennedy. The need for such legislation, protecting the right of blind organizations to exist without harassment from hostile agencies, became urgent early in the decade as the remarkable success of the Federation in recruiting blind persons to its cause and carrying out independent surveys of state programs began to draw alarmed resistance and opposition from major elements of what was to become known as the Blindness System. As the word of Federationism was carried to the cities and towns of America, new and independent associations of blind people sprang up while old organizations that had grown dormant were given a new lease on life. In state after state these local groups formed themselves into statewide bodies, which in turn sought affiliation with the National Federation of the Blind. Each level of organization gained strength and confidence from the other and together they exerted mounting pressure upon the public agencies.
The response of the agencies to this independent activity and spirit was not wholly negative, to be sure. In some states the organized blind were regarded not as a threat to existing policies but as an invaluable source of information and advice in the mutual effort to improve state programs and services. In these cooperative relationships the National Federation of the Blind typically lent a hand in such areas as public relations, funding, and the pursuit of progressive legislation. But if many public and voluntary agencies greeted the rise of the organized blind movement in a spirit of cooperation, there were as many others both within the states and nationally which reacted with bitter hostility. Their opposition had various causes, of course, among them the simple disbelief that blind persons might be capable of managing their own lives and exercising the normal rights of other citizens.
But there was a more immediate and practical not to say vengeful motive behind the opposition of numerous elements in the blindness system; it was the perceived threat to various of their programs and institutions, notably the sheltered workshops and the blind-oriented federal vending stand program, which represented a formidable stake in the continued dependency of the blind. Managerial groups tended not unnaturally to look upon independent organizations of their blind workers as trade unions seeking to improve their rights and working conditions; and indeed the two were related, as the National Federation of the Blind state affiliates pressed for a variety of reforms in the agency programs and supported the affiliation of shop workers with actual labor unions.
By the time of the NFB's 1956 convention in San Francisco, the agency attacks upon the organized blind movement were no longer merely scattered but concerted and orchestrated; and not merely critical but bitterly hostile and frequently vicious. In a classic convention address, Within the Grace of God, which combined satirical humor with moral urgency, President Jacobus tenBroek undertook to counter these attacks and to answer the questions they were raising: Whence come these attacks? What is the motivation behind them? Is such conflict unavoidable? To what degree is reconciliation possible? The full text of his memorable speech follows:
by Jacobus tenBroek
It is a privilege of a very special order, and one to which I have long looked forward, to address you here tonight in the unique and wonderful city of San Francisco. For all of us who are native Californians (which means as you know that we have moved at least six months ago from Iowa or Oklahoma) this occasion marks the fulfillment of a cherished ambition; and we feel something of the pardonable pride of hosts who know that their hospitality has been as graciously accepted as it has been warmly given.
But there is something else that is special about the present occasion. Our city and our state are blessed in this year of grace with not one but two history-making conventions, each of which is appearing on the local stage for the first time: our own and that of the Republican Party. There can be no question, of course, which is the more important and far-reaching in its consequences but let us admit that the Republicans too have an objective of some scope.
During our regular convention sessions today we have had a fairly full review of the work of the National Federation of the Blind. We have seen the accelerated growth of the organizatio marked by the accession of nine state affiliates in the year since our last National Convention, lifting us from a beginning of seven states in 1940 to a grand total of forty-two states today and with a clear view of affiliates in forty-eight states in the foreseeable future. We have seen an organization with purposes as irrepressible as the aspiration of men to be free, with far-flung activities and accomplishments, with the solid adherence and participation of rank and file members, and with the selfless devotion of an ever-increasing array of able and distinguished leaders. We have seen the action and the forces of action. We have also seen the reaction and the forces of reaction. There is perhaps no stronger testimony to our developing prestige and influence as the nationwide movement and organization of the blind than the scope and intensity of the attacks upon us. These attacks are not new. They have persisted from the very beginning. They have ranged from unspeakable, whispering campaigns against the character and integrity of the leaders of the Federation to public disparagement of its goals and structure. Now, however, the attacks have taken on a new bitterness and violence. They include open avowals of a determination to wipe several of our affiliates out of existence and every step possible has been taken to bring about this result.
Whence come these attacks? What is the motivation behind them? Are they personal? Are they institutional? Are they based on policy differences as to ends as well as to means? What is the pattern of action and reaction for the future? Is such conflict unavoidable? To what degree is reconciliation possible?
It is to an analysis of these problems and to an answer to these questions that I should like to direct your attention tonight. Let me begin by giving you a purely hypothetical and very fanciful situation. Imagine that somewhere in the world there exists a civilization in which the people without hair that is the bald are looked down upon and rigidly set apart from everyone else by virtue of their distinguishing physical characteristic. If you can accept this fantasy for a moment, it is clear that at least two kinds of organization would come into being dedicated to serve the interests of these unfortunate folk. First, I suggest, there would appear a group of non-bald persons drawn together out of sympathy for the sorry condition of this rejected minority: in short, a benevolent society with a charitable purpose and a protective role. At first, all of the members of this society would be volunteers, doing the work on their free time and out of the goodness of their hearts. Later, paid employees would be added who would earn their livelihood out of the work and who would gradually assume a position of dominance. This society would, I believe, have the field pretty much to itself for a rather long time. In the course of years, it would virtually eliminate cruel and unusual punishment of the bald, furnish them many services, and finally create enclaves and retreats within which the hairless might escape embarrassing contact with normal society and even find a measure of satisfaction and spiritual reward in the performance of simple tasks not seriously competitive with the ordinary pursuits of the larger community.
The consequence of this good work would, I venture to say, be a regular flow of contributions by the community, an acceptance by the community of the charitable foundation as the authentic interpreter of the needs of those unfortunate and inarticulate souls afflicted with baldness, an increasing veneration for the charitable foundation, and a general endorsement of its principles, and gradually but irresistibly the growth of a humanitarian awareness that the bald suffer their condition through no fault of their own and accordingly that they should be sponsored, protected, tolerated, and permitted to practice, under suitable supervision and control, what few uncomplicated trades patient training may reveal them able to perform.
Eventually, a great number of charitable organizations would be established in the field of work for the bald. They or some of them would join together in a common association which might well be entitled the American Association of Workers for the Bald. Step by step, upon the published Proceedings of their annual meetings, carefully edited to eliminate the views of the outspoken bald, they would aspire to climb to professional status. As a part of their self-assigned roles as interpreters and protectors of the bald, they or some of them, would sooner or later undertake to lay down criteria and standards for all service programs for the bald to be a manual of guidance for those responsible for operating the programs.
These, then, would be the assumptions and the ends to which the charitable organizations for the bald would tirelessly and successfully exert themselves. They would petition the community through both public and private enterprise to support these purposes, and their appeals would dramatize them through a subtle invocation of the sympathetic and compassionate traits of human nature. Sooner or later, some of them in order to drive competitors out of business, garner favor with the public, and give color of legitimacy to their own methods would issue what they would unabashedly call a code of fund-raising ethics.
All this presumably would take much time; but before too many generations had passed I expect that most if not all of these objectives would have come to fruition, and there would appear to be an end to the problem of the bald.
Unfortunately, however, there seem always to be those who persist in questioning established institutions and revered traditions; and in my improbable fable, at some point well along in the story, there would appear a small band of irascible individuals a little group of willful men bent on exposing and tearing down the whole laborious and impressive structure of humanitarianism and progress. Incredibly and ironically, these malcontents would emerge from the very ranks of the bald themselves. At first I suspect that they would pass unheard and almost unnoticed; but eventually their numbers would increase and their dissent become too insistent to be easily ignored. What they would be saying, as I make it out, is something like this:
You have said that we are different because we are bald, and that this difference marks us as inferior. But we do not agree with certain Biblical parables that possession of hair is an index of strength, certainly not that it is a measure either of virtue or of ability. Owing to your prejudice and perhaps your guilt because you do not like to look upon us you have barred us from the normal affairs of the community and shunted us aside as if we were pariahs. But we carry no contagion and present no danger, except as you define our condition as unclean and make of our physical defect a stigma. In your misguided benevolence you have taken us off the streets and provided shelters where we might avoid the pitiless gaze of the non-bald and the embarrassment of their contact. But what we wish chiefly is to be back on the streets, with access to all the avenues of ordinary commerce and activity. We do not want your pity, since there need be no occasion for it; and it is not we who suffer embarrassment in company with those whom we deem our fellows and our equals. You have been kind to us, and if we were animals we should perhaps be content with that; but our road to hell has been paved with your good intentions.
One of the leaders of the bald doubtless would rise to say:
We do not want compassion, we want understanding; we do not want tolerance, we want acceptance; we do not want charity, we want opportunity; we do not want dependency, we want independence. You have given us much, but you have withheld more; you have withheld those values which we prize above all else, exactly as you do: personal liberty, dignity, privacy, opportunity, and most of all equality. But if it is not in your power, or consistent with your premises, to see these things as our goals, be assured that it is within our power and consistent with our self-knowledge to demand them and to press for their attainment. For we know by hard experience what you do not know, or have not wished to recognize: that given the opportunity we are your equals; that as a group we are no better and no worse than you being in fact a random sample of yourselves. We are your doubles, whether the yardstick be intellectual or physical or psychological or occupational. Our goals, in short, are these: we wish to be liberated, not out of society but into it; we covet independence, not in order to be distinct but in order to be equal. We are aware that these goals, like the humane objectives you have labored so long to accomplish, will require much time and effort and wisdom to bring into being. But the painful truth must be proclaimed that your purposes are not our purposes; we do not share your cherished assumptions of the nature of baldness, and will not endure the handicap you have placed upon it.
And so we have formed our own organization, in order to speak for ourselves from the experience which we alone have known and can interpret. We bear no malice and seek no special favors, beyond the right and opportunity to join society as equal partners and members in good standing of the great enterprise that is our nation and our common cause.
End of quotation end of fable. Is this fable simply a fanciful story or is it a parable? Some will say, I have no doubt, that I have not presented the case of the blind that there is no parallel and therefore no parable. For one thing, is it not surely ridiculous to imagine that any civilized society could so baldly misinterpret the character of those who are not blessed with hair on their heads? It may be! But civilized society has always so misinterpreted the character of those who lack sight in their eyes; and on a basis of that misinterpretation has created the handicap of blindness. You and I know that blind people are simply people who cannot see; society believes that they are people shorn of the capacity to live normal, useful, productive lives, and that belief has largely tended to make them so.
For another thing, did the fable accurately portray the attitudes of at least some of the agencies for the blind? Are their goals really so different from the goals of the blind themselves? Do they actually arrogate to themselves the roles of interpreter and protector, ascribing to their clients characteristics of abnormality and dependency? To answer these questions and to demonstrate the bona fides of the parable, I shall let some agency leaders speak for themselves in the form of seven recent quotations:
Quotation number one uttered by an agency psychiatrist: All visible deformities require special study. Blindness is a visible deformity and all blind persons follow a pattern of dependency. That one hardly requires any elucidation to make its meaning plain.
Quotation number two uttered by the author of a well-known volume upon the blind for which the American Association of Workers for the Blind conferred upon him a well-known award: With many persons, there was an expectation in the establishment of the early schools that the blind in general would thereby be rendered capable of earning their own support a view that even at the present is shared in some quarters. It would have been much better if such a hope had never been entertained, or if it had existed in a greatly modified form. A limited acquaintance of a practical nature with the blind as a whole and their capabilities has usually been sufficient to demonstrate the weakness of this conception. That one also speaks adequately for itself.
Quotation number three uttered by a well-known blind agency head: After he is once trained and placed, the average disabled person can fend for himself. In the case of the blind, it has been found necessary to set up a special state service agency which will supply them not only rehabilitation training but other services for the rest of their lives. The agencies keep in constant contact with them as long as they live. So the blind are unique among the handicapped in that, no matter how well-adjusted, trained, and placed, they require lifelong supervision by the agencies.
Quotation number four uttered by another well-known blind agency head: The operation of the vending stand program, we feel, necessitates maintaining a close control by the Federal Government through the licensing agency with respect to both equipment and stock, as well as the actual supervision of the operation of each individual stand. It is therefore our belief that the program would fail if the blind stand managers were permitted to operate without control. This is, of course, just the specific application of the general doctrine of the incompetence of the blind expressed in the previous quotation. Blind businessmen are incapable of operating an independent business. The agencies must supervise and control the stock, equipment, and the business operation.
Quotation number five, first sentence of the Code of Ethics (so-called) of the American Association of Workers for the Blind: The operations of all agencies for the blind entail a high degree of responsibility because of the element of public trusteeship and protection of the blind involved in services to the blind. The use of the word protection makes it plain that the trusteeship here referred to is of the same kind as that existing under the United Nations Trusteeship Council that is, custody and control of underprivileged, backward, and dependent peoples.
Quotation number six uttered by still another well-known blind agency head: To dance and sing, to play and act, to swim, bowl, and roller skate, to work creatively in clay, wood, aluminum, or tin, to make dresses, to join in group readings or discussions, to have entertainments and parties, to engage in many other activities of one's choosing this is to fill the life of anyone with the things that make life worth living. Are these the things that make life worth living for you? Only the benevolent keeper of an asylum could make this remark only a person who views blindness as a tragedy which can be somewhat mitigated by little touches of kindness and service to help pass the idle hours but which cannot be overcome. Some of these things may be accessories to a life well filled with other things a home, a job, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, for example.
Quotation number seven uttered by still another head of a blind agency: A job, a home, and the right to be a citizen, will come to the blind in that generation when each and every blind person is a living advertisement of his ability and capacity to accept the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. Then we professionals will have no problem of interpretation because the blind will no longer need us to speak for them, and we, like primitive segregation, will die away as an instrument which society will include only in its historical records. A job, a home, and the right to be a citizen, are not now either the possessions or the rights of the blind they will only come to the blind in a future generation! A generation, moreover, which will never come to the sighted since it is one in which each and every blind person will live up to some golden rule far beyond the human potential. In that never-to-be-expected age, the leaders of the agencies for the blind will no longer discharge their present function of interpretation, because the blind will then be able to speak for themselves.
Whatever else can be said about these quotations, no one can say that these agency leaders lack candor. They have stated their views with the utmost explicitness. Moreover, these are not isolated instances of a disappearing attitude, a vestigial remainder of a forgotten era. Such expressions are not confined to those here quoted. Many other statements of the same force and character could be produced; and the evidence that the deed has been suited to the word is abundant. At long last, we now know that we must finally lay at rest the pious platitude and the hopeful conjecture that the blind themselves and the agencies for the blind are really all working towards the same objectives and differ only as to means for achieving them. I would that it were so. We are not in agreement as to objectives although we frequently disagree as to means as well.
The frankly avowed purposes and the practices of the agencies tend in the direction of continued segregation along vocational and other lines. The blind would move vigorously in the direction of increasing integration, of orienting, counseling, and training the blind towards competitive occupations and placing them therein, towards a job, a home, and normal community activities and relations. The agencies, by their words and their acts, tend to sanctify and reinforce those semi-conscious stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes which have always plagued the condition of the physically disabled and the socially deprived. We, by our words and acts, would weaken them and gradually blot them out altogether. Their statements assert and their operations presuppose a need for continuous, hovering surveillance of the sightless in recreation, occupation, and congregation virtually from cradle to grave. We deny that any such need exists and refute the premise of necessary dependency and incompetence on which it is based. Their philosophy derives from and still reflects the philanthropic outlook and ethical uplift of those Friendly Visitors of a previous century whose self-appointed mission was to guide their less fortunate neighbors to personal salvation through a combination of material charity and moral edification. We believe that the problems of the blind are at least as much social as personal and that a broad frontal attack on public misconceptions and existing program arrangements for the blind is best calculated to achieve desirable results. We believe, moreover, that it is worthwhile inquiring into the rationale of any activity which takes as its psychological premise the double-barreled dogma that those deprived of sight are deprived also of judgment and common sense, and that therefore what they need above all else is to be adjusted to their inferior station through the wise ministrations of an elite corps of neurosis-free custodians.
The agency leaders say, and apparently believe, that the blind are not entitled to the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship or to full membership in society betokened by such attributes of normal life as a home and a job. This can only be predicated on the proposition that the blind are not only abnormal and inferior but they are so abnormal and inferior that they are not even persons. We believe that blind people are precisely as normal as other people are, being in fact a cross section of the rest of the community in every respect except that they cannot see. But were this not so, their abnormality would not strip them of their personality. The Constitution of the United States declares that all persons born in the United States or naturalized are citizens. There is nothing in the Constitution or in the gloss upon it which says that this section shall not apply to persons who are blind. If born in the United States or naturalized, whether before or after blindness, blind persons are citizens of the United States now and are now, not merely in some future generation, possessed of the right to be citizens and share the privileges, immunities, and responsibilities of that status. Moreover, the bounty of the Constitution extends to all persons, whether citizens or not, rights to freedom, equality, and individuality. As citizens, then, or as persons, who happen to be deprived of one of their physical senses, we claim, under the broad protection of the Constitution, the right to life, personal freedom, personal security; the right to marry, to have and rear children, and to maintain a home; and the right, so far as government can assure it, to that fair opportunity to earn a livelihood which will make these other rights possible and significant. We have the right freely to choose our fields of endeavor, unhindered by arbitrary, artificial, or manmade impediments. All limitations on our opportunity, all restrictions on us based on irrelevant considerations of physical disability, are in conflict with our Constitutional right of equality and must be removed. Our access to the mainstreams of community life, the aspirations and achievements of each of us, are to be limited only by the skills, energy, talents, and abilities we individually bring to the opportunities equally open to all Americans.
Finally, we claim as our birthright, as our Constitutional guarantee, and as an indivestible aspect of our nature the fundamental human right of self-expression, the right to speak for ourselves individually and collectively. Inseparably connected with this right is the right of common association. The principle of self-organization means self-guidance and self-control. To say that the blind can, should, and do lead the blind is only to say that they are their own counselors, that they stand on their own feet. In the control of their own lives, in the responsibility for their own programs, in the organized and consistent pursuit of objectives of their own choosing in these alone lies the hope of the blind for economic independence, social integration, and emotional security.
You may think that what I have said exaggerates the error and the danger to be expected from those whose only interest is to serve the welfare of the blind. I think it does not. No one could ask, it is true, for any more conscientious and devoted public servants than those who serve in the rank and file of the agencies for the blind, public and private. The leaders of many agencies, too, must be given commendation for enlightened policies and worthwhile programs. We have heard from some of these agency leaders yesterday at our convention and we will hear from more before our convention is over. No one can doubt either that the agencies when so manned and so led may be of immense and constructive assistance in a multitude of ways, during the onward movement of the blind into full membership in society. As to some of the agencies not headed by leaders of the character just described, credit must be given for sincerity and good intentions. This, however, but serves to raise the question whether, in social terms, sincere and upright folly is better or worse than knavery. This discussion I forbear to enter.
What should the posture of the National Federation of the Blind be in the midst of these attacks and struggles? As the possessors of power, we must exercise it responsibly, impersonally, and with self-restraint. As a people's movement, we cannot allow others to deflect us from our course. We must apply our power and influence to achieve our legitimate goals. To this end, we must all exert ourselves to the utmost. Our opponents have history and outmoded concepts on their side. We have democracy and the future on ours. For the sake of those who are now blind and those who hereafter will be blind and for the sake of society at large we cannot fail. If the National Federation of the Blind continues to be representative in its character, democratic in its procedures, open in its purposes, and loyal in its commitments so long, that is, as the faith of the blind does not become blind faith we have nothing to fear, no cause for apology, and only achievement to look forward to. We may carry our program to the public with confidence and conviction choosing the means of our expression with proper care but without calculation, and appearing before the jury of all our peers not as salesmen but as spokesmen, not as hucksters but as petitioners for simple justice and the redress of unmerited grievances. We will have no need to substitute the advertisement for the article itself nor to prefer a dramatic act to an undramatic fact. If this is group pressure, it is group pressure in the right direction. If this involves playing politics, it is a game as old as democracy, with the stakes as high as human aspiration.
In the sixteenth century, John Bradford made a famous remark which has ever since been held up to us as a model of Christian humility and correct charity and which you saw reflected in the agency quotations I presented. Seeing a beggar in his rags creeping along a wall through a flash of lightning in a stormy night Bradford said: But for the Grace of God, there go I. Compassion was shown; pity was shown; charity was shown; humility was shown; there was even an acknowledgement that the relative positions of the two could and might have been switched. Yet despite the compassion, despite the pity, despite the charity, despite the humility, how insufferably arrogant! There was still an unbridgeable gulf between Bradford and the beggar. They were not one but two. Whatever might have been, Bradford thought himself Bradford and the beggar a beggar one high, the other low; one wise, the other misguided; one strong, the other weak; one virtuous, the other depraved.
We do not and cannot take the Bradford approach. It is not just that beggary is the badge of our past and is still all too often the present symbol of social attitudes towards us; although that is at least part of it. But in the broader sense, we are that beggar and he is each of us. We are made in the same image and out of the same ingredients. We have the same weaknesses and strengths, the same feelings, emotions, and drives; and we are the product of the same social, economic, and other environmental forces. How much more consonant with the facts of individual and social life, how much more a part of a true humanity, to say instead: There, within the Grace of God, do go I. Thank you.
That convention address of 1956 by President tenBroek did not, of course, for all its reasoned argument and good humor, bring an end to the strife brought on by the coalition of hostile agencies in the blindness system. On the contrary, in the next few years the agency forces retaliated in more areas and in new ways. Blind workers in the sheltered shops, and blind operators of vending stands in state-controlled programs, were fired out of hand or threatened with dismissal if they dared to join or support the National Federation of the Blind. Blind employees of state agencies and commissions were subjected to a wide variety of pressures. Confidential case records of blind persons active in the National Federation of the Blind, who were receiving public aid or services, were opened and their contents exploited in an effort to discredit them and their group affiliations. At one desperate point, a combination of state agencies created a special committee, a kind of strike force, to seek ways of counteracting and undermining the Federation. President Jacobus tenBroek put the case squarely and simply when he declared at the 1957 convention in New Orleans: The National Federation of the Blind stands today an embattled organization. Our motives have been impugned; our purposes reviled; our integrity aspersed; our representative character denied. Plans have been laid, activities undertaken, and concerted actions set in motion for the clear and unmistakable purpose of bringing about our destruction. Nothing less is sought than our extinction as an organization.
The response of the Federation to these attacks constitutes one of the most dramatic chapters of its history: namely, the campaign to gain protection for the right of the blind to organize, to speak for themselves, and to be heard. In effect there were three distinctive rights involved in this struggle: the right to organize invoked the constitutional guarantee of free association and assembly; the right of the blind to speak for themselves involved not only free-speech guarantees but the very principles of representative democracy; and the right to be heard, perhaps the most controversial of all, implied the development of regular channels of consultation and participation of the blind in the broad range of public programs affecting their lives. On the face of it these were far-reaching demands; in the context of blind affairs, hitherto a history of the inarticulate, the demands were nothing short of revolutionary.
In a compelling speech delivered at the 1957 convention in New Orleans, President tenBroek definitively portrayed the three rights of the blind revolution and the 300,000 wronged by their denial. He made clear the interconnections between the right to organize, the right to speak, and the right to be heard; and he laid down a challenge to the hostile agencies of the blindness system to cease their destructive attacks and join the cause in which, officially and ostensibly, they served the cause of security, opportunity, and equality for blind Americans. Here is what he said to the convention:
by Jacobus tenBroek
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
So said the Great Commoner, Edmund Burke, nearly 300 years ago. And speaking of those who had organized the political associations of Great Britain, he declared: They believed that no men could act with effect who did not act in concert; that no men could act in concert who did not act with confidence; that no men could act with confidence who were not bound together by common opinions, common affections, and common interests.
No luster has been lost from these words over the intervening centuries. Their meaning, if anything, is magnified today, in our modern age of mass organization and mass communication, of vast diversity of interests and differences of opinion. But if the argument for association still holds good for the generality of men, it has a special urgency for the blind men and women of America.
For if we cannot say that bad men have combined against us, we can and do say that men of bad philosophy and little faith have done so sighted and sightless men whose vision is short, whose ears are stopped, and whose minds are closed by institutional and occupational self-interest, whose banner is the wretched patchwork of medieval charity and poor relief.
When such as these combine, the blind indeed must associate: else we shall fall, as we have fallen in the past, one by one, a merely pitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
And if it is also true, as Burke believed, that no men can act with effect who do not act in concert, how much more profoundly true is this of men who cannot act at all as individuals because they are deprived of every normal avenue of opportunity and expression. The rejected, the declassified, the disfranchised, the custodialized, are compelled in sheer self-defense to organize to act in concert in order to act with effect to act with confidence in order to act in concert and to bind themselves together on the basis of their common opinions, common affections, and common interests.
The blind of America have bound themselves together primarily in order to unbind themselves of the arbitrary shackles which throughout all history have confined their movement and smothered their self-expression. Their emancipation from this social straitjacket requires the achievement of three essential and inseparable rights: three rights which constitute the fountainhead of American democracy and the recognized birthright of ordinary citizens: three rights withheld from our 300,000 blind.
They are the right to organize, the right to speak, and the right to be heard.
These rights comprise a trinity related as closely to one another as the points of a triangle. Each gains its meaning in the presence of the others; each loses its significance in the absence of the others. To paraphrase the language of Burke, no men can act effectively who do not have the right to organize; no men can organize at all who do not have the right to self-expression; and no men can achieve self-expression who do not have the right to be heard.
That these three rights are indeed inseparable that each is the touchstone of the others was fully recognized by those who framed our Constitution, and who placed them side by side in the First Amendment, identified as the rights of free speech, assembly, and petition essential liberties beyond the control of Congress but not beyond its protection.
In modern terms, the right of free speech is the right of self-expression; the right of assembly is the right to organize; and the right of petition is the right to be heard.
The blind of America are today in the throes of an historic struggle to secure for themselves these rights which the Constitution guarantees to all Americans. In two bills now before Congress S. 2411, sponsored by Senator Kennedy, and H.R. 8609, sponsored by Congressman Baring are incorporated the safeguards which for the first time in history would gain for the blind the rights to self-organization, to self-expression, and to consultation in the public conduct of their affairs.
Before turning to that legislation, let us take a closer look at this trinity of rights the struggle for which has plunged us into the most bitterly contested battle of our organized existence.
First of all, what is the right to organize? At bottom, it is only the recognition, in law and common sense, that man is a social animal and that, in particular, men of common interests and a common purpose gain satisfaction and support from each other's company. But there is more to it than that. In a self-governing democracy the right to organize is virtually synonymous with the right of self-expression that freedom of speech which is the foundation of all our liberties. Our theory of government is an attempt to capture the values of a diverse society; to seek the truth through open competition in the marketplace of ideas. It is essential to this principle that all legitimate demands be heard, that no body of citizens be silenced or suppressed. The great value of voluntary groups and associations to democracy is that they give a voice to citizens who, in Burke's words, are bound together by common opinions, common affections, and common interests. Without the right to organize, the right to speak would remain for millions a cruel mockery of their mute condition. For these groups it is organization alone which makes the right to speak articulate.
If the blind are to speak for themselves, if they are to be heard in public forum and the councils of government, let us be certain that they will speak forcefully, and with a single voice. Let us guard our organized structure from collapse into a Tower of Babela confusion of tongues. Let us remember that to act in concert means to take concerted action; that the hallmark of a functioning democracy is not anarchy but unity; and that when all of us are faithful to our responsibilities as members, we may be sure that we shall act in concert and with confidence that the voice of the blind will be heard in the land and that it will carry the ring of truth.
But what is this right to be heard, and why is it so closely linked to the right to speak and the right to organize? The answer is of course that no degree of organization, and no amount of speech, is of any value if no one is listening. The right to be heard is the right to be consulted in matters of direct and vital concern. It is the right to have access to the agencies of government, the right to an audience at the seats of the mighty, the right of petition, the right of fair hearing. The right to be heard, for the organized blind, means in particular the right of consultation with the administrators of federal-state programs of public assistance, of vocational rehabilitation, of vending stands, and of other aids and services. But the right to be heard extends equally to consultation with those so-called private agencies which in effect are quasi-public in their structure, in the character of their programs, and in the source of their funds. These large foundations and charitable institutions, often the recipients of public aid and always the advisor of public programs, bear an obligation equal to that of government to consult with the clients of their services who must otherwise become the victims of their arbitrary authority.
Until such agencies as these, both public and quasi-public, recognize the right of the blind to be heard, our cause may endure but it can never prevail. For no constitution, no law, no formal regulation, can compel anyone to listen. There are none so deaf as those who will not hear no minds so closed as those resistant to new ideas and to the appeals of newly vocal groups. But it is the right to be heard, through the means of consultation, which we are seeking to establish in the two bills now before Congress. I might add that our immediate task is to establish the right of these bills to be heard: to get them before the proper committees and to give them a public hearing. Once this right has been recognized and implemented by Congress, our voice will no longer cry in a wilderness. Our words will then fall upon the ears of government, not always perhaps like music, but like the serious speech of reasonable men acting in concert and with confidence, and bound together by common opinions, common affections, and common interests.
But is there really a need for protection of the right to be heard? Do not the blind already possess the full sympathy and good wishes of society? Are not their problems clearly recognized and their demands understood and carried out by a benevolent government and a kindly community?
The answer, to put it bluntly, is that the blind have indeed gained sympathy, but they have not gained understanding. They have won compassion without comprehension. Over the centuries they have progressed from the status of outcasts to that of social wards but not yet to that of free citizens. The goals of protection of adequate shelter, of minimum security, are presently within their grasp; but the goals of dignity, of opportunity, of independence, of total integration into normal society, are still placed beyond their reach. In short, the blind have been given the right to life; it remains for them to secure the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The present halfway house in which the blind live results from the fact that, until a very short time ago, the blind remained silent while others spoke for them sighted benefactors who wished them well but neither knew nor understood the reality of loss of sight. These good neighbors and well-meaning friends contributed unwittingly to the development of a crippling stereotype, a two-sided image of the nature of blindness which is equally in error on both sides: it has been too pessimistic on the one hand and too optimistic on the other.
The apparent paradox of this popular stereotype is the product of society's failure to distinguish clearly between the two different kinds of limitation which accompany blindness: the physical limitation and the social limitation. On the one hand, the physical effects of loss of sight have been drastically exaggerated in all societies. The blind man, intoned an ancient saying, is as one dead!
If that view is no longer current, it is still commonly believed that the blind man is as one immobilized. This conviction of the total immobilization of the blind person has persisted stubbornly in the face of massive scientific and factual evidence to the contrary. Nor is it a view usually held toward others of the physically handicapped. Surely there are few who imagine that loss of hearing, for example, carries with it the loss of all mental faculties; or that the lack of taste, or of the sense of smell, must render a man incapable of normal activity and enterprise. Nevertheless, it is widely felt that loss of sight involves a total personality transformation which leaves its victims mentally incompetent, psychologically abnormal, socially inept, and physically helpless.
That is one side of the stereotype: a thoroughly pessimistic and defeatist picture of the physical effects of loss of sight. On the other side, no less significant and no less wrong, is an attitude of casual optimism if not unconcern toward the social limitations imposed by the sighted community upon the blind. These social limitations include discrimination in employment; segregation in and from ordinary social relations; exclusion from living accommodations, public and private; rejection from many of the normal activities of the community; and relations with government in which they are viewed as wards rather than citizens, or as patients rather than clients. They have not yet been fully emancipated and are very far from being accepted on a basis of social equality and individual capacity. Their inferior and deprived status is thought to be their normal, natural, and inevitable lot.
Fortunately today there are increasing signs of a basic change in this traditional perspective. The blind themselves are organized and steadily winning the right to self-expression and to consultation in the public conduct of their affairs. No less important, growing numbers of welfare and service groups are coming to recognize and support the competence of the blind in the management of their own affairs.
Among the most striking and heartening examples of this new spirit of cooperation and understanding as opposed to condescension and pity is that developing in the Lions Clubs of America. I could take a good deal of your time this evening illustrating the ways in which Lions in many parts of the country are participating with us today in our movement toward equality and self-expression. But I know of no better statement of this new spirit of Lionism, than that which was made before our National Convention this summer by Tim Seward, himself a prominent Lion and administrative assistant to Congressman Walter S. Baring of Nevada. In the past, said Mr. Seward, the Lions who have always felt a particular closeness to their blind neighbors have done things for them rather than with them.
I believe we are on the threshold of a new era. I know that there are some of us in Lionism [he goes on to say] who feel that the blind are infringing on our right by conducting their own white cane drives, because the Lions for the past 25 years have honored White Cane Day. But the white cane is a symbol of blindness, and what more understanding and true spirit of Lionism could there be than to return the symbol of blindness to the blind and thank God they are able to carry their own banner.
I believe [he continued] that it is time we better understand our relationship with the blind, and to do that we must better understand the blind. We should understand that you not only seek but are entitled to both social and economic equality; that you are normal people and as such you have the right of self-expression as individuals and through your organizations; that both federal and state agencies should consult with your representatives in formulating programs that concern your welfare, or further your opportunities. To this end I believe we can work together as a team, and lend a hand when it is needed. I believe that it is far better that we learn the purposes and objectives of your organization and help you accomplish them rather than try to steer you on a different course. In short, I believe we should work with you rather than for you, and this I believe is true Lionism.
This clear affirmation is representative of a spirit rapidly spreading today among welfare and service organizations. This new spirit has been translated into practical administration by many public officials including some who administer programs for the blind. We have received from blind agency personnel in a substantial number of states correspondence testifying to the value of close consultation with organizations of the blind. Listen to these quotations:
1. From the organized blind of the state, the state has received sound advice concerning the problems and needs of the blind, thus enabling us to draft policies and procedures which are not only realistic but are also geared to helping blind persons in their efforts to decrease dependency.
2. The organizations of the blind have undertaken an interpretative program among their members with respect to the responsibilities, as well as the rights, of recipients of aid to the blind. This in turn has contributed greatly to the smooth functioning administration of the program.
3. As an administrator, I have found the State Federation of the Blind a valued source of assistance in administering services for the blind. Its activities have been a key factor in the growth and improvement of our programs during the past few years.
4. From the first, the Federation has provided helpful counsel and advice to the department. One means has been through its representation on the State Aid to the Blind Advisory Committee.
5. I feel that it is of the utmost importance to know how the persons served feel about the services provided, how such services can be improved. The Federation of the Blind has been an excellent vehicle for this purpose.
6. Please be assured of this agency's willingness and intention of always and in every way possible carrying out the thesis that we can progress in the interest of the blind only by close cooperation, and we certainly believe that when blind people organize together to help themselves it certainly is helpful to any group or agency interested in the same ultimate goals.
7. The values derived from close consultation with the blind cannot be obtained from any other source.
Who are the state administrators who have made these and similar statements? Are they unknowns in the field? Are they minor officials without position, influence, or opportunity to observe the overall picture? Quite the contrary! They are the top administrators of their programs, thoroughly in possession of the facts and responsible not only for what they say but for the conduct of their agencies. They are: Harry L. Hines, Director, Services for the Blind, Nebraska; Clifford A. Stocker, Administrator, Commission for the Blind, Oregon; Malcolm Jasper, Director, Iowa Commission for the Blind; Perry Sundquist, Chief, Division for the Blind, California; Merle Kidder, State Director, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, North Dakota; Harry E. Hayes, Director, Services for the Blind, Kansas; T. V. Cranmer, Supervisor, Services for the Blind, Kentucky; Thomas J. Lucas, Director, Division of Public Assistance, Wisconsin; Howard H. Hanson, Director, Services to the Blind, South Dakota; Barbara Coughlan, Director, State Department of Public Welfare, Nevada; John F. Mungovan, Director, State Division of the Blind, Massachusetts.
To confer the benefits which these administrators have listed on all administrators of programs for the blind through Congressional implementation of the rights of organization, speech, and consultation is the very purpose of the Kennedy and Baring bills. That purpose has seemed so obvious to many people that they have wondered why such legislation should be needed at all or, at least, have felt confident that no one could wish to stand in the way of so reasonable an object.
In case there are any among you who still feel such confidence, allow me to remind you of the resolution condemning the Kennedy bill which was railroaded through their convention this summer by a controlling faction of the American Association of Workers for the Blind. In this official diatribe the little group of willful men placed squarely on the record its considered judgment of the competence of blind people generally, the irresponsible character of their organizations, and the dictatorial function of such groups as the AAWB. In their sweeping denunciation of the bill and all it stands for, these agency spokesmen made four distinct and definite points:
First, the blind are second-class citizens, undeserving of the normal responsibilities and privileges accorded as a birthright to other Americans. Do I exaggerate? Here are their exact words: the bill embodies a completely unsound and retrogressive concept of the responsibilities and privileges of blind persons as citizens. What clearer statement could there be of the view that loss of sight is tantamount to loss of citizenship in particular, of the right to speak and the right to be heard?
Second, the organized blind lack even the maturity and simple competence to participate on normal terms in the conduct of programs affecting them. Do I distort their meaning? Now hear this: the proposed legislation, if enacted, would create an arbitrary and unwieldy system of review and supervision of all federally-financed benefits or services on behalf of blind persons by professionally unqualified groups; and such reviews would in effect make these blind persons supervisors of the federal agencies and programs and such administrative procedure would impair the efficiency of federal programs. These statements leave no room for doubt as to the utter contempt with which the dominant elements in the AAWB regard the abilities of their blind clients; in a word, they regard these abilities as nonexistent.
Third, only the AAWB and its fellow custodians possess the rights and competence to consult on programs for the blind in fact, to dictate what these programs are to be and this vested interest must be protected at all costs against the unwarranted intrusion of the blind themselves. Am I unfair to them? Look at the resolution: in contrast to its rejection of the organized blind from consultation, it declares that one of the principal functions of the AAWB is to provide the benefits of its extensive knowledge about the problems of blindness to those leaders in our American society who are responsible for the reflection in legislation of sound social thinking in other words, to advise and supervise the programs for the blind. The resolution is replete with such odious contrasts: where the blind are professionally unqualified, the agencies are professionally responsible and moreover possess the professional processes and authentic information to counteract the errors and evils perpetrated by the unprofessional blind.
Fourth, although the Kennedy bill is here condemned as completely unsound and retrogressive, all of its provisions are said to be contained in the Constitution and in the laws! Does this spurning of the Constitution seem unlikely? Listen: All of the provisions of this bill are already guaranteed in the Constitution of the U.S. and furthermore, most federally authorized programs of benefits already provide through statutes or regulations opportunities for fair hearings. If this is true, then all the preceding statements damning the bill are flagrant attacks upon the Constitution! But what is even more amazing is the incredible constitutional doctrine here set forth that it is unnecessary and improper to give legislative enforcement to any right. This lack of understanding of American government and institutions on the part of a group most of whom are in the employ of government is appalling. Might we observe that the leaders of the AAWB are professionally unqualified when it comes to questions of constitutional law.
By this reasoning we should do away with all our laws against murder because the Constitution guarantees the right to life. By this reasoning we should throw out all our laws protecting property because the Constitution guarantees the right to property. By thi reasoning we should discard all our laws protecting persons against unlawful imprisonment because the Constitution guarantees the right to liberty. By this reasoning we should eliminate all our laws protecting individuals against violence to their persons or invasion of their rights of privacy because the Constitution guarantees the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. By this reasoning we should repeal all those legislative enactments maintaining the rights of citizens because the Constitution forbids abridgment of the privileges and immunities of citizens. By this reasoning we should destroy all those legislative provisions requiring that persons similarly situated be treated alike because the Constitution guarantees to all persons the equal protection of the laws. By this reasoning we should strike down one by one, section by section, clause by clause, those statutes which prohibit the peonage and chattelage of man because the Constitution abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude.
In most of its provisions the Constitution is not a self-executing document. Virtually all of its provisions require the support of special laws in order to gain enforcement. Even the 13th Amendment sometimes cited as one of the few examples of a self-executing provision has been implemented by particular legislation, and indeed the Amendment itself calls for just such - implementation.
To these four planks in the anti-blind platform of the AAWB, some others have recently been added by their once-silent partner, the American Foundation for the Blind. In a July bulletin of the Foundation, the Kennedy bill was also condemned as administratively unsound because it would, in some unspecified way, injure the spread of services for the blind. More important, however, said the Foundation, passage of the measure would tend to further the segregation of blind persons, and coerce them into added identification with selected organized groups if they wished to have any voice in affairs affecting their welfare.
Note the logic of that assertion. The bill would strengthen and assist organizations of the blind therefore it would further the segregation of the blind. In other words there must be no legislation to support the farmers, because it could only serve to further their segregation. There must be no legislation to advance the cause of private enterprise, because it could only serve to further the segregation of businessmen. There must be no legislation on behalf of organized labor, because to strengthen the unions is only to further their segregation. There must be no aid to needy children or the totally and permanently disabled because such aid will further the segregation of these groups. By this logic, there must be no legislation of any kind for any group of citizens except, presumably, that legislation aiding the AFB and the AAWB. That alone may be encouraged without the danger of segregation.
But we may also agree that successful self-organization by the blind would tend to further their segregation from the grip of custodial agencies. As for the charge of coercion, it need only be said that the primary purpose of the Kennedy and Baring bills is to afford the blind protection from the degree of coercion which now exists by virtue of the denial of their rights to organize, to speak for themselves, and to be heard in the councils of - government.
One more declaration of the American Foundation against the Kennedy bill deserves our attention. In a separate release the executive director, Mr. M. Robert Barnett, characterized the introduction of the bill as a regrettable incident because it is likely to cause one of the most serious philosophical debates yet experienced in our field. We may all agree that the bill is likely to produce such a result: but why should such a serious philosophical debate be regrettable? Why, on the contrary, is it not welcomed as a golden opportunity to be eagerly embraced by all who are sincerely interested in the welfare of the blind and therefore in the solution of their problems? One might suppose that no greater contribution could be made in our field than the production of serious philosophical debate. But Mr. Barnett considers it regrettable. Are there now those who would deny to the blind not only the rights of free speech and organization but even the right of free thought and philosophical reflection? Such serious discussion should, it would seem, prove regrettable only to those whose philosophy cannot stand the rigors of the contest.
On the basis of the assertions in the AAWB resolution and the Foundation release it is hard to imagine any wider and more unbridgeable gulf of thought and principle than exist between our philosophy and theirs. We believe the blind to be normal individuals lacking only the sense of sight. They believe the blind to be abnormal individuals lacking maturity, responsibility, and mentality. We believe the organized blind to be the best interpreters of their own needs and aspirations. They believe the organized blind to be entirely indeed, dangerously unqualified and instead assert their own claim to act in the name of the blind without the approval of the blind. We believe the role of the agencies, whether public or quasi-public, to be that of servants of their blind clients, responsible to their interests, and responsive to their needs. They believe the role of the agencies to be that not of public servants but of private dictators, members of an elite corps of self-designated experts beyond the reach or consultation of the people. Finally, we believe these bulletins and resolutions to be a shocking revelation of backwardness and prejudice among the dominant agency. They believe but wait! Do they really believe? Is it possible that these specious arguments are not really their beliefs but only the outpouring of propaganda in a ruthless campaign to stamp out the competition of the organized blind and to perpetuate their own unchallenged dominance? With the publication of these revealing resolutions whatever trust and confidence the blind may once have had in the integrity and wisdom of those who dominate the AAWB has been forever swept away. They are shown to be among those who have been dragged protesting into the 20th century but still have one foot in the grave of medieval charity and custodialism and the other foot in the pit of their own institutional and occupational vested interests.
Their belief is that the blind should be overseen and not heard; that the blind have no right of self-expression because the blind are not full-fledged citizens and, besides, are not capable of sound social thinking; and that the organized blind, if they cannot be dismissed as a handful of eccentrics, must be dispersed as a mob of delinquents.
Once upon another time a somewhat different group of deprived people only slightly more numerous than we are today rose up against their own protectors on this very issue of the right of men and citizens particularly to the rights of self-expression and representation. In terms of material strength they were no match for their adversary at that time the world's greatest power. But the rebels were united in their dedication to certain unalienable rights among these were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in their own way and they were determined to make good their declaration of independence. Their power was not so much physical as spiritual. It lay in their collective will, their unity of purpose, and their faith in themselves. Armed with these weapons, their cause proved invincible 180 years ago.
God helping us, that cause will prevail today. The good have associated and will not fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
In the summer of 1957 two identical bills were introduced into Congress one by Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts and the other by Congressman Walter S. Baring of Nevada expressly to protect the right of the blind to self-expression through organizations of the blind. When he rose in the Senate to introduce and speak for his bill, the future President went directly to the heart of the matter in forceful words which clearly reflected his commitment to the political and civil rights of disadvantaged Americans. This is what he had to say:
Organizations of blind persons exist today in many cities and communities throughout the country. In most of our states today, organizations of the blind have formed one or more statewide organizations. Forty-three of these statewide organizations of the blind are now federated into a single nationwide organization, the National Federation of the Blind.
Organizations of this kind [Senator Kennedy continued] have been formed by the blind to advance their own welfare and common interests. These organizations provide to our blind citizens the opportunity for collective self-expression. Through these organizations, these citizens are able to formulate democratically and voice effectively their views on the programs that our national government and our state governments are financing for their aid and rehabilitation. It is important that these views be expressed freely and without interference. It is important that these views be heard and considered by persons charged with responsibility for determining and carrying out our programs for the blind.
In some communities [he said] this freedom that each of our blind citizens should have to join, or not to join, organizations of the blind has been prejudiced by a few professional workers in programs for the blind who have allowed their personal views to be expressed in official action for or against particular organizations of the blind. Administrators and workers in welfare programs for the blind possess unusual power to control the lives and influence the conduct of their clients. It is important that our blind citizens be protected against any exercise of this kind of influence or authority to interfere with their freedom of self-expression through organizations of the blind.
The Kennedy bill was designed to do two complementary things: to insure to the blind the right to organize without intimidation or interference and to guarantee their right to speak for themselves and to be heard through meaningful consultation with the agencies responsible for services affecting their welfare. Literally as well as symbolically it was a blow for participatory democracy, establishing the principle of representation by the clients of the services the consumers in the decision-making councils of government.
For a three-week period at Christmas of 1957, Kenneth Jernigan made an extensive swing through much of the country writing testimony for Federationists to give during anticipated upcoming hearings on the bill. One such undertaking resulted in an eloquent analysis of the need for the bill and for checks and balances to curb the power of the agencies. This testimony, which was given by Walter McDonald of Georgia, was printed in the March, 1958, Braille Monitor.
We are asking Congress to enact legislation requiring that the blind be consulted about programs affecting them and protecting the right of the blind to organize. Why are we doing this? Is it really conceivable that there are times when the best interests of the blind and of the agencies established to serve the blind are different, even antagonistic? If there are such times, then the need for the legislation we are proposing is obvious.
Let me create for you a rather fanciful and purely hypothetical situation. Suppose the year is not 1958, but 1940 instead. Suppose further that you are not in your present circumstances but are in work for the blind. You may be a social caseworker, a home teacher, or the manager of a sheltered workshop. You may be sighted or blind. It makes no difference for the purposes of our story.
In 1940 the Depression was just beginning to ease and the lifeblood of commerce to flow through the nation again. It was a year of hope a time to dream dreams and have ambition. Like the rest, you have your dream and your ambition, but it is not a selfish dream, not an unworthy ambition. You have in mind the launching of a project which will benefit blind people, not only those with whom you have been working but others throughout your state and region.
You have observed that one of the greatest problems confronting the blind is their difficulty in traveling independently. In the past, when you have tried to help a blind person get a job, almost the first question you have always been asked by the prospective employer has been, But how can he get to and from work? You have given a great deal of thought to the matter and have concluded that the best answer to the problem is the guide dog. Guide dogs cannot be procured in your part of the country, and the local blind person who wants one must travel many hundreds of miles at great trouble and expense. Besides, there is usually a long waiting list. You decide to do something about the situation. In short, you decide to establish a guide dog school.
You quit your job and put your whole time and energy into the project. You talk to local business people and begin to raise money. Soon you have a building, and you are collecting a staff of guide dog trainers and beginning to bring in dogs and students. You work day and night, and you pay yourself a salary of, let us say, ten thousand dollars a year which is not unreasonable and certainly not too high for the amount of time and effort you are putting in.
Your school prospers. Blind people who have learned to travel by using your dogs are working in competitive industry and the professions throughout the country, and you have letters of gratitude and appreciation from them as well as many newspaper clippings and magazine articles telling of their success.
Your happiness is complete. You are doing a worthwhile job, and you are respected and honored throughout your entire state. In your own community you have become quite a figure and have more prestige than anyone else doing work for the blind. Yearly fund drives, complete with picture displays of guide dogs leading their masters, touch the hearts of thousands of donors and insure plenty of money for the growth and expansion of the school.
Time rushes by, and the year is now 1960. One day I come into your office, and I tell you of the perfection of a new travel aid for the blind. Perhaps I say something to this effect:
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have, as you probably know, been working for several years to perfect an electronic travel aid for the blind. They have now achieved success. The instrument is perfect. It is light, compact, inexpensive, and able to scan for at least thirty feet in all directions and to give the blind person all of the information his eyes would give him if he were sighted. I have one of the instruments here with me, and since I know that you have devoted the greater part of your life to the improvement of the lot of the blind and that you are sincerely interested in their welfare, I am certain you will (after looking at the instrument and verifying my statement about it) rejoice with me that the blind no longer need canes or dogs. I am sure that you will close up your school, discharge your staff, cease your fundraising, stop paying yourself your salary of ten thousand dollars a year, and tell the public that the guide dog is no longer needed.
If this were a true instead of a hypothetical situation, what would you do? I submit that you would rationalize and say to yourself and to others, These people are doing real harm to the blind. It may be a good instrument, but nothing will ever replace the guide dog, at least not in our lifetime. You would not admit to yourself that you were merely protecting your own vested interests. You would rationalize. The alternative would be to give up your position, your prestige, your feeling of importance, your established program, and last but not least your ten thousand dollars a year.
As I have said, this is purely a hypothetical situation. Nineteen-sixty has not yet arrived, and the people at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have not, so far, perfected their travel aid. Besides, as any guide dog school official will tell you, nothing will ever replace the guide dog, at least not in our lifetime.
The situation I have created for you is purely hypothetical, but its real-life counterpart is occurring every day in literally hundreds of agencies for the blind in this country. It occurs every time the manager of a sheltered workshop for the blind has to decide whether to encourage his best and most skilled workers to leave the sheltered workshop and seek employment in competitive industry or to discourage them from seeking such employment so that they will stay in the shop. If they go, they will be finding normal lives and better pay, but the efficiency of the shop will be lowered, and more subsidies will have to be found. On the other hand, if the best workers are kept in the sheltered workshop, overall efficiency rises, and the workshop manager looks good as an administrator. He is getting skilled labor at substandard wages to help offset the inefficiency of his poorer workers. What is he to do, consider the welfare of the blind worker who might be placed in private industry or defend the interests of the overall workshop program? The answer is that many workshop managers rationalize and tell themselves that it is really to the best interests of all the workers to be kept in sheltered employment.
The same basic situation occurs every time the administrator of a vending stand program for the blind has to decide what kind of system he will have. If he advocates the philosophy of independence for the blind and admits to himself and others that many blind are capable of operating vending stands without constant care and supervision on the part of the agency, he needs fewer vending stand supervisors, and his agency will not expand as rapidly as it would under what has come to be known as the controlled system. The result is that most vending stand agencies have controlled rather than independent programs.
In reality the counterpart of my hypothetical situation occurs every time the blind set up an independent organization of their own in a community where a well-established agency doing work for the blind exists. The agency has a monopoly on fundraising in the name of the blind. Its officials have unchallenged prestige and are considered to be the authorities in the field. If the blind organize, the empire is challenged; the monopoly is threatened.
The agency leaders not only rationalize to themselves; they also propagandize the public in an attempt to perpetuate their programs and defend their vested interests. The first sentence of the Code of Ethics (so-called) of the American Association of Workers for the Blind reads as follows: The operations of all agencies for the blind entail a high degree of responsibility because of the element of public trusteeship and protection of the blind involved in services to the blind.
As our national President, Dr. tenBroek, has so aptly put it, The use of the word `protection' makes it plain that the trusteeship here referred to is of the same kind as that existing under the United Nations Trusteeship Council that is, custody and control of underprivileged, backward, and dependent peoples.
Mr. M. Robert Barnett, executive director of the American Foundation for the Blind, says on page 12, of the Pinebrook Report, an official publication of the Foundation: A job, a home, and the right to be a citizen will come to the blind in that generation when each and every blind person is a living advertisement of his ability and capacity to accept the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. Then we professionals will have no problem of interpretation because the blind will no longer need us to speak for them, and we, like primitive segregation, will die away as an instrument which society will include only in its historical records.
No statements could be clearer than these and none could be more unsound or more harmful to the best interests of the blind and to public understanding of our problems. The matter is as simple as this. Most agency workers are basically good people, but they are also human. They tend to defend their own vested interests, and those interests are not always identical with the interests of the blind they are supposedly serving. We need agencies for the blind, and we need independent organizations of the blind. In the best American tradition the two forces serve as checks and balances. Both have duties; both have rights; both have responsibilities. The existence of one need not, and should not, constitute a threat to the proper activities of the other. No agency should claim to represent the blind or set itself up as a spokesman for the blind. No organization of the blind nor any individual member should indulge in sweeping condemnation of all agencies and all agency activities. When each recognizes that the other has a necessary and appropriate role, mutual jealousy and antagonism should give way to an attitude of mutual respect and to a spirit of cooperation.
Against the right-to-organize bill during that epochal struggle were the Federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and various of its subdivisions such as the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, along with such powerful professional organizations as the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Association of Workers for the Blind. The major arguments advanced by these agency interests were, first, that the legislation was not needed because everyone has the right to free association, and, second, that the bill would give the organized blind a degree of authority and influence over public programs sufficient to outweigh the combined power of the professional agencies.
In the end, that combined power was enough to defeat the Kennedy bill in the Congress. But it was a Pyrrhic victory for the agencies. In 1959, extensive public hearings were held on the issue by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor; the National Federation of the Blind's testimony alone took up three full days and ran to several volumes of transcript. The impact of the hearings was felt at various levels and by all groups involved. Little Kennedy Bills, as they came to be called, were introduced in a number of states and passed by several. More important, the objectives of the bill to protect the rights of assembly and petition, the right to organize, and the right to be heard came to be at least partially achieved in practice where they were not formally granted in law. Like the trade union movement a generation before, the organized blind movement came to be granted a kind of tacit legitimacy by the agencies of the blindness system; the overt attacks upon National Federation of the Blind members and leaders ceased (although not the covert hostility), and an era bearing the semblance of peaceful coexistence was ushered in.
As it turned out, however, the withdrawal of the agencies from the battlefield was in reality a strategic retreat a temporary cease-fire rather than a genuine peace-making effort. There was little serious recognition yet of the rights of the blind to self-expression and self-direction, whether individually or collectively. At the end of the embattled decade of the fifties, the prevailing attitude of the custodial agencies was still essentially that proclaimed a few years before, with casual confidence and ill-disguised contempt, by one of their representative spokesmen: The fact, he wrote, that so few workers or organizations are doing anything appreciable to [improve the condition of the blind] cannot be explained entirely on the grounds that they are not in the vanguard of social thinking. It is rather because they are realistic enough to recognize that the rank and file of blind people have neither the exceptional urge for independence nor the personal qualifications necessary to satisfactory adjustment in the sighted world.
It was just such misguided notions as those plus the appalling fact of their confession by the administrator of one of the nation's largest private agencies for the blind that prompted Jacobus tenBroek to address, at the 1957 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in New Orleans, what he termed The Cross of Blindness. The symbolic cross he saw the blind to be bearing was the burden of social stigmas, stereotypes, and superstitions the dead weight of public prejudice and misunderstanding. In a masterful speech which has since become one of his most famous, tenBroek spelled out in equally vivid terms both the case for and the case against self-organization by the blind. His address, delivered before a banquet audience of 700, stands as a memorial to the high ground the peak of unity and confidence which was attained by the National Federation of the Blind in that watershed year. That high ground was soon to be lost, in the turmoil of civil war, and not to be reached again for years to come. But in 1957 the national movement of the organized blind, not yet a score of years old, appeared as firm in its solidarity as it was irresistible in its force. And no one who heard the leader of the movement speak that day could doubt that these newly independent and self-assertive people would forever refuse to bear the stigmatizing cross of blindness.
During the decade of the fifties at least until the outbreak of the civil war in the closing years the organized blind movement enjoyed rapid and steady growth not only in membership but also in public reputation and influence. With the launching of a successful fund-raising program early in the decade, it became possible to spread the word of Federationism more widely and effectively than ever through the new Braille Monitor, which was now published in both Braille and ink print editions, as well as through a profusion of speeches, articles, and special publications such as The Blind and the Right to Organize: A Report to the Nation, a compilation of key documents relating to that struggle by the National Federation of the Blind.
With increased information and publicity came enhanced recognition and stature for the Federation and its leadership notably its founder and chief executive, Jacobus tenBroek. In the course of the struggle for the Kennedy bill, tenBroek and others of his colleagues in the movement found themselves rather suddenly in the limelight of public attention repeatedly interviewed on radio and television, reported on in the press, and even (in the case of one California newspaper) editorialized about. One of the most significant and widely read examples of this newly favorable press appeared in the New Yorker magazine on January 11, 1958, in the form of a prose profile of President tenBroek, which vividly conveyed both his forceful personality and his backbreaking schedule of travels on behalf of the organized blind. For its expression of the human and personal dimensions of leadership, the New Yorker sketch remains a valuable memento of both the man and the movement. Here is the article as it appeared in the magazine:
Jacobus tenBroek, a hearty, vigorous man of forty-six with aquiline features, a ruddy complexion, and a carefully groomed reddish goatee, is an authority on government and constitutional law, a field in which he has published a number of highly regarded books and monographs; the chairman of the Speech Department of the University of California at Berkeley; a member of California's Social Welfare Board; and the country's leading lobbyist and campaigner against an adage that he deems mistaken, mischievous, and far too commonly accepted the one that goes When the blind lead the blind, they all fall into the ditch. As President and one of the founders of the National Federation of the Blind, Professor tenBroek, who lost his sight when he was a boy, has a formidable spare-time schedule of speeches, conferences, and caucuses, through which he seeks to spread his organization's belief that the blind are much more capable than is generally realized of holding down normal jobs and running their own affairs. I've had to make ten flying trips throughout the country on the last twelve weekends, he told us when he called on us at our office during a stopover of a few hours in New York, in route from Washington, D.C., where he had been talking with congressmen about legislation that his organization is advocating, to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he was scheduled to make a speech before one of the Federation's local chapters. As a rule, I board the plane Friday evening, right after my last class, he said. I prepare my speeches during the trip and usually manage to pick up a return flight that gets me to Berkeley just in time for my Monday-morning eight-o'clock class. He laughed. My children, I have three, are getting fed up with this routine. They say they're beginning to forget what I look like.
One of Professor tenBroek's chief ambitions as he flies about the country is to persuade people he meets that he is not exceptional in either talent or character but pretty much an ordinary man who has simply refused to accept the widespread assumption that a blind person must live a dependent and sheltered life. I've got a neighbor in Berkeley a blind man I've known since we were classmates at school who built his house entirely with his own hands, he said. It's quite a good-sized house, too about twenty-seven hundred square feet. He built the forms, poured the cement, put in the plumbing, did the wiring everything. The place is on a fairly steep hillside, and before he could start he had to make himself a large power-operated boom, for hauling his materials up to the site. Now, there's a man that someone like me someone who has no aptitude for that sort of thing would call an exceptional person, but he doesn't seem to think he is. He says he just happens to be handy with tools. The Professor shook his head in admiration.
As things are now, he went on, most of the country's three hundred and twenty-five thousand blind people who work are employed in the special sheltered shops that society with the best and most charitable intentions has set up for us, where we can make baskets and such, and come to no harm. Only about two or three per cent of us are holding normal jobs out in the world. My organization is convinced at least twenty times that many could be doing so if they had the chance. What we seek for the blind is the right to compete on equal terms. In this, the Federation the only national organization in this field whose membership and officers are all blind is very much at odds with most of the traditional organizations and agencies set up to help us, which are sure they know better than we do what is good for us. But we've been making considerable progress. In the last few years, we've succeeded in persuading the Civil Service to let blind people try out for many categories of jobs from which they used to be excluded.
We asked Professor tenBroek what jobs he himself thinks are impossible for the blind to hold. He laughed, stroked his goatee professorially, and said, "Well, airplane pilot, I suppose though, for that matter, planes fly most of the time nowadays on automatic controls, don't they, and someday may be completely automatic. Actually, I can't say what the limits are. Every time I think I have hit on some job that a blind man couldn't conceivably hold, I find a blind man holding it. One of my friends in the Federation is an experimental nuclear physicist, and you wouldn't think of that as a promising field for a blind man to be in. Dr. Bradley Burson is his name, and he's at the Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago. When he was working on problems involving the decay of radioactive matter, he invented some devices for himself that measured the decay in terms of audible and tactile signals, rather than the commonly employed visual signals. Some of the devices turned out to be more accurate than the standard ones, and are now widely used at the lab. I'd always assumed that being an electrician would be impossible for a blind man, but not long ago I found a blind electrician a fellow named Jack Polston. I went and talked to his boss, and he told me that Polston does everything any other electrician can do wiring, soldering, and all the rest. While I was there, Polston was doing the complete wiring for a service station, which I'm told is a particularly complicated job. To be sure, he had been an electrician before he became blind, but don't ask me how he solders without setting the place on fire. I couldn't, even if I had my sight. Anyway, now that I've found him I'm pestering the Civil Service not to disqualify blind people automatically from trying out for electricians' jobs."
Professor tenBroek paused for a moment, and then said, "Don't let me give you the idea that it isn't a nuisance to be blind. To bump your head on an overhanging sign as you walk down the street or to fall into a hole that anybody else can seeit's a nuisance, I can assure you, but it isn't a catastrophe. He stood up, buttoning his coat, and picked up his cane and his briefcase. Well, he said briskly, it's after two o'clock, and I'll have to step lively if I'm going to make it out to LaGuardia in time to catch the three-fifteen for Springfield. If you'll be so kind as to see me to the elevator, I'll carry on from there."
Among the leaders of the organized blind, Jacobus tenBroek was clearly preeminent in this first generation of Federationists; and he remained so until his death in 1968. But from the start of the movement he gathered around him the ablest men and women he could find the best and the brightestamong the blind of the nation. Among them were lawyers like Raymond Henderson of California; businessmen like George Card of Michigan; social workers like Perry Sundquist of California; and philosophers like Kingsley Price of Johns Hopkins University. Specialized talents aside, the primary characteristic which tenBroek sought in his circle of colleagues was energetic devotion to the cause of the organized blind; and as a teacher and mentor of youth he was particularly intent upon seeking out this leadership potential among the younger members of the movement. (One of his greatest disappointments over the years was the reluctance of many successful blind persons of the professional middle class to be identified with a movement of rank-and-file blind people who not only were often unemployed but were categorized as unemployable.)
During the course of the fifties, year after year, the name of one younger leader in the movement came increasingly to be heard in the conventions, discussed in the meetings, pronounced in the Braille Monitor, and recognized among the organized blind everywhere. Kenneth Jernigan first sprang into national prominence in 1952 when he organized the National Federation of the Blind convention and was elected to the Board of Directors. From that time on he was in the thick of it; by 1958, when Jernigan accepted an appointment as director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, he also became the Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind, and the following year became the First Vice President. The full scope and impact of Jernigan's participation in the movement to that point was set forth in a 1958 Braille Monitor article by the man who knew the most about it: Dr. tenBroek. Ostensibly the article was an announcement to the membership of Jernigan's Iowa appointment; in truth it was a tribute from the Federation's leader and senior statesman to the younger man who had become his chief lieutenant. In retrospect this testimonial takes on a prophetic quality; for of all the confidantes and colleagues who surrounded President tenBroek in that era, the one who was to remain longest by his side, and ultimately to receive from his hands the mantle of leadership, was the young man of whom he was writing then.
This is what Jacobus tenBroek said about Kenneth Jernigan in 1958:
by Jacobus tenBroek
Last month Kenneth Jernigan, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, was appointed director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. This appointment was not only appropriate it was significant.
In his new position Mr. Jernigan has charge of all Iowa programs for the blind with the exception of public assistance and the state school for the blind. Among the services under his direction are: vocational rehabilitation, vending stands, home industries, home teaching, the distribution of talking books, and registration of blind persons in the state.
There are, of course, many Federationists who hold positions in state and other administrative agencies. Some of these are the directors of their agencies. There are, in addition, numerous agency heads who are favorably disposed toward the organized blind. They did not go from the movement to their administrative positions; they came to, or at least towards, the movement from an intelligent discharge of their administrative responsibilities. The distinctive factor in the Jernigan appointment is that now a National Federation leader and member of its Board of Directors has been selected to serve as the head of a state agency for the blind. Mr. Jernigan's appointment is indeed a tribute to the independent and enlightened judgment of the Iowa Commission.
There is a good deal of loose and self-adulatory talk among certain AAWB leaders about their professional status and an alleged lack of professionalism among the organized blind. This talk may be examined from two sides: how professional are the agency leaders and workers; how unprofessional are the organized blind. Whatever answer may be given to the first question, there are many in the organized blind movement whose knowledge about blindness and the substance of administration of programs for the blind can only be described as professional. So too as to their attitudes, their caliber, their bearing, and, in many cases, their careers and duties. In the present case, Kenneth Jernigan has been a professional, in all these senses of the term for many years.
The honor and the responsibility have especially fittingly gone to Kenneth Jernigan. Few readers of the Braille Monitor and fewer members of the Federation need to be reminded of the character of this man and of the quality of his achievements. Since his entrance into the movement nearly a decade ago and especially since his election to the NFB Board of Directors in 1952 no one of us has labored more unstintingly or battled more courageously for the advancement of our common cause.
To enumerate all of Kenneth's contributions would be to trespass upon space limitations. I might recount a few of the highlights of his career as a Federationist leader. He is, first of all, the only member who has served on all the NFB's survey teams those which canvassed the state programs for the blind of Colorado and Arkansas in 1955 and of Nevada in 1956, at the request of their respective governors, and set in motion a chain reaction of liberalization and reform whose effects will be felt for years to come. Kenneth also was the chairman of two of our most thoroughly successful National Conventions those of Nashville in 1952 and San Francisco in 1956. He has given selflessly of his time and inexhaustible energy to cross and recross the country in the interests of Federation unity, harmony, and democracy and has performed miracles of diplomacy and arbitration in situations which might best be described as those of peacemaking, problem solving, and troubleshooting. More lastingly important even than this has been his consistent contribution to the over-all leadership, expansion, and sustained course of the movement.
Much of Kenneth's most valuable activity on our behalf, indeed, has been carried on behind the scenes. It is not widely known, for example, that he is the author of those indispensable guidebooks of our movement: What is the National Federation of the Blind and Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind. He is, additionally, the author of many Federation documents that have gone unbylined. He has represented the NFB, informally as well as formally, at numerous outside conventions and gatherings throughout the country. His speeches and reports on the floor of the National Convention, year in and year out, have been both widely anticipated events and uniformly applauded successes. One of these in particular requires special mention: his address before the 1957 convention on Programs for Local Chapters of the Federation. Few statements have more correctly portrayed and deeply instilled the conception of the Federation made up as it is of local clubs, state affiliates, conventions, officers, and headquarters as a single unified entity each part of which is the concern, responsibility, and local benefit of every individual member. By popular demand this analysis has been Brailled, taped, mimeographed, and distributed to Federationists throughout the length and breadth of the land. His 1955 study, Employment of the Blind in the Teaching Profession, carried out for the California affiliate of the Federation, has been eagerly and broadly applied throughout the country in the increasingly successful campaign to break down the barriers to the hiring of blind teachers in the public schools. In fact, there is scarcely any aspect of our national movement over the past half-dozen years which has not benefited from the alert counsel and untiring devotion of time and talent which Ken has so willingly given.
I have said that his appointment to the directorship of the Iowa Commission is a tribute to the members of that enlightened agency. It is no less a tribute to the membership of the Iowa Association of the Blind, under the able leadership of Dr. H. F. Schluntz of Keystone, Iowa.
But in the end, of course, the credit for the appointment must go mainly to Ken Jernigan. His objective qualifications include upwards of a decade of counseling, administering, coordinating, teaching, and public relations, first with the School for the Blind in Nashville, Tennessee, and after 1953 with the Orientation Center for the Adult Blind in Oakland, California. But to these formal qualifications must be added such vital statistics as the following:
Totally blind from birth, raised on a rural farm in Tennessee, and educated in the Nashville School for the Blind, Kenneth went on to take a bachelor's degree in social science from the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute graduating with the highest grades ever made by any student enrolled at the institution. In addition he somehow found time to become president of the Speech Activities Club, president of the Social Science Club, member of Cabinet Tech Christian Association, member of Pi Kappa Delta fraternity, winner of first prizes in Extemporaneous Speaking and Original Oratory at a Southeastern conference of the fraternity; to get a poem published in a nationwide anthology of college poetry; and to be elected to Who's Who Among Students in Colleges and Universities of America.
Following his graduation from Tennessee Polytechnic, Ken went on to take a master's degree in English from Peabody College in Nashville, plus an additional year of graduate study. Once again he found enough time aside from his studies to head various societies and win a variety of awards, including the Capt. Charles W. Browne Award in 1949.
I shall pass over lightly his brief career as a professional wrestler during the summer of 1945; his operation of a furniture shop the summer before, where he built all the furniture and managed the entire business; and his two-year livelihood as an insurance salesman prior to joining the staff of the Tennessee School for the Blind. But these diverse adventures and apprenticeships of his early career do serve graphically to illustrate Ken Jernigan's extraordinary vitality of personality and equally extraordinary drive and determination.
This appointment poses a critical question and gives the proper answer to it. Will the NFB give orders to Jernigan the administrator or, alternatively, will Jernigan the administrator change his role in the Federation?
To pose this question at all presupposes some basic fallacies. It presupposes that the organized blind are on one side of the line and the agencies are on the other. It presupposes that the function of the agencies is to rule and that of the blind to obey. It presupposes that the agencies are professional and that the blind are unprofessional; that the agencies know what is best for the blind and the blind should accept it without question; that the agencies are custodians and caretakers and the blind are wards and charitable beneficiaries; that the agencies are the interpreters of the blind to the sighted community and the blind are incapable of speaking for themselves; that agencies exist because the blind are not full-fledged citizens with the right to compete for a home, a job, and to discharge the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. These are basic fallacies.
The basic truth is that there is no disharmony, conflict, or incompatibility between the two posts. The basic truth is that the blind are citizens, that they are not wards, that they are capable of speaking for themselves, and that they should and must be integrated into the governmental processes which evolve, structure, and administer programs bearing upon their welfare. The basic truth is that agencies administering these programs, committed to the democratic view of clients as human beings and as citizens and joining them in the full expression of their capabilities, have a vital role to play.
There is thus no matter of choosing between two masters moving in different directions. The common object can best be achieved through a close collaboration between the blind and the agencies serving them. The object cannot be achieved without that collaboration. Separate sources of authority, organizational patterns, and particular responsibilities do not necessarily, and in this case do not properly, entail conflicting commitments. Jernigan the Federation leader and Jernigan the administrator of programs in Iowa are therefore at one.
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