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The National Federation of the Blind has become by far the most significant force in the affairs of the blind today, and its actions have had an impact on many other groups and programs. The Federation's President, Marc Maurer, radiates confidence and persuasiveness. He says, If I can find twenty people who care about a thing, then we can get it done. And if there are two hundred, two thousand, or twenty thousand well, that's even better. The National Federation of the Blind is a civil rights movement with all that the term implies.
President Maurer says, You can't expect to obtain freedom by having somebody else hand it to you. You have to do the job yourself. The French could not have won the American Revolution for us. That would merely have shifted the governing authority from one colonial power to another. So, too, we the blind are the only ones who can win freedom for the blind, which is both frightening and reassuring. If we don't get out and do what we must, there is no one to blame but ourselves. We have control of the essential elements.
Although there are in the United States at the present time many organizations and agencies for the blind, there is only one National Federation of the blind. This organization was established in 1940 when the blind of seven states Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and California sent delegates to its first convention at Wilkes- Barre, Pennsylvania. Since that time progress has been rapid and steady. The Federation is recognized by blind men and women throughout the entire country as their primary means of joint expression; and today, with active affiliates in every state and the District of Columbia, it is the primary voice of the nation's blind.
To explain this spectacular growth, three questions must be asked and answered: (1) What are the conditions in the general environment of the blind which have impelled them to organize? (2) What are the purpose, the belief, the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind? (3) Who are its leaders, and what are their qualifications to understand and solve the problems of blindness? Even a brief answer to these questions is instructive.
When the Federation came into being in 1940, the outlook for the blind was certainly not bright. The nation's welfare system was so discouraging to individual initiative that those who were forced to accept public assistance had little hope of ever achieving self-support again, and those who sought competitive employment in regular industry or the professions found most of the doors barred against them. The universal goodwill expressed toward the blind was not the wholesome goodwill of respect felt toward an equal; it was the misguided goodwill of pity felt toward an inferior. In effect the system said to the blind, Sit on the sidelines of life. This game is not for you. If you have creative talents, we are sorry, but we cannot use them. The Federation came into being to combat these expressions of discrimination and to promote new ways of thought concerning blindness, and although great progress has been made toward the achievement of these goals, much still remains to be done.
The Federation believes that blind people are essentially normal and that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap. It can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. Legal, economic, and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that the blind are somehow different from the sighted must be abolished, and equality of opportunity made available to blind people. Because of their personal experience with blindness, the blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems, but the general public should be asked to participate in finding solutions. Upon these fundamentals the National Federation of the Blind predicates its philosophy.
As for the leadership of the organization, all of the officers and members of the Board of Directors are blind, and all give generously of their time and resources in promoting the work of the Federation. The Board consists of seventeen elected members, five of whom are the constitutional officers of the organization. These members of the Board of Directors represent a wide cross section of the blind population of the United States. Their backgrounds are different, and their experiences vary widely; but they are drawn together by the common bond of having met blindness individually and successfully in their own lives and by their united desire to see other blind people have the opportunity to do likewise. A profile of the leadership of the organization shows why it is so effective and demonstrates the progress made by blind people during the past half- century for in the story of the lives of these leaders can be found the greatest test of the Federation's philosophy. The cumulative record of their individual achievements is an overwhelming proof, leading to an inescapable conclusion.
DR. JACOBUS tenBROEK
Author, Jurist, Professor, Founder of the National Federation of the Blind
The moving force in the founding of the National Federation of the Blind (and its spiritual and intellectual father) was Jacobus tenBroek. Born in 1911, young tenBroek (the son of a prairie homesteader in Canada) lost the sight of one eye as the result of a bow-and-arrow accident at the age of seven. His remaining eyesight deteriorated until at the age of fourteen he was totally blind. Shortly afterward he and his family traveled to Berkeley so that he could attend the California School for the Blind. Within three years he was an active part of the local organization of the blind.
By 1934 he had joined with Dr. Newel Perry and others to form the California Council of the Blind, which later became the the National Federation of the Blind of California. This organization was a prototype for the nationwide federation that tenBroek would form six years later.
Even a cursory glance at his professional career showed the absurdity of the idea that blindness means incapacity. The same year the Federation was founded (1940) Jacobus tenBroek received his doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of California, completed a year as Brandeis Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, and was appointed to the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School.
Two years later he began his teaching career at the University of California at Berkeley, moving steadily up through the ranks to become full professor in 1953 and chairman of the department of speech in 1955. In 1963 he accepted an appointment as professor of political science.
During this period Professor tenBroek published several books and more than fifty articles and monographs in the fields of welfare, government, and law establishing a reputation as one of the nation's foremost scholars on matters of constitutional law. One of his books, Prejudice, War, and the Constitution, won the Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science Association in 1955 as the best book of the year on government and democracy. Other books are California's Dual System of Family Law (1964), Hope Deferred: Public Welfare and the Blind (1959), and The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment (1951) revised and republished in 1965 as Equal Under Law.
In the course of his academic career Professor tenBroek was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto and was twice the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1947 he earned the degree of S.J.D. from Harvard Law School. In addition, he was awarded honorary degrees by two institutions of higher learning.
Dr. tenBroek's lifelong companion was his devoted wife Hazel. Together they raised three children and worked inseparably on research, writing, and academic and Federation concerns. Mrs. tenBroek still continues as an active member of the organized blind movement.
In 1950 Dr. tenBroek was made a member of the California State Board of Social Welfare by Governor Earl Warren. Later reappointed to the board three times, he was elected its chairman in 1960 and served in that capacity until 1963.
The brilliance of Jacobus tenBroek's career led some skeptics to suggest that his achievements were beyond the reach of what they called the ordinary blind person. What tenBroek recognized in himself was not that he was exceptional, but that he was normal that his blindness had nothing to do with whether he could be a successful husband and father, do scholarly research, write a book, make a speech, guide students engaged in social action movements and causes, or otherwise lead a productive life.
In any case, the skeptics' theory has been refuted by the success of the thousands of blind men and women who have put this philosophy of normality to work in their own lives during the past fifty years.
Jacobus tenBroek died of cancer at the age of fifty-six in 1968. His successor, Kenneth Jernigan, in a memorial address, said truly of him: The relationship of this man to the organized blind movement, which he brought into being in the United States and around the world, was such that it would be equally accurate to say that the man was the embodiment of the movement or that the movement was the expression of the man.
For tens of thousands of blind Americans over more than a quarter of a century, he was leader, mentor, spokesman, and philosopher. He gave to the organized blind movement the force of his intellect and the shape of his dreams. He made it the symbol of a cause barely imagined before his coming: the cause of self- expression, self-direction, and self- sufficiency on the part of blind people. Step by step, year by year, action by action, he made that cause succeed.
Teacher, Writer, Administrator
Kenneth Jernigan has been a leader in the National Federation of the Blind for more than thirty-five years. He was President (with one brief interruption) from 1968 until July of 1986. Although Jernigan is no longer President of the Federation, he continues to be one of its principal leaders. He works closely with the President, and he continues to be loved and respected by tens of thousands members and non-members of the Federation, both blind and sighted.
Born in 1926, Kenneth Jernigan grew up on a farm in central Tennessee. He received his elementary and secondary education at the school for the blind in Nashville. After high school Jernigan managed a furniture shop in Beech Grove, Tennessee, making all furniture and operating the business.
In the fall of 1945 Jernigan matriculated at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Active in campus affairs from the outset, he was soon elected to office in his class and to important positions in other student organizations. Jernigan graduated with honors in 1948 with a B.S. degree in Social Science. In 1949 he received a master's degree in English from Peabody College in Nashville, where he subsequently completed additional graduate study. While at Peabody he was a staff writer for the school newspaper, co-founder of an independent literary magazine, and a member of the Writers Club. In 1949 he received the Captain Charles W. Browne Award, at that time presented annually by the American Foundation for the Blind to the nation's outstanding blind student.
Jernigan then spent four years as a teacher of English at the Tennessee School for the Blind. During this period he became active in the Tennessee Association of the Blind (now the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee). He was elected to the vice presidency of the organization in 1950 and to the presidency in 1951. In that position he planned the 1952 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, which was held in Nashville, and he has been planning national conventions for the Federation ever since. It was in 1952 that Jernigan was first elected to the NFB Board of Directors.
In 1953 he was appointed to the faculty of the California Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland, where he played a major role in developing the best program of its kind then in existence.
From 1958 until 1978, he served as Director of the Iowa State Commission for the Blind. In this capacity he was responsible for administering state programs of rehabilitation, home teaching, home industries, an orientation and adjustment center, and library services for the blind and physically handicapped. The improvements made in services to the blind of Iowa under the Jernigan administration have never before or since been equaled anywhere in the country.
In 1960 the Federation presented Jernigan with its Newel Perry Award for outstanding accomplishment in services for the blind. In 1968 Jernigan was given a Special Citation by the President of the United States. Harold Russell, the chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, came to Des Moines to present the award. He said: If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than anywhere else in the nation or in the world. This statement, the citation went on to say, sums up the story of the Iowa Commission for the Blind during the Jernigan years and more pertinently of its Director, Kenneth Jernigan. That narrative is much more than a success story. It is the story of high aspiration magnificently accomplished of an impossible dream become reality.
Jernigan has received too many honors and awards to enumerate individually, including honorary doctorates from three institutions of higher education. He has also been asked to serve as a special consultant to or member of numerous boards and advisory bodies. The most notable among these are: member of the National Advisory Committee on Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (appointed by the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare), special consultant on Services for the Blind (appointed by the Federal Commissioner of Rehabilitation), advisor on museum programs for blind visitors to the Smithsonian Institution, and special advisor to the White House Conference on Library and Information Services (appointed by President Gerald Ford).
Kenneth Jernigan's writings and speeches on blindness are better known and have touched more lives than those of any other individual writing today. On July 23, 1975, he spoke before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and his address was broadcast live throughout the nation on National Public Radio. Through the years he has appeared repeatedly on network radio and television interview programs including the Today Show, the Tomorrow Show, and the Larry King Show.
In 1978 Jernigan moved to Baltimore to become Executive Director of the American Brotherhood for the Blind and Director of the National Center for the Blind. As President of the National Federation of the Blind at that time, he led the organization through the most impressive period of growth in its history. The creation and development of the National Center for the Blind and the expansion of the NFB into the position of being the most influential voice and force in the affairs of the blind stand as the culmination of Kenneth Jernigan's lifework and a tribute to his brilliance and commitment to the blind of this nation.
Jernigan's dynamic wife Mary Ellen is an active member of the Federation. Although sighted, she works with dedication in the movement and is known and loved by thousands of Federationists throughout the country.
Speaking at a convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Jernigan said of the organization and its philosophy (and also of his own philosophy): As we look ahead, the world holds more hope than gloom for us and, best of all, the future is in our own hands. For the first time in history we can be our own masters and do with our lives what we will; and the sighted (as they learn who we are and what we are) can and will work with us as equals and partners. In other words we are capable of full membership in society, and the sighted are capable of accepting us as such and, for the most part, they want to.
We want no Uncle Toms no sellouts, no apologists, no rationalizers; but we also want no militant hellraisers or unbudging radicals. One will hurt our cause as much as the other. We must win true equality in society, but we must not dehumanize ourselves in the process; and we must not forget the graces and amenities, the compassions and courtesies which comprise civilization itself and distinguish people from animals and life from existence.
Let people call us what they will and say what they please about our motives and our movement. There is only one way for the blind to achieve first-class citizenship and true equality. It must be done through collective action and concerted effort; and that means the National Federation of the Blind. There is no other way, and those who say otherwise are either uninformed or unwilling to face the facts. We are the strongest force in the affairs of the blind today, and we must also recognize the responsibilities of power and the fact that we must build a world that is worth living when the war is over and, for that matter, while we are fighting it. In short, we must use both love and a club, and we must have sense enough to know when to do which long on compassion, short on hatred; and, above all, not using our philosophy as a cop-out for cowardice or inaction or rationalization. We know who we are and what we must do and we will never go back. The public is not against us. Our determination proclaims it; our gains confirm it; our humanity demands it.
Attorney and Executive
Born in 1951, Marc Maurer was the second in a family of six children. His blindness was caused by overexposure to oxygen after his premature birth, but he and his parents were determined that this should not prevent him from living a full and normal life.
He began his education at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, where he became an avid Braille reader. In the fifth grade he returned home to Boone, Iowa, where he attended parochial schools. During high school (having taken all the courses in the curriculum) he simultaneously took classes at the junior college. Maurer ran three different businesses before finishing high school: a paper route, a lawn care business, and an enterprise producing and marketing maternity garter belts designed by his mother. This last venture was so successful that his younger brother took over the business when Maurer left home.
In the summer of 1969, after graduating from high school, Maurer enrolled as a student at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and attended his first convention of the NFB. He was delighted to discover in both places that blind people and what they thought mattered. This was a new phenomenon in his experience, and it changed his life. Kenneth Jernigan was Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind at the time, and Maurer soon grew to admire and respect him. When Maurer expressed an interest in overhauling a car engine, the Commission for the Blind purchased the necessary equipment. Maurer completed that project and actually worked for a time as an automobile mechanic. He believes today that mastering engine repair played an important part in changing his attitudes about blindness.
Maurer graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. As an undergraduate he took an active part in campus life, including election to the Honor Society. Then he enrolled at the University of Indiana School of Law, where he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1977.
Marc Maurer was elected President of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind in 1971 and re-elected in 1973 and 1975. Also in 1971 (at the age of twenty) he was elected Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana. He was elected President in 1973 and re- elected in 1975.
During law school Maurer worked summers for the office of the Secretary of State of Indiana. After graduation he moved to Toledo, Ohio, to accept a position as the Director of the Senior Legal Assistance Project operated by ABLE (Advocates for Basic Legal Equality).
In 1978 Maurer moved to Washington, D.C., to become an attorney with the Rates and Routes Division in the office of the General Counsel of the Civil Aeronautics Board. Initially he worked on rates cases but soon advanced to dealing with international matters and then to doing research and writing opinions on constitutional issues and Board action. He wrote opinions for the Chairman and made appearances before the full Board to discuss those opinions.
In 1981 he went into private practice in Baltimore, Maryland, where he specialized in civil litigation and property matters. But increasingly he concentrated on representing blind individuals and groups in the courts. He has now become one of the most experienced and knowledgeable attorneys in the country regarding the laws, precedents, and administrative rulings concerning civil rights and discrimination against the blind. He is a member of the Bar in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Maryland; and he is a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Maurer has always been active in civic and political affairs, having run for public office in Baltimore and having been elected to the board of directors of the Tenants Association in his apartment complex shortly after his arrival. Later he was elected to the board of his community association when he became a home owner. From 1984 until 1986 he served with distinction as President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.
An important companion in Maurer's activities (and a leader in her own right) is his wife Patricia. The Maurers were married in 1973, and they have two children David Patrick, born March 10, 1984, and Diana Marie, born July 12, 1987.
At the 1985 convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan announced that he would not stand for re-election as President of the National Federation of the Blind the following year, and he recommended Marc Maurer as his successor. In Kansas City in 1986, the convention elected Maurer by resounding acclamation, and he has capably served as President ever since.
Medical Secretary and Agency Director
Diane McGeorge was born in 1932 and grew up in Nebraska. She was blinded by meningitis at age two. She says that she was slightly educated at the Nebraska School for the Blind. Upon graduating she learned that no blind person regardless of how well-qualified has an easy time in the job market. She enrolled in a Denver business college to learn typing and transcribing before going on to the University of Colorado to train as a medical secretary, her profession for a number of years, with time away to raise her family.
McGeorge spent eight years as a full-time homemaker and mother, including stints as den mother, Sunday school teacher, and PTA officer. Throughout these years she was a passive member of the Federation. She served on committees and prepared refreshments, but she did not consider that she had any part in the struggle of the blind against discrimination. Her husband Ray was much more active in the Federation. She ignored or overlooked the instances when she had been turned down by landlords or barred from restaurants because of her dog guide, describing her actions as looking on the bright side.
However, McGeorge attended the 1973 NFB convention in New York City and discovered for herself the power and commitment that derive from shared experience and determination to alter the status quo. From that moment her life began to change. This is the way she tells it: One bitterly cold day in December, Ray and I stopped at a run-down coffee shop. It was the only warm place available, or we wouldn't have set foot in it. We did so, however, and when we did, the proprietor told us we couldn't bring my dog in. I was so furious I almost burst into tears. I walked out, but I thought and thought about that experience and I said, deep in my heart, that nobody was ever going to make me feel that way again. I had been a coward to let it happen.
About six months later we attempted to go to a movie, and the manager said we couldn't bring the dog into the theater. I was well-acquainted with Colorado's White Cane Law, so we had what turned out to be a two-hour battle over the issue. I came away from there not feeling cowardly or guilty or as if I were not quite as good as the manager because he could see and I couldn't.
In 1976 Diane McGeorge assumed the state presidency of the NFB of Colorado, and she has been returned to office in every election since. Under her leadership the NFB of Colorado has become one of the strongest state affiliates in the Federation. Recently the NFB of Colorado took a giant step forward in serving the blind of the state. In January of 1988 the Colorado Center for the Blind with Diane McGeorge as Executive Director opened its doors for business. Four students enrolled initially, and the numbers have been growing ever since. These students learn the skills of blindness from teachers who believe in the fundamental competence of the blind. But even more important, they learn positive attitudes about blindness.
In 1977 McGeorge was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, and in 1984 she was chosen as the organization's First Vice President. In 1982 Diane and Ray McGeorge were presented with the Jacobus tenBroek Award for their work in improving the lives of the blind of the nation.
McGeorge says of her life since 1973, These years have been more stimulating and rewarding than any previous period in my life. I don't wish to imply that I was unhappy prior to my becoming active in the Federation quite the contrary. I was busy, and the things I was doing were important. But they were not as important as the Federation's agenda. Each thing the NFB does affects tens of thousands of people. Part of what I have learned is that what I do matters.
I suppose, she says, it is a commentary on the way I used to feel about myself; but until the last few years, it never occurred to me that anyone could do what I am now doing let alone that I could. I would have been astonished to learn that thousands of blind people could and would work together to make real changes that affect all of us profoundly.
Attorney, City Councilman, Politician
Born in 1953 and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, Peggy Pinder attended regular schools until the middle of the ninth grade. When her eye condition was diagnosed as irreversible decline into total blindness, her father cried for the first and only time in her life at least, as far as she knows.
Pinder then spent what she characterizes as two and a half unhappy years at the Iowa school for the blind. Academically she learned nothing that she had not already been taught in public schools. The students were discouraged from learning to use the white cane and were never allowed off campus unless they were accompanied by a sighted person. But most soul-destroying of all, the students were discouraged from aspiring to success or from setting themselves challenging goals. Pinder resisted the stifling atmosphere and drew down upon herself the wrath of the school administration, which refused to permit her to complete high school there, forcing her to go back to public school.
Knowing that she was not prepared to make this transition, she and her parents sought help from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, then Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Pinder enrolled at the Orientation and Adjustment Center, where she mastered the skills of blindness and explored for the first time the healthy and positive philosophy of blindness that has subsequently directed her life.
Pinder went on to Iowa's Cornell College, where she achieved an excellent academic record and edited the Cornellian, the school newspaper. She then completed law school at Yale University, receiving her J.D. Degree in 1979.
After graduation from law school, Pinder passed the Iowa Bar in January, 1980. She then began a difficult job search. Although her academic standing at Yale was better than that of most of her classmates, she did not receive a single job offer as a result of the intensive interviewing she had done during her final year of law school. Virtually all Yale-trained attorneys leave the university with offers in hand. The inference was inescapable: employers were discriminating against Pinder because of her blindness. She eventually was hired as Assistant County Attorney for Woodbury County in Sioux City, Iowa, where she prosecuted defendants on behalf of the people.
Pinder's lifetime interest in helping to improve the world around her has been expressed in politics as well as in Federation activity. In 1976 she was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City. During the Convention she appeared on national television and in a national news magazine, taking the occasion to acquaint the public with the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and the real needs of blind people. At the end of the convention, she was chosen to second the nomination of Senator Robert Dole to be the candidate of the Republican Party for the Vice Presidency of the United States.
In 1986 she completed a campaign for the Iowa State Senate in District 27 (East-Central Iowa) on the Republican ticket. She won the Primary and campaigned hard in a district eighty by thirty miles in size and containing about 60,000 residents, a distinct minority of whom are Republican. From April through November she made hundreds of public appearances and managed an efficient campaign. Like many candidates, Pinder was not elected in her first bid for public office, but she made a very strong showing and is often asked when she will run again. Her interest in participating in her community continues today through her service on the Grinnell City Council and in other community organizations.
Pinder's work in the National Federation of the Blind has been as impressive as her professional career. She held office in the NFB Student Divisions in Iowa and Connecticut, and then served as President of the national Student Division from 1977 to 1979. In 1981 she was elected President of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, an office which she continues to hold. Pinder was first elected to serve on the NFB Board of Directors in 1977, and in 1984 she was elected Second Vice President.
For the past several years Pinder, a 1976 winner herself, has chaired the Scholarship Committee of the National Federation of the Blind. Every year approximately twenty- five scholarships, ranging in value from $1,800 to $10,000, are presented to the best blind college students in the nation.
Teacher and Agency Director
Joyce Scanlan was born in Fargo, North Dakota, in 1939. She received her elementary and secondary education at the North Dakota School for the Blind. Having a strong love of reading and theater, she went on to earn a B.A. in English and History and a master's degree in English at the University of North Dakota.
For the next five years she taught these subjects, along with social studies and Latin, in high schools in North Dakota and Montana. Then glaucoma took the rest of her vision, and Scanlan lost her self-confidence. She says, I quickly fled from the job because I had never known a blind teacher in a public school, and I had had such a struggle those last few weeks in the classroom that I was positive no blind person could ever teach sighted children.
She had trouble finding another job, but as she points out, her own attitudes were as bad as those of her prospective employers. She told a counselor who visited her in the hospital: I've never seen a blind person amount to anything yet, so there's no reason to think I can.
In 1970 the National Federation of the Blind convention was in Minneapolis, and Scanlan attended the meeting of the NFB Teachers Division. She says: I met many teachers there who were blind. In fact, I met blind people from all over the country who were engaged in a great variety of occupations. I learned what the NFB was all about and realized what blind people working together could do. At that convention she also met Tom Scanlan, whom she married four years later.
Joyce Scanlan became active in the NFB in Minnesota. In 1971 she organized a statewide student division. In 1972 she was elected vice president of the NFB of Minnesota and president in 1973. That same year she was appointed to a newly created Minnesota Council on Disabilities the only representative of a consumer organization on the Commission. Until 1988 she served on the advisory council to State Services for the Blind, a body established in large measure because of the work of the NFB of Minnesota.
The most exciting undertaking of the NFB of Minnesota, however, has been the establishment of its own rehabilitation center for the adult blind, with Joyce Scanlan serving as its executive director. BLIND, Inc. (Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions) admitted its first class, consisting of two students, in January of 1988. This center is establishing a new standard for rehabilitation services in the Midwest. It is easy to understand why the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota enjoys both respect and prestige. It is also easy to understand why Joyce Scanlan is regarded as able, tough, and determined.
Scanlan was elected to the NFB Board of Directors in 1974 and has continued to serve in that capacity ever since. In 1988 she was elected Secretary of the organization. She says: The Federation has made a great difference in my life. I still try to spend time attending the theater and reading, but I want to give as much time as possible to working in the NFB. I wish I had known about it before 1970. I want to be sure every blind person I ever meet hears all about the Federation. If I have any skill as a teacher, I'll use it to benefit the Federation.
Teacher and Wrestling Coach
Allen Harris of Dearborn, Michigan, was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1981. In 1985 he became Secretary, and in 1988 he was elected Treasurer. He says, I take some satisfaction in many of the things I have accomplished in my life, but nothing has given me more pleasure and reward than my work in the Federation.
Harris may well take satisfaction in his accomplishments. Blind since birth in 1945, he completed high school at the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing. He says of this period, The two most valuable things I learned in high school were wrestling and typing. Although I could have used some other things, these two skills have served me well ever since. Allen Harris was a championship wrestler throughout high school and college. He was also a champion debater at Wayne State University and graduated magna cum laude in 1967.
Harris then began looking for a teaching position and enrolled in graduate school. At that time high school teachers were much in demand. He sent out 167 applications and went to 96 interviews without receiving a single job offer. After a year of futile search Harris was depressed, and his friends were outraged. One friend went to a meeting of the school board of the Dearborn Public School System. She spoke openly about the blind applicant for a teaching position who was so well qualified, yet was being ignored by scores of school districts.
The tactic worked. Officials of the school district said that they were unaware of Harris's candidacy although he had submitted an application. He was called for an interview and hired to teach social studies. In addition to a full-time teaching schedule, he coached high school wrestling, as well as swimming and wrestling for boys from age five to fourteen. He has coached at least six high school wrestling teams that have won league championships and one high school state championship team. His age group swimming teams have won five state conference championships, and his age group wrestling teams have won six. Harris also worked for several years in the administration of the age group program, and the Dearborn teams continued to excel.
In 1982 Allen Harris became a social studies teacher at Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn. He became head of the social studies department in 1984. Because of limited time, he gave up the head coaching job and now works only with ninth graders, who have not lost since he has been their coach. In 1985 Harris was selected by the National Council of Social Studies as one of two outstanding teachers of social studies in the state of Michigan.
Harris says that he was aware of some Federation materials at the time he was looking for his first teaching position and that he found them helpful, but his real knowledge of and involvement in the Federation began in 1969 when an organizing team came to his door to pay a visit. They told him there was to be a state convention of the Federation that weekend in Lansing and that he should go. He did, and he was elected secretary of the NFB of Michigan. He served as president of the Detroit chapter of the NFB from 1970 to 1975 and has been the president of the NFB of Michigan since 1976.
During the years of Allen Harris's presidency, services to the blind in Michigan have been consolidated into a single and separate commission for the blind, a major victory indeed. In 1983 Harris was appointed by the governor to the board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind, and he was reappointed in 1985 and 1988. He serves as Vice Chairman of the Board.
STEPHEN O. BENSON
Teacher, Rehabilitation Specialist, and Administrator
President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, Stephen O. Benson was born in Kewanee, Illinois, in 1941. Blind from birth, he attended the Chicago Public Schools using large print books through the first four grades. He was not excited about attending Braille classes the next year, but he did so and for the first time in his life learned to read well. He also began to learn the other skills of blindness, which he found more efficient than using sight. In high school Benson was barred from taking physical education although he would have liked to do so. He found this prohibition disturbing and nonsensical since he was permitted to take the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) course, swimming in the same pool that the physical education classes used. In fact, in Boy Scouts he was able to earn his swimming merit badge and took life saving. Benson found ROTC a positive experience and enjoyed scouting, but he never could understand why regular physical education classes were off limits.
In 1965 Benson graduated from De Paul University with a major in English and a minor in education. Before he decided to specialize in English, he had intended to major in psychology. The state rehabilitation agency for the blind threatened to cut off financial assistance to him because of his change in plans. According to the experts, blind people could not teach in public schools, and as a result, the rehabilitation officials refused to finance such an absurd major. Benson remembers that his attitude at the time was I dare you to try to stop me! and the government agency backed down.
After graduation he prepared himself for the usually difficult task of job-hunting. Surprisingly, he found employment rather quickly, however, as a tenth-grade teacher of honors English at Gordon Technical High School in Chicago. But teaching was not satisfying to Benson. In 1968 he sold insurance while looking for another job. He took one in 1969 with the Veterans Administration Hospital in Hines, Illinois, teaching Braille and techniques of daily living. His title was Rehabilitation Specialist. He continued to work at Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center, Veterans Administration Hospital, until 1983. In 1984 he became assistant director of the Guild for the Blind in Chicago.
Benson married Margaret (Peggy) Gull in 1984. They have one child, Patrick Owen, born in 1985.
Benson first joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1968 when a new affiliate was being formed in Illinois. He was immediately elected to the state board of directors. From 1974 to 1978 he served as President of the Chicago chapter, after which he became President of the NFB of Illinois, a post which he has held ever since. He was first elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1982.
Benson has received many honors and appointments. In 1963 and '64 he was president of Lambda Tau Lambda fraternity. From 1976 to 1981 he served on the governing board of the State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in Illinois. He has served on the Advisory Board of the Illinois State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and on the Advisory Board to the Attorney General's Advocacy for the Handicapped Division.
Although I have had good blindness skills for many years, Benson says, my involvement in the NFB has imbued me with confidence and perspective on life and blindness that have focused my activities and energized my efforts on my own behalf as well as for other blind people.
CHARLES S. BROWN
Attorney and Federal Official
With a Bachelor's Degree from Harvard and a law degree from Northwestern, Charles Brown should have found the job market both exciting and receptive in 1970, a year of expanded economy and bright prospects, but this was not the case. He had impressive credentials and good grades, but he didn't. He was blind. It was not the first time he had observed adverse and extraordinary treatment of the blind, but it was the first time he had personally faced such serious discrimination. It took him an entire year and more than a hundred interviews before he found a job.
In 1971 Brown became a staff attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and he has received regular promotions ever since. Today he is Counsel for Special Legal Services in the Office of the Solicitor at DOL. The Department has presented Brown with achievement awards five times in 1979, 1985, twice in 1986, and 1987. In 1982 he was presented with the Distinguished Career Service Award, one of DOL's highest honors often presented at the time of retirement. But Attorney Brown was chosen for this honor after only eleven years of service.
Born blind in 1944 with congenital cataracts, Charlie Brown entered a family that expected success from its members, and he met the expectation. He attended Perkins School for the Blind until the eighth grade. Brown then attended Wellesley Senior High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and graduated in 1963, going immediately on to Harvard. When he applied to Northwestern Law School, questions were raised about blindness. He answered them satisfactorily and believes he was one of the first blind law students ever to study there.
During summer jobs in 1966, 1967, and 1968 at agencies serving the blind in Chicago, Brown learned firsthand of the abuses of the sheltered workshop system for the blind in this country. It was also at that time that he met Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and made his initial contact with the National Federation of the Blind. Jernigan was speaking at a national conference, which (among other things) was considering ways of improving methods of instruction and increasing the availability of Braille. After the meeting Brown talked with Jernigan and began to subscribe to the Braille Monitor, the Federation's magazine. It was not until 1973, however, when Brown received a personal invitation from a chapter member in Northern Virginia, that he went to a Federation meeting.
Through a chapter in Northern Virginia Brown officially joined the Federation in 1974 and later that year was elected to office. In 1978 he became president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and has been re-elected to that position for successive two-year terms ever since. He was first elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1984.
Brown has always taken an active part in the life of the United Church of Christ. He teaches Sunday school and serves energetically on committees at the Rock Spring Congregational Church and has served generously at the Church's national level. In 1979 he was elected a corporate member of the United Church Board of Homeland Ministries (the body that oversees the missions work of the United Church of Christ). Within two years he was named Chairman of the prestigious Policy and Planning Committee and a member of the Executive Committee, both positions that he filled with distinction for four years.
Brown met his wife Jacqueline during law school, and the couple now has two sons, Richard (born in 1974) and Stephen (born in 1978).
Brown says: I used to believe that one had to overcome blindness in order to be successful, but I have come to realize that it is respectable to be blind. Our challenge as Federationists is to persuade society of this truth.
DONALD C. CAPPS
Insurance Executive and Civic Leader
Few more compelling examples of personal independence and social contribution can be found among either sighted or blind Americans than Donald C. Capps of Columbia, South Carolina. Since the inception of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina in 1956, he has served nine two-year terms as president and presently holds that office. Capps was elected to the second vice presidency of the National Federation of the Blind in 1959 and served in that capacity until 1968. In that year he was elected First Vice President and served with distinction in that position until 1984 when, for health reasons, he asked that his name not be placed in nomination. In 1985 Capps (restored in health) was again enthusiastically and unanimously elected to membership on the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
Born in 1928, Capps was educated at the South Carolina School for the Blind and later in public schools. Following his graduation from high school he enrolled in Draughon's Business College in Columbia and, upon receiving his diploma, joined the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company of Columbia as a claims examiner trainee. By the time of his retirement, he had risen to the position of Staff Manager of the Claims Department.
Capps first became interested in the organized blind movement in 1953 and by the following year had been elected president of the Columbia Chapter of the Aurora Club of the Blind (now the NFB of South Carolina), which he headed for two years before assuming the presidency of the state organization. Under Capps's energetic leadership the NFB of South Carolina has successfully backed twenty-three pieces of legislation concerning the blind in the state, including establishment of a separate agency serving the blind. Capps edits the Palmetto Blind, the quarterly publication of the NFB of South Carolina, articles from which are frequently reprinted in national journals for the blind. In 1960 Capps directed a campaign which led to construction of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina's $250,000 education and recreation center, which was expanded in 1970, and again in 1978. He now serves as a member of its Board of Trustees. In this role he has been instrumental in establishing full-time daily operation of the Federation Center. In addition, Capps has served for more than thirty years as the successful fundraising chairman of the Columbia Chapter. In 1963 Capps was appointed to the Governor's Committee on the Employment of the Physically Handicapped.
In December, 1972, the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company presented Capps with an award for twenty-five years of efficient, faithful, and loyal service in his managerial capacity. In 1984 Don Capps retired from the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company after thirty-eight years of service.
In 1965 Donald Capps was honored as Handicapped Man of the Year, both by his city of Columbia and by his state. In 1967 he was appointed to the Governor's Statewide Planning Committee on Rehabilitation Needs of the Disabled. Capps was elected president of the Rotary Club of Forest Acres of Columbia in 1974. In 1977 he was elected Vice Chairman of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind Consumer Advisory Committee. Also in 1977, at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Don Capps received the highest honor that can be bestowed by the organized blind movement, the Jacobus tenBroek Award.
Honor and recognition continue to come to Donald Capps. In 1981 he was appointed by the Governor of South Carolina to membership on the Board of Commissioners of the South Carolina School for the Blind, a body on which he now serves as Vice Chairman. In September, 1988, Donald Capps was a member of the NFB delegation to the Second General Assembly of the World Blind Union held in Madrid, Spain.
Betty Capps has been an active Federationist as long as her husband has. The Cappses have two grown children, Craig and Beth, and two grandchildren. Although Donald Capps has retired from business, he continues to be as active and effective as ever in the Federation, exemplifying leadership and confidence. His ongoing dedication to the National Federation of the Blind provides inspiration and encouragement to his many colleagues and friends within and outside the Federation.
Businessman and Community Leader
The President of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas is Glenn Crosby of Houston. He was first elected to that position in 1968 and served until 1970. He was again elected in 1978. Crosby is a successful restaurant owner and manager, having opened his first snack bar in 1968. During the past twenty years he has owned food service businesses at five separate locations, usually two or three at a time. He has served on the school board of All Saints Elementary Catholic School, been a director of the Houston Heights Little League, and been active in several city and county political campaigns.
On April 15, 1989, Glenn Crosby and Norma Beathard were married. Norma is the capable President of the National Federation of the Blind of Houston.
Born in 1945, Glenn Crosby was blinded at the age of three by an accident. He was educated at the Texas School for the Blind. He says that there were so many restrictive rules at that school that the students learned to defy them. It was the only way to survive, he says. We learned (for better or worse) to take risks when we were still young.
The only dating permitted was expeditions to school socials. Students could leave the campus only in groups and only on Saturday afternoons twice a month unless they had specific parental permission for additional trips. Crosby graduated in 1963. The preceding year half the senior class was not graduated because they had left campus a few days before the ceremony for a celebration. The message to the Class of '63 was perhaps not what school officials had intended. The students did not forego their party; they merely took pains to insure that they were not caught. Crosby's assessment of the school's curriculum is that the classes were not bad but that the courses that would have allowed admission to the best colleges and universities were not available. He earned state championships in wrestling and was offered the opportunity to compete for the Olympics in 1964. Crosby believes that blindness was the reason he was not offered a wrestling scholarship at a prestigious school.
Poor as his education was, Crosby is grateful that he was among the relative handful of blind Texans who were educated at all at the time. Many blind youngsters were sent to the school for the blind as teenagers to learn a trade if they could, and most of these people are now employed in the state's thirteen sheltered workshops, frequently earning painfully low wages. It is not hard to understand why Glenn Crosby devotes a large part of his time and energy to the National Federation of the Blind the consumer organization working to improve the lives and prospects of blind people.
Crosby's first job was with the Poverty Program. The only blind people he knew who earned a decent living worked in food service under the Randolph-Shepherd Program. His parents had been in business and had done some fast food service. Crosby did not want a business run by the state commission for the blind. He believed that he had had enough experience with state bureaucracy at the School for the Blind. Besides, he had learned to take risks young. Crosby does not doubt today that he made the right decision.
If I had not seen it for myself, it would be hard for me to believe that the blind have made as much progress as we have since I have been a part of the Federation a little more than twenty years. There are still thousands of blind people in Texas (and I am sure even more throughout the country) who have never had much of an education or much constructive help. The quality of their lives is poor. One day at a time I try to do my part to help improve the quality of life for all of us who are blind.
ROBERT M. ESCHBACH
Clergyman, Social Worker, and Administrator
In 1932 Robert Eschbach was born in the Philippines, the son of missionary parents. He spent much of his childhood traveling around the world, returning to the United States in 1941 to settle in Michigan. Two years later he lost his sight.
He attended public school in Detroit before entering the Ohio State School for the Blind in the ninth grade. He graduated from Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, with majors in theoretical music and English; and in 1958 he received a Master of Divinity degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
The Reverend Eschbach served for nine years in the parish ministry. Then, in 1966, he accepted a fellowship in the Division of Religion and Psychology at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. The experience persuaded him to begin a career in social work, and he remained in Topeka to earn an M.S.W. degree at the University of Kansas before returning to Dayton in 1969. Eschbach then accepted a job as a therapist at the Eastway Community Mental Health Center in Dayton. His responsibilities were gradually increased until he became community services director. When the character and scope of the agency changed, Eschbach decided to return to the ministry. He and his wife Pat served two churches before he was appointed in 1985 to the position of assistant director of the Ohio Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired.
Bob Eschbach became acquainted with the Federation in 1969 when he was invited to join the Dayton Chapter. He immediately concluded that he had discovered an entirely new way of approaching blindness. He became progressively more involved and committed in his local chapter, and in 1972 he attended the NFB convention in Chicago. It was his first exposure to the national movement, and he returned to Dayton feeling he had discovered the place where he wanted to be. He served as president of the NFB of Ohio from 1973 until 1984. During those years the state affiliate made great strides in unity and achieving progress for the blind. Bob Eschbach has served as a member of the NFB Board of Directors since 1974. He has chaired several committees and currently is President of the National Association of Dog Guide Users, the dog guide division of the NFB.
Other appointments include: member of the Consumer Advisory Council to Rehabilitation Services Administration of the State of Ohio; member of the Task Force on Disabilities for the Ohio West Conference of the United Methodist Church; and member of the Disabilities Task Force for the Ohio Council of Churches. Bob Eschbach is also an active member in Lions International, and he and his wife Pat have each participated in the Columbus, Ohio, Area Leadership Program. In 1982 Eschbach chaired the Citizens With Disabilities for Celeste Campaign for Governor.
Eschbach says: The National Federation of the Blind is an important part of my life. Being part of an organization which is concerned about what happens to blind people has demonstrated to me the way service ought to be given and responsibilities shared. It is an easy and natural follow- through to my personal faith.
Teacher and Agency Director
Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1946, Joanne Ziehan Fernandes moved with her parents to Webster City, Iowa, when she was seven. When she was 3, doctors had discovered that she had Retinitis Pigmentosa. She remembers everyone's attitude toward her poor eyesight. No one regarded her as blind, but everyone knew her eye condition could lead to blindness, a fact which friends and family did not want to confront. The whispers taught Fernandes that this being blind was a dreadful thing. She learned to pretend she could see to avoid the pity that would follow if she could not. And she learned to avoid thinking about blindness. It was too awful. Never once can Fernandes remember discussing blindness with a teacher or friend at school. She never met a single blind person. All she knew was that she did not want to be blind or think about it. Being blind wasn't respectable.
After Fernandes graduated from high school, she enrolled in a junior college. At that time the Iowa Commission for the Blind conducted a career day for blind students, which she attended. For the first time she met blind people. They were confident and capable. She decided that at the end of her second year of junior college she would take time out to attend the Orientation and Adjustment Center. Those nine months she describes as the most exciting time of my life. I found freedom, and it wasn't always easy.
In 1969 Joanne Fernandes graduated with honor from Iowa State University, where she received a B.S. in Elementary Education. During one quarter she was selected as a Merrill Palmer Scholar to do advanced work in education in Detroit, Michigan.
For the next four years, Fernandes taught elementary school (second and fourth grades) in the Ames, Iowa, public school system. In 1971 she received a Master's degree in Guidance and Counseling. During this time Fernandes helped to organize the North Central Iowa Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and she served for several years as its president. From 1977 to 1979 she was first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa.
In 1973, Fernandes had stopped teaching to begin a family. She is now the mother of 5 children ages 5 to 15. In 1979 she and her husband moved to Louisiana, and here she continued her Federation work. In 1981, Fernandes led the formation of a new NFB chapter in her hometown of Ruston, Louisiana, and forty people attended the first meeting. It was the eighth chapter in the state. Today in Louisiana there are twenty-one chapters.
Joanne Fernandes was elected President of the NFB of Louisiana in 1983 and has been elected for successive two-year terms ever since. In 1985, Governor Edwin Edwards recommended to the State Legislature that money be appropriated directly to the NFB of Louisiana for a training center for blind adults, and the prestige and reputation of the organization were such that the legislature responded affirmatively.
The Louisiana Center for the Blind opened in October of 1985 with Joanne Fernandes as its director, and the program which has been built is rapidly coming to be recognized throughout the nation as a model. More than a hundred students have now enrolled in the program, and they graduate ready for competition in the mainstream of society and they graduate not only believing but knowing that it is respectable to be blind.
Homemaker, Girl Scout Administrator, and Community Volunteer
In 1938 Priscilla Pacheco Ferris was born in Dighton, Massachusetts. From the time she was a small child, she knew she had weak eyesight, but she and her family did not know that the condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa, would deteriorate into total blindness. During her early school years Ferris used print, but three years later, when her brother (who had the same eye condition) entered school, the staff refused to teach two blind children. So the Pacheco youngsters enrolled in the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.
When Ferris entered Perkins, she was beginning the fourth grade, and she was expected to learn Braille immediately even though she could still read large print. She remembers that it took her about a month. She didn't feel put upon; it was simply a challenge. Today she recalls this when she must deal with debates about whether a blind child should read Braille or print. Teach both, Ferris says unequivocally. Low-vision children were not too stupid to learn both when I was a kid, and things haven't changed that much since.
After high school graduation in 1956, Priscilla Pacheco worked in a curtain factory for a year. She would have liked to go to college but did not have the money. Then she worked for five years in a cookie factory, doing whatever needed to be done, including assembly line work, packaging, and packing. She married Jack Ferris in 1961, and in 1963 she resigned to begin a family. The Ferrises now have two grown daughters.
In 1977, Priscilla Ferris finally had an opportunity to attend business school, where she earned a degree and graduated with distinction. Then she found a job as secretary for the Fall River Public Schools. By the time funding cuts eliminated her position, she was too busy with community activities and work for the Federation to look for another job.
Ferris led her first Girl Scout troop while working at the cookie factory in the 1950's. From that time until her own daughters were in Scouts she led troops from time to time. In 1974 she began fourteen years as town Administrator for the Girl Scouts in Somerset, Massachusetts, a job in which she was responsible for the entire scouting program for the city. She quips that, not only can she light a fire in the rain, raise a tent in a storm, and dig a latrine almost anywhere, but she can teach anyone else to. In 1986 she was elected to the Board of Directors of the Girl Scout Council of Plymouth Bay, and she has recently been elected to another three-year term. Ferris's contribution to scouting was recognized by the Council when it presented her with an award as the Outstanding Adult in 1986.
Ferris first heard of the National Federation of the Blind when a new chapter was formed in her area in 1961. She was mildly interested, but she did not join the Federation until 1974, shortly before losing the remainder of her eyesight. In 1976 Ferris was elected president of the Greater Fall River Chapter of the NFB of Massachusetts. She has been re-elected president every year from that time until the present.
In 1977, Ferris was elected second vice president of the NFB of Massachusetts and in 1981 first vice president. In 1985, she was elected President of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, and she has been re-elected for succeeding two-year terms ever since. She was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in July of 1987.
In Huntsville, Alabama, the pastor of Lakeside United Methodist Church is the Reverend Frank Lee. Lakeside claims one of the best-educated congregations of United Methodist churches in Alabama. The Reverend Lee has experienced far more discrimination and misunderstanding within the church and outside it because of his blindness than because of his race. When he first became an ordained minister ready for assignment to a church, the conference leadership planned that he would be a conference evangelist serving without salary. He objected because the church to which he hoped to be assigned was being left without a minister. There was no escaping the conclusion that the conference leaders believed a blind person could not handle the responsibilities of a church pastor. Church members in all but one of the churches to which the Reverend Lee has been assigned have also objected at first to having a blind minister, but Lee has always won their love and respect in short order.
In the United Methodist Church in the mid-seventies it was not customary for the pastor to request a particular church. Rather, the conference bishop and district superintendents conferred with local churches to make assignments. The Reverend Lee found that he must depart from this practice and make the request. As a young minister, he had to challenge the decisions of his superiors, something not calculated ordinarily to gain their confidence and respect, but it was necessary. Winning the trust and affection of church leaders and parishioners has taken time, but Lee has done it.
Frank Lee was born in Semmes, Alabama, in 1942. Soon afterward, his family moved to Dothan. He found himself in the middle of a farm family of fifteen children. When he was six, one eye was injured in an accident. The medicine available to the Lees at the time could not prevent infection from spreading to the other eye, causing total blindness within a few months.
Lee feels fortunate that his family learned about the school for the blind in Talladega, and he went there a year later. He remembers crying when he had to leave home and return to school. He also remembers that it was the only way for him to get an education. The academic curriculum was quite good. Lee participated in many sports, including baseball and volleyball, as well as singing in the choir from elementary through high school.
The school Lee attended was the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, which consisted of four separate schools: the white deaf, the white blind, the black deaf, and the black blind. The campus for the black blind was very small, and it was separated from all the others.
Frank Lee remembers things that were exciting opportunities to him at the time. In 1952 he was the first child in his part of the school to use the Perkins Braille Writer. In 1962 he was in the third class to graduate from the black blind school. Prior to 1959 there were so few black blind high school students that they took courses in a public school in Talladega, receiving high school diplomas there. While most schools for the blind in the 1950's and early 1960's were just getting a good start at integrating blind youngsters into public school classes, Lee's school was just getting enough blind students to offer a complete high school curriculum. Integration of the races was still almost a decade away.
Between 1962 and 1966 Frank Lee spent twenty-one months operating a vending facility under the Randolph-Sheppard program, but he wanted to go to college. He had earned good grades, but not until 1966 could he convince the state rehabilitation agency for the blind to help him. In 1970 he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Talladega College. During these years Lee worked periodically as a camp counselor and in vending facilities. He was also active in church work. He had been singing in church choirs for years, and in 1962 he preached his first sermon. In 1973 he completed studies at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. He also studied at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York.
In 1976 Frank Lee married Frankie Boyd, whom he met in college.
Lee joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1982 and was elected Treasurer of the NFB of Alabama in 1985. In 1986 he was elected to the National Board of Directors and re-elected in 1988.
Rehabilitation Instructor and Outreach Educator
Born in 1934, Betty Niceley was largely raised by her grandparents, who managed a series of country stores in Kentucky. She remembers three of these, each one larger than the one before. The family lived beside the stores, doing whatever needed to be done. It was all part of the family lifestyle stocking shelves, filling orders, cashiering and it was good experience for a blind child who might have had trouble finding work elsewhere.
At the age of nine, Betty Niceley left home to attend the Kentucky School for the Blind in Louisville. There she believes she got a reasonably good education. However, she transferred back home to Bell County High School, where she graduated. Her senior class chose her queen and the person most likely to succeed.
Niceley attended Georgetown College in central Kentucky where she received a Bachelor's degree in English and a secondary teaching certificate. It was at this time that she met her husband Charles. The Niceleys now have a daughter and two grandsons.
Her first real job after graduating from college was with the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville. She did public relations and development work as well as filling in wherever Braille expertise, poise, or common sense were needed. After thirteen years at the Printing House, she changed jobs and began teaching Braille at the Rehabilitation Center operated by the Kentucky Department for the Blind. When the state's Independent Living Center opened in the fall of 1980, she joined the staff and again found herself doing whatever needed to be done. She teaches people of all ages Braille, techniques of daily living, and rudimentary travel skills. She also does virtually all the outreach education for groups who need instruction about blindness and dealing with blind people.
Betty Niceley first joined the Federation in 1968, although she had known about it for a long time without, as she puts it, finding the time to get involved. Then, she joined and it was not long before her commitment and performance were such that she was elected Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky. At about this time she was also President of the Greater Louisville Chapter, a position she held until 1975. Niceley has served as President of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky since 1979.
In 1977 the State of Kentucky created a separate Department for the Blind, responsible directly to the Governor. Niceley points to this as one of the NFB of Kentucky's many accomplishments of which she is especially proud. When my poor vision worsened and I became totally blind in my senior year of college, I had little trouble adjusting. I had learned to read and write Braille as a child and kept up both skills. That is one of the reasons I have been so excited about the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). Betty Niceley was elected its first president, a position which she still holds. She was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1985 and re-elected in 1987 and 1989.
Teacher, Administrator, and Government Official
Fred Schroeder, the youngest member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, was born in 1957 in Lima, Peru. His parents decided that he and his brother (six years older) would have better opportunities growing up in the United States, so they took steps to make it happen. By the time he was two, Fred had been adopted by Florence Schroeder of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
When he was seven, Schroeder developed an obscure little-known disorder known as Stephens-Johnson's Syndrome, which caused a gradual deterioration of eyesight and other serious physical problems. By the time he was sixteen, he was totally blind.
In order to do his school work during junior high and high school, he used a combination of taped materials, live readers, and simply not doing homework. He was able to take extra courses during these years and still maintain above-average grades. In spite of worsening eyesight, he resisted the idea of learning to read and write Braille. By the time he was a senior in high school, however, he had changed his mind and taught himself to read and write it. He used Braille constantly throughout college.
Schroeder received a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1977 from San Francisco State UniversIty. In 1978 he earned a master's in elementary education and qualified for a California teaching certificate. He had then just turned twenty-one.
By 1977 Fred Schroeder had attended several conventions of the National Federation of the Blind of California, and in that year he was elected president of the Student Division in that state. He attended his first national convention in Baltimore during July of 1978. While there, he was offered a job as travel instructor at the Orientation and Adjustment Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. Initially Schroeder turned the job down, preferring to teach children. By the time he received his master's in August, however, he had decided to take the job and move to Nebraska, where he worked for two years. During this time he met Cathlene Nusser, a leader in the NFB of Nebraska, and the two were married in January of 1981.
Also during these Nebraska years, Schroeder took course work at San Francisco State University to strengthen his credentials as an instructor in orientation and mobility.
In September of 1980 Schroeder moved back to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he became an itinerant teacher of blind children for the Albuquerque Public Schools. He worked for a year in this job before being promoted to the position of Coordinator of Low- Incidence Programs for the Albuquerque Public School System, a job he held with distinction for five years.
In 1986 he was appointed director of the newly-established New Mexico Commission for the Blind. In that position he has earned a nationwide reputation as one of the most dynamic and innovative administrators in the field of work with the blind. Schroeder has completed course work for a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of New Mexico. He is currently writing his dissertation on teacher evaluation.
Schroeder has served his community and state in a number of positions. He was a member of the Braille Authority of North America from 1982 to 1986 and served as Vice Chairman during part of that time. He served on the governing board of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf in New Mexico beginning in 1984. Schroeder represented the Braille Authority of North America and the National Federation of the Blind at the International Conference on English Literary Braille in London, England, in 1988. Since 1987 he has served on the New Mexico Governor's Committee on Concerns of the Handicapped.
In 1980 Schroeder was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico and in 1982 became the president of the organization, a position he held until 1986. In 1984 Schroeder was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. From 1983 to 1989 he served as president of the National Association of Blind Educators.
Schroeder remembers: In 1978 I was getting a master's degree in the education of blind children, a field in which there was a nationwide shortage. After thirty-five or forty interviews, I didn't have a single job offer. I had to deal first-hand with the very real fact of discrimination against the blind. It is hard to keep an experience like that from eroding your self-confidence. It makes you question whether as a blind person you can compete in society, whether you can get past people's expectations and prejudices to show them what you can really do. The National Federation of the Blind makes the difference. It provides a way for blind people to give each other moral support, encouragement, and meaningful information. It helps people who are coming along to have advantages we didn't and in the very act of encouraging and supporting others, we sustain and nurture our own morale and self-belief.
Business Woman and Public Relations Executive
Born in 1944, Ramona Willoughby Walhof was the second in a family of three blind children, but the word blind was never used when they were small, especially by the ophthalmologists. Nevertheless, even the large print books ordered for the children by the schools did not make reading possible. In the competitive world of the classroom the truth could not be avoided they were blind. So they were packed up and taken more than two hundred miles away from home to enroll in the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School. Walhof remembers that her parents found facing this alternative easier than struggling with a public school system that could not find a way to teach three bright youngsters who could not see print. A school for the blind was better than a school that didn't educate.
Walhof remembers learning to lie about what she could see. She didn't think of it as telling falsehoods, but she says, It made adults happy when they thought I could see things, and at school (even though it was supposedly a school for the blind) one had privileges and responsibilities to the same degree one had usable eyesight.
During the summer following second grade Walhof commandeered her brother's Braille slate and stylus and taught herself to write Braille because the school considered her too young to learn it. She was taught to read using Braille, but she understood from the beginning that reading print (if only she could have managed to decipher it) was better.
In 1962 Ramona Willoughby graduated from high school, valedictorian of her class, but she says with an extremely limited education and very little experience. Between high school and college, she took a short course of training at the Iowa Commission for the Blind Orientation and Adjustment Center. It was then that she met Kenneth Jernigan, the Commission's Director. She refused to learn much about the NFB although she now says, The Federation had already begun to have a profound influence on my life. She found college difficult, she says, because her academic background was so weak. Nevertheless, Walhof graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in 1967 with a degree in Russian language.
In 1968 Ramona Willoughby married Chuck Walhof of Boise, Idaho. During the next several years she was busy. She and her husband had two children, and she taught two sessions of Headstart and one course in college Russian. She also managed two vending facilities. After the death of her husband in 1972 she returned to Des Moines, Iowa, first as a teacher and then as an assistant director at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind.
In 1979 Walhof moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to take a position at the National Center for the Blind as the Assistant Director of the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program, operated jointly by the NFB and the U.S. Department of Labor.
In 1982 she returned to Idaho to assume the position of Director of the state Commission for the Blind. Her reputation for innovative approaches and dynamic forthrightness soon reached far beyond the borders of Idaho. In 1984 the blind of the state recognized her achievements by giving her an award in public ceremonies.
Later that year she left government employment to go into private business. Today she operates extensive multi-state public relations and community outreach programs for the blind and other groups.
Ramona Walhof has written widely on topics relating to blindness, including the following books: Beginning Braille for Adults, (a teaching manual); Questions Kids Ask about Blindness; A Handbook for Senior Citizens: Rights, Resources, and Responsibilities; and Technical Assistance Guide for Employers.
In 1988 Walhof became president of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho and was also elected to membership on the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
Senior Programmer Analyst and Electronics Technologist
Gary Wunder was born three months prematurely in 1955, the oldest of four children. His family lived in Kansas City, Missouri, and Wunder remembers that since he was blind from birth, he managed to persuade everyone in his family except his father to do precisely what he wanted. It would be many years before Wunder could appreciate his father's instinctive understanding that Gary had to learn to do things for himself.
Wunder tells with amusement the story of his dawning awareness of his blindness. When he was two, his home had sliding glass doors separating the living room from the patio. When those doors were closed, he could not hear and therefore did not know what was happening on the other side and assumed that no one else could either. One day he found several soft drink bottles on the patio and broke them. His father then opened the doors and asked if he had broken the bottles. Gary said he had not and that he did not know how they had been broken. His father then astonished him by saying that both his parents had watched him break the bottles and that his mother was now crying because she had thought surely her baby couldn't tell a lie. Gary's response was to say, Well, she knows better now.
Wunder attended grades one through five at a Kansas City public school. When he was ten, a boy who attended the Missouri School for the Blind persuaded him that he was missing real life by staying at home. At the school, his friend told him kids rode trains and buses. They could bowl and swim and didn't have to listen to parents. As a result, Wunder did some persuading at home and was on hand for sixth grade and some necessary but painful lessons about that real world.
At the close of seventh grade Wunder returned to public schools, having learned several vitally important lessons: He knew the basics of using a white cane; he recognized that his father's demands on him had sprung from strong love and eagerness for his son to succeed; and he understood that people beyond his own family had worth and deserved his respect. But he had also learned that the school for the blind was not the promised land, and he was delighted to be once more in public schools for eighth grade and high school. He was elected to the National Honor Society his senior year but struggled with the mechanics of getting his work done. Braille was not readily available, and readers were hard to recruit without the money to pay them.
Wunder planned to attend the University of Missouri at Kansas City in order to live with his grandmother, but after a taste of freedom at the orientation center in Columbia, Missouri, the summer before college he decided to enroll at the University's Columbia campus, where everyone walked everywhere and where he could contrive as many as three or four dates an evening if he hurried from place to place.
Wunder enjoys recounting the adventure which persuaded him that a blind person should always carry a white cane: I was having dinner with a young woman who lived near me, so I had not brought my cane, figuring that I wouldn't need it. To my consternation and her distress, my plate of liver and onions slid into my lap. She asked if I wanted her to walk me home so that I could change. I was already so embarrassed that I assured her I would be right back and that I did not need her assistance. The busiest intersection in Columbia lay between me and clean slacks, and after I successfully survived that street crossing, I swore that I would never again be caught without my cane.
Wunder decided to major in political science and philosophy because he felt compelled to avoid the science and math that he loved but feared to take. During his sophomore year he met a professor from Central Missouri State University who suggested that he was ducking the challenge. Together they explored the question of whether or not a blind person could follow schematics and read volt-meters. The answers seemed to be yes, so Wunder transferred to Central Missouri State, where he graduated in 1977 with a degree in electronics technology. He had done well with the courses, but he did not see how he could run a repair shop with its responsibility for mastering hundreds of schematics for appliances. He could teach electronics, but the professors from whom he had learned the most were those who had firsthand experience. He didn't want to be the theory-only kind of teacher.
Wunder looked for interim jobs after graduation while he tried to decide what to do, and he discovered the hard way that blind job- seekers have to be better than the competition in order to be considered at all. He vowed to become so well-trained at doing something that would-be employers could not ignore him. Wunder enrolled in a ten-month course in computer programming offered by the Extension Division of the University of Missouri. No blind person had ever entered the program before, but Wunder completed it successfully and was hired immediately (in the fall of 1978) by the Pathology Department of the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics in Columbia. Years and promotions later, Wunder is successfully working at the hospital and is now a Senior Programmer Analyst in the Information Services Department.
Wunder first learned about the National Federation of the Blind the summer before his senior year of high school. He says, In the beginning I thought this talk about discrimination was a pretty good racket. No one did those things to me, and I assumed that all this Federation talk about jobs' being denied and parents' having children taken away from them was an effective way of raising funds. I didn't realize that my father's name and reputation in my hometown were protecting me from the worst of real life. So far I had gotten what I wanted, including a motorcycle to ride on our farm and my own horse. It was some time before I recognized that these talented and committed blind people whom I was getting to know in the Federation were trying to teach me about the world that I was going to inherit. They frightened me a little, but more and more I wanted to be like them.
In late 1973 (several months after Wunder started college in Columbia, Missouri, a Federation organizing team arrived to establish a new chapter, and he took an active part in the preparations. Wunder was elected President, and when he transferred to Central Missouri State two years later, he organized a chapter in Warrensburg. In 1977 Wunder was elected First Vice President of the NFB of Missouri, and in 1979 he became President. Except for one two-year term, he has continued in that post ever since. Wunder was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1985.
Wunder is a devoted family man. He is married to the former Sue Micich, who was at the time of their marriage President of the NFB of Wisconsin.
Looking back reflectively over the years of his involvement with and commitment to the Federation, Wunder says: Of all I learned from my parents about honor, responsibility, and the necessity to be competent, what I could never get from them was a sense of where blind people fit in a world composed mostly of sighted people. Friends and loved ones had always told me how wonderful I was (wonderful for a blind person, that is), but until I came to know members of the National Federation of the Blind, no one had the experience or knowledge to say how I could expect to measure up alongside the sighted. The NFB was the first place where I didn't get a round of applause for performing the routine activities of life. If I wanted my Federation colleagues' recognition and admiration, I had to merit this attention. It sounds contradictory, but while I was learning that I wouldn't be applauded for insignificant accomplishments, I was also learning that I didn't have to possess special compensatory senses or talents to make my way in the world. When you think that your only opportunity for success lies in being a musician, when you know that your only musical talent is in listening, and when you suddenly find that you are capable of doing the average job in the average place of business, your sense of freedom, hope, and possibility know no bounds.
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