Shortly after the World Blind Union was formed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1984, Dr. Jernigan became active within this world organization of the blind. By 1987, he had become president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, a position he held until the fall of 1997. For ten years Dr. Jernigan traveled the world, speaking to individuals and organizations of the blind, planning international activities, and bringing hope and inspiration to blind people throughout the globe. He recognized that the task of bringing independence to blind people in every culture is monumental. Nevertheless, he reflected that the old joke about eating an elephant has within it a truth. "You eat an elephant one bite at a time, and the task, no matter how big, must be approached one act and one blind person at a time." Dr. Jernigan outlined his efforts within the World Blind Union in a report contained in the Braille Monitor for January 1995. This report entitled "Reflections and Comments on the World Blind Union" offers a brief overview of his dynamic work. This is what he said:

Reflections and Comments on the World Blind Union

by Kenneth Jernigan

At the end of the Second World War America, England, and the countries comprising the British commonwealth were riding high. There seemed to be a feeling that a new day of progress and prosperity was dawning and that the English-speaking countries of the world were destined to lead the way in achieving it (and also, by and large, in paying for it). In this universal spirit of hope and brotherhood (no, not sisterhood-we hadn’t got to that point yet) all were to receive assistance. There were Marshall Plans, foreign aid, and the United Nations.

Nobody was to be forgotten-and, of course, that included the blind. So in 1949 the World Council on the Welfare of the Blind was established. It met in Rome; elected Colonel Baker (the head of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind) as its president; and planned to meet again in five years, leaving interim matters to its officers and executive committee. The organization (generally called the WCWB) claimed to represent not only the governmental and private agencies but also the blind. And, indeed, there were organizations of the blind in its membership, including the National Federation of the Blind.

The problem was that many of the European organizations were hybrids. They called themselves organizations of the blind, and their claim had legitimacy. They had blind members; they had elections; and mostly they had blind officers. But they were also agencies, in that they provided rehabilitation and other services to the blind-very often the only such services in their countries. Moreover, their principal financing usually came from government, and their leaders were paid as service providers. This is not the place to discuss whether that was a better or worse model than we were using but simply to note that it was different. There were obvious advantages to the hybrid model-a steady source of income, paid leadership with time to develop programs, and a rather persuasive method of recruitment. In fact, when I was in Denmark four or five years ago, I asked how many members that country’s organization of the blind had. I was given an answer. I then asked what the total blind population of the country was, and again I was given an answer. The two numbers were virtually the same.

On the other hand, there were disadvantages. If a blind person is dissatisfied with the behavior or services he or she receives, how can an effective appeal be made? The entire atmosphere of the operation will discourage appeals, as well as the very notion of adverse interests or freedom of choice.

Whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages is a question that can be argued, but one thing is indisputable. When a group of representatives from different countries gather to talk about methods and procedures, communication is made difficult by the different kinds of organizations that call themselves organizations of the blind. Sometimes the subject can be touchy. I remember, for instance, a meeting in London a few years ago at which I said that in the United States an organization of the blind would not be defined in the same way as it would in some European countries, and I received an angry response from one of my esteemed European colleagues-which, of course, changed nothing since the facts are still the facts.

But back to the World Council on the Welfare of the Blind (the WCWB). In its early years it was largely run by the American Foundation for the Blind, the CNIB, and the British. It was characterized by quinquennial conventions, agency control, and professional articles and papers. It wielded relatively little influence in the blindness field in the United States-taking a backseat, for instance, to the American Foundation for Overseas Blind, which later split away to become Helen Keller International.

During the 1950’s and 60’s the participation of the National Federation of the Blind in WCWB activities was constant but mostly perfunctory. By the mid-1960’s we felt that a worldwide organization of the blind should be established-not just an organization composed of and led by the blind but also an organization undiluted in its purpose of representing the blind. We were not seeking to build a force that would be hostile to the agencies but the establishment of a world organization that would avoid combining the functions of both service provider and service receiver-an organization that would serve as a balance to the agency-controlled WCWB. As I have often said, the organized blind of the United States do not wish actually to administer the agencies. If we did, another organization would have to be formed to serve as a watchdog on us and to represent the interest of consumers in dealing with us.

Much of the spadework in creating the new international organization was done by Dr. Isabel Grant, who traveled throughout the world to promote the establishment of independent organizations of the blind. At the 1964 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Phoenix, Arizona, the preliminaries were commenced, and later that summer in New York the International Federation of the Blind (the IFB) was brought into being. Dr. tenBroek became its first president, and I drafted its constitution.

From the beginning it was touch and go with the IFB, for many of its members were also members of the WCWB. More important, their primary identification was with the agencies and service providers. Of course, the NFB was also a member of the WCWB, but its distinction from the agencies was more pronounced than that of organizations of the blind in many other countries-particularly some of those in Europe.

Let me not be misunderstood. A number of the organizations of the blind in Europe (particularly, those in England) did not perform agency functions. They were, by the most rigorous definition, organizations of the blind, representing the blind. But the English organizations were weakened by being specialized-one serving as a labor union and another as the rallying point for blind people in the professions.

Despite its problems, the International Federation of the Blind (IFB) had a promising beginning. New organizations of the blind began to emerge throughout the world, and a convention was planned for 1969 in Sri Lanka (at that time Ceylon). But in 1968 Dr. tenBroek, who had been not only the president of the IFB but its driving force, died. Almost immediately the IFB went into a sharp decline.

With Dr. tenBroek’s death I became president of the National Federation of the Blind, and my time for the next few years was spent in building and expanding the NFB. Technically I served as the NFB’s delegate to both the WCWB and the IFB, but any real participation on my part was virtually nonexistent. So was any meaningful influence by either the IFB or WCWB on matters dealing with the blind in this country. There were no regular meetings of U.S. delegates, no exciting proposals or initiatives, and no tangible programs or results.

Meanwhile, the IFB increasingly moved into the WCWB’s orbit. First there were suggestions and then a growing pressure to merge the two organizations. What was contemplated was not a true combining of equals but a takeover of the weakened IFB by the WCWB. This move was resisted by some of the independent organizations of the blind, especially some in Asia and Africa. It was also resisted by us, but our resistance was at the token level, lacking priority or a sense of urgency. Through the decade of the 1970’s we were chided by a number of blind leaders throughout the world for not taking leadership and rallying the forces of the International Federation of the Blind to bring to fruition the work we had started a decade earlier. Whether we should have adjusted our priorities and given emphasis to international affairs is probably not worth debating in the present circumstances. The fact is that we didn’t.

By the early 1980’s it was clear that the IFB would be absorbed by the WCWB and that our choices were to accept the situation or form a new international organization of the blind with safeguards to prevent subversion. In 1984 a joint meeting of IFB and WCWB was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for the purpose of merging the two organizations. As a symbolic statement for the record, the National Federation of the Blind withdrew from the International Federation of the Blind prior to the Riyadh meeting, but we retained our participation in the merged organization by continuing to be members of the WCWB. It seemed to be an honest recognition of the actuality of the situation.

We did something else, which in retrospect was probably a mistake. We declined to go to the Riyadh meeting, which combined the IFB and the WCWB to create the World Blind Union (the WBU). The American Foundation for the Blind also boycotted the meeting. In the vacuum, the representative of the American Council of the Blind, Grant Mack, was elected president of the newly established North American region (later the North America/Caribbean Region) of the World Blind Union. The Mack presidency was an interim matter that lasted for a few weeks until permanent elections could be held.

That was the situation in the fall of 1984 when the six delegates from the United States and the four from Canada met in a hotel in Washington to conduct the first regional meeting of the WBU on this continent. The newly written WBU constitution emphasized geographic regions, and North America was one of seven-the other six being Africa, Asia, East Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

At the Washington meeting Bill Gallagher, who at that time was head of the American Foundation for the Blind, was elected regional president. Incidentally and for the record, I nominated him. I did it despite the fact that the American Foundation for the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind had traditionally disagreed, sometimes rather stridently. Relations between the two organizations had begun to thaw in the early ‘80’s, a process which was in its early stages in 1984 but which would continue through the rest of the decade and beyond. Bill Gallagher played a major part in the improving cooperation, and it seemed fair to me to recognize the fact. That was one, but only one, of my reasons for nominating him.

It was at that Washington meeting in 1984 that I first met Dr. Euclid Herie and that our cooperative relations with the Canadians began. It was also at that meeting that the basic outlines of our regional WBU structure and procedures were established.

In 1986 the World Blind Union executive committee met in New York, and a number of Federationists (including Marc Maurer, who had just been elected president of the NFB) attended. It was the first time that I really got to know Sheikh Abdullah Al-Ghanim of Saudi Arabia, who served as WBU president from 1984 to 1988. The Sheikh wears well, and my respect for his competence and integrity has steadily increased as the years have passed.

In 1987 Bill Gallagher resigned as regional president, and I was elected to finish his term. I was reelected in 1988 and again in 1992. Sometime during the ‘80’s the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean joined our region. Thus, we had (and still have) twelve WBU delegates-six from the United States, four from Canada, and two from the Caribbean.

The regional structure of the World Blind Union has served as a principal vehicle for the growing harmony in the blindness field in our country-a process which began in the ‘80’s and is today a dominant theme. As to the situation with respect to the World Blind Union at large, the circumstances are totally different. The allocation of WBU delegates and the overall functioning of the organization are not in accord with reality. Therefore, it is not surprising that some of the results have been what they have been and that strains exist. Europe, for instance, has more than ten times as many delegates as our entire region. Yet, it would be hard to make a rational argument that Europe (with all due respect to its admitted greatness and traditions of excellence) is ten times stronger, wiser, or more virtuous than we are. Certainly it does not have ten times our population, and while we are on the subject of population, Europe has more delegates than Asia.

The allocation of delegates is not the only problem. The functioning of the organization is such that it is virtually impossible to bring about change by amending the constitution. Officers’ meetings often seem hampered by personalities, procedures, and questionable issues (see the following article in this issue of the Braille Monitor).

Even more serious, perhaps, is the seeming tendency of some of the leaders to flirt with what has been called the cross-disability or pan-disability movement-the notion that all disability groups should come together in a common effort to approach problems. Through a resolution initiated by our region, the 1988 World Blind Union assembly in Madrid voted unanimously that we should not merge with other disability groups but should clearly keep our separate identity and concentrate on problems faced by the blind. Despite this fact and the fact that all of the WBU leaders insist that they support this policy, the trend of the organization seems otherwise.

A good example is the WBU’s dealings with the United Nations. The WBU does not insist on separate negotiations with the UN but combines with other disability groups. It does this on the grounds that the UN won’t have it any other way. Yet, this pressure to merge (this insistence that we pretend that all disability groups have common interests and common problems) is no different from the pressure the NFB constantly faces from Congress, state legislatures, and the general public. But we don’t surrender to it, and our resistance is successful. It is more than that. It is one of the principal sources of our strength. I think the WBU could do likewise if it were determined and if it were convinced of the justice of its cause.

Another prime example is the case of the International Disability Foundation (IDF), which I discussed at length in the April, 1994, Braille Monitor. Through the leadership of Arne Husveg, President of the European Blind Union, the WBU officers and executive committee have decided to take office space in the proposed International Disability Center that the International Disability Foundation intends to establish in the Netherlands at The Hague. If the WBU takes office space with other disability groups in the so-called International Disability Center and shares staff with them, I don’t see how the organization can be perceived as maintaining a meaningful separate identity. Moreover, I don’t see how the WBU can reasonably object to fund raising in the name of the blind by the IDF. Explanations or anger won’t change the reality of what is occurring. In fact, I question the legality of the decision to participate in the IDF in view of the Madrid resolution on maintaining separate identity.

With regard to IDF fund raising in Canada and the United States, the organizations of and for the blind in our region are solidly united. In that connection, the following letter to David Blyth, president of the World Blind Union, is self-explanatory:

Baltimore, Maryland

November 22, 1994

Dear David:

As you will see from the enclosed minutes, the North America/Caribbean region met on November 4, 1994. Among other things, we discussed the International Disability Foundation and its fund-raising activities. As regional president, I was instructed to write this letter to you and to state in the strongest possible terms our determination not to have the IDF or any other group raise funds either directly or indirectly in the name of the blind in the United States and/or Canada without our prior consent. We feel that the IDF’s own literature makes it clear that IDF is raising funds in this region on a continuing basis and that action must be taken to put a stop to it.

Perhaps the determination and concern of the region can best be shown by calling your attention to the following portion of the minutes of our recent regional meeting. Item IV says in part:

A discussion was held concerning the International Disability Foundation (IDF) and the fund raising it is doing. Mr. Sanders said that perhaps we should write a letter to the World Blind Union president, reviewing the Melbourne discussion concerning IDF and the fact that it is WBU policy that funds may not be raised in a country without the consent of that country’s delegation. Dr. Jernigan asked whether the delegates wanted him to send a letter to President Blyth concerning the matter. It was moved by Mr. Sanders and seconded by Mr. Cylke that such a letter be sent. The motion carried.

Dr. Herie said that the WBU president, like all of the rest of us, is bound by the policy adopted in Madrid in 1988 and that if IDF should come to Canada with cross-disability fund raising, CNIB would publicly and vigorously oppose it. Dr. Herie said that mega fund-raising campaigns serve no useful purpose. The United States delegates strongly agreed and were unanimous in feeling that if IDF is raising funds in the United States, there must be determined and concerted public opposition. Dr. Spungin said that she did not want our letter to be too weak. Mr. Sanders said that we should remind the WBU president of the policy concerning fund raising and request that an official letter be sent to the International Disability Foundation saying that the North America/Caribbean region has not approved IDF fund raising in our countries and that such fund raising must cease immediately if it is now in progress and must not be undertaken without our written consent. There was unanimous approval of this course of action, and Dr. Jernigan said that he would write such a letter, first reviewing its exact wording with other regional delegates so that there could be no mistake that it represented the determined and concerted opinion of all of us.

Dr. Jernigan outlined the letter as he proposed to write it: We feel that fund raising is occurring, and we ask the WBU president to write a clarifying letter that it should not go forward.

Dr. Herie: Add that if it goes forward, our region will take steps to let the public and government know that we do not sanction it.

Mr. Sanders: And we will circulate our letters.

Mr. Magarrell: Make it clear that it is a total regional position.

Mrs. Braak: Also reiterate this issue involves the cross disability policy adopted by the 1988 General Assembly.

Mrs. McCarthy moved and Dr. Spungin seconded that our letter be to this effect. The motion carried unanimously. Dr. Jernigan appointed Mrs. McCarthy, Dr. Spungin, and Dr. Herie to work with him on the wording of the letter to the World Blind Union president.

This is what our minutes say, and I think the unanimity and intent are clear. As to our evidence of IDF’s fund-raising activity, I was surprised at the recent Amman meeting that there was even any question about it. The IDF’s own summer, 1994, publication lays it out in plain language. Here is what it says:


[Photo: The restored Cadillac limousine of King Olav V will be on permanent display in the Norwegian-American museum at Vesterheim in Iowa.]

Companies on both sides of the Atlantic are contributing to the joint IDF project to place King Olav’s 1951 state car in the Norwegian-American museum in the USA.

The car was donated by King Harald, and all proceeds will go to the Foundation’s work. "It will be a permanent tribute to a great monarch and humanitarian," said Hans Hoegh.

Norwegian companies have already made contributions, ... plus a number of donations from private individuals.

Interest now moves to the USA where full page adverts have been gifted by The Norway Times and The Western Viking.

This is what the IDF’s publication says, and if "interest now moves to the U.S.A.," if there have been a "number of donations from private individuals," and if "all proceeds will go to the Foundation’s work," it is hard to see how this can be called anything else except fund raising. Of course, there is all manner of other evidence: talk of art sales, individual contacts, and much more. Yet, when I raised the question in Amman, it was simply brushed aside as if the person responding didn’t know what I was talking about.

David, we want to work cooperatively with you and do what we can to help promote the objectives of the World Blind Union. We are not seeking confrontation. We want to do our part in helping fund the activities of the organization. At the same time, we think it is reasonable to insist that the policies adopted by the WBU General Assembly be strictly and scrupulously followed. We are asking you to send to the IDF and anybody else who is concerned a straightforward, unequivocal letter setting forth the policy about fund raising and saying that the policy will be enforced. We would like a copy of that letter so that the organizations in our region may be reassured.

If this can not be done, quickly and clearly, then the organizations in our region will feel that they have no choice except to take immediate, widespread, and determined public action.


Kenneth Jernigan, President
North America/Caribbean Region
World Blind Union


Under date of December 1, 1994, I received a letter from Pedro Zurita, Secretary General of the World Blind Union, enclosing information calculated to show that the IDF is not raising funds in the United States. Canada was not mentioned. The letters were from Mr. Hans Hoegh, Secretary General of the International Disability Foundation, and from someone named Rio D. Praaning, whose title is not given but who is described as speaking for the Building Foundation for the International Disability Centre in The Hague. It will be seen from the dates that the letters sent me by Mr. Zurita could not be in response to my November 22 letter to David Blyth. Rather, they are attempts to answer questions I raised about the IDF at the WBU officers meeting in Amman, Jordan, September 26-28, 1994. According to my reading, the letters do not satisfy the concern but confirm it. Here they are to speak for themselves:

Geneva, Switzerland

24 November 1994

To: Mr. Pedro Zurita
Secretary General World Blind Union

Re: Your Letter dated 14 November 1994

Subject: IDF Fund-raising in the USA


His Majesty, King Harald donated his father’s Cadillac from 1951 to the IDF. We sold shares in this car to Norwegian Americans.

American Friends of IDF: no fund-raising

Building Foundation of The Hague: On our request Rio Praaning has sent you a report on the fund-raising activities of the Building Foundation in the United States.

Yours sincerely

Hans Hoegh
Secretary General


The International Disability Foundation
Brussels, Belgium

22 November, 1994

Dear Mr. Zurita,

Through Mr. Hans Hoegh I received your request for information concerning the fundraising for the construction of the International Disability Centre through the Building Foundation.

Please be informed that we have focused our activities on the Middle East and Asia. However, some interested multinational companies in the U.S. may provide a variety of forms of assistance to the centre, particularly due to their interest in Europe.

After the first donation of His Majesty the Sultan of the Sultanate of Oman - the sum of USD 300,000 will be transferred to our account this week - we have been informed that the Gulf Cooperation Council is considering a major donation to the Centre. Contacts in Hong Kong and Japan have indicated similar positive positions. We expect final and formal decisions in December 1994/January 1995.

I trust this will satisfy your request, but I should be happy to provide you with further information at your request.

Yours sincerely,

Rio D. Praaning


These are the letters, and I don’t see how they can be interpreted to mean anything else but fund raising. If Norwegian Americans are, as it is put, sold shares in a car for charitable purposes, does their descent from Norwegian stock make them less American, or the solicitation less a solicitation? Does the fact that, as it is said, certain "interested multinational companies in the United States may provide a variety of forms of assistance to the Centre, particularly due to their interest in Europe," make that assistance not be a fund raising activity? I wonder whether the Norwegian Americans will claim their purchases of shares in the car as deductions on their federal income tax. I wonder whether the multinational companies will do the same with respect to their "assistance" to the IDF. And I also wonder whether the authorities that regulate charitable activities in the various states will want registration of these transactions as charitable solicitations.

With all of these problems, the WBU is still the only organization today which has worldwide membership and claims to speak for the blindness field. Our choices are simple. We can form a new international organization of the blind with appropriate safeguards to prevent subversion, and either stay in the WBU or get out of it; we can withdraw from the WBU and concentrate on regional affairs; we can maintain nominal membership in the WBU but limit our participation and largely write it off; or we can continue to participate and try to reform and improve the organization. Whatever we do, our actions should be upbeat and positive, but this does not mean that we should allow ourselves to be intimidated or dissuaded from expressing our opinions or seeking change because somebody may accuse us of being negative or disruptive. Our conduct should be orderly and courteous-but it should also be honest, vigorous, and purposeful. We should remember that by not following one course of action we necessarily follow another. Above all, we should not just drift into whatever we do. We should do it deliberately and with planned precision.