In 1992, Dr. Jernigan spoke of his own changing attitude about blindness in an article entitled, "Competing on Terms of Equality" from the Kernel Book The Freedom Bell. This is what he said:


by Kenneth Jernigan

As Federationists know, Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) is a project jointly sponsored by the U. S. Department of Labor and the National Federation of the Blind. At a JOB seminar held in Baltimore late in 1980, I made the following remarks. They were substantially reprinted in the Summer and Fall, 1981, issues of Dialogue magazine.

I believe that whether or not blind persons have ready access to the job market is important not only to blind people who are employed but to those who may be seeking employment. It is important to every segment of the blind population. People who are past the employment years are affected by whether blind persons can get jobs.

To make this clear, all I have to say is this: During the years when a black person in this country could not find employment except in shoeshining or in the very lowest paid of janitorial jobs, it affected the way society treated every black person-those who were not hunting employment as well as those who were. And so in that sense every blind person has a stake in what happens in our JOB project and in upgrading jobs for blind persons.

Whether or not we believe that as blind persons we really are as good as others-that is, whether we believe we are employable-has something to do with how we look at ourselves-what kind of confidence we will have, how we will expect people to treat us, and what we will expect we can do. I know (and probably you do, too) situations where blind people, men or women, have got themselves engaged to sighted people and the families of the sighted persons have been moved almost to violence, thinking their child had gone mad by wanting to marry a blind person. It’s all tied up with jobs. In the past we haven’t known blind people who have had jobs that were prestigious in the community. We haven’t known blind people who were persons that other people hoped they could be like, and had to come to for favors, and all the other things that make for desirability.

The trouble is that blind people, being part of the culture, have accepted that notion of themselves too often and have, therefore, done much to make it come true. It’s a vicious circle.

I know many people who say, "Of course, I believe that as a blind person I am as good as anybody else." Very often they simply don’t know what they are saying. Very often they are lying in their teeth, but usually don’t know it.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. I went to college. I had, I believe, a rather pleasing personality. We all think we have a pleasant personality, I suppose. But I had some objective evidence. I could use mine to some good effect when I wanted to.

Early in my freshman year I went to one of my professors and said to him, "I want to do everything that’s needed. I don’t want any special favors or privileges. I want to compete on terms of equality with the other students here. I really want to be able to perform, and I believe I can. As I have said, I don’t want you to give me special favors or privileges. Once in a while there may be a few things that I will need to do a little differently, but I hope there won’t be many such things and that they won’t be sufficient to make a difference in my overall performance.

"Specifically," I said, "since fitting footnotes onto a sheet of typing constitutes some problem, I would hope that I would be able to omit footnotes from term papers and themes. I shall certainly do all the research involved, and will type the papers myself."

That is what I told my professor. It sounds pretty good. Don’t you think? It’s a fairly plausible argument. I put all of the right words: "no special favors, no special treatment, no unreasonable privileges." Then, I asked the professor: "Is it all right if I proceed in that manner?"

His answer was blunt and to the point.

"Hell no," he barked. "It’s not all right. Look, you have come here telling me that you can compete on terms of equality, and you have made all of this speech about how you want to do it on equal terms with everybody else. You also say you are capable of doing competitive work in college. Now, you either can or you can’t.

"I could let you get by without the footnotes and probably nobody would criticize me for it. But when you are through with my classes and are graduating, you are going to want a recommendation. At that time you’ll get your feelings hurt if I say, ‘He’s not capable of competing on terms of real equality with others, but he can do a good job considering that he’s blind.’ You won’t like it if I say that. Therefore, you are either going to pass my courses in such a way that I can honestly give you good recommendations, or I’ll flunk you. Take it either way you want it."

That was one of the finest things that ever happened to me, because I had gone there with a good line prepared to snow the man, and I am not sure that I even knew that I was trying to do it. I typed his papers, by the way, and put the footnotes on them. There was no problem at all in doing it. I am afraid that if he had permitted it, I might have taken the easy way out and paid a terrible price for it.

Not all blind persons are as lucky as I was. Too many are faced with people who say to them, "You don’t need to do this." Unfortunately too many blind people accept the proffered assistance and (more often than not) never realize the high price they pay for the success they achieve in avoiding whatever it is they get out of or are talked into not doing.

When you are blind, how do you manage to do the different things you need to do? Very often we begin by assuming that we need a lot more so-called "accommodation" than we do. Remember: There is no such thing as a free lunch. You pay for everything.

I want to jump forward to a talk that I had with an executive from IBM not long ago. I don’t think the blind person involved would mind if I told you, because she and I laughed about it later-but it wasn’t funny to her at the time.

We had a blind woman come here to the National Center for three months to work with us on the talking typewriter that IBM has developed. She had tried to get jobs in the past and had had one that hadn’t worked out very well. We put her on the talking typewriter, and we all made good speeches. You know the pattern: "This will be a good chance to test out the machine, but also you’ll be treated like any other employee."

She had a tendency to go and sit down in other people’s offices and talk. She was blind, and everybody had always told her that she was a genius if she could do anything at all-and, of course, we all like to be told we’re geniuses, every one of us. We all like to be told that we are wonderful. Often the reason we are told such things is not complimentary, but we don’t recognize it. Often the reasoning is something like this: "Considering that you’re blind, it’s wonderful that you can do what (if you were sighted) would be taken as just an ordinary thing." That’s not complimentary.

Anyway, this woman came in one day to Mrs. Walhof (who was her supervisor) and said she had done 50 form letters in a given period of time. She was obviously pleased about it and wanted to be petted for it. But Mrs. Walhof said, "That’s not enough. If you think that way, you won’t be able to compete on terms of equality. It’s not enough."

The woman was crushed. She cried and felt ill-used. And so the lady from IBM who was in charge of training came in pretty soon and said to me: "I think you are being a little hard on her. You know, that’s really quite good for a secretary. I want to talk to you about her because I think she feels that she’s a little hard pressed. Maybe you are expecting too much."

I said, "Look. You stick to handling typewriters, and let me handle training blind people. Part of the problem we as blind people have is directly traceable to people like you. Without ever meaning to do it, you have kept blind people from getting jobs because of your lousy attitudes." After that kind of hard beginning I softened it down a bit. I had started out with shock tactics on her, but we got to be very good friends. I said to her, "Tell me (and really be honest): If this woman were sighted and a good secretary, would you regard her performance on those letters as satisfactory?"

After some hesitation she said: "Well, no, I guess I wouldn’t. But after all, you’ve got to take into account that she does have extra problems."

"No, I don’t have to take that into account," I said. "That’s exactly why blind people don’t have jobs. A blind typist does not need to perform at less capacity than a sighted typist. You don’t believe that a blind person can perform up to capacity; and so, of course, you’re having trouble with blind persons getting jobs. It’s your own fault."

A couple of weeks later the IBM trainer came back to me, having visited around the country, and said, "I’ve thought about it a lot, and I want to tell you something. I’ve been to some other places (these other training sites we have) and the typists there expect me, because I’m sighted, to do everything from carry their coffee to go out and shop for them." She said, "They’re not really being expected to perform up to par, and I guess I’d always taken it for granted that they shouldn’t be. But I had to do something about it, and this person you have here may really become employable as a result of what you’re doing. I was wrong."

"Okay, I’m glad you can see that," I said. "We are going to help the person we are training become able to be a really good secretary."

Then I got the IBM executive into my office (the one who was in overall charge of the talking typewriter project), and we had a long talk. I had come to know him. We had spent as much as eight or ten hours together, and we could talk frankly.

"You have asked me about your IBM Talking Typewriter," I said to him. And he said, "Yes, because we’re having trouble selling it. We’re not sure the market is out there."

"I think I could help you learn how to sell more of those typewriters," I said. "I think it’s your own fault that you’re not selling them.

He asked why.

"Because you haven’t learned the lesson that the Gillette Razor people learned so well," I told him. "They wanted to sell blades, but they realized that they had to sell razors, too. Suppose they were selling blades and thought they were good, but they thought their razors were so bad that they were second-rate and inferior. Then the Schick people would have it all over them. They’d beat them in sales every time.

"You people wrote a special manual for blind operators of the Mag Card II typewriter, and it was one of the poorest pieces of business I’ve ever seen. You had a token blind woman employed at IBM who didn’t believe in herself, but you people thought she was a genius because she was able to perform at all, and you had to give her something to occupy her time. What resulted was a manual written up specially for blind people. I don’t know whether she wrote it, or whether you had somebody else do it. Maybe you had some more blind people employed. I don’t know. Some of my colleagues and I tried the manual, and it didn’t work. It assumed that the blind were morons. So we scrapped it and taped your regular manual for the Mag Card Typewriter and used it to train blind people. We got jobs for a lot of them.

"Now, you are going out and trying to sell your talking typewriter, but you don’t really believe that blind people can perform on a par with others. How are you going to sell employers on buying talking typewriters to employ people that you don’t really believe are employable? That’s your problem."

"Well," he said, "I hadn’t looked at it like that. I don’t know. Maybe that’s it, but I just hadn’t looked at it that way."

"Let me put the question to you another way," I said. "Do you believe that you are necessarily more fortunate than I simply because you’re sighted and I’m blind?"

He said, "Well, yeah, I guess I do."

Then, I said, "Okay. Let’s see what it is that you think you have that makes you that way-whether it’s the natural wish of every person to feel superior to somebody and the insecurity which all of us have (at least, a little of it) or if it’s really that you’ve got that much on the ball. Let’s see what it is you’ve got.

"Let me tell you the test I use. The world is competitive. It always will be. There isn’t any way to make it otherwise. Whether we’re under Communism, Fascism, the church, or a so-called democracy-it doesn’t matter whether the capitalists run it, or the labor unions. It’s competitive. Anybody who tells you otherwise is deceiving you-and probably is doing quite well in the world, as he moves on while you stay behind to meditate on the merits of his philosophy.

"Let’s take it on that basis. By competitive I mean this: There are fewer things out there to fill wants than there are wants for those things. Therefore, necessarily whatever it is-whether jobs, honors, loaves of bread, dollars, cars, women, men, liquor, houses, Bibles, whatever-there are always fewer of whatever it is than there are people who want it. Somebody is going to get left out. I’m telling you that I don’t think blind people have to get left out any more often than sighted people. I believe there are too many other things involved.

"Let me speak to you. You and I are at least fairly close to the same age. Are you really sure that if you want something in the world and I want it, and you and I both set out to get it with all we can-are you sure you’re going to beat me out and get it?"

"Well, no," he said.

I said, "I’m not either. Think about it. I don’t know whether you’re more fortunate than I or not. You may be. But I doubt it."

He said he hadn’t looked at it like that.

"That’s one reason I might get whatever it is we are competing for and you might not," I said.

Now, let me leave the IBM typewriter and my conversation with the IBM executive. Let me go back and talk to you about the specifics of jobs. When I was in California at the Orientation Center for the Blind, I talked with people all along about blindness, trying to help blind persons come to realize that they could compete on terms of equality with others. I remember an individual who was an electrician before he became blind. He was 32 years old. He had been an electrician since before he was 20. One Sunday afternoon when he was working in his back yard a grinder blew up and blinded him. We got him at the Orientation Center very shortly afterward.

He came in with a kidding rather shallow kind of bravado, a sort of gaiety. He said he knew that he could learn to perform as a blind person as well as he’d ever performed as a sighted person.

It was obviously phony. It was clear he didn’t believe anything of the sort. After he had been there about two or three weeks, he said to me, "I have really been thinking about it, and in a sense I guess blindness may have been a good thing for me, because it caused me to re-evaluate my life and make the changes that I would like to have made all along. I never really was happy as an electrician. I think I’d like to get into another line of work."

"What would you like to do?" I asked.

"Something that would let me get out and travel around," he said.

"Like what?" I asked.

"Maybe I could do piano tuning," he said.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what that meant. He thought that was what blind people could do, and he was still trying to tell himself that he was a brave fellow, and maybe he really halfway convinced himself that’s what he wanted to do.

All I said was, "We’ll think about it." I changed the subject and began talking to him about the weather, and passed on.

After he had been at the center four or five months, he said to me one day, "You know, I was really phony about that piano tuning. I guess I thought that was all I could do as a blind person. But I’ve sort of changed my mind. Now, I can see some things that I didn’t then. I don’t want to be a piano tuner. What I really would like to do is go to college."

"Tell me about it," I said. "Tell me why."

"I think I would like to get into some sort of work helping my fellow blind," he said.

I said, "You know, you are an awful liar."

In these days of civil rights I suppose he could have hailed me up before the courts for having abused him. I might have had truth as a defense. I don’t know.

Anyway, his response was: "But how could a blind person be an electrician?"

"I don’t know," I said. "I’m not an electrician. I don’t know anything about electricians. Let’s work on it. You know something about being an electrician, and I know something about blindness. I don’t know whether you can be an electrician, but let’s try it. Let’s see what you can do."

Well, we did. He went back and got a job as a full-time electrician, and he worked at it quite well and satisfactorily. But I might have taken him seriously, or he might have taken himself seriously in those earlier false starts. If he hadn’t had some help in becoming deconditioned to what society had taught him to believe, he would have had a different kind of existence.

He taught me a lesson, too, by the way. He said, "You tell me that you believe a blind person ought to have an equal opportunity to be an electrician. Your house has some wiring problems. How about if I come over and work on your house? Are you willing for me to do that?"

I said, "Yes, I guess so if you’ll give me some idea about how you propose to do it."

To which he said, "I’m a licensed electrician. Would you ask a sighted man to give you that kind of proof?"

I said, "No, I really wouldn’t."

"Well, why, then, do you discriminate against me?" he asked.

I had taught him fairly well, I suppose. "Mark up a point for you," I told him. "I don’t care how you do it. If you believe you can do it, come and have a whack at it."

When you get a job, much of what happens to you is, of course, determined by whether the job is suitable for you and whether your employer and your colleagues give you an equal chance. But it also has to do with the way you approach it-what you believe you can do. Here are some examples from my own experience:

Once upon a time I sold life insurance-a most interesting occupation. I had a big rate book in print. I don’t know how each of you would have tried to deal with it, but I could not always afford to hire somebody to go with me and read it for me. I was trying to make a living, not be an executive. I couldn’t put it into Braille. I didn’t have enough reader time for that and even if I had, it would have meant carrying around volumes. So that wouldn’t have been practical.

I had another problem: The company kept changing the rate book as new policies and procedures came along. So what was I to do?

I could have asked my prospective customers to look up the information I needed, but that wouldn’t have worked because the book contained information I didn’t want them to have. I wasn’t trying to hoodwink them. But if you’re a wholesaler, you don’t ask the people you’re selling to to look in the manufacturer’s catalog and see what kind of markup you make. It isn’t good psychology. Besides, most of my clients would not efficiently have been able to find what I wanted. But what would have been even worse was that it would have destroyed their confidence in me. They wouldn’t have believed that I was competent to handle their insurance business if I had done it that way.

So what did I do? I could have cried about it or said, "Well, that shows a blind person can’t be an insurance salesman. Right there it is. I tried, but tell me how I’m going to do it?" People often come to me and say, "Here is this job. Tell me how I’m going to do it."

I can’t. I’m not motivated to sit down and spend a day or two of my time trying to figure out something which, if it can be figured out, they ought to be figuring out themselves. If it can’t be figured out, why should I spend my time trying to do what can’t be done?

I either had to figure this out or stop selling insurance. By the way, when I’d tried to get the insurance job, the first company had said they wouldn’t hire me but would let me sell in the name of another established agent and split commissions with him if I wanted to. I said no, I didn’t think I’d do that. Then, I went off and found a company that would put me on.

So I tried to discover if there was any way to figure out shortcuts to work with the rate book, a formula. I learned that if I knew the annual premium on a policy, the semiannual premium (if a client preferred to pay it that way) would be 51 percent. The quarterly was 26 percent, and the monthly premium was 10 percent. So right there I saved myself lots of columns. It isn’t very hard to figure out 51 percent of something, or 26 percent, or 10 percent. Ten percent is easy-all you have to do is move a decimal.

Then, I started on the other end of it, the hard part. I learned that if I knew what an individual of a given age would be charged for a particular policy, there was a formula by which I could determine what that particular policy would cost an individual of any age. I arbitrarily took age 26, and (knowing the premium on an ordinary life insurance policy for a person of that age) I could figure the semiannual, quarterly, or monthly premium for a person of 50, 60, or any other age. Since we mostly sold fifteen or twenty kinds of policies (there were a few exotic things, but they were not ordinarily sold), I could put all the information I needed (name of policy and annual premium for age 26) on a Braille card or two and put them in my pocket so nobody would even know I was looking at them.

It occurred to me that my competitors might also have such data available. Rate books are rate books. So I thought, "If ours are like that, I wonder what theirs are like." So I lured some of my competitors out to my house to sell me insurance and deduced a number of things about their policies-unraveled the formula and found that they worked.

One lonesome, rainy night I went to see a fellow who was quite well-to-do, a man who could buy (and intended to buy) a relatively large life insurance policy. It was going to make somebody a whopping good commission. There are always fewer things than there are people wanting them, and in this case a lot of us wanted his insurance business-but only one of us was going to get it. And it didn’t matter whether you explained it, or called yourself blind, or said, "I can tell you why I didn’t do it." Only one thing counted: did you or didn’t you? That was the test.

So I went over to see him, and he said he’d been thinking about buying this insurance. I said, "Well, if you do, it will cost you this amount.

"Suppose," he said, "I decided I want to pay it on a semi-annual, twice-a-year, basis?"

"You could do that," I said, "and if you did, it would cost you this amount.

"I’ve considered buying from this other company," he said.

"Well," I answered, "they’re a good company, and if you buy the policy from them, it will cost you this." And I went on to tell him as honestly as I could the advantages and disadvantages of the other company’s policy and of mine.

Then, he said, "I’m going to give you my insurance business, because I think you know what you’re doing. I had a fellow out here the other night who didn’t know a thing. Every time I asked him any question he had to look it up in that little book he had."

Now, I’m as lazy as anybody else. We all have a tendency to that, and there’s nothing wrong with being lazy if you properly understand that it means extracting as much as you can for the labor you exert. That’s perfectly proper. It’s just that a lot of people don’t know how to be lazy. If you’ll work hard up front, it will allow you more time to do whatever it is you want to do, and you can do it more effectively, and have more time left over to do something else. If I had had sight, the chances are I never would have been motivated to have hunted up all that stuff and reasoned it out. But once I did, it proved to be a tremendous advantage and an asset. Yet, a lot of people would have told me that I was handicapped in selling insurance because I was blind and couldn’t read my rate book. And they would have been right-unless I did something about it.

I want to tell you something else. I did a stint teaching school, and I want to tell you some of the methods I used. They are not the only methods a teacher might use, but they worked for me. I taught for a while in a school for the blind, in a day when blind teachers were not highly regarded. The question was: Could I carry my own weight, and (specifically) could I keep discipline?

At the beginning of the first class I made a speech to the students. I said to them, "We are entering on a new relationship." (That sounds nice and bureaucratic, doesn’t it?) "We’re entering on a new relationship, and we can live at peace, or we can engage in war. If we engage in a peaceful relationship, all of us can live happily. On the other hand, if you choose to go to war with me, I have certain advantages that you do not possess. You may have some that I don’t possess-and some that I haven’t thought of. But let me tell you what mine are.

"I can give you assignments, or not. I can assign things to you in a minute or two that will give you a great deal of trouble, either to do or find ways of avoiding doing. One day (whether you now know it or not) it will help you if you have nice recommendations written on your reports from me-not a lot, but it will help some.

"But beyond that, if you try to engage in conflict with me, there are times when you will succeed in putting things over on me, because all of the brains didn’t come here when I got here. So you’ll win sometimes. But on the other side of that is this: All of the brains didn’t come here when you came, so you’ll lose sometimes, and I will catch you. It remains to be seen, then, whether or not I can make it desirable for you to try to live in peace with me. I choose peace if I can have it, but I will engage in war if I must." I made them that speech and passed on.

I had a student named Johnny Lindenfellow, who was at that time in the seventh or eighth grade. He took every occasion to be as mangy as he knew how, and he was an expert at it. I tried to reason with him; I tried to be good to him; I pleaded with him about the good of the school and humanity; I talked with him about living and letting live. But nothing worked. There was no getting along with him. Nothing made any difference. In fact, whenever I would lay some punishment on him, he seemed to glory in it as being proof that he was a tough customer.

So I changed tactics. One day when he had done something I didn’t like, I said, "Johnny, you will please stay after class."

I could feel him expand with pleasure. He knew I wasn’t allowed to kill him, that there was some limit as to what I could do.

After class, when we were alone, I said, "Johnny, it’s been a long conflict between you and me, and I want to tell you now what I’m going to do. As you know, I teach other English classes in this school. In about two hours I’m going to be teaching an English class, and I’m going to provoke an incident in that class so that somebody misbehaves. It’s not difficult to think up some way to get it done. Then, I will say to the student who misbehaves, ‘Why can’t you be a good little boy like Johnny Lindenfellow?’ I will do that over and over and over until I make you the most hated boy in this school. You will fight fifty times every day. I will call you a good little boy to every class I have until the day comes that they will beat you to death. You will fight all of the time."

"You wouldn’t do that to me," he protested.

"Oh, but I would!" I said. "It’s clear that I can think it up... I did; I’ve already told you about it. And I will do it."

He said, "Look, I’d like to get along."

"So would I," I said. "I’m perfectly willing to have it either way, peace or war. You have declared psychological war on me, and I’m no longer prepared to be passive about it. I’m going to pull out all the stops and go to war with you now."

"Look, I want to get along," he reiterated.

"Fine," I said, and he and I became the best of friends and had no more trouble.

That is one way you can maintain discipline. It didn’t hurt him. It probably helped him. It certainly helped me.

I discovered another very effective technique, which is translatable beyond school. One day I found a student engaging in an infraction of the rules. I said nothing about it until the next day. Then, in the middle of the class period, I interrupted what I was saying and remarked: "Yesterday, Frances, you violated this rule (and I specified). Your punishment is this." Without another word I returned to the discussion. Nobody said much, but I could hear people thinking about it. In a day or two I caught somebody else doing something, and didn’t mention that for two days. The next time I let it go three days-then, a week-then, two weeks-and then, three. Thus, the culprit never knew whether he or she had been detected in crime, and the agony of the suspense cut down on the pleasure considerably. The students never knew whether they had been caught-or when the ax would fall. A lot of times teachers forget that they were once students themselves, and they don’t put any ingenuity into the psychological warfare which some students take joy in waging and always win.

We had a rule in my class. If anybody brought anything in and left it there and I found it, that individual had to sit down and punch out a whole sheet of full Braille cells, using a dull stylus and an old slate that wasn’t in good alignment. The work had to be done in my presence so that I knew the individual had done it. That was also the rule if a person didn’t bring whatever was supposed to be brought to class-book, paper, or whatever.

Once when I was keeping library, the president of the senior class brought me a written book report. I got called away from the library desk. When I left at the end of the period, I forgot to take the report with me. The next day when he came to my English class, the student walked up to my desk and handed the report to me. He said not a word. He just stood there. He had obviously primed all of his fellow students. Everybody simply sat and waited.

"You’ve got me dead to rights," I said. "Furthermore, you have done something else. You have stripped away all of the things that might have muddied the water. You didn’t come and demand that I do anything. You didn’t make me a speech. You just brought the evidence and laid it out. Therefore, today in library I will bring the slate and stylus and come and sit at your table. In your presence I will punch each and every dot and present you with the completed page."

I would like to be able to tell you that I deliberately planned that piece of drama-that I knowingly planted the book report and calculatedly forgot it in the hope that he would do what he did. But I didn’t. I wasn’t sharp enough. However, I hope I learned enough from the experience that I would do it next time-assuming, of course, there ever is a next time. It worked wonders. It made the students feel that I was willing to be flexible, that I wasn’t stuffy, that I took seriously the rules which I made, and that I was not above the law. It did a lot of positive things, and if I had had the wisdom to think, I would certainly have staged it, just the way it happened. But I didn’t. I simply saw the possibilities in the situation and took advantage of them. Somebody has wisely said that luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.

I’m only saying to you that if you begin by assuming you can’t do whatever it is, or that you’ve got to have this or that special opportunity or career-if you’re going to be a crybaby or a grouch or tell people how bad it is that you’re blind, then you’ll get a lot of sympathy but relatively few jobs and still fewer promotions. You will live as miserable a life as you believe you will live-and all needlessly, except that society has taught you to feel that way, and you haven’t been able to break out of the stereotype. Many of us who are blind could get jobs that we don’t get, and we don’t simply because we have been told by society that we can’t perform, and we have believed it. We have fallen into all of the traps of the stereotype: We have been told that we’re geniuses for doing the simplest of routine tasks, and we have taken pride in the so-called "compliment." Too often we have sold our potential equality for a trifle: If, for instance, it is raining and luggage is to be loaded into a car, which is right in front of a door and easily accessible, almost nobody would think anything of it if a perfectly healthy blind person waited under shelter while a sighted person said, "Just stand here. I’ll load the car." It isn’t pleasant to get wet, especially if you have on freshly pressed clothes. I know. I’ve been there. And there is a temptation, if nobody expects you to do whatever it is, to take advantage of it.

There is also something else: You can become so obnoxiously independent that you are intolerable. If a sighted person is sitting at one end of a table and wants the salt which is at the other end, he or she doesn’t insist on getting up and going to get it to prove the ability to walk. The normal sighted person will allow someone near the salt to pass it. But I know blind people who insist that "Nobody’s going to touch my arm! Nobody’s going to help me! I’m independent." They are so unpleasant and so offensive that people turn away in disgust-or, even worse, pity.

It is a matter of having sense enough to know how to behave to get on in the world. If your motive in standing in that doorway is that since only one person is needed to load the car and that there is no point in everybody getting wet, that’s fine. But if your motive is to stand and wait because you’re blind, don’t complain the next time you don’t get equal treatment when the goodies are being passed out. You have behaved as if you can’t compete on terms of equality. Now, accept it.

I believe that we as blind people are capable of competing on terms of real equality with others in jobs. I believe that the reason we have not done so in the past is that society has custodialized us and held us down. But I believe also that this has not happened because society has wanted to be vicious or unkind or mean. It is because people have taken for granted that that’s the way blind people are, that blind persons can’t be expected to do this or that kind of thing.

Furthermore, I believe that since we are part of society, we have accepted the public views about us and have done a great deal to reinforce those views. I believe we must begin to change that. I believe we are beginning to change it, and that’s what Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) is about.

More and more we have the opportunity for our future to be in our own hands if we will only take advantage of that opportunity and make it so. Not all sighted people have good will toward us, but most do-and most want to be of assistance, once they really know that we can compete on terms of equality and that we want to! But before we can convince anybody else, we must convince ourselves. We must really believe that we are capable of equality-that we can get along as well as others similarly situated in society. Unless we believe that, how can we expect other people to believe it? To a great extent, the sighted public will treat us like what we believe in our heart of hearts we are.