Independence and the Necessity for Diplomacy

An Address Delivered by Marc Maurer
President of the National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2001

The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote that the primary diplomatic question is shall there be talk—or war? In the struggle of the blind to achieve first class citizenship and equal treatment within society, diplomacy has been an essential tool; and in a number of cases, its practice by the National Federation of the Blind has risen to a high art.

So, what is diplomacy, who are the diplomats, what are the arenas for this art, and what are the objectives to be achieved? The dictionary tells us that diplomacy is “the art or practice of conducting international relations, [or] tact or skill in dealing with people.” Ambrose Bierce, in a more pungent definition, says that diplomacy is “the patriotic art of lying for one's country.” The Italian statesman, Benso di Cavour, questions the skill of diplomats. “I have discovered [he says] the art of fooling diplomats; I speak the truth, and they never believe me.” The American comedian Will Rogers avers that “diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggie' until you can find a rock!” The old adage asserts that when a diplomat says yes, this means maybe; when a diplomat says maybe, this means no. It adds, if a diplomat says no, he is no diplomat.

Such pithy statements suggest that there is an element of duplicity in diplomacy, but Dwight D. Eisenhower puts this suggestion in perspective when he observes that “the opportunist thinks of me and today. The statesman thinks of us and tomorrow.”Incidentally, General Eisenhower also said at the end of the European campaign in World War II, “I say we are going to have peace—even if we have to fight for it.”

From the point of view of the National Federation of the Blind, diplomacy is the art of persuading others that the philosophical foundation we represent should be considered, and after it has been understood, adopted. This point of view is forthright, distinctive, unmistakable. Although it has been expressed in many ways, it has remained the same since the inception of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940. We do not believe that we have learned everything there is to know about blindness, but we are certain that the principles which caused the Federation to be formed reflect reality; they serve as the bedrock of Federationism; and we the blind will not be deterred from their implementation.

The blind have the right to govern themselves. Nobody can represent the blind except those elected by the blind to do it. The blind have a right to equal treatment within society. The blind can be as independent and productive as anybody else, if there are acceptance and understanding by the public at large and by the blind themselves, and if adequate training for the blind is available. The blind do not want custodialism or mollycoddling; we can and will stand on our own feet and do our own thing. Perhaps most important of all, we the blind will speak on our own behalf and will not let others declare our intentions for us, interpret our lives for us, or control our destinies—that is our responsibility, our right, our mechanism for liberation, our passport to freedom!

To one degree or another, each of us in the Federation is a diplomat—charged with the duty of persuading members of the public and blind people that the perspective about blindness represented by our philosophy is the way to independence. This is, in fact, one of the prime purposes for the formation of the Federation. If there were no need to spread the word about the philosophy of independence, much of the urgency for maintaining the organized blind movement would be gone. All of us are part of the diplomatic service. When we speak, we speak for the Federation with a unified and positive voice—the voice of the organized blind.

Who is it we want to reach with our message of freedom? The persuasive voice of the Federation is directed toward the public at large, the agencies established to serve the blind (both public and private), governmental bodies, corporations and businesses, other organizations of the blind, individual blind people who are not a part of any organization, and ourselves. Our message is clear and uncomplicated. We want to work in peace and harmony with anybody prepared to promote the interests of the blind. We are ready to commit our time, our energy, our financial resources, our imaginative effort, our enthusiasm, and our other talents. However, we will not join forces with those who expect us to do all the giving and sacrificing so that they may share the benefits. Furthermore, we will oppose those who try to limit opportunity for the blind. We want peace and harmony, and in most cases this is precisely what we get. We who are blind enjoy enormous good will from members of the public and from the vast majority of officials in the field of work with the blind. However, there are exceptions.

Harmony is always worth having unless it is obtained at the cost of fundamental fairness or missed opportunity. In such circumstances harmony becomes an oppressive intolerable burden. As President Woodrow Wilson said, “There is a price which is too great to pay for peace, and that price can be put into one word. One cannot pay the price of self-respect.”

Some will argue that nobody could oppose this philosophical approach. After all, the elements of it are fundamental to democracy; they are an essential part of an independent life. Furthermore, some may tell us that the notion of the necessity for diplomacy among entities dealing with blindness is out of proportion. Diplomacy serves (they may say) to manage affairs of state between nations. Conflicts, recriminations, and wars cannot exist among organizations and programs dealing with blindness. To those who possess such a naive, uninformed attitude, I say, “Don't you believe it!” There are conflicts aplenty, and the need for diplomacy is urgent—especially because we the blind are so often misunderstood.

Consider, for example, the unfortunate situation in which certain individuals have attacked the National Federation of the Blind with statements that are both critical and false. Two such people are William Penrod and Kent Jones of Kentucky, who proclaim that they are certified orientation and mobility specialists (or as they abbreviate it, COMS). Penrod and Jones feel a strong attachment to being certified; it gives them status and makes them feel important. Furthermore, they have been attempting to persuade all other professionals in the field of blindness in Kentucky that their approach is the only one. Those who have been certified by their organization should be regarded as valuable and worthwhile, they tell us. Those who have not been certified may be dismissed as irrelevant. If you have been admitted to the “old boy” network, you are all right. If you are not a member of the club, forget it.

In a paper circulated throughout the state last fall, these “professionals” charge that the National Federation of the Blind is in direct opposition to every practicing certified orientation and mobility specialist and that affiliation with the National Federation of the Blind means abandoning professionals in the field of work with the blind. Whatever it is that caused them to write such false accusations is unclear. However, the National Federation of the Blind has been working with the University of Louisville during the past few years, and these two so-called “professionals” appear to have been worrying that the influence of the Federation in university programs to instruct teachers of the blind might continue to increase. Apparently, Messrs. Penrod and Jones fear such cooperation. Why would those who claim professional status object to working closely with the blind—especially the blind who have organized for collective action? Is there something about them that they don't want us to learn?

There are a number of other misstatements contained in the paper, but it is not necessary to list them all. It is sufficient to note that two allegedly prominent individuals in work with the blind are encouraging others to believe that professionalism and professional status are reserved to themselves and their organization. Association with the National Federation of the Blind, the unspoken implications repeatedly suggest, is unprofessional and unsafe. Their argument is that professionalism should be left to the professionals, and the blind (especially the organized blind) should keep out. If they think they can prevent us from having major input into the nature of the programs that affect our lives, they are mistaken. This is the very essence of the problem we have had with a number of self-serving entities that have decided to tell us what is good for us. If we think the advice we get is wrong, we reserve the right to ignore it, reject it, or confront it. Furthermore, we expect to have a voice in the designing of the programs being established and conducted for our benefit—we expect it whether the designers like it or not. We have a right to participate in decisions that determine our future, and we will be heard!

It is essential that we be clear. Although the authors of the paper may feel uneasiness about working with us, we have no animosity toward them. We want to cooperate with them in harmony. We have been informed that they have been trying to organize opposition to the National Federation of the Blind, but we have no wish for conflict. Their paper is their own; it has not been adopted by any organization. Their effort at creating confrontation is their own; it has not been espoused by any group. We invite them to join with us in building programs that offer opportunities to the blind which have not yet become available. We shall use what diplomatic skill we posses to let them know that we are willing to join with them in mutual harmony and respect if they come to the effort with the same spirit.

Fashion designers do not often focus on the needs of the blind, but when it happens, the results can be bizarre. An Indian designer has issued a line of clothing (known as a range) particularly manufactured to meet the specialized requirements of the blind. A Reuters wire story, sent from Bombay on April 10, 2001, gives details. Here are excerpts from the article.

“One of India's most innovative fashion designers, Wendell Rodricks, [the article begins] has launched a collection with Braille embroidery and bead-work designed specially for the visually impaired.”

“The outfits have Braille embossed in the form of French knots and bead-work to make it easy for the visually impaired to know the colour.”

I interrupt the article to say that adding features to help identify color (while not absolutely necessary) seems like a good idea, provided that it is not done in such a way as to be obnoxious or obtrusive. However, there is more to the article.

“The collection, [it continues] mostly in white, black, and flesh colours, has been designed in washed cotton, silken crepe, rippled jersey, and stretch lycra to emphasize the feel rather than the look.”

“Since putting buttons in the wrong button-hole [the article continues] is a common problem, the Goa-based designer has taken care to number the button holes in Braille.”

“Rodricks held a preview of the range titled 'Visionnaire' in a leading Bombay fashion store on Tuesday with top models draped in his creations.”

“This is the most spiritually valuable collection I have ever designed. People say I have contributed internationally to the blind,' Rodricks told Reuters after the show.”

“Leading Indian models [the article continues] sashayed before a media crowd in flowing, wispy, white tunics, sarongs, and halters looking chic yet mystical.”

“People are obsessed with how they look, but I wanted to put feeling in these clothes,' said Rodricks, 40.”

That is what Reuters distributed all over the world less than three months ago. I ask you, as you prepared for this banquet tonight, did you have any trouble deciding which buttons should be inserted into what holes? Would it have helped to have the buttonholes numbered in Braille? Of course, the person who created these outfits is only a fashion designer and can't be expected to have any perspective about blindness, but he got the idea from a blind professor. How do you suppose the professor looks in class?

And another thing, what can it mean for clothing designed for the blind to be mystical, or spiritually valuable? Though spirituality is both necessary and desirable, clothing should be made of physical matter, not spirit. The very thought of such clothing conjures up images that are at least as wispy as the items designed by Rodricks.

Undoubtedly he believes his efforts are helping, but they have caused misinformation to be printed in newspapers around the world. This misinformation could be amusing if it were not so damaging. However, if the public accepts the misleading suggestion that the blind are so lacking in ability that we can't even get the buttons in the right holes, how can we hope to receive equal consideration for education, employment, or other pursuits?

Despite the Rodricks portrayal of blindness, or perhaps because of it, our diplomatic efforts continue. At one time many, many people believed that the blind were incompetent. Assertions of our incapacity still exist, but they are fewer today than in former times and often less blatant. We will continue to provide the information about our talents and abilities, and we will never quit until the truth about us is known and accepted throughout our country and beyond our borders. This is the commitment we have made; this is the commitment we will keep; this is the nature of the National Federation of the Blind.

A woman who became blind in her retirement years, Frances Lief Neer, was discouraged and frustrated by blindness. She had not discovered the National Federation of the Blind, and information was lacking. She felt she had little left to contribute. Not knowing what to do, she signed up for a college course in what they call vision rehabilitation. With her personal experience of blindness and her new college education, she wrote a book entitled Dancing in the Dark.

Although there are a few passages in this book that contain genuinely good advice, and although the tone is often superficially upbeat, emphasizing the necessity for good cheer and persistence, the experience of this blind author is so limited, and her understanding of blindness is so miniscule that her admonitions are, to say the least, fanciful. Nevertheless, she offers recommendations she urges others to follow.

Chapter seven of this book is entitled “Public Life: The Bank, The Post Office, and Public Restrooms.” The public restroom section contains the following passage:

“This is, in all polite company, a delicate topic. But blind people must be brave!” [That is what she says, brave!]

“You might need [she continues] a public restroom almost anywhere: in the waiting room of a railroad terminal or airport, in a restaurant, at a theater or museum, and so on. What to do? You ask someone to help and get yourself escorted to it. Generally, a service person connected with the facility, a flight attendant or porter, for example, will be available to do this for you.”

“Once you have been taken to the door, [she continues] unless you're sure of the layout inside, it's best to wait until you hear someone else entering and ask, 'Excuse me, will you please help me into the restroom?' After you go in, you can also ask to be shown to a stall.”

The author continues with advice about what to do once inside the bathroom, recommending, among other things, that blind men not mistake the sink for a urinal. If she included that piece of advice to be funny; it isn't. If she really thinks we are likely to make such mistakes, she didn't learn much in college.

The book also includes a section on dining out. Here are a few excerpts.

“I used to dump food and water on myself, on tablecloths, and on the floor until I learned a few important rules,” [the author says.]

1. Find out where your wine or water glass is. When you pick it up, return it to that spot.

2. Lean over your plate when you eat. Your posture will have to be a little less upright than you're probably used to, but your food and fork are over the dish.

3. Be generous with napkins. Get extras, and put a couple of them under your chin and a couple more on your lap. If you have a cloth napkin, spread it across your chest in self-defense. This may not look elegant, but it will save you a lot of cleaning bills and even more embarrassment.

4. If you've got a small plate of food, a salad maybe, put the plate on a larger plate so that what you spill falls on the big plate and not on the table or on you. (At home you could use a tray.)”

Or, you could just eat in the bathtub so that you could rinse off afterward. I admit that I added this last piece of advice myself, but it fits in with the general tone of the rest of this mishmash of folderol.

It is tempting to dismiss this volume as the work of a nut. Nevertheless, this book has been circulated to a number of institutions, and its author has sought approval from individuals of note including, among others, Dr. Dean Edell, who praised the work as “compassionate” and “provocative” and as “a valuable source book for the visually impaired, for their friends and families, and also for professional workers.” Is this really valuable? Who could seriously believe it? How about provocative? I can think of a number of blind people who will be provoked.

However, Frances Neer is not the only person capable of expressing an opinion about blindness; we also have the capacity to write. Sometimes our efforts at diplomacy take the form of exposing the ill-considered misrepresentation of our circumstances foisted off on the public by others. We will correct the misrepresentations with as much skill and tact as we can, but we will do it. We will no longer tolerate the lies about us to masquerade as the truth. The author recommends persistence; she will never meet an organization that personifies this quality more than our own. We never quit; we never give up; we never stop. We know it is respectable to be blind, and we insist that others recognize this. If they will not, they will meet the force of the blind organized to take collective action—they will meet the National Federation of the Blind.

It is not only members of the public or self-proclaimed experts who sometimes tell us that our blindness makes us strange or unusual. Occasionally individual blind people who are seeking to excuse outlandish behavior declare that blindness has created within them characteristics which have nothing whatever to do with the loss of sight. In 1997 we received a letter from a law firm requesting our assistance. It says in part:

“My client is seeking a divorce from her husband after over twenty years of severe spousal abuse. Her husband happens to be blind.”

“The disturbing part of this case revolves around this man's current position that his blindness is somehow responsible for his abusive behavior. It is further complicated by the fact that he now claims, despite 20 years of commuting to Manhattan to work in a supervisory position, and the earning of a doctoral degree, that because of his blindness, he cannot be a functioning member of society and needs someone to provide for his every need from cooking to typing, etc.”

“His attorney is alleging [the letter continues] that a great majority of all blind persons are unemployed and that the disability of blindness causes people to become cruel, abusive, emotionally unstable, and [that they] often suffer from alcohol abuse rendering their lives a shambles. The husband now claims his expenses will exceed $10,000 per month in that no low cost or free services are currently available to the blind.”

“The blind are forced to hire a cook, chauffeur, typist, housekeeper, etc., or be banished to a life of misery.”

These are excerpts from a letter written by a lawyer requesting our help. The arguments made by the blind husband are not merely a cruel, underhanded, and despicable fraud, but slimy as well. The man may have a warped soul, but blindness did not warp it. He may also be an abusive, besotted, miserable human being, but blindness did not cause the abusiveness, generate the misery, or induce the intoxication. We are prepared to support the blind who behave with decency and fairness, but such a man we cannot support. We tell it like it is, and we do not countenance abuse. Those that would attempt to hide vile behavior under the cloak of blindness can expect nothing from us but opposition. Their effort at disguise will do them no good. There is far too much at stake to permit such twisted logic to stand unchallenged. Blind people are not as described by this man, and we will not permit him to bedevil our lives by the notion that we are. He may be miserable, but we are not, and no amount of flimflam can induce us to change what we have determined to be. This, too, is part of the National Federation of the Blind.

In a tolerant age, toleration itself sometimes becomes intolerable. Freedom of speech and of the press are among the most fiercely protected rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, and they should be. However, there is no obligation to offer a platform to a dangerous crank.

Professor Peter Singer became the bioethics expert at Princeton University in 1999. He was appointed to this post despite his having published books in which he has advocated the killing of disabled infants. According to Singer, “The killing of a defective infant (he sometimes substitutes disabled for defective) is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.” Singer adds, “By a person I mean something like a rational or self aware being.” Because babies are not self-aware, according to Singer, and because disabled babies are a burden to society, again, according to Singer, killing them is, as he says, “not wrong at all.”

When I first heard of the appointment of Professor Singer, I thought surely there must be some mistake. I am aware that a few people (both blind and sighted) hold the opinion that life for a disabled person is not worth living. I am also aware that there are those who view disabled individuals primarily as a burden upon society. According to such people, the disabled are to be tolerated at best, but not welcomed or loved. However, the major centers of learning have not, until now, espoused these views. To advocate that an entire class of human beings be the proper target for death is, I had believed, unthinkable in rational moral society. Yet, Professor Singer was appointed as the bioethics professor in the Center for Human Values at Princeton.

Singer makes an argument that there is a distinction between killing a disabled infant and killing an older person with disabilities, but the distinction is thin and the argument hollow. Singer would be the arbiter not only of our destinies, but of our very existence. He has arrogated to himself (at least in theory) the authority reserved for God to decide who shall live and who shall die, and he is doing it as a prominent professor at an eminent educational institution.

In Hitler's Germany the first group to be selected for extermination was the disabled. Only later was there a systematic effort to exterminate a whole race.

I find myself, as I am sure you do, morally revolted by this man's teachings. The very suggestion that death is the best alternative for the disabled will cause the misjudgments that so often occur to become more egregious—the suggestion itself is likely to cause death.

What can we do to stop this man? We can join with each other to denounce the depravity of his counsel. We can combine to assert our right to live and be free. We can offer a creed which has at its core the liberating comprehension of the normality and productiveness of the blind. We can spread the word about our independence and our unwillingness to be browbeaten by the professors in their halls of ivy. We can fight for the laws that continue to guarantee our right to an equal existence with others and to the liberty that they enjoy. And we can band together with the unshakeable commitment that if anybody—a bioethics professor, a doctor, or anybody else—if anybody lays a hand on one of us, at no matter what age, for destructive purposes, we will respond with absolute determination and fury. Our children are no less important to us than anybody else's. And even if blind children are not directly descended from us, their future is our future. In every meaningful sense, they belong to us, and we will protect them. There is a time for diplomacy and a time to put it aside. When the academics plan for the killing of our children, the time for talk is at an end, and the time to act has come.

Last winter a man sent a letter to the National Federation of the Blind requesting our help because he himself is becoming blind. The fears and frustrations that often accompany the onset of blindness are expressed in simple, straightforward terms. Here, in part, is what the letter says:

“I am writing this letter because I don't know what else to do. My eye doctor has informed me that it is only a matter of a short time until I lose my sight. To be honest with you, I have never been frightened of anything in my life, that is until now. I know that I will not be able to keep my job, but I might be able to stay in another position within the company.”

Notice that this man is giving up at least a part of what might be his without a struggle. He is accepting the notion that his capacity to work is diminished because of blindness and that his talents will no longer serve him as they once had. But there is more to the letter.

“I don't have a computer, [he says] recently divorced, no family for support, and my ex is refusing to let me see my kids because they deserve a new daddy that can see them.”

I interrupt to ask, did the divorce come because this man's former wife also thought she deserved a husband who could see her? As if sight were more important than the affection and love of a father for his own children. But we are not finished with the letter.

“Any information you might be able to send me [writes the man] will be greatly appreciated. How do I get to and from work? Do my laundry? Cook my food? Do the shopping? Pay my bills? Read my mail? As it becomes more and more difficult to see, I get more and more frightened. My biggest fear is ending up on the street or in a home for the blind where I will be forgotten.”

These are the words of a man facing blindness. The fear of blindness is real. Finding a method to reach beyond that fear is necessary to establish the mindset for independence. His former wife has indicated that his children deserve a daddy that can see, which must be a blow to his feelings of dignity and self-esteem.

However, he has written for help, and we are prepared to give it. With the support and assistance of thousands of blind people, he will come to know what possibilities there are for him, and he will cease to feel despair. This too is an element of our diplomacy; this is part of the public education program we carry into effect everyday. This is one more reason for the National Federation of the Blind.

With all of the false information printed and distributed about the blind, with all of the pain and emotional heartache associated with becoming blind, and with all of the attacks upon our motives and programs, it may seem that the prospects for us are dim. However, there are also the other elements—the successes, the accomplishments, the triumphs, which give balance and perspective. The blind people who have found work, the blind parents who have gathered the resources and sustained the inspiration to raise children with promising opportunities, the blind students who have gained an education, the blind children who have learned to read and who are just beginning to explore the world of infinite possibility, the blind people who have entered public life, and those who have engaged in high adventure depict an entirely different comprehension of blindness and illustrate the hope and faith that we possess.

Two years ago, in 1999, we determined to support the efforts of Erik Weihenmeyer, a blind mountain climber, to reach the top of the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest. At ten o'clock on the morning of May 25, 2001, Nepalese time, Erik Weihenmeyer reached the spot on the globe where he had intended to go and where we had intended to help him go. He is the first blind man ever to stand so high. For him to get there required enormous courage, tremendous physical strength and sacrifice, and an undauntable mental attitude. He did not go alone. He was accompanied to the top by eighteen other people, the largest team ever to reach the summit of the mountain. But, he was accompanied in spirit by many, many thousands more—blind people from every corner of the United States, who had dreamed with him, hoped with him, prayed for him. It is not only that the tens of thousands of the members of the National Federation of the Blind helped to raise the money for the expedition—though that is, of course, important—but we also believed in him, in his capacity to understand the danger, to plan (along with others) the expedition, to carry his load and do his part in dealing with the challenges of the climb itself, and to bring the plan to its ultimate success. His faith is our faith; his spirit is our spirit; his extraordinary exploit exemplifies the organized blind movement—our movement. Not many blind people will ever climb Everest, but all of us have our own mountains to conquer, and we will.

We congratulate this pioneer for going where no other blind man has gone before. We welcome him back to our midst as the objective symbol of a pioneering organization dedicated to ensuring that blind people everywhere have the opportunity to go where no other blind people have been before. We welcome him back as a colleague; we welcome him back as a member of the National Federation of the Blind.

At the beginning of our organization, when a tiny group of blind men and women came together at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940 to form the National Federation of the Blind, our founding president, the brilliant blind professor, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, described blind people as living “in material poverty, in social isolation, and in the atrophy of their productive powers.” There were virtually no jobs, almost no education beyond the school for the blind, few programs to teach productive skills, only a small number of books, and practically no hope. However, Dr. tenBroek and those few who joined with him believed that conditions could be changed and that a brighter, more productive future could be forged. Dr. tenBroek's words to that first gathering are equally applicable to us today. Part of what he said is: “We have long known the advantage and even the necessity of collective action. Individually, we are scattered, ineffective, and inarticulate, subject alike to the opposition of the social worker and the arrogance of the governmental administrator. Collectively, we are the masters of our own future and the successful guardian of our own common interests.”

The Federation would, Dr. tenBroek said, “unify the action and concentrate the energies of the blind, for an instrument through which the blind of the nation can speak to Congress and the public in a voice that will be heard and command attention.”

Fifty years later, in 1990, the second long-time president of the Federation, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was also the most brilliant builder of programs for the blind of the 20th century, could say, “The blind are not psychologically or mentally different from the sighted. We are neither especially blessed nor especially cursed. We need jobs, opportunity, social acceptance, and equal treatment—not pity and custody. Only those elected by the blind can speak for the blind. This is not only a prime requisite of democracy but also the only way we can ever achieve first-class status.”

These are the things that our presidents of the past have told us—separated by fifty years. To speak for ourselves; to plan for our own lives; to join with each other for the enhancement of opportunity; to believe in our own capacity; to take every reasonable step for the integration of the blind in our communities; to work in harmony with our sighted friends and neighbors; to share with one another the progress we have made; to teach our colleagues and ourselves the goodness of tomorrow, provided that we keep faith with Federation members who have begun our movement and built it, and provided that we do our own part—these are the things the Federation has always done. These are the things we will continue to do.

We insist that our fundamental humanity be recognized with all that this implies. We want the planners to think about us when they make decisions and not to ignore us as though we do not exist. Furthermore, we want them not only to think about us, but to consult us as well.

We must have books; we must have training in Braille, cane travel, and the other specialized techniques used by the blind; we must have programs which emphasize the positive opportunities available to the blind; and we must have laws that accord us equality of opportunity and equality of access to information. All of this we expect.

Despite the arguments of the so-called professionals who tell us that becoming affiliated with us is equivalent to abandoning professionalism; despite the representation of fashion designers that we cannot get the buttons in the right holes; despite the authors who tell us that we cannot eat with grace and require multiple napkins or that we might mistake the sink for the urinal; despite the claim by certain blind people that blindness causes cruelty, abusiveness, and alcoholism; despite the teachings of the professors who believe that, in certain instances, we do not even have a right to continue to exist—we will find a way to succeed, and our sighted friends and colleagues will join with us in celebrating our success.

More of us are employed today than ever before in history, and in a broader array of endeavors. Greater numbers of us are becoming educated, and the fields of study are as diverse as the curiosity of mankind. Many of us are establishing businesses of our own and becoming successful by every economic measure. Furthermore, our organization is growing and accepting ever-greater challenges. Among others, we have decided to build our own Research and Training Institute for the Blind, which will have a spirit much different from that encountered in certain corners of Princeton. We have decided to build it because one of the elements frequently missing from research is the experience of the blind themselves. We look to the future not with gloom, but with joy; not with despair, but with optimism; not with dispirited disgruntlement, but with a determination to build for ourselves and for those who come after us.

Some of us have been in the Federation a long time, going back half a century; some of us are new to the cause. Some of us are college-educated with post-graduate degrees; some of us are not. Some of us have financial security; others have barely enough to make ends meet. Some of us have learned cane travel and the other skills of blindness; some of us are only now becoming aware of specialized techniques. Such minor differences are of no importance whatsoever. In everything that matters, we are one—we are the blind—we are the people of the movement who have come together to make things happen, to create opportunity, to dream, to work, to explore. Our diplomatic service is the force for change. Some may become discouraged; we will not. Some may be tempted to quit; we will not. Some may be encouraged to believe that the defeats which inevitably come to us all will end our journey; they cannot. Our organization will not be deflected from its course or turned from its purpose. The struggle for recognition of our basic humanity has been long—reaching back through more than half a century to the time of the beginning of our movement, and the effort to fulfill our dream of being able to use our talents to the fullest stretches ahead of us. But, we are closer to it than we have ever been, and our momentum is accelerating.

When I look into the hearts of Federation members, I know that there is absolutely nothing that can prevent us from completing our mission. It will not be easy or simple. However, we know our business, we know the language of diplomacy, we are prepared to bide our time if we must, and we know how to work. We possess the dedication, the commitment, the courage, and the talent; nothing else is required.

Whatever the costs, we will pay them. Whatever the challenges, we will meet them. Whatever the sacrifices, we will make them. We have the capacity to wait if we must, but not forever. We are on the move; the opportunities are great; and the time is now.

Ours is an unquenchable spirit. We go to the work with joy, and we will not fail. Our future cannot be determined by others; the decision is in our own hands. Join me, and we will build our own tomorrow!

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