An address delivered by Professor Jacobus tenBroek
President of the American Brotherhood for the Blind
At the Annual Convention Banquet
Detroit, Michigan, July 6, 1962
"Welfare," says the Oxford Universal Dictionary, "is the state or condition of doing or being well."
That short definition may not cover everything; but it goes straight to the heart of the matter. It identifies the two irreducible objectives of welfare for any individual--those of doing well and being well.
The first points to a social and economic condition. To say of a man that he is "doing well" is to say that he prospers--that he is accomplishing things socially and economically. The second, "being well," describes a physical and mental condition--that of bodily health and emotional equilibrium. Personal welfare rests on both of these conditions. So, for that matter, does public welfare.
In its accent on relief and basic security, public welfare attends to the well-being of its clients. In its accent on rehabilitation, on self-support and self-care, it looks toward what we may call their "well-doing." Both are vital to an adequate and effective system of welfare.
How well, then, are blind Americans doing today and what is the state of their well-being ?
I shall not draw up a balance-sheet of the perils and prospects confronting the blind in welfare. I propose to skip the customary practice of "pointing with pride" to the great advances and achievements which the blind have won since the poor laws of Elizabeth, or since the poor-houses of Victoria. Without overlooking these or forgetting them I shall emphasize our remaining weaknesses and recurring failures in welfare and security. I shall focus on ten specific but interrelated threats to the welfare of the blind which, taken together, place in jeopardy nearly all that has been won over the past generation of social legislation and reform.
These threats to our welfare come from a variety of sources and strike at different points of the system. Some are new. Some are ancient. All are immediate. All present a clear and present danger to the preservation of the modern philosophy and practice of welfare.
More than that, all but two of these threats, as we shall see, are part and parcel of a single movement lately risen from the gutters of politics and journalism which has spread its poison over the land from Newburgh to San Diego. You all know the main features of this movement. It speaks of reform but acts in revenge. It begins with a "clean-up," and ends in a crackdown. Its voice is the voice of law and equity--but its hands are the hands of Herod.
Let us have no illusions about the meaning of this organized assault upon the welfare system of the nation. It is not meant merely to close up a gap or a loophole here and there in the law. It is not meant to uncover the rare conniving client, the one recipient in a thousand, who owns a fur coat or keeps a lover. It is not meant to elevate the morals and improve the character of the millions of Americans, families and individuals, who are through no fault of their own needy or incapacitated.
It is not meant to clean house but to bring the house of welfare down in ruins. It is not meant to rectify injustice but rather to wreck that concept of social justice which has found expression in the social security program. It is meant to undermine the confidence of the public in their state and federal provisions of relief and rehabilitation. It is meant to bully, shame and frighten the recipients of that aid off the rolls and to turn back the clock of welfare to the days of the workhouse and the asylum.
As we who are blind observe this calculated campaign of fear and smear, we may well ask the question put by Patrick Henry in another crisis: "Sir, what means all this martial array?" And we may well answer, as he did: "It is meant for us--it can be meant for no others." The attack upon public welfare is an attack upon the blind, not vaguely and remotely, but immediately and frontally. When the principle of public assistance is compromised in one of its programs, it is compro- mised in all. When the protections of law and right are stripped from one group of recipients, they are on the way to being stripped from all. When the dignity and decency of one class of welfare clients is ridiculed, all of them are in jeopardy.
Let us look at these threats to the general welfare, one by one.
1. The most persistent and pervasive threat to our welfare is also the most ancient. It is, simply, the undying spirit of the poor law. That bleak and baleful shade finds expression today both in our written laws and our unwritten attitudes. It underlies all the righteous requirements of "deserving" character, of relatives' responsibility, of length of residence, and of the mean-spirited means test, which are still to be found infesting the public assistance statutes of the states and nation. Yet more insidiously, the spirit of the poor law is manifested in the ancient and demeaning stereotype of the welfare recipient and most conspicuously, perhaps, of the blind recipient, as somehow deficient in character, inferior in ability and abnormal in personality.
It may seem that we have come a long way in the 125 years since the case of New York v. Miln , in which the United States Supreme Court could speak in one breath of the moral pestilence of the pauper, the vagabond and the criminal. But as late as 1920 it was possible for a United States Senator to gain a public hearing with the argument that federal measures of welfare and rehabilitation would "place a premium upon the vagrant, the criminal and the worthless." "After a man has reached the period when he has hardened down into what he is in this world," thundered the Senator, "do you think you can make over the broken instrument, the failure of life?... Let such failures go to the poorhouse."
Lest anyone think that this Scrooge-like spirit is the extinct relic of a bygone era, that the medieval stereotype of the worthless needy has long since been laid to rest, I need only point again to the anti-welfare revival of the past year, in which that ghost from the past has been dramatically disinterred from its grave and made to walk abroad in the land, striking fear in the hearts of the ill-informed, heaping ridicule upon the heads of millions of Americans who receive welfare aid, and drying up the wellsprings of public and private charity alike.
Do I exaggerate? Hear the angry outcry of a national mass-circulation magazine in a recent diatribe (no worse than many others) entitled "The Scandal of Welfare Chiselings": "An almost visible wage of resentment has begun to roll across the land against the rackets and abuses that plague the vast, ever-growing American welfare programs.... The house of welfare is in disorder. In some places, it is downright disorderly..., The original conception of the great welfare programs.... has been warped and twisted out of all reason. Instead of giving temporary aid to those in need through no fault of their own, welfare rolls now harbor hundreds of thousands of the shiftless, cheats and criminals.... When the rules are complex, the evaders, the frauds and the rationalizers take over."
There, my friends, is the first and greatest threat to our Social Security. That is Public Welfare Enemy No, 1.
2, A second and more specific form of the anti-welfare movement is the intrusion into the modern humanitarian law of welfare of the ancient and punitive law of crimes. Congress itself has done much to assist this infiltration. In the social insurances Congress has decreed that benefits may be denied to a person who commits treason, to one who has engaged in sedition, and to those who have been deported from the land on any of 14 lesser grounds. In public assistance, Congress has fortified the influence of the law of crimes by adding the statutory requirement that law enforcement officers must be notified in all cases of aid to needy children where either of the parents is absent.
Not to be outdone by Congress, the federal administrators have further opened the door to the spirit of crime and punishment by imposing a regulation requiring that a state's definition of fraud under public assistance must be the same as the general state law on fraud. There is no longer room for variation from program to program, for justice tempered by mercy, for recognition of special and extenuating circumstances.
Within our states, the penetration of the criminal law into public assistance is seen in the increasing proliferation of local rules and practices bringing to bear the methods of the lie detector to determine truth, of the blood test to establish parentage, of the night raid upon the homes of recipients to flush suspected partners, of the beating of park bushes to deter promiscuity, in sum, of the whole repressive weight of criminal investigation and police authority.
The challenge to social security involved in this insidious encroachment of the law of crimes is critical and immediate. The human problems with which the programs of welfare are necessarily concerned--problems of economic distress, of social dislocation, of personal confusion--cannot be solved by criminal sanctions and threat of punishment. They can be adequately understood and constructively approached only by measures addressed to their human conditions and inhumane consequences. It is this humanitarian approach that lies at the heart of the modern law of welfare as embodied in the public assistance program, and goes to the root of its persistent conflict with the much more ancient law of crimes. For the assumptions and objectives of the law of crimes are diametrically opposed. Its preliminary assumption is that persons who are in need are there either through choice or through weakness of character. Its ultimate objective is to wipe out the problem by suppression and punishment. Problems of poverty and immorality, of social crisis and economic depression, all are perceived by the law of crimes in the same narrow focus of personal responsibility, to be solved by arrest and investigation, by penal sanctions and retributions.
3. Out of this invasion of welfare by the spirit of crime and punishment comes another vital challenge to our whole system of personal and social security--a threat to the rights of the individual. To call the police is to invoke, not the general welfare powers of the Constitution, but its police powers. The police powers are those that deal with maintaining order, preventing vice and crime, securing safety, and protecting health and morals. When problems of poverty and need are handled under the police powers of the Constitution, they come to be equated with disease, immorality and disorder. The constitutional powers of the police have in fact been generally relied upon to protect one part of the community against another--in blunt terms, to protect the comfortable against the needy.
The classic illustration of this is seen in the notorious case to which I have already referred, that of New York v. Miln, decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1837. "It is as competent and necessary for a state," said the Justices in that case, "to provide precautionary measures against the moral pestilence of paupers, vagabonds and possibly convicts as it is to guard against... physical pestilence. Accordingly, the Court upheld--as a warranted exercise of the police power-- a New York statute designed to exclude the poor and unwanted brought to New York from other states or from foreign countries.
So, by this doctrine, the constitutional power of the states to deal with the poor is the police power to preserve public order, to quarantine contagion, to protect morals, and to maintain safety. Welfare programs founded in these conceptions focus on problems of behavior and morality, utilizing the instruments of coercion and restraint. They are calculated to safeguard the health, safety, morals and wellbeing of the comfortable and the fortunate rather than to relieve the distress and improve the opportunities of the unfortunate.
Not a few of these ideas survive to plague us today. If they do not have quite the dominance of a century ago, recent words and actions both official and unofficial make clear that they are still alive and kicking. We see it all again in county resort ordinances conceived in prejudice and applied in discrimination against aid-to-needy-children families. We see it in night raids, in polygraph tests, and in unwarrantable searches and seizures. We see it all again in conditions of probation imposed by the judges that forbid mothers to secure public aid for their children, whatever their need or eligibility; that command them to support their children on threat of imprisonment whatever their ability to do so, whatever the need of the children for their care at home, whatever the scarcity of jobs for the unskilled and the economically marginal.
We see it all again in the unmistakable denial by these actions of the ccnstitutional guarantees of equal protection of the laws, of due process of the law, of the right of the people to be secure in their persons, papers, houses and effects, of the right to privacy and the right to counsel.
Justice Robert Jackson, in Edwards v. California , the 1941 counterpart of the Miln case, felt the impulse and found the words to capture the constitutional hopes of the underprivileged: "Does indigence, " he asked, "constitute a basis for restricting the freedom of a citizen, as crime or contagion warrants its restriction? We should say now, " he answered, "and in no uncertain terms, that a man's mere property status, without more, cannot be used by a state to test, qualify or limit his rights as a citizen of the United States. Indigence in itself is neither a source of rights nor a basis for denying them. The mere state of being without funds is a neutral fact--constitutionally an irrelevance, like race, creed or color. "Such distinctions, he said, are "a short-sighted blow at the security of property itself." For "property can have no more dangerous, even if unwitting, enemy than one who would make its possession a pretext for unequal or exclusive civil rights."
What is most striking about this statement is not its eloquence, nor even its democratic recognition of the dignity and worth of the human person. What is most striking is that it was a minority opinion. It could not command the allegiance of the majority of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. The task that lies ahead of us--perhaps the greatest of all the challenges to the welfare of the blind and of all Americans--is to elevate this doctrine from a minority plea to a majority command, to transform it from a promise into a reality.
4. The threats to our welfare system which I have thus far enumerated, may seem to you distant. They are not. But still more obviously immediate is the next threat which commands our attention. It is that contained in federal support of community work relief projects, now made a part of the Public Assistance Amendments of 1962. What these projects do in the end, after all the hedges and qualifications have been uttered, is to put the clients of welfare, or their relatives, on labor gangs, imposing the ancient and infamous work test as a condition of their receiving aid.
Human labor, wherever it is voluntary, has a certain dignity and inherent value. But labor, where it is involuntary, is nor more than servitude. It has always been regarded as a proper punishment for crime to be sentenced to involuntary labor. We all recognize the punitive character of the Statute of Labourers of the 14th century, of the bondage of indentured labor in 18th-century America, of the infamous county work farms and workhouses of the 19th century. Now, in the 20th century, we have devised our modern facsimile, our streamlined version--the work-relief project. They are all the same in principle, all one in their intention and their effect: their effect upon the community and their effect upon the victim. Their intention is today what it has always been; to render the acceptance of aid a humiliation, to ring it around with harassments and intimidation, to destroy utterly whatever thin veneer of decency or dignity or normality may have come to be attached to the concept of public welfare over the past generation.
Do I put the case too strongly? Only recall the ignoble experiment put into effect just a year ago by the city of Newburgh. Its main feature was this notion of work-gang relief. But it did not stop at that. All able-bodied clients of the department of welfare were to be subjected to a monthly "muster," a line-up borrowed from the neighboring department of police. Applicants for aid were fingerprinted, quizzed, in effect given the third-degree--and then, if they passed muster, were dispatched into the city dumps and gutters to labor for their alms. It does not appear that they were chained. But if they had been, they could not have been more clearly marked and branded as beneficiaries of that city's unchristian charity.
What possible excuse can there be for so punitive and degrading a device in our modern programs of public assistance? Two very different excuses have been heard, one of them out loud and the other in a whisper. Let us take the whisper first. It expresses the open secret, which can never be stated publicly but only revealed in confidence, that the Administration's approval of the work-relief system is a strategic concession given in return for votes--a sacrificial scapegoat thrown to the wolves of welfare. In short, the proposal is a political deal, an application of the familiar maxim of ward politics, "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. "
But there is another, and more public, line of explanation for this backward step into the work gang and the work test. Thus we are told that the work-relief project is not just one of work, but also one of "training." It has allegedly a doubly constructive purpose. It gives employment and it rehabilitates through training. Let us look more closely at this philosophy of excuse. What is the character of employment, and what is the quality of training, to be found in these public work relief projects? The work must clearly be of a kind which will not compete or interfere with the normal labor force, skilled or un- skilled. It must be accordingly noncompetitive and abnormal, as well as irregular. In short, the work-reliefers can do only those chores that nobody else will do. Moreover, in performing them their rate of pay (applied against their aid grant) is not even required to conform to the national minimum wage.
Such is the character of employment under the work-relief provision. From this it is not hard to guess the quality of the "training" ostensibly involved. For such rock-bottom enterprises as are left available to the program, in so demoralized a setting as this, the very concept of "training" is violated beyond redemption; its effect is no longer rehabilitative but debilitative.
Where have we heard this line of talk before? Does not this non-competitive program of make-work, with its spurious claims of employment and training, have a drearily familiar ring to us? It does indeed. It provides an almost perfect parallel to the sheltered workshop for the blind. Indeed it might be dubbed a sheltered work program for ADC'ers, and eventually, if it finds acceptance in its present form, for the blind as well. For are not the blind by our own insistent argument "able- bodied" too? It is a short step from the one program to the other. Neither one provides meaningful training nor adequate employment, but, in both cases, only an inferior substitute, an unreasonable facsimile, at once inconsistent with the conditions of modern society and with the principles of modern welfare.
5. The threats to the present-day welfare system, and to its blind recipients, are not all on the side of public assistance. On its other side, that of the social insurances, the danger takes the form of a movement of thought and law which, if not brought to a halt, can only end in undermining the original character of the program and wiping out its most distinctive and progressive features. The attack on social insurance--specifically, on the Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance program--is a triple-barrelled one. First, it would strip the program of its insurance characteristics by defining the regular payroll contributions of future beneficiaries not as premium payments to a trust fund but only as another form of federal tax--and a regressive one at that. Second, it would sweep aside as illegitimate and frivolous the time-honored assumption of Congress and the nation that the benefits of social insurance are received as a matter of earned right. Instead it would regard them as a gratuity no different from relief, to be conditionally granted or withheld by government at its discretion. Finally, this same movement has imported into the law of social insurance an ever-increasing battery of moral, political and behavioral tests which were no part of the original law and which in effect convert its benefits into a reward for good conduct.
It is sad to note that the Supreme Court of the United States has now lent its sanction to this three-pronged assault upon the original mieaning of the social insurances. It did so in the case of Flemming v. Nestor , two years ago, in which it swept aside the notion (once taken for granted by all) that social insurance benefits have the character of an earned right. The program was held to be one in which the contributions of employed persons were not to be regarded as premium payments into a trust fund, to be paid back to the insured upon maturity, but rather as a tax to be used in public relief of the retired and disabled.
Insofar as this new doctrine comes to be accepted and enforced, these programs are no longer insurances at all but only charities-programs of relief to which individual eligibility is never certain but forever contingent and revokable. There has thus been smuggled into the contributory social insurances the moralistic normis and nigglings of worthiness, of deserving and undeserving, of good behavior and deviations from it, which traditionally have characterized and distinguished the poor-relief programs of public assistance.
The challenge which is here laid down goes to the very root of the social insurances. If they are to retain their original and fundamental character--if they are to justify the faith of those who fathered them and of those who now support them--this challenge must be met and turned back. The concept of benefits as a matter not of charity but of right must be fully reinstated--and with it the consignment to oblivion of all personal tests of morality and conduct.
6. No threat to the welfare of the blind people of our land is more urgent, and no peril more prominent, than the current frontal attack upon their independent program of public assistance (title X) set forth in the Administration proposal for a new joint category blanketing the blind, the aged and the disabled. I need hardly emphasize to you how distinct and specialized are the welfare problems of the blind from those of the other aided groups. They are vastly different in point of fact; they are recognized as vastly different in point of law; they must be preserved in their difference and their autonomy if we are not to lose by silent attrition what we have won through active struggle over the past two score of years.
The proposal for the new category (title XVI) is defended mainly, if not solely, on grounds of administrative uniformity and simplicity. No doubt that is a value worthy of consideration. But who will maintain that it is the fundamental value to be advanced by these programs? Whatever became of the recipient? Is his convenience not to be weighed against the convenience of administrators? It is in other fields. No doubt it would greatly simplify the administration of justice if all law-breakers were to be treated and sentenced alike; but I hear no one proposing such a reform on the grounds of bureaucratic convenience. No doubt the administration of the public schools would be eased in its burden if all students were to be graded alike; but the goals of education and the interests of the students would be the losers. In the same way the objectives of self-support and self-sufficiency, of independent living and personal rehabilitation, clearly demand the preservation--not the dissolution--of the realistic distinctions between aided groups now erected by the public assistance programs.
There is, moreover, a deeper confusion involved in this issue: the confusion fostered by those who seek to abolish the system of categories altogether. This across-the-board opposition to categories as such is not just impractical but nonsensical. Our laws are not, and cannot be, universal in their effect; they deal with particular groups or categories of people, classified according to the limited purposes of the law. So long as there are laws and administration of the laws--so long, that is, as there are people In their irreducible human variety and difference--there will continue to be classification of them into categories. The question, in short, can never be whether to have categories, but rather which categories are legitimate and proper. In other words, where are the lines correctly to be drawn?
The answer to this question is to be found by looking, first, at the purposes of public assistance with respect to its various clients and, second, at the actual needs and circumstances of these client groups. One overriding purpose is common to all of the four existing categories: namely, to relieve the distress of poverty through a program of income maintenance. And there is some overlapping and intermingling of other purposes, such as self-care, medical aid and rehabilitation. But when we take a closer look at the groups involved, the similarities are seen to be less significant and less striking than the differences among them. Children are not included in the category because their needs are different from those of adults. It would be ludicrous to cast their lot with, say, the recipients of Old Age Assistance. It is hardly less ludicrous to cast the lot of the blind together with the aged and with the permanently and totally disabled. Indeed, what the blind client in his productive years most needs from welfare is the kind of consideration that will set him apart from those who are past retirement and those whose disabilities are total. What he needs, as they do not, is first of all the provision of training and of opportunity for normal competitive life and livelihood. Perhaps the most tragic consequence of this new categorizing of the blind with the mentally lame and the chronically halt is that these paramount and distinctive characteristics of many of blind persons--that they are able-bodied and able-minded, normal in capacity and self-sufficient in potential--is categorically denied and overridden.
Not long ago some experts in social work published a study entitled "Public Welfare: Time for a Change," which made the familiar argument for the abolishment of categories. But at the same time, without quite meaning to, the authors graphically exposed in a single phrase one of the main reasons for the necessary distinction between categories. They called attention to the process of "selective limitation" by which public welfare measures, in their inception, come to focus "around certain groups in the population whose claim to social protection is transparently obvious, most typically children or persons with particularly anxiety-provoking disabilities such as blindness, leprosy, or insanity," What a forceful reminder this is of the social and psychological associations which blindness carries in its train—of the timeword tendency to regard the blind as pariahs or mental defectives, to be put away somewhere out of sight in sheltered retreats where the anxiety-provoking effects of their presence might be reduced to a minimum. Not long ago, in point of historical fact, the blind shared their classic retreat with lunatics, if not with lepers. In the era of the almshouse and the work farm, there was in essence only a single category of welfare recipient: that of the unfortunate. It may well be said that social progress for the blind began on the day when they were first recognized, for purposes of welfare aid, as a separate category. Once accepted on their own terms, their problem came to be seen for what it is in fact: one primarily of rehabilitation and retraining, of return to normal life and of reintegration into competitive society.
7. The threat of impending dissolution of the separate program of Aid to the Blind is not the only peril that has been posed by the public welfare package of the New Frontier. Another is summed up in the single key word which provides the theme for the whole program. That word is "services." The accent in welfare, said the President in February, must be on "services instead of support." And this point has since been hammered home deliberately and unmistakably by the Secretary of HEW and his staff of experts.
The term "services" has been made to cover a multitude of virtues-but its fundamental meaning is clear. It means simply the services of individualized casework, such as those of diagnosis, counseling, adjustment, psychiatric aid, and the like. These services have, of course, undisputed value in assisting individuals and families to solve their emotional problems and to make constructive psychological and social adjustments. Where the significant causes underlying dependency and need are of such a character, requiring informed guidance and therapeutic counseling, casework services are important and appropriate.
But it should be no less plain that where the root causes of poverty and dependency lie outside rather than within the person--where they are not psychological in origin but broadly economic and sociological--the services of individual casework, however expert, are far from adequate. When an individual or a family is in need not through such causes as alcoholism or emotional imbalance but because they are the victims of prejudice, of lack of opportunity, of unusable skills, of regional unemployment or other environmental causes, the help they need most is of a wholly different order from that which casework services can provide.
Indeed, it is not too much to say that the conventional services of casework, misapplied to such instances of hard physical and economic want, may often be negative and even actively destructive in their effect. What is the value of orientation and adjustment services for the victim of discrimination who cannot find work? Is it to teach him resignation and submission to a role of permanent inferiority and second-class status? And what of the young blind person who finds himself the victim of a similar (if less blatant) discrimination? Is he to be adjusted to an acceptance of the sheltered workshop as his predestined fate?
Let us have done with reckless talk of "services instead of support." Let us above all cease the gibberish of supposing (as Secretary Rlbicoff for one has done) that all the vast and deep dislocations of society and the economy are now to be remedied by the "professional, skilled services" of social casework. They are not. Many of those problems are beyond the scope and power of public welfare to alleviate. Others do lie within the scope of welfare--but only as it evolves beyond the traditional boundaries of casework to implement the high objectives of self-support and rehabilitation, of independence and integration, which are part and parcel of the progressive concept of welfare in the modern world.
8. If there is a threat to welfare in the beguiling phrase "services instead of support," there is a similar and equal danger in that other phrase of the new program: "rehabilitation instead of relief." No one would oppose a mere stress upon rehabilitation rather than relief alone--if that rehabilitation is vocational and not merely therapeutic. But why rehabilitation "instead of" relief? And why, for that matter, services "instead of" support? It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the original and primary purposes of public assistance--to relieve the distress of poverty and to support those handicapped or incapacitated--are here in grave danger of neglect if not extinction. At best, what these official phrases convey is a de-emphasis of the values of relief and support--which means a devaluation of the cash grant. They do so, moreover, at a time when the principle of a money payment, the unrestricted cash grant, is in urgent need of more rather than less encouragement--at a time when the pressures are mounting to garnishee and whittle away the public assistance check and substitute for it the humiliating systera of the voucher.
What has become known as the principle of "adequacy"--that the money grant should be both unrestricted and sufficient in amount to meet the stipulated needs of the recipient--is eternally under fire from the penny-wise and plain foolish. These are the people who are always engrossed in inventing and imposing non-monetary services at the expense of adequate monetary support. Sad to say, they are joined by many in social work who tend to interpret the problems of the needy (even that of hunger) in psychological terms, to be cured by services and yet more services.
The greatest and most glaring weakness of our welfare system is still that of its level of payments--a failure which cannot be compensated for by any amount of "services," however professional or delightful they may be. This fundamental fact has been given renewed emphasis in a recent authoritative report of the Project on Public Services for Families and Children, carried out by some of the most eminent personages in social welfare and based on a survey of hundreds of workers and administrators across the country. The authors write:
"The material suggested that however important additional services might be, such services could not correct a deficiency created by the fact of providing payments below the standards of health and decency. A social work educator spoke to this point:'... The prime necessity, I believe, is adequacy. Substitution of services, the necessity for which arises often because of inadequacy of money, is to my mind destructive of basic family rights as well as responsibilities.... I think we do not yet know what families could do for themselves if they were not struggling under some of the dire consequences of our inadequate grants.' "
What a vicious circle this suggests--with the client caught helplessly in the vortex. It is not only that the services of casework, inadequate in the first place to meet the underlying problem, tend to call out more services and ever more services, without touching the real problem. That is bad enough and sad enough. But the evil is further compounded by the fact that the cash grant may itself come with strings attached--tied in with the acceptance of services which in turn control the amount of the grant and even the manner in which it is spent. In short, the threat of services is not simply that they may supplant the basic requirement of adequate financial aid--but that they may condition and regulate it.
9. We have observed that the threat of services is, on one side, the threat of further invasion of the rights of clients--notably the right to do with their money as they will--along with a denial of their capacity to act responsibly in their own best interests. This brings us to our next peril and problem facing the blind: the challenge of those who would lead our lives for us--who would, if they could, not only do for us but speak for us and even think for us. In more familiar terms, I am referring to the problem of custodialism.
It is this custodial bias which has led so many of the agencies to oppose with might and main the right of the blind to organize independently and to be consulted collectively. It is this vested interest which leads the agencies, now as ever, to oppose the independent ownership of vending stands by their blind operators--thereby lessening the supervisory control of the licensing agency. It is this caretaker mentality which leads the lighthouse keepers to perpetuate the rotting institution of the sheltered workshop, to oppose organization and collective bargaining by its inmates, to break their strikes and turn aside their pleas.
To an extent , one may even sympathize with the colonial custodians of the blind. What they face, all across the land, is nothing less than a revolution of rising expectations. The blind people of America are not content with servile states; theirs is a full-fledged independence movement. Their demand is for total equality--equality at the bargaining table, equality in the consultation room, equality in the market place. When the satraps of the agencies are prepared to meet those democratic terms--when they are ready to work with the blind, not on them.--the challenge of custodialism will be ended.
10. The last of the threats to the welfare of the blind is by no means the least. In many ways it is the gravest of all. It is the self-challenge of our own division and dissension--the internal peril of palsy and paralysis. Movements, too, have their diseases. And the worst of these, the one most often fatal, is the virus of creeping anarchy--the blight of disunity and discord which gnaws at the vitals of a stricken movement until its will is sapped, its strength drained away, its moral fiber shattered. The movement of the organized blind--we all know to our sorrow--has been so afflicted. If our movement is to rise again, there must be among us a massive recovery of the will to live: a revival of the sense of purpose and mission, indeed of manifest destiny, which once infused this Federation and fired its forward advance.
If we fail in that, more than a movement dies. The Federation has been, above all things, a repository of faith--the faith of tens of thousands without sight and otherwise without a voice. It has become a symbol, a living proof, of the collective rationality and responsibility of blind men and women--of their capacity to think and move and speak for themselves, to be self-activated, self-disciplined and self-governing: in a word, to be normal. Our failure is the death of that idea. Our success is the vindication of that faith.
It is not enough to know that the Federation will endure. What is essential is that it shall prevail: that the claim of the blind to normality, their will to equality, their drive for security, and their collective stride toward freedom, shall not perish from the land.
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