An Address Delivered by Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Detroit, Michigan, July 6, 1994
Events in the universe have traditionally been classified as cosmos or chaoscosmos for order and chaos for disorder. But within the last twenty years this division within the realm of science has become indistinct. A new discipline seeks to explain what appeared in the past to be random events by attempting to identify patterns in chaos. The significance of this study was dramatized by the meteorologist and mathematician Edward Lorenz, who asked in his 1979 address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science: "Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado In Texas?"
In the scientific study of chaos events are divided into two categories: those which are repeated precisely and those which (even though they sometimes appear to be repetitious) are never duplicated. Exactly repeated events (known as periodic occurrences) are understandable and predictable. Nonperiodic events may be strikingly similar, but they never entirely reproduce the circumstances of a former time. Therefore, they are unstable and unpredictable.
The Lorenz thesis is that a nonperiodic system is unstable at every point. Consequently, a small change in one part of it may be magnified through repetition so that, several cycles later, it becomes prodigious. The hope of the scientists studying chaos is that, if the overall pattern can be understood and if the controlling elements of a scientific process can be identified, unstable chains of events can be manipulated. The possibility emerges of bringing order out of chaos.
But what does all of this have to do with the blind? Do the principles involved in the scientific study of chaos have application to us? Is there a pattern to be recognizedand if so, what does it tell us? Do we as blind people exist within a structure that is nonperiodic and hence unstable at every point? Does this mean that there is the possibility of altering our circumstancesnot only when the time is right, but at any time that we can find the strength, the will, and the resources?
If we were foolish and imperceptive enough to accept the beliefs about blindness that once were universally held, our history would be brief and our story soon told. Here it is in a nutshell: Our patterns of action and interaction are almost nonexistent. They are unremarkable--flat--so entirely repetitious and dull as to be dismissed without the slightest stir of interest. The cycle for the blind (we have heard it through the centuries) is periodic, stable, predictable. According to this theory, we who are blind come into being and live our lives without making substantial contributions, either to society or ourselves. Well, perhaps one contribution. Since we require more support than others, there will be a lightening of the burden for the rest of humanity when we leave this "vale of tears." If you think I exaggerate or overdramatize, I ask you to remember that the Greeks and the Romans exposed their blind children on the hillsides to die, and so did many others.
Yes, that was the theory. And in some quarters that is still the theory. But don't you believe it! It's a lie! That theory is not our theory. That understanding of blindness is not our understandingand those who think that way cannot comprehend either the effort and sacrifice of our past, the struggle and transition of our present, or the hope and dream of our future. Chaos theory tells us that tiny alterations (even the flapping of the butterfly's wing) may produce dramatic effectsand at least for us, that is true.
We can prove it by what happened in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on November 16, 1940. The wing of the butterfly flapped, and tornadoes were produced, not only in Texas but all over this country and the world. Just a handful of blind men and women met that day to form the National Federation of the Blind. Their leader was our first President, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, a young blind professor and brilliant Constitutional scholar. Only a handful. Only the writing of a constitution and the exchange of a pledge of joint action and mutual support. Yet for the blind the repercussions changed the world. The wing of the butterfly flapped.
Although in 1940 some schools for the blind had been in existence for over a hundred years and although a number of agencies and institutions had been operating for decades, conditions for the blind remained bleak. Blind people were not regarded by the public as capable of independence, and often the professional educators who worked with the blind on a daily basis felt the same way, believing that we could be no more than wards.
One of the early pioneers in work with the blind was Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, who served as the first superintendent of the Perkins School for the Blind and who went counter to the general trend. An educator of real understanding and discernment, Dr. Howe believed that blind men and women could perform satisfactorily in the ordinary workplace along with their sighted neighbors. Such progressive perceptions were not shared by most other educators in the field.
A biography of Edward Ellis Allen, written by his wife and coincidentally published in that pivotal year of 1940, describes the work of one of Dr. Howe's successors, for Allen was a superintendent at Perkins. Mr. Allen divided blind students into two categories: the blind and the semi-sighted. According to Allen, only some blind people are bright enough for education, and even those learn at a reduced pace. The semi-sighted are in danger of psychological damage if they study with the blind, and blind people are completely helpless unless assisted by those who are assigned to instruct them. Here are excerpts from Mr. Allen's biography. It is worthy of note that much of the content of the book consists of direct quotes from his own writing and that the book was approved by him:
When I entered upon my responsible duties [he says], I did so, having resolved to add my best strength to ameliorate the condition of the blindto thin the ranks of the pitiable blind by transference of as large a number as possible to the ranks of those who command the respect of everybody.
I interrupt the narrative to ask: Is the implied sweeping generalization believable? If we have not had the advantage of instruction by an educator of the blind, are we, as blind people, unable to command respect? Without the ministrations of a professional like Allen to ameliorate our condition, do we remain pitiable? But there are other pronouncements from this 1940 publication:
It has been said [continues Allen] that more than any other class the blind are in the hands of their educators. If this is true, how vast are our responsibilities. The task before us is greater in that we have not only to instill into the blind a belief in themselves, we must also bring it about that the seeing believe in them too. The dependence of the blind upon us, their helplessnessthis it is that gives the work its absorbing interest.
I pause to reflect that if those who would teach us believe that we are interesting because they think of us as dependent and helpless, may we be saved from such teaching and such teachers. But this is not all from the Allen biography:
One of the early and late problems [in schools for the blind, the book says,] was their children who saw too little to be taught in the public schools but too much to be in a school for the blind, where they were misfits. They would not become finger-readers; the retarded pace of the blind children caused these others to slow down to meet it, or they spent their superfluous energies in teasing and hectoring the children who saw less.
Such children [says Allen] had previously either given up school or had gone off to institutions for the blind, where, because of being misfits, they commonly became poor students and psychologically more blind than seeing. Their change to an atmosphere of appeal to the eye [in the semi-sighted classes where blind children with a little remaining vision were taught to read print] was of untold benefit, establishing in them a new morale.
This summation of the prospects for the blind was just as much a lie and just as repugnant to thinking blind people in 1940 as it is today. Our morale does not depend on sight. When we are children, we do not slow down the so-called semi-sighted (or, for that matter, the fully sighted) because we read Braille. We are not completely dependent or helpless, and we do not need caretakers to interpret our potential to the public so that we may gain respectability. The Allen description contains a failure of understandingone which is simple to express but vast in its implications. Allen's conception of the blind is that we cannot speak and act for ourselvesthat there is a fundamental difference between those of us who are blind and those who are sightedthat a guiding hand will always be necessary to the lives of the blindthat equality between those who are blind and those who are not can never be achievedand that the semi- sighted are stuck somewhere between in gradations of inferiority and helplessness, depending on how much or how little sight they have.
At the same time that these shop-worn opinions were being prepared for dissemination to the public, the National Federation of the Blind was being formed. The Federation (whose thousands of members are gathered here tonight, more than half a century later) serves today, as it did in 1940, as tangible refutation of this misguided portrayal of who we are and what we can do. The recent shift in emphasis in work with the blind, both for administrators of agencies and for educators in residential and public schools, is nothing short of dramatic. Increasingly the mood is one of cooperation, interaction, and mutual responsibility between programs for the blind and organizations of blind consumers.
We have every reason to hope that the day will soon be at hand when those of us who are blind can have first-class citizenship as a matter of right, and have it without the qualms which members of emerging minorities often feel as to whether they are worthy or entitlednot whether they are competent or able to contribute, but whether they are worthy or entitled. And while we are on the subject of worthiness and entitlement, we seem (thank God) to be almost approaching a time when we can be accepted as first-class citizens and equal participants in society without the constant necessity of hitting professionals in the blindness field over the head with their own misguided books and meaningless studies to deter them from trying to hold us in custody. We want to live in peace and cooperation. We have absolutely no desire for custody and control over the lives of others, and we absolutely won't permit others to have custody and control over us.
The Allen postulate is that there can be no true independence for the blind, but the daily experience of the least among us proves that this is not so. There was a time when the overwhelming majority of administrators and professionals in programs for the blind thought we were their inferiors--and behaved accordingly. But that time is rapidly coming to an end. With increasing frequency those in the field of work with the blind are joining with us on the road to freedom. Our founder and first president, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, charted the course in 1940. In his twenty-fifth anniversary banquet address in the nation's capital in 1965, he set forth the basic tenets of our movement as clearly as they have ever been put:
Until the advent of the National Federation of the Blind [he said], the blind people of America were taken care of but not represented, protected but not emancipated, seen but rarely heard.... We who are blind knew in 1940 that if we wished to be free, if we meant to gain those inestimable privileges of participation for which we had so long yearned, then we must organize for purposes of self- expression and collective action, then we must concert to engage in a noble struggle.
That is what Dr. tenBroek said about the reason for the existence of this organization. If we wanted freedom, he said, we would have to organize. We would have to struggle, and it would be a noble struggle. He was right. We did. We still do. It is. And we intend to keep doing. We intend to keep doing until we get equal opportunity and full participation. Hear what I am saying. We are not asking for extra privilege or special status but only for the right to be ourselves, to be fairly judged as we really are, to fail or succeed on our own merit. That is why the National Federation of the Blind was formed. That is why it continues to exist. That is what we want, and that is what we will have.
As I have already said, blindness has been regarded as a settled, periodic, repetitive matter for most of recorded history, without a stir or the flap of a butterfly's wing. Those who lack the capacity to see, the theory has always gone, are unable to compete. With the recent advent of institutionalized concern for the blind and civil rights legislation, the language has changed, but many of the beliefs have not.
Nondiscrimination legislation dictates that public entities and many private companies must have a handicapped coordinator. Those designated to be handicapped coordinators have become (usually without benefit of training or experience) experts in disabilityself-proclaimed experts, it is true, but accepted as experts notwithstanding.
In the spring of 1994, materials were distributed to city bus drivers in Boise, Idaho, to assist them in being properly sensitive to the needs of blind passengers. In a volume entitled "Passenger Assistance Techniques: A Training Manual for Vehicle Operators of Systems Transporting the Elderly and Handicapped," drivers are taught that blind people are different. The book says:
Since vision is an important part of balance, and due to a lack of visual warning or abrupt movements, many visually impaired passengers prefer to sit in seats against the vehicle wall or in seats that have arm rests.
That's what the Boise bus company says. I would have hoped that the notion that sight is required for balance had been put to rest decades ago. But here it is againone of the fundamental characteristics of blindness, according to the experts down at the bus company. Using these false assumptions about the nature of blindness as a starting point, bus company officials have prepared an appendix which lists the rules for leading the blind. Here is a sample of it:
1. Never take hold of a person using a white cane without first telling him who you are and what you plan to do.
That is what the rule says, but think how much is not said but implied. After you have told the passenger who you are and what you plan to do, go right ahead. Take hold. Then do it. It isn't really necessary to determine whether the blind person wants you to do it or not. You are the driver. Besides, the passenger is blind. That means you're in charge. If the passenger objects to this kind of treatment, this only demonstrates that blind people are touchy and irritable, not to mention needing to sit in seats with an armrest and against the vehicle wall. It's really your duty to make the blind person do what you want. Rule number two is like rule number one. Here it is:
2. Never take hold of or move a person's white cane until you have told him exactly what you are doing and why.
Again, how much is implied but never stated! After you have explained what you are doing and why, feel free to take whatever action you please. Blind passengers shouldn't have a choice in these things. They are passengers, and you are the driver. Their behavior is your responsibilityand besides, they need to sit in a seat with an armrest and against the vehicle wall.
If you don't like rules number one and two, think about rule number four. It begins sensibly enough, but after the good beginning, it comes to a wretched end. This is what it says:
4. Always stay one-half pace ahead of the person you are leading. Remember, if you forget to tell him the direction of movement, the one-half pace will allow him to follow the movement of your body. If the person being led is staying beside you, he may well fall if you forget to tell him the direction of movement.
Do you suppose the tendency of blind people to fall is connected with the instability and lack of balance created by absence of sight? One of the oldest, most outworn, and used-up lies about the blind is that we fall a lot--falling down stairs, falling off buses, falling off the wagon, or falling in love. Do we who are blind fall more frequently than the sighted? But how often has this been used as a reason for requiring our acquiescence to irrational demands that we participate in special programs for the handicapped and that we keep out unless we are (as they put it) accommodated? We who are blind, the rules tell us, need to ride in seats with armrests or next to the vehicle wall.
The tone of this group of rules for bus drivers in Boise, Idaho, is perhaps most succinctly set in rule nine, which says:
9. Make sure that the stop command becomes automatic. You may not have time for explanations in a real emergency.
The brevity of this rule does not hide its ugly significance. The blind passenger is under the control of the driver. It is expected that the passenger will be obedient to the commands of the driver and that the response will be automatic and unquestioning.
The irony of this publication is that it was created in response to the legal obligation to accommodate the handicapped. Although the booklet doesn't say so directly, its obvious presumption is that touching, pulling, propelling, or otherwise manhandling the blind passenger is acceptable behavior. In the name of being helpful, drivers are instructed to adopt a pattern of obnoxious officiousness. This behavior and thinking are not new, of course. They are simply the old, discredited custodialism, decked out in the new regalia of ADA and hiding behind the jargon of present-day bureaucracy and synthetic expressions of concern for the weak and disadvantaged. This is an example of the uninformed instructing the uninterested regarding the unfortunate. If we who are blind are in as bad a condition as that, you have to wonder how we got out of the house and found the bus stop in the first place. Let the wing of the butterfly flap. Oh, yes, let it flap! In fact, we will help it flap. No! We will do more than that! We will see that it does flap!
There are many odd theories about blindness. One of the better known is that those who become blind are granted compensatory powers. Everybody knows, for example, that we who are blind are good at music. After all, when the Lord removes one of your senses, according to the legend, he takes out the grindstone and sharpens up the others. Blind people have more acute senses of smell, touch, and hearing than the sightedright?
You may have thought that all of this talk about the special powers you possess was simply a matter of ignorance in bygone ages. Well, think again! We are now in the process of confirming that ancient foolishness with so-called scientific research. I wonder if we will ever know how much damage has been done to the blind by somebody making an applicationto get a grant, to do research, to get a Ph.D., to get a good salary, to feel a sense of power, to make another application, to do more research!
A letter from the National Institutes of Health indicates that the federal government thinks there might be compensations for the loss of sight. Here in part is what it says:
In a collaborative effort between several laboratories at the National Institutes of Health, we are planning to explore the possible existence of "Compensatory Plasticity" in the blind. There is sporadic evidence for the fact that blind humans can compensate for their loss of vision by improving their remaining senses, but objective studies have been rare, and some studies even claim the contrary, namely that vision loss, especially when it happens early in life, actually impairs the development of other sensory modalities.
From behavioral and neurobiological studies on cats with early visual deprivation that some of us have undertaken recently [the letter continues], we are very optimistic that compensatory plasticity does exist in the mammalian brain, and we would like to explore this concept now in blind human subjects with modern quantitative techniques. Positron emission tomography (PET), for instance, has proven invaluable for monitoring neural activity in the living brain by measuring changes of local blood flow during mental tasks. It is a non-invasive, completely harmless technique, which we would like to apply to blind volunteers while they are listening to auditory stimuli presented to them via speakers or headphones. We hope to see an increase in brain activation in formerly visual as well as multisensory areas.
In our opinion [continues the letter], the importance of this planned research for the blind community cannot be overestimated. Not only would the objective proof of compensatory brain plasticity give the blind and their families a better outlook for their future, but it seems that more effective use of this compensatory plasticity should be possible, which would allow the design of sensory aids or prostheses better tailored to the brain structures and functions that have improved in this process.
Among blind subjects we are interested in those who have been blind from birth as well as those who have become blind later in life. These individuals should be essentially healthy and as free as possible of insults to the brain, other than blindness.
We would be extremely grateful to you and your colleagues if you could draw the attention of interested persons with total blindness to our planned research.
That is what the letter says. Believe me! I did not make it up. It is from the National Institutes of Health, a part of the government of the United States. Compensatory plasticity in the brains of blind peoplethat is what they want to study. When we are deprived of the sense of sight (holds the theory), the nerve impulses that might have come to the brain from the eye are redistributed to the other sensestouch, taste, smell, and hearing. If so, those of us who are blind are able to taste more keenly, smell more distinctly, feel more perceptively, and hear more acutely than others.
Think, for example, of the sense of touch. If our ability to feel is really intensified, a spanking for a blind child would hurt more than it does for a sighted child. Then, there is the intimacy of a kiss. Do we get more out of it than the sighted? I do not know how you feel about this proposition, but I suspect there might be those who would be willing to volunteer for the experiment.
Despite the scientific jargon, despite the studies on cats, despite the implementation of techniques using positron emission tomography, what a ridiculous bunch of nonsense! We are not freaks, and the so-called scientists who would treat us that way can learn something about us without the necessity of another scientific study and another federal grant. Blindness has not changed our mental powers. Not at all. We the members of the organized blind movement have learned to think, and one result of that thinking is that we are not willing to permit the ignorant theories and ignorant superstitions of a former time to be sanctified in the scientific literature by people wanting government grants to carry on so-called research. Blind people are not abnormal, and we will not let the experts tell us that we are. We have the strength, the will, and the resources to make our future what we want it to be. The wing of the butterfly has flapped.
In the medical laboratories and the offices of the city bus company, a thorough understanding of blindness is not to be expected. In the field of work with the blind, however, a more exacting standard should be demanded. The educators who write about the blind should have the background, the experience, and the knowledge to recognize the new reality. Unfortunately the assumptions in the literature of the 1990's sometimes resemble those of an earlier era.
In 1993 an educational text was published entitled The Art and Science of Teaching Orientation and Mobility to Persons with Visual Impairments. This book by Dr. William H. Jacobson, a professor of rehabilitation of the blind at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, was ostensibly written to encourage the teaching of cane travel skills to the blind. However, an examination of the contents does not inspire confidence.
In Chapter Five there is a section entitled "Turns and reversing direction." It is not exactly what you would call a long sectionponderous, maybe, but not long. It contains seven sentences and three pictures. I discovered, to my astonishment, that the subject matter is how to turn around. Not how to move around the block or walk around the room or get around the teacher or go around the world but how to turn around. The text of this section is hard to follow without reference to the pictures. These show two people in an elevator. In the first photograph their backs are to the reader; in the second they are facing each other with their sides to the reader; and in the third they are facing forward. In other words, they turned around. As you hear these instructions, ask yourself if you are capable of this complicated maneuver. Here are the sentences:
When the instructor and student pivot around each other in turning and reversing directions, the cane is held in the not-in-use manner. To reverse directions using the about- face procedure, the two turn to face each other. The student places the cane in the hand that is holding on to the instructor. He places the cane vertically to the ground and flat against the instructor's arm, with the cane between the palm (or thumb) and the guiding arm. The student finds the instructor's free arm with the freed hand of the "cane" arm. He lets go of the original arm and grasps the cane in the not-in-use position. As he grasps the instructor's new guiding arm in the basic sighted guide position, they turn to face in the opposite direction (see Figures 5.1-5.3).
As you ponder Professor Jacobson's words, think back a little. Do you remember kindergarten and that little song "Do the Hokeypokey"? That's the one in which "You put your right foot in, and take your right foot out. Put your right foot in, and shake it all about. Do the hokeypokey, and turn yourself around. That's what it's all about." Did Professor Jacobson miss kindergarten, or is he under the mistaken impression that the blind did? Do we really need a college text to instruct those who will teach us to travel with a cane the intricacies of turning around?
The professor's writing would be amusing if it were not so destructive. The fact that such bizarre material can seriously be distributed is an indication of the extent of the misperceptions of blindness that still exist. The underlying assumptions of the work of Dr. Jacobson are completely without foundation. They are falsea distortiona part of the burden of our past. We possess the ability to think and speak and act for ourselves. We know about our capacity to build and our powers of comprehension. A growing number of the professionals in work with the blind also know. Let Professor Jacobson turn from the pattern of yesterday and gain a new perspective. Let him learn about the flap of the butterfly's wing.
Although blindness can, with proper training and opportunity, be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance, it does not always happen that way. Sometimes the misunderstandings about blindness are permitted to survive, and those who become blind receive little stimulation, no encouragement, and virtually no training. When this occurs, the life of the blind person is wasted, and there is sorrow indeed.
About a year ago I received a letter from a mother in Philadelphia. Although it is brief, this letter describes a dramatic and soul-searching problemone which demands our attentionone which raises questions that must be answered. The letter says:
Enclosed is my check for the most enjoyable book, Making Hay. I also have a blind son. He has been living in the blind residence since my husband died six months ago. I sent him there, as I am getting up in years and can no longer take care of him. The home might close, and there is no other place in Philadelphia for the blind. I wrote dozens of letters and made many phone calls, but no one respondedno one cares for the blind. I wrote to United States Senator Arlen Specter in Washington, D.C., and no reply from him either. If you have any suggestions as to where we can get funds to remain openit would be appreciated.
As we have so often said, blindness need not be a tragedy, but in this case it isor, more precisely, the false assumptions which have ruined this man's life are. When our state president visited the home for the blind, he learned the details. This mother cared for her blind son until he was almost forty years old. Then she moved him to a home for the blind because she was no longer able to give him the attention he needed. This blind man, a resident of the home for the blind, sings for his church, but he has no other regular interaction with society outside the home. There has been no training, no opportunity for productive employment, no encouragement to be a part of the broader society, and no prospect for taking initiative and planning his own future. But this is not the worst of it. This blind man's very wish for independence is gone. The spirit that might have sought self-sufficiency and freedom has been killed, stamped out forever.
What went wrong? What action can now be taken to correct the problem? How many other blind people are there who face the same isolation and loneliness of an unproductive, segregated existence? How many blind people are being urged to be satisfied with protection and care instead of self-sufficiency, risk, and freedom? How many of us have (without even knowing we did it) accepted less from ourselves than we might have achieved for the sake of a little peace? But our pattern is not unalterable. We have been told that our lives are predictable, and in the past this has often been true. The pattern of care and custody is being replaced by one of initiative and hope--and we the blind are making it happen. Although there may be some individuals who have given up, we have not. In the homes for the blind, in the hamlets and towns throughout the nation, on the farms or in the cities, there are opportunities to be had, and we will bring them into being. Tiny alterations can create tremendous results, and we shall not rest until the pattern is shifted. Let the power of the butterfly's wing be felt.
As I was contemplating the gathering of the organized blind movement in this convention of the National Federation of the Blind, I was reminded of an incident which occurred on a Thanksgiving day in the early 1970's. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek is the innovator and founder of the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan is the tireless builder of our movement and resourceful teacher of the blind, who in the early 1950's met Dr. tenBroek for the first time and began a period of intensive work and study that has never abated despite the death of Dr. tenBroek in 1968. The message of Dr. tenBroek, that the blind could engage in a noble struggle to win the rights of full participation and first-class citizenship, struck a responsive chord in the mind and heart of the philosopher and teacher, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. He carried that message to every corner of the nation and began a process of building the National Federation of the Blind and of teaching blind people, which has altered the course of our history for all time. Dr. Jernigan encouraged us, challenged us, taught usand the range of his instruction was broad enough to include matters as diverse as how to cut wood, how to structure a sentence, how to barbecue a steak, how to believe in ourselves, how to speak in our own best interests, and how to jump rope. Tiny alterations in a system can lead to changes that are beyond imagining.
A number of us had gathered for a meeting of the Federation that Thanksgiving day, and we had enjoyed one of those bountiful dinners. Late in the afternoon a few of us were talking about the participation of blind people in gym class. Some among us had believed that jumping rope could not be done without sight. Dr. Jernigan showed us otherwise. Rope jumping can be done alone, but it is more intricate, more complex, and more satisfying when done in tandem. One, two, three, or four at a time we jumped rope. Four at a time takes timing, precision, and cooperation. If it is to be done successfully, there must be similarity of purpose and coordinated effort. Jumping rope is a simple thing unless the person doing the jumping starts with the belief that it can't be done.
As it is with jumping rope, so it is with cooking a steak, sawing a tree, gaining independence, changing a society, revolutionizing thought, or causing the butterfly's wing to flap. Dr. Jernigan taught us to believe in our own abilities, and with that belief came the power to act. With something as simple as jumping a rope, he emphasized the importance of working together. It was true in 1940; it was true in 1970; and it is just as true today. If we want to alter the pattern, we must work with each other to reinforce each repetition in the cycle. Dr. tenBroek created the mechanism; Dr. Jernigan taught us to use it. What comes next is our responsibility.
And the prospect we face is bright. Look about you! We live in a wonderful time of unparalleled hope and opportunity. Federation centers are scattered throughout the nation, turning out competent graduates. We are getting more and more jobs in both government and private employment. An increasing number of professionals in the blindness field are coming to the new understanding and marching with us to freedom. And as important as anything else (maybe more important because more encompassing) is the positive shift in public attitude. All of this has not happened by accident. We have caused it to happenthrough our Kernel Books, which blanket the land; through our television and radio announcements; through our daily example in workplace and home; and through our routines of daily living. We have made it happen, and we are accelerating the process exponentially.
As we come together tonight in our thousands from every part of the nation, we must try to identify those elements that make the pattern for us what it is. We cannot erase the past, the universal belief of a former time (which is even accepted sometimes today) that we who are blind are helpless and inferior. That incorrect assessment (that chain of mental slavery) is a part of our heritage. We should not hate it. Rather, we should cherish it, understand it, and learn from it. Let us hug it to our breasts and remember the countless thousands of blind men and women who were destroyed by it. It will be one of our most powerful teachers and motivators as we come fully to appreciate our own worth and strive for the recognition and acceptance that must and will be ours. In the theory of chaos we are told that a nonperiodic system is unstable at every pointthat tiny alterations can produce dramatic effects. But of course an unstable system can be influenced for good or ill. We must seek those elements which will bring creative and positive change, and we must minimize the influence of everything else.
Although many of the writings regarding blindness (such as the ones from the Boise bus company, the National Institutes of Health, and the professor of rehabilitation at the University of Arkansas) are negative, dreary, and false, they are no longer unchallenged in shaping the pattern. The sentiments contained in these writings have been repeated almost without alteration for centuries. But no more! A new course has been takenand we are not now dealing with the mere flap of the butterfly's wing. That occurred in 1940. It has been amplified and re-amplified through repetition until there are now tornadoes, not only in Texas but throughout the world.
We are altering the course of our historynot only when the time is right but as the need arises. The future is not a matter of prediction but decisionour decision. We have the example of our founder, Dr. tenBroek, and our leader, Dr. Jernigan. With growing momentum we are building upon what we in the Federation have already accomplished. Each of us must contribute our energy, and the combined effort has already become the strongest force that the field of work with the blind has ever known. The wing of the butterfly has flapped. But more than that, we have made it flap. The winds of change that are blowing will sweep away the old ideas, and we who are blind will gain our freedom. This is our promiseto ourselves and to the blind of coming generations! This is the commitment that was made at the time we first came to organize. This is the commitment we reaffirm today. We always keep our word. Our future is in our own hands. Let us go together to meet it!