KEEPING THE RENT CURRENT PIONEERING
IN THE COURTS
by Hazel Staley
The strength of the National Federation of the Blind lies in
its members from the very young to the not so young. Here one of
our senior members tells about her life. Her story reminds me of
something I frequently tell people about us: We laugh and cry,
work and play, hope and dream--just like you. Here is what she
has to say:
I was number five in a line of six children born to a farm
family in Union County, North Carolina in August of 1916. I lost
my sight when I was two years old as a result of meningitis. I
graduated from the North Carolina School for the Blind and
received by A.B. degree from Flora McDonald College (now St.
Andrews) with majors in French and English and a minor in
When I first entered Flora McDonald, the faculty was at a
loss as to how to deal with me. There had been blind students
there before, but they had all majored in music and the faculty
didn't know how I was going to do the lab work in science, which
was a requirement for an A.B. degree.
After considerable discussion they decided to put me on
probation for the first semester to see if I could make it.
Science just isn't my bag, but I felt diminished by being on
probation; so I decided to do whatever I had to do to prove that
I could handle the lab. My other subjects came easy to me; so I
zeroed in on science and made the honor roll that first semester.
I had hoped to teach English in the state secondary school
system; but finding this field closed to blind people, I enrolled
in the graduate school of social work at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was employed as a social worker with
the North Carolina Commission for the Blind for almost six years.
I met and married Bob Staley and resigned my position. Bob
was in the U.S. Army, and I wanted to be free to go wherever he
went. That was in 1947. Our only son, Ken, was born in 1951. Bob
died of lung cancer in 1986. I have two lovely little
We were stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, when Ken entered
school, and I immediately got involved in the PTA. I served as
vice president and president of the PTA, and I think I must have
served as the chairman of almost every committee there was. I
received a lifetime PTA membership from the state of Georgia.
One day in 1969 (I was again living in Charlotte, North
Carolina) my employer, the director of the local agency for the
blind, told me that a group of blind people wanted to meet in our
conference room on Sunday afternoon, and that I should come and
be responsible for opening and closing the building.
That meeting turned out to be one of the best things that
ever happened to me. Leaders of the National Federation of the
Blind had come to organize a chapter of the Federation in
Charlotte. I had never heard of the Federation, but I realized at
once that its philosophy had been mine all my life. I joined that
day and immediately became active in the movement.
I have lived a very full life. I served two years as
president of my homeowners' association and have been teaching
Sunday School for more than twenty years. I have also served as
president of my church's Women's Missionary Society and as
director of church training. In 1978 I was named Charlotte's
Outstanding Citizen and in 1989 I received the Jacobus tenBroek
Award for my service in the National Federation of the Blind.
Someone has said that service to others is the rent we pay
for the space we occupy on earth. I plan to keep the rent on my
space current.When it came time to compete for a job, I was lucky. Very
often when an employer interviews a blind person, the only
characteristic considered is blindness. But the judge
interviewing me was different. He wanted someone who understood
medical terminology and who could take medical testimony and get
He was delighted to find someone with both court reporting
and medical terminology skills. In his view my years of
experience in transcribing medical records outweighed my
inexperience in court reporting. I guess he figured that my
blindness was my problem; and if I had worked out the techniques
to be a successful medical transcriber, I could do the same for
court reporting. How refreshing it was to find this common sense
attitude, and how many of our problems will be solved when more
employers come to view blindness in this way.
I loved my job as a court reporter; and I am grateful to the
National Federation of the Blind not only for the technical
expertise, which made it possible, but for the emotional support
as I waded through these untried waters.
My job ended with a legislative decision to replace county
court reporters with tape recorders--a decision I'm confident
will be reversed at a later date, but because of my positive
experience, many other blind persons are considering this as a
career opportunity, which never would have happened without the
National Federation of the Blind.