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

psychology.

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

granddaughters.

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

it right.

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.