Back | Next | Contents

Winning More Than a Debate Tournament


By Joe Orozco



Editor's Introduction: Joe Orozco has just recently joined the movement of the Federation, but he has jumped in with both feet and become an active member of the Texas affiliate. Here is a message he posted to the NABS list serve shortly after Washington Seminar.

Dear listers,

It has often been said that a sharp tongue is no indication of a keen mind. I personally believe that this holds true, particularly in the grip of a heated discussion where some choose to blindly argue despite their conscious ignorance and/or stubborn refusal to admit that they are wrong.

It goes without saying that Washington seminar was an incredible experience for an NFB rookie. I think it was the best introduction to the vast organization and the individuals who wholeheartedly uphold its principles, not to mention the legislation it has fervently fought to pass into federal law. I agreed with the three issues discussed. In fact, at my debate tournament this past weekend following the seminar I thought it would be interesting to run a case concerning the third issue regarding the distribution of electronic instructional materials in a specialized format.

After consulting with my partner, we decided to run it the first round since we were going to be the government, or affirmative. In her first constructive speech my partner drew out the case, explaining each component of the proposal and the criteria of equality we would be using as a means for the judge to weigh the round. Well, the first guy for the opposition stands to deliver his speech, and damned if he did not say our plan was impossible because the education system as a whole was prejudice if not downright racist. To make improvements for the blind would be showing favoritism, and unless the government was willing to change the content of all textbooks and standard tests to include an equal recognition of all minorities, our plan should not even be entertained. Of course my retort was that whereas racism was a societal problem that could not be changed from one day to the next, here was an opportunity to stop wishing for equality and actually implement legislation to physically do something about it. I also pointed out that his claims of total racism in the content of all instructional materials were exaggerated, because as you will all know, the SAT and ACt have both included passages about famous non-Caucasian celebrities. Well, the opposition scoffed and raised a counter plan that would require all publishers to rewrite its materials so that it was not racially exclusive. They held steadfast to their plan despite our point that in such a scenario the costs would far exceed the benefits, not to mention that their plan did not even acknowledge our criteria because blind students would still be at a drastic disadvantage. In the end, the judge's ballad ranked Texas over Tennessee.

Well, the round was so successful that my partner and I decided to run it one more time during the fifth round against a team from a prestigious school in Louisiana whose name will not be mentioned here. Same case, same components, only this time we ran criteria of cost benefit analysis. Their first argument, making publishing companies switch to a universal format would put them in a severe economic constraint. We argued that it would be the distribution center and not the publishing companies who would incur the bulk of the costs. They blatantly made it clear that a one time cost to change to a new electronic format was by far more critical than the long term education of a blind child. When asked for specific figures they declined comment. They totally brushed off my partner's argument that in the status quo blind students are prevented from competing on an equal level with their sighted counterparts. Their second error, they referred to blind individuals as "mentally impaired." May we think of it as a slip? Not when the term was thrown around more than once during the same speech. Their only other argument that mattered was that there was no precedence giving the government authority to interfere with private businesses in any way. His specific words were: "I challenge the government to produce a precedence with a case with which the precedence can be supported." Quite frankly, I did not relish what I did, but desperate times call for desperate measures, so in an eye blink a copy of the ADA was out of my briefcase and in the hands of my partner who was due to deliver our closing arguments. As a case in point we brought out the lawsuit against AOL, citing the federal government's power to regulate the company in cases where it does not make its product accessible for the blind. As we made our way out of the building my partner dropped her own briefcase, threw her arms around my neck and through fits of laughter told me of the shocked expression on the other team's faces when we firmly met and accomplished their trivial challenge. The final decision on all three ballads? Texas over Louisiana.

And so we finally arrive at the main point of this email, and that point is that this weekend I was proud to have joined the NFB! Beside the selfish fact that it provided me with a winning case, it felt great to be able to argue for an important cause. Most importantly, I felt confident after having attended Washington seminar to sway a lot of the misconceptions sighted people have assigned to blind individuals. This was most evident in my own partner, who stood by me and argued the case as though she herself was blind and was in desperate need of these instructional materials. The overriding point here is that even though this was just a debate competition, it goes a long way in showing just how little importance the general public gives to the blind, that is until the NFB takes the initiative to, as my TABS president put it, "pound the pavement of Capital Hill," to make our needs known, to insist that our rights be met, to demand the reinforcement of equality and in very short terms as it was phrased at the Washington seminar, to change what it means to be blind.

Congratulations NFB, because although Abraham Lincoln said it was a journey of a thousand miles, at least we have taken the first step.

Best regards,
Joe Orozco

Back to top