by Jason Ewell
Editorís Introduction: Jason Ewell is the First Vice President of the National Association of Blind Students. He has been coordinating the NFB Corps, an organizing effort to help strengthen state and local affiliates of the NFB. Along the way, Jason and the other NFB Corps members have a chance to meet a myriad of blind individuals with a variety of backgrounds. Unfortunately, there are many blind people who have never been told that blindness can be reduced to an inconvenience and live their lives without skills or a positive philosophy. In this speech, given at this yearís student seminar in Washington, D.C., Jason discusses how sometimes we, as Federationists, take such things for granted. Here is what he has to say about his realization.
Blind people are unimportant. That is what a majority of people out there in the world think. Most of them have good will toward us, though they often lack confidence in our abilities, but they do not spend much of their time or expend much of their energy thinking about blind people, or about matters related to blindness, other than how terrible it is or how necessary it is to prevent. There are also people, some blind and some not, who believe that the National Federation of the Blind is not important. Some blind people tell themselves and others that they do not need the Federation because they have made it on their own. These people are mistaken. The National Federation of the Blind is partially responsible for any success they have had. The strides that have been made by the organized blind movement during the past sixty-three years have enabled them to do much of what they have done.
Other people, though they might claim to be supportive of our efforts, do not participate because, they argue, that they donít want to get involved in politics. To put it differently, they prefer to ride the fence. This behavior is totally irresponsible. People who believe in a philosophy ought to care enough to work for its acceptance. Those who know that the publicís understanding of blindness needs to be improved and that blind people need better training, better access, and more opportunity, ought to have the compassion to work to achieve these goals. To all of those who believe that the Federation is not worth their time, I say the following. You are contributing to the fact that most people think that blind people are unimportant. If you would join us, you could increase the influence of the strongest force in the affairs of the blind in the nation and work to improve the lives of blind people, yourself included.
I wish that those who doubt the importance of the Federation could all have been with me in Oregon in June. One day, I had lunch with a blind man (Iíll call him Phil), who was forty-six years old. Phil told me that he does not work and, from the way he phrased it, I thought at first that he had been in this situation for three or four years. It turned out that Phil had not worked for about twenty years. He said that he is comfortable living on Social Security. I asked him if he didnít want something better for himself. He didnít seem very interested. I discussed some jobs for which he might apply and some places where he might look for work. Each suggestion he countered with an explanation about why it wouldnít work and wasnít even worth a try. Phil told me that he ought to use a cane, but his had broken and he had not replaced it. I thought to myself, ďWas this in April or May?Ē Well, if it was, then it was in April or May of 1977 or 1978.
Philís story reminded me of some of the letters that Dr. Jernigan and Dr. Maurer have read to us over the years. The difference, however, is that this was not a man about whom I was reading or hearing in a banquet address, it was a man sitting right across the table from me eating lunch. If you had been there, you would have cried or wanted to. This experience confirmed in my mind and in my heart what I already knew to be true. The National Federation of the Blind is the most important organization for blind people in the world. We have much work to do, and all of us need to participate in it, so that people will think that blindness is respectable and that blind people are interesting and capable. For people to learn this about us, we must exhibit the characteristics we want them to know. It is of vital importance that we be interesting and capable. Furthermore, as the Bible says, we must not hide our talent under a bush. We must proclaim our capabilities, far and wide.
The reality that is Philís is definitely not our reality, but we are affected by it. The experience of one of us affects the experience of us all. Philís reality will be reality for a smaller percentage of blind people than it was in 1940, but it is still reality for thousands. It is largely due to the National Federation of the Blind that it will not be reality for those of us here today, but each of us needs to contribute so that the reality of Philís life can become, not merely a thing of the past, but a thing only of the past.
If we are to make it come true, and I believe that we will, then we need you to help. We need your energy. We need your time. We need your creativity. The Federation is an opportunity for us to be involved in something that will improve our own lives. It is an opportunity for us to help to improve the lives of others. It is an opportunity for us to be a part of something that is bigger than anyone of us; to be a part of something that is important.
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