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The Braille Monitor – November, 2000 Edition


Changing Public Attitudes Through Braille

by Connie J. Johnson


From the Editor: Connie Johnson is President of the Erie County Chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania. In the following article she describes a project that required the combined efforts of the entire NFB chapter and the blind community in the city but which took very little in the way of scarce chapter funds. We are always looking for good ideas for chapter projects to share with Monitor readers. This one was very successful and could be adapted for use almost anywhere. Here it is:


As blind people we know all too well about negative public attitudes toward the blind, especially when we have sought employment. We also know that many of these attitudes stem from fear--fear of the unknown, fear of that which is different. Therefore logic would indicate that, to lessen the fear, we must try to expose as many people as we can as often as possible to blind people. More exposure should lessen the fear and minimize the perception of difference.

Braille literacy has been a major concern of the Erie County Chapter for a long time. We are aware of the statistics that indicate Braille readers are more employable. Our members with degenerative eye conditions have long pondered how different their lives might have been if they had been taught Braille at a young age.

Thus the Erie County Chapter decided to increase exposure to blind people through Braille literacy. We contacted our local public library, the Biasco Memorial Library, and began to fund-raise to purchase Braille books for the library.

The chapter strongly advocates literacy, particularly Braille literacy: the belief that all people should learn to read, whether they read Braille or print.  Therefore we are providing the library with Braille or Braille/print books so that the blind, the visually impaired, and the sighted may read together. Now, for the first time in the Erie county area, a blind person can borrow a book from the local library, a blind child can look at books just like his or her   brothers and sisters, and blind parents can borrow books to read to their children whether they are blind or sighted.

With pride our members continue to solicit contributions for books, emphasizing that a label will be placed on the inside cover of each, recognizing the organization contributing it or the person in whose memory or honor the book has been placed in the collection. Every label also bears the words "National Federation of the Blind."

On two occasions so far we have had blind children read Braille/print books to a group of sighted children in the library. Both times we have had media coverage further highlighting blind people and Braille literacy.

As the Braille book collection has increased, so too have communications between the library and blindness organizations. The library director, Gregory   Lubelski and Mary Rennie, quickly became allies of the NFB Erie Chapter and other organizations serving the blind. At a meeting someone suggested that blind people as well as the library could benefit from a seminar on blindness services, highlighting the assistive technology and Braille books available at   the local library.

So on Wednesday, May 17, 2000, the National Federation of the Blind-Erie County Chapter in cooperation with the Biasco Memorial Library held an all-day seminar titled "Seeing Beyond the White Cane." We began with an open house in   the morning with free literature and aids available for purchase. Soon the media arrived to do a story on the blind girl, Silvia, who was about to read to a   group of children. Next we had a seminar on services for the blind involving the Federation, the Council, the Center for the Blind, and the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. By the end of that portion everyone agreed that we can gain   much more information by joining together rather than struggling alone.

After a luncheon break we held an employment seminar. We invited employers who have hired blind people and also blind employees to speak on two separate panels. Many aspects of seeking employment, adjusting to the work place, and advising others seeking employment were discussed by both panels. We then hosted a catered dinner in honor of our main speaker, further promoting relations between blindness organizations and other interested parties.

We were proud to introduce as our speaker Federationist Adrienne Asch,   Henry R. Luce Professor in biology, ethics, and the politics of human   reproduction at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts. Dr. Asch spoke on blindness and how it affects both her professional and private life, and she   closed with a favorite quote from Dr. Jernigan. Her presentation was very well   received, and several suggested she come back again and stay longer.

As I mentioned previously, books have been purchased through donations from organizations and individuals. The seminar was funded through chapter-membersolicitations and through the solicitations of involved members of the Center   for the Blind and the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services of Pennsylvania. Thus no major funding had to come from our chapter's account.

In conclusion, with little to no funding from our own chapter, we believe we have accomplished much. We have promoted Braille literacy, and we now have a collection of Braille books available at our local library. This year for the   first time the library has a dedicated budget line for Braille books. Through the presence of Braille books in the public library, the seminar, and media   attention we have increased the sighted public's exposure to blindness and blind people. No, we cannot change attitudes toward the blind overnight, but we believe we have taken a big step in the right direction.

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