The Braille Monitor                                                                                January/February 2002

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Dick Edlund May Be Blind,

But He Can See Right Through You

Richard Edlund
Richard Edlund

by Rebecca Shelton

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the October 17, 2001, edition of the Kansas City Kansan. Dick Edlund is a long-time leader in the Federation. This story quickly recaps some of the highlights of his many contributions. Here it is:

Dick Edlund, seventy-seven, still lives in Wyandotte County, still lives independently, and is still blind. And he's still getting himself involved with blind people who need help of one kind or another.

Edlund, a sort of utility man, has been nearly everywhere and done nearly everything to help other blind people.

Born in Armourdale in 1924, he lost his sight in an explosion while waiting to be called into the Air Force. As he tried to make sense of his loss, an official from a state agency contacted him. At the time, Edlund said, a blind person could expect little more than earning pennies in bad conditions at a workshop or selling magazines and cigarettes in a corner kiosk at a courthouse.

Edlund said he opted to stay clear of state agencies and go off on his own. In 1946 he leased some ground in Muncie, bought an old beat-up truck, and went into the business of cement and sand. He mixed in another business in agriculture and cleared a space by the Kaw River for a small airport. His friends used the airport, and some of them did some skydiving.

"I never saw any point in jumping out of one that was running," he said.

Edlund was in business for forty years. In 1968 he hooked up with the National Federation of the Blind. He became President of the Kansas chapter. When the previous President moved to Missouri, Edlund took his spot. Having been appointed rather than elected, "I felt like Gerald Ford," said Edlund. He helped organize chapters in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Washington.

In 1974 he was elected as National Treasurer with a budget of $12 million.

And he was called to Cincinnati to check out a sheltered workshop. The pay and conditions at this workshop were rated at the bottom. Edlund jumped in the middle and in five years made significant changes. He did the same in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Raleigh, North Carolina. "I beat them every place," he said.

At the time the blind only had to be paid 25 percent of the minimum wage. Still, Edlund said, the blind were doing well at their jobs with very little.

"That's what I objected to," said Edlund, who pushed legislation to change this situation.

Edlund also organized a shop in Fairfax. He got legislation passed to set up a bargaining unit there. The president of the then-welfare system told Edlund he was causing all sorts of problems and wanted him put in jail. But Edlund kept on and did the same thing in other cities around the country.

In 1988 he stepped down from his national position and sold his businesses. He served in the Kansas House of Representatives. Again he pushed legislation to help the blind but also help other people. He made a lot of contacts and was good friends with Bob Dole.

One of the bills he worked on was to make it mandatory for blind children to read Braille. "Blind kids were coming out of school without being able to write a sentence, punctuate, or spell," he said.

He also involved himself in cases where common sense was the answer. Edlund said he was called to South Dakota to see about twin girls who were blind. For two years, they attended a school for the blind in North Dakota right next to the state line of South Dakota. The state wanted to send them to a school for the blind in South Dakota, but it was far away from the girls' home. Edlund told the parents to take the girls to the public school and demand they be educated. The principal said his small school budget could not afford to hire special teachers. And so, said Edlund, the girls were allowed to continue to attend the school right across the state line in North Dakota.

Edlund said cases like this gave him a reputation for getting his way. "I am nice and reasonable," said Edlund. "Do it my way, and that's reasonable."

He continued his work around the world, in Zambia, England, Mexico, and Alaska. He made several trips to Hawaii, but he turned down Bombay. He made two to three trips a year to Washington, D.C. to testify on various legislation. In his years Edlund once logged 300,000 flown miles and 269 nights spent away from home.

But he still lives in Wyandotte County. "I've seen most of the world, but I keep coming back," he said.

He is now vice president for a blind and deaf organization nationwide. He was scheduled to testify before Congress earlier this month until the September 11 attack caused a postponement. And he is working on a training program for seniors who are losing their sight. He wants to see seniors be able to remain in their own homes. Edlund said the biggest obstacle remains attitude on the part of the public.

"Most people think blind people can't do these things, and they are never given a chance to try," he said.

He still works to change the attitude the blind have about themselves. "Blind people need their independence," he said. "You can't smooth a way for everybody."

Edlund said, when people are losing their sight, he tells them it doesn't help to get mad. Patience must be developed. And a job must be found. With a job no social workers are needed.

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