The Braille Monitor                                                                                       May 2003

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A Wrenching Decision

by Ed Lewinson

From the Editor: Monitor readers will recall that in the November 2002 issue we carried an article by Buffa Hanse about recent events and decisions at the Jewish Braille Institute, now known as JBI International. One of the very few blind members of JBI International's board of trustees was Dr. Ed Lewinson. Dr. Lewinson has been a life member of the board since the 1970's. He is a professor emeritus of history at Seton Hall University and president of the Northern New Jersey chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. Not surprisingly in recent years he has felt more and more isolated on the board, and in the months since the publication of the article in the Braille Monitor, his position has become nearly impossible. He wrote the following letter to the president of the board of trustees in March. We can all share his sorrow and pain at the necessity of ending his relationship with an institution to which he has given his loyalty and for whose welfare he has worked for decades. Here is his letter:

March 17, 2003
Barbara Friedman, President
JBI International
New York, New York

Dear Barbara,

After much soul-searching I have concluded that to retain my self-respect I must resign from the board of trustees of JBI International. Before I briefly explain my reasons for this decision, let me compliment Dena Barbara on her editorship of the Jewish Braille Review and the JBI Voice. The material she presents is always interesting, informative, and well written. In a recent Braille update Pearl Lamb has shown a sympathetic understanding of the changing technological and sociological factors governing the production and use of Braille.

My association with the Jewish Braille Institute goes back to 1937 when Leopold Dubov began a correspondence in Braille with a seven-year-old. In my years of association with JBI, Dr. Ellen Isler has been the only staff member with whom I have felt uncomfortable. The first time I heard her expound her plans for JBI, I felt and said that she sounded as though blind people would be lost in the shuffle. Without previous work experience in the blindness field and with little or no previous contact with blind people, she jumped into her new job like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

The things which bother me most are her failure to consult blind people before making sweeping changes, her general insensitivity, and her disparaging the use of Braille. We all know that many blind people—particularly those who become blind later in life—may find it difficult or impossible to learn Braille for both physical and psychological reasons. While 70 percent of the blind people of working age are unemployed, the majority of those who are employed use Braille. I don't know if I could have earned a Ph.D. and taught in a university without using Braille. I do know that it would have been much more difficult. I've always found it easier to absorb materials in Braille than from tapes or readers.

Buffa Hanse's article in the November 2002 issue of the Braille Monitor expresses the feelings of many of us who are blind, non-Jewish as well as Jewish. Yet when I spoke with Dr. Isler on the telephone on December 24, 2002, she characterized the article as a "pack of lies." Under her leadership JBI has gone from being a consumer-friendly organization to one that reflects the stereotypes and condescension with which we as blind people must contend all our lives.

Therefore I feel compelled to resign from the board of trustees.


Ed Lewinson

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