Braille Monitor                                                    August/September 2008

(back) (contents) (next)

The Urgency of Optimism

An Address Delivered by
Marc Maurer
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind

Marc Maurer delivers the 2008 banquet addressMuch has been written about the balance between optimism and pessimism–as if these two approaches to living were opposite, mutually exclusive but equally viable methods of thought.

McLandburgh Wilson said:
Twixt the optimist and the pessimist
The difference is droll:
The optimist sees the doughnut
But the pessimist sees the hole.

Frederick Langbridge said,
“Two men look out the same prison bars:
One sees mud and the other stars.”

However, some imaginative thinkers have suggested that optimism is not simply a way of looking at a set of circumstances, but a positive element of power.

William James said, “Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”

Nicholas Murray Butler said, “Optimism is essential to achievement, and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress.”

Colin Powell said, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

For optimism to be an element in the acquisition of power, it must be more than a cheerful cast of countenance. Rather it must consist in a commitment to bringing into being a future containing elements of possibility that have not been a part of the past. Optimism and reality may (properly understood) be inseparable. If reality signifies all that has currently been created, this measure of existence is frozen in time. If, on the other hand, reality denotes both that which has been built and that which can be brought into being, the potential for growth encompasses a much more magnificent formulation of life than would otherwise be comprehensible. In other words, the grandest understanding of reality incorporates the optimistic anticipation of innovative thought, and it also implies commitment and effort.

Anais Nin said, “Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”

Douglas Everett said, “There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.”

Although a goodly number of Americans have been pessimistic (Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”), ours is an optimistic nation. We have traditionally held the view that we could conquer the frontier, govern our futures, or invent the tools for our own success. There is even an American expression for this faith–“Yankee ingenuity.”

Just as individuals have a life cycle, the theorists tell us that organizations do. They are established; they grow; they mature; they prosper for a time; and they cease to exist. At least a part of the reason for the continued existence of an organization depends on its optimism. Every organization must possess a purpose and the faith that the purpose can be achieved. When that faith dissipates, the organization dwindles, becomes dormant, and ceases to be.

As we have observed in the National Federation of the Blind, leadership is one vital element of progress. As an organization must have faith in its future, the leaders of the organization must be optimistic. Pessimism signifies atrophy. Operating the same old program in the same old way will not encourage growth. Optimism and an openness to imagination must be a part of the leadership. Every organization is faced with the same imperative: build or wither, grow or die. The openness to imaginative thought and the faith to believe that better, more effective programs can be created are part of the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind.

Reflections on optimism and discussions about blindness are rarely found in the same place. People who write or speak about blindness often grieve, sometimes weep, and frequently employ the most dismal descriptive words to signify the potential for blind people. It is extraordinarily rare for somebody to write or think, “Oh good, a whole bunch of blind people!” In fact, a convention of blind people is, in the minds of many, an anomaly–almost a contradiction in terms. At conventions people are supposed to have fun. But, if most of the people at the convention are blind, how ineffably dismal could this be? Adding one miserable life to another in thousands of iterations simply magnifies the horror of it all. Blind people who are optimistic about their future–they must be deluded or liars. How could any substantial group of people wake every day facing the disadvantages that blindness brings and at the same time maintain optimism in their hearts? Is there any group so naïve as to take this position?

Well, one group of this character does exist. We have created it. It is the most powerful force ever established in the field of work with the blind in the United States, and it has a purpose that will not be abridged or thwarted or denied. That purpose is hard to achieve but simple to proclaim–it is that the blind will have recognition, that we will be known for the vital human beings we are with all of the talent, the energy, and the joy that we possess–that equality must and will be ours. The organization we have created, the organization that carries this banner, the organization with the optimistic drive to change our lives for all time is the National Federation of the Blind.

Some people depict the blind as unemployed, isolated, frequently uneducated, and beset with characteristics denoting inability. The assertion that this summation is reality is made by some of those dealing with programming for the blind. A senior official of the Department of Education responsible for rehabilitation of the blind said within the last few years that the 70 percent unemployment rate for blind people has remained unchanged for decades.

Why, I wondered, has this figure remained so high? Do blind people not want to work? Are blind people lazy, lackadaisical loafers who are turning down good jobs so that they can continue to receive government benefits, or has the system failed? Are rehabilitation programs unequal to the challenge? Are the programs conducted by the Department of Education unproductive? Is the 70 percent unemployment rate for blind people an indication of a lack of leadership?

“Not on your life,” said this high official in the Department of Education. “This rate of unemployment is an indicator that blind people cannot achieve success unless they are among the most talented 30 percent of the blind in society. Continuing to spend money on programming for the blind,” he said, “is a waste of state and federal resources.” Rehabilitation for blind clients costs more than rehabilitation for those with other disabilities. Therefore specialized programs for the blind should be eliminated because they cost too much. Never mind that these programs produce positive results, create tax savings by limiting the number of people receiving federal and state support, and bring trained and talented blind people into the workforce. They should be eliminated because they cost too much, he told me. This federal official in the Department of Education gave up on 70 percent of the clients assigned to the programs he is expected to supervise. He thinks that handing out government benefit checks to blind people is better than training them to work for their own lives. With such an attitude, with such a failure of optimism, with such a lack of faith in the clients the Department of Education is expected to serve, it is not the least bit surprising that the programs of this department are failing.

Sometimes it appears that certain officials of the Department of Education are seeking to punish the blind for demanding equality. Sometimes it appears that these officials are saying, “You can demand equality if you want to, but if you do, we will cut funds from your programs. If you do as we say–if you behave as we require–if you are docile, subservient, properly grateful blind people–we will grant you a modicum of support. However, if you want to be pushy, obnoxious, and uppity; if you want to be demanding and insistent, you will be sorry.”

Fortunately, though the Department of Education is responsible for making policies regarding programs it conducts, it has no power to make policy for the blind. We of the National Federation of the Blind determine our own policy and create our own destiny. Those who serve in government are responsible to the people who put them there, not the other way around. The blind of the nation have a right, perhaps even a duty, to examine the performance of the officials who are selected to conduct the programs to serve us. Those public officials are responsible to us to demonstrate that they have served well enough to continue to remain in office, and we demand an accounting.

At the time of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940, almost no blind people in America were employed. By the late 1950s estimates were that 3 or 4 percent of the blind of the nation had jobs. By the mid-1970s this estimate had increased to 30 percent. In certain programs the number of blind people who receive employment after training is above 80 percent, and some approach 90 percent. What makes these programs successful? They listen to the blind; they are responsive to the needs and wishes of blind people; they learn from the organized blind movement; they form partnerships with the most powerful entity dealing with blindness in the nation. Do officials in the Department of Education know these facts? Do they care? Have they studied the factors that are part of the success for the most productive programs?

Those who believe that inability or isolation or dismal despair describe our lives do not know us and cannot speak for us. We are the blind, and we will make our own way and live our own lives. We will do it with the support and encouragement of those who understand the reality we face. We will welcome partners from government or private programs for the blind who have the faith to believe in us. We will conduct our activities with the fundamental faith that blindness cannot inhibit our progress and with the optimism to know that we can face whatever obstacle may come. But above all else we will build our own future, and nothing on earth can stop us!

One of the elements necessary to the public acceptance of the blind as equals in society is a correct understanding of what blind people are. How are the blind perceived almost a decade into the twenty-first century?

A report circulated by Fox News in May of this year describes an incident in which a blind man was refused the opportunity to ride on a roller coaster because of blindness. The report says that the blind man had already ridden the roller coaster three times that day. When the owner of the amusement park discovered that the blind man was seeking a fourth ride, management refused. Management personnel said that safety requires a person to assume certain positions during a roller coaster ride. These positions can be anticipated only by those who can see well enough during the course of the ride that they can anticipate the twists and drop-offs before they happen. Furthermore, if the roller coaster were to malfunction, management said, a blind person could not easily escape from the contraption without danger.

The denial of the opportunity to participate in the experience of riding a roller coaster is an example of the idiocy that blind people often face. The blind man in question had already ridden the roller coaster three times without incident or injury. The owner of the amusement park ignored the evidence. He had already decided that blind people were not welcome. Evidence was irrelevant.

Of course evidence is not required from the sighted. If sighted people need not provide any evidence of their capacity to ride, blind people should not be expected to provide it either. Nevertheless, the evidence was there. Consequently, this is a case in which double discrimination has taken place. I am pleased to say that we in the National Federation of the Blind assisted in giving this case the publicity it deserved, and the amusement park owner has changed his mind. The blind are welcome to ride.

In 1997 the Portuguese Nobel Prize winning author José Saramago released the English version of his novel, entitled Blindness. The premise in this book is that the members of society become blind unexpectedly, totally, irreparably, and instantly. The description of society as an increasing number of its members become blind is one of filth, greed, perversion, and vice. Blind people are depicted as unbelievably incapable of everything, including finding the way to the bathroom or the shower. Saramago wants a world view that serves to offer an allegory for the worst description he can possibly imagine. He selects blindness as his metaphor for all that is bad in human thought and action. He describes the blind as having every negative trait of humanity and none of the positive ones. He argues that this is an allegory for a picture of the reality of the world today. The book was used as the basis for a movie of the same name, which has been shown at the Cannes film festival this spring. The only positive element to the release of this film is the almost universal reaction of the critics that it is a failure.

The depiction of the blind in this movie is fundamentally flawed for two reasons. First, blindness does not denote the characteristics the author attributes to it. The capabilities of those who become blind remain essentially the same after they lose vision as they were before they lost it. Although the loss of any major asset (including vision) will bring a measure of sadness to some and despair to a few, it will also stimulate others to assert their will. Blindness can be a devastating loss, but it also has the power to galvanize some to action. The reaction to blindness is not the least bit one-dimensional. Therefore the description is false.

In addition to this, the viciousness attributed to the blind is inconsistent with the assertion of incapacity. Viciousness demands both venality and ability–at least organized viciousness does. To say that the blind are completely incompetent and to assert that they have the ability to organize for the pursuit of vice is a contradiction in terms.

But leave the internal inconsistency. The charge that loss of vision creates a personality alteration of sordid and criminal character is in itself sordid and defamatory to an entire class of human beings. To give a man who writes such foolishness the Nobel Prize for Literature belittles what has often been regarded as a prestigious award. For as long as I can remember, certain comedians have thought it good sport to make fun of the blind, and as pernicious as this may be, most authors have not sought to make us objects of fear and revulsion.

The description in Blindness is wrong–completely, unutterably, irretrievably, immeasurably wrong. That such falsity should be regarded as good literature is revolting and amazing. We know the reality of blindness, we know the pain it can bring, we know the joy that can come from correcting the misinformation about it, and we are prepared to act on our own behalf. We will not let José Saramago represent us, for he does not speak the truth. He does not write of joy or the optimism of building a society worth calling our own. We do, and we will.

On November 13, 2007, an article appeared in USA Today entitled, “Blinded by War: Injuries Send Troops into Darkness,” which describes the incidence of eye injuries to military personnel facing enemy combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. This article indicates that current conditions for combat cause a higher proportion of injuries to the eye than in previous conflicts. Though the article is quite sympathetic to the troops who are blinded, it contains a reiteration of many of the myths and stereotypes that have inhibited progress for the blind during the course of recorded history. Brief portrayals of the lives of three soldiers are part of this writing.

Here are excerpts from the article: “About 70 percent of all sensory perception is through vision, says R. Cameron VanRoekel, an army major and staff optometrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. As a result the families of visually impaired soldiers wrestle with a contradiction: The wounded often have hard-driving personalities that have helped them succeed in the military. Now dependent on others, they find it difficult to accept help.”

I interrupt to say that though the army major may not know it, blind people do not necessarily lead lives of dependency, some blind people have hard-driving personalities, and the old story about visual perception being the primary method of learning is a myth of long standing but little credence. However, there are other pieces to the article.

 “Even now, more than a year after her husband’s return from Iraq,” [the article continues] “Connie Acosta is taken aback to find her home dark after sunset, the lights off as if no one is there. Then she finds him–sitting in their Santa Fe Springs, California, house, listening to classic rock. Sgt. Maj. Jesse Acosta was blinded in a mortar attack twenty-two months ago. He doesn’t need the lights. That realization often makes Connie cry. ‘You kind of never get used to the fact that he really can’t see,’ she says. ‘He has no light in his life at all.’”

Again I interrupt. If the article is merely reporting that this soldier is blind, I would have no argument with the fact. However, more is implied than the fact of blindness. The meaning is much broader and much more devastating. The spiritual, the poetic, the inspirational, the romantic aspects of life are no more for this combat victim, implies USA Today. Of course USA Today is only a newspaper. Its reporters have no extensive experience with blindness, and its editors have not studied in this realm or learned what reality is for the blind. Personnel at the newspaper have lived with the myth of deprivation, and this is what they report. They cannot comprehend that something else might be at least as important.

Is it really fair to say for those of us who are blind that we “have no light in our lives at all” with all of the unspoken implications contained in this phrase? Is sight essential for poetry? Can there be no inspiration without the visual sense? Is romance a thing of the past? Is the song of the spirit only a faint echo in the lives of blind people when compared with that robust clamor which thrills the inner being of the sighted? When blindness comes, does it invariably signify meaningless emptiness? This is what the article would have us believe. Consider what the reporter says. “Nothing in the house can be moved [the article continues]; he’s memorized the location of every chair and table.”

The final segment of the article poignantly sums up the grief. This is what it says: “The only good news for now is when he sleeps, Castro says. ‘I’ve had dreams where I know I’m blind and, guess what? I’ve regained my vision,’ he says. Reality floods back each morning. ‘There’s not a night that I don’t pray and ask God, when I wake up, that I wake up seeing.’”
This is the report from USA Today about the prospects for blinded veterans. The only good news is the dream of waking up seeing; everything else is bad. To imagine a life consisting in its primary elements of waiting from the time of each waking moment for the next hour when sleep can be coaxed to disguise the reality of daily existence with a dream world is to accept despair. What we say to this soldier, to USA Today, and to all human beings who have become blind is: “Don’t you believe it!” Your reporter has missed the good news. Blindness is indeed a loss, but it is the loss of sight only, not the loss of the ability to live. Nobody can give us hope unasked, and nobody can create for us the kind of spirit that will give meaning to what we do or who we are. However, the hope is abundantly available for those who seek it; the joy is part of the world we can build; and the future is as bright with promise as any imagination that exists or has ever existed. This is what our experience has demonstrated; this is what we know; and this is the story that should have been reported.

Incidentally, I get a little tired of the argument that 70 percent or 80 percent or 83 percent or 90 percent of all information comes through the eye. The implication is always that, although blind people have some information, we have only 30 percent or 20 percent or 17 percent or 10 percent of that which all other people have. This is false, and I find myself annoyed with the necessity of responding to this idiotic notion repeatedly.

I am told that the beginning of this argument came from an advertisement in 1923 put together by Thomas Edison. He was trying to sell film projectors to school systems. In an effort to sell his projectors, he said that “83 percent of all knowledge comes through the eye.” I wish he had found a better way to sell projectors. Though I presume sighted people might learn 70 percent of all they know by using their eyes, I also recognize that this is not the only way to learn. All of us learn through such senses as we have, and we learn through using such mental capacity as we possess. Sense impression is necessary for learning, but it is only one element in the process. Identifying and manipulating information involves pattern recognition. Sometimes visual observation helps in recognizing patterns, but other ways to recognize them also exist, and imagination is at least as valuable.

Even though I have been thinking seriously about the subject of blindness for almost forty years, I am still amazed by some of the things that people believe about blindness. When I read articles like this one, I think to myself, “Did you say that, did you really say that, how could you say such things about the blind?” Can you really think that our lives are meaningless, or empty, or without romance or poetry or passion? Have you observed any of us for more than a moment? Do you know the struggle that we face to gain recognition for our talent? Have you heard the ripple of our laughter or the cadence of the song we sing? If you believe that romance and passion are possible only through the eye, your experience lacks perspective and imagination. Love, joy, a fascination with the arts and sciences, exploration of the unknown, and the unquenchable determination to build a better life for ourselves and for others–these we claim as belonging to us, belonging to the human spirit which is ours. In your reporting you have not included these factors as a part of our lives, but we know that we possess capacity, and we will not let you forget it.

To give perspective to the thought of blind people and romance, consider the testimony of a Federation member who, as a college project, decided to find out how blind people fall in love. Here is a portion of the notice that this student distributed to a number of blind people in the Northeast:

This year I am a senior, and I will be working on an honors thesis investigating the attraction and courtship process for individuals without sight. The purpose of this project is to explore ways in which blind individuals use senses other than sight in choosing partners and in maintaining intimate relationships.

It is argued that sight is the most important factor in how people fall in love. What about those of us who lack the benefit of eye contact and visual cues? I want to explore the roles of other senses in the process of falling in love. This question is of great personal interest to me because I was able to experience ‘love at first sight’ when I met my future husband, despite the fact that I could not rely on my sense of sight. I am very interested in investigating the variety of ways that visually impaired individuals fall in love.

These are statements from the notice created by the student. She takes for granted that blind people have romantic interest, and she seeks less to know whether it exists than how it operates. I suspect that the research has already been concluded. However, if more evidence is required, I will let you know.

The National Federation of the Blind receives unsolicited proposals to support, endorse, or help to promote individuals, books, films, or projects about blindness on a very regular basis. Some of these make sense and get our support, but others have no redeeming social importance.

A few months ago we received a proposal that the National Federation of the Blind become a promoter of a project known as “Charlesville,” a housing community to be built in Georgia adapted to the specialized needs of the blind. The slogan of Charlesville, which gives an idea about the project, is: “A Community Where the Blind Can Really See.” The promoters plan to construct 164 homes for the blind in a housing development along with a theater, places for other small businesses, a supermarket, playgrounds, and a “work facility.” The proposal, laid out in a substantial notebook, contains statements such as, “Homes…will have Voice instructions to assist the Blind in being able to see in their homes, as well as in their outside yards,” and “The streets will be designed to have Voice controls to assist the Blind in seeing where their neighbors live, their playgrounds are, as well as their work facility.” One other statement in the notebook is, “Our firm has been given the ‘Vision of Creating Home Ownership, and Employment’ in Charlesville where the Blind can see themselves become normal independent citizens of our great country.”

Such are statements from the planners of Charlesville. And you thought you were normal; you thought you were independent–not unless you live in Charlesville. Move to Charlesville or you’re not even a citizen of this great country of ours, according to the movers and shakers of Charlesville.

I spoke with the people who sent this proposal to the Federation. They told me that they understood the problems of blindness; they sympathized with the plight of blind people; and they wanted to construct a living community in which the blind could have an experience of home as close as possible to that which is experienced by the sighted. With this in mind they imagined that specialized technology would be installed which would explain to the blind the interiors of their houses. Other technology would explain what was in the neighborhood. The explanations would include audible descriptions of where each neighbor lived and where each nonresidential building could be located. Special blind-friendly technology to control the streets would be one of the features of the community, though what this technology would do had not yet been completely planned.

The mind boggles at what might be incorporated in the audible descriptions of the neighbors. It is tempting to try to offer certain imaginative examples, but those that you have already constructed are no doubt equally good. I confess that I found myself intrigued by the notion that the streets themselves could be controlled. What would a human being want the streets to do? Although I did not express these thoughts to those visiting the National Federation of the Blind, I wondered if they meant that control gates would be installed at street crossings similar to those used for railroad crossings. When a blind person planned to cross the street, the press of a button could bring down the control arms, halting traffic and providing a tactile railing or fence for the blind person to follow from one side of the street to the other. Indeed, the concept of controlling the streets tickled my fancy. I wondered if I should suggest to these planners that they build their community so that a blind person stepping out for a walk could instruct the streets to go downhill. Maybe the new slogan for Charlesville could be, “The Community for the Blind: Where All the Streets Go Downhill.”

Those creating the community thought that having sighted people to assist the blind with their medications might be useful as well as having individuals dedicated to leading the blind from place to place. The planners wanted to know if I had any suggestions for other specialized technologies or services, and they asked for a grant of more than a million dollars.
I doubt that it will come as a surprise that I decided not to get the checkbook. I was polite, but I wondered if the people making the proposal had read any of the Federation’s literature. We do not recommend that the blind be segregated from society. We do not believe that specialized homes are required for the benefit of the blind. We do not recommend that communities be built to isolate the blind even with voice-controlled streets, whatever this might mean.

The concept of a segregated community is not merely offensive but also dangerously socially irresponsible. Some years ago in Japan, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was totally blind, and Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan were walking along the sidewalk. A bicyclist almost struck Dr. Jernigan. In the brief heated discussion that followed the near-accident, the bicyclist said that a portion of the sidewalk had been set aside with tactilely raised identifying marks for the blind. This is where the blind should be, the cyclist said. Implied in the statement is the further thought that blind people should not be permitted outside the specialized areas designated for the blind.

Some people have advocated for a special college for the blind. The argument is that the needs of blind students are sufficiently different from those of other students that a college designed to serve the blind would be a significant advantage. Books could be provided in Braille or in recorded form. Blind people could have assurance that the lectures, the handouts, and the laboratories would be designed to ensure accessibility in nonvisual ways. However, we in the National Federation of the Blind have never endorsed such a concept; we have actively opposed it. No matter how useful it would be to have Braille books and tactilely labeled laboratory equipment, a college for the blind would segregate and isolate the blind from society rather than integrate us into it. We want to be a part of the society in which we live. We want to attend the colleges and universities of our own choice. We want our intellectual capacity to be recognized for the value that it has. We want all colleges to understand the necessity of making their educational curricula accessible to us and useable by us. We will fight for our right to be included in all aspects of community life. We oppose segregation for the blind, we oppose all schemes that would isolate us from the communities in which we live, and we promote full integration of the blind into society on the basis of equality. We demand equality of opportunity for all blind people, and we will settle for nothing less.

Sometimes people ask me how I approach blindness. It is as much a part of me as dozens or hundreds of other characteristics. I don’t forget it, but I don’t concentrate on it either, most of the time. Other people often magnify this one characteristic out of all proportion to what seems reasonable to me.

In the early 1980s I was conducting a law practice in Baltimore, Maryland. Each business day I traveled to my office, very often by bus, and each evening I returned home, using the same method of transportation. One summer evening I was standing at a bus stop in downtown Baltimore. I was dressed in a suit, which is my customary work attire. I had a briefcase with me, which is almost always a companion of my travels. I was also carrying a can of coffee. I had run out of coffee at home, and I needed this can, which, fortunately, I had on hand at the office. The evening was warm, and the bus was late. Because I had remained in my office to complete some work, the rush hour had already passed, and I was feeling weary. The breeze came off the hot asphalt and did little to dissipate the warmth. I was the only one at the bus stop, which suited me because I could review the events of the day without having to worry about fellow bus passengers or other distractions. A person came up to me and peered at me from one side. Then the person walked around to my other side and peered again. I was standing next to the pole that had the bus stop sign on it. My briefcase was sitting on the ground next to my left leg, I was leaning on my cane, and I had the can of coffee in my hand. After I had been examined from both sides, a man’s voice said to me, “Where’s the slot?”

“What?” I asked.

To which my companion responded, “Where do you put the money?”

Although I was startled by these questions, I realized suddenly that he wanted to put some change into the canister I was holding. He thought I was begging. What else would a respectably dressed blind man with a briefcase and a coffee can be doing?

“This is my coffee,” I said, and my companion left.

Sometimes we let others make us believe that blindness matters more to us than reality would suggest. Sometimes we let fear of the unknown control us, and we attribute the fear to blindness.

One of the presentations that I have made as president of the National Federation of the Blind deals with the topic of getting lost. I have been lost many times, and I expect to be lost many more. In my younger days I thought that being lost was bad. However, I have learned that accepting the uncertainty of being lost means that I can find new places, meet new people, have new experiences, and expand my horizons. I also tell other people it is perfectly all right to be lost. How different is this attitude from the one that I found on the Internet recently. Here is what one blind person said:

If I don't know a state, I won't take buses anywhere. Why on earth would I wish to get lost? I wouldn't even know how to tell the transportation where I wanted to go. I would ask others if they are going the same way I wish to go. If not, there isn't any reason to go there then. I would just stay home where I know I could get help if needed and not feel afraid of getting lost.

Many of us may have faced this kind of fear as part of learning who we are, and many of us may face it again. Nevertheless, with the support of one another we know that we can solve the problems that come to us, large or small, dramatic or mundane. Though I sometimes find myself in unfamiliar surroundings, I never find myself without capacity, and I never encounter a day in which my colleagues in the Federation are not willing to help me if I need it. I realize that I have the ability to learn what I need to know to get from the place where I am to the place where I need to be. Furthermore, I will always want to know what we can do to build a brighter, more productive future. I will always want to know what is around the next bend in the road or over the summit of the next hill. I will always want to know what I can do to bring joy to my friends. I will always want to know how I can show them that there is excitement in being lost.

Optimism is an element in the acquisition of power, and the power once derived fosters optimism. The power of optimism stimulates the optimism of power. Optimism is one element of our faith. It is inherent in all that we say and all that we do. Because it has come to be such an integrated part of our thought process, we sometimes fail to recognize the urgency of optimism.

For all time blind people have been regarded as dependent, incompetent, and subnormal–some would even describe us as subhuman. However, we know better than to accept such a description of us, for it is false. We have decided to correct the error of the authors who tell us that we are base and unhuman, of those rehabilitation officials who write off 70 percent of us as fundamentally incompetent, of the newspaper reporters who tell us that our lives are empty and meaningless, and of the amusement park operators who believe that we can’t even ride a roller coaster. We have made this decision because we know the strength which is within us, we share the spirit that is part of us, and we feel the determination to create the factors that will shape the future.

Who can tell us what our lives will become? Nobody can do this except us. There are those who would like to dismiss us, but we will be heard. There are those who would like to instruct us, but from our experience we have gained more information than they can hope to accumulate. There are those who would like to control us, but if they try, they will do so at their peril. Partners we seek from every aspect of public and private life, but those who would seek to dictate to us what our lives should be will be tolerated not at all.

As we face the struggles of the time to come, we know with absolute certainty that we will take whatever action is necessary to confront those who would stop our progress or belittle our ambitions. We will make whatever sacrifice is necessary; we will pay whatever price is required. We will demand the equality that must and will be ours, and we will never cease our efforts until we have it. We have the will, we have the strength, we have the optimism. The future belongs to us; we will make it our own!

(back) (contents) (next)