Braille Monitor                                                    August/September 2009

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The Value of Decision

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

Marc Maurer delivers the 2009 banquet address.Conflict has been created by the inappropriate classification of a society or its people. In our own country we were once regarded as a people to be directed by others from across the Atlantic. When the judgment of the colonists about the position that they should have became sufficiently different from that of the leaders of the British Parliament, conflict erupted; the American War of Independence began.

Alfred Marshall said that the value of a product is based upon its utility or cost of production. Karl Marx said that value is based upon labor: either the amount of labor required to make a product or the quantity that somebody else is willing to expend to get it.

Thomas Paine offered the opinion that the things which are hard to get have the most value. He said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” In law school classes the professors say that the value of property is what the buyer is willing to spend when both the buyer and the seller are at liberty to close the deal or walk away.

With Marx and Marshall the value appears to be a calculation—determine the cost of labor or the cost of production, and the value is set. With Paine and the professors valuation is more a matter of judgment, although even in Marshall’s formulation at least one question remains. If a product may be valued for its utility, what is the meaning of the term—useful to whom, for what, and by what measure?

Although estimating the value of property can be difficult, contemplating the value of human beings is far more complex. Deciding that one human being is less valuable than another may seem offensive and presumptuous. When the judgments are based upon false assumptions or erroneous characterization, “offensive” is the polite term. Some of the characteristics that have constituted measures of value for human beings include beauty, artistic talent, physical prowess, intellectual ability, inventive genius, tenacity, possession of property, mechanical ability, generosity, spiritual understanding, leadership, outstanding temperament, vivacious personality, and the ability to inspire love and trust. Of course there are hundreds of others. This list concentrates on the positive side of the ledger, ignoring such traits as laziness, dishonesty, foolhardiness, and stinginess.

Despite the obvious reality that human beings are composed of hundreds of characteristics—physical, mental, spiritual, natural, and artificial—a phenomenon often occurs in which a single characteristic personifies an individual or a group. Ronald Reagan was the great communicator. Donald Trump is the tycoon with hair. Mother Teresa was the embodiment of saintliness. It is not only individuals who become known by a single characteristic but groups, societies, and sometimes nations as well. Germans are fierce, Italians are lovers, and the British are unemotional.

For the blind our characterization is that we are blind—that we cannot see. This characteristic is one of many physical traits that may make up the physical aspect of a human being. Nevertheless, it is often the primary trait considered by others who estimate the value of blind human beings, and sometimes it is the only trait—imparting meaning to all others as if this one characteristic is irresistibly dominant. Do blind people possess beauty, artistic talent, mechanical ability, or the capacity to inspire love and trust? Some would say we do not because we are blind. According to these we possess only one characteristic of significance. Its presence within our being leaves no room for anything else.

The incapacity or unwillingness of a person to judge another on the basis of the characteristics possessed by that person ensures that the estimate of value will be wrong. This fundamental fact is at the heart of nondiscrimination legislation. It is also a basic element within the struggle of the organized blind movement to ensure that the blind are incorporated within society on the basis of equality. Blindness is one characteristic among hundreds, and judging blind people on this characteristic alone is an elementary and destructive error. It signifies that our ability to contribute is undervalued, and it limits our opportunities. It also deprives the society in which we live of the full expression of our talent. Following this erroneous pattern of thought to its logical conclusion leads to absurdity.

The Marriott staff fitted as many diners into the Renaissance Ballroom for the banquet as they could. Even so, some three hundred were seated at tables in the large foyer.Blindness, being outside the norm, is often regarded as abnormal. Normality is rarely defined, but being abnormal is frequently regarded as bad. Furthermore, blindness is often thought to be a medical condition to be repaired or cured. The important information about blind people, we are sometimes told, is not what we can do to build our own lives or what contributions we can make to our society. The important information is what must be done for us, what the doctors have to offer us, what is needed to comfort and support us. What we are told is that the thing we need most is sight. Those who cannot be repaired or cured are permanently diseased or broken. In our society broken artifacts must be fixed or discarded, or (if they are sufficiently rare) preserved for display under glass. This pattern of thought leads to the conclusion that blind people are sighted people—who are broken.

The diseases which cause blindness are, of course, medical conditions, which should be cured when this is possible. However, the blindness which results from these diseases is not a medical condition but a physical characteristic. Eyes that work can see; eyes that do not work are blind. However, it is false to say that eyes which are broken signify that the person who owns them is broken.

Value is measured not by a single characteristic but by the aggregate of those possessed by each individual. Each characteristic contributes to the whole, and each may strengthen or hinder the person possessing it. To say of a person who fails to possess a certain characteristic that the person is broken is to express an attitude of affinity for that characteristic, declaring allegiance to those who possess it. This is more a statement of political faith than of truth.

We the blind do not need to be fixed; we are fine the way we are. We are not diseased carriers of contagion who must be shunned or kept in isolation to prevent our blindness from rubbing off. We are not abnormal weirdoes to be placed under observation for the entertainment of others. We are the tough, independent, spirited people who have brought the organized blind movement into being, who have established its objectives, and who have carried its program into effect. Would we accept assets that we do not already have? Yes, of course, if the strings attached are not too many, if the demands made upon us are not too restrictive, and if the costs are not so high that they outweigh the advantages to be gained.

We in the National Federation of the Blind have decided to seek full opportunity for all of the blind, and we intend to reach this goal. We have found through the examination of the strength within our hearts that our lives have meaning and purpose without modification or alteration. The meaning does not depend on vision or the lack of it. Each of us has the value created by the characteristics of which we are made. Every one of these characteristics can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the circumstances and depending on the inventive intelligence employed in managing it. We declare that we are not broken sighted people—we are the blind, we have value, and we intend to use it.

Do important, apparently knowledgeable entities within our society believe the blind are broken? Do they believe we need to be fixed or altered in order to succeed? Sometimes, when documents come to the National Federation of the Blind, they are sufficiently bizarre to challenge credulity. One that came to us in May of 2009 is entitled “Social Interaction Survey.” This survey is to be completed only by those fifty-five years of age or older with visual acuity of 20/400 or less, that is, by old blind people. The document seems to have originated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. It is intended to help blind people with their social interaction. Apparently, if you are under fifty-five or sighted, you and your social interaction are on your own.

The concept behind the survey is that blind people need assistance in such arcane tasks as meeting other people, understanding them during the course of conversation, and shaking hands. The way the planners of the survey are thinking of providing this help is by devising a vibrating vest to be worn by the blind person. The vest also has an earpiece. How the vibrating vest and the earpiece interact is unspecified. Do the vibrations of the vest travel to the ear to be felt, or is there a sound system to carry the excited utterances of those who come close to the vibrating blind person? Here are excerpts from the survey:

If you could wear a vest that gave you information through a small earpiece to help you socialize at a party, which of the following activities would this device help you with the most?

[I interrupt this fascinating document to point out that those who created it do not bother to ask if you are feeling the need to improve your social interaction or if you like parties. They ask which of the socialization steps they have identified will be enhanced the most by their vest. That you need help is the unstated assumption. However, back to the survey. Here is a selection from the list of things that the vest is intended to help you do.]

Remembering people's names
Recognizing people by their voices
Listening to others when you are having a conversation with them
Shaking hands
Understanding others by their voices
Playing games
Introducing people you know to other people
Getting people's attention
If this same vest vibrated your sides and back to help you navigate in a room, are you likely to use it?

That, in part, is what the survey says. This is one smart vest. It can teach you to dance, remember people’s names, show you how to play games, keep you alert so that you don’t phase out when you are having a conversation with somebody else, and figure out when you want to get other people’s attention.

We do not have all of the technical specifications for constructing this amazing piece of technological clothing. All that we know for certain is that a vest is to be worn that vibrates and that has an earpiece. This garment is intended to provide assistance with the tasks listed in the survey.

Why does the vest vibrate? Do the researchers believe that blind people live on a special wavelength of their own? Do they believe that the vest provides sympathetic vibrations to get us in tune with the rest of the universe? What games does the vest want to help us play? Does it have innocent intentions or a scandalous outlook on life? Such questions are certainly no more ridiculous than the survey itself.

All of this comes from an American university, proposed by a professor and approved by its research board. Is blindness the only characteristic that these researchers believe is significant? Have they met any blind people? Do they believe that we are one-dimensional and without resources? If this is their assumption, they have much to learn, and we will provide the teaching. We are not broken sighted people—we are the blind, we have value, and we intend to use it.

Academia might not have faith in blind people, university researchers may think we are broken, but what does the United Nations think? The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has devised a game in its curriculum for [nonviolent] education denominated “The Blind People.” In this game some of the people have their eyes closed or are blindfolded. The other people in the game have vision. In other words there are no blind people in “The Blind People.” The sighted people are pretending to be blind people. The intended outcome of the game is to teach sighted people who are pretending to be blind people that they need the other sighted people to help them out. Independence is not an objective of this game.

Here is a portion of the description from UNESCO:

How to Play: In all of the ‘blind people’ games the players should close their eyes for a few minutes before starting the game; if some of them can't keep their eyes closed, they should be given blindfolds. At the end of the game find out what each player felt like as a ‘blind’ person or as a guide. Did they feel insecurity as a ‘blind’ person? Did the guides find their mission difficult to accomplish?

The Cars: The players should be split into pairs. One person is the driver and places himself behind his partner who is the car and cannot see. The driver then steers the car without saying a word, only pressing down on the shoulders of his partner to indicate which direction to go in. After a few minutes the players should switch roles. When the participants have some practice, the game leader can put some obstacles in their path.

What a wonderful game! When I imagine people engaging in this sport, I wonder if their inventive imaginations would take malicious satisfaction in altering the rules. Unspoken assumptions of this game are that the person acting as the driver will take care to insure that the person acting as the car is kept safe and secure and that the person acting as the car will take instructions from the person serving as the driver. Suppose the assumptions are incorrect. Suppose the driver wants to play at bumper cars. Suppose the car decides that it does not wish to be driven. Suppose the car decides to get even. Suddenly the game becomes much more interesting.

Several other games are described as part of “The Blind People,” but this description of “The Cars” is sufficient to make the point. Rather than fostering a sense of independence, rather than inspiring self-reliance, UNESCO is teaching that blind people should feel insecurity and that the sighted people that interact with us should get the sense that they are faced with a challenging, difficult, disagreeable chore. Or maybe it is even worse. UNESCO’s plan for the game is not to have sighted people experience interaction with the blind. Apparently this thought is beyond contemplation. Rather it is to have some sighted people interact with other sighted people who are pretending to be blind. As disagreeable as this might be, having real blind people in the game would be even worse. UNESCO is shamelessly unaware that it is deliberately belittling an entire class of human beings. It says, “Interest of the Game: . . . looking at how we feel and react when we have to take care of someone else or when we have to depend on someone.”

This game is misnamed. It should not be called “The Blind People.” Perhaps a better identifier would be “Creating Frustration,” ”Fostering Hatred,” or “Institutionalizing Discrimination.” Acting in the manner prescribed by this game is not the role that we would pick but the role that somebody else wants to force upon us. We reject it. Our lives have meaning; we are the blind; we have value; and we intend to use it.

An article that appeared in the New York Times in August of 2008 describes the life of a blind man living in Uganda. He was born with vision, but he became blind when he was in his midtwenties. Before becoming blind, he had been an athlete and a bricklayer, but blindness brought an end to these pursuits. When this man became blind, his family members departed. He sat in his hut for years, waiting for the orphans in the neighborhood to come to help him cook his gruel. However, a life in which this blind man existed as the object of pity and charity soon became dreary and disheartening.

Three years ago Mr. Ramathan, the blind person who had been a bricklayer, decided to return to athletic pursuits, specifically boxing. During these years his training has been intense, his physique and his spirits have improved, and his life has gained meaning for himself and for those around him. Today he enters the boxing ring planning to engage and defeat those who challenge him. Because blindness does have disadvantages, he asks that those who want to face him in the ring wear blindfolds, and he protects himself with a series of very rapid punches, some of which land on his opponent.

During the course of his training, he runs with the assistance of a guide. Sparring with partners, punching the heavy bag, and taking direction from his coach are part of the routine to perfect his technique. When he is engaged in a match, he hunts for his opponent by listening and smelling. The reporters have been fascinated by this man’s spirit. A film crew has taken footage of his fighting abilities, and he has inspired his neighbors in Uganda to believe in themselves from watching his example.

With no blindness training Mr. Ramathan has decided to rebuild his life. He has used whatever tools have come to hand, whatever alternative techniques seemed most likely to provide the desired results, and such imagination as he and those around him could bring to this demanding lifestyle. The rebuilding process has been conducted by the trial-and-error method. No high-powered technology has been involved; no well-trained rehabilitation specialist has been a factor; no psychological therapy has taken place; no studious academic journal has set forth the steps to regaining confidence. This reconstruction of a formerly energetic life has been created through guts, good sense, formidable spirit, muscle, and dogged determination. He has trained his body to fight, and he has decided that blindness will not stop him.  Mr. Ramathan is seeking now to establish a worldwide blind boxing sport. At the end of the New York Times article he is quoted as saying, “There are a lot of blind people in America, right? Think any of them will want to fight me?”

Last fall I received a letter from a man who wanted to ask a seemingly straightforward question. This is what the letter says:

Dear Sir.

Thank you for giving me the chance to write to you. My wife is legally blind (right eye totally, left eye with macular disease).

My question, to which I cannot find an answer in any publication, is as follows: In an emergency how will the authorities recognize handicapped people, like blind people?

I hope you will find the time to answer this question. Your answer will be very much appreciated, not only by me, but also by other handicapped people.
Thank you for giving the question your attention.”

This is what the man asked, and when I had read the letter, I found myself facing a difficult choice. The man’s wife is blind with a small amount of remaining vision that she is losing. Within a foreseeable time she will be totally blind. The writer of the letter apparently retains his vision, but he has no faith that his newly blinded wife can manage without assistance, and he is undoubtedly fearful about his own ability to care for her. He anticipates a time when an emergency may arise and he is not available. His wife has apparently had no training in the skills of blindness and no exposure to successful blind role models. He wants the police, personnel of the fire company, and attendants in emergency rescue vehicles to know that his wife may need special assistance because of her blindness.

I am sympathetic to his wish to be helpful. However, the only way he can imagine achieving his objective is to find a method to brand his wife and all other disabled individuals with the badge of helplessness. He asks me to assist him in creating and disseminating the badge.

How can I adopt the plan he proposes in good conscience when I don’t believe the underlying assumption? I do not believe that blindness and helplessness are synonymous, and I cannot recommend that blind people be stigmatized by a publicly visible declaration of incapacity. My assumptions are different from his, but this makes his assumptions no less heartfelt. If I tell this man to change his mind, he may wonder who I think I am. If I do not, I am failing to give him the benefit of the thought that has created the organized blind movement. Although challenging his summation of blindness is risky, it is the only reasonable course of action available to me. No matter how difficult it may seem, I must reject, with as much gentleness as possible, the notion that we the blind should be subjected to the badge of helplessness, notifying all who wish to observe that we possess a disability and that we are necessarily in need of somebody else’s care.

When I have expressed these sentiments, I have been asked a question that goes something like this: “If you do not want to be identified as blind, why do you carry a white cane?” I respond that I am blind and that I am perfectly happy for everybody to know it. My objection is to the badge of helplessness that some people think is a part of blindness. I carry the cane because it is a tool that helps me travel. It is also a symbol of independence, not a badge of helplessness. The white cane helps me to achieve the freedom that I seek.

During the past year blind characters have been depicted on television and in movies in many different guises. Saturday Night Live featured an actor making fun of New York Governor Paterson because of his blindness. The movie Blindness appeared in theaters depicting blind people as filthy and depraved. However, a blind contestant also appeared on American Idol. This is a real blind person, not, as in the Saturday Night Live presentation or the movie Blindness, sighted actors pretending to be blind. Part of the reaction of the judges to this contestant exemplified stereotypical thinking about blindness during the initial appearances, but the references to the bravery of the blind person soon vanished. The evaluation of performance gained the same characteristics that the valuation of performance for other contestants has. The blind person was no longer seen as primarily blind but as a talented aspirant for fame and success. What outcome should have been the result in this contest of talent is beyond my ability to decide. However, the blind contestant performed on American Idol, expressing himself with all of his personality. He was one among those who sought dramatic entry into the entertainment world, and he did it using all of the characteristics that make him the talented person he is, including blindness.

Is it reasonable to believe that a culture of blindness exists? The definition of “culture” from the American Heritage College Dictionary says, in part, “The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought” or “The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize a group or organization.” To have a culture, a group must be identifiable, cohesive, and uniquely different from others. It must also possess traits expressing the individuality of this group from others that are fundamental to the lifestyle of its members. Do blind people have these characteristics? Although individuals sometimes claim that the blind do not exist as a group, this segment of the population has been regarded as sufficiently cohesive to demand specialized laws and specialized programs. Although every blind person is an individual, for certain purposes it is desirable to think of the blind as a cohesive group.

Do blind people think differently from sighted people, behave differently from sighted people, talk differently from sighted people, perceive differently from sighted people, engage in activities different from those pursued by sighted people, or employ different types of adornment or dress from those of sighted people?

When I came to be a part of the National Federation of the Blind forty years ago, I heard arguments urging people to accept blind people as normal people who cannot see. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was then our president. He expressed this sentiment, and I heard him say that Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founder and great leader before Dr. Jernigan, had also expounded this view. Although I have spent much effort to demonstrate that blind people are not fundamentally different from sighted people, I am perfectly aware that some differences exist. Nevertheless, throughout my travels I have never observed such a thing as a blindness-specific cuisine. I have been to Mexican restaurants and French restaurants. One time I was entertained at a night club for the blind, where sawing boards and pounding nails were some of the principal activities. It is the only night club for the blind that I have encountered during a life of seeking out programs and activities specifically designed to meet the needs of the blind.

In the lives of blind people what do the blind have that the sighted do not? Access technology for the blind has been devised. Braille and other raised-character reading systems have been invented for the blind. A few sports activities have been modified to be played nonvisually, and some of these activities have been invented solely for the blind. Audio description has been added to visual images for the blind. Certain surfaces have been altered for tactile identification by the blind. Educational and rehabilitation programs have been established to concentrate on alternative methods of learning for the blind. Guide dogs, white canes, and other specialized tools to assist with travel have been adopted by blind people.

Usually the study of culture includes an examination of dance, art, literature, manners, language, scholarly pursuits, farming methods, customs involving food, family structure and marital behavior, forms of architecture, the classification of persons within the structure of society, social mobility, and patterns of thought. If we do have a separate culture, a number of these elements must be unique to us and different from those employed by others. My observation tells me that we do not dance less wildly or well than other people, that our houses are not different, that the form of dress we wear is not at variance with that of our neighbors.

Some would argue that we do not think the same way that sighted people do, but I wonder how they know and what they mean. It is a truism that blind people cannot see or cannot see very well. Some would say that we do not perceive in the same way that sighted people do. Perception is not merely sense impression. It is observation coupled with analysis and (in certain important instances) imagination. That we cannot see light does not mean that we cannot know it or appreciate it. Do we know it in the same way that sighted people know it? Perhaps we do not. However, it is undoubtedly true that all sighted people who observe light at the same moment and in the same place do not have the same impression of it. Perception involves observation, analysis, imagination, and the influence upon today’s event that is stimulated by reflection, by preceding occurrences that encapsulate meaning, and by the anticipation of things to come that portend tragedy or hope. A sunset may signify to the observer the exploration of interplanetary distances or the forces comprising the formative elements of the universe. To the more prosaic the same sunset may have the appearance of a slice of underdone roast beef.

It is worth asking: would something be lost if blindness were eradicated? I think the answer must be yes. Blindness is often a powerfully emotionally charged characteristic. Some people are frightened by it; some are immobilized; some are challenged. Would Homer have worked as hard on the Odyssey if he had possessed the sight to till the land or herd sheep? Would the boxer in Uganda have been able to inspire his neighbors as much if he had not lost his vision? Would he have been able to inspire himself? This puts to one side those instances in which blindness is a physical advantage—those circumstances in which it is helpful to have the skill to work without light. When the New York electrical grid failed several years ago, blind subway commuters led the sighted out of the darkened subway stations.

If blindness were eliminated as a physical characteristic, our perspective as human beings would be less well informed, and our capacity to understand the fundamental human spirit would be diminished. Blindness is often regarded as abnormal and detrimental. Blind people are therefore often considered imperfect, damaged, or broken. What is it to be perfect? The answer to this question is at the heart of tragedy. However, the search for perfection deserves all that is good within us.

In determining the value of a human being, it is necessary to assess the usefulness of the traits possessed by that human being. These traits change over time. Those with the ability to learn will be trained by experience. As they grow older, they will also grow wiser. An individual can decide to focus energy on intellectual pursuits or avoid them. Those who focus this energy and demand excellence of themselves are much more likely to get it than those who do not. And learning is not limited to exercise that trains the mind—it can also train the spirit. Our characteristics can change and develop because we have decided that we want them to do it. Our value can increase if we decide that it will.

The opinions of those who believe the blind are inferior must be disregarded. This is challenging because human beings are often tempted to assess themselves based on the opinions of others. We are often told that we are wonderful—sometimes for the most mundane reasons. I have no doubt that we are wonderful, but I don’t believe that our value is great because we can tie our shoes or walk around the block. Being told that we are wonderful for accomplishing such simple tasks is the same as saying that we cannot be expected to do anything more spectacular than the most insignificant act and that, if we who are blind can accomplish anything at all, it is worthy of excessive praise. Beware the deliberate assertion of inferiority, and beware the extravagant praise. They are both destructive, and they are both false. Each must be written off, and another standard of value must be adopted. This standard must come from the forge of our own understanding, and it must bear the stamp of quality that we give it.

In determining the shape of our future, we have certain responsibilities both as individuals and as the organized blind movement. We must have some reference points for determining our own worth. We cannot rely on others because they are too frequently wrong. We must be demanding of ourselves. We must expect more of each other than society often expects of us. We must also find a method for exploring the limits of our own capacity. All of this can be done by joining with others in the organized blind movement. However, the ultimate determination of value must come from within each of us. Knowing our personal worth and determining our future is not a group decision but a personal one. It can be informed by interaction with others, and this interaction is of enormous importance, but the determination of value is always done alone. No person can live your life for you. Other people can provide ideas or give support or challenge your assumptions, but your life belongs to you.

On March 26, 2009, the National Federation of the Blind conducted an event at our headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, to announce the release of the Louis Braille Commemorative Silver Dollar, the first coin issued by the United States with full-sized, readable Braille.

Among the many dignitaries present for the Louis Braille coin launch was Brandon Pickrel, a seven-year-old totally blind student. He read a statement in Braille about his hope for the future. Some of the words in this statement were pretty big for a seven-year-old, but he got through it without great trouble. He loves Braille. He has been learning it on paper but also by the experience of a Braille display on a notetaker at school. When his friends learned that Brandon would not be able to take the notetaker home with him for the summer, they found a way to give him one. Brandon was so excited about receiving it that he had trouble sleeping. He didn’t want to go to bed. He wanted to read using his new notetaker.

Brandon does not know about the culture of blindness; he knows about the excitement of reading and the thrill of learning. He does not think of himself as a blind person who is incidentally a child growing up in the United States. Instead, he thinks of himself as a kid who looks forward to the excitement of life in the way that all kids do. He will learn about the complexity of intellectual debate and social structure as he grows. For now let us help him read.

Blind people have been misclassified by certain elements within society since the beginning of time. This misclassification leads inevitably to conflict. When we are told that we cannot dance or play games or shake hands or attend the educational program of our choice or engage in the professional activities we prefer, the temptation is to meet such ridiculous assertions with laughter—unless they are coupled with denial of opportunity. When that happens, the mirth may turn to wrath.

The value of a human being is defined by the characteristics possessed by that human being, and one of these is determination. When we decide that something will be done, the likelihood of its getting done increases dramatically. What can be said of an individual can also be said of an organization.

We in the National Federation of the Blind have decided to seek full opportunity and equal treatment for all blind people. This demands recognition of our value as human beings with all that this implies. If we have value, as indeed we do, we have the right to equal access to programs and activities of our country, to educational institutions, to employment, and to information of all kinds. When we are denied these opportunities, we are being told that we have no right to full participation and that our value is insignificant. When, for example, we are told that we cannot have access to books, the message being sent is that education for us is not important because we don’t matter. We reject this summation, and we demand our right to participate. The researchers who tell us we need vibrating vests may take their idiotic projects and consign them to the attic of forgotten gimcrackery, where they belong. The United Nations can forget about using us to exemplify helplessness. We are not broken, and we will not behave as if we were.

For the blind athletes who want to compete, inside the ring or elsewhere; for the aspiring blind performers who want to demonstrate their talent to entertain; for the blind kids who want to learn, to grow, to mature; and for all other blind people who seek opportunity that has so long been denied—we are the blind. We are the voice that insists upon equality for us all, that calls upon all who know the joy of freedom to join us in the struggle for full participation and equality. We have faced deprivation in the past, and we know it today all too often. But we have examined our hearts, and we know our value. We are not broken; we are strong. We are not damaged; we are resolved.

Our decision is made; we will not be left out, or slowed in our progress, or stopped. The journey toward full integration is not without cost, but we are prepared for the hardships ahead. Whatever resources are demanded, we will find them. Whatever challenges come, we will meet them. This is the choice we have made, and we will not quit until we reach the goal. Join with me and with Federationists throughout the land, and we will make it come true!

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