Braille Monitor                                                   April 2010

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As the Twig Is Bent

Jason EwellFrom the Editor: Several of the pieces in this issue address our current efforts to increase opportunities for the next generation of blind people. The following article, reprinted from the August 1989 Braille Monitor, demonstrates that we have long been mindful of the value of youth outreach (even before it became fashionable) as a means of building our organization and strengthening blind people with a philosophy that promotes self-respect and self-confidence. In this spirit we reprint Dr. Kenneth Jernigan's introduction and nine-year-old Jason Ewell and thirteen-year-old Michael Leiterman’s letter reflecting emerging personalities dedicated to collective action, strong advocacy, and simple justice. The NFB’s influence in Jason's life has definitely yielded direct benefits for our movement. Today Jason applies his intellect, passion, and expertise to the work of the Federation as a staff member in the Affiliate Action Department of our national office. Mike is a patent attorney practicing and living in northern Virginia. Here is the story:

From the Editor: When does a person become mature? At what age does he or she become responsible for helping make the world better, not only for himself or herself but also for others? More to the point (at least, for purposes of this discussion) how old must an individual be to become (in the active, full sense of the word) a Federationist? How about thirteen? What about nine? The associate editor and I recently received a letter from two students at the Ohio State School for the Blind, which helped me answer the question. I found the letter both delightful and heart-warming. I also found it instructive, for it told me that our message and philosophy are beginning to permeate every segment of the blind population--children, adults, and the elderly; the rich and the poor; the educated and the illiterate. It renewed my faith in the ability of people to act in their own enlightened self-interest and to do it collectively. It underscored something which, at the core of my being, I have never doubted--that the future of the National Federation of the Blind is going to be all right. Even now the leaders of the fourth generation are developing and reaching for maturity. They are learning their Federation philosophy at an early age and living it on a daily basis. Read the letter from the students at the Ohio State School for the Blind, and you will see what I mean. Here it is:

Columbus, Ohio
April 20, 1989

Michael LeitermanDear Dr. Jernigan and Mrs. Pierce:

Our names are Jason Ewell (age nine) and Mike Leiterman (age thirteen), and we wish to tell you about our coalition--the Student Alliance Coalition (SAC) at the Ohio State School for the Blind. Our committee grew out of a minor student concern, which was soon put on the back burner for a major issue. Therefore we are writing to tell you about our efforts over the past year concerning totally blind students being discriminated against as dining room workers.

This policy is unjust because only students with high residual vision have been allowed to hold these positions. Collectively we decided to approach the administrator of residential services to share this concern because she oversees the dining room staff and, if persuaded, could use her authority to aid us. We shared with her our belief that our school should be a discriminatory-free environment, in which we could learn by trying as many things as we wished to attempt. She appreciated our honesty and position. Likewise she thought that other students should follow our example here at the OSSB. Dorm Council was started. Every two weeks we meet for around an hour or so to discuss issues which arise out of living in a residential setting. The dietitian, who acts as immediate supervisor over the dining room staff, came to one of our meetings and agreed to help by restructuring the hiring policy and developing a more efficient training program for all who wish to apply. Weekends and daily after school have been designated as periods for the training sessions.

At this time those interested seem to be satisfied with this new procedure. We feel glad that we were able to work together to end this problem. Even though this issue really only directly pertains to the totally blind, we felt it necessary that those with residual vision be active participants because what affects one of us, affects us all.


Jason Ewell and Mike Leiterman

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