Braille Monitor                                                                  January 1985


A Question of Perspective, Handouts, and Telephone Rates


At the 1984 national convention in Phoenix the following resolution was adopted:


WHEREAS, it is the policy of this organization that exemption for blind persons from charges for the use of telephone Directory Assistance is a reasonable and necessary means of mitigating the inconvenience for such persons in using print telephone directories; and

WHEREAS, all states in which Directory Assistance charges have been imposed on telephone customers have exempted blind customers from these charges; and

WHEREAS, such exemptions enable blind persons to obtain telephone information needed in the pursuit of their employment and personal activities; and

WHEREAS, in a tariff recently approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) is allowed to charge for long distance Directory Assistance, but may not do so with respect to long distance Directory Assistance calls made from the home telephone of anyone who may be exempt from local Directory Assistance charges; and

WHEREAS, in AT&T's tariff, the current exemption for blind persons to obtain long distance Directory Assistance Service without charge is inadequate, because 1) the exemption is not nationwide since local operating companies in all states do not impose Directory Assistance charges, hence, there is no local exemption, the result being that AT&T may charge locally non-exempt blind customers for long distance Directory Assistance, 2) the exemption is not portable since it includes only the home telephone, and 3) the exemption is not universal since other long distance telephone networks may soon begin to offer long distance Directory Assistance Service; and

WHEREAS, exempting blind telephone users from long distance Directory Assistance charges should be an industry-wide policy followed by all local or long distance operating companies: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 1984, in the City of Phoenix, Arizona, that this organization call upon the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) and any other long distance Directory Assistance Service to exempt blind persons from long distance Directory Assistance charges to make this exemption available to all blind persons throughout the nation, rather than dependent on state practice and to give blind persons a portable exemption by means of a credit card which would allow the exemption when using any telephone ; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Federal Communications Commission to institute rulemaking proceedings aimed at insuring that the exemption from long distance Directory Assistance charges for all blind persons is expanded in the respects set forth above; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all state regulatory agencies having regulatory authority over the in-state activities of AT&T to take appropriate action to insure that analagous exemptions from Directory Assistance charges, including those for long distance Directory Assistance calls within the state, be granted to blind persons within their respective states; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be sent to AT&T, other long distance service providers, local operating companies (when appropriate), the FCC, and state regulatory agencies.


Not long ago I received a letter questioning the wisdom of Resolution 84-04:

Little Rock, Arkansas
October 17, 1984

Dear Dr. Jernigan and NFB:

From the Braille Monitor I saw where in resolution 04/84, you will be trying to get blind people exempt from paying for directory assistance calls. I hope I read my whereases and thereforeswrong. I believe in the NFB trying to obtain equal rights and first class citizenship for the blind, but I fail to see where another hand-out to us qualifies as either. I would appreciate some enlightenment in this matter if I have the wrong impression about this. I do not see that visually impaired people are at a disadvantage in the matter, since no one could have all the phone books for every place they may want to call. If I am right in my understanding please reconsider. I am looking forward to hearing from you.



When I read that letter, it seemed to me that it raised legitimate questions and that it deserved a reasoned reply. I did the best I could to deal with the questions and to make such a reply:


Baltimore, Maryland
November 14, 1984

Dear Ms.:

This will reply to your letter of October 17, 1984, concerning Resolution 84-04. It seems to me that it is reasonable for blind persons not to be required to pay for directory assistance in their own local area since sighted persons are provided with a telephone book and blind telephone users pay for a portion of the cost of that book. Part of Resolution 84-04 deals with this question.

That still leaves the matter of long distance directory assistance. All taxes, tariffs, and prices are a matter of negotiation and relative advantage or disadvantage to this or that person or group. If, for instance, I have no children but am required to pay school taxes, it could be argued that families with children are getting a "handout," both from me and the government. If I buy an automobile from General Motors at retail price and another person is able to buy that car cheaper because he or she has a fleet of cars, it can be argued that I am being forced to pay a higher price so that the fleet owner can have a "handout."

When the government of the United States imposes a quota system on the import of Japanese cars, it can be argued that the car manufacturers (along with their well paid union employees) are receiving a "handout."

When is it reasonable to negotiate for an advantage, and when is it wrong to do so? With specific respect to the question of paying for directory assistance, I think the matter could be argued either way. If those blind persons who feel as you apparently feel had been at the national convention, they could have made their voices heard and argued for the defeat of the resolution. They were not present, so (like those American citizens who did not vote in the recent presidential election) they let the matter go by default. If those same individuals had regularly attended their local chapter meetings, they could perhaps have set the tone that would have persuaded their delegates to the national convention to vote another way. Again, they let the matter go by default. To the best of my belief and knowledge you did not attend the national convention. Perhaps you will say that you could not afford to come. This may be true, but many people who have very little income place such a high priority on attendance that they manage. I believe that you are employed. Let us assume, however, that you did not come because of economics and that you could not come. That does not deal with the matter of attending local Federation chapter meetings. Here there can be no excuse of economics, nor will it do to say that one is too busy or has other commitments or doesn't like this or that person who attends. Those blind persons who are knowledgeable (and, incidentally, you obviously are since you read the Monitor and show knowledge of its contents) are in an awkward position, it seems to me, in debating the merit or lack of merit of any NFB resolution or policy. They did not take part in the discussion which preceded the policy; they usually did not help finance the ongoing operation of the organization; they ordinarily receive Federation literature and Federation assistance without ever feeling the obligation to contribute anything in return and do not regard such behavior as constituting a receipt of a "handout"; and they do not generally participate and help the movement grow stronger.

This is not to condemn such persons or to say that every Federation policy is correct. It is only to set the matter in perspective and comment upon the dynamics of human thought and behavior. I think I am right in saying that you do not attend local Federation meetings. As to the matter of free long distance directory assistance for blind persons, one could argue it either way. Those present at the convention considered it and decided as they decided. Perhaps the matter should be re-thought. If this is your opinion, I would urge that you become active in the Federation and that you attend next year's convention in Louisville and make your views known. After all, the hotel rates are low; Louisville is not very far from Little Rock; the discussions will be stimulating; and the company and surroundings will be pleasant. You will be most welcome if you come, and I assure you that you will be heard on any matter which you wish to bring to the floor. I appreciate your writing to me and giving me your views. I have thought carefully about what you said, and I hope you will do likewise with my reply.

Very truly yours,

Kenneth Jernigan, President
National Federation of the Blind