Braille Monitor                                                                  August-September 1985


This issue of the Monitor is largely taken up with matters relating to the 1985 national convention. Because of its length, we are combining August and September. Later issues will contain other convention items. As will be evident from the articles (and as those who were present know) this year's convention was not only the biggest but among the best we have ever had. It was a time to review accomplishments and plan for the future. It is now history, and we chronicle it in the Monitor.

Convention 1985

Louisville in 1985 was a convention of superlatives. It was the largest meeting of blind people ever to occur anywhere in the world. 2,028 registered, and there were the usual number who did not register. All told, there were undoubtedly more than 2,500 in attendance.

The hotel (The Gait House) was considered by most the best we have ever had. Every room in the new Gait House East is not a room but a suite, and there were hundreds of them--each with its own living room, kitchenette, and bedroom. And our rates were also superlative: $22 (suites included) for one person in a room, $26 per day for two in a room, $30 for three in a room, and $33 for four in a room.

The agenda and the hospitality merited the same label--super. Almost $100,000 in scholarships was given to thirty of the nation's finest blind students. The top scholarship was $6,000 plus travel expenses to the convention, and the others were proportionately good. There was a ride on the river boat, The Belle of Louisville; horse-drawn carriages in front of the hotel during the evenings to take convention goers throughout the city; a gourmet revolving restaurant at the top of the Gait House; and a constant spirit of purpose and enthusiasm.

On Friday, June 28, there was a seminar sponsored by the Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped. The purpose was to teach meeting planners, transportation providers, and travel agents how to meet the needs of blind persons and the organized blind movement. There were discussions as to how blind persons can be employed in the travel and tourism industry and how to obtain the cheapest hotel rates and the best arrangements for state conventions.

On Saturday, June 29, there was a presentation entitled "Going Into Business for Yourself, the Challenges and Pitfalls of Really Being Your Own Boss." This excellent seminar was sponsored by the Merchants Division of the National Federation of the Blind. In addition, the first "National Conference on the Status of Education and the Blind" was held. There was also a day-long cane travel workshop, and in the evening a training session for interpreters for the deaf-blind.

On Sunday the tempo increased, with registration, committee meetings, and the arrival of additional bus loads of delegates. The Resolutions Committee met; there was a wine and cheese tasting party; and the initial meetings of some of the divisions.

The Board of Directors met on Monday morning, and well over a thousand people attended. There were greetings from the Mayor's office, welcome from the state affiliate, and a presentation by Congressman Ron Mazzoli. In the afternoon most of the divisions and many of the Committees met; and on Monday evening it was more of the same, and the momentum continued to build.

On Tuesday morning the first general session commenced with the roll call of states. By then it was clear that all previous attendance records would be broken. A proclamation from Governor Martha Lane Collins was read naming July National Federation of the Blind Month in Kentucky, and the crowds and the momentum continued to build. In the afternoon the Presidential Report was followed by an item entitled "The Randolph-Sheppard Priority: Events and Trends Affecting the Blind." Representatives of the Defense Department, General Services Administration, and the postal service were present, and their interaction with the delegates was both stimulating and substantive. The next item on the agenda was a presentation by Jon Deden, Federation member and stock broker from Colorado. The afternoon session concluded with a discussion concerning the future leadership of the Federation. President Jernigan said that it was his current intention not to stand for re-election at the 1986 convention and that he was making the announcement now to allow time for thought and discussion. On Tuesday evening there was a reception followed by a gala ball.

Wednesday morning began with elections. The officers and half of the Board Members were in mid-term, so six positions were up for consideration. Ralph Sanders of Maryland and Norman Gardner of Idaho said that they did not wish their names submitted for reelection, and on Friday afternoon Rami Rabby resigned from the Board in order to conduct writing and research for the Federation. The vacancies were filled by Gary Wunder, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri; Betty Niceley, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky; and Donald Capps, a long-time South Carolina and national leader. The national Board now consists of: Kenneth Jernigan of Maryland, President; Diane McGeorge of Colorado, First Vice President; Peggy Pinder of Iowa, Second Vice President; Allen Harris of Michigan, Secretary for one year to fill the unexpired term of Rami Rabby; Richard Edlund of Kansas, Treasurer; and Board Members: Sid Allen of West Virginia, Steve Benson of Illinois, Charles Brown of Virginia, Ronald Byrd of Texas, Donald Capps of South Carolina, Glenn Crosby of Texas, Robert Eschbach of Ohio, Theresa Herron of New Hampshire, Betty Niceley of Kentucky, Joyce Scanlan of Minnesota; Fred Schroeder of New Mexico, and Gary Wunder of Missouri.

The remainder of Wednesday morning was taken up with two major program items:

"Insurance Discrimination Against the Blind," and "Air Travel and the Blind: Safety, Civil Rights, and Public Policy." With respect to insurance, it would seem that the battle is virtually won. Bruce Foudree, Insurance Commissioner of Iowa and President of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and Michael Marchese, Vice President for Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, both pledged that the state insurance commissioners and the large life insurance companies would undertake to see that henceforth no insurance discrimination against the blind would occur. Both of them made it clear that this decision was the direct result of the good work of the National Federation of the Blind.

The situation with the airlines is not so favorable. The discussion began with a paper by Peggy Pinder analyzing the so-called new air travel handbook by the American Council of the Blind. Since the paper will be printed in this or a later issue of the Braille Monitor, it will not be described here. Suffice it to say that the content and style are what one might expect, and neither is constructive or helpful to the blind. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland; Jeffrey Shane, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public and International Affairs of the Department of Labor; Mark Warinner, Manager of Procedures, Training, and Facilities for Frontier Airlines ; Judy Sanders, Federationist from Minneapolis; Russell Anderson, Federationist from Indianapolis; and W. James Host, Executive Vice President of the National Tour Association, then thoroughly debated and discussed the problems faced by blind air travelers in the United States today.

The picture is not pretty, and its seriousness is underlined by what happened to Steve and Nadine Jacobson, Federationists from Minneapolis, on their way home from the convention. Contrary to the statements issued to the press by United Airlines, the Jacobsons did not request exit row seats. In fact, they specifically requested not to have them. Nevertheless, they were assigned exit row seats and had just settled in when a parade of airline officials publicly and stridently demanded that they move. The Jacobsons felt that the treatment they were receiving was one humiliation too many, and they refused. The police were called, and they were bodily removed from the plane. Nadine's arm was twisted and hurt. She was put into a jail cell, fingerprinted, forced to remove her shoes and stockings, strip searched, and repeatedly abused and humiliated. Items were stolen from her purse while she was in custody, and she was subjected to unbelievable and uncalled-for indignities. Yet, the American Council of the Blind tells us that there will be virtually no problems if only the blind will be understanding, passive, courteous, and nonmilitant. We believe that American citizenship has meaning and that it is neither responsive nor appropriate to submit meekly to unprovoked and extreme abuse and indignity. A suit will be filed against United, and other action is contemplated. A full account of the status of the airline controversy will be printed in this or a later issue of the Braille Monitor, but it is safe to say that others will not solve the problem for us. We will have to do it for ourselves--with reason, balance, and dignity but also with firmness and determination.

But back to the convention: Wednesday afternoon and evening was a time for exhibits, committee meetings, tours, and fun. On Thursday it was back to substantive program and hard work. The major item on the morning agenda dealt with the production, use, and distribution of Braille. W. Benjamin Holmes, Executive Director of the Associated Services for the Blind of Philadelphia; William Raeder, Managing Director of the National Braille Press; Dr. Carson Nolan, President of the American Printing House for the Blind; Betty Niceley, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky and of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille; Dr. T. VV. Cranmer, Director of Research for the National Federation of the Blind; and Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, were participants. As the discussion progressed, the audience asked questions and made comments. It was a far-ranging exploration of the current status and future prospects for the use, production, and distribution of Braille in the United States, as well as a consideration of the technology, attitudes, teaching techniques, and philosophy now in existence and under consideration.

This item consumed most of Thursday morning. It was followed by a presentation by David Mann, President of the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom. Mr. Mann told us of the programs and activities of the organized blind of Britain and of the challenges they face in the period of the 1980's.

On Thursday afternoon we heard from Patricia Owens, Associate Commissioner for Disability of the Social Security Administration. She talked about the "Beneficiary Rehabilitation Program" and other developments in disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income. We also heard from William C. Gleisner, III, Vice President of the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers and Senior Litigator in a prestigious Milwaukee law firm, who spoke on the topic of "Litigation as an Instrument for Advancing the Civil Rights of the Blind." On Thursday afternoon we also heard from James Omvig, Director of the Louise Rude Center for Blind and Deaf Adults of Anchorage, Alaska; Mary Main, one of the leaders of the Connecticut affiliate, who gave a delightful presentation entitled "Listen to Your Elders"; the Honorable Patricia Schroeder, Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Civil Service of the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service of the United States House of Representatives; and Hardi L. Jones, Assistant to the Commissioner for Equal Employment Opportunity of the Internal Revenue Service of the Department of the Treasury.

In accordance with long-standing tradition the banquet occurred Thursday evening. More than 1,700 Federationists were present to enjoy the meal, participate in the singing of Federation songs, witness the presentation of the scholarships, and hear President Jernigan's banquet address, "Blindness: The Pattern of Freedom." As Master of Ceremonies, Marc Maurer presided over the largest banquet in Federation history.

Friday was the final day of the general sessions. With a few notable exceptions (such as Joyce Scanlan's presentation on the "Minneapolis Society for the Blind and NAC Six Years Later: Who Won the Proxy War") the time was taken up with internal business--the Washington Report by Director of Governmental Affairs, James Gashel, financial and budgetary matters, and resolutions.

In addition to the announced program items the week was punctuated with delightful surprises and stimulating extras. Dr. Gerald Kass, Executive Vice President of the Jewish Braille Institute of America, was in Israel and unable to be present, but he sent a moving and cogent taped message. Our new television and radio spots were played and made available for the delegates to take home for distribution. Many expressed the opinion that they were among the best we have ever had. Topped by the grand prize of $1,000, which was drawn at the banquet, the 1985 door prizes were sizable and plentiful. Featuring a wide array of new technology, the exhibits were more numerous and diverse than in any previous year. From the celebrity auction to the quality of the invocations, it was a convention of joy and accomplishment.

On Saturday there was a day-long Job Opportunities for the Blind seminar. It was a fitting and satisfying conclusion to the biggest (and many say the best) convention we have ever had. It was a time of renewal, rededication, and strengthening of purpose. The number of people attending the convention for the first time was significant, underscoring the accelerating growth of the organization. Moreover, there were so many young, intelligent, energetic, and enthusiastic Federationists in evidence as to be noteworthy.

Yes, Louisville in 1985 was a convention of superlatives--the numbers, the hotel, the hospitality, the planning, and the program items. But most of all, it was a convention of superlatives because of the spirit and commitment of the people. We are many things: a political action organization, a vehicle for collective self-expression, a source of information, and a means of advancement for the blind--but above all, we are a movement and a crusade. Our opponents don't understand it; our friends rejoice in it; and our members believe and live it. Whoever fails to understand this central fact fails (not just partially but totally and completely) to understand the basic truth of what we are--why we have organized, why we grow and flourish, and why we are and will continue to be the strongest most vital force in the affairs of the blind.