Braille Monitor                                                                                January 1986



Of Discrimination and Safety Deposit Boxes

Wanda Pecher is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Delaware. As with us all, her participation in the Federation heightens her awareness and gives perspective to her daily actions. She believes that she should have the same rights and responsibilities as other American citizens. She also believes that the Federation is the most effective vehicle for helping her combat discrimination and change public attitudes.

Ruth Whelan is the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Delaware. She takes her responsibility seriously and recognizes the fact that the pattern of public opinion and behavior is created by the cumulative effect of individual acts and routine details. Recently she wrote the following letter:

Felton, Delaware
October 14, 1985

Mr. William Haughey
Bank of Delaware
Dover, Delaware

Dear Mr. Haughey:

On October 4, 1985, a member of our organization, Mrs. Wanda Pecher, purchased the use of a safety deposit box at the Loockerman Street branch of the Bank of Delaware. She paid the $18.00 fee and signed the appropriate card. After receiving her key and placing her articles in her box, she left.

On October 10, 1985, Mrs. Pecher returned to use her safety deposit box again. This time she was told that she had to sign a release which would relinquish the bank from liability for all of her articles in the safety deposit box. If she did not sign, she could not have access to the box. Mrs. Pecher was also told that (unlike the sighted) a blind person could not deputize another person to enter the box except a co-owner.

When Mrs. Pecher asked if this was the general policy of the bank for all "handicapped" persons, she was told that the policy dealt with those who were "blind enough so as not to be able to see another person in the room."

Mrs. Pecher asked if she and her reader/driver could see such a policy statement in print and was told that policy statements were available only to employees and not to the general public unless authorized by the bank's lawyers. Mrs. Pecher then informed the bank officer, Mr. Kirk Douglas, that such policy statements were a matter of public information. Mr. Douglas said he would have to contact the bank's lawyers but seemed unable to do so at that time.

Mrs. Pecher refused to sign the release and was denied access to her safety deposit box.

On October 11, 1985, Mr. Douglas contacted Mrs. Pecher by telephone and said he was returning her $18.00 fee and that she must remove her belongings from her safety deposit box or that she "would hear from the bank's lawyers."

Mr. Haughey, if this is indeed a policy of the Bank of Delaware, it is blatantly and unjustifiably discriminatory. Blind people can and do manage their own affairs every day. We run our own homes and businesses and financial affairs. We are stockholders and stockbrokers, bank customers and bank employees, we are chemists, computer analysts, and teachers, homemakers, parents, and laborers. In short, we work and participate actively in the communities in which we live. We fine many alternative and effective methods of doing our work and business.

The Bank of Delaware is as liable for the articles in Mrs. Pecher 's safety deposit box as it is liable for the safe-keeping of the articles of any sighted customer of the bank.

It would appear that arbitrary decisions are being made by unqualified bank personnel concerning the capabilities of the blind. These same persons are also making arbitrary decisions concerning a person's competency. We are aware that the bank has the right and the obligation to question someone's competency.

However, there are legal procedures to be followed. The decision is not to be a personal opinion. It is our feeling that these decisions are being made by ill informed personnel and are based on misconceptions, rather than facts about blindness.

This whole matter may be due to the misunderstanding of any overcautious or overzealous bank officer. If so, I hope my letter will help to restore things to order. I would appreciate a copy or a statement of the Bank of Delaware's policy in this matter.

We do not seek confrontation, Mr. Haughey. I would hope to see this matter settled in as amiable as fashion as possible. However, if the rights of one blind person are being denied, it will affect all of us, so we will not back away from a confrontation if it is necessary.

Ruth Whelan, President
National Federation of the Blind of Delaware

cc: Mrs. Wanda Pecher
Mr. Kirk Douglas
Senator Ruth Ann Minner
Senator William Torbert
Representative Thomas Carper
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, President
National Federation of the Blind