An Address Delivered by Marc Maurer
President, National Federation of the Blind
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Chicago, Illinois, July 7, 1988
Lord Bolingbroke once said that history is the teaching of philosophy by examples. Each historical figure is remembered for expressing in action a certain philosophy. The important moments in time have become significant because of actions taken by individuals which have represented specific points of view. However, those events which have helped shape the course of history have had more than one element. There are competing philosophieseach seeking ascendancy. The educator Lewis Mumford wrote that in human experience there are singular moments when the merest nudge can move mountains and change the course of history. These points in time are critical, because it is only then that the balances between compelling, competing ideasalternate philosophiescan be changed by concerted effort or individual acts of courage. At such times, as Andrew Jackson observed, one human being with courage makes a majority.
These critical points in history do not occur by happenstance. They must be created deliberately, and with strenuous effort. A philosophy which has guided a government or shaped the mental processes of a social order cannot be fundamentally altered easily or simply. Regardless of the seeming spontaneity and suddenness of an event, no philosophy which competes with the established norm can be fixed in the hearts and minds of a society without an accumulation of advance preparation. Only with such preconditioning can a new social balance be reached. But after the old order has been sufficiently challenged that a new equilibrium has almost been achieved, a small choice (a simple decisionor the lack of it) may determine the course of a life or the destiny of a people. Change ordinarily evolves over hundreds of years, but when a fundamental difference in the way we view the world comes quickly (even though necessarily with a considerable amount of advance preparation), the shift in our thinking is called revolution.
These principles apply not only to societies and governments but also to individuals and social movements as well. A change in direction often takes place not because the governing institutions have had a change of heart, but because the pressure brought to bear by individuals organized for collective action has added the necessary impetus. The critical point for the reordering of basic values is (regardless of appearances) never reached individually or spontaneously. The times are right for revolution only when individuals have organized to create the social climate which will permit it. Even when events follow one another with such rapidity that a fundamental alteration is made in a relatively short time, the causes can be found much earlier. Slavery was legal in the United States in 1861. Four years later, after a war had been fought, the Thirteenth Amendment (prohibiting slavery) had been ratified. However, the seeds of the change are discernible almost a hundred years earlier in the slavery provisions of the Constitution, adopted in 1787.
We express (each and every one of us) our philosophy in the actions of our daily lives. As a movement we declare our principles not only in the words we use but also in the steps we take to put those words into practice. The individual act contributes to the totality. The philosophy of a movement is a composite. It is the combined hopes and dreams of thousands of individualsbut it is more than that. It is a shared ambition, a collective determination.
The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind is simpleand (at least we are sometimes told) revolutionary. We believe that blind people, organized throughout the land, have the strength and purpose to change the course of historyat least their own history. We believe it is our responsibility to make it happenand we accept the challenge, with the full knowledge that the moving force is, and must necessarily be, the National Federation of the Blind.
The conviction that we the blind have not only the ability to determine our own future but also the right to do it--the right to be the principal architects of the programs and activities which affect our livesis the very essence of our movement. It is the central thread which has run through the Federation from the day of its beginning. When the National Federation of the Blind came into being in 1940 under the leadership of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the doctrine of self-determination was an unquestioned given. This same spirit of independence has been the prime factor in the building of the Federation from the forties to the present. The faith (in fact, the certainty) that our own actions can dramatically change the opportunities available to usa faith and a certainty so eloquently proclaimed in the speeches of Dr. Kenneth Jerniganoriginally brought us together, sustains us today as a movement, and will give us the strength we need for the battles of the future. Without this unshakable core of belief and knowledge, we would cease to be the powerful movement which we are and simply become one among the many who attempt in this way or that to assist the blind. As it is, we are uniquethe strongest force in the affairs of the blind today. We are the National Federation of the Blind.
Implied in the thesis that we are responsible for our own destiny is an alteration in the traditional role of the blind. All segments of societythe blind, agencies serving the blind, and the public as a wholeare involved; and when we have completed our work, each of us (and each component of the social order) will be different.
Some time ago I received a letter from a disabled graduate student who asked that I provide him with incidents involving disability and humor for a college research paper. His request said in part:
I am a graduate student at Arizona State University. At present I am involved in a research project and would appreciate your assistance. I am looking at the dynamics involved in humor and disability. I am seeking jokes, cartoons, or personal accounts about the experience of being disabled.
Part of my interest in humor and disability stems from the fact that I have been disabled for twelve years. During this time I have found numerous situations in which humor has turned possible disaster into something I could put behind me. I feel that I cannot be the only one to use humor in such a manner and am asking others to share their experiences with me.
Perhaps the writer of this letter does not believe that the blind are a minority. One phenomenon associated with many minority groups is that the individuals comprising those groups often become the objects of humor. There are ethnic stories and racial slurs. There are also jokes about the blind. However, the humor is not really humor, and it demeans both the teller and the listenerboth the majority and the minority. It is always a put-down, and often an excuse.
There are some who will argue that raising an objection to a little humor is overreacting. "Surely," they will say, "you would not want to be oversensitive. Those who are unable to find humor in a situation take themselves too seriously. Being able to laugh at yourself demonstrates a sense of inner security. Those who cannot do this are touchy, insecure, and without a sense of humor."
To which I say, nonsense! Let those who say that a little innocent fun at the expense of the blind is harmless (and perhaps even admirable) consider the program "Saturday Night Live." On March 5th, 1988, this comedy show carried a skit depicting a blind man being interviewed about his blindness on a television talk show. This ostensibly humorous routine contains one of the most dismal and dreary accounts of blindness I have ever heard. Blindness is the overwhelming characteristic in the man's life. Nothing else really matters. Notice that in the midst of the gloom and the twisted mockery there is yet the positive language of hopewhich only makes matters worse. In the Middle Ages it was considered amusing to decorate blind men's heads with donkey ears and make them fight at county fairs. The ears are absent, but the jeering and public ridicule are still with uson "Saturday Night Live." Here are excerpts from the broadcast. The dialogue begins with the talk show hostess:
'You've still had a fulfilling life, right?'
'Doing what,' the blind man replies, 'listening?
Listening to a sunset? Didn't they tell you, honey, I'm blind. Okay? Hello? Blind. Where are you? Can't see you.' 'I understand that. But given everything, isn't blindness just one more obstacle to overcome?'
'Yeah, right. I'll tell you what. Why don't you try it for about a day and a half?'
'I'm sure it's very challenging, but what about the positives? Your other senses are heightened, aren't they?'
'Oh yeah, yeah. They're great. I can smell a little better now. That really comes in handy on the subway every day. Not to mention the hearing, of course. Yeah. So let's figure this one out. Let's see, I can hear crickets chirping a little louder than you can, and you can see? Yeah, that sounds fair. That's a fair trade-off. Thanks, God!'
'You're a little bitter, Hal. No doubt about it. But you haven't let this stop you from leading a normal life.'
'Well, yeah, I'm pretty much dead in the water, I'd say. Mostly I just hang around the house and drink a lot of beer. That's about it.'
'You know something? You're a horrible man. Do you know that? A few weeks ago we had a blind horseshoe pitcher, and he was just wonderful. [Here the talk show hostess breaks into tears.] And then we had a blind sky diver, and he always managed to adapt, and he got out there in the world--'
'Well they're insane. Okay, honey? They've got no grip on reality. Guys, you're blind, okay? Calm down. Stop embarrassing the rest of us. I don't understand it. What do you people want from us, anyway? Do you want us to perform for you! Is that it? I'll tell you what. Why don't I just do a little dance for you! Blind man dancing. Okay, is that good? All right. I'm sorry. I'll think of something to say that's nice for blind people. Okay? Something like, okay, if you go blind, it's not so bad. You get a nice tax thing, a little deduction there, and oh yeah, you can look right at an eclipse. That's no problem.'
That is what millions of people heard and saw less than six months ago on "Saturday Night Live"; and far from being funny, it is disgusting; it is sick; and it is a straight-out lie. Blind people (we are told) get a tax deduction. We drink a lot of beerand sit at home. Even those of us who are successful (a success, it should be noted, which betokens insanity) have only been able to succeed by engaging in some sort of recreational pursuit. The responsibilities of citizenship, the participation in community activities, and the holding of a job are not even considered. If this is what passes for humor, forget it. If this is what we are supposed to cultivate to prove we are adjusting, we will remain unadjustedand write a new script. We don't control the air waves; but we recognize a lie when we meet one, and we also know enough to avoid being conned into being satisfied with second-class status on the grounds that we have a duty to demonstrate a so-called sense of humor. Again I say, forget it! We have put behind us the donkey ears of the Middle Ages and the donkey tails of "Saturday Night Live." We have thrown off the pathos and bitterness, the dejection and gloom, and the passive docility which have traditionally been expected of us. Instead, our mood is one of hope, accomplishment, and the joy of discovery. We know that with reasonable opportunity we can compete on terms of full equality in society, and we also know that with reasonable opportunity the sighted can come to accept us for what we are.
What is required is a redirection of public attitudes and beliefsand remarkable as it may seem, one of our principal areas of effort must be with the very governmental and private agencies which have been established to help us do the job. The sad truth is that the agencies often have worse attitudes about us than do the members of the general public. They portray us as helpless and inept. An issue of the Journal, a District of Columbia newspaper, tells of a teen-age girl who wanted to help the blind. Influenced perhaps by the attitudes of those who work at the agency where she volunteered, she decided to write a cookbook for the blind. Sometimes misconceptions about blindness are veiled and hidden, but not this time. This is the way the article describes her work:
Cooking hurts when you're blind. It is a vexing daily chore for America's eleven and one-half million blind and visually impaired populations, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. For many of them, it is a frustrating and defeating stumble around the kitchen for sustenance conducted dimly or in total darkness by people who long to be as self-sufficient as the rest of sighted America.
That's why seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Warshawsky plucks our heart strings with the recent publication of her Braille and large-print cookbooks for the blind.
The high-school student from Shaker Heights, Ohio, took two years to write and design her cookbook, only part of a busy schedule of study and volunteer work at her local Society for the Blind.
[The article continues with quotes from the student.] 'I couldn't get "The Miracle Worker" out of my mind,' said the high school senior, in a telephone interview. 'I saw the movie in the second grade, and it changed me. It made me see how we could help the blind by just taking some time to think about them, to work with them a little.
'So [the article continues] in ninth grade this idea comes to me,' she explained. 'I saw how the blind people I volunteered for had such a terrible time with food. It's so frustrating and dangerous in the kitchen for them; they solve the problem of eating by getting into a rut, sticking to apples, lunch meats, and sandwiches; and malnutrition is a real problem for many of them.
'But what really excited me,'she recalled, 'was all this new food that can be easily prepared, food that is nutritious and hot, the kind of foods blind people once hadwhen they could see.'
So the article says, and it is hard to know how to respond to such a messy mishmash of misinformation. Has this student really met blind people? What influences were brought to bear to teach her that the ordinary kitchen is for the blind a dangerous and frustrating place, a veritable minefield of terror and booby traps? How did she conclude that malnutrition is a serious problem for those of us who are blind? Did the local agency for the blind (reinforced by the American Foundation for the Blind) give her the impression that blind people stumble around the kitchen, feeling defeated? No matter how it came to be, the misunderstanding of blindness has now been learned. A book has been written containing the most blatant misrepresentations about blindness. Opportunities which might have been available will never beand it has all been done in the name of helping the blind. Instead of this half-baked collection of underdone ideas, we prefer reality and a more positive view of our prospects and possibilities. We reject this gloomy assessment, along with the bitterness and blight traditionally associated with blindness. Rather, our mood is one of hope, accomplishment, and the joy of discovery. We believe that we who are blind, organized throughout the land, have the strength and purpose to change the course of historyat least our own history. We believe it is our responsibility to make it happenand we accept the challenge, with the full knowledge that the moving force is, and must necessarily be, the National Federation of the Blind.
A company calling itself Safe-E-Scape of Tampa, Florida, writes to tell us that it has devised a set of burglar bars, which are most appropriate for the blind. These bars, which fit on the inside of the window, have a locking mechanism, which is opened without a key. In writing to me Safe-E-Scape says: "We feel that this product can be very important to blind people everywhere and of every economic and social level. We are, of course, a for-profit concern and are first seeking customers who (we feel) most need and will best accept our product."
That is what they say, and I ask you: Why are these burglar bars particularly appropriate for the blind? Why more for us than for others? Are we less able to protect our property than the ordinary sighted citizen? Is there a concerted effort by criminals to seek out the homes of the blind? As far as I know, the property of blind people is not more valuable than the property of the sighted. Or, is the reason for selling this product to the blind contained in the fact that there is no key? If the blind are more helpless than others, there is a need for greater protection. But the very helplessness of blind people contains inherent disadvantages. Those who are helpless may misplace a key (or worse still) may not be able to use it even if it is not lost. These notions are all contained in the advertisement for the special burglar bars for the blind.
And they are also contained in a bill considered by the House of Delegates of the 1988 Maryland General Assembly. The bill (which embodies the inherent assumption that the blind and other so- called "vulnerable groups" need special, segregated laws to protect them) was entitled "An Act Concerning Crimes Against the Elderly and Vulnerable." The language of this legislative measure leaves no doubt as to what is meant by those who are "vulnerable." It says, in part:
The maximum sentence allowed by law for commission of any crime of violence may be doubled for commission of that crime of violence against a person who is: (1) 60 years old or older; (2) Blind; (3) Paraplegic; or (4) Quadriplegic.
According to this bill, if you are blind, you are more vulnerable (in fact, twice as vulnerable) to crimes of violence than other people are. But our experience teaches us otherwise. Blindness does not mean that keyless burglar bars or extra legal protection is required. We are able to live in the world as it is. I am pleased to say that the bill for the vulnerable died in the Maryland legislature. The views of the Federation helped kill it, and we hope that the misunderstandings about blindness which it represented are also on the way to being killed.
In our organizational efforts and our daily activity our mood is one of hope, accomplishment, and the joy of discovery. We believe that we who are blind, organized throughout the land, have the strength and purpose to change the course of historyat least our own history. We believe it is our responsibility to make it happenand we accept the challenge, with the full knowledge that the moving force is, and must necessarily be, the National Federation of the Blind.
Traditionally those who seek to tell the story of blindness exaggerate and distort. They tell us that blindness alters the mental processesthat we who are blind are characterized by heightened sensitivity, extreme joy, and deep gloom. There is, for instance, the report some time back in People Magazine concerning a blind child who became so depressed while attending a school for the blind that he forgot how to smile. He had to be taught how to move his face.
However, as we know from our own personal experience, blindness and depression are not necessarily synonymous. Nor (as we can testify) does blindness carry with it some of the other peculiar results, weird side effects, and odd-ball associated characteristics which some have claimed. In the book And There Was Light by the blind author Jacques Lusseyran, we find this astonishing passage: "Shortly after I became blind, I felt indescribable relief, and happiness so great it almost made me laugh. Confidence and gratitude came as if a prayer had been answered. I found light and joy at the same moment, and I can say without hesitation that from that time on, light and joy have never been separated in my experience."
To which one is tempted to respond: Yuk! One blind person could not move his face; the other felt relief and happiness. The only way I know to reply to such fantasy is by calling on the poets. If memory serves me, James Russell Lowell said something to this effect:
Here comes Mr. Poe with his raven, Like Barnaby Rudge; Three-fifths of him genius, And two-fifths sheer fudge.
I would agree with Lowell, but I would change the ratio.
National Industries for the Blind, the agency which distributes millions of dollars worth of government contracts to sheltered workshops for the blind, has recommended that a special sandpaper-type material be attached to the floor in buildings where blind people walk. The blind (or so National Industries for the Blind apparently believes) cannot effectively get around by any other method and should follow the sandpaper to find their way.
Then, there is the opinion of a researcher into low vision, reprinted some time ago in an issue of the Architectural Record. As you might expect, the findings of this researcher are couched in terms of architectural barriers. However, the conclusion reached is, to say the least, astonishing.
One of the most difficult architectural barriers faced by partially sighted persons [the publication says] is locating a rest room in a public building and determining whether it is for men or for women. This problem can be easily solved by affixing panels to rest room doors in such a way that visually impaired persons can readily identify the facilities. Those on men's rest room doors should be an equilateral triangle with a vertex pointing upward, and those on women's rest room doors should be a circle. The edges of the triangle should be one foot long, as should be the diameter of the circle, and all panels should be one-quarter inch thick. The color and gray value of these geometric figures should be distinct from the color and gray value of the doors. [I interrupt to ask you to disregard the hidden Freudian pornographic symbolism contained in this treatise and to say that there are other (possibly even better) ways of determining which bathroom is which. But back to the article.]
If this were done [it continues] even the totally blind could touch the edge of a panel and easily determine whether it is straight or curved.
As I ponder this report, I confess to a certain curiosity. Are the geometric shapes intended to represent the people involved men triangular with straight edges, vertex pointing upward; and women circles with lots of curves? It is embarrassingly suggestive. Let me simply leave it at this: although it is often important to find a bathroom, most blind people seem to manage; and I believe it is a foolish and overdramatic exaggeration to describe the matter as one of the most important problems faced by the blind.
Shortly before last summer's National Federation of the Blind convention an item appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser which declared that there are characteristics of blindness which are advantageous in marriage. Here is the item in full:
Marriages among blind people last longer statistically than marriages among people with good eyesight. Or, so our Love and War man has been informed. He doesn't doubt it. It's common knowledge that the blind tend to be better lovers than the sighted. For two reasons: 1. It's quite comfortable for them to communicate with their hands. 2. And, they make love with inner visions of each other, which remain forever as they so desire.
So there you have it. You may have been under the impression that blind people were just like everybody else except that we can't see. Not so! We have the ability to communicate with our hands--and besides, there is that special inner vision which we conjure up when making love. When reading this piece of so-called news from the Honolulu Advertiser, I wondered where the reporter got his information. In my experience with thousands of blind people (some of whom have attended conventions of the National Federation of the Blind), I have reached the conclusion that the mating patterns of the blind do not vary substantially from those of the larger society. Let any reporter interested in field testing come to this gathering of blind people from throughout the nation. I suspect that the research will show that we have about the same experience (and the same attributes) as others--just as loving, just as bad, just as wonderful.
The Queen's University of Belfast has a program for teaching the blind about dentistry and oral hygiene. There is even a kit with models and tape recordings. The brochure has this to say about the course.
The Queen's University of Belfast Touch Tooth Kit has been developed by the Department of Pediatric and Preventive Dentistry within the University.
It is a complete dental health programme for the visually impaired.
It includes the smells and sounds of the dental surgery, large models for the student to feel what he is learning, and a complete set of Teachers' Notes to lead them through an up-to-date programme of dental health education.
Why anyone would want to experience the smells of dentistry without being compelled to do so is something I can't understand. Why a university should think that blind people need the sound of the dentist's drill, the spicy aroma of tooth decay, and the feel of a deteriorating molar is beyond comprehension. Perhaps the designers of this course have concluded that the psychological stresses for blind people have been too great. Consequently, they may have decided that the blind are abnormally interested in the bizarre. How else can the existence of this dental education program for the blind be explained? Why is the ordinary dental hygiene program not enough? Most of the blind people I know have teeth, and the toothbrush is not an unknown quantity. I venture to say that blind people are as aware of dental hygiene as the sighted are. If the message were not so destructive, it would be amusing. The basic assumption is that blindness necessarily means diminished ability, that we do not have the capacity to learn with the ordinary tools in the usual way. As with so much else, we reject this assessment. Rather, our mood is one of hope, accomplishment, and the joy of discovery. We believe that we who are blind, organized throughout the land, have the strength and purpose to change the course of historyat least our own history. We believe it is our responsibility to make it happenand we accept the challenge, with the full knowledge that the moving force is, and must necessarily be, the National Federation of the Blind.
Agencies for the blind have been established to provide services to blind people. However, the actions of the officials of some of these agencies frequently represent the most difficult problems that we face. It is unfortunately too often true that the agencies established to serve the blind create more problems than they solve--more than would have existed if they had never been there at all.
Last year a supervisor in the vending program of the Division of Eye Care of the Department of Human Services of the State of Maine sent a written directive to all blind vendors in the state expressing her opinion that the blind are not only incompetent but at least as immature as small children. Here, in part, is what she said:
It has come to my attention recently that some of you are not aware of the guidelines for operators regarding dress and hygiene. Although this is not a formal dress code, excessive deviations deemed by the program supervisor to be detrimental to the image which we want to convey of viable small business people in the community will be noted and may become part of a corrective action procedure. [I interrupt to say that this portion of the document seems clear enough. There is no formal dress code. However, if you do not follow the informal dress code, action will be taken against you. But back to the text.]
Jeans are permissible as long as they are in one piece, clean, and fit properly. [Again, I ask: Why were such instructions given? In the vending program, blind vendors are supposedly operators of independent small businesses. Is it proper for a state official to send a memorandum to licensed vendors telling them to wash their jeans? What does it mean if a state official thinks it is necessary to instruct an entire class of people that the pants they wear should be in one piece? These are the directions ordinarily reserved for small children or the mentally defective. However, this is not all that the state of Maine thinks should be addressed to independent blind vendors in its program.]
Clothes should, of course, [the document continues] be clean and complimentary. Beyond that, the clothes you are wearing should not be provocative in any way, by this I mean that there should not be a lot of bare skin showing (shoulders, low necklines, et cetera), fit should be good without being tight, proper undergarments should be worn, midriffs should not be bare. We are operating public businesses, not the bar at the country club.
I already mentioned [this official continues] that clean hair (washed several times each week) is essential. Hair style should be attractive and neat, whether long or short. This means that regular hair cuts are expected, no matter what style you've chosen. Facial hair is acceptable as long as beards and mustaches are trimmed and clean. Men should shave every morning unless they can demonstrate that their facial hair growth is not visible over longer periods.
In order to eliminate unpleasant body odors, [this supervisor's letter goes on] a shower or bath each day and the use of deodorants is imperative. Hands should be washed with soap and water frequently and fingernails must be clean. Most people need to wash their hair at least every other day, especially in this type of environment.
Remember that this state official is talking to people who are supposedly operating their own businesses. Although much of the substance of her directive is objectionable, the primary problem is in the tone and the spirit. Of course, one should wash one's hands and wear clean underwear, but the condescending tone of the order is intolerable. Is it any wonder that the blind of the state rose in condemnation of such statements? Within a few weeks the directive of the vending supervisor was rescinded. The reason for the change is not hard to find. The members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maine had taken concerted action and had said, "Enough!" The result is indicative of what is happening throughout the country. Our mood is one of hope, accomplishment, and the joy of discovery. We believe that we who are blind, organized throughout the land, have the strength and purpose to change the course of historyat least our own history. We believe it is our responsibility to make it happenand we accept the challenge, with the full knowledge that the moving force is, and must necessarily be, the National Federation of the Blind.
Sometimes there are incidents which underscore with dramatic force the urgency of the work we do and the magnitude of the task still left for us to accomplish. Recently a person flying from Baltimore to Indianapolis on USAir, found a paper attached to his ticket. It said "unaccompanied child." Written across the face of the document was the word "blind." There were spaces on the form to indicate who would be responsible for the traveler, both at the origin and destination of the flight. The person flying that day was the president of the National Federation of the Blind. I was that person. I had been classified automatically in the same category as small unaccompanied children.
Less than two months ago a totally blind woman, Shelia Marque, called to ask for the help of the Federation. She has been blind for less than a year. Her husband is a custodian at the First United Methodist Church in Chanute, Kansas. The Marques live in the country with their three children, and Mrs. Marque is a student, studying elementary education, at a nearby college. Although she has qualified for student teaching, there has been no placement. Faculty members at the university tell her that it is not possible to find a teacher willing to work with her.
Sometimes Mrs. Marque rides into town with her husband. While he performs custodial duties at the church, she explores the town and practices with her cane. When the travel is finished, she returns to the church to wait for her husband to complete his tasks. Mrs. Marque called because of what happened to her when she wanted to attend a funeral in the church. She was told by officials of the church that she should not be in the building because it was bad publicity to have a blind person on the grounds. She called us to ask if someone could do something about this discrimination. As she said, "I have been blind for less than a year, and all I have faced are setbacks." And where, one wonders, shall the blind worship if not at church? Where, indeed!
What a picture! The blind are ridiculed on "Saturday Night Live." We need separate burglar bars and cookbooks. There should be special laws to protect us. We forget how to smile and must be taught to move our facesor alternatively, we smile constantly and are surrounded by light. We must have sandpaper on the floor to guide us, and circles and triangles on the bathroom doors to intrigue and inform us. We must be told when to change our underwear and wash our hands. We need to be taught the smells of the dentist's office. We make good lovers because we know how to use our hands and have inner visions. And finally, we are not even permitted to come to the church. Is this a picture of gloom and despair? Not at all.
We are better off today than we have ever been before. We recognize the prejudices and misconceptions which we face, and we are organized to do something about them. The fact that we understand and catalog does not mean that we feel bitterness, defeat, or despair. When we identify these injustices and bring them into the open, the very fact of doing so begins the process of change and improvement. Yes, many of the governmental and private agencies are negative in their outlook and are still mired in the past, but others (a growing number) are working with us in progress and partnership. And increasingly throughout the country we are establishing training programs of our own to serve as models and touchstones.
Likewise, although the media and the public at large are still characterized by outworn notions and lack of information about the true nature of blindness, the progress toward enlightenment and change has been amazingly rapid, and it continues at an accelerating pace. More people today are with us than against us, and the balances are constantly shifting in our favor. Invariably when the press and the public understand, they are with us.
But we do not need to rely on logic and statistics to see what we are achieving. Look about you! Never before in the history of the world has such an assemblage as we have in this room tonight been brought together. In the presence of this determined, united multitude, can you doubt our ultimate success? In the final analysis our future will be what we determine it to bewhat we are willing to work, plan, and sacrifice to make it be. We can ask for no more, and we can accept no less.
There are critical times for a nation, a social order, an individual, or a movement times when a nudge or a single act can make the difference. But no such critical time has ever occurred without extensive advance preparation. The final act may precipitate the event, but the act cannot occur without all of the others which went before it. Which step is more importantthe first or the last? The answer, of course, is that neither is more important. Both must be taken for either to be significant or at all memorable. And there are also the steps betweenthe ones we are taking nowand have been taking through all of the years since the National Federation of the Blind was established. Changes in the social fabric can only be made after individual effort has created the climate and prepared the way, and in the complexity of present society individual effort is lost unless it is joined in concerted action. This is a lesson we have learned welland we have also learned the value of the first step, and patience, and the long view. And something more! We have come to understand the importance (indeed, the necessity) of knowing when to refuse to wait, when to reject patience, when to say no to delaythe courage and judgment to insist that freedom and opportunity must be now, not tomorrow! All of this comes with the maturing of a movement, and every movement must either mature or die. We have no intention of dying. Rather, our mood is one of hope, accomplishment, and the joy of discovery. We believe that we who are blind, organized throughout the land, have the strength and purpose to change the course of historyat least our own history. We believe it is our responsibility to make it happenand we accept the challenge, with the full knowledge that the moving force is, and must necessarily be, the National Federation of the Blind.
The philosophy of our movement is expressed in the individual actions of each of usand make no mistake! Act we will! Our prospects have never been as bright; our determination has never been as strong; and our goal has never been as clear. My brothers and my sisters, let us march together to the future!
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