National Federation of the Blind


by Marc Maurer

The past year has been a time of unprecedented activity for the National Federation of the Blind—the largest, most dynamic organization of blind people in the nation. Our aspirations have always been high, and our single-minded dedication to the achievement of full equality for the blind has always remained a constant driving force of our movement—which accounts for much of the progress we have made. The unity and harmony of the Federation are as strong as they have ever been, but there is also something else—we have expanded our horizons, diversified our endeavors, and accelerated our pace.

One of the key components in creating a climate of independence for the blind is education of the public to the abilities of blind people. A necessary part of the proper perception of blindness is the recognition that only those who have been democratically elected by the blind can rightfully speak for the blind. Because blind individuals have often been regarded as incompetent, recognition that we can (and indeed must) represent our own interests in the halls of Congress, in the offices of the executive branch, and in the private sector has been coming slowly; but in ever broadening arenas, it is coming.

On January 9, 1991, Federation members traveled to the White House at the invitation of America's First Lady, Barbara Bush. We spoke of the needs, hopes, and dreams of the nation's blind. We described our efforts in the Federation to achieve independence and self-sufficiency. During the course of our interchange, we presented to Mrs. Bush an autographed copy of the definitive history of the blind of the United States, Walking Alone and Marching Together. The White House is, of course, a symbol of freedom and the nucleus of our democratic process. It is the place where the chief executive of our nation lives and works—the place where the wishes of Americans are given focus and direction—the place where the actions are taken to generate a better society. We the blind, organized in our Federation, the largest and most vital movement of blind people in the nation, are a part of this focal point—we in this room are a part of our society and the America of the future—we of the National Federation of the Blind.

November 16, 1990, was the fiftieth birthday of the National Federation of the Blind. Shortly before this date Federation members asked Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski to sponsor a resolution recognizing the fifty years of progress we in the National Federation of the Blind have made. Congressman Kanjorski represents Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the Federation. He is proud of what we have done, and he was not only willing but pleased to sponsor such a resolution. However, he pointed out that at least a majority of the members of the House of Representatives and Senate must be listed as co-sponsors if the resolution was to be adopted. The congressional session had almost come to an end. There were those who felt that there was not sufficient time to enlist the support of an adequate number of senators and representatives. Within less than two weeks, a majority of the members of the House and Senate had joined as co-sponsors of Joint Resolution 667, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind and to designate November 16, 1990, as "National Federation of the Blind Day." On November 15, 1990, the day before our birthday, President Bush signed the proclamation commemorating the vital work of the Federation and our fifty years of progress toward independence for the blind. On the following day, Congressman Kanjorski traveled to the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore to present the Presidential Proclamation in a public ceremony honoring the Federation (along with a United States flag which had been flown over the Capitol that morning).

Our organization is a people's movement. While the ceremonies were occurring at the National Center for the Blind, similar celebrations of our fifty years of progress were being conducted with appropriate public recognition by chapters and affiliates of the Federation in every part of the nation. The message of the proclamation of the President of the United States is clear—the National Federation of the Blind deserves credit not only for our fifty years of achievement but also for the savvy we possess today—the ability to enlist support from the public, the press, and the members of Congress. Federation members know how to get things done. Our congressional resolution was introduced, passed, and signed by the President in less than six weeks.

One of the events occurring on November 16, 1990, was the grand opening of the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. In addition to the federal and state officials who participated in the celebration of our fiftieth anniversary, one Federationist who was present at our founding, and who has served the Federation for over five decades, assisted in the ribbon cutting. Hazel tenBroek, the first of our First Ladies, a Federationist with the faith to believe that the blind can create the destiny we want to achieve, remembered the days of our beginnings. Dr. tenBroek, she told us, could not have imagined that the Federation would have built so powerfully and well. But, she added, we have remained true to the hopes and beliefs of the founders of our movement, and although Dr. tenBroek might be astonished by the extent of the progress we have made and by the distance we have traveled toward our goal of first-class citizenship for the blind, he would also be immeasurably pleased. At the ceremonies inaugurating the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan—who has been the leader of our Federation for a quarter of a century, the man with the imagination to create the National Center for the Blind and the skill to build it, the innovator who established the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind—introduced the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Nell Carney; the Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Frank Kurt Cylke; the Attorney General of Maryland, Joseph Curran; and other state and federal officials.

The National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind is collecting in one place each commercially available computerized Braille embossing device and each piece of equipment or computer program to retrieve computerized information in speech which can be had anywhere in the world. Nowhere else is it possible to study all of these products at the same time and to compare their characteristics. Already dozens of employers and hundreds of other persons have visited the Center. We have answered volumes of mail and hundreds of phone requests for information. The vast majority of what we have done in the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind has been directed toward helping blind people to know what equipment or piece of software can be used most effectively so that the blind individual can perform at a certain job, can study a given discipline, or can acquire the skills necessary to advance in employment or enter a new career.

As Federationists know, we have been operating a low-interest loan program for the last seven years. This program provides resources to blind individuals who need them in order to enter a job or enhance their present employment. This year we have launched, in conjunction of the opening of the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, an additional effort—the Technology Assistance Loan Program. With the same low interest rate—3%—we are providing the means for blind people to obtain technology for work, for study, or for any other useful purpose. Those who wish to examine technology and consider its purchase can do so at the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. It belongs to us—the National Federation of the Blind.

At our fiftieth anniversary convention, held last year, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan announced that we would be creating a time capsule to be opened on the hundredth anniversary of the Federation in the year 2040. One of the significant features of our movement is the leadership seminars. We have been conducting them for almost twenty years. Our movement has evolved and developed through the seminars. Consequently, it is fitting that the New Year's seminar for the end of 1990 (known as the "Now and Then Seminar") packed and sealed the time capsule. Chapters and affiliates from throughout the Federation sent material to be placed in the capsule. Each member of the "Now and Then Seminar" put several items inside, and all participated in bolting the cover to the case.

As Federation members know, we have long been a strong proponent of Braille literacy. We have distributed our magazine, the Braille Monitor, in Braille from its beginning. We provide slates and styluses at a lower cost than anybody else in the country, and we are the largest publisher of Braille material (other than the Library of Congress) in the nation. We have established the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille; we have supported research and development efforts to encourage Braille teaching and reading. We sponsor the "Braille Readers Are Leaders" contest each year. We encouraged the appointment (and we participated in the work) of a committee to study the establishment of a national certification for teachers of the blind in the use of Braille, and we have recommended a set of standards to be used in measuring the ability of such educators to perform the functions of reading and writing Braille.

A few months ago we initiated significant additional action further to support and encourage literacy for the blind. In response to widespread demand, we designed and distributed a model bill entitled the "Blind Persons' Literacy Rights and Education Act," to be recommended for adoption by state legislatures. This proposal would amend the laws in each of the states so that students who want to learn Braille or whose parents want them to learn Braille will get the chance to do it. Even though this new measure was circulated less than six months ago, it has been adopted in a number of states, including South Carolina and Kansas.

Perhaps our most innovative formulation of this legislation is the act which was recently passed by the Texas legislature. This measure not only directs that school districts make Braille teaching available to blind students, but it goes further. Textbook publishers who wish to sell material in Texas must also publish it in Braille or provide information on computer disk so that anybody with the proper computer and Braille printer can produce a Braille copy. There are those who have said that this landmark legislation was originated, developed, introduced, and promoted by the agencies for the blind. It is ever thus. After years of battling for the right to read (often against heavy opposition from some of the professionals in the field), the organized blind movement decided that something had to be done. We formulated a plan and devised a strategy to solve an urgent problem. Shortly after the conclusion of this convention, the governor of Texas will sign our Braille literacy bill in a public ceremony. Now that the work has been completed and the legislation adopted, the agencies are trying to get the credit. But it won't work. Let those who believe that Braille is outmoded or anachronistic hear our voice. We shall not be denied Braille. For the blind there shall be literacy. And we are not prepared to wait interminably to get it. And when I say we, I mean the National Federation of the Blind!

Our efforts regarding Braille literacy have attracted national attention. This spring National Public Radio interviewed me regarding the importance of Braille. The news item appeared on the nationally broadcast program "Morning Edition." The position of the National Federation of the Blind that Braille should be available to all blind people who wish to learn it was opposed by a representative of an agency for the blind. Braille, he asserted, was not for everybody. It is (he said) a specialized skill suitable only for a limited number of tasks to be performed by a restricted group of individuals. Besides, he implied, it doesn't contribute very much to an individual's ability to perform, and modern technology has made it largely obsolete. To which we answer, nonsense!

On Sunday, May 12, 1991, the New York Times carried a front-page story entitled "How Best to Teach the Blind: A Growing Battle Over Braille," which described the struggle of the blind to achieve literacy. Sighted agency administrators, it said, are not always highly supportive of Braille. The blind, it continued, feel differently. And who do you suppose was featured prominently as the most outspoken proponent of Braille? You know the answer as well as I do. It is the National Federation of the Blind.

Immediately following the publication of the New York Times article, the Scripps Howard News Service invited the Federation to write one of the arguments for its weekly syndicated point-counterpoint column, distributed to over 350 newspapers throughout the United States. We said just what you would expect: that Braille is valuable, that new technology is helpful but that it is no replacement for Braille, that those who are partially blind should use remaining vision but should also have Braille as an option, that sighted children have eyes and ears to get information and blind children should have ears and fingers to do the same, that resistance to Braille is often the result of prejudice against blindness and the techniques used by the blind, and that Braille can be competently read at several hundred words a minute. The other half of the argument, drafted by a representative from an agency for the blind, was predictable.

Last April the National Federation of the Blind served as a consultant to the "Sally Jessy Raphael Show," a nationally televised interview broadcast. The producer called to get background information and material about blindness. An actor, Dana Elcar, who is one of the star performers on the "MacGyver" television show, is becoming blind. (He is, incidentally, participating in this convention.) The "Sally Jessy Raphael" program was planning to feature his life along with other examples of successful blind individuals, and we were asked to supply information. What can a blind person expect to do? Especially, what can a blind actor hope to accomplish? We provided to the producer of the "Sally Jessy Raphael" program quantities of information about successful blind people performing in a wide range of roles. As a result, a large segment of the feature on blindness portrayed one of our Federation leaders, Barbara Cheadle, president of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind, along with her blind son Charles. When our telephone number was displayed on the television screen and repeated on the air, the switchboard at the National Center for the Blind was almost immediately jammed with calls. We sent hundreds of packets of information to interested viewers, and we responded to literally thousands of questions.

One of the people who learned about the National Federation of the Blind from this interview program was Dana Elcar. Within a few days he visited the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, and we have worked closely together since that time. You will be hearing from him later in the week. Whether it is the teaching profession, the sales and marketing business, the manufacturing occupation, the lawyering trade, or an acting career, the blind can compete and do so successfully. We will find a way: that is the promise and the reality of the National Federation of the Blind.

For a quarter of a century blind people have sought employment in the Foreign Service of the United States. The State Department has steadfastly refused. At our convention in 1989 Congressman Gerry Sikorski of Minnesota came and shared the enthusiasm of the Federation for fairness and equality for all segments of society. He promised that he would lend his support to assist Federation members to gain the opportunity to enter the Foreign Service.

Last year I reported to you that the State Department had made its commitment to consider the blind for employment in Foreign Service jobs on equal terms with the sighted. No job had been offered, but the commitment had been made. Today, the circumstances are different. Rami Rabby, who is a long-time Federation leader and who is familiar with five different languages, is now a State Department Foreign Service employee. His assignment is in London. As Federationists know, we sometimes lose skirmishes; occasionally we lose battles. But we never lose wars—for the war is never over until we win it.

The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) came into being just about twenty-five years ago. From its very beginning NAC was the center of turmoil, political maneuvering, and discord. NAC's avowed purpose was to set high standards for work with the blind, but its real effort was directed at gaining control over blindness-related programs and services. There will be a full report on the status of NAC later during this convention. However, I am pleased to be able to tell you that events this year have evolved in such a way that the end of the NAC era appears to be close at hand.

We have continued to work toward solutions of the problems faced by blind employees in sheltered workshops. Workers at the Association for the Blind of Western New York, a sheltered shop in Buffalo, were receiving $2.51 an hour—substantially less than the minimum wage. We assisted with the formation of a labor union. The union, Local 200-C of the Service Employees International, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and its local president have become staunch allies in the struggle to obtain adequate pay and decent working conditions for blind workers.

The workshop has continued to pay as little as $2.51 an hour to the blind. In contract negotiations with the union, shop management has refused to alter this policy. Because of the refusal by management to bargain, a federal mediator has been appointed. This is the first time that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has ever been used in a sheltered workshop pay dispute. Two dollars fifty-one cents an hour is not a fair wage. It isn't legal for the sighted, and we intend to see that it is no longer acceptable for the blind. The prevailing wage in the area is higher than the federal minimum established by law, and we intend to see that blind workers get their fair share. We who are blind know that we must produce the goods, but when we do, we must also be paid. And, incidentally, the Buffalo workshop is one of those NAC-accredited agencies. NAC can no longer be used as a shield for mismanagement or exploitation of the blind. We don't need NAC. Especially when it supports the payment of wages at the level of $2.51 an hour!

In August of last year I addressed the entire delegate assembly of the New York State AFL-CIO. The invitation came at the request of the Service Employees International Union—the representative of the blind workers at the Buffalo workshop. From the results of that meeting I can assure you that the commitment of the New York State labor movement to join with us in supporting blind workers is strong. The union officials are not willing to accept management's claim that the blind are worth less than the minimum wage. They have pledged to negotiate for a favorable contract through the federal mediation process, and they intend to work with us in the Congress to change the law so that subminimum wages are completely eliminated.

James Grasso is employed by the Rehabilitation Institute in Mineola, New York. He, a blind worker, is paid far below the federal minimum wage. Most of the time he receives a little over $1 an hour. Often, although he is required to be present at the shop for a full forty-hour week, he is given a job to do only part of the time, and he is paid only for the time that he works. As a result, his paycheck for a full forty-hour week is sometimes as little as $20.

Mr. Grasso does various hand-packing jobs, such as putting plastic utensils into bags. Sighted workers in competitive industry in the area are paid wages between $5.00 and $7.00 an hour for comparable performance. We are helping Mr. Grasso challenge the workshop's decision to pay him as little as $20 for a forty-hour week.

On June 20, 1991, just a few days ago, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge of the United States Department of Labor. Mr. Grasso's representative is James Gashel, our Director of Governmental Affairs and one of the most knowledgeable individuals in the nation regarding labor statutes applicable to the blind. We will know the results shortly. One thing we know for certain. With only $20 a week Mr. Grasso is in no position to contest the determination to pay such miserable wages. An argument with management requires skill, guts, and money. There must also be the backing of the law. Until only a few years ago there was no right for a blind worker receiving subminimum wages to petition the Labor Department for a wage hearing. In 1986, at the request of the National Federation of the Blind, the law was changed. In 1991 Jim Grasso is using this law and being represented by the blind of the nation. We have already changed the law. Now we must change the practice. This, too, is why we have formed the National Federation of the Blind.

Last year I reported to you about the case involving the unlawful payment of subminimum wages to workers at the Southwest Lighthouse for the Blind in Lubbock, Texas. When the workers filed a fair wage petition with the Department of Labor, management declared bankruptcy. But the workshop was not really broke. In a settlement involving the reorganization of the Lighthouse, all of the workers who had received less than the minimum wage were to be paid back wages totaling approximately $30,000. This $30,000 settlement was intended to repay the blind employees for management's violations of fair wage requirements prior to October 15, 1989. Beginning on that date the Lighthouse was required to pay every worker the proper wage as determined in accordance with standards of the Department of Labor. Unless the Lighthouse could show that a subminimum wage payment was warranted, all workers would receive at least the federal minimum wage. However, despite its agreement to do so, despite the order of the bankruptcy court, despite the determination of the Department of Labor, the Lighthouse is not paying. We are pursuing the Southwest Lighthouse for the Blind once again under the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are determined that management shall pay fair wages, and we are prepared to settle for nothing less. We are the National Federation of the Blind.

Programs of the Social Security Administration directly affect a large number of blind persons in this country. Consequently, we have sought improvements in Social Security such as the opportunity to select the rehabilitation agency that will provide the services purchased with Social Security dollars or better work incentive provisions for those receiving benefits. Not all of the suggestions we have made have been implemented, but a number of them have.

Susan Parker, the Associate Commissioner for Disability at the Social Security Administration, attended our 1990 convention. At our urging she made a strong commitment to reform the rehabilitation segment of Social Security. The first steps in that effort are now being taken. The new program, called Project Network, will be operated directly by the Social Security Administration.

The opportunity for Social Security recipients to choose the agencies, the programs, and the services which they receive will be a significant part of Project Network. Not all of the elements of this experimental program have been worked out. Even so, it is clear that the goal we have set (to provide blind persons with greater opportunities in the choice of rehabilitation and employment assistance) is being achieved.

We are also involved in a substantial number of Social Security appeals. Brian Conneely is a blind person living in Connecticut. He runs a small vending facility that provides him with an income of less than $10,000 annually. Three years ago the Social Security Administration sent Brian a letter saying that he had received disability insurance benefits for several years during which he was not entitled to them. The overpayment, they said, was more than $26,000. He made the proper appeal, but nothing happened. Then he came to the National Federation of the Blind.

Through our Connecticut affiliate, with backup assistance from the National Office, we are helping. A hearing was held on June 10, 1991. The conclusions we have reached are that Brian has not been overpaid, that he does not owe the money, and that he will not have to pay it back. We feel confident that the decision of the Social Security Administration will affirm our understanding. What would have happened to Brian Conneely, and others like him, if there were no National Federation of the Blind? The question is more than rhetorical. You know the answer, and so do I. Those who are blind cannot afford to be without the National Federation of the Blind.

When Russell Jeffreys, from Cincinnati, Ohio, received a notice from the Social Security Administration telling him that he owed the government almost $94,000, he hired a lawyer. But the lawyer lost the case. Although it was late in the appeal process, Russell Jeffreys called upon the Federation. Earlier this year a hearing was held. The case has not been concluded, but the initial results are recorded: The amount of the overpayment has been reduced by over $90,000, and we hope to have the Social Security benefits reinstated as well.

In another case involving an incorrectly calculated Social Security payment, the Federation made the difference. Because of the amount of the claim in this case, I will not indicate the name. For several years the individual had not been receiving all of the Social Security benefits to which she was entitled. Because of our intervention on her behalf, this staunch Federationist is now being paid the correct amount each month. She has also received a check for the money that should have been paid. The amount is over $91,000.

In a vending case dealing with Dennis Franklin of Kentucky, we have been able to reinforce a vital principle for blind vendors. In 1987, the day he was leaving to attend the convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Dennis had been summarily dismissed as the manager of a Postal Service cafeteria which he had successfully operated for many years. He came to the convention anyway. We encouraged him to appeal. It is not legal for a state agency to remove a blind vendor without notice and the opportunity for a hearing. As a result of our efforts, the state agency has been ordered to pay Dennis Franklin $16,000, and I am pleased to tell you that he has received the money.

Tom Linker and Frank Rompal have filed an arbitration against the California Department of Rehabilitation. Both of them were refused the opportunity for promotion within the vending program. If the rules for advancement had been observed, at least one of them would probably have been selected for a better location. The arbitration is now over, and a settlement has been reached. Both Linker and Rompal have obtained promotions, and the California Department of Rehabilitation has learned of the determination of the Federation to challenge arbitrary and capricious decisions. It would not have happened without the National Federation of the Blind.

Helen Eckman operates a vending facility in Alaska. She has been a leader of the Federation for a number of years. Consequently, she is knowledgeable about matters dealing with blindness, and she is familiar with the methods to secure her rights. When the rehabilitation agency circulated a contract with a notice to all vendors that they must sign it or be expelled from the vending program, Helen was suspicious. When she read the document, her suspicion was confirmed. The state agency had decided without consulting the vendors that it would charge a set-aside fee of five percent of the proceeds from each vending location. The decision had been made without following the requirements of Alaska law or of federal rules. Any vendor who did not sign immediately, agency officials said, would be expelled from the program.

Helen Eckman called our National Office. Working with vendors in Alaska, we prepared for legal action. But the rehabilitation agency backed down. Vendors were not required to sign the contract, and Helen Eckman did not lose her vending location. We in the National Federation of the Blind can protect ourselves, and when we must, we will.

In Tennessee we are helping Larry Reynolds to commence litigation to alter court-imposed limitations placed upon him in visiting his six-year-old daughter. He is presently required to visit his daughter in the presence of her mother, who is sighted, or in the presence of another sighted person acceptable to the mother. Larry Reynolds is a responsible and caring father. If he were sighted, the visitation rights would have been handled differently. On the grounds of his blindness he is being denied the right to visit his six-year-old daughter alone. This court-adopted policy is demeaning to the blind—to all of us. It says that the sighted are competent but that the blind are not. We must (it says) be supervised when visiting our own children. Such a pernicious belief about the blind cannot be left unchallenged. We have as much right to be with our children as anybody else, and we insist that we be accorded the same rights as others. Family relationships are among the most fundamental in our society. The blind will not be without them. This is another reason for the National Federation of the Blind.

Last year I reported that we were assisting Dave Schuh with an appeal of his dismissal as a supervisory accountant at a Pillsbury plant in Denison, Texas. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in the United States Department of Labor, has conducted an investigation of the matter. The OFCCP findings support our conclusion that Dave Schuh was fired because he is blind.

Pillsbury officials were asked to try to reach a reconciliation. They offered Dave Schuh a job as a receptionist in the accounting office. He refused. They offered to pay him $11,000 if he would agree never again to seek employment with the Pillsbury company. He refused once more. During all of his time with Pillsbury Dave Schuh's work performance was among the best. The case is now in the hands of the Department of Labor's attorneys for enforcement. This means that, unless Pillsbury reverses the position it has taken, the company could be prohibited from receiving federal contracts for at least three years. The formal action being taken against Pillsbury (known as debarment proceedings) should begin within a few months. Dave Schuh is at this convention. He has moved to Wausau, Wisconsin, where he is president of our Central Wisconsin Chapter. His experience with Pillsbury has taught him a valuable lesson. It is necessary to have friends, and some of the toughest allies are the members of the National Federation of the Blind.

Mary Jo Edwards is a blind nurse living in Illinois. She studied hard to learn the skills of nursing, and she has demonstrated competence to perform the tasks required. Nevertheless, when she attempted to get her nursing license, she was told that she could not have it because she is blind. Mary Jo Edwards came to the National Federation of the Blind, and we helped her find a lawyer, and we supplied background information and materials. The case has now been settled, and Mary Jo Edwards has entered the nursing profession. Blind people shall not be prevented from working in the medical profession. This is true because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind.

One of our most important objectives is to educate the public about the abilities and capacities of the blind. In the past year we have been at least as effective in disseminating a positive image of blindness as we have ever been. We have shipped from the National Center for the Blind almost one and three-quarter million items. Our initiatives have attracted visitors from locations all over the globe: Canada, Germany, England, Pakistan, Denmark, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and the Caribbean. We have distributed our materials to countries all over the world: Bermuda, the Philippines, Spain, Japan, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, countries in Africa, countries in Asia, and elsewhere. Dr. Jernigan has continued to serve as the president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. During the past year he has traveled to Jamaica, Uruguay, Argentina, and Canada to represent our interests and exchange information. Although it is vital for us to address the problems of the blind in our own country, we must also work in partnership with the blind of other lands. If we do not, we will face mistaken attitudes about the blind as they are imported from abroad. But our increasing influence in affairs of the blind throughout the world has begun the process of initiating change.

Reaching more than 30,000 blind individuals in the United States and forty-three foreign countries, our magazine, the Braille Monitor, remains the most influential and widely circulated publication in the field of work with the blind. We have also continued the distribution of our other publications: Future Reflections, our magazine for parents and educators of blind children, now being circulated to more than 10,000 people; the Voice of the Diabetic, our journal for blind diabetics, being sent to more than 35,000 individuals and institutions; our Job Opportunities for the Blind Bulletins and related materials, of which we have distributed over 30,000; and the newsletters of our chapters, affiliates, and divisions. With the cassettes that we produce, the American Bar Association Journal, Presidential Releases, and other specialized items—we have become a major producer of recorded material. We have duplicated approximately 50,000 tape recordings since our last convention.

Our national headquarters, the National Center for the Blind, continues to be one of the most functional and impressive facilities of its kind in the world. We have placed approximately three miles of additional shelving on the second floor, and we are constructing additional office space and installing new equipment. The front entrance of our building is being redesigned to make it accessible for wheelchair users and to bring it in line with the standards of the National Center for the Blind.

The majority of our work has always been accomplished by volunteers. This is one of the elements that has made us the unstoppable movement we are. Whenever we need additional hands, we can call upon ourselves, the members. My wife Patricia is an example of what I mean. She spends almost full time volunteering her services at the National Center for the Blind. But of course, there are tens of thousands of others: the newsletter editors, the candy sellers, the JOB recruiters, the public relations coordinators, the writers, the drivers, the telephone callers—the people of the movement. We work together because we care for one another and for the goal we are striving to achieve.

There are some in the blindness field—fortunately a diminishing number—who still fail to comprehend what we are as a movement. Our critics at one end of the spectrum say that we are unthinking automatons and that we are radical and militant. Those at the other end of the spectrum say that we are overly conservative and reactionary—even, if you please, Neanderthal. Superficially this hostility seems out of proportion to reality. But of course, the reason is easy to understand. We in the Federation have something they don't—something they can't believe exists. We believe with all of our being that the blind are capable of equality, and we are willing to give of ourselves and our resources to make it come true. We are not only willing but glad to accept self-discipline and sacrifice to achieve the objective. Our cause is as noble as the will to be free. It is as just as the demand for first-class citizenship—and nothing on Earth can keep us from it. Let those who would stop us say what they will and call us what they please. We will not falter or turn back.

Within the past year I have traveled throughout the Federation and worked and dreamed with thousands of you the members. I have represented the blind of America in the White House, and I have shared a victory celebration supper of fried chicken and beans with you, my fellow Federationists, in the workshop in Buffalo, New York. As I have gone throughout the movement, I have felt a sense of authentic inner security and peace of mind. Of course, there are troubles aplenty, but we can solve them. There is a tacit understanding in the Federation. We accept individual responsibility for our own freedom, and we believe in our capacity to achieve it. The deep and abiding faith that we have in the future stems from our willingness to assist one another when the need is great and to join in the triumph of success. Those who have not been a part of this movement, who have not shared the commitment and the passion of bringing genuine togetherness to the blind, cannot believe that the spirit of our movement is real. But it is, and it makes us what we are. With such belief, such dedication, such mutual love and trust, and such determination, we will make our future what we want it to be. We are moving at an accelerating pace, and the realization of our dream for freedom and independence is within our reach. We the blind, organized in our tens of thousands, will gain our objectives through our own organization, the National Federation of the Blind. Our past declares it; our present proclaims it; and our future demands it! This is our pledge to each other—and this is my report to you for 1991.

Back to Top
Updated: March 14, 2002