National Federation of the Blind

New Orleans, Louisiana, July 2, 1997

by Marc Maurer

PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer makes the 1997 Presidential Report

From the time of the beginning of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940, there have been a spirit of cooperation, a joint commitment, and a mutual understanding that comprise the fundamental essence of the organized blind movement. This essence is as much a part of the National Federation of the Blind today as it has ever been. Although the functioning and diversity of our organization have expanded so greatly that our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, would be astonished, he would still know us for what we are—the blind, organized for collective action, working together for greater opportunity, helping each other achieve the dreams of independence. We are the blind from all parts of the nation and all segments of society. Regardless of ethnic background, economic circumstance, educational achievement, or position in business or government, we come together as an indivisible, united body. We come as the organized blind movement.

During the past twelve months growing recognition has been given to the vital work of the National Federation of the Blind, and some of this recognition has been reported in unusual places. Consider, for example, the Harlequin Romance. Never regarded as great literature, but read by millions—these little books are distributed through drug stores, grocery stores, newsstands, and elsewhere. One of them, entitled For Your Eyes Only, includes a blind heroine, who (during the course of the action) visits the National Center for the Blind, consults with the National Federation of the Blind, espouses Federation ideas and philosophy, and demonstrates that a blind person with proper training and opportunity can compete on terms of equality, can outwit the villain, and can acquit herself not only in a satisfactory manner, but with sparkle, dash, and mystery in the romantic episodes as well. The writers of this novel visited the National Center for the Blind and studied extensively our literature about blindness. Their conclusion is clear. Blindness is only a characteristic. Blind people and blind characters in books are interesting because of what they are and what they do—not because they are blind.

One of our most exciting new programs, the Newsline for the Blind Network, has continued to expand. With thirty-two local service centers already operational and a number promised for the immediate future, this service is providing a larger volume of information to blind people than has ever before been available in the history of the world. Using nothing more complex than a touch-tone telephone, any blind person within the local calling area of a local service center can read the New York Times, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and (in many instances) the local newspaper. There are local service centers in many cities, both within the United States and now in Canada. Those in operation have been established in Baton Rouge; Minneapolis; Denver; Baltimore; Boise; Sacramento; Des Moines; Davenport; Cedar Rapids; Sioux City; Houston; Austin; San Antonio; Camden, New Jersey; Chattanooga; Jackson, Mississippi; Oklahoma City; Tulsa; Salt Lake City; Toronto, Canada; and the following cities in Illinois: Bloomington, Champaign, Coal Valley, Edwardsville, Naperville, Peoria, Quincy, Rockford, Springfield, Carterville, and two in Chicago.

The idea of transmitting information by telephone is not new. However, the computerized handling of a large volume of data so that it can be presented in manageable units is revolutionary. What this technology suggests is an alteration of patterns on at least two levels. The blind have always been at a disadvantage in obtaining information. With the advent of this national network much of that disadvantage is erased, and for some purposes the balance shifts. How many sighted people can, before seven a.m., have access to at least three of the nation's major newspapers?

The Newsline for the Blind Network offers other opportunities. One of the most innovative programs currently being tested by the National Federation of the Blind is Jobline. Jobline is a telephone access system that enables each user to search for employment within a specified geographic area. Those looking for work can indicate the kinds of jobs they seek, the compensation level, and other characteristics. Jobline™ has the potential for managing substantial databases such as America's Job Bank and statewide job information services. Our goal is to have this job access information system established throughout the United States. One state has already indicated that it wishes to install the Jobline service, and a number of others are considering doing so.

This service will be of great benefit to the blind, but it can also be used by the sighted. Those who are seeking work but cannot get to a state employment office during the day, those who wish to search the Internet for job listings but don't have a computer, and those who (for whatever reason) want to hunt work at four in the morning will all be able to use Jobline—a product designed, developed, and implemented by us, by you and me, by the National Federation of the Blind.

Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who is President Emeritus of the National Federation of the Blind, continues to serve as our representative in international programs dealing with blindness. In his capacity as president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, Dr. Jernigan led the North America delegation to the fourth General Assembly of the World Blind Union in Toronto, Canada, last August. Dr. Jernigan was asked to deliver the keynote address at the opening assembly of the convention. Dr. Euclid Herie, who was at that convention elected president of the World Blind Union and who is president of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, presented Dr. Jernigan to the assembled delegates. Among other dignitaries on the platform was the governor general of Canada, Rom‚o LeBlanc, who stayed to hear Dr. Jernigan's powerful message to the blind of the world.

At the General Assembly the constitution of the World Blind Union was amended to permit additional delegates to represent countries with large populations. The representation from the United States increased from six delegates to ten. Dr. Fred Schroeder, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, and I were two of the additional delegates elected to represent the blind of this country.

Shortly after the close of the World Blind Union convention, Dr. Jernigan was invited to be the keynote speaker at the upcoming convention of the International Conference on the Education of the Visually Handicapped, the world body concerned with the education of the blind. Dr. Jernigan will be traveling to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to deliver this keynote address later this month. This will be the first time that one individual has ever been asked in the same quadrennium to give the keynote addresses to both world organizations concerned with blindness.

Within the World Blind Union Dr. Jernigan now chairs the committee which has the responsibility of overseeing the restoration and refurbishment of the Louis Braille birthplace at Coupvray, France. The Louis Braille birthplace had deteriorated so that its roof and other structural elements needed substantial repair. Dr. Jernigan traveled to Coupvray in 1994 to meet with the mayor, Monsieur Benz, and with Marcel Herb, the president of the French Federation of the Blind, to offer assistance from the blind of the United States and to plan for the restoration.

In February, 1997, the work of restoration had been completed, and it was time for the opening of the Louis Braille birthplace. I traveled to France and stood in the yard where Louis Braille played. I examined the workbench where the accident happened that blinded him at the age of three. I sat on the bench that was part of the living quarters of the Braille family, and I participated in the opening ceremonies with television cameras rolling and representatives of the blind from throughout the world present. During that ceremony the National Federation of the Blind presented a contribution of $10,000 to complete the payment for the restoration of the Louis Braille home and memorial.

As I stood in the chilly February sunshine in the yard of that humble home which symbolizes so much to the blind of the world, I experienced not only gratitude for the work which Louis Braille did but also a sense of pride that I could bring from the blind of the United States a tangible expression of our feelings. More than that I felt honored that I could be there representing you, that I could say to the world at that historic moment that the National Federation of the Blind knows the role it must play and is prepared to meet the responsibility. We pay our debts; we live our philosophy; and we hold our heads high.

Last fall Dr. Jernigan was invited to make a presentation to the annual training conference sponsored by the General Council of Industries for the Blind and National Industries for the Blind in Kansas City. It is of utmost importance to the future of programs for the blind that the officials who direct those programs cooperate with the organized blind consumers and that we cooperate with them to enhance the services provided. Disharmony and gratuitous belligerence create instability and a climate in which separate programs for the blind are in danger. That is the message Dr. Jernigan carried to the General Council of Industries for the Blind and National Industries for the Blind.

This past May the work that Dr. Jernigan has done within the organized blind movement was given tangible recognition by MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. Dr. Jernigan was granted an honorary doctoral degree by the college. Dr. Jernigan, who has served as a leader of the National Federation of the Blind for almost half a century, has brought to the blind, both within our country and abroad, inspiration and hope. What exists today could not have been built without him. This honorary doctorate confirms once more the recognition of our progress by those in the broader community. We in the Federation are always pleased when a blind person receives recognition for outstanding accomplishment. But in this case we are especially pleased, for Dr. Jernigan is one of us—inseparable from the National Federation of the Blind.

In 1991 the National Federation of the Blind brought together, for the first time, at the National Center for the Blind, chief executives of the major manufacturers of technology for the blind, leaders of consumer groups in the field of blindness, and the heads of the principal agencies serving the blind in the United States and Canada. This gathering, known as the US/Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind, changed the direction and emphasis in programming for the blind on this continent. Communication and joint planning among entities dealing with blindness became much more likely because of the interaction that occurred in that conference.

A second US/Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind was called in 1993, and last fall the third US/Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind was hosted by the National Federation of the Blind. The difficult problems of creating usable access technology for the blind were explored by the participants. The discussions which followed formal presentations stimulated imagination and encouraged development. Technology for the blind, as is true of technology for the sighted, is evolving at such a rate that new applications may be overlooked unless there is a meaningful forum to permit the free exchange of ideas. A full report of the proceedings is contained in the January, 1997, issue of the Braille Monitor.

Through our Diabetes Action Network, the Division of the National Federation of the Blind concerned with the problems of blind diabetics, we have for over a decade been publishing the magazine, Voice of the Diabetic. This is the most widely circulated magazine dealing with blindness in the United States, with a distribution of approximately 200,000 copies per quarter. The information contained in the Voice of the Diabetic is not readily available anywhere else. Interwoven with the positive philosophy of the Federation are articles offering advice and suggestions regarding how a blind person can best manage the problems of diabetes. Much of the information contained in the magazine is of continuing use. Selected articles, including reference material of ongoing worth, are now being collected in a volume entitled Serving Individuals with Diabetes Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Resource Guide for Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors. This publication is being produced in cooperation with the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University under the sponsorship of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind was opened on November 16, 1990, as part of the commemoration of our fiftieth birthday. It houses the most extensive collection of technology for the blind in the world, including at least one of every device of which we are aware that produces information from computers in either speech or Braille. The commitment we made at the opening of the Center was to maintain this collection of technology and to acquire all additional useful machines for the blind that become available. During the past year we have added three new Braille embossers and obtained or upgraded three Braille-translation software packages, one DOS-based screen-reading program, seven screen-review programs for Windows, one screen-review program for the Windows NT operating system, four refreshable Braille displays, two laptop computers with built-in refreshable Braille displays, two stand-alone reading machines, two PC-based reading systems, and six note-takers. We have also acquired a computer program which produces tactile drawings through a Braille embosser. In addition, we have upgraded a number of our computers and purchased eight new ones in the Pentium class.

Much of the information provided by computer is gathered through the Internet. In the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind we have created seven Internet work stations, which can be used to demonstrate methods for obtaining information from across the world in speech, in Braille, or in refreshable Braille.

Two years ago we inaugurated the Information Access Technology Training program. We have begun teaching week-long seminars in the operation of all this diversified equipment. Sponsored by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, this program offers personnel from state vocational rehabilitation agencies background and information about access technology for the blind and the opportunity for hands-on experience in its use. In early 1997 still another training program was initiated, the Comprehensive Braille Access Technology Training program. This program combines training sessions at the National Center for the Blind in the operation of Braille access technology with instruction at rehabilitation centers in Braille advocacy and the use of the Braille code.

Nowhere else in the world is there an array of equipment collected in one place adequate to make such classes possible. These training programs could not occur without the National Federation of the Blind.

Last summer, only a few weeks after the close of our 1996 National Convention, Congress took decisive action to amend the Copyright Act. The new provisions relating to blindness, which became effective in September, were drafted jointly by the National Federation of the Blind and the Association of American Publishers. At our request Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island sponsored the legislation.

The new law authorizes nonprofit organizations or government agencies to reproduce books and other material in special formats that can be used by the blind. No permission is required from the copyright holder. Braille, voice recording, or electronic formats may be used. The role of the National Federation of the Blind in negotiating the agreement with the Association of American Publishers and in taking the result to Congress will make a lasting positive difference in the lives of the blind of our nation, and similar legislation has been adopted in Canada and is currently being considered in Italy and elsewhere.

We in the National Federation of the Blind are aware that a crisis exists in Braille literacy. Several years ago we drafted model Braille bills and initiated the effort to get them adopted in the states. These bills say that blind children should be taught Braille and that the school districts should make Braille materials available to their students who are blind. Although there have been a number of problems in getting these statutes enforced, they are presently on the books in twenty-eight states.

Although in many states the law says that blind children should have the opportunity to learn Braille in school, certain educators have argued that this provision of state law cannot be implemented because it is inconsistent with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). We responded to this argument by asking Congress to amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to include provisions favoring the use of Braille. On June 4, 1997, less than a month ago, the amended Individuals with Disabilities Education Act became law. The statute includes the most sweeping declaration ever made in favor of Braille by any legislative body in the world. Braille services and instruction are to become a part of the education plan for every blind child, unless all of the planning team (including the parents) agree that Braille should be excluded. The preference for Braille is now a part of the law, and the reason is the National Federation of the Blind.

In most instances officials in agencies for the blind are thoroughly aware that blind individuals (clients, employees, or otherwise) are guaranteed the right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of thought. Most agencies for the blind have a high degree of respect for the blind people with whom they come in contact. And in most cases we of the National Federation of the Blind are able to work in harmony and partnership with them.

But this is not always the case. As I reported last year, rehabilitation officials in Missouri have declared that counselors and others at the agency may not provide any information to blind clients about the National Federation of the Blind, may not indicate to clients whether they (that is, the agency employees) are members of the National Federation of the Blind, and may not encourage blind clients to participate in any activity of the National Federation of the Blind—no matter how valuable it might be. Can blind clients be encouraged to seek business or technology loans from the National Federation of the Blind? Can blind students be encouraged to participate in the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest? Can blind clients be informed of the convention of the National Federation of the Blind—this meeting, where so much information and inspiration are to be found? The answer from the Missouri agency is a resounding no. As I said to you on our opening day last year, we are not prepared to take this without a fight. In fact, we are not prepared to take it at all. Our fundamental constitutional and human rights and our dignity as human beings are at stake. We who are blind have a right to freedom of association, freedom of speech, and freedom of thought—and we intend to exercise our rights—all of them.

Our training center in Colorado, the Colorado Center for the Blind, has been providing orientation and adjustment services to blind clients from Missouri, and the Missouri rehabilitation agency has been paying the fees. At the very same time that the Missouri agency for the blind has been asking us to provide orientation and adjustment services through our Colorado center, it has also been criticizing our program because it is part of the Federation. The Missouri agency officials say that in our own program we may not favor NFB canes because they are NFB canes. This spring the head of the Missouri agency informed our Colorado Center for the Blind that the contract to provide services is canceled because in April of this year one of the clients being trained in Colorado voluntarily participated in a bingo game operated by the Denver chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. Three years ago, in 1994, the Missouri agency personnel agreed that this kind of participation would help to build the confidence and business skills of a blind client from Missouri, and they encouraged participation in that same identical bingo game. Today, because Missouri rehabilitation officials do not like the National Federation of the Blind, they have canceled the contract and said that they are refusing to pay for training services for the blind of Missouri.

The lawsuit that we promised last year has commenced. The trial is scheduled to occur early in 1998. In the meantime I have this to say to the officials of the Missouri rehabilitation agency: We are not prepared to cringe or fawn or crawl for your favor. There are some things your money will buy, but one thing it can never buy is our acquiescence in your misuse of power. We will not give up our freedom; we will not abandon our philosophy; we will not disband the Federation in Missouri; and we are not prepared to desert the blind of Missouri who are not yet part of the Federation simply because they are now, or might become, clients of the Missouri rehabilitation program. You have positions of influence, and you have on your side tax dollars to spend, and some of those tax dollars have been collected from those very blind persons you would deny the right to use them; but we are not helpless, and we will not let you get away with it. We will meet you in the courts.

Each year tens of thousands of Americans take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) in order to enter law school. Ross Kaplan, Latonya Phipps, and Shannon Dillon are blind applicants who sought to take the Law School Admissions Test during the fall and winter of 1996. They wanted an opportunity to compete on terms of equality with other test applicants. However, the Law School Admissions Council, the entity that administers the test, denied them this basic right.

Ross Kaplan and Latonya Phipps asked to be allowed to use their own readers. They wanted, they told the Law School Admissions Council, to concentrate on taking this difficult examination rather than teaching a total stranger to read effectively. But the Council administrators said no and insisted that Latonya Phipps and Ross Kaplan use readers provided by the administrators. One of the assigned readers could barely read English, and the other wasn't much better. As you might imagine, the test scores were low. The artificial conditions that were imposed upon these applicants prevented them from demonstrating their real abilities and hurt their chances to be admitted to the best schools.

Shannon Dillon took her examination in Braille. She asked for permission to use her Braille writer to take notes—not an unusual request for a blind person. How else would a literate blind person take her notes? However, permission was denied.

By refusing to allow blind students to use Braille writers and readers of their own choosing, the Law School Admissions Council has violated the law. We tried to talk with them, but they would not listen. Consequently, we have no choice but to act. All blind students taking tests anywhere in this country must be able to do so on terms of equality with their sighted peers. A lawsuit has been filed in federal court, and we intend to win.

Several years ago we assisted Carol Ducote, of Brunswick, Georgia, when her employer, the Glenn County School District, tried to force her to resign from a position as assistant principal because she is blind. With our help Carol Ducote kept her job; but the school district tried again, this time with a different approach. District officials decided to remove Carol Ducote from her employment by saying they were eliminating her position.

We didn't let them throw her out the first time, and we were not prepared for them to do it the second time. We brought suit against the Glenn County School District, and a settlement has been reached. Carol Ducote is still employed as an assistant principal, and the school district paid her attorneys' fees—$40,000 in all. I believe Carol Ducote is in this room today.

Mary Shandrow, one of our blind members living in Colorado, wants to become a teacher. To gain experience working with children, she applied for a job as a day-care worker at Adventures in Learning in Denver. When officials at the day-care center learned that Mary Shandrow is blind, they said that there was no job. However, in their letters of explanation, they admitted that there was employment but that they would not consider Mary Shandrow for it because they thought blindness made her a safety risk. How often have we heard that safety is the reason to deny us jobs, entrance to public places, and sometimes even the right to care for our own children. It is a lie! Blindness does not denote hazardous behavior or a safety risk. We filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, and a settlement has been reached. Adventures in Learning must take training to understand the real abilities of the blind and must pay Mary Shandrow the salary she would have earned on the job.

Eugene Schwerdtfeger is a blind warehouse worker living in Northern New Jersey. Although he had worked for an auto parts company for a number of years, when the company was sold to a new owner, he was dismissed from employment because he is blind. With the help of the National Federation of the Blind, he brought suit in the federal district court. Company officials argued that he could not claim discrimination on the basis of blindness because he had applied for Social Security disability benefits. If he were disabled enough to receive Social Security benefits, they said, he could not say that he was able to work. The decision of the court agreed with Eugene Schwerdtfeger. The judge said that, although he had applied for Social Security disability benefits, he had written on the application that he intended to continue to work. The case has now been settled; a check has been written to Eugene Schwerdtfeger for $57,500.

For more than a decade the Department of Veterans Affairs has been trying to get rid of a blind vendor, Dennis Groshel, at the St. Cloud, Minnesota, Medical Center. First the Department argued that the Randolph-Sheppard Act, which authorizes the establishment of the blind vending program on all federal property, does not apply to veterans facilities. But the federal judges disagreed. Then the Department of Veterans Affairs established a competing vending facility to drive Dennis Groshel out of business. With our help he fought back. Once again the federal judges heard our position and spoke with force to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit directed the Department to cease (as the court said) the scorched-earth policy against full compliance with federal law. Dennis Groshel will continue to operate the vending facility at the St. Cloud Medical Center free from unlawful competition. This case has national implications for vending facilities operated on property of the Department of Veterans Affairs. And make no mistake, the National Federation of the Blind has, from the very beginning and until this day, done the major part of the work and paid the major part of the costs.

In another case the Department of Veterans Affairs built a facility in Maryland without including space for a licensed blind vendor. The Department wanted to run its own vending operation with no blind vendors involved. This decision, of course, is a violation of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and we assisted with a federal arbitration. The arbitration decision said that the Randolph-Sheppard Act applied and that a facility for a blind vendor must be established. The Department of Veterans Affairs appealed. In a decision that tortures the plain meaning of the law, a federal judge said that the Randolph-Sheppard Act applies to veterans facilities, but that when federal arbitration panels find a violation of the Act, they have no authority to tell a federal agency what it must do to correct the violation. Instead, the Department of Veterans Affairs could make up its own mind about how it would respond to the decision that the Randolph-Sheppard Act had been violated. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred.

We are asking the United States Supreme Court to overturn the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. If the Fourth Circuit's ruling is not reversed, any federal agency found in violation of the Randolph-Sheppard Act would be allowed to decide for itself how it will behave regarding the Randolph-Sheppard program.

It is worth noting that our petition to the Supreme Court is being supported by more than a dozen state agencies for the blind and a number of other groups. If the Supreme Court takes the case, it will be the first time it will have reviewed the Randolph-Sheppard Act. The stakes are high, but the cause for all blind people is worth it. This is why the National Federation of the Blind is taking the matter to the chambers of the highest court in the land.

The National Center for the Blind, the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind, continues to be a first-quality facility, which is both elegant and functional. We have installed in the dining room a hardwood floor of red oak trimmed with walnut that has been finished with five coats of high-gloss polyurethane. The tables in the dining room have been finished to match the decor, and additional lighting has been added. A first-class sound system has been installed, and we are currently in the final stages of upgrading the heat and ventilation system with roof-mounted air conditioning units.

We have installed a new telephone system at the National Center for the Blind. The volume of telephone traffic, like much of the rest of our operation, has dramatically increased. It is not uncommon to have as many as seven or eight calls coming into the Center at one time. Consequently, part of the new telephone system is an automatic telephone-answering machine that asks callers to hold for the receptionist.

With the increased activity at the National Center for the Blind, we find ourselves with fewer bedrooms than is sometimes desirable. Consequently, on the second floor of the central courtyard building, we are constructing six new bedrooms. On the fourth floor of the main building, we are expanding the lunchroom area so that it may accommodate larger numbers. In addition, we are revamping the heating system in the Records Center and building an enclosed masonry fire stair to replace the exterior steel fire escapes. The increased demand at the National Center for the Blind has also placed a burden on our freezer space. We are contemplating the installation of a walk-in freezer in the kitchen to meet the need.

As I have indicated to you in previous years, the National Federation of the Blind is present on the Internet. The library of material on our Web site continues to expand, and we have added a substantial number of links to make it easier to find the information. Since our last convention 31,625 people have requested information from our web site, and more than 106,000 pages have been downloaded to individuals from throughout the United States and from seventy-one other countries. Our information displayed on the Web about blindness and technology is so extensive that we have been asked to provide a computer link to the Web site of U.S. News and World Report.

The National Center for the Blind continues to be the focal point of programming for the blind in the United States and provides information to individuals from many other lands as well. During the past year visitors have come to our Center from forty-nine of the fifty states and the following foreign countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, England, Ethiopia, France, India, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Thailand.

In the last year we have helped place more than 160 people in competitive employment through the Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) program. The kinds of work range from a Colorado ski lift operator to a bagger in a supermarket, from sales manager to veterinary technician, and from attorney to sandwich maker in a Subway shop. JOB bulletins about employing the blind have been distributed to more than 6,000 employers this year.

Through the Aids, Appliances, and Materials Center of the National Federation of the Blind more than 4,600 telephone orders have been filled, and hundreds more have come by mail. We have shipped more than 2,000,000 items to fill these orders to individuals in the United States and twenty-seven other countries. Our order forms for materials and aids and appliances are now available on two-track cassette, as well as in large print and in Braille.

The Braille Monitor, the most influential publication in the blindness field, is being distributed in record numbers with more than 35,000 copies a month being produced. And there are our other publications: Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children, now being sent to over 12,000 people per quarter; Job Opportunities for the Blind bulletins; presidential releases; and a number of state and division newsletters.

At the convention last year we spoke extensively about the Kernel Books. These volumes carry firsthand accounts of the experiences of the blind. The stories are presented in readable form that will attract attention. We who are blind are not essentially different from others, not mysterious or peculiar or strange. A major part of our educational program is to spread the word to the public at large about the normality and capacity of blind people; and through the dissemination of the Kernel Books, we are doing just that. There are eleven such books today. The most recent volume is entitled Beginnings and Blueprints, which was released last fall. The twelfth book, already published and in the process of being distributed, is Like Cats and Dogs. Well over 3,000,000 of the Kernel Books have been placed in the hands of the public, and they are having an impact far beyond our expectations. They inspire; they amuse; they stimulate. Perhaps of most importance, they offer a measure of hope where there had been nothing but despair. Consider this letter, from the father of a blind fourteen-year-old living in Washington:

Thank you very much for your recent mailing. I tape-recorded the National Federation of the Blind book, Making Hay, for my fourteen-year-old son Nathan, who is blind.

I enjoyed reading the book and found it very hopeful and inspiring—a very upbeat, yet realistic book. You mentioned that Making Hay is the fourth book in the Kernel series. I am most interested in getting the first three Kernel books. These true-life stories can make the difference between a person's developing confidence and goals, rather than just settling for some "blind job." So, I have two requests for you:

Please send me the first three books, or others like them, from the Kernel series—books about blind people who are creating a life for themselves.

Could you make a recommendation regarding a good beginning Braille instruction manual? I would like to work with my son to help him learn Braille. I had previously believed that it was very slow and cumbersome. Your books have convinced me that it is useful and needed. I can see that now, and I have been able to more persuasively talk to my son about learning Braille. He has been very resistant to doing anything which might characterize him as blind and take him out of the mainstream. Your book has been so helpful in giving us hope and accurate information from those with the experience to know.

Thank you for your good work. God bless us all.


Sometimes the letters come from the parents of a blind fourteen-year-old; sometimes they are from senior citizens; and sometimes they are written by schoolchildren. One individual, one family, and one school group or community meeting at a time, we are providing information about the reality of blindness, and we are building for a better and a brighter future. One of the most effective ways to do it is with our Kernel Books.

What does this report, this compilation of facts and statistics that I'm giving you, mean? What does it suggest for us as a movement? The National Federation of the Blind is more active in a wider range of programs today than it has ever before been, and our progress is accelerating. At the national, the state, and the local levels, we face challenges of complexity and diversity that demand a high level of comprehension and substantial energy. Nevertheless, I feel certain that our future is bright. We have the will, the energy, the motivation, the commitment to each other, and the understanding to meet the challenges as they come.

You have elected me to serve as President of this organization, and I believe that I understand the responsibility you have given me. I do the best I can to meet that responsibility. But we in the Federation have something else—something that makes us more than an organization, more than a gathering of individuals—something that makes us a movement. It is the bond of understanding, of commitment, and of mutual support from me as President to you the members, and from you to me. As long as I am president, I will do the best I can to lead this movement with firmness and determination. I will be prepared to give whatever time is necessary, whatever effort is demanded, whatever resources are at my command. I will stand in the front lines and take the criticism, and I will not count the cost, or hedge, or equivocate. This is what you have asked of me, and this is what you have a right to expect.

And what will be expected of you? You must be prepared to give all that you can in support of our Federation, our leaders, and each other—not only with your minds but also with your hearts. I will ask you to contribute your time, your money, your imagination, and your effort. The National Federation of the Blind demands of all of us the very best that we have to offer, and it is too important to be incidental or part-time. The spirit of the Federation is as strong today as it has ever been, and our bond of mutual commitment is the unbreakable element that makes us the unstoppable movement that we are.

When the problems come, as surely they will, you must be prepared to remain steadfast and not waver; and you must give of your resources, of your willingness to work, and of the spirit that is in you. I must and will do no less than I ask of you. And because of this bond which holds us together, this mutual understanding that makes our movement what it is and us what we are, there can be no doubt of our continuing success. We have done much, but there is still much that urgently needs to be done. Can you doubt that we are equal to the task? The spirit here present in this room gives answer to the question. These are the commitments we make to each other, and this is my report.

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Updated: March 14, 2002