Future Reflections Fall 1994, Vol. 13 No. 3



by Judy Sanders

From the Editor: Although blindness itself is not a barrier to full and equal participation in our society, it does impose-as will any physical characteristic-a few limitations. Perhaps the most notable limitation-as any blind teen-ager about to turn sixteen will tell you-is the inability to safely drive a car. However, the motivated blind traveler quickly discovers that there are many alternative methods for getting from point A to point B. Public transportation, taxis, limo service, trains, planes, buses, and paid or volunteer drivers allow blind persons to travel as widely and as extensively as their sighted peers. By and large the inability to drive becomes no more than an inconvenience.

Sometimes the greater nuisance is not the inability to drive, but the lack of a driver's license to use as identification. And sometimes this crosses the boundary of nuisance and becomes an issue of discrimination and access. Here is an account from the April-June, 1993, issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, of just such a situation and what one woman and the NFB of Minnesota did about it.

She came from Wisconsin for some Minnesota hospitality. She found the atmosphere unwelcome to a young, blind customer from out of state.

Janell was a student at the University of Wisconsin, Stout. She and her friends decided to experience the joys of the nightlife at the Mall of America. Their youthful appearance required that they show identification. All ID's were accepted, except Janell's. She offered her non-driver identification issued by the state of Wisconsin and was told it was an unacceptable form of ID in Minnesota. She was angry and embarrassed to discover that her friends would either have to leave her outside or forego an evening's entertainment with her.

Most of the entertainment establishments at the Mall of America are managed by one company. Janell and her friends quickly discovered that most of the entertainment establishments would not recognize her non-driver's identification. Her friends stuck with her, and they finally found one establishment that would accept her ID.

Janell is not a blind person who takes such matters lightly. She began doing her own checking and found out that, according to the manager of one of the lounges, there is a law in Minnesota which prohibits bartenders from accepting non-driver identifications from other states to validate age. Janell could not tackle this problem alone so she called the National Federation of the Blind.

We had never run up against a situation quite like this one. Our first reaction was to blame the bar management for being ignorant. However, further research showed that Minnesota did indeed have a law that designates acceptable forms of identification. Acceptable forms of identification include: drivers' licenses from any state, passports, and non-driver ID's issued by the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles. Therefore, the one establishment that did allow Janell to enter was technically in violation of the law.

The only solution to this problem seemed to be with the Minnesota legislature. We found two willing authors in Representative Joel Jacobs and Senator Jane Krentz. They agreed to introduce a bill which would add non-driver ID's from other states to the list of recognized means for age verification for purposes of buying liquor. Eventually, our bill was added to a larger bill that set forth regulations for the liquor industry.

Amazingly, our amendment became controversial when a lobbyist for the liquor industry expressed opposition to the idea, claiming that non-driver identifications were too easily falsified. He told Senator Sam Solon, chairman of the committee hearing the bill, that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety was opposed to the idea. Senator Solon responded that anyone who expressed opposition would have to do so for themselves. That ended the controversy. The bill then passed without difficulty.

Thanks to the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, young blind people from other states can now use their valid non-driver identification cards to verify their age. It is a small victory to be sure but one of the growing number of reasons why it is a good thing to have the National Federation of the Blind in your corner.