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Tribute to Ed Bryant

February 10, 2007

by Gary Wunder, President NFB Missouri

People come to blindness in different ways—some by birth, some by accident, some by age, but many by medical conditions we can’t yet prevent. Not only do people come to blindness differently, but they react to it differently as well. Some view it as a tragedy which soon becomes their reason to have someone else do all of the work which should be theirs. Others come to think of blindness as a disadvantage but one they can use to their benefit: “I’m blind; I can stay home; this misfortune, as bad as it is, has given me a life-long income, so I’ll enjoy the internet, my music, I’ll become an expert on Ebay.” Again, the message is the same: “I’ll let someone else take care of me.”

Ed, as much as anyone, had these options. Not only did blindness take his vision, but it took his livelihood. I know blind people who enjoy photography, but I don’t know any blind photographers, and this is the profession blindness snatched away from our friend.

So, how did he react? He looked at blindness and said: “There are coping skills out there and I’ll learn them.” He looked at the source of his blindness, diabetes, and again he said: “There are coping skills out there and I’ll learn them.” What he did next is the reason we’re here today. He didn’t stop with learning and inventing skills—he decided to share them. Share them with his family and friends? No, not Ed—our friend decided if he had skills to share, he’d share them with the world, and what better way to do that than through the written word?

In his quest for a partner to help in this sharing, Ed found an ally in the National Federation of the Blind, and together they started a publication which has been the voice of hope for many who feared their lives were over. Through Ed’s voice, and the voices of hundreds of his fellow travelers, people have learned that blindness and diabetes don’t have to mean living in a nursing home or forever depending on someone else to draw and administer medication, fix meals, do laundry, and carry on all the life activities many of us take for granted.

To the man who could have retired 20 years ago and considered himself deserving of pity and care, we today come to say “Thank you for charting a different course.” To the man who has taught so many to use a needle, and who has needled so many of us, diabetics or not, to do more than we would otherwise do, we meet here today to tell you how much you mean to all of us.

And now that much of your work is over in starting and running the publication so aptly named The Voice, I come to recruit you for yet another Federation task—help us grow the NFB of Missouri in the same way you have helped to grow the Diabetes Action Network. You deserve the right to retire but we hope that you'll pass on that, as you did once before, and start another phase of changing what it means to be blind.

Members of the NFB in Columbia, Missouri, gave a party to honor Ed Bryant on February 10, 2007. Gary Wunder, president of the NFB of Missouri, delivered this speech at the event.