The Advantage of Uncertainty

An Address Delivered by
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
Dallas, Texas
July 8, 2010

Is there anything you do not know about blindness?  Have you studied the matter sufficiently that your curiosity can no longer be stimulated?  Are you ever startled by a novel turn of phrase, a fresh perspective, or an unconventional approach to the topic?  Do you want to know something that you have not already learned?  Do you wonder what frontiers remain to be conquered, who will cross these frontiers, and what inventive genius will be demanded in meeting the challenges they represent?  Will the thoughts that change the pattern of comprehension come from the ranks of the blind?  Have they already been formulated?  Are they present in this room tonight?

More than four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon declared, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” 

The famous observation of Alexander Pope is:
“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”

The principal problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight.  Rather, it is that almost everybody who encounters the subject believes that there is nothing important left to learn.  The scholars who study blindness are almost always trying to find ways to eliminate it.  Such efforts are undoubtedly worthy of serious intellectual attention, but they do not exhaust the potential areas of study.  In fact, they are tangential to the contemplation of blindness itself because their primary focus is not on the topic at all.

Almost nobody is seeking to learn what the potential of blind people is and what methods may best be employed to train the blind to reach this potential.  Almost nobody is trying to find ways to capture the excitement that can be a part of the lives of the blind.  Almost nobody is aware that the lives of blind people possess enormous potential for excitement.  From the point of view of most scholarly investigation, your lives as blind people (and mine) are irrelevant.  Francis Bacon said that we can start with certainty and end in doubt or start with doubt and end with certainty.  However, in our case, the problem we face is that most of the people we meet begin with certainty and never change.  Blindness is known (they believe), settled, defined, and dismissed—and so, also, are the lives of blind people.

In 1900, the scientist Lord Kelvin said, “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now.  All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”  Only five years later, Albert Einstein published his first paper on the theory of relativity, a document which initiated a massive change in the comprehension of physics.

According to the oft-encountered common belief, blindness is a disease that causes deprivation and suffering.  Palliation is possible, which signifies that the suffering may be lessened.  However, the blindness and the suffering are inextricably intertwined.  The first cannot occur without the other.  Whether you like it or not, you are suffering.  To deny this is to pretend that reality does not exist.  If you believe that you are not suffering, you are deluding yourself and adding dishonesty or self-deception to the diseased condition that is a part of your life. 

This is the summation that some of the experts would have us believe.  However, we reject this assessment.  Although blindness can be caused by disease, we do not believe blindness is a disease.  We do not believe that blindness signifies suffering, and we are absolutely certain that the implications of this idea are false.  We are not harbingers of despair but emissaries of possibility.  We express ourselves about blindness with the confidence gained through experience.  We are blind, but this is just one characteristic among those that make us what we are.  We have talent, and our lives have the potential for enormous joy.  We ask that we be welcomed in the chambers of decision making, but if we are not, we will assert ourselves.  Our lives belong to us, and nobody else can make our decisions for us.  Our hearts are strong; our will is firm; and the goals we seek are within our grasp.  Blindness cannot stop us, nor can anything else.  We will continue to build toward a future bright with promise, and we will accept nothing less than full equality! 

We value knowledge, but we value individual freedom at least as much.  Almost twenty-four hundred years ago, Plato propounded the theory that the wisest people among us should be designated our kings.  The idea of the philosopher king, somebody smart enough to be able to tell us how to govern our lives, has been with us ever since.  The tension in leadership is: Do we select our leaders to tell us what to do, or do we select our leaders to carry out the responsibilities that we have given to them?  In our own case, in the circumstances that many blind people face, we often do not have the opportunity to select leadership at all.  Other people assert that they have superior knowledge, and they designate themselves to serve as the philosopher kings for us.  They say, in effect, “You cannot possibly know what is good for you, but I know what your life should be; so, do as I tell you.” 

Are there shades of blindness; what is this characteristic that we discuss with such frequency?  For half a century we have defined this term to mean a lack of vision sufficiently great to require performance of visual activities using alternative techniques.  If individuals must adopt alternative techniques to perform daily activities without vision that would ordinarily be performed with it, those individuals are blind. 

Some people believe this definition is overly simplistic because it does not explicitly say that some blind people have a small amount of residual vision that can reasonably be used to perform some tasks.  Whether they have sufficient honesty to admit it or not, many of the professionals dealing with blindness believe that the more you can see the better off you are.  They create a hierarchy of sight.  Those only “mildly visually afflicted” are at the top; the “stone blind” are at the bottom. 

Some professionals create an inverted hierarchy of sight.  They believe that partially blind people live in the mists of a never-never land of confusing definitions and distinctions—not really blind, not actually sighted, and bedeviled by misunderstanding by all groups.  These professionals argue that if a person is totally blind that person is all right because everybody knows what to do. The person is thought of as a “normal” blind person.  Such professionals designate the partially blind as the low-vision, and they argue that the low-vision are in a class of their own with the psychological disadvantages that come with isolation and misunderstanding.  One author avers that one of the psychological challenges facing the partially blind is the terror that total blindness may be imminent.  Total blindness is regarded by partially blind people as a “monstrous menace.”

Of course, treating the partially blind as if they were almost sighted helps to make this description real.  If blind people are expected to perform as sighted people do, failure is assured.  Blind people (including the low vision) cannot see well enough to do it.  Sometimes, when we attempt to teach Braille and other alternative techniques to partially blind students, we are met with the argument that we are just “trying to make these students blind.”  However, the teachers, in these cases, are trying to make these students sighted, when they are not.  The failure and misunderstanding are forced upon these students because the teachers want them to be able to see.  How many blind kids have been scolded with the words, “Of course you can see that!”?  This happened to me more than fifty years ago.  I tried hard to see whatever it was I had missed, but I could not.  The grown-up teachers wanted something from me that I could not give.  I was a failure. 

If we could be recognized for the valuable people we are, if our worth could be measured by ability rather than by vision, if there were not such great insistence that those of us with a small amount of residual vision be made into sighted people (although not very good ones), we could get the training we need, we could adopt the techniques that would serve us best, and we could be productive as blind people.  However, the hierarchy of sight is a barrier to proper rehabilitation and good training. 

On a Web site styled, a so-called medical site, an article entitled “Legally Blind” argues that legally blind people are distinctly different from the totally blind.  Here are excerpts from the article. 

I use the term blind [the article says] loosely because being blind not seeing anything is completely different from being legally blind.  Most people seem to think that when you say you are legally blind immediately people begin to think that means completely and very blind.

Legally blind people use a white cane or a guide dog to help them with life’s tasks especially traveling.

[Does the author think that totally blind people use their white canes or their guide dogs to help them with life’s tasks other than traveling?  When I examined this statement, I wondered, what else would you do with a guide dog or white cane?  I don’t study books with mine or write speeches; I just travel.  But, back to Healthmad.]

The problem of cooking, [the article continues] cleaning, doing laundry or even personal care becomes a problem for anyone with only partial vision.

[I interrupt to ask, is personal hygiene a problem for you?  Patricia Maurer recently visited the dentist.  The hygienist asked her, “Who brushes your teeth for you?”  It would be possible to think of a couple dozen different responses, but probably most of them would be misunderstood.]

We do not walk alone [continues this writer] but sometimes we need to learn how to be humble. We need to bury our pride and learn how to accept the helping hands of those who love us.

The person who wrote this idiotic drivel claims to be an expert presenting thoughtful inspiring commentary on a medical Web site.  Do not demand independence, says the author, recognize the hierarchy of sight, and learn to be humble.  The class system means that there are the good blind people (almost sighted), and the run-of-the-mill sort (“completely and very blind”).  The almost sighted will probably never get the training they need, and they will be warned against obnoxious advocates who persist in declaring that the blind have a right to full participation in society.  These are the radical power-hungry blind who have not learned proper humility.  Humility is, of course, a virtue worth practicing.  However, humility cannot be demanded.  It is like love, it must be freely given.  In this case, the humility signifies recognition that somebody else’s knowledge is superior to our own and that the moral authority such people represent is greater than ours.  The ability to see is what matters.  The blind are inferior.  Take orders; do it pleasantly; be humble; start now.

This kind of humility we can do without.  We do not need anybody to supervise us; we are more than adequate to be our own bosses.  We have a right to make our own decisions, we have the ability to determine the limits of aspiration that will shape the pattern of our lives, and we have the authority to demand from ourselves the courage to live with the choices we make.  Decide we can; decide we must; decide we will.  Nobody can take this from us.  Our lives belong to us, and we will live them with excitement and joy.

The concept of perception has been the subject of speculation and research for thousands of years.  The five senses: sight, taste, hearing, smell, and touch are the mechanisms for sense impression, but sense impression and perception are not the same.  Perception involves the use of intellect.

Can blind people perceive what sighted people do?  If so, how can it be done?  What are the limitations?  Are blind people capable of perceiving information not available to the sighted?  Does an intellect change with altered sense impression?  If it does, what kinds of changes occur?  What tests can define the measure of perception?  How do we provide equivalent access to information for the blind and the sighted?

Some years ago, we speculated that it would be possible to build an automobile that the blind can drive.  We are working on the machine at the moment.  We have observed that sighted people look out the windows of the cars they drive, gather information visually, and use this information to make decisions about what to do with their vehicles.  We believe that a system can be devised to permit the gathering and interpretation of information nonvisually.  We know that the knfb Reader Mobile, the reading machine that fits in your pocket, already has a rudimentary capacity to recognize objects.  Ray Kurzweil, the inventor of reading machine technology, as well as the inventor of much else, has indicated he believes object recognition will increase to permit recognition of human beings in the foreseeable future.  With respect to the blind-drivable automobile, the problem is one of gathering and interpreting substantial quantities of information with speed and accuracy in ways that are currently unfamiliar.  We are exploring methods of perception for the blind that we do not already know.  Will this exploration lead to increased perceptual capacity for the sighted?  Is the current visual system of operating an automobile the best one that can be devised, or is it being used only because the majority in society, the sighted, are comfortable with it?  We have a firm belief that the intellectual element of perception is as available to the blind as it is to anybody else.  We expect to build the machine that we have begun, and we expect to learn some things during the building process that will increase opportunities for the blind and the sighted.

Some of the people we encounter who speculate about the perception of blind people do not share our faith in the intellectual ability of the blind.  A company named Rousettus has discovered that some blind people like yoga.  However, the opinion of officials at this company is that blind people cannot engage in yoga in the ordinary way.  To benefit the blind who want to perform yoga exercises, the company has devised a special yoga mat for the blind, called the VIYM™, the Visually Impaired Yoga Mat.  On the Rousettus Web site we learn:

VIYM™ is the brainchild of a yoga teacher who was empathetic to the obstacles that her adventurous and courageous blind student encountered in her yoga class. She was inspired by the student’s willingness as he tried yoga for the first time, but observed his challenges as well as her own as he attempted the postures. How could she teach yoga to someone who had no visual frame of reference as to where his body was in relation to space, himself, and orientation? 

That, in part, is what the description on the Web site says, and it seems hard to comprehend.  The blind student did not know where his body was in relation to himself?  Does yoga give him some kind of out-of-body experience?  How could a yoga mat connect him to himself?  The VIYM™ is a mat incorporating raised lines, dots, and other figures intended to indicate locations that can be used in assuming yoga poses.  Rousettus says about the yoga mat:

Prior to VIYM™, visually or physically challenged aspiring yoga students faced some discouraging challenges. They often had trouble detecting the location of their body and the direction in which they were facing on a mat. Balancing in yoga postures was awkward: students had a hard time sensing and reaching optimal, ideal body alignment without any visual cues.

If you do not have a visually impaired yoga mat, says Rousettus, you are out of alignment, your life has no balance, and you have trouble finding the location of your own body.  However, a solution is at hand.  For only seventy-five dollars, plus shipping and handling, of course, you can purchase the yoga mat that will realign your being, bring balance to your life, and help you find your own body. 

The language employed by the self-congratulatory officials at Rousettus is sufficiently bombastic that it challenges credulity.  Can they possibly believe what they say?  Would anybody else encountering this material believe it? 

How did the company get its name, Rousettus?  They tell us that Rousettus is the name of an Egyptian fruit bat.  Did company officials mean to make fun of their customers?  Does the blind as a bat reference apply to the people buying the mat, or the people selling the thing?  It is worth considering whether sanity is less common than we have always thought.

Yoga can be very useful, and the blind can benefit from it as much as anybody.  Some of us teach it.  A special yoga mat incorporating tactile characteristics to assist in adopting yoga poses could also be helpful.  It is not the yoga or the mat that we find offensive.  It is the language describing blind people as imbeciles and company officials as our saviors that stimulates our ire.  The kind of help that we are offered from Rousettus is the sort that creates the image of subservient blind people under the direction of their benevolent masters.  This image must be defeated.  Benevolent or otherwise, we will have no masters but ourselves.  We insist on freedom, and if we must, we will take it with our own hands.

Not all of the people devising new products for the blind expect us to be without capacity.  In 2008, a camera for the blind was invented that won an International Design Excellence Award.  The camera presents a tactile image of the elements of the environment within the focus of the machine.  It also records a brief sample of the sounds present in the environment at the time the picture is taken.  The designers of the product anticipate that blind artists will use the camera to develop artistic expression and that blind people generally will use the camera to learn about elements of the environment and to transmit these to others. 

Currently under development in Sweden is a device which captures facial expressions and provides nonvisual interpretation of them.  We have been told repeatedly how important is the facial expression.  A facial expression is, of course, not the only means of gaining information about the feelings of others, but the expression upon a face has been the subject of song and story for thousands of years, and we are looking forward to sharing what can be learned.  Furthermore, development of interfaces that provide visual information to us in nonvisual ways is necessary for expansion of our full participation. 

If we speculate about the technologies that will be developed which can be of benefit to us, we may imagine devices that will help us learn about the environment, obtain and manipulate information, and assist with travel.  For example, the method of identifying products today is a bar code.  The method for identifying products in the future is likely to be more interactive.  Interactive product identifiers coupled with scanning and recordation systems could produce astonishing capabilities.  Some who have pondered the impact upon human liberty of such technological development have worried that invasion of individual privacy may occur on a massive scale, but enormous potential for positive results is also possible.  The refrigerator in your house could keep track of the items you have placed in it, the ones you have removed, and the ones possessing an expiration date that has passed—the ones you might want to remove.  It could identify the caloric value of the products you have available, and it could supply recipes that might be employed in preparing such items for consumption.  It could offer suggestions about what things you might want to purchase to replenish the supply of food. 

The same interactive technology might be used in the grocery store to tell you where the products you are seeking are located.   The pork and beans could be caused to call to you (or your handheld scanner) from two aisles ahead and the shelf on the right at shoulder height.  With the technology that we now know, building such a system is probably within the realm of possibility. 

The same type of system could be used with your closet.  I am told that the toilet which can measure your weight, determine your temperature, and find your pulse has already been invented.  This device could suggest when you have lost enough weight to be measured for the new slimmer outfit you had hoped to own.  The system could also offer suggestions about which items of clothing might accompany which others, keeping you coordinated and remembering how you were dressed in the days and weeks gone by so that your appearance is not overly repetitious.  You could specify your profile to emphasize certain characteristics: sporty, conservative, or racy.  You could decide on a specific occasion how you would like to look.  You could specify beach attire, picnic appearance, golf outing, or something else.  For some of us who often wonder what combinations of colors are likely to look well together, this would simplify the sartorial aspects of life.

Devising a technology to give a blind person enough information to climb a mountain without visual assistance would be somewhat more demanding.  Satellite photographs offer relatively comprehensive information about the surface of the earth.  However, the interface to permit evaluation of this information in nonvisual ways is not yet developed.  The database of global topographic information is not entirely accurate.  For example, sometimes shadows are interpreted as objects.  Machine-based vision for individual use must account for all topographical features and moving (or movable) items in the terrain.  All of this must be done in real time.  Although we do not yet have the technology to address this set of challenges, it is coming within the foreseeable future.

The development of new technology that offers access to equivalent amounts of information available to the sighted is of vital importance.  However, overemphasizing emerging technologies can be misunderstood to signify that the machines are more important than the people who use them.   If the blind don’t matter, the machines don’t matter either.  We must modify expectations to be certain that we who are blind are accepted as full participants in society on terms of equality with others.  This is at the heart of the program we must create, and it is vastly more demanding than technology alone.  The management structures within our society are governmental, educational, social, entrepreneurial, corporate, religious, scientific, and legal.  These management systems overlap and interact.  All of these systems possess an underlying philosophy which determines how they will operate and who will be welcomed within them. 

The legal system is overarching, touching on most aspects of human interaction.  However, it cannot address every incident of life.  The philosophical comprehension of other societal structures does this.  The law says that blind people must be welcomed among the fans at football games, but it does not require that the blind be permitted to play.  What circumstances must be changed to alter this requirement without diminishing the excitement of the game? 

Some people believe that blindness is evidence of sin.  A few of these people would like to prevent blind people from participating in certain religious activities.  Many blind people with guide dogs have been refused transportation by drivers who assert that their religious convictions will not permit them to ride in the same vehicle with a dog.  Such actions violate the law, but the underlying philosophy often determines the practice.

The Merchant's House Museum in New York City currently displays a statement on its Web site telling patrons that no service animal is permitted in the museum.  When officials at the museum were asked to justify their refusal to accept guide dogs for the blind, they indicated that because the museum is a historic landmark, it is not subject to certain areas of nondiscrimination law.  Besides, the saliva or the hair of the dogs might damage museum property, which is 150 years old, they said.  Of course, the same argument might be applied to the United States Capitol, which is more than 150 years old.  Of course, there is no exception in the law which exempts nondiscrimination provisions for owners or managers of historic landmarks.  We have a right to enter such public places with our canes or our dogs, and we intend to do it. 

A movie entitled The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, that appeared in 2008 and is loosely based upon the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald of the same name, tells the story of a man who is born old and ages backward to infancy.  During the movie the man marries and is contemplating having a child.  However, he is afraid because he cannot be a father to the child in the customary way.  As the child grows older, her father will grow younger.  As the years pass, the father will become younger than the daughter and the activities and mindset of each will change places.  In the course of the argument about whether a child should be born, the man’s wife says to him, “Would you tell a blind man he couldn’t have children?”

Hollywood employs images that, they believe, resonate with the public.  Sometimes the dialog contains new ideas, but most of the presentation in a movie must be readily comprehensible by the audience.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was nominated for thirteen Oscars, leading all of the competition.  It won three.  The content of this movie is in tune with the thought processes accepted by the creators of screen artistry in the most prominent film-creating industry in the world.  Contained in that movie is the concept that blind people have a right to expect to build families.  Is this the accepted philosophical understanding of the nation?

A few weeks before this convention, a blind woman in Kansas City, Missouri, proceeded to the hospital to have a baby.  She is twenty-four, and this is her first child.  Her boyfriend, the father of her child, is also blind.  As is true for all new mothers, this blind woman needed to learn to care for her babe.  Part of the learning process is teaching the mother how to nurse the child and helping the child to learn how to take milk from her.  While this new mom was attempting to learn to nurse her child, she inadvertently blocked the nose and mouth of the newborn, and the baby stopped breathing.  The interruption was brief, and the baby was quickly revived.  This type of incident in the lives of newborn babies is often encountered.  Although new mothers are frequently stunned by such occurrences, the babies survive and show no ill effects in most cases.  However, in this medical facility officiating personnel took immediate action not customarily pursued.  They seized the child from the blind parents, and they initiated court proceedings to prevent this blind mother and father from possessing and caring for their own child.  The grounds for the seizure of the child, the grounds for destruction of the family, are that the parents cannot see—they are blind.  Shortly after the seizure, the court ordered that this child’s parents may visit their own child for only three hours per week.  Would you tell a blind man he couldn’t have children?

A new mother wonders whether she will know enough to care for her child.  A new blind mother has the added worry about being capable of managing the special tools that will be needed to deal with the lack of information inherent in the condition of blindness.  A new blind father feels the same.  “What am I going to do with this new precious life?”  Without discussion, without consultation, the bureaucracy of the hospital in Missouri told these blind parents that they lacked the ability to build a family, that their liberty would be restricted, that their moral authority to live as others do would be withdrawn, that they were failures before they started.  In the subsequent court proceedings, the judicial arm of the state government agreed.  Our job is to teach this government that our rights cannot be abbreviated, that our moral authority cannot be curtailed.  Our nation was founded upon the principle that individual liberty must be maintained.  Building a family unit is among the most fundamental expressions of this liberty.  We are a part of this nation, and we demand recognition of the same liberty and the same protection of the law that applies to everybody else.  Some things may be a matter of discussion and compromise; this is not.  What we say to the government of Missouri is this: We will not tolerate seizure of our children. 

As Federationists know, we formed our organization in 1940.  We have lived, dreamed, planned, and worked for seventy years.  The struggle to move from second-class status to first-class citizenship has not universally been peaceful.

In 1957, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founding President and first great leader, said: “Today we stand an embattled organization.  The attacks upon us always present, but once few and scattered, have vastly increased in number and bitterness. . . .  Our motives have been impugned.  Our purposes reviled.  Our integrity aspersed.  Our representative character denied.”

In 1973, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our second outstanding leader, said:

I feel absolute confidence as to what the historians will say.  They will tell of a system of governmental and private agencies established to serve the blind, which became so custodial and so repressive that reaction was inevitable.  They will tell that the blind (“their time come round at last”) began to acquire a new self-image, along with rising expectations, and that they determined to organize and speak for themselves. . . .  They will tell of the growth of our movement through the forties and fifties and of our civil war.  They will tell how we emerged from that civil war into the sixties stronger and more vital than we had ever been; and how more and more of the agencies began to make common cause with us for the betterment of the blind. . . .  They will also record the events of the 1970s when the reactionaries among the agencies became even more so, and the blind of the second generation of the NFB stood forth to meet them. . . .  They will relate how the blind passed from second class citizenship through a period of hostility to equality and first-class status in society.

In 1996, Dr. Jernigan commented about his prediction of 1973, saying:

In broad terms, the prediction has come true.  The century draws to a close, and there is unprecedented harmony among agencies and organizations of and for the blind.  But what about the future? . . .  What will the movement be like when we meet [twenty-three years ahead] in 2019? . . .  If I am not sure of specifics, I am absolutely certain of the general direction our organization will take.  Our mutual faith and trust in each other will be unchanged, and all else will follow.  I never come in to the convention hall without a lift of spirit and a surge of joy, for I know to the depths of my being that our shared bond of love and trust will never change and that because of it we will be unswervable in our determination and unstoppable in our progress.

Among the management systems that confront us as blind people are several that we have sought to change.  At one period of our history, the blind were almost unknown within the statute books of the nation.  However, we have been seeking to change the law to recognize the right of blind people to be fully engaged in all aspects of society.  We have been working in this realm for seven decades, and much of what we have thought, and dreamed, and planned is now reflected within the corpus of the legal system.  The judges do not always know that the law exists, and sometimes they seek to interpret provisions of it in a manner to eviscerate the power we intended to have it possess.  But there are also the other times—the moments when our right to participate guaranteed by statutory provision is given the force that we expected.

Governmental programs reflect the philosophy of the people who direct them, and sometimes these are difficult for us to penetrate.  For example, the United States Department of Education recently issued its Technology Education Plan, denominated Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology.  Although this plan recognizes the dramatic changes that are occurring for students through technology, it does not incorporate provisions requiring equal access for the blind to the same information available to all sighted students.  The Department of Education did not actually forget blind students.  Instead, comments about such students were relegated to a sidebar.  The blind are mentioned in a sort of a footnote.  We are not a footnote, and we are not willing for our urgent needs in the realm of education to be dismissed in this offhanded manner. 

In the seven decades that we have worked to bring equality to the blind, we have made enormous progress.  Many of the systems that provide access to information for the public are accessible to the blind as well, and more of them are being produced every day.  As our country moves toward the adoption of digital books as the standard for reading, access to this digital information for the blind is increasing at an ever more rapid pace.  Rehabilitation centers have not universally adopted the idea that equal opportunity for the blind is the standard to be used in creating their programs, but a growing number of them have.  Even social networks (the online versions and the more homespun varieties) are being devised in ways that welcome blind participants.

Despite the progress, a cursory examination of conditions for the blind today demonstrates how much is left to be done.  Some entrepreneurs creating products for the blind believe that we need special yoga mats to help us find our bodies.  Some so-called experts assert that we should dismiss the notion of independence and accept the humility which says that they should be in charge of decision making for us.  Some governmental officials believe that we can be ignored or tucked away in a footnote.  Some social services personnel would deprive us of our own children.  When the days have been long, when the misunderstanding has been monumental, when the frustration has been seemingly endless, when the belittlement has apparently been constant, when the deprivation has been real, sometimes it is tempting to believe that the progress has been minimal.  If this were the summation of our existence, prospects would be dismal, indeed.  But it is not.

The types of employment being performed by the blind, the opportunities to gain substantive training, and the prospects to participate within different aspects of our communities are greater today than ever before in history.  The reason is not hard to identify.  We have shared our hopes and dreams; we have set our objectives and made our plans; we have come together in a formidable array to take control of the pattern of the future; we have formed the National Federation of the Blind.

Dr. tenBroek came from the first generation of the Federation; Dr. Jernigan came from the second; and I am from the third.  Already the members of the fourth generation are handling much of the work we do and giving shape to the Federation for the decades ahead.  The members of the fifth generation are coming on the scene, are beginning to take their place in the movement, and are making their spirit felt.  Yesterday held its moments of despair; today is fraught with challenge; but tomorrow belongs to us!

We maintain a bond of shared love and trust, and we believe in one another.  We know that what will happen to us is less a matter of prediction than of decision, and we have accepted the reality that the decision is ours.

Nothing worthwhile comes without cost.  To gain freedom demands not just money, but will, imagination, guts, and courage.  These must be available not just now and then, but all of the time.  Furthermore, these qualities cannot be contributed by somebody else—they must come from us.

Will the educational system for the blind get better?  Yes, because we will make it so.  Will the rehabilitation system become more responsive?  Yes, because we will demand the responsiveness and keep working until we get it.  Will the scientific community come to know us as partners?  Certainly, because we have the intellectual ability to create the circumstances that require it.  Will other management systems of our society welcome us?  Indeed, they will.  Our sighted brothers and sisters will come to value us for the people we are, and will share our dreams for a brighter tomorrow for us all.

The objectives we have established are enormously demanding, and they will require all that is best within us.  However, we do not fear the challenge; we welcome it.  No matter the cost, we will meet it.  No matter the requirement, we will fulfill it.  No matter the obstacle, we will overcome it.  Is there knowledge to be gathered about blindness that we do not already possess?  You bet there is, and we are learning it as fast as we can.  But this is only one of the elements of the future we intend to create.  We are also teaching to all who will listen.  Our hearts are strong; our will is firm; and our determination is unshakable.  The members of the National Federation of the Blind have been in the frontlines of change for more than two-thirds of a century.  Because of the spirit we share, our progress cannot be slowed, and our ultimate objectives will be met.  Come, join me, and we will make tomorrow our own!

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