Opportunity, Danger, and the Balance of Risk

An Address Delivered by
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
Orlando, Florida
July 8, 2011

The difference between the concept of danger and the concept of risk involves opportunity.  Danger is exposure to harm.  Risk is an exposure to harm that may provide advantage if successfully overcome.  Twenty-five hundred years ago Thucydides expressed what is still commonly held to be the concept of risk.  He said, “. . .one side thinks that the profits to be won outweigh the risks to be incurred, and the other side would rather avoid danger than accept an immediate loss.”  The often-expressed belief is that risk is an exposure to danger that may offer opportunity but that can involve disaster.  The English Antarctic explorer, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, said, “We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint. . . .” 

Often risk is thought to be an exposure to danger that may be accepted or rejected.  Those who reject it are doing so to avoid danger—to be safe.  Thus, it is thought that a continuum exists with safety at one end and extreme risk at the other.  However, on this continuum safety requires acceptance of the status quo.   The attitude of mind for those who accept the status quo is, “Leave everything alone; things will only get worse if you try to make them better.”  This acceptance manifests stagnation.  In dynamic systems, the choice is not security or exposure to danger but development or decay.  The riskiest course of action imaginable is the search for absolute safety.  The rejection of all risk makes decay a certainty.  Thus, the task before us is not to avoid risk but to decide how to assess the opportunities and to determine which risks to take.  Our future is fraught with risk, and this makes it one to be anticipated with abundant enthusiasm.
Will the infrastructure of our nation and the world be constructed in such a way that we can gain access to the opportunities it offers?  Will the legal system be adequate to assure equality of opportunity?  Will the educational system welcome blind students?  Will employment be available?  Will the attitudes of the public about the blind be altered so that full participation in society becomes a practical possibility?  Will we take the necessary steps to ensure that high adventure is an element of our future?  Will we have enough energy, enough imagination, and enough guts to insist that we not be forgotten or ignored as the structures of our society are built?  These are the questions that must be answered if the equality we seek is to become ours. 

The public attitudes about blindness determine, to a large extent, the kinds of opportunities available to the blind.  If teachers believe that blind people will be part of their classes, if school boards believe that blind teachers will be offering instruction, if newspaper publishers believe that blind reporters will be writing the text they sell, if entrepreneurs believe that blind customers will be purchasing their products, and if filmmakers believe that blind actors will be portraying dramatic roles, the public attitudes that permit equal opportunity will begin to prevail.  If, on the other hand, blind people are expected to remain at home or to be segregated in isolated enclaves, out of harm’s way and out of public view, the attitudes created through this set of expectations will result in deprivation and discrimination. 

Where are public attitudes about the blind created?  Sometimes government officials claim to be expert in this arena, and sometimes it is the authors of some of the most boring treatises on the nature of blindness who claim to set the standard for the way the public thinks about blindness.  However, in many instances the filmmakers tell us that they will decide how we think.  A number of years ago, when I was speaking to a vice president of the Disney Corporation about the depiction of blindness in one of its less successful movies, this vice president told me that he would decide what Americans think about blindness.  At the time, I thought, “You are not entirely correct; you are not the only one to make this determination, although I recognize that you do hold certain elements of power.”    

When it comes to blindness, the filmmakers express their version of reality without comprehending what blindness is.  Blind people are often complex, interesting, subtle, romantic, fascinating, or boring, but the filmmakers do not show this.  Much of the time the depiction concentrates on one factor, blindness.  If the principal character in the movie is blind, virtually anything else that the filmmaker wants to throw into the mix is regarded as believable.  The filmmakers are using their image of blindness rather than blindness as we know it.  They wish to have the advantages of the disability without having to suffer the indignity or disfigurement that they perceive as part of it.  One of the risks we face is that we will not find the means to demand that blind people be represented as we truly are.   

Actors love to play blind people because they can behave in strange ways without having to look strange, and an astonishing number of awards have come to these actors for portraying blind characters.  The role of a blind person invokes an automatic sympathetic response from the audience, and the actor does not have to undergo disfigurement—even the actor’s eyes can remain as beautiful as they have ever been—a distinct advantage.  The charm of being a largely non-repulsive object of pity is played for maximum effect—not by a blind actor, of course, but by a sighted person pretending to be blind.  Many actors look upon such roles as prized opportunities to gain fame and fortune.

A movie made in 1992 entitled Scent of a Woman exemplifies the idiocy of Hollywood filmmakers’ dealing with the subject of blindness.  Al Pacino, a sighted fellow, plays an irascible blind retired lieutenant colonel.  The military man is mired in self-pity and despondency because of his blindness.  The despair has become so great that he wants to kill himself.  Nevertheless, he also wants to get out of his current surroundings near Boston’s Logan Airport to enjoy the pleasures of New York City.  In order to achieve this objective, he accepts the proposition that he must be under the care of a so-called babysitter, who is hired to supervise his activities over the Thanksgiving Day weekend.  The babysitter, a prep school senior seeking to earn three hundred dollars, is told by the woman who hires him that he should try to limit the lieutenant colonel’s drinking to no more than four drinks a day. 

While these two characters are on the plane heading for New York, the lieutenant colonel tells his young companion that the ultimate pleasure for a man is being with a woman but that a distant second place pleasure is that of operating a Ferrari.  Before the movie has concluded, a police officer stops Pacino for exceeding the speed limit on the streets of New York driving a Ferrari.  Part of the unbelievable nature of the movie is that the officer does not discover that the driver is blind. 

The despondency, the thrill-seeking in the Ferrari, the search for the pleasures of the big city, and the necessity for the helpless character to employ the services of a babysitter all come together in this unbelievable portrayal.  Blindness is the element that holds it all together as a coherent picture.  Without the blindness it wouldn’t make any sense, and the only reason that people think it makes sense is that they are willing to attribute astonishing characteristics to a blind character. 

Al Pacino won an Academy Award for telling people that this is the nature of blindness.  He lied about us, and millions of people loved to hear him lie.  He twisted the truth, and he received honor for doing it.  Those who made the film did not have the guts to show blindness the way it is, but part of the reason that they decided to depict it the way they did is that they don’t believe blind people can be dramatic.  When they say that our lives require the services of a babysitter, they believe the reality they have created.  But we know better, and we will not let them speak for us.  We will help to write the scripts, and we will take a hand in the portrayal of our lives.  In the future we will accept the risks that come with helping others know who we are, and we will not permit the twisted screen scenario to represent our identity.  Our lives belong to us.  We will not be subjected to the ministrations of a babysitter, on the screen or off—not now, not anywhere, not ever. 

Another movie about blindness, scheduled for release in 2012, is entitled The Blind Bastards Club (BBC).  Unlike Scent of a Woman, this movie about blindness actually has a few real blind people cast in supporting roles.  Moviemakers would not want real blind people to be observed on the silver screen as we really are in anything other than supporting roles. 

The planned film is described as a black comedy.  Inasmuch as the film is not yet complete, how black the comedy is may not be entirely decided.  However, there will undoubtedly be jokes about the blind.  On the other hand, it is contemplated that blind people will jump out of airplanes, visit the shooting range, engage in fights at bars, and amuse themselves by pretending to be sighted, which causes consternation to sighted people who learn of their deception.  Perhaps this kind of portrayal is better than insisting that we accept the ministrations of a babysitter, but what a choice!  Is it better to be saddled with an inept supervisor or to be forced into the role of pretending to be what we are not because a false sense of values has asserted that the reality of what we are is inferior?  These are the alternatives presented by these two filmmakers.

The leader of the club is depicted as a romantic character who falls in love with a sighted woman.  Other club members become uneasy with this relationship because they are suspicious of the sighted.  This woman decides to save her man from his blindness.  She engages in criminal behavior to raise the $90,000 required for a newly discovered operation to give him vision.  The pre-released description of the movie does not tell us how the other club members react when they learn that their leader is to become sighted.  If his dating a sighted woman causes suspicion, his undergoing an operation to gain vision should create deep-seated hostility. 

Is it necessary for me to say that having vision is not a bad thing, and that members of the National Federation of the Blind do not look down on sighted people for having sight?  Neither do we spend our lives thinking about how deprived we are because of our inability to see or how much we want to gain sight.  We do rent it.  I myself have hired hundreds of readers and thousands of drivers, and I use electronic substitutes for sight whenever I find some that work adequately to serve my purposes. 

In certain realms people who possess disabilities are expected to have the attitude that values their particular disability as an expression of culture, distinctly different from the norm and valuable because of its difference.  In the National Federation of the Blind, we have never adopted this position.  We have never said that we embrace “blind culture.”  We have very distinctly said that we value blind people and that we expect blind and sighted people to participate in the same culture, although sometimes in different ways.  For a person who has possessed sight to become blind can be enormously disheartening and quite frightening.  However, this alteration does not fundamentally change a human being.  The coming of blindness, the loss of vision, does not rob us of our charm, decrease our intellect, lessen our imagination, or diminish our ambition.  Blindness is one characteristic among many.  To assert that there is a culture of blindness would be to argue that this one characteristic alters an entire pattern of thought and behavior, which is to overstate the case.  Sight is often useful.  However, we do not believe that it is necessary for the magnificent joyous life that can come to a human being, and we think that the films which solve the problem of blindness by providing an operation to offer sight are simple-minded. 

Why do the filmmakers persist in offering us these miserable alternatives?  Why do they insist that they know enough to make these films without encountering the lives we live?  The reality is much better, much more interesting than they know.  We demand that we be portrayed not as they have imagined our lives to be but the way we are.  We are not strange or obnoxious—or at least most of us are not—and we insist that we be a fundamental part of the description they create about us.  We who are blind can better portray blindness than any sighted person pretending to be blind, and we can tell better stories on this topic than anybody else.  We don’t have to pretend, we know about blindness.  What we say to Hollywood is this: “Put us on the silver screen, and we will show you the reality of blindness.  And, if you want us to display our irascibility, tell us that blindness connotes inferiority.  Irascibility is the least you will get.” 

In the National Federation of the Blind, we distribute specialized aids and appliances relating to blindness or of particular assistance to blind people.  White canes, Braille watches, slates and styluses, color identifiers, graduated measuring spoons and cups, and hundreds of other items are available.  People who think they have special items of use to the blind ask us if we would be interested in distributing such material.  A number of suggestions have come to us this year.  An e-mail from one person, written in 2011, said:

My mother was visually impaired and attended Sight Support Groups.  In these meetings she met a blind woman wearing a bib because she dropped food on her clothes constantly.  Mom asked me to make her some, then she asked me to make some for the men and women in her Retirement Community and so on.

My daughter and I are still making Dribble-Its (bibs) for infants, children and adults.  We make Lap-Kins too.

Please visit our website [www.dribble-it.com].  Our bibs are functional, fun and made in America.

The Dribblets

That is what the e-mail said, and there are parts of it that I believe.  The bibs are functional and made in America.  But fun?  How much fun can a bib be?  All of us spill things now and then, but contrary to the arguments we sometimes encounter, blind people are not sloppier or messier than anybody else.  Furthermore, we are not children, and we will not be treated as such.  In examining the documents written about blind people over the decades, I find it astonishing to recognize how often is emphasized the importance of napkins for the blind.   

More than two decades ago, when I was preparing the first of the banquet speeches I was to deliver, I commented upon a brochure issued by the South Carolina Commission for the Blind.  In it, rehabilitation officials gave instruction to people assisting the blind.  Three of their instructions were: “8. Use good-sized napkins. 9. Don't make unnecessary comments when food is spilled. 10. If food is spilled on clothing, mention it casually so that it can be removed at once.”  These are instructions from a brochure distributed by the South Carolina Commission for the Blind many years ago.  The instructions are not directed to the blind but to caregivers offering assistance to the blind.  In other words, the officials at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind also believe that blind people need babysitters.  The Driblets, supplying Lap-Kins and bibs for the blind, have an opinion about blind people very similar to the one that came from these government officials.  We decline to play the role of the sloppy incompetent.  We reject this image, and we will not be limited by this mischaracterization. 

Dr. Robert Porper, a retired oral maxillofacial surgeon, sent me a special toothbrush for the blind.  When I got the package, I was startled.  Are the teeth that blind people possess different from those of other people?  Are the brushing capabilities of blind people restricted or inhibited more than those of others?  Why would a special toothbrush for the blind be needed?  How could such a brush be constructed to provide assistance to the blind in ways that are different from those provided by the ordinary toothbrush? 

Dr. Porper has created a company called Twinbrush, LLC, which manufactures a toothbrush with a particularly wide handle and a head containing two brushes that are at a ninety degree angle to each other.  The bristle ends of the two brushes come together to cradle the teeth in a complete brushing environment.  Not only that, the bristles on the two brushing heads have multi-diameters so as better to provide the cleaning action.  Dr. Porper says that this brush will be especially useful for those who cannot see.  Originally designed for other disadvantaged populations, Dr. Porper sent me samples of his brush, thinking that the National Federation of the Blind might like to distribute them to those who need especially clean teeth and who cannot see.  According to Dr. Porper, with this special brush the blind person with teeth will always have the *porper* alignment.

Then, there are the magnetic shoes.  These have been designed for “children (aged one to six), the blind, or special needs people.”  Each pair of shoes has magnets mounted at the instep.  These magnets easily permit the owner to align the shoes in the same direction.  Therefore, according to the inventor, it is easier for the blind to put the shoes on the feet.  It is also easier to be sure that the blind person has one left shoe and one right shoe.  The magnets will not line up unless there is a left shoe and a right shoe.

It is hard for me to imagine how such ideas come to mind.  I find myself constantly astonished to learn just how stupid some people think we are.  We can’t get our teeth clean without special brushes; we need magnetically enhanced shoes to let us know that we have both a left and a right shoe; and we need Lap-kins and bibs to prevent us from being smeared with the sticky sloppy ingredients of our plates.  With this kind of public relations, is it hard to understand why the unemployment rate for the blind is above seventy percent?  Is it difficult to comprehend why the high school graduation rate is only forty-five percent?  Yet, the progress we create is as real as the slights we encounter.  The opportunities being generated are as many as the belittlements we must refute. 

In the spring of 2010, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education sent a letter to colleges and universities telling them that they could not deploy technology on college campuses that discriminates against the blind.  In the spring of 2011 a similar letter was distributed by the Department of Education to school districts throughout the United States.  These letters declare the policy of the United States, incorporated in law, that the blind shall be welcome in educational institutions.  These letters were written because we asked that they be written.  This policy was emphasized and reiterated because we asked that it be emphasized and reiterated.

We in the National Federation of the Blind have spent millions of dollars and enormous amounts of time and energy in attempting to gain equal access to electronic information.  Books in digital form are being distributed on college campuses and in grade schools and high schools.  We expect to have equal access to these books.  Book reading devices are being manufactured.  Some of them do not incorporate methods for the blind to gain access to the information being presented.  We have urged manufacturers to make their readers so that we can use them, and some of the manufacturers have done this.  We have also worked very closely with the K-NFB Reading Technology Company to develop a method for making books accessible to the blind.  This accessible book technology is helping to demonstrate to the publishing industry that accessibility of print material to the blind is a viable option.  Knowledge about transportation and coupons essential to gain access to the transportation system are being distributed through electronic kiosks.  In former times, the information and the tickets could be obtained from people who distributed such things from behind counters, but the kiosk is now the access point, and the people are becoming rare.  Most of these kiosks are inaccessible to the blind. 

Some people would have us believe that building electronic devices in ways that make them accessible for the blind is enormously difficult, dramatically expensive, and a tremendous burden to industry.  Our experience does not confirm this assertion.  In the 1990s the regulatory system for banks demanded that automated teller machines be built in a way that would let the blind use them.  We asked the banks to deploy such technology.  They responded by telling us that they would do it, but that no manufacturers were creating such products.  To provide equal access to the blind through electronic teller machines was impossible, they said.  We asked the manufacturers to build ATMs that the blind could use.  They said they would do it, but no banks were ordering them.  Because the banks had not asked for such technology, it had not been invented.  Providing such machines was impossible, they said.  A number of complaints were brought; a number of lawsuits were filed; a number of arguments were made; and a number of settlements were reached.  The National Federation of the Blind spent enormous sums, but the result is evident.  Today, all manufacturers of automated teller machines in the United States build them with accessibility as an incorporated feature.  The cost is negligible.  I have been informed that the cost for hardware modification is less than one dollar per machine.  Some banks do not enable this feature, but all of the ATMs have it. 

While we are on the subject of blindness and ATMs, I note that the late-night comedians have found it humorous that bank machines in the drive-through section of the bank have Braille on the buttons.  They keep wondering out loud how many blind people are driving up to the machines.  Perhaps they have not considered the reality of what we are and what we do.  I get into a taxi, and I tell the driver to drive by an ATM so I can lean out the window and operate the machine.  The Braille is helpful to me, and I avoid the necessity of giving my bank card and personal identification number to the taxi driver, a circumstance involving risk I would rather not take. 

When we learned that the Apple Company was using iTunes to distribute college course material, we asked the company to make this material accessible to the blind.  For a period of time Apple seemed to think that this would be difficult or impossible.  However, we did not give up.  When Apple discovered that we would never give up, and when it learned that there could be substantial legal trouble, it decided to look at the matter seriously.  Now, the Apple iPhone, the iPod Touch, the iPad, and Apple computers all incorporate nonvisual access technology.  This change has enhanced the marketplace for Apple, and it has demonstrated that flat screen technology can be used nonvisually with essentially the same ease of use as is offered to sighted people. 

Home appliances are being manufactured with visual displays that must be manipulated visually to make them work.  Office equipment incorporates the same visual access design.  Web sites are being deployed by government, by private business, by educational institutions, and by the entertainment industry that are unusable by the blind even though the law requires otherwise.  We have managed to get the attention of hundreds of Web designers and technology manufacturers, but the speed of development of new technology is so great that many thousands of Web sites are created every day and new technological applications are being created by the hundreds.  The Apple Company says that it has more than three hundred fifty thousand applications for its iPhone in the iTunes store.  Although the iPhone itself is built to be accessible to the blind, many of the applications created to run on it are not.   

In the information age, lack of information is a severe disadvantage, and denial of information when it could be readily made available is discrimination.  If we cannot gain access to information, we will be prevented from participation in education, employment, commerce, politics, and many leisure activities.  Construction standards in the United States require physical facilities to be usable by the disabled.  However, access to information is at least as vital as access to physical facilities.  In 2002, we asked Congress to incorporate a requirement in the Help America Vote Act that voting machines be accessible to the blind.  Today, all voting machine manufacturers incorporate this technology in their devices, and the blind enjoy the advantages of being able to cast a secret ballot. 

Information is presented in digital form in almost every instance today, and this type of presentation can be readily made accessible to the blind.    We who are blind must be a recognized element of the process of building the intellectual infrastructure of the nation and the world.  Until we accomplish this objective, we will continue to battle for our right to full participation.  This will be good for the blind, but it will also serve others.  Some people wonder if this dream can come true, but we do not.  The achievement of full participation is not a matter for speculation but for decision, and our minds are made up.  Equality will be ours, and nothing on earth can prevent us from gaining it.

The founding President of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, began writing about the position of the blind in the legal system of the United States in the 1930s.  He said that welfare payments should not be denied to blind people on the grounds that they were seeking an education at the university level.  He argued in the 1950s that the blind had a constitutional right to adequate rehabilitation.  In the 1960s he drafted the white cane law to secure the right of the blind and otherwise physically disabled to full participation in the activities of American communities.  His extensive survey and analysis of the policies of the United States regarding disabled individuals was published in 1966, and it helped to generate the disability rights movement. 

Dr. tenBroek pointed out that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution declares that no person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.  Blind persons are just as much persons under the Constitution as anybody else.  The right to liberty guarantees the right to move about in the community without being subjected to extraordinary danger and the right to pursue employment in whatever trade or calling a person chooses.  However, his survey of judicial decisions revealed that the liberty of blind people has sometimes been severely restricted.  In the past, some of the courts have argued that it is dangerous for a blind person to be abroad in the land, especially without a sighted supervisor.  The blind person knows it is dangerous to be abroad in the land.  Consequently, being out in the world is evidence that the blind person is engaging knowingly in risky behavior.  Either the blind person has assumed the risk of injury, or the behavior that puts the blind person in the world is evidence of a kind of negligent disregard of that blind person’s safety.  Any injury that may occur to a blind person is attributable to that blind person’s risky behavior; it is the blind person’s fault.  Blind persons should know better than to leave their homes unescorted and unsupervised.  With these judicial decisions, liberty for a blind person ceases to be a right protected by law, and the interminable interference with the lives of blind people on the grounds of safety is the inevitable result.  Sit still; wait here; don’t move until I get somebody to help you.  These are the orders that we receive constantly.  They mean: turn your life and your independence over to me because I know more about what you need than you do.  I can see; you cannot.  I am in charge of you.  This is often the shape of the denial of our liberty. 

In the spring of 2011, a group of blind people in Baltimore seeking to participate in the activities of a paintball sports emporium were refused admittance on the grounds that they are blind and their participation would be unsafe.  They might be struck by flying paintballs, the proprietors said, or the blind people might fall down.  The flying paintballs might injure the blind people.  Perhaps the proprietors had gained special knowledge about blind people, knowledge that we who are blind do not have.  Perhaps the proprietors had come to know that blind people are injured by flying paintballs more easily than the sighted.  Perhaps the proprietors had come to realize that the skins of blind people are thinner, that the nerve centers of blind people are more susceptible to damage, or that the chemical composition of paint is more emotionally challenging to the blind than it is to the sighted.  Or perhaps the proprietors just did not want blind people in their place of business.  No matter how they structure the argument, the basis for the decision is prejudice against the blind.  They may want to rob us of our liberty, but they do not know us; we will not tolerate this custodialism.  We have the same right to participate fully in the activities of our community as anybody else, and we intend to exercise it. 

In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act became law.  The objective of this legislation was equality of opportunity for disabled Americans.  Eleven years after it was adopted, the Supreme Court issued a decision written by the then chief justice.  In that decision the chief justice said that it would be rational, and constitutional, for states to refuse to hire disabled people because they are more expensive to hire than nondisabled people.  How did the chief justice know that it is more expensive to hire disabled people than it is to hire nondisabled people?  Had the court conducted a survey of all disabled employees and all unemployed disabled potential employees to ascertain the costs involved in employing them?  Had a comparison been made of these costs to the actual costs involved in hiring nondisabled people?  Had the court considered the disabled Americans who are employed today at subminimum wages?  Had the court considered a comparison of the costs for people receiving subminimum wages to the costs associated with those guaranteed the minimum wage?  The answer to these questions is “No!”  The court violated the standard expected of judicial decision-making.  Decisions are expected to be based on fact, not fiction—on evidence produced in the record, not prejudice. 

For the past ten years, this decision of the United States Supreme Court has remained in effect.  It has been criticized by many, but it has not yet been criticized by the Supreme Court.  However, although the court rarely admits it, it does sometimes change its mind.  In the long run it is our task to ensure that this decision is changed.  Justice in America is to be based on fact, not fantasy.  The facts are with us, and we will demonstrate them whenever we get the chance.  Prejudice dies hard, but it does die, and we are here to hurry it on its way.    
In assessing the position of blind people in the United States, it is necessary to consider the image that we have in the minds of others, but it is also useful to reflect upon the thoughts we have and the actions we take.  Within the past few months, we have taken an automobile modified for use by the blind, and we have placed it on a race course.  We have demonstrated that we can control this technology.  We are a long way from possessing the capability of putting a machine operable by the blind on the streets, but the initial demonstration has been made.  Our imagination and our ambition have not been diminished by our blindness, and our belief in our capacity to manage complex technology has carried us a long way.  The time will come when the blind-drivable vehicle will be manufactured, and other technologies will follow.  When this occurs, modifications to the legal system will be needed.  Some of us have speculated that this will be the difficult part in getting blind drivers on the road.  I am told that building an airplane the blind can fly is easier than building a car the blind can drive. 

We who are blind are expanding the frontiers for us, and in doing so we are expanding them for others as well.  Where can we not go, and what can we not do?  These questions have been with us forever, but the answers have never been comprehensive.  This is so because the frontiers expand with our imagination.  If there are limits, we have not reached them.  Taking advantage of this type of technology requires the establishment of trust in the technology.  More important than trusting the technology is trusting the people who operate the technology.  Without the establishment of this form of trust, the laws permitting use of the technology cannot be adopted.  Creating public attitudes that will help people come to trust the capacity of the blind is a vital part of what we must do.  Although today the image seems far-fetched, we must create in the minds of employers the notion that they want blind people to drive their trucks, fly their planes, and do other tasks that they think blind people cannot do.  We must expand the number of places where we have the ability to demonstrate excellence. 

When I came to be a part of the National Federation of the Blind more than forty years ago, our opportunities were more limited than they are now.  Many of the arguments about the capacity of the blind that we encountered in those days have not changed, but some of the laws are better than they were, some of the programs are more productive, and some of the public attitudes about blindness welcome us as full participants.  More of us are working in a wider variety of occupations than ever before in history.  Some blind people have never been faced with a comprehensive pattern of discrimination and denial which was once almost universal.  Some of them think to themselves, “I’ve never faced discrimination, what is all the fuss about?”  However, the achievement of full equality for us all is still not within our grasp. 

The progress we have made is tremendous, and I am proud of what we have done.  However, if we were to cease our efforts today, the promises we have made to ourselves and to the blind of this generation would not be fulfilled.  We always keep our promises—especially the ones we make to each other.  The need is as urgent as it has ever been.  The communications from blind people continue to tell the stories of deprivation.  Although blind students are frequently welcomed in school, they rarely receive education equivalent to their sighted colleagues, and learning Braille is rare.  If it were not for our presence, such deprivation would be largely unchallenged.  We are as necessary to building hope as when we came into being more than seven decades ago. 

A risk not taken is an opportunity missed.  Not all of the risks are worth the cost, but many of them are.  To observe the far country, to reach beyond the limits of present expectation, to create methods of understanding that are currently unknown, to imagine a time when full acceptance of our capabilities will be a part of the public mind, to dream of making contributions that will help to build a better world, to offer hope where none has existed—these are the opportunities we are seeking.  Can we reach these lofty goals?  Can we muster the courage to believe in ourselves?  Will we have the dedication, the leadership, and the energy to gain equality? 

The Supreme Court tells us it is rational for the states not to hire us.  The inventors would foist upon us special shoes, toothbrushes and bibs.  The governmental officials and filmmakers urge the public to believe that we require babysitters.  Who are we to tell them all that we know better than any of them?  Who are we to contest the assumptions and considered decisions of the highest court in the land?  Who are we to insist that the creators of the international images that emanate from Hollywood are too limited in their imagination?  We are the blind of America, organized and on the move.  We are the blind leaders who have examined our hearts and found them strong.  We are the blind people with the courage to tell it like it is.

We have known isolation and poverty, but we have sometimes found ways to reach beyond them.  We have encountered closed minds, but we have often found ways to open them.  Many of us have felt despair, but our friends in the movement have shown us a future filled with promise.  I have traveled the country, and I have met with members of the National Federation of the Blind.  We have often said that we have capacity, and I am convinced that sometimes we do not know just how much.  My experience with Federation members gives me enormous confidence.  I am absolutely certain that the equality we seek must and will be ours.  Nothing can keep us from it.  Our heritage demands it; our experience requires it; our lives proclaim it.  Nothing, nothing on earth can keep this dream from coming true.  The risks are monumental, but we will take them together.  Of such strength is made the future for us all; of such spirit is fashioned the National Federation of the Blind.

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