Vol. 32, No. 6 July 1989
Kenneth Jernigan, Editor
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
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Vol. 32, No. 6 July 1989
AIRLINE BATTLE MOVES TOWARD
by Kenneth Jernigan
AIRLINES, THE SAFETY HOAX,
AND THE FAA: A REPORT FROM THE
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON AIRCRAFT CABIN SAFETY
KENNETH JERNIGAN TESTIFIES ON AIR TRAVEL RIGHTS FOR BLIND INDIVIDUALS ACT
PRESIDENT MAURER APPEARS ON THE TODAY SHOW
A LETTER TO BRANIFF AIRLINES
A SLIP OF THE TONGUE
by Barbara Pierce
ORAL MILLER AND THE ACB
DEMONSTRATE THEIR USUAL IMMATURITY
AND BAD TEMPER AND SELL THE BLIND OUT AGAIN
by Kenneth Jernigan
WHEN OMNIVOROUS READING ISN'T ENOUGH
OF AIRLINES, KOWTOWING, AND BRAILLE BROCHURES
SENATOR HARKIN TESTIFIES IN FAVOR OF THE AIR TRAVEL RIGHTS FOR BLIND INDIVIDUALS ACT
COMMITTEE ON JOINT ORGANIZATIONAL
by Kenneth Jernigan
MICHIGAN SAYS UP WITH STANDARDS
AND QUALITY SERVICES AND DOWN WITH NAC
by Kenneth Jernigan
NORMA KRAJCZAR OUT IN NEW JERSEY
CONNIE McCRAW DIES
by Kenneth Jernigan
Copyright, National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1989
by Kenneth Jernigan
For more than a dozen years (sometimes it almost seems like forever) the blind of this country have been trying to get equal treatment with others when flying on commercial airplanes. As Monitor readers know, the battle has been lengthy and furious. We have been accused of being militant, radical, stubborn, stupid, nit-picky, and inconsiderate and these are only the kinder and more printable things that have been said. Yet, we have stood by our principles and refused to knuckle under.
The controversy is now moving into a decisive phase. On March 13 of this year the Federal Aviation Administration printed proposed rules which would bar the blind from sitting in exit rows on planes, and on March 14 hearings were held before the Subcommittee on Aviation of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to consider S. 341 (The Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act), introduced by Senator Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina. Senator Hollings is Chairman of the full Committee. Representatives of the National Federation of the Blind testified in support of S. 341, and the federal Department of Transportation and the airline industry testified against it. The hearing attracted a great deal of media coverage, including an appearance by President Maurer on NBC's Today Show.
On May 16, 1989, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved S. 341 as introduced and ordered the bill to be reported to the full Senate. The bill was approved by the Committee on a voice vote of the senators present. Including Senator Hollings, there were seven Republicans and five Democrats in the room. Only two senators (Slade Gorton, Republican of Washington State, and Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana) appeared to vote no. Both Senator Gorton and Senator Burns also made brief speeches to explain why they were going to vote against S. 341. Their reasons amounted to an unquestioning acceptance of the safety arguments made by FAA and airline industry officials. Senator James Exon, Democrat of Nebraska, spoke strongly in favor of S. 341, as did Senator Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii. Senator Exon said that he had not received satisfactory answers from the FAA in response to his questions about their safety claims. Privately it is said that the Air Transport Association contacted several senators in an attempt to find one who would offer an amendment to convert the bill's purpose into a call for an FAA study. Not one of the senators offered such an amendment. At the time of this writing (late May) the bill is awaiting action by the entire Senate. Including Senator Hollings, S. 341 currently has thirty-two cosponsors, and the chances seem good that it will pass the Senate. This is so despite the strong lobbying of Department of Transportation officials and the money and power of the airline industry.
In the House of Representatives the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act has been introduced as H.R. 563. As was the case in the last session of Congress, the principal sponsor is Congressman James Traficant of Ohio. One hundred fifty-nine other members of the House have so far joined with him as cosponsors. The Chairman of the House subcommittee to which H.R. 563 has been reported is not a cosponsor and has not yet scheduled hearings, but as the number of supporters grows, it would seem likely that he (Congressman James Oberstar, MN) will.
In response to the Committee approval of S. 341 the New York Times carried an unfavorable editorial on Saturday, May 20. An appropriate answer is being prepared, which we will try to get the Times to carry on its Op Ed page. The battle is now fully joined, and it remains to be seen whether the Congress, the media, and the general public have advanced far enough in their thinking to understand the issues and be willing to accord first-class citizenship to the blind. Regardless of the outcome, we continue to make steady progress. Even two years ago we were not able to move the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act through a committee and onto the floor of either House. This year prospects are bright, and we may be able to see the bill enacted into law. In any case we will continue our march to freedom, and we will not be turned back.
In the fall of 1986 Congress passed and the President signed into law the Air Carrier Access Act, a piece of legislation intended to protect disabled people from discrimination at the hands of the nation's airlines. Members of the National Federation of the Blind were cautiously jubilant over this victory. Leaders in both the House and Senate had assured us and one another that this law was designed to protect blind passengers from harassment over seat location, stowage of canes, disposition of dog guides, etc. The Department of Transportation (DOT) was charged with devising the implementation of this law, and they had only ninety days in which to do it. We were skeptical, and our skepticism proved to be well-founded. At the mid-point of 1989, the DOT implementation is still no more than a proposed document. But (and it is a very large but indeed) the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has now weighed in with its own contribution to the discussion. Until the summer of 1988 it had maintained that where blind passengers sat in an aircraft cabin was not a safety issue. Its data, gathered in 1973 and apparently not revised since, had determined this position.
But on March 13, 1989, the FAA published in the Federal Register a fifty-nine-page document of rule-making. For months FAA representatives had been warning interested parties that they would soon take an official stand, and it was clear what they would say. Suddenly the FAA had discovered that safety was at issue, and the blind (along with members of other identifiable groups) were unsafe at any speed and in any circumstance.
The arguments the FAA cobbled together and the National Federation of the Blind's responses to them are discussed elsewhere in this issue. In November of 1988, James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs of the National Federation of the Blind, attended an international conference on air cabin safety. He assumed that this was the place where one could hear straight talk about air safety and observe the industry and the regulators' true commitment to safety. His assumption proved to be dismayingly correct. Here is Mr. Gashel's report:
The Federal Aviation Administration is the branch of the United States Department of Transportation which operates the nationwide air traffic control system. It is also supposed to develop and publish standards for air carriers to follow in providing safe service to the public. For example, FAA regulations prescribe the content of the preflight safety briefings the flight attendants must give passengers prior to takeoff. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958, as amended, spells out the FAA's responsibilities.
Air carrier representatives have always tried to hoodwink blind people into believing that seating restrictions have always been required by the FAA. This has happened whenever there have been confrontations over exit-row seat assignments. Blind people seated near the exits have been routinely told that there was an FAA regulation which required them to move. They were also told that failure to do so would be a violation of federal law. Until June of 1989, when the FAA's proposed rule took effect, these statements were not true. They were only made to intimidate blind people into moving. The facts are that each air carrier has had its own procedures, which may (or may not) have included seating restrictions. These rules (which may be in a carrier's procedures) were not a matter of federal law. They were not enforced by the FAA but merely filed with it.
The FAA did not require air carriers to establish procedures that restricted blind passengers from being seated near emergency exits.
Some (a majority) of carriers placed such restrictions in their procedures. Others did not. Until very recently, the FAA did not have a regulation which forced it to impose restrictions. The carriers (especially the major ones which have always restricted seating for the blind) pressured the FAA to impose a uniform federal ban on seating blind people near emergency exits. After all, a federal rule would remove responsibility from the carriers, who could then legitimately point fingers at the FAA. They could tell the blind that the FAA made us do it, and it would be the truth.
In light of the controversy over this matter, which has been heating up over the past several years, it seemed like a good idea to attend an international flight safety conference, held in early November, 1988, near Washington, D.C. The conference was sponsored by the FAA and organized by the Flight Safety Foundation what better place to learn about safety issues in air travel? Participants included all major commercial airlines, aircraft manufacturers, pilot and flight attendant unions, staff from the National Transportation Safety Board, FAA representatives, and assorted consultants interested in aircraft cabin safety. Twenty-one countries, including the United States, were represented. Among the 243 participants were personnel officially representing thirty-eight airlines.
Quite apart from the issue of seating blind people near emergency exits, there are several questions which come to mind when one attends an aircraft cabin safety conference. The general question is, How safe are airplanes anyway? If blind people are to be denied seats near emergency exits, does this restriction constitute a higher standard of safety than is normally applied? Is any effort being made to correct known safety hazards? Which ones (if any) are being tolerated and why? Are airlines willing to take steps which would make air travel safer for all passengers? If not, why? These are only a few of the issues that crossed my mind as the cabin safety conference opened.
One question was quickly answered in the first few minutes of the conference. Thomas E. McSweeny, the FAA's Deputy Director, summarized his agency's activities undertaken in response to recommendations of a similar conference held four years ago. He discussed the FAA's development of regulations on handicapped seating but admitted that these rules were not being promulgated in response to a conference recommendation, for the very good reason that none had been made. The cabin safety experts had apparently seen no reason to do so. Attending a flight safety conference is not a reassuring experience. Although I had suspected that this might be the case, the reality was even more frightening than I had anticipated. I already knew about some of the hazards, such as babies being seated on laps. Some youngsters and other passengers have been seriously injured for lack of child restraints during steep dives, turbulence, or cabin-decompression. Requiring child restraints, such as those used in automobiles, would be feasible and certainly safer for all passengers, especially the children. An FAA spokeswoman told me, however, that child restraints are not required because of economics. If they were, parents would undoubtedly be charged for a seat, whereas now children who sit on laps fly free. Child restraints would also mean additional costs to the airlines, she said.
I was shocked to learn about another danger involving the transport of hazardous materials on board passenger-carrying aircraft. Federal regulations require the shippers of such cargo to identify these materials and to obey other packaging and shipping specifications. Experts at the conference said, however, that shippers frequently mislabel the materials in ways that mask the hazard. In one example given, chemicals used for making acid-washed jeans were identified by the shipper as laundry equipment. Mislabeling can lead to improper packaging and the failure to stow the materials safely on board the aircraft. In the example given, the chemicals, which were flammable, were placed in a Class D cargo compartment for a flight to Nashville, Tennessee. When the aircraft was about to land, the passengers and cabin crew began to smell smoke the hazardous materials had burst into flame. The Class D cargo compartment does not contain fire sensors, and even if it did, there are no extinguishers nearby. The crew, therefore, has no way of knowing the exact location of the fire or the means to put it out. Such a catastrophe could occur on virtually any aircraft flying today.
The working portion of the conference consisted of several small group sessions. I chose to attend the one on passenger information. We discussed the practice of orally briefing all passengers using the public address system before each flight. I said that including the row numbers of the emergency exits in the oral announcements would be a good idea. Most people are conscious of their own row locations by virtue of the boarding process. Mentioning the row numbers of the exits would be an additional guide for all passengers in locating the escape route nearest their seats. This was the only proposal voted upon in the entire meeting, and astonishingly, it lost, getting only seven votes. Opponents offered various excuses. For example, some aircraft cabins are numbered in reverse order, and sometimes rows (13 for instance) are omitted. After airline personnel claimed that the cabin crews might, in confusion, announce incorrect row numbers for the exits, most of the flight attendant representatives voted in favor of the proposal. Considering the matter purely from a safety standpoint, it would be hard to argue that announcing the exit row numbers would be more dangerous than the present practice of not doing so. A spokeswoman from the National Transportation Safety Board (who also seemed to favor announcing the locations of exits) mentioned that her agency had thought for some time that flight attendants should point to them. She said that the National Transportation Safety Board has been trying for several years to convince the FAA to establish a regulation requiring flight attendants to point out the exits. The FAA has not made such a regulation. One might ask why?
At the conference, the answer was apparent. Several references were made to the fact that airlines are worried about the image of commercial flying. They do not want to emphasize possible hazards for fear the public will abandon air travel. This anxiety was apparent over and over again as airline representatives argued against every proposal that would give passengers more information about safety.
Someone mentioned that on several occasions passengers have initiated emergency evacuations in response to non-emergency conditions. This has happened most often when the auxiliary power unit torches. Torching of the power units occurs when excess fuel catches fire, and a small explosion takes place. The experience can be very frightening to an uninformed passenger. It has resulted in more than one unnecessary emergency evacuation, causing injuries and delaying flights.
I proposed that this, and other problems of emergency evacuations, be dealt with by means of a special preflight briefing which should be given to each occupant of a seat near an emergency exit. These passengers are the ones who must understand and obey the flight attendants' commands in time of emergency. Hasty action (as in the case of a torching incident) might cause more injuries than waiting for instructions.
These special briefings were not a popular idea. Airline personnel maintained that their flights are very tightly scheduled, and there isn't sufficient time to give a special briefing to the exit row occupants. So much for safety. A consultant whose company makes briefing cards for the airlines suggested that passengers might want to move if they were informed of their responsibilities. I responded that this was exactly the point. A passenger should know what to do if there were an emergency. If he or she candidly expresses unwillingness to assume or perform the duties (or if the passenger realizes that he or she is unable to do so), a change should be made. It would be unsafe and irresponsible not to brief the passengers and to leave the uninformed, unwilling, or unable passenger seated near the exit door. Nonetheless, this proposal was not even seriously considered. The group's discussion moved on to briefing cards. There was considerable debate about whether or not the cards are adequate. I proposed that they be designed to give only the safety directions that apply to the aircraft on which they are carried. The FAA regulations require that the cards explain procedures for the type and model of aircraft, but not for the specific plane. Having aircraft-specific briefing cards did not seem like a good idea to anyone else. As matters stand, with the cards only reflecting the type and model of aircraft, a passenger who must open an emergency exit door may have several instructions from which to choose. In a crisis it is quite unrealistic to expect that he or she can make the correct decision quickly. To avoid confusion, it would be better to have aircraft-specific cards, but the airlines do not want them.
The group meeting on passenger information was not very productive, to say the least. Reacting to my proposals, Mr. Ron Welding, representing the Air Transport Association of America, finally said that matters involving the handicapped were being dealt with by a special group of experts working with the Department of Transportation. He apparently did not regard me as one of those experts. Mr. Welding proposed that I take my suggestions to those who knew about the handicapped because these matters were not the subject before the passenger information group at this conference. I responded in part by saying that the proposals I had been making were not matters involving the handicapped at all. They would make air travel safer for everyone. The special briefing for emergency row occupants, for example, had nothing whatsoever to do with the handicapped. I addressed several other comments to Mr. Welding, who was not heard from again.
Here is the bottom line. Airlines are resistant to any new safety suggestions which might emphasize the possible hazards of flying. They also resist new measures which would increase safety. Their resistance is strongest when safer procedures have economic implications, but even those that do not are resisted if they require a change. Ask any pilot or flight attendant if this is true. It is not that the airlines care nothing about safety; of course they do. But airlines also care about other things, such as making money. Many studies show that air travel in this country has become increasingly unsafe due to the growing competition for paying customers. This is what airlines care about most and is the reason why they persist, for example, in selling liquor to exit row passengers who will need to have sound judgment in case of an emergency. It is also why the airlines do not want to give emergency row occupants special briefings, for fear that they will waste valuable time, or that they may convince some passengers to move. Doubtless many people in the commercial aviation industry think it would be safer not to have blind people seated near emergency exits. They hold to this view without a single piece of proof, and yet knowingly accept risks that have serious safety implications. Why do passenger-carrying aircraft transport hazardous materials? Because shippers want this service, and airlines want the money. The planes carrying passengers are flying anyway, so why not fill the empty space with anything that the customer is willing to pay for? Why not install fire detectors and extinguishers? Because of the expense. It is not that the airlines want to be unsafe; it is just that they want to make money.
This is the lesson one learns by attending an international conference on aircraft cabin safety. It is not a reassuring experience. In fact, it is downright frightening. Here is what the airlines are saying to us: It is perfectly appropriate to discriminate against the blind by restricting their seating (and performing other demeaning acts) as long as safety is the excuse. But when it comes to increased protection against hazardous materials, special briefings for passengers seated near exits, aircraft-specific briefing cards, oral announcements of the location of emergency exits, or even pointing to the exits, the airlines want none of it. After uncovering that kind of logic, can anyone doubt that we face discrimination by the airlines of a most cruel and vicious type? Only through the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind is this unequal treatment being challenged. They tell us that there is no discrimination, that the blind are not a minority. That is what they tell us, but in flying on the airlines we have learned to our cost that it is not the truth.
The following statement was presented by Kenneth Jernigan before the Subcommittee on Aviation of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on March 14, 1989.
Mr. Chairman, I am Kenneth Jernigan, Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind; and my address is 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; telephone, (301) 659-9314. This hearing concerns the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act (S. 341), introduced by Senator Hollings and others last month. We are pleased, Mr. Chairman, that you and Senator McCain are original co-sponsors of the bill.
The Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act is necessary legislation. The blind, who have come here this morning from throughout the United States, can tell you from personal experience that this is so. Today the situation is such that no blind person in this country can board a plane without fear of harassment, public humiliation, and possibly arrest and bodily injury. I have been riding on airplanes for more than thirty-five years, and I can say from firsthand knowledge that it was not always like this. Prior to the 1970's blind people almost never experienced problems in air travel. We bought our tickets, went to the airport, boarded the plane, traveled to our destination, got off, and went about our business just like everybody else. If one of us wanted help in boarding a plane or making a connection, the assistance was requested and given without a thought.
Then, things began to change. Ironically the problem was caused by the 1973 amendments to the federal Rehabilitation Act and the growing emphasis on affirmative action and prohibition of discrimination against the handicapped. One would have thought these things would have been positive steps, but they were not at least, not for the blind. Airline personnel and federal regulators didn't become knowledgeable overnight or lose their prejudices just because somebody told them to engage in affirmative action and nondiscrimination. Mostly with respect to air travel the blind didn't need any affirmative action. We were doing just fine as it was. But the airlines and the federal regulators wouldn't have it that way.
They began by lumping all of what they perceived to be the handicapped together wheelchair users, the blind, the deaf, the quadriplegic, the cerebral palsied, and everybody else including, very often, small children. Next they catalogued what they believed to be the problems, needs, and characteristics of these groups and then assumed that each item on the list applied to every member of every group they had included. The resulting mythical composite was a monstrosity, totally helpless, totally in need of custody, and totally nonexistent except in the minds of airline officials and federal regulators. When we objected and insisted on our right to the same freedom of travel that other Americans enjoy, the airline officials and federal regulators reacted with anger and resentment. Since nobody wants to admit to prejudice and ignorance, they said their treatment of us was based on safety. After all, who can fight safety! In 1986 Congress passed a law specifically prohibiting discrimination on the basis of handicap in air travel, and even that law has now been twisted into the exact opposite of what Congress intended. Today we are faced with a proposed regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration in response to the 1986 law, and it is not by accident that the regulation was published just prior to this hearing. Of course, the regulation is made in the name of safety, but it is not a question of safety at all but of human rights and the freedom to travel. More specifically the regulation prohibits blind persons from sitting in exit rows on airplanes, but much more than exit row seating is involved. If the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act is adopted, a signal will be sent to the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration. If the legislation is not passed and the FAA rule is allowed to stand, a signal will also be sent that the blind are fair game for any kind of treatment the airlines and the FAA wish to give us, as long as it is done in the name of safety.
If the abuse we are taking from the airlines had anything to do with safety, we wouldn't object, but it doesn't. The truth is that we are being made victims of a misdirected and misapplied federal policy that has irrationally gone wild. Let me give you examples and show you what I mean.
In early February of this year the blind were in Washington to talk to Congress about (among other things) the unreasonable treatment we are receiving from the airlines. Going home from that meeting Verla Kirsch, a blind woman from Iowa, was assaulted and publicly humiliated by Midway Airlines flight personnel. Even though Mrs. Kirsch's white cane was on the floor in the approved FAA manner, the flight attendant (over her protest) took it from her, returning it after takeoff. On the descent into Chicago two Midway flight attendants sneaked up on Mrs. Kirsch, hunkered down, grabbed and lifted her legs, (yes, I literally mean that) and in her words, yanked the cane from under my feet, bending the cane and nearly breaking it. On the trip from Chicago to Des Moines (still on Midway) Mrs. Kirsch found that the word had gone ahead of her, but this time she was prepared and refused to be caught off guard. After publicly harassing her, flight personnel found in their own manual that Mrs. Kirsch was in the right and that blind persons (according to Midway's own policies) may keep their canes at their seats. But the damage was done. Imagine the spectacle, the embarrassment, and the public humiliation! This (and not just exit row seating) is what is really at stake with the proposed FAA rule, this hearing, and the passage of the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act.
Is it safe for blind persons to sit in exit rows? Are there, in fact, times when it would be a plus? Here is the sworn statement of a pilot: I, Jared Haas, being first duly sworn, depose and state: I have been a pilot for many years. I currently fly 727 aircraft, and I have been employed to do so since June of 1974. I am familiar with a number of blind people, and I am generally familiar with the capacities of the blind. In an emergency situation there are circumstances in which it would be helpful to have an able-bodied blind person seated in an emergency exit row with a sighted person. In those cases in which there is smoke in the cabin, an able-bodied blind person, being used to handling situations without sight, would be able to assist with more facility in the evacuation. An able-bodied blind person would not hinder an emergency evacuation.
That is what a pilot says, and he is not just talking theory. I am aware of at least one case in which it was put to the test. In the early 1980's Lawrence Marcelino, a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, was flying home from Baltimore to California; and when the plane got ready to land in San Francisco, there was a problem. The landing gear wouldn't come down. The plane landed on foam, and the lights went out. An emergency evacuation occurred. It was night, and there was near panic. It was Marcelino who got to the exit and helped the sighted passengers find it.
So far as I have been able to determine, there is not a case on record in which a blind person has been involved in the blocking of an exit or the slowing of traffic in an emergency, and as I have just told you, I know of at least one instance (the one involving Marcelino) in which blindness was a positive asset. Yet, the FAA and the airlines keep prattling to us about safety. What evidence do they have? I have carefully studied the FAA's proposed rule, and they rely heavily on tests made in 1973 by the Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI). The FAA's own words discredit the CAMI tests.
In their report CAMI said that blind passengers caused a slight slowing of the evacuation of an airplane. However, for the critical portion of the tests they did not use real blind persons but sighted persons who pretended to be blind. These sighted pretenders would have no experience in the techniques used by the blind, nor would they have the background to know how to function with skill and speed under blindfold. The real blind persons were not allowed to open the emergency exits or to go down the evacuation slides. It was a matter of safety, done for their own protection. They were allowed to walk from their seats to the emergency exits.
Moreover, the selection of the people who were to be tested is interesting. The sighted (the so-called nonhandicapped) were FAA employees or people recruited through the University of Oklahoma's Office of Research Administration. The blind (not the simulated but the real) were recruited from the Oklahoma League for the Blind, which operates a sheltered workshop. FAA employees are likely to be familiar with aircraft and probably are frequent flyers. In short, the sighted who participated in the test were selected for maximum success.
Federal statistics tell us that a large percentage of sheltered workshop employees are multiply handicapped. In addition, their low wages and limited opportunities make it unlikely that they are regular air travelers. In short, the blind participants (even when they were real and not simulated) were selected for poor performance. I am not suggesting that all of this was consciously done. Nevertheless, it was done. It is not very difficult to see what the results would have been if blind frequent air travelers had been tested against sighted sheltered workshop employees or, for that matter, against the FAA personnel who were actually used.
But we do not have to speculate about the competence of blind persons to perform in emergency evacuations of airplanes. On April 3, 1985, members of the National Federation of the Blind took part in the evacuation of an airplane at the Baltimore airport. The airplane was real, and the blind persons were real. They were not simulated, and they did not simply walk from their seats to the exits but went all of the way opening the emergency exit, deploying the evacuation slide, and jumping out. I know, for I was there. I jumped out of that airplane twice. The test made by the National Federation of the Blind was much more realistic than the one performed by CAMI. We wanted approximately equal numbers of blind and sighted persons so that we could see whether there was any difference in their speed and efficiency. Our first problem was to find competent sighted participants. One person had back problems; another had a bad heart; another had foot problems; and so it went. But in the real world of everyday flying every one of these people would have qualified for exit row seating, without a question or a thought. We videoed that test evacuation, and I have the tape here with me today to submit as part of the record. If you run it once through at normal speed, you will see passengers seated in a plane, then moving to the exit, and going down the slide. Mostly you will not be able to tell the difference between the sighted and the blind. They move with equal ease.
When you run the tape slowly (stopping at critical points to study it), what it tells you is damning to the FAA's case. The airline personnel said we should move quickly in a double line, but a flight attendant was standing at the exit partially blocking it. I know, for I had to go around her. In a real emergency I would not have been slowed as I was in the test. I would have simply picked her up, placed her gently but firmly on the slide, and followed her.
Standing beside the flight attendant, you will see a male airline employee. He slows the flow of traffic by peeking around the flight attendant to look down the slide to see whether the blind are making it. The flight attendant also takes time out to peek, further blocking the exit.
You will observe that one of the passengers has a dog guide. He was moving quickly to go down the evacuation slide but was slowed by the male flight attendant, who insisted on trying to tell him how to do it. The female flight attendant kept reaching her arm back into the flow of traffic, presumably trying to help but in reality impeding the evacuation. In one instance it can be seen that she locks elbows with a female evacuee and then grabs at her, causing the passenger to lose balance. Nevertheless, the descent was made safely. As I have already said, in the real world the airline personnel would probably not have had the opportunity to slow the evacuation. In any case the tape speaks for itself.
Last week I had occasion to fly from Denver to Washington, and what happened to me is illustrative of the problem we are facing. Although on many other trips I have been harassed and threatened, nothing like that happened on this one. Everybody was friendly and good-tempered, and I am sure the flight attendants were not even aware that their actions were noteworthy. But you be the judge. Put yourself in my place.
I was traveling with my sighted wife. Shortly after we took our seats, a flight attendant came and very pleasantly and politely said that she must give me a special briefing. She asked me to feel of the oxygen mask and then said that she would like me to fasten and unfasten my seat belt for her. Sighted persons are neither required to look at nor listen to briefings, and certainly they are not asked publicly to demonstrate that they are capable of fastening and unfastening a seat belt. Nevertheless, I complied with good temper and without protest.
But, you may say, what's the big deal? Such treatment doesn't really mean that you are being treated like a child, or thought of as one. Perhaps but a few minutes later a second flight attendant (again, a most pleasant individual) came to my seat and said to my wife:
Has he had his special briefing yet?
I smiled and replied: Yes, he has had his briefing. The flight attendant gave a small embarrassed laugh, and the rest of the flight proceeded without incident but what I have just told you has far more significance than superficial appearance would indicate. It translates into a general public feeling that the blind are incompetent and unable to compete. Put to one side the damage it does to the self-image of the blind who are still in doubt of their own worth or, for that matter, what it would do to any of us, whether blind or sighted especially, if the occurrence is not isolated but part of an everyday pattern. This simple incident which seems so innocent and unimportant is the very essence of our problem. It translates into unemployment, lack of acceptance, low self-esteem, and second-class citizenship. Is it all right (even praiseworthy) for other Americans to insist on their rights but not all right for the blind to do it? Are human dignity and freedom meant for everybody else in this country but not for the blind? Is the American dream exclusively the property of the sighted or is it meant for the blind, too? I believe it is meant for all of us, and I think Congress and the public think so, too. I believe that as you learn the facts, you will not permit the airlines and the FAA to continue what they are doing to the blind. Yes, we are talking about safety, but not the kind contemplated by the FAA in its discriminatory rule. That is why we are asking for your help. That is why we are asking you to pass (and pass quickly) the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act.
On March 13, 1989, the Federal Aviation Administration published a rule in the Federal Register prohibiting blind persons from sitting in exit rows on airplanes. On March 14, 1989, hearings were held before a Senate committee concerning legislation to prevent this discrimination. Earlier on March 14 Marc Maurer (President of the National Federation of the Blind) appeared on NBC's popular morning program, The Today Show. Here is the transcript of that appearance:
Bryant Gumbel: One in 500,000 Americans are blind, a fact that leaves them heavily dependent on others for transportation. In their efforts to be treated like anybody else, blind people now have a bone of contention, they say, to pick with the airlines and have turned to the federal government for action. For years airlines have tried to restrict just where blind people can sit on planes. [Roll videotape of Russell Anderson attempting to buy a ticket at Washington National Airport after he had been removed from a U.S. Air flight on which he had been assigned an exit row seat.] Ticket Agent: Do not assign blind or deaf passengers or anyone who would obviously encounter a difficulty operating or exiting through an emergency exit window.... This is our policy.... Mr. Gumbel (voice-over): This is what happened a few years ago when a blind attorney asked for a seat in an emergency exit row. Ticket agent: I'm sorry, that seat's already taken. I can give you another seat.
Russell Anderson: 12-B.
Ticket agent: That...that seat's already taken.
Mr. Anderson: I'd be happy to sit in 12-D. Ticket agent: That seat's taken too.
Mr. Anderson: Then I'd be happy to sit in 12-E.
Ticket agent: That seat's already taken.
Mr. Gumbel: Airlines have cited safety concerns to keep the blind out of exit row seats. But some claim that's discrimination.
Today the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation will hold hearings on legislation that will prohibit airlines from enacting such policy. One key witness scheduled to testify in Washington is Marc Maurer, the President of the National Federation of the Blind, who's in our newsroom this morning. Mr. Maurer, good morning.
Marc Maurer: Good morning.
Mr. Gumbel: You've no doubt taken this problem to the airlines.
What's been their response?
Mr. Maurer: Their response has been primarily to ignore the blind and, sometimes, to bring up the kind of talk which says, This is all a safety matter, when, in fact, it isn't a safety matter. As a matter of fact, the National Federation of the Blind about four years ago did an evacuation of a DC-10. That DC-10 was at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. We have videotapes of that, and if you examine the videotape of that evacuation, you won't know (unless you have advance information) which of the people getting out of that plane is blind and which of those people is sighted. You just can't tell. Mr. Gumbel: But do you question the motives of the airlines in this case? I mean, do you doubt they believe they're doing this for what they see as the common good?
Mr. Maurer: The airlines say that if they became blind they wouldn't know what to do, and I believe that. If a sighted person becomes blind today if you take a blindfold and put it on right now you won't know very much about being blind. The Federal Aviation Administration has said it's all a matter of safety, and the way they came to that conclusion was this: They took a bunch of sighted people, and they made them into simulated blind people. They said that they couldn't have blind people jump out of an airplane because it was too dangerous. So they got a bunch of sighted people, and they blindfolded them, and they said, now these people are blind, and consequently, we'll make a test. Well it doesn't make any sense to take a sighted person and blindfold him and expect him to be able to behave as a blind person does. They don't have any experience or any training. If you become blindfolded right now, I can beat you at most anything you try, because I know how. So you take blind people who have experience and compare them to the sighted people. As I say, in this evacuation we did four years ago, unless you know, you can't tell the difference. Mr. Gumbel: But, Mr. Maurer, sighted people have a stake in this. I mean, can you not empathize a little bit for their, perhaps, feeling a degree of discomfort in the knowledge that a blind person might be sitting in an exit row?
Mr. Maurer: Only if they don't know what's involved. There was a blind person on a plane that landed in San Francisco not too long ago, and that plane didn't have landing gear that would go down, so they had to cover the whole area with foam so that the plane could land on it. The blind person was there, the lights went out, it was night, and that blind person helped a bunch of people find the exit. Therefore if you have a blind person on a plane, and if it's either dark and the lights are out or there's smoke in the cabin so that you can't see, a blind person helps. Mr. Gumbel: When we're talking, Mr. Maurer, about only a handful of seats, why is this exit row such a big deal? Mr. Maurer: It's a matter of discrimination because if you say that this group is capable and can be in this area, and this group is not capable and can't be in this area, then it's a matter of discrimination. You know, years ago there were lots of restaurants, and black people could be in these restaurants, but they couldn't be in those restaurants, and everybody said, Well, why do you really care? Sure, you can't eat in this restaurant, but you can go down the street and get some food. You're not going to starve. So why do black people care? It's the same argument. You say, you are second class, and therefore we can tell you what you must do, and it's not true. The evidence doesn't show it. The FAA says it's a matter of safety. Do they have one incident, in all of the history of aviation, in which a blind person has contributed to an injury? They don't, not a one. They came out with a study last Friday which said that it was all a matter of safety. Well, that study goes back to 1973. How many incidents have there been since 1973? That's over 15 years. How many incidents have there been where a blind person has contributed to one single injury? Not one. Well, how many have there been before 1973? Not one. So where is the safety question, I'd like to know?
Mr. Gumbel: So, do you think you have the public support on this, or do you even care about that?
Mr. Maurer: Oh, I do care about it greatly. I think if the public understands, then the public will be with us. The public is worried about it, of course; everybody's worried about airline safety. Do I care about safety? You bet I do. Do the blind of America care? Of course we do we want to be as safe as everybody else. But we think that what the FAA and the airlines are trying to do together is diminishing the safety on planes. Mr. Gumbel: Marc Maurer, I thank you very much, sir, and wish you well today.
Mr. Maurer: Thank you, sir.
From the Editor: Under date of February 14, 1989, I received a letter from Timothy Hendel of Miami, Florida, which said in part:
Dear Dr. Jernigan,
I did not expect to be sending an airline story to the Monitor. In fact, I am one of those who has sometimes felt that there are already too many airline stories. Still, the enclosed letter may be of interest and you may publish it if you wish. It does show how we are sometimes viewed as incompetents.
I read the letter, and I did wish to publish it. I think you will see why. Here it is:
February 12, 1989
To Whom It May Concern:
On Saturday, January 28, 1989, I was a passenger on Braniff flight 757 from Miami to Orlando. That same evening, I traveled on flight 753 from Orlando back to Miami. There are several airlines which fly this route, but I asked my travel agent to book me on Braniff because I had never flown on your airline before, and I enjoy trying new airlines. As you will see, I had one experience which I did not care for. I am blind. When I arrived at the ticket counter in Miami, I was asked if I wished any assistance. I stated that I would like someone to walk with me to the boarding gate. This was done with no problem. In Orlando, I asked someone to help me get a taxi. No problem. On my return flight, a similar arrangement was made. The flight was comfortable, and up to this point, all Braniff personnel very courteous.
As sometimes occurs, I fell into conversation with the passenger sitting next to me. During our conversation, the flight attendant passed by and mentioned that if I would wait until other passengers had gotten off in Miami, she would see that someone helped me get a cab.
My fellow traveler said, Oh, I'm going to the baggage area.
I'll help you get a cab.
Fine, thanks, I replied. As we left the aircraft and told the flight attendant that I would not need her help, she said sternly, That's not allowed!
Surprised, I turned to her and said, What's not allowed? You can't walk off with another passenger. We're responsible for you until you get into a cab.
Without making a fuss, I continued walking with my new friend. The flight attendant followed us, and I just thought, Well, if she wants to follow us all the way out to the street that's fine with me. I wasn't going to say anything. When we arrived inside the terminal, I was sternly ordered to sit down and wait for an airline employee. At this point, I truly felt incensed. I said to the flight attendant, courteously but firmly, I am free to go where I like, and I'm going to keep walking with my friend.
Let me first point out that I appreciate the friendly service which I did receive on Braniff up to this point. I appreciate the help I was given; I appreciate the refreshments which I and the other passengers were served. The help I was given is a service, just as the refreshments served constitute a service, and the rest rooms aboard the aircraft are a service for passengers. I would not have been scolded by a flight attendant for not drinking a cup of coffee, even if I had ordered it and then changed my mind. I would not have been ordered to use the rest rooms, just because the airlines had provided them. Why, then, was I ordered to accept the airline's help when circumstances made it no longer necessary? There is only one explanation. Evidently the flight attendant, or whoever made the policy, thinks that, if I am blind, then I am not mentally competent to wisely choose whom I will walk onto and off of an aircraft with. I have a master's degree and have held a professional job for many years. Yet I was spoken to as though I were a minor child or a mental incompetent who can't be left in the hands of strangers.
I hope you will think carefully before answering this letter. I hope you will clearly state whether a mistake was made or whether the flight attendant was conforming to some policy and, if the latter, then what that policy is.
I am a member of a national consumer organization called the National Federation of the Blind. I shall ask our national headquarters to send you some information on some guidelines which we have developed for best serving blind passengers on airplanes. I think you will learn the following things: First, the amount of assistance needed and desired by each blind individual is different. This will depend on his/her personal preference and travel experience. In this, I am sure that we are just like your sighted passengers. Also, for the most part, the amount of assistance needed by a blind person is less than might be thought. As a rule, an arm to hold when walking through an unfamiliar area is all we want. We have no trouble with stairs, inclines, and escalators, unless we also have some problem with our legs or feet, unrelated to our blindness. Furthermore, we have no trouble choosing our friends.
Above all, we wish to be respected as intelligent people, even when being assisted. I shall await your reply.
by Barbara Pierce
This article is reprinted from the spring, 1989, issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio.
We in the National Federation of the Blind are fond of reminding ourselves and everyone else that it is respectable to be blind. This statement has a certain shock value since no one would actually argue the position that blindness is not respectable, and in fact, many members of the sighted public make impassioned speeches about their deep reverence and admiration for blind people whom from time to time they have met. Hard experience has taught us who are blind that what follows such an opening is inevitably inaccurate, platitudinous, and inappropriate comments like these: I once knew a blind man who could tell the denominations of currency with his fingers. Blind people are so cheerful, perceptive, and intelligent. Why I just don't know how you people do it!... My blind neighbor is so patient and kind, and she does such a wonderful job raising her children. They're actually learning to take care of her. Such descriptions and interpretations of the actions of competent, well-adjusted blind people do them and all of us an injustice. Somehow it is easier for people to attribute superhuman abilities to blind men and women who are merely behaving normally than to consider the possibility that such folk might have devised efficient alternative techniques to handle the ordinary tasks of daily life. Blind business people must be employing extraordinary techniques to identify money since they do so correctly. Blind colleagues who enjoy life, get along well with others, and understand what is going on around them as clearly as everyone else are obviously superhuman. A blind parent with well-behaved youngsters is amazing, and the children obviously must be shouldering adult responsibility or else how could the family function?
It should not be a surprise (but it frequently is) that a society which can draw damaging conclusions about blind people, when it is positively inclined, also holds desperately to a whole host of prejudices about blindness that pop up from the unconscious, bolstered by life-long conviction. Such notions must be eradicated from the hearts and minds of all people, including ourselves, if the blind are ever to live productive lives, free from the necessity to fight for every right and every opportunity. I am referring to basic assumptions about blindness: Blind people live in a world of darkness; they are not as quick to understand as other people; blindness puts an end to real enjoyment of any but the simplest pleasures; if you can't see an object, you can't really understand it; etc. How many of us undermine ourselves and our own capacity for living life fully by listening to the negative comments of others and also to that perverse little voice inside ourselves that says, You're missing the things that make life meaningful. Despite the fun you have, couldn't you have had more if you could see? You can't be expected to be responsible or socially adept, draw appropriate conclusions, or make and carry out independent decisions because you are blind.
These are the attitudes and prejudices that hold us down and keep us out. When they occur inside our own minds, they prevent us from growing and becoming all that we could be. It is essential that as blind people we fight these attitudes wherever we find them. This is the work of the National Federation of the Blind. We give one another the support and encouragement to battle such notions in ourselves, and together we stand united to fight them in society at large.
In fact, in one way or another, all of our differences with airline, Department of Transportation, and Federal Aviation Administration officials have been occasioned precisely because the policies under dispute have been manifestations of these ancient misconceptions about blind people. On March 8, 1989, I was watching the program, The CBS Morning News, as I dressed. Samuel Skinner, Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT), was being interviewed concerning the Department's position on the employees' strike against Eastern Airlines. That was also the day when the FAA released its fifty-nine-page proposed rule on seating of disabled airline passengers. This is the edifying document that explains that blind people, for example, may sit in exit-row seats only if they can see. At any rate, Mr. Skinner no doubt had blind people on his mind, knowing as he must have, that the National Federation of the Blind would not be pleased with the FAA's proposal. Even though he was not talking about the question of blind or otherwise disabled air passengers, a highly illuminating phrase popped out of his mouth. The precise details of his statement and my reaction to it are contained in the following correspondence. I wrote my letter carefully. Being fundamentally an optimist, part of me hoped that if I could make this man consider my argument with an open mind, some fresh air just might blow across the whole ridiculous set of prejudices rampant today in the governmental bureaucracy. I succeeded to a degree. Based on the physical evidence of his response, Secretary Skinner actually did read my letter. He seems to have drafted his answer himself. There are no secretary's initials at the foot of the page. But any hope that the Secretary of Transportation might be open to common sense was clearly foolish. He neither remembered accurately what he had said during the broadcast nor bothered to consider the implications of his statement and the substratum of prejudice out of which it rose. Having denied the possibility that his words demonstrated his own presumption of incompetence on the part of blind people, it followed inevitably that he would never go so far as to think about the broader issues raised in my letter. Here is the exchange:
March 8, 1989
Mr. Samuel Skinner
Secretary of Transportation
Department of Transportation
Dear Secretary Skinner:
You appeared today on the program, CBS This Morning, immediately following the 7:00 a.m. news. I wish to take profound exception to a comment you made during your remarks. You will say that it was inadvertent and that you meant no opprobrium by it. But in common decency I ask you to read this letter and think about what I am going to say.
You were discussing the Eastern Airlines crisis, and you made reference to the story CBS had run about it in the news segment.
Their story included footage of the simultaneous rallies held around the country by members of Eastern's unions. I gather from the voice-over that the participants were wearing their uniforms, illustrating the degree of employee unity. The soundtrack also clearly indicated the fervor of the crowd. In response to an interviewer question you said, you would have to be blind not to understand that these employees are united.
I am prepared to grant that you did not intend to insult the intelligence of blind viewers, but that does not end the matter. In fact, from my perspective and that of the National Federation of the Blind, this is precisely where the matter begins. As you know, the Department of Transportation has been involved for many years now in the struggle between blind air passengers and air carriers over the question of whether blindness is an appropriate test of competence in emergencies. DOT is charged with writing the regulations for implementing the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. It seems pretty clear to me that DOT will side with the airlines, saying that blind people are, because of their blindness, incapable of rational, adult behavior in emergencies. Your statement this morning reveals, not tactlessness or insensitivity (as the person who drafts your response to me will be tempted to opine), but rather your deeply held conviction that if one cannot see a thing, one is necessarily oblivious of its existence. This opinion is widely held by sighted members of the public, and it is the basis of systemic discrimination against the blind founded not upon hatred but upon ignorance. Such prejudice is every bit as destructive to the recipient as any other kind. Pity and condescension slam doors every bit as firmly as do distrust and insecurity.
Airline officials are demeaning blind passengers and denying them their civil rights because of their misconceptions about blindness and their unwillingness to consider open-mindedly the question of whether blind people (solely because of their blindness) deserve to be singled out for harassment and ill-treatment. The Department of Transportation is an accessory to this crime, and statements like yours this morning demonstrate why this has happened.
I ask you to reflect on what I have said. Blindness does not necessarily preclude awareness of the world, and blind people are not a priori incapable of making clear decisions and acting quickly upon them in emergencies. If you were of a mind to do so, you could put a halt to the nonsense which is being perpetrated by the airlines against the blind. I hope you will do so.
Very truly yours,
Director of Public Education
National Federation of the Blind
April 10, 1989
Ms. Barbara Pierce
Dear Ms. Pierce:
Thank you for your letter of March 8. I want you to know that my use of the term blind in reference to Frank Lorenzo and his relationship to Eastern workers was not meant as a slight toward the blind or any other group or individual. While I am sympathetic to your sensitivity, the word blind has a much broader meaning in common usage than sightless. It was this broader meaning a lack of understanding or appreciation of facts that I intended. Let me assure you that there was no intent on my part to disparage or demean the sightless in our population.
Samuel K. Skinner
by Kenneth Jernigan Ordinarily we do not give much space in these pages to the American Council of the Blind since its behavior is usually subsidiary to that of the agencies, tiresomely negative, and relatively insignificant in the affairs of the blind. However, during the past few months certain activities of this group (and, particularly, of Oral Miller, its Washington representative) should be reported for the record.
As detailed elsewhere in this issue of the Monitor, the Subcommittee on Aviation of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on S. 341 (the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act) on March 14 of this year. This hearing was the result of intense activity on the part of the National Federation of the Blind, and Federationists testified as the principal proponents of the bill. Also present in the audience was Oral Miller, the Washington representative of the American Council of the Blind. Since the ACB has been claiming for at least a year that it wants to participate in the process of reducing tensions in the blindness field, a process which received major impetus at Montreal in the summer of 1988 (see November, 1988, Braille Monitor), and since the passage of the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act is one of the major efforts of the Federation and not of the American Council of the Blind, one might have wondered about the advisability and appropriateness of Mr. Miller's presence at the hearing at all.
However, he went far beyond simply being there. He allowed himself to be used by the media and the airline industry in their attempt to show that the blind are divided on the question of whether blind people should be prohibited from sitting in exit rows on airplanes. Of course, the media did not know (and, for that matter, perhaps they did not care) that the ACB speaks for relatively few blind people. Certainly this would make no difference to the FAA and airline officials. The appearance would serve their purpose as well as the reality. In the March 15, 1989, USA Today Mr. Miller is quoted as opposing the NFB position and supporting the FAA as follows:
There are legitimate safety-related questions. It's not a civil rights issue. Not only is this statement by Mr. Miller a deliberate attempt to create hostility and to damage the Federation's efforts to protect the rights of blind air travelers, but it is also directly contradictory of the testimony of Dr. Otis Stephens, the President of the American Council of the Blind.
On September 3, 1987, when Dr. Stephens appeared before the Committee which was negotiating to try to establish airline regulations, he said that there was widespread discrimination against the blind in air travel. Here in part is the verbatim transcript of his testimony:
My experience with commercial airlines over the years has run the gamut from positive to negative, from courteous, friendly, respectable conduct by many employees to demeaning, humiliating treatment by some others. While recognizing the excellent service often provided, I have no doubt that the range and frequency of unacceptable behavior by some airline employees toward blind air travelers constitute a serious problem throughout the United States.
Clearly as we have witnessed over the past couple of days, similar concern is shared by wheelchair users and the deaf-blind, and the comments that I'm going to make here are not intended to minimize in any way the difficulties that others also face. However, I'm talking from direct experience and from knowledge of the experience of many others about the problems that blind persons frequently encounter with the airline industry. One of the most basic problems, of course, is the total lack of consistency in stating and applying policies regarding blind passengers. These inconsistencies exist not only from one airline to another but just as often within a single airline, frequently from one flight to another on the same trip. Systematic training and, better yet, perhaps more basic education of airline personnel regarding the capabilities of blind persons is badly needed. Like other passengers, blind persons have the right to exercise options, to ask for assistance if they need it, but to decline it without the resistance or refusal of airline personnel, however well-intentioned that resistance or refusal may be. Specific examples can easily be provided, but I will cite just a few here. The typical preboarding announcement at the gate invites those who need a little extra time or assistance to board the aircraft ahead of other passengers. That's the routine statement that I recall. That announcement, it seems to me, is sufficient by itself. It should not be followed up, as it often is, by insistence that a blind passenger board first. That insistence is demeaning, patronizing, and unjustified. It rests on stereotypes about the supposed limitations of blind persons, not on facts and it tends to reinforce and perpetuate myths. Precisely the same mind-set is reflected in the occasional insistence by a flight attendant that the blind passenger remain seated until all other persons have deplaned after arrival at the gate.
I always choose to interpret such a statement as a mere suggestion and ignore it, usually but not always without opposition. But even as a suggestion, it is gratuitous. My time is obviously no less valuable because I am a blind person, and that elementary fact ought to be recognized by the airline with which I'm doing business.
It should not be presumed that as a passenger traveling with a guide dog, which I sometimes do, I must sit in a bulkhead row. On many airplanes, of course, the dog and dog user have more space in a nonbulkhead row, where the dog can lie underneath the seat in front of the passenger. But on the other hand, the bulkhead may be satisfactory as well. The point is that this kind of designation about where to sit with one's dog on a plane reflects no rational decision based on comfort, convenience, safety, or anything else that I can determine, and what may begin as a request can degenerate into an arbitrary order.
With respect to many special restrictions imposed on blind air travelers, safety justifications are emphasized by the airlines. But safety justifications, as many persons have suggested in these hearings, should be based on more than conjecture or supposition. In the absence of evidence establishing a clear relationship between blindness and certain limitations, such as inability to manipulate emergency exit doors on a commercial airplane, the restrictions ought not to be imposed on blind passengers.
The standard established by the federal Act is one of nondiscrimination. The American Council of the Blind supports as a matter of policy uniform standards of public accommodation and nondiscrimination in the travel industry. We also strongly support and participate in efforts to educate industry personnel regarding the treatment of blind and visually impaired travelers. Any restrictive policy applied to blind airline passengers that is not based on empirically established safety considerations but simply reflects conjecture or stereotyped thinking about blindness is, in my opinion, discriminatory. It is vitally important for airline personnel who do not already do so, and many fortunately do, (and it is equally important for those who do not) to listen to blind passengers, to allow us (like other passengers) to take the initiative to exercise freedom of choice in requesting or declining assistance. We in the American Council of the Blind are quite willing to assist in what really amounts to a process of basic education and of raising the level of sensitivity to basic concerns of human dignity.
Even if regulations insuring nondiscrimination can be agreed on, the problem of uniform implementation remains. This is a tough practical problem, not only because of the general difficulty in uniformly instructing personnel regarding policy but, I think, more fundamentally because of the potential abuse of discretion in applying policies on a day-to-day, situation-by-situation basis. The objective of establishing and maintaining a policy of nondiscrimination serving blind airline passengers is important, and the American Council of the Blind welcomes the opportunity to participate in a process designed to achieve that objective. I will be happy to respond to any qucestions.
At this point a number of people asked Dr. Stephens questions.
The give and take went like this:
MRS. MAZZ (one of the members of the panel): Do you believe that there should be any requirement for blind persons to self-disclose?
DR. STEPHENS: I think there should not be a requirement of disclosure.
MR. GASHEL (another member of the panel): Dr. Stephens, I think you alluded to the lack of data that anybody really has about this exit row seating business. Now, I'm assuming that you don't want to be unsafe when you go onto an airplane.
DR. STEPHENS: That's a correct assumption.
MR. GASHEL: Okay, and yet you conclude that it's all right for you to sit in an exit row. Is that correct?
DR. STEPHENS: That's correct.
MR. GASHEL: You're not basing that on some, just irrrational whim. Is that correct?
DR. STEPHENS: No. Certainly not.
MR. GASHEL: Don't you arrive at that on the basis of some kind of experience or data or experiential information?
DR. STEPHENS: I think that individually those of us who assume our ability to sit safely anywhere on an airplane do draw that kind of conclusion. However, it seems to me that the question needs to be addressed to the airline industry that would wish to impose a restriction. In other words the norm, it seems to me, is freedom of choice here. If the industry wishes for safety reasons (and I'm not questioning the sincerity of the statement of those reasons), to impose a restriction based on a safety justification, then it seems to me to follow logically that that justification must be based on some empirical evidence which overcomes my presumption that I'm fully capable of sitting in that exit row.
After this dialogue between Dr. Stephens and Mr. Gashel, Dr. Stephens responded to a question from Oral Miller, who was also a member of the panel. In this exchange one comment by Dr. Stephens is particularly relevant. He said:
We're not talking about areas of nondiscrimination but problems of discrimination, and I think they do exist and as you suggest, they exist across the board.
The final panel member to question Dr. Stephens was Matthew Finucane of the Association of Flight Attendants. He asked Dr. Stephens whether he believed a blind person would have more difficulty than a sighted person in performing in an exit row on an airplane. The exchange then went like this:
DR. STEPHENS: My feeling would be that the factor of blindness would not be significant in the performance of individuals.
MR. FINUCANE: That it would not make a difference?
DR. STEPHENS: That it would not make a significant difference.
MR. FINUCANE: It would make some difference, but not
DR. STEPHENS: No, I'm using the word significant now as we're talking about statistical analysis here.
MR. FINUCANE: Statistical. I understand.
DR. STEPHENS: And I just don't believe that there would be a measurable, significant difference. That's a feeling, and that also is not based on anything beyond my own experience; but my own experience over some twenty years of flying is, you know, a factor.
This testimony by Dr. Otis Stephens, President of the American Council of the Blind, is not only in sharp contrast with what his employee, Oral Miller, said to USA Today as quoted in their March 15, 1989, article, but it is also at variance with what Miller said in the March-April, 1989, issue of the ACB's magazine, the Braille Forum. In an article entitled Who is Really Making the Friendly Skies Unfriendly, Miller outdoes even his ordinary excesses, bitterness, and bad temper. When he says as an attack that the National Federation of the Blind alleges that most blind people who travel agree that there is significant discrimination by the airlines, he implies that this is not the truth. Apparently Dr. Stephens, the president and official spokesman of the ACB, does not agree with him, but let Mr. Miller's article speak for itself. Here it is:
Over the past two years, the question of whether the airlines should be allowed to prevent blind people (as well as people in several other categories) from being seated next to over-wing emergency window exits has been, in the opinion of most blind travelers, over-publicized and exaggerated in the extreme, when compared with other issues faced by blind and visually impaired people. The proposed regulations issued in 1988 under the Air Carriers Access Act of 1986 stated that air carriers could not restrict the seating of disabled passengers unless in compliance with a safety regulation issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), whose legal mandate includes the promulgation of safety regulations. The comment period on the Air Carriers Access Act regulations ended in late December 1988. On March 13, 1989, the long-awaited proposed FAA regulations were published.
The proposed regulations, a recorded copy of which may be obtained from the ACB National Office, spell out a number of tasks which must be performed by passengers sitting in seats next to over-wing emergency exits. Many of those tasks clearly require vision. It should be pointed out, however, that many of those tasks also require other capabilities which would probably exclude from those seats people who are elderly, very young, pregnant, very obese, or impaired by alcohol or drugs. On March 14 one day after publication of the above proposed FAA regulations the Senate conducted public hearings on Senate Bill 341, which says in substance that airlines may not mandate or prohibit the seating of passengers based on visual acuity or the use of a white cane or dog guide. Although this article will not attempt to summarize all of the testimony given, it should be pointed out that the only consumers who were asked to testify supported the bill strongly and, in the process, repeated many of the horror stories that have been published by the National Federation of the Blind over the last couple of years. Some of the astonishing assertions made by the Executive Director and another member of the National Federation of the Blind were that many of the blind people who took part in tests conducted by the FAA in the late 1970's in Oklahoma were basically selected for poor performance; that approximately one-third of the blind people who travel by air do so in fear of harassment and abuse by airline personnel; that travel agents find it almost impossible to make reservations for blind people because of current airline policies; that the proposed FAA regulation is similar to the former policy of airlines to the effect that they would not seat black people next to over-wing exits because they considered them to be slow and lazy; and that most blind people who travel agree that there is significant discrimination against them by the airlines. Spokespersons for the Federal Aviation Administration, the Association of Flight Attendants, and the Air Transport Association pointed out that the most critical time in the evacuation of an airplane following a survivable emergency is the time that elapses before the evacuation flow begins; that in order to avoid the danger of a flash fire, it is necessary for passengers to evacuate at the rate of more than one per second; that the responsibilities of the person seated next to the emergency exit include much more than merely opening the exit; that the policies of American air carriers regarding exit-row seating are very inconsistent, hence the need for standard regulations; that it would be possible to evacuate an airplane even faster if there were no seats next to over-wing emergency exits; that there have been cases where opening an exit actually accelerated a fire inside the cabin; and that they could not cite cases where blind people have impeded cabin evacuation.
The purpose of this article is to bring to light some of the surprising positions taken and arguments used in connection with this issue.
That is what Oral Miller says, and as much as the substance of his remarks, the tone speaks of his wish to try to pick a fight and create dissension. This is underlined by his comments in another part of the March-April, 1989, Braille Forum. Writing under the caption What Goes Around Comes Around, he not only makes an unprovoked attack on the National Federation of the Blind but also (and really more to the point) blatantly misrepresents the truth. But judge for yourself. Here is what he says:
What goes around comes around! That expression might be used to describe the efforts now going on at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland to re-establish a rehabilitation program.
The rehabilitation program was terminated there a few years ago after the new director at that time discovered it was essentially a membership recruitment and political training program for a national organization of blind people. As part of the plans to re-establish the program, the current management conducted a public forum to obtain input as to how the new program should be conducted. And what came back around? During the evening-long public forum, approximately half of the time was dedicated to the well-rehearsed statements of people from that same national organization urging that the new program should concentrate primarily on teaching attitudes rather than skills. Perhaps the folly of returning to the school of thought that says, Be proud that you are a blind person and you can do whatever you need to do, was underscored by an excited, unscheduled final speaker who forced the panel to listen to her when she said that she needed to be taught some specific skills so she could return to work to support herself and her family.
That is what Mr. Miller says, and it does not take much analysis to see the bitterness or the shoddy logic. Any training program which is trying to help newly blinded adults come to terms with their blindness must, if it is to be successful, concentrate primarily on teaching attitudes, but this does not mean that skills should be neglected. In fact, correct attitudes cannot be taught in the absence of teaching skills. However, it is equally true that skills cannot meaningfully be taught in the absence of correct attitudes. This is not new; it is not profound; it is not complex; and it should not be difficult even for Mr. Miller to understand.
But perhaps he does understand, meaning that the purpose of his article was something else the hostility and attempt to create dissension and negativism which characterize far too much of his public behavior. Fred Dewberry, the man who destroyed the training program at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland and who is, I am glad to say, no longer with the agency, is hardly an authority on anything dealing with blindness. Before becoming director of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland Mr. Dewberry had absolutely no experience with blindness at all, his only claim to expertise being his many years as a politician. No one with any judgment takes seriously anything which he said about the agency's training program. But why all of this recent attacking by Mr. Miller? It is true that most ACB meetings (including their national conventions) are lacking in positive content and are characterized by a great deal of hate talk about the National Federation of the Blind, but this is somewhat understandable. When I was a boy in Tennessee, a visitor from one of the northern states said: You Southerners are always talking about the Civil War. We in the North forgot about it long ago. To which one of the locals replied: You could afford to forget about it. You won. As I say, I can understand why the ACB spends a great deal of time reliving the past and hating the NFB. From what I have observed, I can also understand why (in contrast with more successful blind persons, those who believe in the capabilities of the blind and look to the future) Mr. Miller tends to be bitter and unhappy. Even so, he is usually only moderately rude and ill-tempered. Could there be something new which has triggered his recent upsurge of spleen.
We could begin with what occurred in Montreal last summer (see November, 1988, Braille Monitor) when the National Federation of the Blind invited the major organizations in the blindness field of Canada and the United States to meet for discussions at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. This invitation was greeted with unanimous enthusiasm, and it seemed as if we might be moving toward more unity than the field of work with the blind in this country has ever known. But this would inevitably mean (as it did) a central role for the National Federation of the Blind. Mr. Miller was obviously not pleased. Maybe he felt in a dilemma: Either let the National Federation of the Blind (an organization which he envies and, therefore, resents) have credit for calling and hosting the meeting, or try to sabotage the meeting and come off as a sorehead. This latter course of action is obviously what the ACB board (whether led by Mr. Miller or somebody else) decided to take. They unsuccessfully attempted (see elsewhere in this issue) to sabotage the meeting of the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort, which met at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore in March of this year and which was overwhelmingly acclaimed as constructive. The ACB was the only organization to boycott the meeting and instead of impressing, the boycott fizzled. But there may be another (a more personal reason) why Mr. Miller feels hostile and at odds with the world. When Dr. Otis Stephens (the ACB delegate to the World Blind Union) was unable to go to Spain last fall to attend the meeting of the 2nd General Assembly of that organization, he sent Oral Miller in his place. Being familiar with Mr. Miller's personality and behavior, I for one was not happy with the choice, and Mr. Miller lived up to expectations. By and large, he did not associate with the rest of us in the delegation, and reports kept coming to me of his criticisms and attacks on the NFB as an organization and me personally. In the circumstances and in that forum such behavior was, of course, totally inappropriate and counterproductive. It goes without saying that I did not respond in kind.
After we returned from Madrid, the WBU delegates from this region met in New York City for the fall meeting. Although Dr. Stephens was present as ACB's delegate, and although each U. S. organization is limited to a single spokesman, Mr. Miller was present and participated vociferously so much so that some of the delegates came to me privately to say that they thought his behavior was unacceptable and that ACB should have only one spokesman present.
After the meeting I talked with Dr. Stephens, and he said he would take steps to remedy the matter. I felt sure, however, that the conversation would be reported to Mr. Miller and that this would increase his rancor. The situation was further aggravated by an event which occurred when appointments were being made to WBU committees. As regional president, I was asked to name people to serve on WBU standing committees. My decisions were made in consultation with other organizations in the regional delegation. Although one of those that I named (Paul Edwards) is an ACB member, Dr. Stephens asked me also to name Oral Miller to a committee, the one on Recreation and Leisure Activities. At first (in the interest of promoting harmony) I thought I would do this, but then I called Dr. Stephens to tell him that I felt the appointment would be unwise and that I could not do it. I said I thought the appointment should go to the Caribbean countries and that, even more to the point Mr. Miller would use the committee as a forum for attack, negativism, and disharmony. Dr. Stephens said that he felt my decision would increase any hostility which Mr. Miller might feel and so it apparently did. As Monitor readers know, a measurable amount of progress has been made in recent years in moving toward unity in the blindness field in this country. The personal bitterness of one individual or a single small group should not be allowed to disrupt this positive trend. The American Council of the Blind must decide whether it is willing to put past bitternesses and defeats behind it and work with the rest of us in constructive ways or whether it wishes to invite increasing isolation.
March 21, 1989
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
In discussing the Senate hearing on the airline issue with Barbara Pierce, I discovered that she was unaware of the annual tests by the FAA for company emergency evacuation procedures. As you will see more fully described in the attached deposition of Mr. Mark Warinner, then serving as vice president for flight operations for Frontier, each company is annually required to demonstrate to the FAA the efficacy of its evacuation procedures. In a darkened hangar FAA personnel sneak up from outside, block half the doors, and then give a signal. The evacuation must be achieved in ninety seconds. As you can tell from the deposition testimony, the evacuees are by and large drawn from airline personnel. In other words, they must show their evacuation procedures to be workable under our conditions without light.
Excerpts from Testimony of Mark Warinner
October 19, 1985
Q. In the course of your work with Frontier Airlines about a year ago did you have occasion to begin to think again regarding exit row seating of blind persons?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Would you describe the circumstances and what caused you to think again about exit row seating?
A. Yes. I was attending a seminar that was conducted by the International Rehabilitation Institute in Denver, and a blind person came up to me and indicated, I understand that you folks have a Braille pamphlet which you provide to blind passengers if they desire which indicates the emergency exits and that sort of thing, location of restrooms on the aircraft, and brought to my mind and asked me the question, Do you think that in a dark, smoke-filled airplane that sighted persons get around any better than blind persons?
And so it just clicked in my mind to start thinking about that, particularly because our evaluation demonstrations are conducted in a darkened hangar with half of the emergency exits blocked. Q. Now, could you describe in a little more detail what you mean by your emergency demonstrations? What is that, and how are they conducted by Frontier?
A. On an annual basis the FAA requires us, and more than annually if they feel there's a problem, to demonstrate our evacuation procedures where you fill an airplane at random with a variety of passengers. The aircraft is in a dark hangar, and you are required to conduct an emergency evacuation in the same manner as if you had an emergency and half of the emergency exits, both over wing and the door exits, are blocked; and you never know in advance what those exits are until the demonstration actually occurs, and you're required to evacuate the airplane within ninety seconds. Q. Now, you have testified that the hangar in which the aircraft is sitting at the time of these demonstrations is dark; is that correct?
A. That's correct.
Q. Is the aircraft itself also darkened?
A. Yes, it is.
From the Associate Editor: The following correspondence is self-explanatory. Mrs. Winer wrote to Peggy Pinder, care of the Braille Monitor several months ago. We passed on the letter with the request that Miss Pinder let us see her response. The exchange of ideas seemed to us interesting and valuable. Here it is:
February 16, 1989
The Braille Monitor
National Federation of the Blind
An Open Letter to Peggy Pinder Concerning the Wisdom of Reading Every Last Word on the Cereal Box
You probably don't know me, but I remember watching you when you were an undergraduate at Yale University. (You were, I believe, in my son Jonathan's class of 1976.) I was in the early stages of losing my sight and was very impressed with your ability to navigate the busy Yale campus with your long white cane. I was at that time, however, too shy to introduce myself. Since then, I have followed your brilliant career with great interest. Although at times I don't agree with you, I cheer you in your endeavors. Until the time when I was a bit younger than you are now, I was fully sighted. I loved to read. I read everything in print that I could get my hands on. If there was nothing else to read, I would literally read every last word on the cereal box at breakfast. I was a fast reader. If, on a long airplane flight, I had finished reading the books and magazines I had brought with me, I would read the brochures and booklets stuck into the back of the seat in front of me. Needless to say, I was and am quite familiar with the printed safety regulations provided by the various airlines for passengers.
Recently, when flying to Florida on Eastern Airlines, I was presented with a Braille booklet concerning safety instructions similar, no doubt, to the one you rejected on one of your flights. As I took it from the stewardess, I thought of you and smiled to myself. Five years ago, with some struggling, I was still able to read print by means of low vision aids. Now, whenever the occasion presents itself, I am eager to put my newly-acquired Braille skills to the test. When the stewardess handed me the Braille booklet, I put down my Braille edition of the New York Times Large Type Weekly and went to work on the airline safety regulations.
Peggy, although much of the material in the Braille booklet was similar to what sighted people would find in the print version of the safety regulations, you may be interested to know that there was some information that was specifically appropriate for blind passengers. I, for one, had not known these safety rules before, and perhaps Braille Monitor readers might want to know about them as well. (I have not quoted the specific information for blind passengers directly, but I have placed that information into bold print.) If there is an emergency evacuation everyone must remove his/her shoes. Blind people must not use their white canes at this time (nor may anyone carry personal belongings with them.) When reaching the emergency exit, passengers are to grasp the safety rail and slide down the emergency chute in a standing position. However, blind passengers with guide dogs, when arriving at the emergency exit, are to place their guide dogs in their laps and slide down the chute in a sitting position. I believe these safety regulations have been developed to protect all passengers as much as possible in a true emergency situation. Although I don't remember reading the reasons for the above rules, I assume that guide dog claws, as well as pointed shoe heels and canes, could injure passengers in emergency situations where rapid evacuation of everyone is required. Peggy, I feel there was relevant information in that Braille booklet that I would not have known about if I wasn't a compulsive reader of every word on the cereal box. I hope, Peggy, that you know this letter is written in good faith, and with slight tongue-in-cheek. Although our methods may differ, I admire your spunk and appreciate your heroic efforts on behalf of all blind people.
May 4, 1989
Dear Mrs. Winer:
I have your thoughtful letter about reading and airlines, and I have taken some time in answering it to allow for reflection upon the points you raise. Before I proceed, let me thank you for the warm sentiments you express and also for giving me the occasion to pause and reflect upon an issue that is very important to me. You see, I am also an avid reader. Like you, as a child, I also read everything I could put my hands on. Like you, I also began this lifetime of devotion to reading by using the print medium. Like you, I switched to Braille and continued my voracious reading habit. However, unlike you, I always plan far enough ahead so that I never run out of reading material on trips, commonly carrying along three or four books for a two-day trip. (Of course, I am teasing, but our inability to pick up the printed material around us for casual reading has taught me to be well-stocked when leaving home.) And like you, I have read many airline safety cards, both in print and in Braille. Our reading habits seem closely matched. I can't help but think our views about the airlines are much closer than you seem to think. Please let me explain.
I have flown as a blind person now for nearly twenty years. At first, in the early '70s, blind travelers were pretty much left alone on the airplanes. Then the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed by Congress, and everything changed. There was a nationwide push for accessibility and for sensitivity toward the handicapped. Much of this was beneficial. However, its effect on the blind was not. Airlines adopted procedures defining all handicapped persons as belonging to one large class and began training their personnel accordingly. The effect (though not the intent) of this training in the midst of everything else being learned by the new employees is to remember that the handicapped, a big mishmash of helpless people, must all be treated alike and differently from other passengers. In airports, blind people are greeted at the jetway door with wheelchairs and ordered to ride in them despite the fact that we can walk as well as other passengers. The tickets of blind passengers are taken and passed from airline employee to airline employee as though the blind person is a child not responsible for his or her own property. Airline personnel insist on taking the blind passenger from gate to gate within the airport even when the passenger declines such assistance. When an airline employee does perform this service, paperwork is created at the receiving end and countersigned at the delivery end as though the blind passenger is a consignment of goods. One airline tells blind passengers to pin a label on a jacket lapel to identify the passenger as though the blind person were baggage to be shifted about pursuant to instructions on a tag. Please understand that none of this is done by airlines with the intent of insulting or demeaning a blind person. Far from it. The airlines do these things because they believe they are helpful. However, as with so many reactions to blindness, the helpfulness is founded on an underestimation of the capabilities of blind persons. Please also understand that I am not suggesting that the blind never need help. We need help just as other passengers do for directions to the gate, to find one of the scarce pillows on board, to locate the increasingly hidden smoking areas in airports. Other passengers are left to themselves unless they ask for help; the blind should be accorded the same treatment and should be provided information or assistance just like other passengers when it is requested.
What does all this have to do with reading a safety brochure? It sets the context. I have read those brochures over and over for years. On boarding a plane, I know what specific information I need and get it quickly and without fuss long before the Braille safety brochure is offered to me. You are right about the Braille brochures containing different information from the printed cards. Commonly, the Braille brochures have less information than the printed ones. I know of many versions of the Braille brochure which omit any reference to the method of operating exit doors and one which omits any reference to the axe and fire extinguisher on board though all this information is clearly conveyed on the printed cards. Quite often, the Braille edition contains some remark such as a suggestion that, in the event of an emergency evacuation, the blind passenger should remain seated until a crew member comes to help the passenger. This information is not only different from that given to the sighted; it is downright dangerous. Any blind person who accepts such advice in the event of a survivable accident will probably lose the chance for reaching the ground, a chance dependent upon immediate and rapid departure from the stricken aircraft. You mention some specific information in the Braille brochure about canes and dogs. The reason this advice is given is that the chutes are made of tough, yet yielding material similar to the canvas used in sails and rafts which is then inflated to achieve the correct texture and tension. Sharp objects like spiked heels can puncture the chute material. All passengers actually finish the slide in a seated position. Jumping out in a standing position results in the passenger's being caught, so to speak, partway down the steeply inclined slide in a sitting position. But different airlines make different suggestions for this exit maneuver. Some suggest a standing start; others a sitting one. Some airlines point out that shoes should be left behind; some merely depict bare feet on evacuees; some do not mention the matter. Friends of mine who have participated in evacuation drills state that they chose to use their canes until reaching the door whereupon they held the canes over their heads or flung them out in order to have them available later. In other words, in an evacuation, you take only what is necessary, but canes are necessary and can be removed safely if the passenger has the right information. However, airlines view canes as practically useless and therefore instruct that they be left behind instead of providing sound information on how to remove them safely. If I ever evacuate, my cane will accompany me. The point of all this is that much more information can be gathered by talking to persons knowledgeable about aircraft evacuations than can be gathered from Braille safety cards. Any prudent flier, whether blind or sighted, will educate himself or herself on basic evacuation procedures in whatever manner seems best. To me, the safety cards contain only the barest hints, and I desire far more information than is usually available there. This is particularly true of most Braille brochures which tend to omit information about equipment operation and information contained in pictures in the print cards while giving what I consider to be bad advice to the blind. Let me explain by relating an incident on a recent flight. I will digress for a moment here to note that the Federal Aviation Administration is considering adopting a regulation barring from exit rows all persons who fail to meet a long series of characteristics which includes sight. The list also includes the ability to reach one's arms and legs to their full limits of extension, the ability to touch one's toes, the ability to lift up to eighty pounds of weight, and numerous other abilities which can only be determined by putting passengers seated in those rows through a series of calisthenics and weight-lifting exercises in the aisle of the plane before permitting them to sit down. This set of required abilities, according to FAA, will be ascertained by airline personnel, flight by flight. It is obvious that most airline personnel in most instances will glance at exit row passengers as they sit in their seats, making their determinations on only the most obvious of characteristics like blindness, while missing the truly dangerous conditions related to heart and nervous system disorders. Of course, I believe that blindness is not a characteristic which can be shown by evidence to be related to inability to act safely in the event of an emergency. I believe with equal firmness that the airlines think it is and that their belief is based on the underestimation of the abilities of the blind. In testimony before the United States Senate on this subject the official FAA spokesman said that he was sure some blind people could be seated safely in exit rows; he just did not know how to determine which blind people were the safe ones. Of course, if you remove the word blind from his comment, it remains true. The FAA also does not know how to determine which people are the safe ones as amply demonstrated by its failure to include heart, nervous system, stress, and other invisible but debilitating disorders in its list of characteristics prohibited in exit rows. At any rate, back to my incident.
I boarded a DC-10 a few weeks ago, carrying one light bag and my purse. The flight attendant at the door told me she would take me to my seat. I explained that I would be happy to find my seat like other passengers and that I did not need assistance. My seat happened to be back just a few rows, and she sort of followed me down the aisle, chatting. When I started into my seat row, she asked if there was anything she could do. I said that she could put my bag in the overhead (on the theory that I am always glad to have others share in the work). She replied that she was not lifting anything that day since she had sprained her back and suggested that I put the bag underneath the seat. I put it overhead myself, meditating about my unease at flying in a plane with a disabled flight attendant who was supposed to be able to move quickly and strongly to maximize my safety and who could not that day meet the passenger requirements for sitting in exit rows. The flight attendant, having a light load and nothing much else to do, sort of hung around my seat watching me stow my purse and get out my book. She asked if there was anything else she could do. I remembered that I had a question about wide-bodied jets and took the safety card out of the seat pocket. I told the flight attendant that I had a question about the overwing exit and extended the card to her. She was standing in the aisle facing the rear of the plane. Without taking the card, she turned slightly in order directly to face the exit behind my seat to which I was pointing and replied that she did not need the card since she could see the exit from where she stood. I said that I knew that wide-bodied overwing exits were floor-level, double doors from which you stepped out onto the wing. I had recently been told, however, that the plane was so high that two chutes were necessary to get to the ground. I wanted to know just where the chutes were. Without looking at the card, she confirmed that the doors were floor-level, double doors, and she then stated that you stepped off onto the wing and went to the rear of the wing where you slid down a slide. (Of course, this is the evacuation route for narrow-bodied jets.) She said there was only one slide at the back of the wing on wide-bodied jets as well.
I tapped the card and asked if it wasn't true that there were actually two slides. She replied that she could see and she was looking right at the doors and that there was only one slide. I tapped the card again, and she looked down, then looked up, then bent over the card and began tracing on it with her finger, looking up, looking down, and tracing several times. She then said: There are two chutes. And you go off the front edge of the wing. We then had the rest of the discussion I had sought about exact placement of the slides with her tracing on the card some more with her finger and answering in a sort of wondering tone. It was plain that this was the first time she had ever noticed the two chutes or the front edge location of the chutes. I worried even more about my safety with this flight attendant on my aircraft. She came back twice more with more information about wide- bodied jets, each time noting that she had not known the information herself and thanking me for showing her the card. You see, Mrs. Winer, I do read a lot. I also gather information in ways other than reading. On that same trip, I was flying on a free ticket, earned with numerous miles flown as a paying passenger. And I am still learning. I don't restrict myself to the Braille brochures any more because they are so often incomplete and inadequate, failing to convey the information in pictures and the information about operation of safety equipment. I am sure that the DC-10 Braille brochure would not have told me about the two chutes, their positioning, or the additional information I got from the flight attendant. I am sure about this because I have read all those cards and did not know about the two chutes until a friend told me. And I certainly do not rely on airline personnel to know in every situation the answers to questions. I seek and probe and work to get additional, accurate data. Most of all, I do not care to rely on the evaluation airline personnel have made of blind persons. I keep my own ticket. I walk to gates by myself. I board and deplane with the other passengers (not before and after as the personnel and the brochures admonish one to do). I have paid the same dollars for my tickets as have other passengers and expect to be treated the same. This is usually an unfulfilled expectation, but I hold to it anyway. In the matter of reading, I try to get the same information as that available to sighted passengers, not merely that thought useful for the blind. I have tried to answer the points you raise in your letter as completely as I can. Since I am a regular flier and safety in the air matters a very great deal to me, I will be glad to continue the discussion if you wish. As I say, you have given me the occasion to re-examine my thoughts on the subject, and I am grateful for the opportunity.
From the Editor: In the preceding article Mimi Winer takes Peggy Pinder to task for refusing to read a Braille airline brochure which was brought to her by a flight attendant on an airplane, and Peggy Pinder responds. However, that exchange of correspondence (informative though it is) does not tell the whole story. It was not simply that the flight attendant merely suggested that Miss Pinder read the brochure. In fact, the reading of the brochure was a relatively small part of the whole bizarre incident. We printed the details in the August-September, 1985, Braille Monitor, and the implications of the occurrence are as urgent and timely today as they were then so much so that we are reprinting the original article. Those who did not read it in 1985 will find it stark and disturbing. Those who did will find it worth pondering again, four years later and in today's climate of the FAA's proposed rule-making. Here it is as it appeared in the Braille Monitor in the fall of 1985:
The story is told that when George III was on the throne in the 1700's and England ventured forth to the far frontiers, an English officer found his way to the Imperial Court of China. He asked for an audience with the emperor and was told that he could have it if he would kowtow. He asked what it meant and was told that he must approach the emperor walking. Then, at a certain distance he must get down on his knees. Still closer he must get on his belly and crawl. For the last few feet he must put out his tongue and lick the dirt. That was to kowtow. After some reflection, he said that he would do it if a Chinese officer of comparable rank would kowtow to a picture of George, III, which he conveniently happened to have with him. I do not know whether the kowtowing ever occurred.
When Jeffrey Shane, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs of the federal Department of Transportation, spoke at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Louisville this summer, he counseled patience and understanding. The Federal Aviation Administration, he said, should not make a rule prohibiting discrimination against the blind. The matter should be left for the airlines and the blind to negotiate. You can't make people do things, Mr. Shane told us. The blind will have to convince the airlines. The problem, we kept telling Mr. Shane, is the very existence of any special rules or regulations affecting the blind. What we want is to be allowed to pay our money and travel in peace like anybody else. If we are singled out for special treatment, every airline employee who feels the urge will try to custodialize and bully us.
When Peggy Pinder (blind Federationist and lawyer, who lives in Iowa) left the convention to fly home she could not, in her wildest imaginings, have dreamed that she would encounter the kind of irrational abuse and harassment which she received from an Ozark Airlines flight attendant. She was badgered, lied to, and threatened with a fine and for what? Because she would not read (or pretend to read) a Braille copy of a brochure which the flight attendant brought her, or alternatively answer a quiz. AND ALL IN THE NAME OF SAFETY. Yes, there is such a thing as selective insanity. Miss Pinder wrote a letter to Mr. Shane, giving the details of what happened. Her letter was dated July 23, 1985. Mr. Shane called her on the evening of August 21, 1985. He began by apologizing for waiting a month to do it, saying that the letter had been lost in the mazes of his office and had just been brought to his attention. Mr. Shane's proposed remedies for the treatment Miss Pinder received demonstrate that he learned little at our convention, and perhaps is incapable of learning. He said that this was doubtless an isolated instance and that it had simply been Miss Pinder's misfortune to encounter somebody with a screw loose. Miss Pinder patiently explained to him (as we had repeatedly done at the convention) that the very issue we are raising is the fact that this sort of conduct is not an isolated issue. (The correspondence reprinted elsewhere in this issue of the Monitor gives ample evidence of the truth of our contention.) Mr. Shane seemed bewildered by it all and kept saying that he didn't know why blind people had to keep repeating their personal horror stories.
When he got past this first issue, Mr. Shane had a few other suggestions. He thought that if we could gather evidence that foreign airlines have no special rules or requirements concerning the blind, airlines in this country (who are, according to Mr. Shane, much impressed by the safety records of the foreign companies) might relent. He indicated that he might try to gather such information but made it clear that it was very low on his list of priorities.
Finally, Mr. Shane told Miss Pinder that she could have prevented the entire incident by simply doing what the flight attendant demanded. Yes, she could have, but there comes a time when humanity itself is diminished by demeaning submission. We do not live in Imperial China. Perhaps one of us might be willing to kowtow if Mr. Shane would reciprocate in the presence of a suitable portrait. Here is Peggy Pinder's letter:
Sioux City, Iowa
July 23, 1985
Mr. Jeffrey N. Shane
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs
Department of Transportation
Dear Mr. Shane:
As every blind traveler these days must, I entered the Louisville Airport on my way home from the convention hoping for peace and prepared for disruption. The treatment I received was not the worst experienced by homebound convention-goers. Two of our members were arrested in Louisville after sitting in seats assigned to them by the airline, which turned out to be exit row seats. That is, of course, another tale. Let me tell you about my homeward journey. I traveled Ozark Airlines, the only major air carrier which has continuously served Sioux City, Iowa, during my residence here and one with which I am consequently very familiar. Ozark's entire fleet is composed of DC-9 planes of two sizes, the shorter and the longer ones. The planes have a front exit, two overwing exits on each side, and the tailcone exit only used under the supervision of a uniformed crew member as the safety briefing says. I customarily sit in the smoking section and on the port side next to the fuselage, if possible. On Ozark planes, the port side has only two seats and the smoking section is between the rearward port overwing exit and the tailcone exit. Ozark has installed steel buttons on the sides of the overhead storage bin units at the point where exit rows occur for the easy location of exit rows by crew members in the event of an emergency involving loss of lights. The crews call these Braille knobs. I always listen to the safety briefings as the plane taxis to the runway to learn if anything has changed.
Some time ago, Ozark transcribed into Braille the printed safety cards placed in the seat pockets for sighted passengers. I read one once, and it contained information I already possessed about safety on Ozark planes.
I followed my usual custom as I boarded Ozark flight 718 scheduled to leave Louisville at 8:03 p.m. on Sunday, July 7, 1985. I was assigned seat 20-A and boarded without incident. The usual safety briefing was given. The plane took off for St. Louis. The fasten seat belts sign was turned off. Then the interesting portion of my trip began.
A flight attendant, later identified as Kay Damaso, came to my seat and stated she had a safety booklet that I was to read. I replied that I was a regular flier with Ozark and familiar with the material in the booklet. Kay replied that I was to take the booklet and read it anyway. I replied that Kay had done her job by bringing the booklet to me and that she was not responsible for making me read the booklet. I was well aware that this was not a requirement of Kay's job, but simply a service offered by Ozark. However, Kay began her contact with me in a very vigorous manner, so I thought I would reassure her by stating that I realized she felt she was doing her job. I said I didn't care to read the booklet and thanked her for offering it. I turned back to reading the book I had brought with me, and Kay insisted on continuing the conversation. Kay told me that if I knew about the exit rows, then I was to tell her what rows were the exit rows on that plane. I replied that I was familiar with the plane and Kay again told me that I would have to tell her where the exit rows were or read the booklet. Throughout the rest of the flight this choice, booklet or quiz, was repeatedly presented to me.
Kay stated that there was an FAA man on board and that, consequently, she was compelled to insist that I read the booklet or pass the test. Feeling that Kay herself felt her job was on the line with this matter, I took the booklet from her, placed it in the seat pocket in front of me, and told Kay that she had now done her job, that no one could deny I had taken the booklet, and that that should end the matter. Kay replied by stating that I would be subject to a heavy fine if I did not read the booklet or pass the test. I said that that was fine, that we would take the matter up when we got to St. Louis, and Kay replied by stating that I would not be allowed to make my connecting flight with Ozark out of St. Louis if I did not read the booklet or pass the quiz. This remark genuinely focused my attention. Before this time I had merely been refusing a service a flight attendant mistakenly thought she was required to give me. When she mentioned the heavy fine, I ignored the comment as clearly designed to frighten and intimidate me and as based on nothing. If any FAA requirement had been violated with respect to me, the airline and not I would be subject to penalties (though I knew FAA regulations were not involved here). But Kay had just threatened to ground me in St. Louis when I knew that there was no plane other than the one I intended to take leaving that night for Sioux City. When Kay stated that I would not be allowed to make your connection on Ozark out of St. Louis, I was so startled that I simply replied, What? Kay repeated her statement and I decided that the matter had gotten serious. I turned to the man seated next to me in seat 20-B and apologized to him, knowing what was bound to follow, stating that the flight attendant didn't know what she was talking about, and then turned back to her. The rest of my conversations with Kay on the plane merge together in my mind. In a fifty-five minute flight, we had four or five conversations on this topic, and I can't separate one from another. I told Kay that I wanted her name and address written down for me. She complied, handing me one of the two pieces of paper I have enclosed. Kay informed me that I would be taken in hand as soon as the plane reached the ground. She variously stated that I would be escorted through the airport to an unspecified location by the FAA man she said was on board and, at another time, by airport security. She did not use the term but clearly implied that I would be taken into custody for my failure to read the booklet while she watched. During each separate conversation, Kay mentioned the heavy fine I would have to pay for not reading the booklet. During the final conversation she said, I don't know why you're doing this to me. I'm just trying to save you from a heavy fine. Also, during every conversation Kay mentioned the FAA man she stated was in the cockpit. As Kay became more insistent, she mentioned this personage more and more and finally purported to be carrying messages from him to me concerning the requirement to read the booklet and the fine. Kay also brought me, at my insistence, the name, work address and phone number, and official title of the FAA man written down on a second piece of paper, which I also have enclosed. This second piece of paper, which appears to have been written by the same hand as the first, recites: Mr. Paul L. Johnston, FAA St. Louis, Dist., Aircraft Safety Inspector, Regional Div., A/C 314-423-9257.
At the conclusion of the flight I got off with the other passengers, stepping onto the jetway in my regular turn. At this point I was instructed by Kay to step to the right side of the jetway where an Ozark vice president was waiting to talk to me. I stepped to the side, and there was no one there but the flight attendant that I could hear. I told Kay that I was going on into the terminal since I couldn't hear a thing standing there on the jetway and also since I felt as though I were being taken conspicuously into custody by the flight attendant as the rest of the passengers walked by and looked. I had already told Kay on the plane that I was most desirous of speaking with her supervisor and I now repeated this, then started up the jetway. Kay told me emphatically to stay where I was. I just kept walking. Kay then told someone behind her in a loud voice that she would follow me, then ran up the jetway after me. This, of course, strengthened the impression I had of being in custody. When I arrived in the terminal I stepped to the side and began to wait. Kay had told me that the FAA man on board wanted to talk to me, and I very much wanted to talk to him. No FAA man appeared and no Ozark vice president either. I finally told Kay that I wanted to speak to these gentlemen and she replied that the FAA man had left because he had a close connection and that the Ozark vice president had left because he had an emergency to take care of. Kay stated that an Ozark manager was on her way. I said that was fine, that I simply wanted to talk to an Ozark ground official. Kay then stated that she didn't understand why I wouldn't read the safety booklet or answer the quiz questions, that it would have been okay if I had simply pretended to read the booklet, but that I had to do at least that. Kay stated that I didn't understand the situation, that the fine on any airline which didn't require this was very heavy. By this statement, Kay revealed that she had known all along she was lying to me in the plane and known all along that, if there was a violation of regulations of this type involved, the airline and not the passenger would be the one punished. I asked Kay when was the last time she had required a sighted passenger to read the printed card or to answer test questions about safety. Kay replied that that was different.
An Ozark manager, Cathy Mahler, then appeared and asked what the problem was. Before either Kay or I said much of anything, Mahler stated that she had often seen me flying on Ozark through St. Louis and also stated that she was aware that most blind passengers preferred to be left alone and preferred not to receive any special treatment of any kind. I don't know, but I wonder if Mahler thought at this point that the flight attendant and I were having a disagreement about whether I would be allowed to walk through the airport by myself. At any rate Kay then stated firmly that the trouble was that I would not read the safety booklet or answer questions showing familiarity with safety. This concluded her presentation during which I was silent. I then stated that Kay had offered the booklet to me, that I had declined it, that the flight attendant had then repeatedly told me that I would be subject to a heavy fine if I didn't read the booklet or answer the questions, and that the flight attendant told me I wouldn't be allowed on my connecting Ozark flight if I didn't read the booklet. When I began to mention the threats of a heavy fine, Kay began to break in, stating that she had not said that and that I was lying. I ignored her, but she made the same statements about my description of her threats concerning my next flight. I asked Mahler if I would be allowed to take my connecting flight. Mahler didn't answer my question the first couple of times since she was getting considerable interference in her thinking from Kay's protestations but, on the third time, she replied to my question that yes, of course, I could take my next Ozark flight without any problem.
We were at a gate part way down the C concourse at Lambert. The C and D concourses meet just before the security checkpoint so that one is not required to re-enter security before passing from C to D. I walked up C to the intersection and was part way down D concourse when I heard a man jogging behind me saying, Ma'am, ma'am. I was the only person around that area of the concourse and he was coming right up behind me, so I finally turned around and, as I did so, I noticed that he was carrying a two-way radio. He stated he was from Ozark and I almost lost it because I felt I was being pursued by Ozark Airlines. However, I said nothing and he went on to relate that he was a ground crew member from the flight I had just left and that he had heard the entire exchange between Kay and me in the terminal and had also heard Mahler when she arrived. This ground crew member stated that he wanted me to know that he had been stationed just outside the jetway in the terminal at the conclusion of my flight and that there was no FAA man on the plane. He had been so incensed at the flight attendant's statements overheard by him that there was such an official on board that he had followed me as soon as his duties were completed to tell me that. I replied that I hadn't for a minute believed that there was such an official on board, but that the flight attendant had given me a piece of paper with the man's name and title, which I showed to him. His confidence in his opinion was shaken by seeing a name and title, but he continued to insist that there had been no FAA man that he was aware of on the flight.
The rest of my trip went along without incident. After I got home I called the number listed as the purported FAA man's work number, 314-423-9257, during regular business hours. I reached an eleven-year-old boy who stated that I was talking to a private house, that no one named Paul Johnston lived there, then inquired if I was calling about Bingo. Next, I called information and called the number listed in the St. Louis directory for the St. Louis FAA office. The person who answered the phone confirmed that I had reached the FAA St. Louis office and stated that no one named Paul Johnston worked there. She also stated that there are no job categories as aircraft safety inspectors, that all safety inspectors are classed as aviation inspectors with a specifying word added to indicate which of three types of inspector the particular person is. She also stated that Kansas City and not St. Louis is classed as a regional office, so I next called Kansas City, where I reached the FAA regional office. I received the same answer there. No Paul Johnston worked there; there is no job title aircraft safety inspector.
Mr. Shane, I did not get arrested and strip-searched in St. Louis as two Federationists did in Louisville. In that sense, I suppose I have nothing to complain about. But I was singled out, threatened, humiliated, ordered not to leave the jetway as though I were in custody, and treated as a second-class citizen. This was all done because of my blindness, the conclusions one flight attendant drew because of my blindness, and her statement that the FAA required her to behave as she did.
I can't explain why this particular flight attendant chose to go so far to try to intimidate and frighten me. Perhaps, as we discussed in Louisville, it was her position as a flight attendant that drove her to patronize all the passengers and to conclude, in my case, that her role as protector extended far beyond her duty to other passengers. She told me that the blind were different from the sighted for her purposes. Perhaps she honestly believed that she was required to make me read the booklet and when she found resistance believed she had no alternative but to make up the heavy fine and the FAA man to scare me into submission. Perhaps Ozark has simply missed on this one, mistakenly hiring a person who will overuse her authority whenever she can out of some need to be better than someone else. For whatever reason, Kay used the FAA and her statement that she was required to do what she did to justify herself to me and to the passengers near me. Until the FAA gets itself out of the business of separating blind passengers and requiring different treatment for us, this type of treatment will occur. United said of the two arrested passengers in Louisville that they plotted to be seated in exit row seats so that they could make a heroic stand and get arrested. This is nonsense. The passenger doesn't assign the seat; the airline employee does with the screen visible only to him or her. But we the blind are not entering airports looking for trouble or waiting to create confrontations or hoping to engage in heroics. We enter airports like everyone else, with a place to go, having made the choice to fly there. Some people love to travel. Some find it a chore. Some are frightened by flying. But if you are a blind person in America today, any of this pales before what may happen to you, quiet and peaceful and compliant though you may be, when you step into the air travel system. Please, Mr. Shane, try to find a way to eliminate from our lives this constant threat of hard words and hard deeds by others that the blind face whenever we fly. You don't know when it will strike. But when it does, it is always unpleasant, usually publicly humiliating, and sometimes costly and violent.
As reported elsewhere in this issue, a hearing on the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act was held March 14, 1989, before the Subcommittee on Aviation of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. One of those testifying in favor of the bill was Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. This is particularly important since Senator Harkin is the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Handicapped and recognized throughout the Senate for his interest in rights of the disabled. Here is what Senator Harkin had to say:
Testimony of Senator Tom Harkin
March 14, 1989
Mr. Chairman, thank you for providing me the opportunity to share my views on the Air Travel Rights of Blind Individuals Act. Over the past four years dozens of blind persons have been arrested at the instigation of airlines with no basis. These arrests do not result in convictions; in fact, most blind persons are released without charge or are exonerated by the prosecutor without trial. The power of the police is used to enforce the airline's will, and the subject is then dropped. Fifteen attorneys general of the several states have issued letters explaining to law enforcement officers and airport authorities in their states that no basis for such arrests exists. I am proud to say that Iowa's progressive Attorney General Tom Miller was among the first to move to protect his state's citizens. I'd like to include a copy of a letter written by Attorney General Miller which summarizes the federal and state laws as they pertain to the rights of blind air travelers.
But the arrests, wrong as they are, do not encompass the entire problem for blind air travelers. The arrests, while predicated on various factual situations, rest on the underlying assumption that blind travelers are unsafe and must be treated differently from the way the rest of the passenger load is treated. This differential treatment spills over to many areas of blind passenger experience not culminating in outright arrest. One of my constituents, Peggy Pinder, was arrested at National Airport last Easter time for occupying her seat on an aircraft nowhere near an exit row. She was arrested for declining to move to a seat near an exit, an instruction given because she is blind. Two weeks later, another blind person was arrested for occupying his seat near an exit on an aircraft and declining to move to a seat away from an exit, an instruction given because he is blind. The disparate treatment of these two blind people points up that there is no consistency within the industry and no rationale for industry treatment of blind passengers. The basic problem is that airlines, like other persons who discriminate against the blind, begin by assuming that blind people as a class are categorically different from sighted people as a class. Using this assumption, different airlines and different crews treat blind people differently, patronizing them and pushing them around because they insist on treating the blind passengers unlike sighted passengers. Industry spokesmen in justifying this difference usually resort to an analogy between the blind and young children, which is particularly offensive to me and to the blind adult Americans who pay taxes and work and vote.
In 1981 a federal regulation was adopted permitting and governing the carriage of white canes by blind passengers at their seats. However, last month five of my constituents who were returning to Des Moines after a visit to our nation's capital were involved in a dispute over where each blind person could store his or her cane. My constituents told me that the airline personnel insisted that the canes were carry-on baggage which had to be confiscated from the blind passenger. I have asked the Federal Aviation Administration to look into this matter. Today a blind air traveler approaches an airport with only one certainty: He or she does not know what will happen. The trip may go smoothly; it may be filled with indignities; it may end in arrest. This occurs because the federal government has refused to order airlines to treat the blind like other passengers, even though the blind have pleaded for this simple requirement for years. Left to themselves, the airlines have developed a series of inconsistent, contradictory, and crew-by-crew rules for the blind. They have no basis in fact or law.
There is simply no evidence that blind passengers pose any safety risk different from sighted passengers. There is a vast body of evidence in the arrests and harassment of my constituents and others that the airlines believe blind passengers are different and insist on treating them as such.
Three years ago, when it became clear that the FAA did not wish to settle the problem, Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act, a prohibition on discrimination in air travel based on disability. From the treatment received by my constituents since the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act it is obvious that neither the airlines nor the FAA has taken the Air Carrier Access Act seriously. In fact, the FAA has been talking for the past year of regulations implementing the Act which will be in direct contravention of its letter and spirit. These proposed FAA regulations have now reached their final stage of internal preparation and will probably be proposed and published by the time this hearing is held. On their surface, the proposed FAA regulations will pretend to adhere to our prohibition on discrimination. But only on the surface. For the entire history of air travel, there has been no seating restriction based on blindness. There has never been an incident involving a blind passenger jeopardizing safety. There is no evidence that blind passengers pose a safety risk. Yet, the FAA-proposed regulation will say that sight is a necessary function for seating in some parts of the aircraft and will require the airlines to follow each rule. I might add here that the airlines are not unwilling, they have wanted this restriction all along, and the FAA is merely doing their bidding.
But the proposed FAA rules will not restrict seating on the basis of a whole constellation of factors which can be shown to affect safety such as sobriety, absence of heart condition, strength under stress, and numerous other conditions invisible to the naked eye. They will restrict the blind and a few other easily visible classes in a blatant attempt to provide a safety justification for prejudice.
I support the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act, S. 341. It is the only way to solve this problem. Blind persons have sought to teach airlines about their capabilities for years. Blind persons through the National Federation of the Blind have sought to teach the Federal Aviation Administration about their capabilities for years. Neither effort has borne fruit and not for lack of trying by the blind. It is time for Congress to act. The blind have no other protector for their rights. We must protect them. I urge you to report favorably the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act for prompt passage. Let us put this issue of discrimination behind us and move on to creating opportunities for the blind.
by Kenneth Jernigan
On March 20-22, 1989, an unprecedented event occurred. The major organizations of and for the blind of Canada and the United States came together to discuss issues of common concern. The meeting was held at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore and was universally acclaimed as constructive and worthwhile. Those in attendance were: American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).
As reported in the November, 1988, Braille Monitor, the groundwork for this historic meeting was laid in Montreal July 13, 1988, at a panel discussion at the meeting of AER. The topic was Blind People Shaping the Blindness System, and those participating were: Geraldine Braak, Canadian Council of the Blind; Oral Miller, American Council of the Blind; Susan Spungin, American Foundation for the Blind;
Kenneth Jernigan, National Federation of the Blind; and Euclid Herie, Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The panel was moderated by Gary Magarrell of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, who said in his introduction that the purpose was to have opportunities to be exposed to the thoughts of some of the key consumer leaders in Canada and the United States and because of a feeling that it is important that there be a continuing dialogue between those who represent consumer groups and those who are within the professions and the agencies. The panel obviously created considerable interest since the room was full, with many standing and some in the hall who could not get in. The topics were far-ranging, and the discussion was lively. But for our present purposes the critical exchange occurred toward the end of the meeting. It will be observed that Oral Miller was ill at ease and trying to dilute the clarity of the commitments which were being made. Nevertheless, when he was pressed to deliver on what he had perhaps impetuously promised, he did commit. Here is how it went:
Carroll Jackson of the Greater Detroit Society for the Blind, who was sitting in the audience, said:
Following up with Dr. Jernigan's comments that this panel may be a start, I'd like to know what each of you as representatives of these consumer organizations are willing to do as the next step to continue this dialogue and make a common statement or position paper, as it were, concerning the needs and wants of blind persons. Oral Miller: I'll say name your meeting place. Susan Spungin: The American Foundation for the Blind would be very happy to serve as the coordinator of that meeting. Kenneth Jernigan: I think it's interesting to pose a question. There was a suggestion made by Mr. Miller as a follow-up to the question from the audience about what we intend to do to try to continue the start we have made here today. Mr. Miller said, Name your meeting place.
Dr. Spungin immediately said: The American Foundation for the Blind will be glad to coordinate.
I doubt that any of you thought her comment was inappropriate. Would you have felt equally comfortable (and would everybody in this audience have participated as enthusiastically) if the National Federation of the Blind had said, We will coordinate ? If not, then we aren't ready for this kind of talk. And if you would, then think about whether that's appropriate. I think that a position paper is not what we need. I think what we need are deeds and action.
Susan Spungin: Dr. Jernigan, by that comment (which I think is a very important one) can this panel make the assumption that you would be willing to coordinate such a meeting towards the end of coming to grips with those things that are agreed upon? Kenneth Jernigan: To show you that I can give a short answer, yes.
Susan Spungin: Thank you. Great!
Oral Miller: Just an additional comment. I agree with whoever said it earlier. Whatever is accomplished is not going to be accomplished overnight. I've heard of so many conferences where they spend the first three days arguing about whether they're going to use a round table or an oblong table or a square table. Obviously there would have to be some sort of decision ahead of time as to a mechanism for even deciding what the issues are. And another thing to consider: We're not talking about a monolithic system. There is no such thing as the agency or the provider view on a given subject. Mr. Jackson's agency may look one way on a subject, and someone else another. So, if we're talking about a continuing dialogue of a general nature and as specific as necessary, fine. Don't expect results overnight, because (as indicated earlier) we've got a number of long-standing either issues or concerns or factors to be considered; and they are not going to go away overnight.
Kenneth Jernigan: Mr. Miller, what we will do (in follow up to Dr. Spungin's question and your comment) is that before the time of next year's convention of this organization, the National Federation of the Blind will issue to the organizations represented on this panel an invitation to come to the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. We will coordinate that meeting. We will provide funding to help it happen, and we will pledge ourselves to deal only with those subjects on the agenda on which we may find possible agreement, and to avoid subjects on which we already have taken such positions that we know we cannot agree. We will not discuss a subject unless there is unanimous agreement to do so. In order to get it off of generalities, that's what we are prepared to do. Would the ACB be willing to participate in such a meeting? Oral Miller: We have always been willing to participate in constructive processes; and if that appears to be constructive, we certainly will.
Kenneth Jernigan: Well, does that appear to be constructive as I laid it out?
Oral Miller: Yeah, I'm not sure that enough parties are included. That's my only concern.
Kenneth Jernigan: Well, okay. But let's start with these five.
Oral Miller: Sure. No problem at all.
As has been said, Mr. Miller was obviously uncomfortable with the definite prospect of a meeting to consider united action especially if that meeting was to be called, coordinated, chaired, and hosted by the National Federation of the Blind. He probably felt in a dilemma. Nevertheless, he made the commitment, for himself and his organization.
In a meeting at the American Foundation for the Blind building in New York on January 5, 1989, Otis Stephens, President of the American Council of the Blind; William Gallagher, Executive Director of the American Foundation for the Blind; and I met to discuss a variety of issues. At that time we agreed on the ground rules for (as it was by this time being called) the upcoming meeting on Joint Organizational Effort. There was absolutely no disagreement as to how we would proceed. In the spirit of this apparent harmony I lost no time in sending the following communication to the appropriate organizations:
To: American Council of the Blind
American Foundation for the Blind
Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
Blinded Veterans Association
Canadian Council of the Blind
Canadian National Institute for the Blind
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
From: Kenneth Jernigan, Executive Director
National Federation of the Blind
Date: January 9, 1989
Re: Meeting of Ad Hoc Committee on Joint Organizational Effort
Ladies and Gentlemen:
In accordance with our earlier conversations I am writing this memorandum to the organizations listed above concerning the meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Joint Organizational Effort which the National Federation of the Blind is convening this spring. The meeting will be held at the National Center for the Blind at 1800 Johnson Street in Baltimore from Monday afternoon, March 20, 1989, until noon on Wednesday, March 22.
As agreed earlier, not more than three representatives from each of the seven organizations (ACB, AER, AFB, BVA, CCB, CNIB, and the NFB) will be present at the sessions which, as also agreed, will be closed. In addition to the participants from these seven organizations, Mr. Frank Kurt Cylke (Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped) is invited to be present as an observer. To promote candor and freedom of discussion, there will be no taping of any of the meetings. If the participants wish, I will provide a recording secretary to take notes and prepare minutes, but this will be decided at the opening meeting. I will chair the sessions and prepare the agenda. I invite any of you who wish to do so to send me suggested topics for discussion. As the first item of business on March 20, I will present without comment a proposed agenda. In accordance with the understanding that we will not discuss issues which we feel we cannot resolve, any organization may, without giving a reason, remove any item from the agenda. Likewise, any participant may propose adding any item which will, with unanimous consent, become part of the agenda. To facilitate preparation of the agenda I should receive your suggestions and comments no later than February 28.
The first session of the meeting will begin at 2:00, Monday afternoon, March 20, and will adjourn at 5:00 or shortly thereafter. I will host a dinner Monday evening, to which all who attend the meeting are invited. There will also be a dinner the following evening, to which all attendees are invited. You will be on your own for breakfasts, and we will discuss luncheon plans during the first session on Monday afternoon. The Tuesday morning session will begin at 9:00 and will continue until noon. The afternoon session will (depending upon the wishes of the participants) begin either at 1:30 or 2:00 and will adjourn at 5:00 or shortly thereafter. The Wednesday morning session will begin at 9:00 and will continue until noon or adjournment, whichever comes first.
As you may know, the National Center for the Blind has bedrooms, and we will be happy to provide overnight accommodations without cost for any of those attending the meeting. Alternatively there are several fine hotels in the Harbor area, which is only a few blocks north of the National Center for the Blind. Probably the three closest are the Hyatt, the Sheraton, and the Stouffer. I am sure there will be no problem in getting reservations at any of them.
I ask that each of you let me know as soon as possible who your representatives will be, whether they will want lodging at the National Center, what items (if any) you wish to propose for the agenda, and anything else which you wish to suggest concerning the meeting. As we agreed last summer in Montreal and later in New York, the purpose of this meeting will be to explore areas of common concern and possible cooperation. It would, indeed, be cause for rejoicing if the organizations attending the meeting could reach agreement (even if only on limited objectives and programs) and could implement that agreement with concerted action. Perhaps it can be done. The need is great, and the possibility exists. We should put forth our best effort to make it happen.
National Federation of the Blind
In this atmosphere of attempting to promote harmony, imagine my surprise when I received the following communication from Otis Stephens, President of the American Council of the Blind:
To: Kenneth Jernigan, Executive Director National Federation of the Blind
From: Otis Stephens, President
American Council of the Blind
Subject: Meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Joint Organizational
Date: January 30, 1989
The Board of Directors of the American Council of the Blind has reviewed your memorandum of January 9 regarding the meeting of organizational representatives to be held in Baltimore March 20-22, 1989. We are fully prepared to participate and will send three representatives to this meeting, subject to the following stipulations:
(1) That each participating organization retain the option of keeping its own independent written or taped record of the proceedings.
(2) That a steering committee consisting of one representative from each participating organization prepare and circulate a proposed agenda at least ten days prior to the meeting, and that each organization have an opportunity to add or delete items before adoption of the agenda at the opening session on March 20; and (3) That the participants elect four persons representing different organizations, each of whom shall chair one of the scheduled meetings. We believe that these procedures will advance the objectives of full, fair, and responsible participation by all organizations contributing to this joint effort.
Please provide me with your written response by February 21.
When I received this memorandum from Dr. Stephens, I wondered whether a power struggle was going on inside the ACB or whether the organization was simply taking this rather transparent means of trying to back out of its agreement. Dr. Stephens did not seem like the type of person who would simply openly and blatantly violate his word and, of course, I knew of the ill will and hostility of Oral Miller and of his dominance in the direction and affairs of the ACB; but regardless of explanations, the behavior seemed less than responsible. It raised the question again (a question which is not new) as to whether the American Council of the Blind is stable enough to function meaningfully in the blindness field. Regardless of these considerations, I sent the following letter to Dr. Stephens:
February 7, 1989
Dear Dr. Stephens:
I have your memorandum of January 30, 1989, and I was surprised by its contents. As you know, the idea for the meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Joint Organizational Effort originated during a panel discussion in Montreal last summer. ACB was part of that panel and was fully apprised of what was intended. Later you and I discussed the format of the meeting by telephone, and we also talked about it at the North America/Caribbean regional meeting of the WBU. On January 5 of this year you, Bill Gallagher, and I talked about the matter again in great detail. From the very beginning it was made clear that this meeting was being called by the National Federation of the Blind and that I would chair the sessions. I have discussed the format and other details of the meeting with all of the organizations involved and have had from them expressions of agreement with what is contemplated. In fact, I believe that quite a number of people in the leadership of the various groups feel that such a meeting is long overdue and that it would be nothing short of irresponsible for us not to proceed. It is no secret that the blindness system is in trouble, and anything which offers a reasonable hope for united action (even if only on a limited basis) is surely worth pursuing.
If we were to permit taping of the sessions of the Ad Hoc Committee on Joint Organizational Effort, it would invite maneuvering and organizational sparring. Several of the groups have emphatically said that they do not want this. As I said in my January 9, 1989, memorandum:
To promote candor and freedom of discussion, there will be no taping of any of the meetings. If the participants wish, I will provide a recording secretary to take notes and prepare minutes, but this will be decided at the opening meeting. Unless there is objection, participants who wish to take written notes should be permitted to do so, and I cannot imagine anyone's objecting. The purpose of this meeting is not to see whether we can get one-up on each other but to try to achieve cooperation. As to the agenda, it seems to me that it would not be productive to circulate it prior to the meeting. Again, this would tend to lead to dissension and maneuvering. It would also take away flexibility and cause hardening of positions. If you will refer to my memorandum of January 9, 1989, I think you will agree that the method of dealing with the agenda is completely fair and open. I will receive suggestions from the various organizations and prepare a proposed agenda, which will be read without comment at the beginning of the first session. At that time any of the participants may remove any item from the agenda without giving a reason. Likewise, any participant may propose adding an item. If no one objects, the item will be added. If you will review the tape of the Montreal meeting, you will see that this is exactly what I said would be done. It has been the plan since the first time the idea of the meeting was discussed. In the circumstances we will proceed as outlined in my memorandum of January 9, 1989. I hope the American Council of the Blind will reconsider its position and join with the rest of us in this attempt to achieve unity and constructive action. The door will remain open, and ACB's representatives will be welcome. Surely none of us will want to take the responsibility of doing anything which might jeopardize the hoped-for success of this worthwhile effort.
National Federation of the Blind
I sent copies of this letter to the other organizations which were planning to participate in the meeting of the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort, and William Gallagher and Euclid Herie wrote letters expressing their understanding of what had been agreed and what should be done:
New York, New York
February 14, 1989
I have just read your letter to Otis Stephens responding to some issues raised by members of his Board. I think the importance of this meeting necessitates attendance by representatives of the American Council of the Blind. I would hope that their Board of Directors would reconsider its decision and plan to be represented at this meeting which could be a real landmark in the field of blindness. When the panel discussion held in Montreal drew such positive reactions from the audience, Susan Spungin recommended that the discussion be continued, adding that AFB would be glad to coordinate the next meeting. As a member of the panel, you suggested the NFB would be pleased to coordinate and host this meeting. The panel agreed, and the audience reacted most favorably to the scheduling of another meeting. At a meeting of the North America Region of the World Blind Union held at AFB on October 28, the delegates decided on the following:
1. To accept your cordial invitation to host the meeting at NFB's National Center for the Blind in Baltimore;
2. That this meeting would be chaired by you, the delegate from the hosting organization;
3. That besides the panel participants, the group would also include some of the other North America regional delegates;
4. That each delegate would invite two additional members from his/her organization;
5. That the delegates would submit to you agenda items to be discussed;
6. That the agenda would be presented to the participants at the start of the first session of the meeting at which time if anyone had objections to any item, it would be deleted;
7. That to ensure a free and open discussion, tape recordings would not be permitted but, if agreed to by the entire group, a secretary would be available to take minutes which would be shared with all of the participants;
8. That the most convenient time to hold the meeting would be mid-March; consequently the delegates agreed to convene at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, March 20, and conclude the meeting at 12:00 noon on Wednesday, March 22, 1989; and
9. That the next meeting would be held at another location at the invitation of some other delegate wishing to host the group. It was assumed that it would be the hosting delegate's responsibility to chair the meeting.
The planning for the meeting was done, not by any individual, but by the consensus of the group, and I would hope that all of us could come to the meeting with an open mind. There are many important issues in our field in need of support of all of us. Although we have differed in the past when we have allowed personalities, egos, and power plays to get in the way of our developing harmonious relationships, I believe it is time we sat down together to take a serious look at the issues in the field of blindness and together develop strategy to save services for the blind and visually impaired population in our region. We can only do this through the combined efforts of all of the organizations of and for the blind.
I might add that in spite of all our differences over the past many years, we still managed to work together in a spirit of cooperation on international issues as delegates to the world organization. I hope that this same spirit of cooperation will enable us to work together to resolve some of the major issues facing the blindness system today. The AFB representatives (Dr. Geraldine Scholl, Dr. Susan Spungin, and I) look to this meeting as being not only a stepping stone to improved relations among all of us but to the accomplishments possible through our combined efforts.
William F. Gallagher, MSW
American Foundation for the Blind
February 21, 1989
With reference to the March 20th-22nd meetings to be held at the National Center of the NFB in Baltimore, I want to support your position with reference to the ACB position. In my telephone conversation with both yourself and Bill Gallagher, I felt that your letter expressed, in very positive terms, the position that should be taken in these circumstances. I, too, genuinely hope that the ACB will reconsider their position given that they would be welcomed and helpful participants. However, it is up to the integrity and judgment of each individual organization to determine its course of action based on whatever internal policies and priorities it may have. The integrity of the process as outlined in your initial letter of invitation is a model approach to world class diplomacy and entente. I can, therefore, see no basis on amending either the formula or the proposed meeting format.
Thank you for keeping me informed on this development, and we look forward to seeing you in Baltimore in a few weeks.
Euclid J. Herie, Managing Director
Canadian National Institute for the Blind
Despite these letters and the previous commitments of the American Council of the Blind, Dr. Stephens wrote me as follows:
March 6, 1989
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the American Council of the Blind cannot participate in the meeting scheduled to be held in Baltimore March 20-22, 1989. Our Board of Directors carefully considered the stipulations outlined in my memorandum of January 30. These procedures are designed to encourage full and fair participation by each organization attending a meeting devoted to important issues of concern to blind persons. We continue to believe that these procedures would ensure the balance and coequality essential to a constructive exchange of views. Since the format of the Baltimore meeting, as outlined in your memorandum of January 9 and restated in your letter of February 7, is in our judgment inconsistent with this objective, it will be impossible for us to take part in the Baltimore meeting.
ACB has a long and continuing record of cooperative action with other organizations of and for the blind. Accordingly, we remain open to the possibility of participation in future discussions aimed at the advancement of joint effort in this field.
Otis H. Stephens, President
American Council of the Blind
If the recent behavior of ACB representatives is any indicator, their decision not to attend the meeting may have been a positive contribution. Be that as it may, with these preliminaries behind us we moved forward to prepare for the meeting. The different organizations sent proposed items for the agenda and named their representatives. I prepared the following draft agenda, which was presented and read at the opening session on Monday afternoon, March 20, 1989:
Ad Hoc Committee on
Joint Organizational Effort
National Center for the Blind
March 20-22, 1989
* American Foundation for the Blind
* Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
* Blinded Veterans Association
* Canadian Council of the Blind
* Canadian National Institute for the Blind
* National Federation of the Blind
* National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
1. Procedural matters and announcements.
2. Read, consider, and finalize agenda.
3. Opportunity for each organization to make opening statement.
a. How are its use and emphasis affected by recorded material, computers, reading machines, educational philosophy?
b. Should there be concerted action to increase the use and availability of Braille? If so, what joint efforts can be undertaken? Legislation requiring that blind children have the option of being taught Braille if they and their families so elect.
5. Recruitment and training of professionals in the blindness field:
a. How can blind persons be attracted to the field?
b. Should paraprofessionals (O and M, rehab) be used?
c. What role should consumer groups play in recruiting and training professionals?
d. What role should agencies play in training their own personnel?
e. What role should universities play in training and recruitment?
6. American Printing House for the Blind: Should agencies other than APH be authorized to provide materials and books to institutions under the current federal appropriation for APH?
7. Core Services: What are they, and what should they be in the blindness system? (CNIB has studied the issue and can share ideas for group discussion.)
a. How can we work together to increase availability? Possible joint projects in research, production, distribution.
b. What role should agencies and/or consumer groups play in developing, producing, and marketing technology, aids and appliances, and materials?
c. What information should be exchanged, and how can we work together to inform the blind community? Possible North America database.
a. Portrayal of blindness by the media, by agencies, by consumer groups.
b. Are there joint efforts which we can undertake to improve the image?
c. How can we maximize dissemination of positive information?
10. Access to information issues: CNIB has created a new document and can share.
11. Role of consumers:
a. Who is the consumer?
b. What role should consumers play in development of services?
c. What role should consumers play in advocacy?
d. What role should agencies play in advocacy?
e. What responsibilities do agencies have toward individual blind people, toward organized blind people?
f. What responsibilities do individual blind people, organized blind people have to agencies?
12. Collection of data:
a. What data should agencies collect?
b. How can accuracy and completeness of collection be improved? (Census data 1990.)
13. Definition of blindness: Implications with respect to:
a. Cost and scope of services.
b. Attitudes of blind and visually impaired.
c. Attitudes of public.
14. Pan Disability:
a. What should we be doing about the pan disability movement? How can we utilize it for our purposes? How and under what circumstances should we take joint action to oppose its development?
b. How should we deal with the categorical versus generic approach to services?
a. Experience in U.S.: Randolph-Sheppard Act.
b. Experience in Canada.
16. Library Services:
a. Who should be served?
b. Are there threats to the postal concessions?
c. How should we deal with multi-lingual issues?
d. What role should individual, organized consumers play?
a. What should be included in itinerant and community based education?
b. Access to information in appropriate medium.
18. Free Trade Agreement: What implications does the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the U. S. have for the blind of the two countries, for the agencies, for joint activities?
19. Areas of cooperation:
a. International projects.
b. Research, including encouraging the research community to consider our field's needs.
c. Services to aging blind.
e. Services to deaf-blind and other multihandicapped.
f. Minority language.
g. Copyright issues.
a. Should fees be charged for services? Discuss ramifications.
b. What are the implications of the term least restrictive environment ?
c. What work disincentives are now built into the system, and what can be done about them?
d. 1991 White House Conference on Aging.
21. Opportunity for closing statements.
Even a cursory perusal of this agenda makes it clear that not everything listed could be discussed. This was understood from the outset. The intention was to try to list as many items as possible suggested by the different organizations and create a framework for general give and take. All of us seemed to feel that at this initial meeting (regardless of whether another meeting might be held) the process was more important than the specific topics. And so it proved to be.
As one of the first items of business, it was voted that Mr. Cylke of NLS would participate as a full member of the committee, not merely as an observer. Thus, everyone present participated on terms of equality. The following people were present as members of the Committee: American Foundation for the Blind William F. Gallagher, Geraldine Scholl, Susan Jay Spungin; Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired Toni Heinze, Julia Richardson, William Weiner; Blinded Veterans Association Ronald L. Miller, Tom Miller, David L. Schnair;
Canadian Council of the Blind Bruce R. Clark; Canadian National Institute for the Blind Euclid J. Herie, Gary Magarrell, Guy M. Woodland; National Federation of the Blind Kenneth Jernigan, Mary Ellen Jernigan, Marc Maurer; National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Frank Kurt Cylke.
After the reading of the agenda at the opening session on Monday afternoon, March 20, a number of items were objected to and dropped. According to prior agreement, no one questioned the reason for eliminating an item. It was agreed that Susan Spungin, Gary Magarrell, and Frank Kurt Cylke would be responsible for preparing draft statements of agreed-upon items. It was also agreed that any such draft would represent only their understanding and interpretation and would not be considered final until or unless agreed upon by the others present. It was further agreed that anyone present was free to report on what occurred at the meeting. Although there were some disputed points, lively discussion, and moments of tension, the overall tone was increasingly cordial and constructive so that by the time the meeting ended there seemed to be unanimous consensus that significant progress had been made and a milestone reached. Dinner was served to the group in the dining room at the National Center for the Blind on Monday evening, as was lunch on Tuesday. Hosted by the National Federation of the Blind, the group went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner Tuesday evening. There was a tour of the facilities at the National Center for the Blind, and there was much individual exchange of ideas and conversation. Above all, there appeared to be new understandings and broadened perspectives.
As a follow up to the meeting, the following memorandum was sent:
New York, New York
April 26, 1989
To: Participating Organizations of the Ad Hoc Committee on Joint Organizational Effort
From: Susan Jay Spungin, Gary Magarrell, Frank Kurt Cylke
What follows are five statements discussed by the seven organizations of the Joint Organizational Effort:
1. Due to a variety of extenuating factors not inherent in blindness, there is increasing evidence and concern as to the growing number of illiterate blind people. Therefore, we agree that the teaching of the Braille system needs careful attention as does the availability of materials in Braille allowing for equal access to information.
2. To insure the availability of useful and necessary high and low technology items that assist blind persons to be independent, it becomes increasingly necessary to pool our respective talents and resources in the area of technology in order to:
a. take advantage of collective buying power;
b. keep prices down through quantity buying;
c. encourage manufacturers to continue production of low-volume items;
d. encourage research development and marketing of new products of value to blind persons; and
e. explore the need for an information database system.
Therefore, it is recommended that a committee on technology be appointed in order to insure joint action and collaboration of the participating organizations of the Ad Hoc Committee on Joint Organizational Effort. The initial committee membership will be:
American Foundation for the Blind, American Council of the Blind (to be invited), Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Blinded Veterans Association, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, National Federation of the Blind, National Council of State Agencies (to be invited), and National Council of Private Agencies (to be invited). The committee will consist of individuals who are people with potential buying power or influence in the purchasing of products. The committee's role and function will be to identify items needed, negotiate price and number of items needed for organizations in the field of blindness, and negotiate and place orders with appropriate vendors. Members may participate in one or more of these roles.
Issues relating to information sharing via database systems will be presented to the officers' meeting of the World Blind Union to be held in Toronto in March, 1989.
3. In order to effectively meet the needs of blind and visually impaired children in a variety of educational settings, teachers must be trained and graduated from a recognized university personnel preparation program which focuses on specialized knowledge and skills needed to teach this population of children. In addition to specialized course work specific to the unique needs of blind and visually impaired children, teachers should have knowledge in teaching math and literary Braille codes and be certified by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
4. All other things being equal, the adult blind population is better served in specialized agencies serving the blind individual than in generic agencies.
5. Any participating organization of the Joint Organizational Committee considering a major legislative effort will consult with other concerned groups and organizations for their support and/or advice prior to final action whenever possible. This action is an example of a commitment to communicate with each other in support of programs assuring quality services for blind and visually handicapped persons in North America.
It should be emphasized that the language of the foregoing document is not the precise wording which was discussed during the meetings of the full committee and that some of the nuances might not be in accord with the memories of some who were present, but the overall substance seems generally accurate. In any case the meeting is now history, and it remains to be seen what the long-range results will be. Will another such meeting be held? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It will depend upon the climate of opinion and the sincerity of the organizations in their expressions of the wish to cooperate. It will also depend upon perceived need. For the moment it can only be repeated that the Baltimore meeting of the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort was an unmixed success and a great step forward.
by Kenneth Jernigan On Friday, April 14, 1989, a crucial event occurred in the lives of the blind of this country. It was on that day that the Board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind voted that it would no longer purchase services from any organization or agency accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). As might have been expected, the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Council of the Blind, and the handful of other remaining NAC supporters reacted with fear and fury. They undertook to stampede the Governor of Michigan into trying to force the Board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind to reverse its decision, and they also sought to get Michigan's attorney general to rule that the Commission's action was illegal. But at the time of this writing (May 5, 1989) their pressure and scare tactics have been unsuccessful. The decision still stands.
The overwhelming number of agencies serving the blind throughout the country have never sought or accepted NAC accreditation, and many of those who originally did accept it have now rejected it and publicly dissociated themselves from NAC. As the campaign by NAC supporters developed in mid- and late April to try to get Michigan's governor and attorney general to force the Michigan Commission for the Blind to reverse itself, a countermove got under way. Organizations and agencies from throughout the country (groups which favor standards and quality services to the blind and, therefore, want nothing to do with NAC) began to contact the governor and attorney general of Michigan. As has so often been the case, NAC (instead of being the focus of harmony and progress) is the center of controversy in this slugfest. This latest battle promises to put a chill on the move toward cooperation and unity which has recently been evident in the blindness field. Whatever the final outcome, NAC is the loser, and the blind are the gainers. It is hard to see how NAC can much longer continue to exist with the massive defections which it has suffered during the past year and with this latest blow to its flawed image.
There was a time when the Michigan School for the Blind was accredited by NAC but no more. The School rejected that accreditation several years ago. The Greater Detroit Society for the Blind and an agency in Flint and one in Grand Rapids are NAC accredited and stand to lose considerable business by the Commission's action, but many of the blind of the state will not regard that as a loss. Out-of-state agencies such as the Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind also stand to lose money, and so it is not surprising that that Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind wrote to the governor of Michigan not for money, of course, but because of professionalism and professional concern. Then, there is the Michigan Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. As might have been expected, that organization wrote a letter of protest to the governor. It would appear, however, that most of the letters to Michigan officials have gone the other way, commending the Michigan Commission for its positive and constructive action.
At its state convention in Flint last fall the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan adopted the following resolution:
Whereas, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) has, from the moment of its founding, sought to justify the inadequate services provided by the very agencies which created it; and Whereas, NAC has accredited agencies which harm and exploit blind people for their own profit by operating lucrative businesses through so-called sheltered workshops, which pay blind people subminimum wages; and Whereas, blind people in the state of Michigan have overwhelmingly expressed their hostility and distrust of NAC, NAC accredited agencies, and those who support and cooperate with them; and Whereas, the Michigan Commission for the Blind (MCB) board has often expressed its commitment to act on the basis of the actual experience of blind people and in the interest of the blind citizens of Michigan. Now, therefore:
Be It Resolved by the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan in convention assembled this twenty-third day of October, 1988, in the city of Flint, that we call upon the MCB board to instruct its director and staff to take all necessary action to insure that the agency will neither enter into nor renew any contracts for services with agencies which seek or maintain NAC accreditation; and Be It Further Resolved that we urge the Michigan Commission for the Blind board to instruct its director and staff to make no referrals to, or endorsement of, such agencies.
Writing in late April, Allen Harris (who is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan and Vice Chairman of the Michigan Commission for the Blind) said:
On Friday, April 14, 1989, the five-member board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind voted three to one to adopt a policy prohibiting the purchase of services from NAC accredited agencies. At the Commission meeting Joe Sontag and Steve Handschu argued the NFB's position, and representatives from a NAC accredited agency and the ACB provided opposition. After a thorough discussion, a motion was made that `the Michigan Commission for the Blind will enter into no new contract or renew existing contracts or make referrals to NAC accredited agencies.' The Commission for the Blind continues to seek improved standards and high quality services for blind citizens in Michigan. The `No NAC Policy' is the latest effort to achieve this goal and will remind agencies that they have a responsibility to provide better service. The `No NAC Policy' is applicable within the state of Michigan but will also prohibit referrals for training to NAC accredited agencies outside of the state.
The letters to the governor of Michigan tell the story very well, so here (both pro and con) are representative samples:
Columbia, South Carolina
April 25, 1989
The Honorable James Blanchard
Governor, State of Michigan
Dear Governor Blanchard:
It is my understanding that the Governing Board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind has taken action which would prevent the agency from doing business with agencies for the blind accredited by the National Accreditation Council (NAC) for Agencies Serving the Blind.
I have been actively involved in work with the blind in South Carolina both as a volunteer and as a public official. In our state we have determined collectively and separately that private and public agencies serving the blind in South Carolina would not be enhanced as a result of accreditation by the National Accreditation Council. As a matter of fact, we have long felt that NAC has accredited many private and public agencies whose services on behalf of the blind are marginal at best. I have served on the Board of Commissioners of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind for eight years. Most of that time I have served as vice chairman of the Board, and I can tell you without reservation that this agency has never given any serious consideration to NAC accreditation. It is our knowledge that many private and state agencies for the blind previously accredited by NAC have since withdrawn from the National Accreditation Council. In summary, we applaud the action taken by the Board of the Commission for the Blind and believe this will serve the best interest of not only the State of Michigan but the many thousands of blind citizens of your fine state.
Donald C. Capps, President
National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina
Little Rock, Arkansas
April 21, 1989
Ms. Delia Vorhauer, Chairman
Michigan Commission for the Blind
RE: Utilization of Agencies Accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired
Dear Ms. Vorhauer:
I have just recently learned of the Michigan Commission for the Blind's decision to exclude agencies accredited by NAC from the list of eligible providers of services to blind and visually impaired persons from the state of Michigan. The Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind Rehabilitation Center has been providing quality vocational evaluation and vocational training services in a number of areas to blind and visually impaired persons from the state of Michigan for 30 years. During fiscal year 1987-88 we provided services to 11 blind and visually impaired persons from your state. This has been advantageous to the Michigan Commission for the Blind and its consumers because they received quality services at a rate of approximately 65% of the actual cost of providing those services. The Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind has been accredited by the National Accreditation Council of Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired for 20 years. Our Board of Directors has endorsed the concept of NAC accreditation because it: (1) provides an assurance of quality services to consumers and to our public, (2) provides assurances of responsible management to consumers and to our public, (3) assures that the AEB practices public accountability with full financial disclosure. I am sure that you will agree that these are vital and essential components of any organization, public or private, that provides services to handicapped individuals. We would like very much for those blind and visually impaired persons in the state of Michigan to continue to have the opportunity to participate in our programs of vocational evaluation and training if they desire. I would, therefore, urge you and the other members of the Michigan Commission for the Blind to reconsider your recent decision to exclude NAC accredited agencies from your list of service providers.
Thank you for your consideration.
Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind
April 25, 1989
Dear Governor Blanchard:
It has been brought to my attention that the board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind has voted to change their policy regarding purchase of services from agencies which are accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). As the Director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, I should like to commend the board for their prudent decision and lend my support. It is very clear that the Commission for the Blind has the best interest of their clients at heart. Many agencies which have sought NAC accreditation have used that accreditation as a shield and then have not provided quality services. Since I direct an agency which is pledged to provide quality rehabilitation, I support high standards. I have investigated a number of accrediting bodies and have not found the NAC accreditation to be worthwhile. I work closely with the Colorado Division of Rehabilitation, and none of the agencies or schools serving the blind in our state has felt it to their advantage to become accredited by NAC.
Governor Blanchard, blind citizens of Michigan are fortunate to receive services from an agency which is truly interested and concerned enough to take an important stand on an issue of this nature. In the field of work with the blind, accreditation by NAC is so very controversial and carries such negative connotations that the board action can only be viewed as the wisest course.
Diane McGeorge, Director
Colorado Center for the Blind
cc: Anthony Francavilla, Associate Director Colorado Division of Rehabilitation
April 22, 1989
The Honorable James Blanchard
Governor, State of Michigan
Dear Governor Blanchard:
As President of the Michigan Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired persons, I am writing to share with you our concerns regarding a motion passed by the Michigan Commission for the Blind on Friday, April 14, 1989. The motion, generated by a resolution passed by the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan would prohibit the Michigan Commission for the Blind from entering into, or continuing, any contract for services to clients with any agency accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Service the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC) the only accrediting body for such agencies. Our concern about this motion is based on the following:
1. Since there is only one private agency for the blind in Michigan that is accredited by NAC, clients would be very limited in their choices of where they could get good services.
2. A number of accredited agencies offer career-oriented programs, such as the Social Security and IRS Information Specialists Training, at Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind, and the Medical and Legal transcription programs, at the Vision Center, in Flint, both NAC accredited. Programs such as these enable clients to become tax-paying, productive citizens.
3. Some services, such as the Low-Vision Clinic at the Vision Enrichment Center in Grand Rapids, have follow-up as an important component of the service. Therefore, it needs to be provided near to the client's home.
4. While no accrediting body is perfect, we do feel that it is important for any organization providing services to individuals whether it be an agency for the blind, a hospital, or a drug abuse center that there be a mechanism in place for regular outside evaluation to highlight what is good, to pinpoint weaknesses, to make constructive recommendations.
We are asking that the above motion be immediately rescinded, and that, if it is felt by some Commission Members that there are truly shortcomings in the structure and functioning of the National Accreditation Council, that these be documented in writing, and specifically that these be brought to the attention of the Executive Directors of NAC, the NAC Board of Directors half of whom are blind persons. Your help in expediting this action will be greatly appreciated. We want Michigan to stand with other States in the nation in providing quality services to the blind and visually impaired persons.
Yours very truly,
Mrs. Betty Jacobs, President
Michigan Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired
cc: Members of the Michigan Commission for the Blind
April 25, 1989
Dear Governor Blanchard:
I have become aware of the decision of the Michigan Commission for the Blind not to purchase from agencies accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). The Oregon Commission for the Blind has never had, nor has it sought, accreditation by NAC since we have found it to be of no value in improving services for blind Oregonians. Though the Commission has no formal policy or practice in its purchasing, we do not as a rule purchase from NAC accredited agencies.
I currently serve as a consumer representative on the Oregon Commission for the Blind, representing the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon. I do not foresee any circumstances where the practice will change.
Dave Hyde, Member
Oregon Commission for the Blind Board of Directors
National Federation of the Blind of Oregon
April 24, 1989
Dear Governor Blanchard:
I am writing to commend the recent action of the Michigan Commission for the Blind Board concerning the purchase of services from private agencies. Specifically, I wish to express whole-hearted support of the Board's position not to purchase services from agencies accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC).
Since its inception in the late 1960's, NAC has been a highly controversial accrediting body. Historically its standards have been weak and the accreditation process highly political. After years of consumer pressure, NAC has made efforts to window dress its accreditation procedures. Nevertheless, it has fallen short of its claim to represent the standard for quality services. As an organization of blind people, we are deeply committed to the belief that, given proper training and opportunity, blind persons can become tax-paying, contributing members of society. By bitter contrast, NAC has systematically accredited the poorest service agencies in the nation, serving as a buffer, insulating these agencies from the legitimate grievances of the clients they purport to serve. Sheltered workshops paying subminimum wages represented NAC's early flagship agencies. Attempts by blind workers to unionize to improve wages and working conditions were met with long and costly court battles by NAC accredited workshops. These workshops spent money contributed by the public for the benefit of the blind to oppose attempts by the blind to obtain fair working conditions.
I sincerely hope that the Michigan Commission for the Blind will hold fast to its conviction not to do business with unresponsive agencies that mislead the public by hiding behind the NAC seal of approval. I urge you not to succumb to the pressure by those who would seek to perpetuate the status quo by keeping the blind in economic and social oppression.
First Vice President
National Association of Blind Educators
April 19, 1989
Dear Governor Blanchard:
I have recently learned that the Michigan Commission for the Blind, meeting on April 14, 1989, recommended that the Commission stop purchasing services from agencies accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) an organization recognized as the specialized accrediting body for schools and post secondary vocational training programs for the blind and visually impaired by the U.S. Department of Education.
This recommendation, if not rejected, will constitute a tragic mistake because it restricts the Michigan Commission for the Blind from working in partnership with the very agencies that have provided cost effective quality programs to blind persons for decades. Furthermore, this recommendation will deny needed vocational training to blind Michiganders by proven service providers; will contribute to the continued unemployment problem in economically distressed communities in your state; will probably result in expending more scarce dollars to reinstitute closed programs in more expensive training facilities; and injure the reputation of the Michigan Commission for the Blind and your record of advocacy for handicapped persons. We at the American Foundation for the Blind have been a strong voice for nearly sixty-eight years, promoting quality services for blind and visually handicapped citizens. For the past twenty-five years we, and other leaders in the blindness field, have contributed years of professional time and major financial support determining the need for service standards, defining and revising those standards, and financially supporting the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped.
Through our programs, and with the contributions of thousands of citizens in your state, we helped community leaders in Flint and Detroit to establish the community- based agencies that serve blind persons in those cities. These are some of the very agencies that stand to bear the brunt of this recommendation. They will be singled out and punished for having the foresight to seek out voluntary, third-party review of their services according to nationally approved standards. They will be denied the opportunity to provide further services unless they give up their NAC accreditation.
We, like you, care about the quality of services available in Michigan and urge you to use all the authority of your office to reject the recommendation to stop purchasing services from NAC accredited agencies. The issue (which on the surface may appear to be a simple one) is, in point of fact, a very complex one. I would be happy to discuss this with you in further detail at your convenience. I can be reached at (312) 269-0095. Thank you for your time and interest in providing quality services to blind and visually impaired persons.
Robert Esposito, Director
Midwest Regional Center
American Foundation for the Blind
cc: Frank Kelly, Attorney General Christin Derdarian, Attorney General's Staff Betty Howe, Director, Department of Labor Philip Peterson, Director, Commission for the Blind Delia Vorhauer, Chairman, Commission for the Blind Larry Young, Member, Commission for the Blind Al Harris, Member, Commission for the Blind Paul Ponchilla, Member, Commission for the Blind Suzanne Dees, Member, Commission for the Blind
April 26, 1989
Dear Governor Blanchard:
I am writing to commend the Michigan Commission for the Blind for a wise and progressive decision. I understand that the Board of Directors of the Commission for the Blind has adopted a policy that the Michigan Commission will not purchase services from any agency for the blind which contributes to dissension and disharmony in programs for the blind by becoming accredited by the private New York corporation, self-proclaimed as an accreditation body, known as the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). Since its inception, NAC has been widely recognized as a force for division and discord in programs for the blind. Its primary interest has been political in nature. It has sought to take decision-making power about matters affecting the blind away from the citizens of the various states and centralize control in the private New York corporation. The determination of the Michigan Commission for the Blind to refuse to be a part of this disenfranchisement is both praiseworthy and in the best interest of the blind of the state of Michigan.
NAC was established in the mid-1960's by the American Foundation for the Blind. It has been controversial and politically oriented from the day it was formed. Most state and private agencies doing work with the blind never agreed to accept NAC accreditation. At its high point not as many as twenty-five percent of the agencies sought accreditation from it. Those that did tended to be the ones offering the poorest services.
They used NAC accreditation as a shield to cover questionable practices and lack of performance. It is my understanding that the Michigan School for the Blind was at one time accredited by NAC but withdrew from that accreditation. The same is true of most reputable agencies throughout the nation. In the circumstances the action of the Michigan Commission for the Blind is not only understandable but wise. Reputable groups in our field simply do not associate themselves with NAC. Any group that seeks NAC accreditation is suspect and unlikely to provide quality services or to abide by acceptable standards. The American Foundation for the Blind has always provided more than fifty percent of NAC's funding, but even the Foundation (although it still outwardly endorses NAC) is now engaged in serious internal debate concerning the advisability of NAC's continuance. As far back as two years ago the Foundation officially informed NAC that it must institute reforms or risk losing Foundation support. There have been attempts to hush the matter up, but this is fact.
Because NAC is (as I have already said) not truly a standard-setting body but a political organization, it is the focus of continuing controversy instead of constructive action and harmony. A perfect example of this is what has occurred in Michigan. It required considerable courage for the board of the Michigan Commission to take a public stand against purchasing services from NAC-accredited agencies because there was a virtual certainty that such an action would bring attempts at out-of-state political pressure against the Commission. This, of course, is exactly what happened.
In the circumstances I have felt that it is essential to speak out. Michigan should be able to make its own decisions without direction from beyond the borders of the state. The proper work of the Michigan Commission for the blind is the improvement of the condition of the blind of the state. Outside politics can be left to the outsiders.
It seems to me that it is improper for individuals and agencies from other states to attempt to force the Michigan Commission for the Blind to alter its decision. If accreditation is to have any value at all, it must be done in an atmosphere of professionalism and merit, not politics and pressure.
Kenneth Jernigan, Director
National Center for the Blind
These letters are typical of the avalanche of correspondence which inundated the governor and attorney general of Michigan, hardly the sort of thing that gives reassurance that the accrediting agency is professional and reputable. As was said earlier, this article was begun on May 5, 1989. It is now May 22, and a great deal has happened in the intervening time. On May 6 the Michigan Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, held a meeting to protest the No NAC Policy of the Michigan Commission for the Blind. The governor's office, the labor commissioner, and the attorney general's office were asked to be present, but they did not show. However, others were there, and the fact of their presence indicates the concern and desperation which is being felt in the NAC camp. And who were these others? Grant Mack and Oral Miller of the American Council of the Blind; officials from both the Greater Detroit Society for the Blind and the Flint agency which is accredited by NAC; Dennis Hartenstine, NAC's Executive Director; a spokesman from Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind; and a number of lesser lights. Allen Harris, President of the NFB of Michigan and Vice Chairman of the Michigan Commission for the Blind, was also there. The media had been asked to attend, but very few came. Grant Mack chaired the meeting, and a review of the recorded proceedings indicates that it was mostly a gripe session, characterized by negativism, complaints, and a wistful hope that the action of the Michigan Commission would go away. The comments of Oral Miller, the Washington representative of the American Council of the Blind, were particularly bitter and unhappy. He gave an interesting rationale for some of NAC's shortcomings saying, for instance, that it was unjust to criticize NAC for accrediting workshops that pay blind people less than the minimum wage. He said that the wages paid to blind workers could not be considered when NAC evaluates an agency, because the federal Fair Labor Standards Act permits subminimum wages to be paid. The answer to this sort of shallow logic is, of course, painfully apparent. If all an agency needs to do in order to receive NAC accreditation is to refrain from violating the law, what is the point of accreditation? Yes, it is legal (under certain conditions which are, incidentally, often violated) for a sheltered workshop to pay its blind workers subminimum wages. But it is not a good practice not ethical, not moral; and the better shops do not do it. The fact that NAC does not take into account the wages and working conditions of blind employees in the sheltered shops is only one more evidence of its ineffectiveness and lack of relevance. Moreover, Mr. Miller is an attorney and should know this.
Mr. Miller went on to say that Gordon Steinhauer (NAC's treasurer, who is blind and works at a local Lansing hospital) was present at the meeting. The recordings would seem to indicate that Steinhauer is well-intentioned but misinformed. At one point in the discussion Mr. Harris pointed to the Florida School for the Blind and Deaf as an example of NAC's poor performance. Grant Mack responded by saying that the National Federation of the Blind expects perfection and that this is not reasonable. Referring to the deaths which have been occurring at the Florida School, Mr. Mack said something to this effect: Mistakes are made everywhere. Gordon, does anybody ever die at your hospital?
Mr. Harris's response seems particularly apt: We expect people to die in hospitals, but we don't expect our children to die at school except perhaps in extremely isolated cases. Certainly we don't expect it to happen on a continuing basis and because of mistakes.
As is customary with NAC and its supporters, attempts were made to confuse the issue and use scare tactics. It was said that one of the harmful effects of the decision by the Michigan Commission would be that blind persons in Michigan could not receive Perkins Braillers because Perkins is NAC accredited. This, of course, is pure nonsense. A Perkins Brailler is a tangible piece of apparatus, not a contract for services or training. With respect to scare tactics, one of the participants said that the NFB had been intimidating people and that it was now time for those represented at the meeting to stand up and do some intimidating of their own. Those are strong words. They contrast sharply with NAC's claims of professionalism. On the other hand, they are very much in keeping with what we have come to expect from the group that was assembled, NAC and its supporters. When Dennis Hartenstine, NAC's Executive Director, took the floor, he mostly talked in generalities. However, in one area he was very emphatic. He said that NAC was doing all right financially and that the American Foundation for the Blind had just voted to continue to support NAC financially. Mr. Hartenstine's information is in sharp contrast with ours. We have been informed by an official at the American Foundation for the Blind that two years ago the Foundation was giving $250,000 per year to NAC, that it reduced that amount to $235,000 last year, and $215,000 this year. We are further informed that at a meeting this spring the Board of Trustees of the American Foundation for the Blind voted that it would not give more than $100,000 for the next fiscal year and that this is a maximum. We are told that the final decision will rest with the Foundation's executive committee and that how much of the $100,000 (if any) NAC will receive will depend upon its demonstrated ability to get new members. This is somewhat at variance with what Hartenstine said, but then, NAC will be NAC.
As might have been expected, the May 6 meeting ended inconclusively. It was followed by a meeting of the board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind on Friday, May 12, at which representatives of Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind, the Greater Detroit Society for the Blind, and others were present. The meeting was characterized by a great deal of pulling and hauling and confusion, but when the smoke cleared, the No NAC Policy of the Commission remained intact. Unless it is reversed at a later meeting, it will go into effect in ninety days from the date of the May 12 meeting.
The ways of some of the professionals in the field of work with the blind are strange, indeed. Shortly after the May 12 meeting of the Michigan Commission, we began to hear reports from around the country that some of the agencies were trumpeting the news that the Michigan Commission had reversed itself and repealed its No NAC Policy. Allen Harris reports that Carroll Jackson, head of the Greater Detroit Society for the Blind, made such statements at a meeting in Michigan and that he said to Mr. Jackson: Why would you say such a thing when you know it isn't true? You were present at the May 12 meeting. Mr. Jackson had only the lame excuse that he had thought that this was what happened. However, he refused to correct his false statements.
So where does all of this leave us? The Michigan Commission for the Blind will be holding another board meeting early in June, and there will doubtless be renewed efforts by the NAC agencies to force a reversal of the No NAC Policy. It must also be remembered that the Michigan attorney general is being pressured to declare the Commission's action illegal. But it must also be remembered that the governor and attorney general have received commendations from throughout the country for the positive and courageous action which Michigan has taken. It is doubtful that the Michigan Commission will be forced or maneuvered into retreating from its principles, but even if this should occur, NAC has been irreversibly damaged.
Moreover, the NAC supporters should be careful about playing with fire. One has to wonder if they have considered the implications of the attorney general game. They have asked that the action of the Commission for the Blind be ruled illegal, but what if a request for a ruling should be made in those few states that have adopted a policy requiring that services must be purchased from NAC-accredited agencies? At the May 5 Lansing meeting NAC and its supporters made much of the notion that freedom of choice should be allowed. Would they like for this to apply to other states, or only to Michigan? For that matter, perhaps they will lose in Michigan and in the other states, too. Watch for requests to be made that attorneys general in other states rule that a requirement that services be purchased only from NAC-accredited agencies is illegal.
By the time Monitor readers get this issue (the present article is being written in late April) Norma Krajczar, the long-time head of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, will be out. It is doubtful that very many tears will be shed at her departure. Blind herself, she has generally not been well regarded by the blind of the state. Her termination (officially described as a retirement ) is slated for June 30, 1989.
Sources in the state say that Krajczar's age is not the reason for her leaving, that one must look elsewhere for the causes. To begin with, Krajczar has always been controversial. She has been a strong proponent of NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped), and under her leadership the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired has been NAC accredited. In recent years, as the NAC house of cards has progressively begun to fall, Krajczar has stayed with the reactionaries, refusing to act in the best interest of her agency or the blind of the state. The New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (unlike more forward-looking agencies) still associates its name with the discredited NAC.
Despite the fact of her own blindness, Krajczar has had the reputation of not wanting to hire blind persons. John Dragona, a blind resident of New Jersey who has had numerous run-ins with Krajczar and is admittedly not one of her boosters, lays it out like this: She worked, he says, to eliminate the Civil Service requirement that applicants for the position of home instructor at the Commission for the Blind be blind or visually impaired. She ignored blind applicants for the positions of social worker, mobility instructor, education counselor, eye health nurse, and field staff supervisor; and she wouldn't provisionally hire blind vocational counselors while working to lower the standards so that sighted people who don't even have a B.A. could become vocational counselors.
Probably the straw that finally broke the proverbial camel's back was Krajczar's dealing with the vending program. Again to quote Dragona: She spoke out in behalf of allowing vending stands in New Jersey to be operated by people with disabilities other than blindness, and she supported legislation that would have levied a tax on blind vendors to offset the deficits caused by her agency's mismanagement. In reality, as we understand it, the vending situation is a bit more complex than Dragona's comments imply. Florence Blume, President of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, says that there has not been a set-aside from the earnings of blind vendors in New Jersey but that Krajczar announced her intention of instituting this practice in 1988. The Federation responded by introducing legislation to prohibit set-asides from the earnings of vendors. In the battle that ensued the New Jersey Attorney General found that the law establishing the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired prohibited set-asides and ruled that the Commission could not collect them. Thereupon, the Federation did not withdraw its bill but left it quiescent in the legislature as an incentive to the Commission to be mindful of the law, which is where the matter still stands.
But the fallout for Krajczar was apparently fatal. Presumably she had become so controversial that the politicians had had enough. So she is now retiring and reportedly moving to North Carolina, where she has bought property and intends to settle down. The legacy she leaves for the blind of New Jersey is a discredited agency and a host of problems. It is said that her deputy director, J. Boyle, has the inside track to succeed her. Some of the blind say that they think Boyle may bring a better day but that whether he does or not, change is welcome.
by Kenneth Jernigan
I was sitting in my office on Thursday morning, June 1, 1989, when I received a call telling me of the death of Connie McCraw. There were no details, just the announcement the news that she had died. As her friends know, Connie had not been well for quite some time. Her last years were spent in a retirement home here in Baltimore. Toward the end she was in great pain. At times like this it is easier to remember than to find the right words. When I came to Baltimore in 1978, John and Connie McCraw were a source of strength to me and a focal point for the warmth and hospitality that I received. John was the leader of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and Connie was always at his side supporting, loving, and caring. Only a short time after my arrival, John had a sudden heart attack and died. I worked with Connie in planning the funeral and was one of those who delivered a eulogy. Connie grieved at John's death, but she put her sorrow aside to help ease the pain of others. Connie was like that. As soon as we established the National Center for the Blind, Connie was on hand to help for many years as a volunteer and for a while as a staff member. Regardless of the job she was doing (and there were many), one factor was always constant. She cared. And everybody knew she cared. It radiated from her in every act. She was the voice on cassette of the Braille Spectator , the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. In fact, she read every issue except the most recent. Toward the end she was really not well enough to do the reading, but the joy of doing it outweighed the pain. Again, Connie was like that. She was always willing to read or give of her time or do anything else she could to help others.
Big John's booming voice is still remembered and missed at National Federation of the Blind conventions, and Connie's gentle goodness will also be missed. She was ours, and we loved her. We still love her, and our love will be undying. Connie McCraw worker, friend, lady, generous helper. We will miss you.
These recipes are taken from the IDAHO POTATO COOKBOOK, which we recently received from Betty Sabin. The NFB of Idaho is selling the IDAHO POTATO COOKBOOK for $5 each in print and $8 in Braille. You may order them from: NFB of Idaho, 1301 South Capitol Boulevard Suite C, Boise, Idaho 83706. The following recipes are samples of the wonderful things you can do with potatoes. Besides recipes, this book contains nutrition information and more.
QUICK POTATO FUDGE
3 squares baking chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup mashed potatoes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pound powdered sugar
Method: Melt butter and chocolate over hot water. Add mashed potatoes, salt, and vanilla. Blend in sugar. Knead until smooth. Press into eight-inch-square pan or make into roll. Place in wax paper. Chill and slice. Nuts can be added just before kneading. Makes 1-1/4 pounds.
POTATO BROCCOLI PUREE SOUP
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
2 stalks broccoli, chopped
pepper to taste
1 cup plain lowfat yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 potatoes, diced
� teaspoon dill
2 quarts water or stock
Method: In soup pot saut onion and celery in olive oil for four minutes. Add carrots, potatoes, broccoli, seasonings, and water or stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium low, and cook twenty-five to thirty-five minutes or until vegetables are soft. Pur e in blender. Stir in yogurt and reheat gently. Serve. Makes eight half-cup servings. 156 calories, 23 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 17 percent calories from fat.
BOB'S POTATO CREPES
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
� teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese
4 cups raw potatoes, grated
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped chives
3 tablespoons flour
� teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream
� cup mushrooms, chopped and sauteed
Method: Soften cream cheese in mixing bowl. Add flour and beat until smooth. Add eggs, salt, and pepper. Beat with electric mixer. Stir in cheese, potatoes, cream, chives, and mushrooms. Lightly oil electric skillet, and heat to temperature just below that recommended for pancakes. When heated, add small amount of butter and ladle potato batter into skillet to make crepes three inches in diameter and 3/8 inches thick. Brown lightly on one side about three minutes. Turn and cook three minutes more or until potatoes are tender. Repeat with remaining batter. If not served immediately, place on baking sheet and reheat for four to five minutes in 400-degree oven. Makes eighteen.
POTA TO KOGEL (PUDDING)
5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1/8 teaspoon pepper
� cup margarine
2 tablespoons matzo
(flour or pancake mix)
Method: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Blend all ingredients in blender. Pour into eight-inch-square greased dish. Bake for one hour. This batter may be used for pancakes: Use � cup batter for each pancake. Serves four.
3 cups ground beef (cooked)
1 apple, chopped
2 tablespoons dill pickles, chopped
salt and pepper
nutmeg, cloves to taste
2 hard cooked eggs, chopped
1 cup beets, chopped
2 cups mashed potatoes
mayonnaise (or oil and vinegar)
Method: Mix all ingredients and chill.
2 tablespoons shortening
1 onion, minced
salt and pepper to taste
6 raw potatoes, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
Method: Melt shortening in skillet. Mix remaining ingredients together. Spread evenly in skillet. Sauté until golden brown. Turn and brown other side. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
Serves four to six.
First person in conversation: What is another name for a mouthy flower maker?
Second person in conversation: I don't want to embarrass him, so I'd rather not say but I understand, and you're right on target.
Bean Hudson writes: The Little Rock Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas announces the following officers for 1989:
Rector Turner, President; Melvin Martin, Vice President; Everett Satterfield, Secretary; Jim Sparks, Treasurer; and Irma Nelson, Alpha Ennis, and Freddie Wilke, Board Members.
**Virginia Organizes Chapter of NAPUB:
Marshall Jordan writes: At the annual state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Virignia in Lynchburg March 31-April 2, 1989, an organizational meeting for a Virginia affiliate of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) was held. Many persons expressed strong feelings concerning the need for NAPUB in Virginia; many problem areas dealing with Braille were identified. The following officers were elected: President, Debbie Prost; Vice President, Billie Ruth Schlank; Treasurer, Debbie Gardner; and Secretary, Marshall Jordan.
Raquel Gomez has asked us to carry the following announcement:
I have for sale a VersaBraille I, complete with computer overlays, master overlays, two head cleaners, sample materials, tape, data tapes, recharger and power supply, and both the Braille and print manuals.
I also have an Apple II-C, printer cables, the Cricket Voice synthesizer, as well as the Word Talk program and ten data discs. Everything is in good working condition. The complete interface is available. Manuals are also available with the computer and voice synthesizer. I would like to sell everything together as a package. However, I would be willing to sell them separately. Contact me to agree on a price. I can be reached during the day, as well as during the evening, at (612) 781-7474. I have an answering machine, so please leave a message, and I will return your call. Or write me at: 2403 Central Avenue N. E., Apt. 2, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55418.
From the Editor : I have just learned of the death on March 9, 1989, of Melba Galloway of California. Melba was a long-time and true Federationist, and the news of her death took me back to the 1950's when I lived in Oakland, California, and was president of the local NFB affiliate, the Alameda County Club of Adult Blind. Melba and her husband Charlie were staunch members and close friends. Both were quiet and unassuming but capable, sincere, effective, and absolutely unswerving in their devotion to principle. We stood shoulder to shoulder and fought the good fight, and I share Charlie's grief at Melba's loss.
**News from the Prairie State Chapter:
Allen and Ruth Anne Schaefer write as follows: On April 15, 1989, the Prairie State Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois re-elected Allen Schaefer of Mazon President. Mrs. Elaine Salems of Morris was chosen Vice President. Mrs. Evelyn Scanavino of Gardner will serve as Secretary, while Mrs. Ruth Anne Schaefer was re-elected Treasurer. Board Members elected were Gary Jones and John Salvatore of Joliet and Earl Salems of Morris. Recently the 75-member chapter divided, and a new Kankakee Heartland Chapter was organized in the Kankakee County area. The Prairie State Chapter will now be a three-county chapter serving Will, Grundy, and Livingston Counties.
Louise Greene writes: The National Federation of the Blind of Alabama held its annual state convention April 14-15, 1989, in Huntsville. Our theme, Becoming Informed The Key to Success, is the focus of the National Federation of the Blind. We had excellent television coverage, which means that the community is better informed about what we are doing. Our annual scholarship was presented at the banquet on April 15. The recipient was Sharon Armstrong, a student who will be graduating from the school for the blind. Our constitutional officers and two board members elected are: President, Louise B. Greene; First Vice President, Dale Hamm; Second Vice President, Bob Shaffer; Secretary, Gwendolyn Bass; Treasurer, Frank Lee; Board Position 1, Barbara Manuel; and Board Position 2, Charles Hutchinson.
Recently President Maurer received a letter from Charlotte Bellmyer, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma. One of the leaders of the Federation in Oklahoma, Doug Elliott, had died unexpectedly. Here is what Charlotte Bellmyer had to say:
I regret to inform you of the recent death of Doug Elliott who died at the young age of 38 on April 12, 1989. He was a true and loyal Federationist. The illness that resulted in his death came as a complete shock to the entire Oklahoma affiliate. Only one week prior to his death we had taken a van to Oklahoma City for our state board meeting.
I have looked toward Doug as a pioneer of the reorganization of the Oklahoma affiliate in the early 80's. He was at the first Tulsa Chapter meeting that I attended. Doug has been one of the most loyal Federationists that I have known. He served on both the Tulsa Chapter board and the state affiliate board, and he virtually never missed a meeting. Whenever there was work to be done or places to go, Doug was always there. He attended six national conventions, that I know of, and has been involved equally in our Oklahoma state conventions. We here in Oklahoma have lost a dear friend and a respected colleague. Doug will be missed, especially when we go to Denver.
**Braille Book Project:
We have received the following from the National Federation of the Blind of Denver, Colorado:
Federationists may remember an article which was printed in the Braille Monitor concerning the Braille Book Project. This project is conducted through the National Federation of the Blind of Denver facility. We receive contributions of discarded textbooks from schools and libraries for the blind from all over the country. These textbooks are then mailed to schools in countries such as India, Africa, and Malaysia, just to mention a few. We wish to announce that we will be changing the location of the Braille Book Project. It would be very helpful if Federationists could acquaint libraires and schools in their states with this information. We will be sending letters to regular contributors, but if Federationists know that their specific states are making large contributions of discarded Braille textbooks, we would appreciate your help. Once the project has been relocated to a permanent address, we will ask that it be printed in the Braille Monitor and will be sending letters to regular contributors at that time.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: For Sale IBM Electric Braille typewriter. Never used. $300 or best offer. Must sell! For more information contact Olivia Ostergaard, 2740 West Olive Space 104, Fresno, California 93722 or call (209) 486-2126.
Peggy Pinder writes: The late 70's are often referred to by blind people as the time of the cane war, the years when flight attendants insisted that the white cane was like carry-on baggage and, like suitcases, had to be stowed under the seat or in the overhead compartment. Since the canes do not fit there, flight attendants would insist on taking the cane from a blind passenger; blind passengers would insist on keeping their canes; arrests occurred. The cane war was terminated when the Federal Aviation Administration defined canes as items capable of safe carriage by the seat of a blind passenger in 14 Code of Federal Regulations 121.589(e), information now carried in the Flight Manuals in the cockpits of every commercial airliner in the country. During the cane war, many of us regretted that collapsible canes were so flimsy and useless. We dreamed of encountering an aggressive flight attendant, yielding up our cane, then quietly uncollapsing a new one and placing it where the old one had been. After two or three tries at exhausting our cane supply, we guessed the flight attendants would give up. In the mid 80's, telescoping canes became much better, and many blind travelers started carrying them regularly, especially as they travel easily as a back-up cane. By then, most airline crews were aware that canes could be retained by blind passengers. But not all crews. Recently, Mike Cramer of Illinois boarded a flight and encountered a flight attendant who started in on the old routine about the cane being carry-on baggage and her need to confiscate it for take-off and landing. Cramer needed to get to his destination. He didn't need a hassle. So he gave up the cane. As soon as the flight attendant was gone, he got into his carry-on bag and removed his spare telescoping cane. He extended it and placed it in exactly the position from which the flight attendant had removed his other cane. He heard a passenger behind him begin to laugh and say: Well, I'll be damned. Beat the bitch at her own game.
A few minutes later, the flight attendant returned with the original cane, an apology for being wrong about taking the cane, and an offer of a free drink to smooth over the passenger's irritation. Cramer replied that he couldn't be bought with a drink and accepted the return of his cane with the same equanimity he had shown at its departure.
Recently we received the following note: On January 14, 1989, the Jackson Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi held its annual election for officers for the 1989 calendar year. The following officers were elected: Sam Gleese, President; William Richardson, First Vice President; Charles Evans, Second Vice President; Sarah White, Secretary; Mary Reed, Treasurer; John Hawkins, Board Member; and Alfred Hudson, Board Member.
Dr. Charles Hallenbeck, one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas, writes as follows:
This announcement from KANSYS, Inc., 1016 Ohio Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66044: The KANSYS Quartet is a package of four entry-level database programs of interest to first-time users and old-timers alike. They talk well and look pretty on the screen, too. They are called individually, Names, Checks, Titles, and Ideas. Each program costs $49. Names, Checks, and Titles are available now. Ideas is an outline processor and will be available shortly, probably by the time you read this. Write for more information, or call Dave at (913) 843-0351 or Chuck or Cindy at (913) 842- 4016.
NFBTRANS is a text-to-Braille software program which was developed at the National Center for the Blind in response to the expressed need of visually handicapped people. This computer program is now being used by individuals and institutions serving blind people across the United States and in foreign countries. The author (Charles Cook) is constantly interacting with users of the program, so it is dynamic, changing, and growing in power in response to their experience and needs: Enhancements are sent out several times each year.
Many experienced users tell us it is the best product of this kind. It is designed to be as easy to use at it can be; most operators can start producing Grade 2 Braille with half-an-hour practice. You need an IBM PC class computer using the MS-DOS operating system, a Brailling device (usually an embosser), and word processing software such as WordStar, Word Perfect, Sprint, etc. to use with NFBTRANS. NFBTRANS is marketed through Roudley Associates, Inc., a software development firm (Post Office Box 608, Owings Mills, Maryland 21117). It is priced at $395. To assist serious potential customers in judging NFBTRANS, a demonstration 5-1/4 inch floppy disk is available. In addition to acquainting the user with NFBTRANS, the disk provides the translation software segment necessary to any such computer system, thereby displaying the capability of each of the other parts as well. For information call 1-(800) 363-7049 toll free.
Susan Povinelli writes: On April 12, 1989, at the meeting of the Potomac Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia the election of officers took place. The results of the election were as follows: President, Seville Allen; First Vice President, Bill Meeker; Second Vice President, Nancy Yeager; Corresponding Secretary, Susan Povinelli; Recording Secretary, Geri Burke; Treasurer, Lawrence Povinelli; and Board Members: Billie Ruth Schlank, Pattie Droppers, and Maxine Oates.
Betty Castor, Commissioner of Education in the state of Florida, has appointed Marilyn Womble, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, to a position on a policy review panel examining the statewide delivery system for children with sensory impairments.
**Maybe Sick But Not Funny:
We recently found the following item in a brochure published by the National Handicapped Sports and Recreation Association. In view of United Airlines' record you be the judge. Here it is:
United Airlines has become the official airline of the National Handicapped Sports and Recreation Association (NHSRA). It provides transportation assistance to enable the organization to conduct its nationwide sports and recreation activities. United has been a pioneer in the development of procedures and equipment to facilitate travel by passengers with disabilities since the 1930's. It is committed to maintain its leadership in services to those customers by training employees and assuring accessibility of its facilities on planes.
Ed and Toni Eames write as follows: We would like to notify you of the results of the elections held by the Fresno, California, Chapter of the NFB on April 8, 1989. The following were elected to office: President, Jan Kafton; First Vice President, Ed Eames (pronounced Ames ); Second Vice President, Patty Dorsey; Treasurer, Mary Beth Gill; Secretary, Robin Libbee; and two Members at Large, Toni Eames and Ivy Bennett.
Dennis Ranker, one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia, and Carolyn Smith of Tennessee were married at 6:30 in the evening on February 14, 1989, at the Boulevard Church of Christ in Charleston, West Virginia. Congratulations to the newlyweds, and may they have a long and happy life together.