The Braille Monitor
39, No. 8
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 39, No. 8 August/September 1996
1996 CONVENTION ROUNDUP
by Barbara Pierce
by Marc Maurer
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND AWARDS FOR 1996
THE REVOLUTION OF THE KERNEL BOOKS
by Kenneth Jernigan
THE SCHOLARSHIP CLASS OF 1996
THE ESSENCE OF MATURITY
by Marc Maurer
CLIENT OR CONSUMER? RE-DEFINING RESPONSIBILITY
IN PROGRAMS OF REHABILITATION
by Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.
RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY THE ANNUAL CONVENTION OF
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND, JULY, 1996
by Ramona Walhof
Copyright 1996 National Federation of the BlindLEAD PHOTOS: There are five lead photos in this issue. Photo
#1: In the center, Dr. Jernigan's hands are shown as he reads Braille. Caption: Dr. Jernigan's hands Photo #2: Matthew Jin of Washington State sits on the floor reading a TWIN VISION book. Caption: Matthew Jin of Washington State Photo #3: Stuart Weller of Washington State sits on the floor reading a Braille book. Caption: Stuart Weller of Washington State Photo #4: Angela Howard of Louisiana reads the Braille tag of a cane at NFB Aids and Appliances. Caption: Angela Howard of Louisiana Photo #5: Frank Meunier of Connecticut reads Braille at a microphone during the Music Division's Showcase of Talent. Caption: Frank Meunier of Connecticut General Caption: Braille at all ages at the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Anaheim, California, during the first week of July, 1996]
[Photo/Caption #1: A bird's eye view of the Hilton's outdoor pool and part of the city of Anaheim]
[Photo/Caption #2: Many deaf-blind people attend the NFB convention. Kathleen Spear walks down the hall after the meeting of the National Association of Guide Dog Users.]
[Photo #3: Carolina Snader pushes along a popping push-toy. Caption: Carolina Snader, a deaf-blind child from Mexico, enjoys her second NFB convention.]
[Photo #4: Russell Anderson carries Miles Anderson and walks down a hallway. Caption: Russell Anderson of Minnesota and his son Miles en route to one of the many meetings held at the 1996 National Convention]
[Photo/Caption #5: Ed McDonald, President of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia, and his fiance Karen Chandler enjoy the Braille 'n Speak seminar. By the time this issue is published, the couple will be happily married.]
[Photo/Caption #6: Christine Hall of New Mexico, President of the National Organization of the Senior Blind]
[Photo/Caption #7: Jim Willows, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California, welcomes delegates to the 1996 National Convention at the Opening General Session on Tuesday, July 2.]
[Photo/Caption #8: NFB Camp gave children hours of fun with many different toys and activities. Here Brian Hergert of Washington State plays with a Musical Shape & Sort.]
[Photo/Caption #9: The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children is a strong component of NFB activities and conventions. And the whole family takes part. Here the Hovander family from the state of Washington stops in the hallway to talk with each other and to look ahead to the rest of the day. But not for long. It is clear that Ryan is about to move out for parts unknown--exploring and discovering. Federationists are like that.]
[Photo/Caption #10: President Maurer and Dr. Jernigan meet David Sexton of California.]
[Photo/Caption #11: Representative Christopher Cox]
[Photo #12: Betsy Zaborowski and John Chrisman stand together. Caption: Betsy Zaborowski and John Chrisman gave numerous demonstrations of the NEWSLINE network.]
[Photo #13: A group plays cards. Caption: Monte Carlo Night was again a fun time for all.]
[Photo #14: Larry Posont is sits in the audience wearing a large hat with stars and stripes. Caption: Larry Posont of Michigan gets into the spirit of Independence Day!]
[Photo/Caption #15: Zbigniew Terpilowski, Vice President of the Polish Association of the Blind and Director of the Rehabilitation and Training Center, Bydgoszcz]
[Photo/Caption #16: Heather Harmon moves the Convention with her grace and wisdom.]
[Photos #17 & 18: Caption #17: Jim Near and . . . Caption
#18: Lloyd Johnson of Idaho: proof that Federationists involve themselves in a number of activities, including building a house.]
[Photo/Caption #19: Last year's $10,000 American Action Fund scholarship winner Emily Ross, and two of this year's scholarship winners, Ana Ugarte and Brigid Doherty, made it to the very end of the General Session on Friday. But just barely!]
1996 CONVENTION ROUNDUP
by Barbara Pierce
An aura of happily ever after surrounds much of southern California. This is certainly true of Anaheim with its perfect weather, vacationing tourists, and ever-present reminders of Disneyland. The 1996 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, held at the Anaheim Hilton, seemed in some ways to reflect the optimism, inner tranquility, and determination to take charge of tomorrow that Walt Disney made famous. But energy, fun, and commitment to hard work also filled the convention and radiated from the thousands of Federationists who flocked to southern California the first week of July.
The Anaheim Hilton and Towers is a splendid facility for a large convention. The staff were pleasant and helpful without being intrusive. The hotel restaurants served excellent food with commendable efficiency. And the hundreds of sleeping rooms on each of the nine floors above the convention space meant that it was possible for the energetic and the impatient to climb steps at those times when the elevators were most crowded.
By Friday, June 28, hundreds of white canes and many guide dogs were in evidence in the hotel lobby and the surrounding streets and restaurants of Anaheim. By the time the seminar for parents of blind children began Saturday morning, there were more than 200 families with blind, deaf- blind, or multiply-handicapped blind youngsters ready to participate in an exciting day of panel discussions, workshops, round tables, and seminars.
That evening, while families got acquainted and children took part in a talent show, blind teens and some of their sighted siblings gathered for their own (parents not invited) get-together and scavenger hunt. Working in small groups, each led by a blind adult, they found ten different locations in the hotel and picked up a pre-arranged item to prove that they had successfully found it. Sighted teens were invited to use sleepshades and canes, which some did. The evening ended with games and prizes. By the time the eighteen participants separated, they had made friends and exchanged room numbers. Friendships were strengthened and extended to even more teens Sunday afternoon with another time and place for teens only.
Throughout the day and evening Saturday, eager Federationists could choose from over a dozen meetings, workshops, and seminars. One of the most popular, as it is every year, was the annual Job Opportunities for the Blind
(JOB) seminar, sponsored jointly by the National Federation of the Blind and the U.S. Department of Labor. Members of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, the Writers Division, and people interested in the problems faced by those who are deaf-blind also gathered for seminars.
By Sunday the convention was in full swing. Convention registration and the exhibit hall both opened ahead of schedule Sunday morning, and hundreds of people were on hand to take advantage of the fact. The exhibit hall did a land- office business, as always, from the moment its doors were thrown open. Fifty-three exhibitors from outside the NFB had space in the California Pavilion, which was spacious enough to provide wide aisles and easy movement along the rows of displays and demonstrations.
Sunday afternoon the Resolutions Committee met, with an audience of several hundred in attendance. The committee considered twenty-two resolutions, and the Board of Directors considered one. Nineteen were eventually brought to the floor of the convention for debate and vote by the delegates. The texts of the resolutions considered by the convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
Sunday evening and Monday afternoon and evening Federationists could choose among thirty-three committee and division meetings and seminars, eleven on Sunday and twenty- two on Monday. This count does not include a number of demonstrations of the Myna palmtop computer and of the NFB's NEWSLINE for the Blind network, which delivers digitized newspaper text over the telephone. The NEWSLINE network now includes a growing number of cities, with more on the horizon. The count of convention activities on Monday does not include two performances of Jerry Whittle's new play, Between the Moon and the Stars, presented by the Louisiana Center for the Blind Players. Both performances took place Monday evening.
Before the convention began, Mike May, Vice President for Sales for Arkenstone, had asked the NFB to find a couple of blind teenagers to work in Disneyland with a film crew from the Discovery Channel on Monday. The idea was to record the two using their white canes as well as Strider, Arkenstone's new portable computer with digitized maps and a Global Positioning System (GPS), to tell them where various attractions were in Disneyland. Angela Sasser of Louisiana and Ellen Nichols of Maryland agreed to dedicate their morning to the project.
According to the camera crew, the segment should air sometime during October on the Discovery Channel's program
"Beyond Tomorrow." The Strider units being used during the convention were prototypes only and had experienced some difficulty performing in the summer heat over the weekend, but on the day of the filming Strider behaved impeccably. The Federationists did the same, doing what they were asked to do with real professionalism. All went without a hitch until the moment when the young women were instructed to enter one attraction through the exit. They balked at that, asking why they should not stand in line like everybody else. The crew explained that it was Disney policy to send blind customers through the easier, faster route. The girls refused on the grounds that they wanted no part of a policy that they believed segregated them and promulgated the notion that blind people need special treatment. Rather than make an issue of the impasse, the camera crew canceled that part of the filming.
The young women were sorry to inconvenience the crew and would have been happy to do as they were asked if what they were being requested to do had not been standard Disney policy for dealing with blind people. They believed that such policies are destructive of blind people in the long run, and on principle Angela and Ellen could not allow themselves to appear to agree with the policy for the convenience of the cameras and the schedule. It's exciting and reassuring to see our teens growing up with strong principles about rights and wrongs in the treatment of blind people.
The annual meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind and the first official general session of the 1996 convention was called to order at 9:00 a.m. Monday. After calling the roll, President Maurer invited those present to stand with him for a moment of silence in memory of our Federation brothers and sisters who had died during the past year. The first agenda item was the announcement that at this year's convention the five constitutional officer positions and six at-large positions on the Board of Directors were open for election. President Maurer then announced that National Board member and President of the NFB of West Virginia Ed McDonald and his fianc Karen Chandler were to be married during the West Virginia convention, August 9 to 11. Everyone present wished Ed and Karen joy. President Maurer then congratulated Rick Fox, President of the Connecticut affiliate, and his new wife Debbie Bloomer Fox, who were married June 1.
Jim Willows, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California, came to the podium to welcome convention delegates to the Golden State and to make several announcements. He concluded his remarks by explaining that it was affiliate policy to share all bequests equally with the national organization. In that spirit the California affiliate has contributed $63,590 in bequests to the National office of the Federation during the past year. The California Board of Directors had contemplated waiting until the convention to present one check, but knowing that expenses continue throughout the year, they decided to pass the funds along as soon as they were available.
Dr. Jernigan, President Emeritus of the National Federation of the Blind and Chairman of Convention Arrangements, made a number of announcements, including the pleasant news that well over 2000 people had registered for the convention on Sunday. He also gave particular recognition to both E. U. Parker of Mississippi and Ron Johnson of Iowa, who died this past spring. E. U.'s wife Gene has sent a number of contributions in E. U.'s memory to the NFB, including one from his estate in the amount of $50,000. A scholarship in E. U. Parker's memory has been established and will be presented for the first time in 1996 to an outstanding American student. When Ron Johnson realized that he was losing his fight against diabetes, he made arrangements to purchase an insurance policy, which will pay the National Federation of the Blind $50,000. Dr. Jernigan invited all present to consider what the NFB has meant in their lives and follow E. U.'s and Ron's example.
President Maurer thanked the United Parcel Service and its UPS Foundation, which have supported the work of the NFB for several years, including a contribution of $10,000 during the past year. Representatives from the Foundation attended the convention and are working with the Federation to help blind people find employment.
Allen Harris, Treasurer of the NFB and President of the Michigan affiliate, announced that because of a bequest, the NFB of Michigan has made a contribution of $40,000 to the national organization. Bruce Gardner, President of the NFB of Arizona, then announced that his affiliate had divided its income from special projects and bequests equally with the national organization in recognition of all that each member receives from the nationwide movement. This year Arizona has contributed $38,000 from bequests to the national organization.
President Maurer next called Steve Benson, Chairman of the Blind Educator of the Year Award Selection Committee, to present this year's award to Carla McQuillan, President of the NFB of Oregon. A full report of the presentation appears elsewhere in this issue. Sharon Maneki, Chairwoman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Selection Committee, presented the 1996 award to Ann Boyd of Ohio. This presentation also appears elsewhere in this issue.
Peggy Elliott, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, was called to the microphone to present the scholarship class of 1996, which consists of twenty-seven members. A full report of the 1996 scholarship program appears elsewhere in this issue. President Maurer entertained a motion to conduct a scholarship program next year similar to the current one. The motion carried unanimously.
He then announced that the Committee on the Senior Blind had met at this convention and decided to petition to become a division. Its proposed constitution was in order, so the Board of Directors voted to admit the National Organization of the Senior Blind, with Christine Hall of New Mexico as its president, to status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind. This is as good a place as any to mention that the Diabetic Division voted to change its name to the Diabetes Action Network. It is still, of course, a division of the National Federation of the Blind.
David DeNotaris, one of the leaders of the New Jersey affiliate, next spoke to the Board of Directors and audience about an exciting new fund-raising possibility with the American Communications Network, a customer acquisition company in the burgeoning telecommunications industry. As a first step he invited interested Federationists to switch their long-distance service to LCI International, which bills in six-second increments. The Federation benefits financially each time an individual does so. But in addition there are business opportunities for interested members of the organization and for the NFB as a whole in ACN's growing group of telecommunication interests: paging, cellular phones, cable, etc. Those interested in more information about these opportunities should contact David DeNotaris at (201) 239-8884.
The Board then turned its attention to the Associates Program. Those recruited to become Members-at-large (Associates) not only make contributions to the NFB but also become full-fledged members. The top ten recruiters this year by number of Associates and by dollar amount are as follows:
Top Ten in Number of Associates Recruited
10. Veronica Smith (New Mexico), 65
9. John Blake (New Mexico), 65
8. Bill Isaacs (Illinois) 71
7. Frank Lee (Alabama) 75
6. Laura Biro (Michigan), 76
5. Kenneth Jernigan (Maryland), 78
4. Karen Mayry (South Dakota), 83
3. Arthur Schreiber (New Mexico), 87
2. Carlos Servan (New Mexico) 89
1. Tom Stevens (Missouri), 135
Top Ten in Dollar Amount Raised
10. John Blake (New Mexico), $1,341
9. Ed Vaughan (Missouri), $1,360
8. Tom Stevens (Missouri), $1,478
7. Jim Gashel (Maryland), $1,526
6. Jim Salas (New Mexico), $1,541
5. Mary Ellen Jernigan (Maryland), $1,745
4. Karen Mayry (South Dakota), $2,620
3. Marc Maurer (Maryland), $2,795
2. Duane Gerstenberger (Maryland), $3,016
1. Kenneth Jernigan (Maryland), $15,551
After some discussion of the importance of the Associates Program, President Maurer adjourned the meeting.
As 9:45 Tuesday morning approached, the area outside the convention ballroom began to fill with Federationists-- registering, exchanging banquet tickets, and selling all kinds of items to the crowd surging toward the meeting room. The ballroom itself filled with cheering, shouting delegates, who were clearly ready to enjoy the morning's program to the full.
At precisely 9:45 a.m. President Maurer called the convention to order. Following the opening ceremonies, President Maurer invited Jim Willows, President of the host affiliate, to welcome the convention. Jim did so with grace and brevity. During his remarks he invited some Disney friends (Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck) to join him at the podium. With an assist from Bruce Sexton, member of the Federation and father of scholarship winner Brook Sexton, they did so and welcomed the convention. A word of thanks should go to Carla McQuillan, President of the NFB of Oregon and volunteer Director this year of NFB Camp. Over a hundred youngsters were enrolled in this innovative child- care program, in which blind and sighted kids alike enjoyed activities and programs while their parents attended convention sessions. Carla put together an excellent crew of teachers and recruited all kinds of blind adults to drop in on NFB Camp to lead programs. It was a wonderful experience for everyone and gave parents the peace of mind to pay attention to what was happening on the convention agenda.
The main event of the Tuesday morning session was the roll call of states. This year each state president or convention delegate was asked to respond to the roll call by providing the following pieces of information: name of delegate and alternate delegate, name of representative to the Nominating Committee, place and date of the next state convention, name of national representative (if already assigned), and status of NEWSLINE negotiations. In addition we learned several interesting bits of information. A number of states could boast their state agency director or other agency officials as part of the delegation. Betty Niceley announced that, after five difficult weeks during which it looked as though the state agency serving the blind was going to be subsumed under another agency, Kentucky newspapers had just announced that the agency serving the blind was safe, thanks to the hard work of the NFB of Kentucky and others from both within and without the state. Carl Jacobsen announced that the director of the New York Commission for the Blind had almost lost his job for supporting positions held by the NFB of New York. Carl then said that the director's job had been saved by the intervention of Federationists. Joanne Wilson announced that her son Joel, who was gravely ill last winter and spring, was part of the Louisiana delegation in Anaheim, completely restored to health. Gary Mackenstadt, president of the NFB of Washington, announced that over 60 percent of the 108- member Washington state delegation were attending their first convention.
Sixty-four vociferous Canadians took an active part in this year's convention. Paul Gabias, President of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, spoke briefly following the roll call and presented Braille and print copies of the Canadian Blind Monitor, the publication of the NFB:AE, to President Maurer and Dr. Jernigan. Dr. Jernigan then announced that seventy-three visitors from other countries (the number grew to eighty- four before the close of the convention) were present. In addition to Canada, the countries represented were Australia, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, India, Japan, Mexico, Poland, and Turkey.
The afternoon session began as always with a packed house listening raptly to President Maurer's annual report. He articulated the position of the National Federation of the Blind in a number of areas and gave notice to friend and foe alike of what the future holds in store. But he ended his report with a ringing statement of the covenant that binds the Federation together:
Let me conclude by repeating what I have said to you in one way or another year after year at the end of these reports. I think I understand the responsibility you have given me by electing me as President of this organization, and I have done the best I can to live up to it. As long as you keep electing me, I will continue to try to live up to it. But there is something more. There must be a bond of understanding between us, between you as members and me as President--and I think there is. That is the only way that the accomplishments we have made have been possible. That is the only way they can continue. I must be willing to stand in the front line and never duck the hard decisions. When there are risks, I must be prepared to take them--and I must not count the cost. I must work as hard as I can and put the Federation first. I must give and sacrifice and love.
And there are things that you must do, you the members--you who give the Federation its strength and provide its moral right to exist and lead the way in the struggle of the blind to be free. You must stand with me when the battle is hard. You must support me when our efforts on behalf of the blind bring criticism and personal attack. You must reinforce, encourage, and give heart.
The entire text of President Maurer's report appears elsewhere in this issue.
Following the Presidential Report, Helen Thomas, White House Bureau Chief for United Press International, addressed the convention on the subject "Covering the White House from Kennedy to Clinton." Ms. Thomas is both witty and wise, and her commentary on the political scene captivated the audience.
The next speaker was Dr. Giacomo Basadonna of the Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Basadonna's topic was
"Diabetes Management and Organ Transplant." His remarks were interesting and comprehensible, and his message was balanced but optimistic. He urged diabetics to consider kidney transplant as soon as complications begin, because results are now excellent. He also said that pancreas transplants are improving, and he was hopeful that the next ten years would bring further breakthroughs in transplantation for diabetics.
Dr. Jernigan then made a presentation titled "The Revolution of the Kernel Books." The entire text of his remarks is printed elsewhere in this issue. Here is a snippet from the beginning:
Revolution, the dictionary tells us, is "sudden or momentous change." It is "activities directed toward bringing about basic changes in the socioeconomic structure, as of a minority or cultural segment of the population." By these standards what we have achieved during the past five years in writing, publishing, and distributing the Kernel Books is a revolution. We have brought about a "sudden" and "momentous change" in attitudes about the blind, our own attitudes and those of society. We have initiated "activities directed toward" causing "basic changes in the socioeconomic structure of a minority, a cultural segment of the population." And we have done it in half a decade. Revolutions consist of intangibles--burdens that tax the spirit, toil that has no drama, belief that buoys hope, and dreams that cross the night to span the day. Revolution? From these little books? Yes, revolution. Never mind that the tone is gentle and the message nonconfrontive. The effect is felt, and basic changes are being made in the socioeconomic structure.
"Equal Employment Opportunity for People Who Are Blind: The Law and the Policies to Make it Work" was the title of an address delivered by Gilbert Casellas, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mr. Casellas reported on streamlining initiatives made by the Commission during the last several years, which have reduced the backlog of cases brought to the EEOC. He pledged increased commitment to listening to and working with consumers to enable the EEOC to make the most of its resources, but he urged the audience to work hard to insure that sufficient funds are available to carry out the Commission's vital work.
Tuesday evening was filled with meetings and activities. Before an enthusiastic audience, the Music Division conducted its Showcase of Talent at 8:00 p.m. The California affiliate also hosted a reception and dance that evening. A six-piece orchestra played all kinds of music and did it so well that party-goers didn't want them to stop. Scholarship winners, members of the national Board of Directors, and officers of the NFB of California all circulated during the evening's festivities to meet the crowd.
The first item of business on Wednesday morning was the election for two-year terms of the officers and six members of the Board of Directors. Ramona Walhof, who chaired the Nominating Committee, reported that the slate of nominees brought for consideration to the convention floor included Marc Maurer (Maryland), President; Joyce Scanlan
(Minnesota), First Vice President; Peggy Elliott (Iowa), Second Vice President; Ramona Walhof (Idaho), Secretary; Allen Harris (Michigan), Treasurer; and members of the Board: Steve Benson (Illinois), Charles Brown (Virginia), Richard Edlund (Kansas), Sam Gleese (Mississippi), Diane McGeorge (Colorado), and Gary Wunder (Missouri). All of the nominees were elected. President Maurer struck a note echoed in one way or another by each board member who was elected. He said:
I very much appreciate the honor of serving this organization as President. As all of you know, it is my firm conviction--a conviction which I believe is substantiated by the facts--that the National Federation of the Blind is the single most important entity dealing with blindness in our country and, as far as I know, in the world today. It is an honor to be a part of the Federation and to lead it.
The members of the board elected last year and having one year remaining in their terms were Don Capps, South Carolina; Wayne Davis, Florida; Priscilla Ferris, Massachusetts; Ed McDonald, West Virginia; Betty Niceley, Kentucky; and Joanne Wilson, Louisiana.
The Hon. Christopher Cox, a proven friend of the blind and a representative from the 47th Congressional district of California, spoke briefly to the convention. He pledged continued support for the concept of removing work disincentives for blind recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance. He also listened with concern to our warning that the House of Representatives was about to pass an appropriations bill that would allow the Librarian of Congress to move funds allocated for the Books for the Blind Program to any other program which he perceived to have a more pressing need. Mr. Cox assured the Convention that he would conduct a colloquy with the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee articulating their shared understanding that the Books for the Blind Program should not be eroded. He was as good as his word, subsequently conducting that colloquy on July 10. The Senate then passed a version of the bill to which (at the request of the NFB) Senator Connie Mack of Florida added an amendment removing the language that could have compromised the budget of the National Library Service. Later the House concurred in conference, so the threat to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped was eliminated.
Carl Augusto, Chief Executive Officer of the American Foundation for the Blind, next reviewed programs and plans at the Foundation and urged continued joint effort among organizations of and for the blind to protect specialized services and full access to technology for blind people wherever and whenever possible. Ted Henter, President of Henter-Joyce, Inc., spoke about "Building an Enterprise on the Cutting Edge of Technology." He compared such an effort to preparing for and racing in the Indianapolis 500 and commented that all of life can be seen as the same kind of demanding enterprise.
The concluding agenda item for the morning was an address by Ruth Pierce, Deputy Commissioner for Human Resources, Social Security Administration. Her title was
"Social Security and Employment: Compatible Means for Achieving Independence and Self-Support." Ms. Pierce reassured her audience that the Social Security retirement trust fund is in no danger of running out of money in the immediate future. Adjustments will have to be made in the early years of the next century, but there is still plenty of time to decide sensibly on a sound program of restructuring. The disability program is under increasing pressure, and she said that the Social Security Administration is working to institute changes that will encourage, not discourage, recipients who are able to work to do so.
Wednesday afternoon and evening are free time at NFB conventions. This year a number of tours were available to those interested in learning more about parts of southern California. But there were also a number of activities taking place at the convention hotel. The exhibit hall was open and filled with people who hadn't yet found time to take a look at what was available. NEWSLINE and Myna demonstrations took place, as well as a hands-on demonstration of all the most recent updates of Blazie Engineering products. There were workshops for Social Security recipients and parents interested in cane travel for their blind children. Several activities and screenings of Descriptive Video movies took place, and a number of committees took advantage of the relatively open schedule to conduct meetings. And of course the evening concluded with the National Association of Blind Students' annual Monte Carlo Night, filled with games and laughter.
In addition to all this, seven volunteer cane users agreed to help with a field test of Strider, Arkenstone's portable orientation tool using digital maps and the Global Positioning System. Departing from the hotel roughly every half hour, they each walked independently to the front gate of Disneyland. Three carried and used Strider in addition to their white canes. The other four used the white cane only. Arkenstone officials wanted to know how well Strider would stand up to normal use by ordinary walkers and how easily people could be taught to use the device for a relatively simple trip. The results of the field test were interesting and helpful to Arkenstone. For only one of the Strider trips did the equipment function during the entire trip, but that walker posted the best time. The results were as follows: Dawn Hodge (New Hampshire) 20 minutes, Strider Jay Wolfe (Texas) 32 minutes, Strider Eric Duffy (Ohio) 35 minutes, Strider Latania Reed (Louisiana) 41 minutes Tracy Duffy (Ohio) 46 minutes Bruce Brooks (Texas) 52 minutes A seventh participant (Sheila Johnson of California) began the walk, but her cane broke shortly after she started, so she was disqualified.
Strider proved itself to be a helpful tool in areas where there were few other pedestrians and large parking lots to traverse. Arkenstone is now working on solving some of the problems that the field test uncovered. Maybe we will see a rematch in New Orleans.
The Thursday convention agenda is always crowded, and this year, one presentation held over from Wednesday was added. With Dr. Jernigan presiding, the first subject for delegate consideration was international matters. Dr. Jernigan began with a general report of his activities with the World Blind Union during the past year. He raised the question of how much of our organizational time and effort should be directed in the years ahead to matters beyond our borders.
He then introduced a panel to present "Twenty Leaders and a Month of Training in Poland." The participants were Joyce Scanlan, First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind and Director of BLIND, Inc.; Jerry Whittle, First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana and an instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind; Zbigniew Terpilowski, Vice President of the Polish Association of the Blind and Director of the Rehabilitation and Training Center, Bydgoszcz; and Homer Page, First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and Director of the Colorado Center for the Blind. During March of this year two groups of instructors from our three Federation adult rehabilitation centers traveled to Poland at the invitation of the Polish Association of the Blind to work with people there on ways to improve the quality of rehabilitation for blind people in that country. The three Americans on the panel spoke movingly of their experience, and Mr. Terpilowski spoke with the assistance of an interpreter of the hopes and dreams of the Polish blind.
Concluding the international portion of the agenda were remarks by David Blyth (President of the World Blind Union and Director of Employment Services, Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, Melbourne, Australia) and Euclid Herie (Treasurer of the World Blind Union and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind). Mr. Blyth commented that as in the U. S. Australia has passed legislation mandating equal treatment for blind citizens, but finding the resources and the determination to carry out the law is proving to be difficult. Dr. Herie expressed the hope that Toronto will soon have a NEWSLINE local service center and that the Globe and Mail will then be available to NEWSLINE readers on both sides of the border.
Dr. Sharon Sacks, President-elect of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired and Professor in the Division of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at San Jose State University in California, spoke briefly to the convention. She will be the first blind President of AER, and she said that she is eager to help the organization mature and grow in its ability to work effectively internally and with other organizations in the blindness field. She has taught blind children and young adults and has a strong interest in improving the social development of blind young people. (By the time this edition of the Monitor reaches you, Dr. Sacks will be president of AER.)
Deane Blazie, President of Blazie Engineering, was the final speaker on the Thursday morning agenda. He reviewed the latest technology and innovations in the Blazie line of products. It is clear from what he said and from the decisions made by his company that Mr. Blazie is committed to working closely with his customers and with the organized blind movement.
The afternoon session began with a stirring speech by Dr. Fred Schroeder, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. His title was "Client or Consumer? Re-defining Responsibility in Programs of Rehabilitation." The text of his remarks appears elsewhere in this issue.
The following agenda item was one of the most delightful and inspiring things that happened during the entire convention. It was an address by Heather Harmon of Washington State entitled "Blind, 88, and on the Rocks." Heather learned about the NFB from a Kernel Book just after she became blind two years ago at age eighty-six. She is now a student at the Colorado Center for the Blind, where she has charmed students and staff alike. Listening to her remarks, it was easy to understand why.
President Maurer then announced that a letter had just arrived by Special Delivery, which he asked Duane Gerstenberger to read to the Convention.
Warm greetings to everyone gathered in Anaheim, California, for the 1996 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Our success as a nation depends upon our ability to embrace the creativity and energy of all our people. Since its inception, the National Federation of the Blind has played a vital role in enabling blind people throughout the United States to achieve independence. Bringing new hope and opportunity into their lives, you can take great pride in your strong record of outreach to the blind community.
My Administration stands with you in promoting the inclusion of blind persons into all aspects of our national life. As we work together to increase the blind community's access to education, rehabilitative services, health care, and employment, I commend you for helping to ensure that every citizen enjoys an equal share in the American Dream.
Best wishes for a productive convention and every future success.
The White House
Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, next spoke to the Convention. His title was "Program Refinements: Addressing Current Budget Concerns." He began by commenting that he found Heather Harmon's remarks one of the most inspirational speeches he had ever heard, and he thought it was rather hard to have to follow both her and the President of the United States. He then thanked the Convention for its spontaneous and determined response to the budget threat to the Books for the Blind Program that had arisen during the week. Mr. Cylke reviewed current programs and outlined future plans at NLS.
The next speaker was Millicent Collinsworth. Her topic was "Acting for the Silver Screen and Teaching Self-Defense: Two Careers for the Blind." Ms. Collinsworth talked about both of these interesting careers and concluded by saying that everyone has a responsibility to leave this world better than he or she found it, and she is proud to know that, in teaching blind people to defend themselves, she is accomplishing that goal.
Dr. Tuck Tinsley, President of the American Printing House for the Blind, gave a report that was announced as an update about the Printing House, but which was actually a review of the history of the Printing House rather cleverly tied to landmarks in the history of the NFB. "The Blind Real Estate Broker in Business" was the title of an address delivered by the Rev. Oliver Willis, a member of the Board of Commissioners of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind.
Jim Near and Lloyd Johnson are from Boise, Idaho. Together they made the next presentation, much to the delight of the entire audience. Their title was "We're 75; We Built a House; and We're Blind." They weren't kidding either. They told the delegates exactly how they did it.
The final presentation of the afternoon was by Charles Cheadle, son of Barbara and John Cheadle, longtime leaders in the Federation and now members of the national staff.
"The Blind Scout Becoming an Eagle" was his title, and his theme was the value of growing up in the Federation because it teaches one strength, wisdom, and determination to succeed.
A huge and exuberant crowd poured into the banquet hall when it opened at 7:00 Thursday evening for the event which is always the high point of Federation conventions. Dr. Jernigan acted as master of ceremonies, a job that he undertook with his customary relish, charm, and firmness. The Jacobus tenBroek Award was presented this year to Joanne Wilson, President of the Louisiana affiliate and member of the National Board of Directors. Ramona Walhof, who chairs the selection committee, made the presentation, which is reported in full elsewhere in this issue.
When President Maurer rose to make his annual address, the audience, which had been unrestrained in the expression of its high spirits, settled into rapt attention. His title was "The Essence of Maturity," and as always, it embodied the philosophy, dreams, and determination of the organized blind movement as it nears the close of the millennium. The full text of President Maurer's address appears elsewhere in this issue, but in closing he said:
Our progress toward full participation in society is accelerating, and our goal of full citizenship is near at hand. What stretches before us will not be easy (none of the travel on our road to freedom has been), but we have come a great way farther than we still have to go. Let me conclude, as I have so often done, by reminding you of the commitment that holds us together and guides our actions. As we go forward, you have the right to expect that I as President will never ask you to make sacrifices that I am not willing to make, that I will not ask you to take risks that I am not willing to take. You have the right to expect that I will lead, and that I will do it decisively. You have the right to expect that I will give to you and our movement my time, my effort, my devotion--and, yes, my love. And I have the right to expect certain things from you. This week you elected me again as President, and by that act you undertook by implication an equal commitment. You gave me the responsibility of standing in the front ranks to lead by example and not just with words. Here in your presence I publicly pledge to bring all that I have to the effort. I made that commitment ten years ago when you first elected me to be your President, and I repeat it tonight. I have tried to live up to it every day that I have been in office, and I will try to live up to it every day in the future. That is my unequivocal commitment. Now let me say a word about what is required of you. I have the right to expect that you will support me in my efforts, that you will share with me our triumphs, and also that you will stand by me in time of trouble and disappointment. These mutual commitments are what make us a family and not just an association, a movement and not just an organization. As we look to the year ahead, let us go with pride; let us go with confidence; let us go with maturity. My brothers and my sisters, we will make it come true.
The concluding activity of the evening was the presentation of twenty-seven scholarships to this year's class of winners. A full report of the accomplishments and plans of these scholars, as well as the list of the scholarships each received, appears elsewhere in this issue. The $10,000 American Action Fund Scholarship was awarded to Brigid Doherty, a tenBroek Fellow, who also received an NFB scholarship in 1993. When Dr. Jernigan drew the name for the final door prize and gaveled the banquet to a close, Federationists rose, recognizing that once again they were ready to face the challenges of the future.
Despite the fact that the after-banquet party went on into the small hours of the night, the convention opened on the stroke of nine Friday morning. The first order of business was the financial report, which in its several parts took most of the morning. One of the interludes in this important activity was a brief encomium on Ella Fitzgerald by Californian Barbara Baack. Before her death, Ms. Fitzgerald had become blind and a double amputee due to diabetes. Her story is proof of the fact that blindness can happen to anyone, that our work has an impact on the lives of all blind people whether they recognize the fact or not, and that we must all do what we can to make a difference in the world as Ella Fitzgerald did.
Friday afternoon Jim Gashel made his annual Washington report, and nineteen resolutions were brought before the Convention for consideration. The texts of the resolutions appear elsewhere in this issue.
As the convention drew to a close, reports were made by several vitally important committees. Jim Omvig, who chairs the Pre-Authorized Check (PAC) Plan Committee, announced that sixty-eight new people had joined the program during the week, making automatic monthly contributions to the NFB from their checking accounts. The amount contributed annually as we came into the convention was $322,000, and we set a goal of raising that to $350,000 by the close of the convention. Thanks to the Michigan affiliate, we bettered the mark by reaching $350,300 annually by Friday afternoon.
Ted Young, Chairman of the Shares Unlimited in NFB
(SUN) Committee, announced that $12,015 had been contributed during the week to the SUN Program, which provides long-term investment in the organization. The Oregon affiliate led the list of contributors with the purchase of 150 SUN shares. At the suggestion of Jan Gawith of Idaho, groups and individuals were invited to contribute seven (or multiples of seven) SUN shares in honor of Dr. Jernigan's birthday this coming November. The tally will continue until Thanksgiving, but individuals, chapters, affiliates, divisions, and small groups kicked off the effort with an enthusiastic response to the challenge. Twenty contributions of $70 and one of $700 were made during the convention. Now it's up to the organization as a whole to see what more we can do to wish Dr. Jernigan a very happy birthday.
By the time convention registration closed, we had registered 2708 attendees, just shy of the all-time high of 2762 in New Orleans in 1991. Throughout the convention this year Joanne Wilson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana, kept reminding the crowd that we were "coming to heaven in ninety-seven," and it was clear from the response that everyone was eager to get back to New Orleans. When the gavel fell announcing the close of the 1996 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, everyone present realized that together we had just participated in an extraordinary, week-long experience of camaraderie and shared purpose. As Dr. Jernigan said, "The Federation is at peace with itself," but nonetheless vigilant to protect the rights of blind people and eager to march forward into the promise of tomorrow.
[Photo/Caption #20: President Maurer delivers his annual report to NFB members at the Hilton and Towers Hotel, Anaheim, California, Tuesday afternoon, July 2, 1996.]
[Photo #21: Audience members are stand and clap. Caption: The response to President Maurer's report was enthusiastic and energetic. These Federationists are ready to face the world, and to take on the many challenges life will bring.]
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
JULY 2, 1996
During the past twelve months the National Federation of the Blind has engaged in a broader array of activities than ever before in its history. This has necessarily meant heightened awareness, growing sophistication, and dealing with problems of increasing complexity. Yet, as we gather at this convention, we come with confidence--confidence borne of a sense of harmony and inner belief that we will find the resources, muster the will, and encompass the vision to meet the challenges ahead.
We in the Federation have many assets, but the most important of these is the solid phalanx of our members, the people who make our movement what it is--the students, the parents of blind children, the children themselves, the vendors, the professionals, the officials of programs for the blind, the laborers in the sheltered shops, the workers in industry, the graduates of Federation orientation centers, the successful business people, and the ones who have not yet found employment. And there are others: the families and friends of the blind who are as much a part of our organization as we who are blind. These are the people who neither expect nor get special thanks since they are equal participants in the movement. They are the people who in partnership with the rest of us distribute literature about the Federation, sell candy, organize chapter meetings, encourage the discouraged, and carry on the tens of thousands of daily tasks that make the Federation what it is. We are the blind from every segment of society and from every corner of America--we are the people of the organized blind movement.
One of the most exciting developments in the history of the National Federation of the Blind is NEWSLINE for the Blind, the nationwide network which offers newspapers to the blind by touch tone telephone. A pilot project to demonstrate the workability of the NEWSLINE Network was initiated last year. At that time USA Today was on line. Today, not only is there USA Today, but also the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and local newspapers. The revolutionary character of this development was recognized last fall by the Greater Baltimore Committee, a group of a thousand business leaders in Baltimore. This committee conducted an event in October of 1995 called Tech Night. NEWSLINE for the Blind was demonstrated to thousands of individuals and was featured at a gala banquet. The demonstration was simulcast to individuals all over the world through the Internet. It is estimated that nine million people saw it.
In April of this year, a camera crew and reporter from the Cable News Network came to the National Center for the Blind to examine NEWSLINE and to conduct an interview. The story was broadcast on the news program of CNN at frequent intervals for a full day; it was carried on the CNN Airport Network for a weekend; and it was featured as part of the Cable News Network program describing the most innovative technological products now becoming available. CNN carried our name and the story of our work to over two hundred countries.
This spring we were invited for an interview on the nationally broadcast "CBS This Morning" program. The first item to be considered was NEWSLINE for the Blind. We also demonstrated products from the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind and described the work of the Federation. The message was carried to millions of homes in every part of the nation.
At our convention last year the president of the Polish Association of the Blind, Tadeusz Madzia, presented a summary of activities of the blind in Poland. He spoke eloquently of the inspiration which Dr. Kenneth Jernigan brought to the blind of his country in 1990, and he said that he hoped to see us develop joint activities and an ongoing relationship. For the entire month of March of this year, blind instructors from the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and the Minnesota center for the blind went to Poland to conduct training courses for professionals in work with the blind in that country and to work alongside teachers and blind students. And this is not the end. Officials at the Polish Association of the Blind have indicated that they would like to have blind people from their country travel to the United States to observe and participate in classes at our centers. Representatives of the Polish Association of the Blind are with us at this convention.
It is interesting to note how the various strands of our work come together to form a consistent pattern. At the end of April of this year, I received a letter from Larry Campbell, one of the most widely traveled and internationally known professionals in work with the blind in this country. His letter said:
I am writing you this note from Warsaw, although it is unlikely to reach you before I get home in another week.
I couldn't resist sharing this little story with you. This morning I woke up quite early, and as is my habit when travelling, I hit the remote control for the television while I was half asleep. I thought I heard your voice. I fumbled for my glasses, and when I found them, my eyes confirmed what my ears already knew. There you were in living color on CNN doing that very nice piece on the newspaper project. I'm sure it reached lots of people here in Eastern Europe. When I got to the Polish Association of the Blind for a meeting with Tadeusz Madzia and Ludwik Rosiennik, NFB was once again a topic of conversation. The workshop that NFB recently conducted here has had very positive results--lots of thinking about revising the rehabilitation process. I was quite pleased to learn of this work, since I am working on a new project that involves Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. The work that NFB has done will, I think, have a very positive impact.
So said Larry Campbell.
In the summer of 1995 we learned of allegations of abuse and neglect of children at the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped. However, they were reported to us by anonymous letters. Such letters are easy to write, hard to verify, and almost always useless. But these letters contained so much specificity that we felt an obligation to investigate. Working through both our National Office and our state affiliate in New Mexico, we began the search for the truth.
We found current and former students who said that the pregnancy rate for girls at the school was high, that sexual activity between boys and girls at the school was not uncommon, that sexual attack by staff members against students was a repeated pattern, that drugs were frequently used on campus by students, that alcoholic beverages were obtained by students, that sometimes staff members supplied drugs and alcohol in exchange for sex, that physical abuse of students occurred at the school, and that the superintendent knew about it and did little to stop it.
We collected documentation and turned it over to the Attorney General of New Mexico and other officials. Although we were told that an investigation was being conducted, months passed with no result. We asked the students and former students if they would be prepared to make affidavits setting forth the details of the abuse. State officials in New Mexico seemed to take the attitude that, if the administrators at the School said that it didn't happen, the blind students and the parents of blind children could not be believed. Those who had been victims of the alleged abuse asked what could be done. They had come to us for help. We had promised to bring the matter to public attention. We had informed the officials who were supposed to act. But nothing had changed. If government officials are unable or unwilling to protect the rights of blind children, then we must look to our own resources. That is one of the reasons why we have a National Federation of the Blind.
We started looking for a lawyer. On May 14, 1996, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in New Mexico on behalf of students and former students at the school for the blind. That evening the filing of the lawsuit was reported on the NBC Nightly News, and the next evening a follow-up, during which I spoke, was carried. The details of the lawsuit and the allegations that led to its filing will soon appear in the Braille Monitor.
Meanwhile, I have this to say. If we were only dealing with New Mexico, it would be bad enough. But we are not just dealing with New Mexico. We are dealing with a pattern! During the past year we have reported abuses at the schools for the blind in Arkansas and Illinois. And our information is that such abuses are also alleged to exist in other schools as well. I want to be clear about what I am saying. It is not that all schools for the blind are bad. They aren't. There are some that are doing an excellent job, and we will support and work closely with them.
But there are others! And we have a message for those others, one that they would do well to heed. To such schools we say, when you permit or, by your neglect, condone abuse and mistreatment of blind children, we will expose your behavior to the public; we will confront you with whatever force may be required; and we will put a stop to what you are doing. Be assured that we mean what we say and that we can make it happen!
As Federation members know, we established the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind on November 16, 1990, our fiftieth birthday. It houses the most extensive collection of technology for the blind in the world, including at least one of every device of which we are aware that produces information from computers in either speech or Braille. The commitment we made at the opening of the Center was to maintain this collection of equipment and to acquire all additional useful machines for the blind that become available. During the past year we have added four new Braille embossers and obtained or upgraded four Braille translation software packages, three DOS-based screen reading programs, eight screen review programs for Windows, two stand-alone reading machines, four PC-based reading systems, and four note-takers. In order to keep current and to operate all the computer programs, we have upgraded our machines and purchased a number of computers in the pentium class. In addition, we have added Atlas Speaks, a talking atlas of the United States.
Much of the information provided by computer is gathered through the Information Superhighway, sometimes called the Internet. We have created in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind an Internet work station, which can be used to demonstrate methods for obtaining information in speech, in Braille, or in refreshable Braille.
One of the services available through the Internet is electronic mail. We are beginning distribution of information by this system. Our monthly publication, the Braille Monitor, is now being distributed automatically by e-mail to those who want it. If the experiment works, and we feel certain that it will, other publications will soon be offered for distribution electronically.
The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind is a technology laboratory for examining, testing, and comparing different information access systems for the blind. It is a resource for employers, for agencies for the blind, for governmental entities, for developers of technology, and for blind users. Each year we receive thousands of calls requesting information about technology from throughout the United States and a number of other countries.
Late in 1995 we added an additional training program to those that we have been conducting. The Information Access Technology Training Program seeks to give personnel from state vocational rehabilitation agencies background and knowledge about access technology. A major focus of this program is week-long seminars conducted at the National Center for the Blind. Four of these have occurred since late 1995, and eight more will take place during the next two years. This program, conducted by the National Federation of the Blind, is sponsored by the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Nowhere else in the world is there gathered in one place the array of equipment to make such classes possible. Nowhere else in the world is there the depth of understanding of technological devices or the commitment to gathering information for the blind that is needed to conduct such classes. Such training classes could not occur without the National Federation of the Blind.
In 1991 the National Federation of the Blind convened the first U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind. It was an outstanding success. For the first time consumers of products for the blind, manufacturers of such products, and organizations associated with blind people came together to exchange ideas and to plan for the months and years ahead. In 1993 the Second U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind was convened. This coming fall we will bring together at the National Center for the Blind the Third U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind, and this time we will expand the participation to a broader base from other nations.
Last year I reported to you that the National Federation of the Blind had created an Internet site on the World Wide Web. This is one more mechanism for distributing literature about the reality of blindness. Already we have filled almost fifty web pages with information about blindness and the Federation. Among the documents we have placed there are Walking Alone and Marching Together, the Braille Monitor, Future Reflections, publications of Job Opportunities for the Blind, the Voice of the Diabetic, Kernel books, order forms for literature and aids and appliances, laws concerning the blind, and hundreds of other documents. It is our intention to create the best computer- searchable library of information on blindness in existence, and we are well on the way to doing it.
My wife Patricia serves as a full-time volunteer. She coordinates the distribution of material through the Internet. Within the last year there have been more than 13,000 requests for information and more than 40,000 electronic pages distributed to people in the United States and other countries, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
Increasingly we of the National Federation of the Blind are taking direct action to provide orientation and adjustment services. In Minnesota our center, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, acquired new classrooms and office space at a facility which had been built early in the century by the Pillsbury family. Although this facility has required substantial remodeling, the basic structure is sound, and it will be both aesthetically pleasing and functional. I was most pleased to join Joyce Scanlan, the director of our Minnesota Center, and a number of public officials for the dedication of this newly-opened facility last fall.
In Colorado our orientation center, the Colorado Center for the Blind, outgrew its quarters. Additional space was acquired, and remodeling to provide the offices and classrooms for a training center for the blind has now been completed. An open house to dedicate the Center occurred last fall. In the presence of the news media, the president of our Colorado affiliate, Diane McGeorge; the director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, Homer Page; and I cut the ribbon to initiate the opening of the new facility.
Our Louisiana Center for the Blind has also undertaken expansion. An additional building has been purchased across the street from the original Center, and a wing has been added to the original building. This much-expanded space has meant that programs of training could be broadened with additional classes and a more varied curriculum. Last fall I was present when our Louisiana Center for the Blind celebrated its tenth anniversary and dedicated its new facilities in a public ceremony, which included several hundred graduates, many political leaders, and senior officials of rehabilitation and other state agencies.
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who serves as President Emeritus of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, has continued to represent us in international meetings. He traveled earlier this year to a meeting of the officers of the World Blind Union in Italy. This coming August he and some of the rest of us from the Federation will participate in the fourth General Assembly of the World Blind Union in Canada. It is important that we work with the blind from throughout the world to expand the understanding of blindness. Our participation in the World Blind Union has helped bring information to us that we would otherwise not have had, and it has also enabled us to share information with others.
The upbeat, imaginative work of the National Federation of the Blind is becoming known throughout the world. The officers of the World Blind Union met at the National Center for the Blind this spring. For several days we hosted visitors from six continents.
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who has been a leader of the National Federation of the Blind for almost half a century, is unexcelled in his ability to negotiate and explain. Last January former ambassador Nicholas Veliotes, the president of the Association of American Publishers, came to the National Center for the Blind for a meeting with Dr. Jernigan and other representatives of the Federation. We discussed cooperation between the Federation and the publishers and considered possible amendments to the U.S. Copyright Act. One of the problems in the process of producing Braille is receiving permission for published material to be put into a format that can be used by the blind. After a long day of discussion, it was agreed that the blind and the publishers would jointly support amendments to the copyright law which would eliminate this problem by making copyright permission automatically available to nonprofit groups and governmental entities producing material in a format that can be used by the blind. This language is currently before Congress, and prospects for its passage are extremely good.
A year ago, at the time of the National Federation of the Blind convention in Chicago, the very existence of the vocational rehabilitation program in this country was in doubt. A proposal, known as the "CAREERS Bill," had been introduced in Congress and was scheduled for consideration on the House floor. This bill would have eliminated all categorical programs of rehabilitation for the blind. It would have replaced them with a program purporting to assist all people seeking employment. Of course, general programs to assist the unemployed are already theoretically available to the blind, and the result is zero. We get nothing from such programs--no training, no understanding of our problems or needs, no jobs, no nothing. We were facing a crisis.
Of course, we were not the only organization to feel concern. But many of the others expressed frustration and a feeling of inability to do much about the matter. This was further exacerbated by statements from some of the largest operators of sheltered shops in the country--Goodwill Industries, the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC), the United Cerebral Palsy Association, and others. These organizations apparently believed that the handicapped would automatically be referred to their sheltered shop programs by the employment agency created under the CAREERS Bill, and so they were for it. They and many members of Congress told us that the CAREERS Bill was a certainty to pass. They urged us to support it so that we would have an opportunity for input. In effect, they said: "If you don't support it, you'll be cut out of all of the negotiations."
However, we resisted the seduction, as I hope we always will. We fought the bill regardless of the threats. It is this sort of thing that makes some people call us militant and others call us radical. Let them! What good is an organization if it only fights for what everybody else favors and nobody opposes? We know full well that the vocational rehabilitation program is not perfect, but we also know that having no program at all is worse. We are determined to reform and improve rehabilitation, but we are also determined to preserve the program.
We urged members of Congress to take the rehabilitation program out of the CAREERS Bill, and we urged agencies for the blind and others not to compromise. We were informed that the CAREERS Bill could not be defeated or amended, but we kept fighting. At our urging an amendment to preserve the rehabilitation program was presented on the floor of the House on September 19, 1995. When the votes were counted, we prevailed 231 to 192. It was a major victory, and although many groups and individuals helped make it happen, almost everybody agrees that we did the coordinating and took the lead. May it ever be so!
On another legislative front, maintaining the linkage between the blind and senior citizens in Social Security earnings, we have not been as successful. There is little to say except that during the past year we made a strong effort; we gave it everything we had; we didn't get the job done; and we will keep at it until we do. As we have often observed, we frequently lose skirmishes; we sometimes lose battles; but we never lose wars--for the war is not over until we win. So it will be with Social Security.
With respect to another aspect of Social Security, we have just completed a series of training workshops in the area of Social Security work incentives. These seminars were conducted in South Carolina, New Mexico, and Iowa. Rehabilitation personnel and consumers often do not know about the work incentive provisions of the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs. This lack of knowledge keeps blind people out of the work force and out of productive jobs. However, our training programs offer new perspective and new hope. Furthermore, with three years of experience in providing this information, we are now in a position to offer classes to rehabilitation personnel whenever satisfactory arrangements can be made to meet the costs. This too is a way in which we are changing what it means to be blind.
We continue to provide assistance to blind vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard program. Jim Gashel, our Director of Governmental Affairs, is serving on a federal arbitration panel which has been convened by the Secretary of Education to resolve a dispute between the Mississippi Division of Rehabilitation and the United States Air Force. Will blind vendors be permitted to operate vending facilities at Keesler Air Force Base near Biloxi, Mississippi? The full food service contract for the base is worth several million dollars a year. A hearing on this matter was held in June in Washington. The language of the Randolph-Sheppard Act is clear. Blind vendors have a priority. We should have the opportunity to provide the food service. In this case we are representing the agency for the blind. When agencies for the blind want expert assistance, an increasing number are coming to the National Federation of the Blind. A decision is expected later this summer, and we expect to win.
In another case we are helping to challenge a court decision which threatens to place severe limits on the powers of an arbitration panel convened under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. The decision by the United States District Court in Maryland says that the arbitration panel does not have the power to tell an agency violating the Act that it must take corrective action. Instead, the court decision states, the arbitration panel can only determine that the Act was violated. The agency may take whatever steps it wishes to correct or not correct the violation. If this decision remains unchanged, much of the value of an appeal under the Randolph-Sheppard program is gone. We are assisting the Attorney General of Maryland with the case. The lower court decision ignores the plain language of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and almost twenty years of legal precedents and cases. It ignores the entire history of arbitration decisions. And we will work until the decision has been reversed.
Bobbi Miller is a Federation member in Illinois. One of the first things she learned, after becoming blind just a few years ago, was that her employer, the Illinois Department of Corrections, intended to throw her out because she was blind. They forced her to resign under protest. She asked us for help, and we are giving it. Scott LaBarre, the president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, filed a lawsuit on her behalf about a year ago. But the court was just as discriminatory as the Department of Corrections had been. Without even giving Bobbi Miller a hearing, it issued a decision in favor of the state. The decision says that there is not one single solitary job that a blind person can do in a correctional facility--not one. We can't wash the dishes or scrub the floors or manage the paperwork or interview the prisoners or consider paroles or do purchasing or write manuals or serve in the administration or do anything else. We are helpless, the judge said. The Court's ruling cannot remain unchallenged-- and it will not. We are helping with the appeal. If we are unwilling to fight for our own rights, nobody else will do it for us. We must defend ourselves. We are doing it in the Bobbi Miller case, and we expect to win.
Last year I reported to you that we were helping a blind person bring a case against a nursing home in North Carolina. Barbara Kreisberg, one of our members, had been dismissed from her position as director of the facility because of blindness. Senior management of the nursing home company refused to discuss or negotiate regarding the dismissal. We filed a lawsuit. I am pleased to be able to tell you that the matter has been settled. Part of the settlement agreement says that I may not tell you about the specifics. However, I can tell you that we caught them red-handed and that they settled accordingly. Otherwise we would not have discontinued our lawsuit. I suspect that it will be a long time before the nursing home company forgets the name of the National Federation of the Blind.
In most instances I am happy to say that we are able to work in partnership with state rehabilitation agencies for the blind. However, there are other instances in which the behavior of officials in such agencies is reminiscent of a bygone time. This is currently true in Missouri. Some months back, rehabilitation officials in Missouri issued an order to counsellors and others at the agency that they were not to provide any information to blind clients about the National Federation of the Blind. Agency personnel were even forbidden to tell blind persons whether they were members of the Federation. In the past the National Federation of the Blind had conducted joint projects with the agency to give orientation to blind students getting ready to go to college, and both the students and agency officials had uniformly praised the quality of the work. Now there is to be a total blackout, an order that agency personnel may not give any information about the Federation or distribute any of its literature, regardless of how helpful or informative such literature might be.
We have informed the Missouri rehabilitation officials that what they are doing is illegal. To say to blind clients that they may not have information about programs of interest to them because those programs are offered by an organization that state officials may not like is a violation of Constitutional rights and basic human freedom. We who are blind have a right to freedom of association, freedom of speech, and freedom of thought. No government official (whether state or federal) has the right to say otherwise, but when we said this to the agency officials in Missouri, they told us, in effect, to get lost. They would do what they pleased, they said, and part of what they pleased to do was to ban any reference to the National Federation of the Blind by any person at the Missouri agency for the blind.
Well, we can only answer in kind. Let them try to make it stick. We are preparing to file a lawsuit, and we expect to win it. As we have repeatedly said, we prefer peace and cooperative relations, but we will not take peace at any price. If we can have peace only by giving up our freedom and human dignity and crawling on our bellies, then we will fight. I am not speaking lightly. This lawsuit will cost money--maybe a lot of money. But this is a fundamental issue. We will raise the funds; we will fight with every weapon we can get; and we intend to win.
We have continued to assist with Social Security appeals. Terry Hasselbring, who lives in Estill Springs, Tennessee, was told that, because he had begun to work and receive a paycheck, he was getting too much money to receive Social Security benefits. He was also told that he had been paid $6,379.20 more than he deserved. He would no longer receive benefits, said Social Security officials, and he must repay the $6,379.20. We helped with an appeal, and a new determination has been made. Terry Hasselbring will not be required to pay $6,379.20, and his Social Security benefits will continue to be paid. This, too, is what the National Federation of the Blind is about.
That is one case, but there are dozens of others. Marie Hahn in Amarillo, Texas, has been told that she must repay $18,340. The facts show that she does not owe this money. Verna Kerley from Cookeville, Tennessee, has been told that she is no longer eligible for benefits and that she must repay $53,866. Alan Alcorn of Kansas City, Kansas, has been ordered to send the Social Security Administration a check for $60,275. They told him that he had received benefits to which he was not entitled. In each of these cases the National Federation of the Blind is helping, and we believe we can make the difference.
The Diabetes Action Network, the diabetics division of the National Federation of the Blind, has been instrumental in persuading officials at the Food and Drug Administration to consider modification of insulin containers so that the different kinds of insulin can be readily identified by touch. Tom Ley, President of the Diabetes Action Network, and Ed Bryant, Editor of the Voice of the Diabetic, pointed out to officials at the Food and Drug Administration that putting insulin of different kinds into bottles of different shapes would simplify identification for the blind and sighted alike and would assist in assuring that incorrect doses of insulin did not occur.
We have continued this year providing information about blindness to many thousands of people. Visitors have come to the National Center for the Blind from all parts of the United States and from over twenty foreign countries. Through our Materials Center we distribute over four hundred different kinds of specialized products for the blind, including Braille watches, canes, Braille slates, and hundreds of others. This year we have served over eighteen thousand people by mail, in person, and by phone. We receive in the Materials Center in excess of two hundred calls per week. There are over a thousand different literature items available for distribution. During the year we have shipped from the Materials Center two million items weighing over seventy-five thousand pounds.
At last year's convention we produced a new video depicting the crisis in Braille literacy. This video, "That the Blind May Read," is a powerful summation of the failure of the educational system to teach blind people Braille. If the blind are to become competent, we must be able to read. This video tells the story of the need for Braille and of the failure of teachers to fill that need. Over seven hundred fifty copies of this video have now been distributed. It has been shown on dozens of television stations and a number of television networks.
Then there is the program of Job Opportunities for the Blind, which we continue to operate in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor. Through this effort we have helped over one hundred blind Americans get full-time jobs at good salaries during the past year. These newly-hired blind people work in diverse occupations from medical transcriptionist to customer assistant for Chevrolet, from accountant to Sheriff's Office emergency dispatcher, from teacher to translator on the Hindi desk for Voice of America, and more.
In addition to the Braille Monitor, which is distributed to tens of thousands of people each month, we record and mail over ten thousand copies of Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children. During the past year we have sent out more than nine thousand Presidential Releases; more than ten thousand recorded JOB Bulletins; and more than eighteen thousand recorded editions of the Voice of the Diabetic.
The Voice of the Diabetic, our publication for those interested in the problems of blind diabetics, is the most widely circulated magazine in the blindness field in America today. We distribute more than 142,000 copies each quarter, and we expect to exceed the one hundred fifty thousand mark this year.
We also produce the recorded edition of The American Bar Association Journal. And, of course, there are the other publications--newsletters from divisions of the Federation, from state affiliates, from local chapters, and from committees.
One of the most positive projects we have ever undertaken, which will be covered in more detail later in the convention, is our publication of the Kernel Books. More than three million of them are now abroad in the land. They describe blindness with a level of understanding and persuasive power unlike anything ever before written.
Remodeling at the National Center for the Blind has been undertaken this year, along with the ongoing maintenance necessary to keep our facilities in first-class condition. Whenever we can, we build for the long term. Our facilities are functional, but they are also solidly built with a touch of class.
So what does all of this recital of facts and statistics mean? What does it say as to where we have been and where we are going? Well, for one thing it says that we are alive and moving, the most dynamic force in the affairs of the blind today. It also bodes well for the future.
Let me conclude by repeating what I have said to you in one way or another year after year at the end of these reports. I think I understand the responsibility you have given me by electing me as President of this organization, and I have done the best I can to live up to it. As long as you keep electing me, I will continue to try to live up to it. But there is something more. There must be a bond of understanding between us, between you as members and me as President--and I think there is. That is the only way that the accomplishments we have made have been possible. That is the only way they can continue. I must be willing to stand in the front line and never duck the hard decisions. When there are risks, I must be prepared to take them--and I must not count the cost. I must work as hard as I can and put the Federation first. I must give and sacrifice and love.
And there are things that you must do, you the members- -you who give the Federation its strength and provide its moral right to exist and lead the way in the struggle of the blind to be free. You must stand with me when the battle is hard. You must support me when our efforts on behalf of the blind bring criticism and personal attack. You must reinforce, encourage, and give heart.
These are the promises we must make to each other. These are the commitments we must give and keep--and I know that we will. If we do, we will not be defeated, for we cannot. We will not even be slowed in our progress, for none will have the moral right to stand in our way. These are my pledges--and this is my report.
[Photo/Caption #22: Sharon Maneki, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, presents the 1996 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to Ann Boyd of Ohio.]
[Photo/Caption #23: Carla McQuillan, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, receives the Blind Educator of the Year Award while Dr. Jernigan congratulates her.]
[Photo/Caption #24: Ramona Walhof, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho, presents the Jacobus tenBroek Award to Joanne Wilson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, while Dr. Jernigan looks on.]
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE
AWARDS FOR 1996
National Federation of the Blind awards are not bestowed lightly. If an appropriate recipient does not emerge from the pool of candidates for a particular award, it is simply not presented. At this year's convention three presentations were made. Here is the way it happened:
The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
At the Monday morning Board of Directors meeting Sharon Maneki, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and Chairwoman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Selection Committee, presented that award. She said:
Good morning, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. The committee this year, which consists of Allen Harris, Joyce Scanlan, Jacquilyn Billey, and me, is honored to bring you a truly distinguished educator. We in the National Federation of the Blind started this award because we recognize the importance of education as a means of promoting freedom and equality and of breaking down the barriers of discrimination.
This year we are awarding one of our sighted colleagues. She has been a teacher for twenty-three years. She teaches in the Gallipolis School District. She teaches every student from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade Braille, mobility, daily living, and anything else that they need to know. In her spare time she teaches adults Braille. She teaches senior citizens independence skills. She is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind. As a matter of fact, she drives an hour each way to attend her chapter, which is the Southeast Chapter of the NFB of Ohio.
Ladies and gentlemen, join me in recognizing Ann Boyd.
Ann also receives $500 and a plaque that reads:
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND CHILDREN
The National Federation of the Blind
For your skill in teaching Braille and the use of the white cane, For generously devoting extra time to meet the needs of your students, and For inspiring your students to perform beyond their expectations. You are our colleague, our friend, our ally on the barricades.
You champion our movement; you strengthen our hopes; you share our dreams.
This was Ann Boyd's response:
I would like to thank the NFB. If it wasn't for you, I'm not sure I could do my job. On my telephone at home the number one button is Barbara Pierce; the number two button is Eric Duffy; the number three button is John Smith; and number four is 911. So you know what's most important in my life. [laughter]
I thank you, and I hope to meet a lot of parents this afternoon at the Parents Division meeting. Thank you very, very much.
Blind Educator of the Year Award
Steve Benson, Chairman of the Blind Educator of the Year Selection Committee and President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, came to the podium during the meeting of the Board of Directors to present this award. Here is what he said:
Thank you President Maurer. Thank you also, Pat Munson, Judy Sanders, Homer Page, and Adelmo Vigil--the selection committee--for your time and thoughtful consideration of the 1996 nominees for this award.
It is normal for blind people to be Scout leaders, auto mechanics, writers, scientists, reservationists, merchants, school board members, politicians, lawyers, wrestling coaches, electrical engineers, or teachers. Jacobus tenBroek, an outstanding teacher, dedicated his adult life to demonstrating the normality of blind people's participating in the full current of life on a basis of equality with sighted people. It is also normal for blind people to have high expectations and to excel in whatever activity we pursue.
The 1996 Blind Educator of the Year Award winner is certainly normal. She has high expectations for herself and her students. She excels in the teaching profession. She carries the Federation's torch of freedom as she advocates for children, blind and sighted alike. She strives to remove the social and economic barriers that sometimes exclude us from the classroom or other places of employment. She is an ardent supporter of Braille literacy.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award consists of a check in the amount of $500 and a plaque that reads:
BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR AWARD
National Federation of the Blind
(I'll skip the name for the moment.)
In recognition of outstanding accomplishments in the teaching profession. You enhance the present. You build the future.
July 1, 1996
Now, if Carla McQuillan will make her way to the platform.... [applause] While Carla is making her way to the microphone, let me tell you that she is a graduate of the University of Illinois. For more than a dozen years she has taught, using the Montessori method. She moved to Oregon in 1990. Before she opened Children's Choice Montessori School, she worked with state officials regarding blind people as foster parents. As a result of that work, she had no difficulty getting a license for her school. Now the state officials seek her out to do staff training regarding blind people who are making application to conduct home day care centers.
Children's Choice Montessori School currently has fifty children enrolled. In the fall Carla, her faculty, and seventy students will move into a brand new building. Carla already has her eye on property next door to expand the school. She is president of the Oregon affiliate.
This is what Carla McQuillan had to say:
Thank you. As Mr. Benson let you know, I came into this organization in Illinois when I was in college. [voice beginning to tremble](I had absolutely no idea this was going to happen.) In Oregon we don't say, "Will Carla cry at convention?" People take bets on when it's going to happen.
In the fall, when we move to our new building, I will be moving primarily into administration and out of the classroom. This past year I've realized how much I treasure working with the children in the classroom. We just purchased in the spring a whole set of brand new materials
($10,000 worth of Montessori materials), and to emphasize to the children the value of these materials and the care with which we wanted them to handle the materials, I took a raw egg and passed it from one child to the next in a circle to see if we could get it all the way around. "This is how carefully we need to treat our materials." I was focusing on planning for NFB Camp and getting back to my office to do the things I needed to in the afternoon when I'm not in the class teaching. Of course, when you have a group of children, they all want to say something. And I'm going on,
"Oh yeah, yeah, I'm sure you have something wonderful to say, Heath. What is it?" And this child said, "You know, I have a wonderful idea. If we all treated each other as carefully as we treat this egg, wouldn't that be a much better world for all of us?"
And I thought, "Carla, don't you ever forget that the wisdom comes from the children, and that's why we do it." That's why every teacher does what we do--because we don't get paid for it.
Again, I would like to thank this organization for giving me the confidence and the strength and the skills to do what I do. I hope that, if any of you out there want to do what I do, you'll come talk to me this week. I'd be happy to help you out. Thank you very much. [applause]
The Jacobus tenBroek Award
On Thursday evening, July 4, Ramona Walhof, Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, President of the NFB of Idaho and Chairwoman of the Jacobus tenBroek Award Selection Committee, came to the podium to make a very special presentation. This is what she said:
The Jacobus tenBroek Award is given to one of our own who has made outstanding contributions to the organization and to the blind. This year the committee (which consists of Alan Harris, Jim Omvig, Joyce Scanlan, and me) has chosen a person who is a pioneer, a builder, and a leader among us. I first met this person in the 1960's, and I have watched her grow and become increasingly effective through the last thirty years. As the years have gone by, her work has affected the lives of more and more blind people. Joanne Wilson grew up in Iowa [applause]. Joanne Wilson grew up in Iowa and attended the orientation and adjustment center there when Dr. Jernigan was in charge. She joined the NFB and helped to organize a new chapter in Ames, where she lived and was a college student. In the 1970's she served a term as First Vice President of the NFB of Iowa. But the time came when Joanne and her family moved to Louisiana, and she said she found more need there among blind people than she could ever have dreamed. Immediately Joanne went to work and began to make changes. She was elected President of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana in 1983. Two years later the governor and the state legislature made a grant to the NFB of Louisiana to establish an orientation and adjustment training center there. Knowing the money would not be enough to run the program for the first year and that she and others would have to raise money to supplement the grant, Joanne opened the center anyway and modeled it after the one she had attended in Iowa, run by Dr. Jernigan, to help blind Louisianans to achieve freedom.
She has done more, however, than follow a good model. We have seen the Louisiana Center for the Blind under the leadership of Joanne Wilson become innovative and grow and prosper. Joanne has encouraged Jerry Whittle and the Louisiana Center Players to become a new dimension in training for the blind to build confidence. The summer programs for blind teenagers and youth, I believe, began in Louisiana. If not, they very nearly did.
The first NEWSLINE local service center opened in Louisiana. Joanne did not think up all these ideas; she gave the leadership necessary to make them happen. Under Joanne's leadership the NFB of Louisiana has grown from seven small chapters to more than twenty large ones. In 1995 I attended the convention of the NFB of Louisiana, and there were more than three hundred enthusiastic Federationists there.
Graduates of the Louisiana Center have dispersed throughout the country, and many are taking leadership roles in their communities and chapters. The Louisiana Center now owns residence apartments and classroom buildings, which have been expanded and remodeled into an outstanding facility. Those of us who attended previous conventions have heard Joanne Wilson tell us what motivates her. When her students and new members of the Federation succeed in achievements they thought impossible for a blind person in general, and for themselves in particular, she knows her work is worthwhile and feels her own reward. We understand that feeling, but we also know that it takes determination and ability to do the work that Joanne does. Joanne, we congratulate you and we admire your work.[applause]
I've given Joanne a plaque, which I'm going to read to you. She's holding it up. It says:
JACOBUS tenBROEK AWARD
National Federation of the Blind
For your dedication, sacrifice, and commitment on behalf of the blind of this nation. Your contribution is measured not in steps but in miles, not by individual experiences but by your impact on the lives of the blind of the nation. Whenever we have asked, you have answered.
We call you our colleague with respect.
We call you our friend with love.
July 4, 1996
When Joanne stepped to the microphone, this is what she said:
This is absolutely one of the biggest honors I have ever had in my whole life. Recently I heard a Native American say, "One lone flower does not a spring make," and I feel that very deeply about the Federation. I've done my work here, but without all the work all of you do and all the Federationists in the last fifty-six years, there would not be a spring. There would not be a Federation. I grew up in the sixties. My first convention was in 1966, and I had the most wonderful mentors in the world. I remember as a student at the Iowa Commission for the Blind watching Dr. Jernigan stay late each night working diligently in his office, directing the Commission for the Blind and also the National Federation of the Blind. Later I watched Mr. Maurer. I remember recently, when he came to the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I said to Mr. Maurer, "Don't you ever get tired?" He said, "Yes, but that doesn't matter. You have to continue to do, because a person who is asking you to do doesn't understand that you are tired, and you keep doing it." I learned from that. He mentored me.
One of my favorite sayings is, "If I've seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." We in the Federation have stood on the shoulders of giants. We have stood on the shoulders of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, Mr. Maurer, our state presidents, and our local chapter presidents. It's our job to hold our shoulders straight to allow other people to stand on our shoulders so they can see further.
Recently I've spent a lot of time in a hospital room, and I had a chance to think a lot. During that time I thought about the Federation a lot. My son was critically ill. I remember one day they told me that he would probably end up in a nursing home, and I prayed that morning, and I said, "You know, if he's going to require twenty-four hour a day care, how am I going to do this? How am I going to do the Federation, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and take care of him?" I said to God, "It's in your hands. Show me what direction you want me to go. If you want me to change the course of what I'm doing, I'll do it, but show it to me." That afternoon Joel started responding, and he started getting better. I knew that God had a direction for me to keep working with the Federation.
I think the greatest gift the Federation has ever given to me is giving me meaning to my life, and it's given meaning to your lives. The Federation has made me a stronger person. It has made each of us stronger. But beyond that it has given me meaning so that when my life has passed (I spent time thinking about how short life was recently, and I thought life is short, but I can look back--all of you can look back); because of the Federation, you have some meaning and reason for life. Because we've had the opportunity to give, our lives have counted for something.
One of my favorite quotes is from The Prophet. It says, "Man's daily work is his temple and religion." I thank you, the Federation, for giving meaning to my life and to all our lives. Thank you. [applause]
[Photo/Caption #25: Kenneth Jernigan speaks of a revolution the roots of which are several little books.]
THE REVOLUTION OF THE KERNEL BOOKS
An Address Delivered By Kenneth Jernigan
At the Convention
Of the National Federation of the Blind
Anaheim, California, July 2, 1996
Revolution, the dictionary tells us, is "sudden or momentous change." It is "activities directed toward bringing about basic changes in the socioeconomic structure, as of a minority or cultural segment of the population." By these standards, what we have achieved during the past five years in writing, publishing, and distributing the Kernel Books is a revolution. We have brought about a "sudden" and "momentous change" in attitudes about the blind, our own attitudes and those of society. We have initiated "activities directed toward" causing "basic changes in the socioeconomic structure of a minority, a cultural segment of the population." And we have done it in half a decade.
We produced the first Kernel Book (What Color is the Sun) in 1991. In 1992 we published The Freedom Bell and As the Twig is Bent. In 1993 it was Making Hay and The Journey. In 1994 Standing on One Foot and When the Blizzard Blows. Last year it was Toothpaste and Railroad Tracks and Tapping the Charcoal; and today we are releasing Old Dogs and New Tricks. The eleventh Kernel Book (Beginnings and Blueprints) is already written and ready for publication. It will be released sometime this fall. More than three million of the Kernel Books are now in circulation, and the demand for them grows every day.
These are the facts, the statistics, easily gathered and quickly told. But revolutions are made of more than facts. They consist of intangibles--burdens that tax the spirit, toil that has no drama, belief that buoys hope, and dreams that cross the night to span the day. Revolution? From these little books? Yes, revolution. Never mind that the tone is gentle and the message nonconfrontive. The effect is felt, and basic changes are being made in the socioeconomic structure. Here are samples of typical letters:
To read this valuable little book, The Journey, and to learn of the great accomplishments of the blind in spite of the odds, and to learn how we the members of the sighted public are sometimes unwittingly detrimental is a shock, but an eye opener. This should be read by everybody, and I am loaning my copy to various acquaintances. God bless the work you do.
Thanks so much for the books. As I sat reading Making Hay, nonstop with the use of my magnifier, I felt comforted as if by an old friend. I have lived with what I have called "eye problems" all of my life, but now I think I can begin adjusting to my blindness.
I'm not really familiar with NFB since it was only by chance that I got your address to begin with, so being new, I need all the help I can get. The NFB sounds like a wonderful family to belong to, an inspiration to all and a place where people can be understood. You speak of four books. May I now receive the others?
Thank you again for giving me hope.
I received a book called What Color Is the Sun about six months ago, and since I have read it, my life has been changed. I wasn't going to read it at first. I just tossed it onto the nightstand.
However, one night I decided to read a few pages to see what it was about. I started reading, and I was so interested in the different stories that before I knew it, I was halfway through the book. I have read it three times. And every time I feel that I'm in each story. I was wondering if there is any other material like this that I can get. I never have liked to read, but these stories touch my heart. I'm only twenty-two years old, but after reading your books, I feel that I have lived in the thirties and forties.
Recently I discovered your little book The Freedom Bell. I picked it up from a table in a retirement home. I can't tell you how much it means to me to discover somebody who cares enough to answer our questions. My sight has been deteriorating rapidly, and it is very scary. I am desperately serious. I need your help. I neglected to tell you my age. I am eighty-three, but that doesn't mean I'm not sharp.
The course that I taught this past spring at the university was a real success. I had thirty-four students--most of them studying special education. The course was entitled The Education of Sensory-Impaired Children.
I began each class period with a discussion of an assigned essay from What Color Is the Sun. The discussions were lively and valuable. I felt that my students learned a great deal about blindness--mostly what blindness does not mean. I am sure that the articles had quite an impact upon their view of blindness. We read every article in the book.
Will I use one of your books next year? I certainly will--either the same one or another Kernel Book.
Thank you, thank you for the book What Color Is the Sun. I am sighted but can't find the words to describe what that book has done for me. It really opened my eyes!
Never again will I gaze upon blindness with a sort of indifference, which I am afraid I have done most of my eighty years. Sighted people NEED the exposure this book gives, and thank God it came my way.
My name is April, and I am twelve years old. I'm not blind, but I have read your book What Color Is the Sun. I now think I should thank you for publishing it. Out of the one hundred twenty pages I learned a lot about blindness. I used to feel sorry for blind people. Now I realize that I made a big mistake. I just felt I should thank you from the bottom of my heart. THANK YOU! These are just a few of the many letters that we are increasingly receiving. They tell, as nothing else could, of a new way of thought about blindness that is sweeping the land, and they speak of the effectiveness of the Kernel Books. Since we are releasing the tenth Kernel Book today (Old Dogs and New Tricks), let me use its introduction and first article to show you how the revolution is being accomplished. Here is the introduction: With this volume we publish the tenth Kernel Book.
The first nine have been well received. No, they have been more than that. The comments have been nationwide and enthusiastic. I think it is not too much to say that these little books are playing a significant part in changing what it means to be blind in America in the last decade of the twentieth century. And what are the Kernel Books about? They deal with blindness, but not in a medical or professional way. They are a departure from what is usually written, an attempt to take the mystery out of blindness by giving firsthand accounts of how blind people live on a daily basis. Other firsthand stories about blindness have been written, of course, but not in such large numbers and not in this format. Year after year and book after book we are building a picture that shows what blind people are really like and how they feel.
The details differ, but the pattern is the same. In effect, the people who are writing in these pages are saying: Blindness is not as strange as you may think it is, and it doesn't have to be as terrifying. I am blind, and this is how I lead my daily life--not just in broad terms but in my activities. Here is how I know whether a light is on when I enter a room--how I cook my food, raise my children, and participate in church activities. Mostly my life is just about like yours. It has more detail than drama about it, being a mixture of joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. I don't spend most of my time thinking about blindness. It is simply one of the facts of my life. I remember it when I need to, but that's about all. I think about who is running for President, last night's dinner, and today's discussion with a friend.
This is what the people who appear in this book are saying. I know them. They are friends of mine, colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind. Some have been my students. I have met others in a variety of ways. But by and large our common bond is the National Federation of the Blind. In fact, the National Federation of the Blind has been the vehicle for improving the quality of life for blind people throughout the country. It has certainly changed my life, teaching me to think about my blindness in new ways and helping me understand what I can do and be.
The Federation is a nationwide organization primarily composed of blind people. It is a self-help and self-support organization, believing that blind people should take responsibility for their own lives and that what they need is training and opportunity, not dependence and lifelong care. The Federation believes that blind people can and should do for themselves, that they should work with each other and cooperate with their sighted neighbors to make the world a better place than it was when they entered it. As to the specifics of the present Kernel Book, the title pretty much says it. It is never too late to learn new techniques and new ways of thought. This is true for the blind as well as the sighted, the old as well as the young. We hope you will enjoy these stories and that, whether your goal is to climb a mountain or knit a sweater, you will succeed--and that along the way you will learn new tricks.
That is the introduction. Now, let me share with you the first article. It is written by me (editors take such prerogatives), and it is the title story of the collection. Here is what it says:
Old dogs, we are told, can't learn new tricks. Maybe-- but dogs aren't human. What about humans? Can they learn new tricks? Specifically, can a person who becomes blind in adult life learn to function independently? And what about children? A blind child grows up in a world designed for the sighted. If the child is to learn to get along, he or she must find different techniques from those used by sighted associates and friends.
Can it be done? Of course it can. It happens every day. The question is not whether but how. Make it personal. What about you? If you became blind tomorrow, could you manage? How would you handle the hundreds of details of your daily life?
When I was a child, I had a little sight--not much, but a little. If it wasn't too bright or too dark, I could see step-ups. I couldn't see step-downs, but I could see the lines and shadows of the step-ups. I could see the contrast between a sidewalk and grass, and I could see the difference between the country road that ran by the farm where I lived and the vegetation on either side of it. At night I could see the moon if it was full, but not the stars.
It wasn't much, but it helped. I could go into a room at night, for instance, and immediately tell whether the light was on; and in the daytime I could tell whether there was a window, and where it was. Under the right lighting conditions, I might be able to see an open door, and I might be able to tell where a person or a tree was. Sometimes yes- -sometimes no. It was deceptive, and it caused me bumps and bruises--but I managed.
When I was in my early thirties, I lost all sense of dark and light. It happened so gradually that I wasn't aware of it until I thought back a few weeks and realized what I wasn't seeing. For all intents and purposes I was totally blind from childhood, but shortly after I became thirty, there was no doubt about it. I was--and almost forty years later, I still am.
With that background, let me talk about techniques. How do blind people function? How do they manage the nuts and bolts of daily life? More particularly, how do I do it? I can't give you a complete catalogue, of course, but I can give you a sample.
Let's begin with whether a light is on in a room. When I was a boy on the farm in Tennessee, it was a kerosene (or, as we called it, a coal oil) lamp. Today in my home in Baltimore it is an electric light. But the problem is the same. How do I know whether the light is on? In most situations there is a switch on the wall, and if it is up, the light is on. If it is down, the light is off. But there are three- and four-way switches, allowing a person to turn a light on in one part of the house and turn it off in another.
I have just such an arrangement in the house where I now live. You can turn the hall light on at the front door, at the back door, or on the stair landing. The ceiling is too high for me to reach the light bulb to know whether it is giving out heat, so unless I come up with some kind of non-visual technique, I won't be able to tell. Yet there are times when sighted people visit me and then leave without telling me whether they have turned off the light. If my wife has gone to bed (which sometimes happens), I either have to have some way to know whether the light is on or else take a chance on letting it burn all night. The technique I use is really quite simple, and it is quick and efficient. Several years ago a friend gave me a set of musical teacups for Christmas. If you pick one of them up, it plays You Light Up My Life. When you set it down, it stops. I was curious about this and, after experimenting, found that, when light hits the bottom of the cup, it starts the music.
I think the cups cost six or seven dollars apiece, and I have a half-dozen of them. I also now have a perfect light detector. I have stored five of the cups in the attic and have left one of them sitting on the kitchen counter. Now, if I want to know whether a light is on anywhere in the house, all I have to do is pick up my teacup and walk through the rooms. It's quick, and it works. There are fancy light detectors that have been invented for the blind (detectors that cost a good deal more than six dollars), but I don't need them. My teacup works just fine. Before leaving the kitchen, let me deal with carrying liquid. If the glass or cup isn't full, there isn't any trouble. It doesn't matter if the container isn't exactly level. But if you want a full glass of water as a measure for cooking rice or something else, it does matter. In such cases I used to have difficulty in carrying the container level and keeping the water from spilling. But not anymore. The technique I use is amazingly easy, and I think it will work for anybody. I wish I had thought of it sooner. I pick up the glass in one hand with my thumb on one side of it and my index finger across from it on the other side of the glass. I am holding the glass at the top, outside of the rim. My hand is above the glass, and I hold it loosely enough for it to find its own level. It works well, and I rarely spill a drop. Try it.
There isn't any magic about these techniques. It is simply a matter of thinking them up and doing a little experimenting. I know a blind woman, for instance, who doesn't pour vanilla or other similar liquids into a quarter teaspoon--or, for that matter, a teaspoon or a tablespoon. She puts the liquid into a small jar, bends the spoon handle until the bowl of the spoon is parallel with the floor, and then dips the liquid. It gives a perfect measure, and it's no trouble at all. Of course, if your measuring spoons are plastic, it won't work. Get spoons that are metal. Then there is the matter of cooking eggs. If you want them scrambled, there isn't any problem, but what if you want them fried? The same woman who taught me about the measuring spoons also taught me about egg frying. Take a tuna can, or some other can about that size, and cut both ends out of it. Get your frying pan to the temperature you want; place the open-ended can or cans in the pan; and break the egg into the can.
You can touch the top of the can to tell where it is, and when you get ready to turn the egg, slide a spatula under the bottom of the can, and pick the egg up. It will be perfectly formed, and you can turn it without difficulty. I understand that blind persons are not the only ones who sometimes have trouble turning the eggs they are frying. Some sighted persons have the same difficulty. Egg templates are sold commercially, I am told, using essentially the technique I have described--but why bother? The tuna can works just fine, and there isn't any point in wasting money or going to extra trouble.
Some commercial gadgets are really an advantage in cooking. Earlier I mentioned rice. Commercial rice-cookers solve a lot of problems�at least the one at my house does. My wife is sighted, and I am blind, but we both use and like the rice-cooker. You put twice as much water as rice into it, and you turn it on. You don't do anything else. When the rice is done, the cooker knows and it turns itself off�no sticking, no stirring, no wondering about how long to cook or when to take it up.
That rice-cooker also knows other things, and it has a mind of its own. Once I was cooking oatmeal, and the cooker turned itself off before I thought the oatmeal was ready. I turned it back on, but it dug in its heels. It turned itself right off again. The cooker was right. The oatmeal was done. As I think about it, I suppose the cooker has a thermostat, which begins to show a rise in temperature when a given quantity of the liquid has boiled away. At that stage it probably turns itself off, but I really don't know. After all, I am not interested in the mechanics of rice- cookers. I just want to get a good bowl of rice or oatmeal or whatever else it is I want for breakfast or dinner. Sometimes the techniques I devise almost get me into trouble. Last summer is a good example. As you know, I plan conventions and make hotel arrangements for the National Federation of the Blind. The meeting I have in mind was to be held in Chicago last summer.
A lot of hotels have stopped using regular metal keys and have gone to a plastic card with a magnetic strip on it. I can see their point. The cards cost almost nothing while metal keys are expensive, and if somebody carries a hotel key away or loses it, the hotel has to go to the expense of changing the lock and replacing the key.
The combination on the magnetic lock, however, can be changed from the hotel's front desk by a computer that is connected to all of the rooms. It is inexpensive and efficient. But the card must be inserted into the door lock in exactly the right way, the proper end and the proper side being placed just so.
The card is shiny plastic, so how does a blind person know which side of it to place up and which end to insert? One way to do it, of course, is by trial and error. After all, there are only four ways it can go--but sometimes, even if you have the card right, it doesn't work on the first try. So the whole thing can be a nuisance if you can't tell which side of the card is which.
But in most cases you can. Ordinarily the magnetic strip is slightly slicker than the rest of the card, and quite easy to feel. Usually it goes on the bottom and toward the right. Even if you couldn't tell by this method, any enterprising blind person would make a little nick in the card or do something else just as simple.
When I was planning for last summer's convention, I met with the hotel staff to talk to them about the dos and don'ts. Mostly I wanted to put them at ease and help them realize that they didn't need to go to extra expense or trouble just because they were dealing with blind people. In this context I told them about the hotel keys and showed them that the magnetic strip was easy to identify by touch. I said that they didn't need to spend any time or money making extra marks on the cards for those attending the convention. They said they understood, and we passed on to other things.
When the date of the convention arrived and I checked into the hotel, the man behind the desk handed me a magnetic key and told me with great satisfaction that he had specially marked it with tape so that I could tell which side of it was which. What was I to do? If I told him that I didn't need the marking and showed him how easy it was to feel the magnetic strip, he would likely be embarrassed and maybe even angry. If I didn't tell him, the hotel would spend time and money on marking the keys and doing similar things, and then probably feel that our meeting was less valuable than others because of the extra trouble and expense.
I handled it as gently and as well as I could, talking again to all of the hotel staff the next day and mentioning the matter in general terms. In one form or another this is a problem that blind people face again and again. It has no easy solution.
Most people have great good will toward us. They think that, if they were blind, they wouldn't be able to do anything at all, so they try to figure out ways to help us. The situation is complicated by the fact that sometimes the help is needed, but very often it isn't. I don't know of any way to deal sensibly with the matter except to try to get people to approach us straight on and without a lot of emotion. If somebody wonders whether we need help, ask us. If we say no, accept it. If we say yes, accept that too. As a further complication, what happens if a blind person is rude or touchy when help is offered? Most of us aren't, but unfortunately (just as with the sighted) a few of us are. Whether sighted or blind, not everybody is an angel--or, for that matter even a responsible everydaycitizen.
My answer is that we who are blind should be treated the way you would treat anybody else. How would you deal with a sighted person who behaved rudely toward you? Deal with the blind person the same way. Hopefully most of us (blind or sighted) will treat each other with consideration and respect.
The techniques to permit a blind person to function on a daily basis are worth knowing. No, they are more than that. They are key to real independence and comfortable daily living. But they are not the most important thing that a blind person must learn. This brings me to the reason I have devoted so much of my life to the work of the National Federation of the Blind. In my opinion the National Federation of the Blind has done more than any other single thing to make life better for blind people in this country in the twentieth century.
I first became acquainted with the National Federation of the Blind in the late 1940's when both it and I were a great deal younger than we now are. It and its brilliant president, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, helped me learn a whole new way of thought about what I was and what I could be. Dr. tenBroek taught by example. His blindness did not keep him from earning graduate degrees and being a respected college professor and Constitutional scholar. The same was true of others I met.
The National Federation of the Blind meant then (as it means today) that it is respectable to be blind, that blindness will not keep you from doing what you want to do or prevent you from being what you want to be if you have reasonable training and opportunity and if you do not think of yourself as a victim.
A core principle of the organization is that we as blind people do not want or need custody or paternalistic care, that we can and should do for ourselves, that we should not ask others for assistance until we have done all we can to solve our own problems, and that we (not the government) should have prime responsibility for our welfare and support.
Does this mean that we do not want or need help from others? No--quite the contrary. If we are to go the rest of the way to full participation and first-class status in society, it is true that we must do for ourselves, but it is equally true that we must have help and understanding from our sighted friends and the larger public. Without it we will fail.
Meanwhile we will do what we can to help ourselves. And despite the old proverb, we think that (whether we are old or young) we can continue to learn. That is the first article in the tenth Kernel Book. The others are "The Sliding Board," "Tending to My Knitting," "Roller Coasters," "Serving Communion," and "Loving Elizabeth." Six articles plus the introduction, ninety-one pages. A little book--a revolutionary message.
When we think of the revolution of the Kernel Books and look back through the years to understand the present and reckon the future, we need to consider the accuracy of our past predictions. The exercise may give us both insight and humility. In 1973 (at that time I was still President of the Federation), I spoke at our convention banquet in New York City. The subject was blindness and history, and those who were there will remember that I ventured a prediction. I was talking about future historians and what they would say about our movement.
In the context of that '73 Convention my prediction seemed unlikely and far from the mark. Dr. tenBroek had died five years earlier, and the second generation of the movement was just coming to maturity. NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped) had been established in the mid- sixties, and with more than a hundred accredited organizations, it was threatening to sweep all before it. The agencies dominated the field--and we (unlike today) had scant resources, few friends, and many opponents. In such an atmosphere the prediction I made at the 1973 banquet seemed nothing less than visionary. This is what I said: While no man can predict the future, I feel absolute confidence as to what the historians will say. They will tell of a system of governmental and private agencies established to serve the blind, which became so custodial and so repressive that reaction was inevitable. They will tell that the blind ("their time come 'round at last") began to acquire a new self-image, along with rising expectations, and that they determined to organize and speak for themselves. And they will tell of Jacobus tenBroek--of how he, as a young college professor (blind and brilliant), stood forth to lead the movement.
They will tell how the agencies first tried to ignore us, then resented us, then feared us, and finally came to hate us--with the emotion and false logic and cruel desperation which dying systems always feel toward the new about to replace them.
They will tell of the growth of our movement through the forties and fifties and of our civil war. They will tell how we emerged from that civil war into the sixties, stronger and more vital than we had ever been; and how more and more of the agencies began to make common cause with us for the betterment of the blind. They will tell of our court cases, our legislative efforts, and our organizational struggles--and they will record the sorrow and mourning of the blind at the death of their great leader Jacobus tenBroek.
They will also record the events of the 1970's when the reactionaries among the agencies became even more so, and the blind of the second generation of the NFB stood forth to meet them. They will talk of how these agencies established the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC), and with it tried to control all work with the blind, and our lives. They will tell how NAC and the other reactionary agencies gradually lost ground and gave way before us. They will tell of new and better agencies rising to work in partnership with the blind, and of harmony and progress as the century draws to an end. They will relate how the blind passed from second-class citizenship through a period of hostility to equality and first-class status in society. But future historians will only record these events if we make them come true. They can help us be remembered, but they cannot help us dream. That we must do for ourselves. They can give us acclaim, but not guts and courage. They can give us recognition and appreciation, but not determination or compassion or good judgment. We must either find those things for ourselves or not have them at all.
That was 1973 (twenty-three years ago), and in broad terms the prediction has come true. The century draws to a close, and there is unprecedented harmony among agencies and organizations of and for the blind. But what about the future? What will our situation be like when we meet twenty- three years from now, in 2019?
By then the members of the first generation of the movement will almost certainly be gone, and so will many of those of the second, my generation. Even the numbers of the third generation will be thinning, and the fourth generation will be coming to dominance. And the fifth generation will be knocking at the door. The Federation will be seventy-nine years old, approaching the end of its first century. If I am still here, I will be ninety-two, undoubtedly more symbol than substance. Marc Maurer will be sixty-eight, either no longer President or coming close to the end of his time in office.
So what will the movement be like when we meet in 2019? The past five years have taught me that there will be undreamed-of surprises, for no one could possibly have foreseen the two most important events of this decade--the establishment of the NEWSLINE Network� and the coming of the Kernel Books. But if I am not sure of specifics, I am absolutely certain of the general direction our organization will take. Our mutual faith and trust in each other will be unchanged, and all else will follow. I never come into the convention hall without a lift of spirit and a surge of joy, for I know to the depths of my being that our shared bond of love and trust will never change and that because of it we will be unswervable in our determination and unstoppable in our progress.
As I said in 1973, we have come a long way together in this movement. Some of us are veterans, going back to the forties; others are new recruits, fresh to the ranks. Some are young; some are old. Some are educated, others not. It makes no difference. In everything that matters we are one; we are the movement; we are the blind. And through the Kernel Books we are telling our story, in our own voice and our own way. My brothers and my sisters, let us continue to make it come true!
[Photo/Caption #26: 1996 Scholarship Winners (Left to right, front row: Debra DeLorey, Ana Ugarte, Brigid Doherty, Priscilla McKinley, Jennifer Schiffelbein, Eric Fanning, Jay Wolf, Shawn Mayo, and Darsean Harrell. Left to right, middle row: Brenda Walburn, Marie Kouthoofd, Brian Miller, Kellie Hickman, Sheila Johnson, Matthew Bornstein, Jessica Springer, Jasmine Sethi, Brook Sexton, Sheila Compton, Sarah Lanier, and Kristyn Leigh. Left to right, back row: Charles Cheadle, Michael Richman, Dawn Hodge, Mark Stracks, Daryl Swinson, and Jackie Mushington.]
[Photo/Caption #27: After winning the $10,000 American Action Fund Scholarship Brigid Doherty speaks to the Convention.]
THE SCHOLARSHIP CLASS OF 1996
From the Editor: Twenty-seven men and women from Massachusetts to Texas arrived at the Anaheim Hilton Hotel as members of the National Federation of the Blind scholarship class of 1996. Not counting their expense-paid trips to the convention, this year the class divided $91,000 in scholarship awards, which were made at the close of the Thursday, July 4, banquet. This year's class is a remarkable group of students--bright, energetic, and eager to change the world. They met the full convention during the meeting of the Board of Directors on Monday morning. Peggy Elliott, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, introduced each of them by saying the name and the student's home state and school state. This is what first she and then each of them had to say:
Good morning, fellow Federationists. It is my pleasure once again to be able to introduce to you a wonderful class of scholarship winners. I'm sure that, when you hear these men and women, you'll agree with me that we have a wonderful group of current scholarship winners, current or future colleagues. These are wonderful people. Winners, please come forward. I do want to mention a few things as the winners are making their way forward. It's easy to identify a scholarship winner. Largely you'll find them with one of the members of the Scholarship Committee. I'll read that committee in a minute. You'll also find them wearing unique ribbons. Only our scholarship winners are allowed to wear the royal purple ribbon of the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Winner. You can identify them by that ribbon. We are giving twenty-seven scholarships this year. It will be a personal pleasure to give a scholarship in memory of a man who taught me a lot and who was a good friend and colleague, E. U. Parker. I am looking forward to that opportunity, not, of course, to the fact that we've lost him, but to the fact that he's continuing to give, even though he himself is gone.
Twenty-seven scholarships. Twenty-three of those people will get a check for $3,000. Three of the people you are about to hear will get a check for $4,000. One of these men and women will receive from the National Federation of the Blind a scholarship in the amount of $10,000. [applause] As you know, the Scholarship Committee met once to choose these people and will meet one more time. We won't tell you when. We won't tell you where. And, when we get there, we're going to check under the tables and behind the drapes to be sure that we're all by ourselves, alone. Then we will decide who will win the scholarships. They will be announced on Thursday evening at the banquet of the National Federation of the Blind. At that time the $10,000 winner will have the opportunity to walk across the stage, to stop, and to speak briefly to the National Federation of the Blind assembled.
I'm going to read very quickly the list of the members of the Scholarship Committee so that you can find these scholarship winners and congratulate them. I have told them that 3,000 people want to meet them. Was I correct? [applause] Okay, the members of the Scholarship Committee are Adrienne Asch of Massachusetts, Rich Bennett of Delaware, Steve Benson of Illinois, Charlie Brown of Virginia, Evie Dow of New Jersey, Pam Dubel of Louisiana, Priscilla Ferris of Massachusetts, Michael Goss of Maryland, John Halverson of Missouri, Allen Harris of Michigan, David Hyde of Oregon, Carl Jacobsen of New York, Kristin Jocums of Utah, Reggie Lindsey of Tennessee, Sharon Maneki of Maryland, Lynn Matioli of Maryland, Carla McQuillan of Oregon, John Miller of California, Homer Page of Colorado, Barbara Pierce of Ohio, Bennett Prows of Washington State, Joyce Scanlan of Minnesota, Steve Shelton of Oklahoma, John Smith of Ohio, Larry Streeter of Idaho, Ramona Walhof of Idaho, Melissa Williamson of Alabama, Jim Willows of California, Joanne Wilson of Louisiana, and Gary Wunder of Missouri. These are the people you can find and with whom you can find scholarship winners. They are also the people with the responsibility for making the decision. I think you'll see this year's decision will be a difficult one.
Matthew Bornstein: Colorado, Colorado. My name is Matthew Bornstein. I'm a second-semester sophomore at the University of Colorado. I'm majoring in history and possibly will soon be doing a dual major with international relations. I had a very harrowing experience yesterday. I am a highly functioning, vision-impaired person, so I've relied on my sight a great deal. John Miller, my mentor, talked me into doing cane travel for the first time, using sleepshades. I quickly realized, when I walked into the ballroom without the sleepshades yet, that as opposed to paying attention to the fine figures of the ladies in front of me going in, I should have been paying attention to the outline of the room, for when I put the sleepshades on, I was suddenly lost. Quickly, though, I found my way and began to learn the basics of cane travel. I did not want to be like my uncle. My uncle had been in a motorcycle accident and lost nearly all of his sight when he was in his middle thirties. Now my Aunt Lori guides him around. He does not use a cane. He relies on her. I do not want to be like that. I want to be able to get on, on my own with a cane if my sight deteriorates to that level. I'm going to do it on my own. I'm glad I came. This is my first time here at a National Federation of the Blind conference. I thank you very much.
Charles Cheadle: Maryland, Maryland. Hello everybody. I've been attending conventions of the National Federation of the Blind now for over ten years. That's a very long time for a young person. I'm very happy to be here. I'd like to thank everybody, especially the Scholarship Committee members for giving me this opportunity. I'll be attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in the fall as an incoming freshman. I'm not sure what I'll be studying, but it will probably be ancient studies.
Sheila Compton: South Carolina, South Carolina. I'm Sheila Compton from Columbia, South Carolina. I am presently attending the University of South Carolina working on a doctorate of education degree in curriculum and instruction. I hope to use this degree to administer programs statewide for blind children and adults. As I reflect on the last twenty-five years that I have been in the Federation, I remember my first convention was in 1971 in Houston. At this time I had two small children and thought that I would never be able to go to college and to achieve a degree, but I learned at that convention. I saw so many people who were successful, and through the influence and encouragement that my friends in the National Federation of the Blind have shown me throughout the years, I have been able to achieve the success that I had hoped to early on in life. I appreciate and am honored to be here as a recipient of a National Federation of the Blind scholarship. Thank you.
Debra DeLorey: Massachusetts, Massachusetts. Hi. My name is Debbie, and I'm from Massachusetts. I'd like to tell you that this is my first convention and how impressed I am. Already I'm looking forward to going to convention in New Orleans. I can't wait to see you all there also. Right now I'm a junior at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. I'm planning on moving on to my master's and doctorate working in the field of clinical psychology as well as research in neuro-physiology. I'd like to share with you right now a quote that was said by Jessie Jackson at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., because it always reminds me of what I can do. "If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it." Thank you.
Peggy Elliott: Every year, if it can locate enough good candidates, the National Federation of the Blind gives at least three scholarships to previous scholarship winners. Those of you who are current or previous winners and who are going back to school should make sure to apply because we will consider you for a second scholarship and the status of tenBroek Fellow. One of the tenBroek Fellows this year is our next winner; she won a scholarship previously and is here for a second time.
Brigid Doherty: Oregon, Virginia. My name is Brigid Doherty. I'm a senior at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, where I'm majoring in international studies with a concentration in Latin America. Peggy has given me a small amount of grace. I am not in Virginia yet, though I'm thinking about moving back there when I do look for work, which will be in the field of labor relations more than likely, where I hope to combine my love and interest in advocacy with my Spanish language skills. Thank you very much, I'm honored to be here.
Eric Fanning: Illinois, Illinois. Thank you very much. I'm Eric Fanning. In the fall I will be attending Carlton College. I will be a freshman at Carlton College in Minnesota. I intend to study physics with emphasis in astronomy. This is my first convention. So far I have been having a lot of fun and learning a lot of new and interesting things. For a career goal I intend to go for my Ph.D. someday and then enter the field of research. I'd like to thank the Scholarship Committee.
Darsean Harrell: New Jersey, New Jersey. I have two more semesters to go at Camden County College, and then I hope to transfer to West Chester U. in Pennsylvania. I like joining the NFB because it's very informational, and it's very knowledgeable. This is my first convention, and it won't be my last. My dream is to become a wife, mother, and speech pathologist. Thank you.
Kellie Hickman: Texas, Texas. Good morning fellow Federationists. This is a great honor to be here, quite a surprise too. My plans for the future (when I grow up) are to work in family therapy as well as individual counseling. I'd like to concentrate, though, on people who are blind and their families. I'd like to have some influence on their attitudes because that's where everything starts. I'd like to close with a couple of statements. One of our Scholarship Committee members said that next year we were looking for heaven in '97. We are looking forward to that right? [applause] Exactly. But we can't wait for '98. See ya'll in Dallas. Thanks a lot.
Dawn Hodge: New Hampshire, New Hampshire. Hi. As you know, my name is Dawn Hodge. I'm very happy to be here, to be honored by this committee, amongst such knowledge and wisdom, and the foresight to choose such a wonderful panel of scholarship winners. I'm privileged to be one of them. I'm presently attending the University of New Hampshire. I'm pursuing a degree in family studies with a minor in social work. I hope to become a family therapist and then go on and get my master's, perhaps in marriage and family therapy or social work. I feel that families are the nucleus or core of any society. Without healthy families you won't have a healthy society. So we want to help our families, those with disabilities and those without, to be productive, constructive, positive, and active members and contributors to our society and positive NFBers as well. Thank you. I look forward to enjoying everybody's company. Come look me up, talk with me.
Sheila Johnson: California, California. Hi. My name is Sheila Johnson. I'm a senior at San Diego State University. I'll be graduating with my bachelor's in December. I will be going into a bilingual credential teaching program at San Diego State, where in 1998 I will have my bilingual teaching credential. Right now I wanted to say that I'm one of those people that's doing a lot, but you don't know it until people tell you because I'm always looking ahead, saying I need to do more. I'm out there all the time, and I don't realize how much I'm changing until I find out I'm the only blind person with a white cane in the community, the only person on the street. Thank you so much for all your support. I'm so thankful that we today have an organization, a family like this that I can turn to and get support and encouragement. Thank you.
Marie Kouthoofd: New York, New York. Hi. My name is Marie Kouthoofd. I attend the State University of New York, College of Rockport. I am a psychology major and plan to go into clinical psychology. I am interested in research and also counseling. I have quite a rigorous schedule. I have three children: one that's six, one that's four, and one that's three months. I am a second degree black belt, and I instruct tae kwon do and self-defense. This is my first convention. To be honest, when I applied for the NFB scholarship, I didn't know anything about NFB, what they stood for, nor what I was in for. [laughter] Since I've been here, I've been crying, filled with fear, or filled with determination--or maybe all three. I know one thing. When I leave this convention--well, I'm going to leave with either three, four, or ten grand, but I'm also going to leave with something more. This convention has changed me, and I don't know how to explain it, but I have finally found a place where I can fit in, where I don't have to be afraid of going blind or being blind. Thank you.
Sarah Lanier: Alabama, Alabama. Good morning everyone. It feels really great to be here, and I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for giving me this opportunity. I plan to start at Auburn University in the fall, majoring in biology and mathematics education. So, those of you who are in high school, wait a little while and maybe you'll get to be in my class. I recently graduated from Hillcrest High School, which is a private school, very small, as valedictorian of the class of '96, and I plan to maintain that academic standing in college. If any of you have any questions, just look me up. Thank you.
Kristyn Leigh: Illinois, Illinois. Good morning. I'm Kristyn Leigh, and I'm from Illinois. This is my second NFB national convention. I got my bachelor's in history with a business minor in 1993. I worked for a couple of years, and now I've completed one year of graduate school. In the fall I will be a second-year graduate student at Illinois State University, working on a master's to teach blind children, special education.
Peggy Elliott: Our next scholarship winner is the second tenBroek Fellow in the 1996 scholarship class, and I guess perhaps that gives her some right to have a foot in three states rather than in two.
Shawn Mayo: Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri. Good morning. I'm Shawn Mayo. I'm currently attending BLIND, Inc. In the fall I will begin my master's program at Southwest Missouri State University. It will be in clinical psychology, and I plan to go on for a Ph.D. and work with chronically ill children and in psycho-oncology, which is with pediatric and adolescent cancer patients. It's a great honor to be a tenBroek fellow. Thank you.
Priscilla McKinley: Iowa, Iowa. Hi. I'm Priscilla McKinley. I received my undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa in English and moved on to the MFA non- fiction writing program. I also teach freshman rhetoric at the university (reading, writing, and speaking for some people who do not have rhetoric in their colleges)-- everybody asks, "What is rhetoric?" I am a mother of a twelve-year-old son and am a newlywed (second marriage). They are off at Disneyland right now, having fun. I have three goals right now. One is to teach college writing, which I am doing now, but as slave labor as a teaching assistant. Two, is to write a bestseller that will top Robert Waller's Bridges of Madison County and make The New York Times Bestseller List for fifty weeks in a row. If he can do it, so can I, right? [applause] My third goal is to be like some of the people on the Scholarship Committee and be standing up and saying, "This is my twentieth convention." This is my first, and I will not miss any as long as I live. I guarantee it. Thank you.
Brian Miller: California, California. Thank you to the Scholarship Committee, the Board of Directors, and fellow Federationists and sponsors, who support this program. It is an honor and privilege to be up here. My name is Brian Miller. I am currently completing my master's degree in political science at San Diego State University with emphasis in Latin American studies. I plan to go on to a Ph.D. program and possibly a teaching credential. Eventually I would like to put that to use in doing some research, teaching, and possibly working in the foreign service to employ my language skills. Just a quick anecdote: as I was sitting through the JOB seminar yesterday and the student seminar as well, I was remembering a time when my father and mother used to ask me when I got out of high school, "When are you going to go out and get a job? When are you going to get out of school and get work?" At the time, of course, I thought it was an onerous thing to burden me with, but now it actually occurs to me that it was a compliment that they were paying me. They were actually sure that I was going to be out working and being just like everybody else and nothing different. Thank you very much.
Jackie Mushington: Maryland, Colorado. Good morning, fellow Federationists. As Ms. Elliott said, my name is Jackie Mushington. I live in Maryland. I am currently at Colorado. I just completed the full-time program in Colorado, and now I'm working as a summer counselor in Colorado, practicing my skills. I am a senior at Clark Atlantic University, majoring in early childhood education with a minor in psychology. Someday I hope to follow in Ms. McQuillan's steps. I plan to open my own preparatory institute, starting with kindergarten through elementary. This is my third convention, and I'm very happy to be a member of the 1996 scholarship class.
Michael Richman: Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania. Hi. My name is Michael Richman. I'm a graduate student at Temple University in the program of education, getting my master's to teach high school English. I will be teaching in the fall at a private school for learning-disabled kids, and I hope to continue teaching and doing some writing. I'm also a musician.
Jennifer Schiffelbein: Kansas, Kansas. I'm from Topeka, Kansas, not Kansas, Kansas. I will be a sophomore in the fall at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. I'm working towards a degree in both chemistry and chemical engineering. I would like to have an emphasis on new materials development. Aside from that, I'd like to travel around the world and see everybody. Also I'm a musician, too. I play the flute. I do a lot of things. I'm glad to be here. Thanks.
Jasmin Sethi: New Jersey, Massachusetts. Good morning. I'm an entering college freshman at Harvard University, where I am planning to major in economics. After that I'd like to pursue a career in financial consulting for private businesses. I'm very honored to be a member of this talented and very friendly scholarship class. It is my first convention, and I'm looking forward to meeting as many people as I can. Thank you.
Brook Sexton: California, Utah. Hello. I'm really happy to be here today. It's a real honor to be a scholarship winner. I am attending Brigham Young University as a freshman next year and plan to study English, which I think is what I want to do, but I will decide later. Thank you. Jessica Springer: California, Idaho. Hi. This fall, I will be a sophomore at Albertson College of Idaho. I'm a double major in political science and biology. My concentration in political science is pre-law. With my education I'm hoping to become a lawyer in either criminal law or maybe Constitutional law. Hopefully beyond that I will become a judge. I'm really happy to be here, and I've really found a new family. Thank you.
Peggy Elliott: And our third and final tenBroek Fellow for this year is:
Mark Stracks: Connecticut, Connecticut. Good morning fellow Federationists. I am Mark Stracks. I am from East Hartford, Connecticut. I am currently a third-year student at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and a candidate for the degree of master of public health at the University of Connecticut Graduate School. My ultimate career goals are to practice clinical medicine and to undertake research in the field of clinical medicine and public health. Thanks.
Daryl Swinson: Arkansas, Arkansas. Good morning. My name is Daryl Swinson. I'm from Fort Smith, Arkansas. I'm attending Westark Community College and Arkansas Technical University with a major in computer information systems. I'd like to thank Jim Omvig and Ruth Swenson for getting me involved in the NFB even if it didn't seem to take very well at first. This is my first National Convention. I'm having a great time even if I'm not getting enough sleep. Thank you. Ana Ugarte: Oregon, Massachusetts. Good morning. I have a bachelor of arts degree in music from Portland State University, and in the fall I will be starting my master of music and vocal performance at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. I am a graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind. Currently I am the assistant coordinator for the summer youth program at the Colorado Center. When I'm done with my master's, I hope to go on to get my doctorate of musical arts and get a teaching position at the university level. Thank you.
Brenda Walburn: Texas, Texas. My name is Brenda Walburn. I'm from Wichita Falls, Texas. I'm currently attending Midwestern State University. I received a bachelor's degree in social work, and I'm in my second year of graduate studies in counseling. I plan to go on and get my Ph.D. in counseling psychology and someday to be in private practice doing individual and family therapy. Thank you this is a great honor.
Jay Wolf: Texas, Texas. I'm Jay Wolf. I'm always last at these things, and I'm hoping Thursday night that I'll be last. But anyway. I'm from Wichita Falls, Texas. I'm currently in Denver, teaching cane travel at the Colorado Center. I'm majoring in business administration emphasizing in management and real estate. Real estate was just recently added, because a few years ago they said that I couldn't start my own business, and I did it. Then I was looking for a house about six months ago and talking to the real estate agent, and he said, "Well, a blind person couldn't do that." So, we'll talk about it in a couple of years and see what happens. Thanks a lot.
Peggy Elliott: "And there, fellow Federationists, is the 1996 scholarship class." [applause] As you can see, we have an impressive group of scholarship winners this year. Here are the awards they received:
$3,000 NFB: Matthew Bornstein, Charles Cheadle, Sheila Compton, Debra DeLorey, Darsean Harrell, Kellie Hickman, Dawn Hodge, Sheila Johnson, Kristyn Leigh, Jackie Mushington, Jennifer Schiffelbein, Brook Sexton, Brenda Walburn, and Jay Wolf.
$3,000 Frank Walton Horn Memorial Scholarship: Eric Fanning
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Marie Kouthoofd
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Sarah Lanier
$3,000 Humanities Scholarship: Priscilla McKinley
$3,000 Mozelle and Willard Gold Memorial Scholarship: Brian Miller
$3,000 Educator of Tomorrow Scholarship: Michael Richman
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Jasmin Sethi
$3,000 E. U. Parker Memorial Scholarship: Mark Stracks
$3,000 Computer Science Scholarship: Daryl Swinson
$4,000 NFB Scholarship: Shawn Mayo and Jessica Springer
$4,000 Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Ana Ugarte
$10,000 American Action Fund Scholarship: Brigid Doherty
Brigid Doherty was invited to say a few words to the banquet audience as she received her award. This is what she said:
Thank you, thank you very much. President Maurer, Dr. Jernigan, it is, indeed, an honor to be standing here at this podium in this room. I want to say to you, to my fellow scholarship recipients, and to everyone in this room that I personally plan to keep my promise to this organization, and I am going to work with all the love and all the effort I have in me to repay even a portion of what has been given to me, not just tonight, but since I was first introduced to the National Federation of the Blind four years ago. And I also plan to keep in touch with my fellow scholarship recipients and hold them to the pledge that they have made here this week to grow in our friendship--these are wonderful people. I didn't know many of them before this week, but I want to get to know them better. I want to work with them to carry on what has already been started, thank goodness. So thank you all, and Dr. Jernigan, and President Maurer, I will see you in New Orleans. [applause]
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $__________(or "______ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: ________") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
[Photo/Caption #28: Marc Maurer delivers the banquet address at the 1996 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind.]
[Photo/Caption #29: Nearly 2,500 Federationists listen with rapt attention as President Maurer gives his speech.]
THE ESSENCE OF MATURITY
An Address Delivered by MARC MAURER
President, National Federation of the Blind
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Anaheim, California, July 4, 1996
Maturity is the exercise of intelligence in the fourth dimension--time. As Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was then serving as President of the National Federation of the Blind, said in 1986: "To the extent one ranges backward in time to understand the causes of present conditions, and to the extent one ranges forward to anticipate future consequences of present acts, one is mature. Maturity is intelligence in depth." So Dr. Jernigan said in 1986. Not only do individuals need maturity, but civilizations, organizations, and cultures need it as well. Whether a society can reach maturity depends on the maturity of the people within it and its capacity to internalize their maturity. If a society is to mature, it must balance two competing interests. It must welcome diversity and experimentation and at the same time maintain stability and order. Experimentation and diversification diminish stability, but they are essential for growth. However, if stability is lost, there will be no structure in which to experiment. Both the instability of experimentation and the stability of order are required.
Maturity for a society or an individual cannot be achieved without reaching new understandings and perspective. This requires effort and a tolerance for pain-- sometimes financial, sometimes emotional, and sometimes physical. Individuals and societies that are unwilling to expend effort or tolerate pain to achieve a desirable goal in the future cannot attain maturity.
The maturity of the individual and the maturity of the society are related. One cannot develop without encouraging the other. One cannot diminish without inhibiting the other. To build a strong society it is essential to enhance the maturity of its members, to incorporate that maturity into the group as a whole, to tolerate pain in the interest of achieving desirable goals, to welcome diversity, and to maintain order.
In the minds of certain people today the blind in some respects are regarded as children. We resemble children, they would have us believe, because we lack the two qualities that give significance to individuals or groups-- the capacity to make substantial contributions and the capacity to cause serious trouble. But the blind and children, in this formulation, are not the same. The children will grow up. The blind will not. The children may commit indiscretions and be forgiven. The blind will be inactive with no indiscretions to forgive. Maturity may come to the one, but not to the other. Growth and development are to be expected with children, but the blind (though we will grow physically) will not achieve the development or perspective required for decision making--we will not gain maturity. Rather we will remain, according to this view, as children in need of custody and care.
Those who believe that the blind should be viewed as children have tacitly accepted the misguided notion that for us there can be no future because for us there has been no past. Since they are part of the society in which we live, their maturity affects our maturity--our growth, our development--our capacity to exercise intelligence in time. But there is another side to that coin. Since we are part of the society in which they live, our maturity affects their maturity--their growth, their development--their capacity to exercise intelligence in time. If we are to gain maturity and if we are to enhance the maturity of our society, we must demonstrate that this conception of blindness is wrong. We who are blind have the understanding, the energy, and the will to direct our own lives, to make our contributions, and (if need be) to meet confrontation head on; and we will permit no one else to do it for us. Our past, though sometimes filled with misunderstanding and misery, is the precursor of today. Our future is what we will make it. We will act, recognizing that the consequences will be determined by our capacity to comprehend, our judgment, our courage, and our faith in each other. But above all we will act!
In 1940 the brilliant blind scholar and professor, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, and a small group of other like-minded blind people brought into being in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the National Federation of the Blind. With that one act the future of the blind was altered for all time. As we came to organize, conditions for blind people were bleak. Employment for the blind was virtually unknown. Education occurred at schools for the blind, but the administrators of those institutions rarely expected blind students to continue their instruction at the university level. Libraries for the blind existed, but the collection of books available for distribution was not large. The adult rehabilitation program operated jointly by federal and state governments had been created, but the blind were not part of it because it was felt that they could not benefit from rehabilitation. As rehabilitation officials said, we were not "feasible." The Social Security Act had been adopted in 1935, providing some measure of support to the blind; and the Randolph-Sheppard Act to create vending opportunities for the blind had been adopted in 1936, but the small number of vending stands which had been established were tiny operations selling (for the most part) tobacco products, newspapers, and candy. In certain places sheltered workshops for the blind had been in existence for decades (some for as long as a century), but these offered only repetitive hand assembly work at pitifully low wages in miserable working conditions.
A top-quality education; a career in government service or the professions; employment in industry or the private sector; a standard of living sufficient to permit dating, marriage, the establishment of a family, and the purchase of a home; training and support to begin a private business; and participation in politics--none of this was for the blind. However, Dr. tenBroek and his small band of colleagues thought otherwise. He and the others with him believed that conditions for the blind would never change unless the blind themselves controlled the events of their own destiny. He believed that blindness need not be the determining factor of our future. He believed that unemployment and lack of opportunity could be changed and that the future for the blind could be different--but only if we made it happen. He set the Federation on the road we have followed ever since. He gave us a standard to follow and a method for achieving the goal. He told us that it would not be easy--that it would require effort and a tolerance for pain. But he promised that the effort and the pain would bring results. Look about you! We the blind have gathered here tonight in our thousands. Dr. tenBroek said that we could make a difference, and if he were with us tonight, he would be pleased with what the National Federation of the Blind has become--the strongest, most positive, most vital force in the affairs of the blind today.
In the fall of 1995 members of the National Federation of the Blind hosted a black-tie dinner at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore to support and promote one of the most innovative developments in our history, NEWSLINE for the Blind. As Federation members know, this is the completely automated digital network that brings daily newspapers to the blind by touch-tone telephone. National newspapers such as USA Today, the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune can be read by phone anytime during the day or night. This development has far-reaching implications. The absence of knowledge signifies the absence of the possibility for choice. The presence of knowledge indicates the exact opposite--the awareness of opportunity, the possibility for choice, and the freedom to act.
We invited the press to be present at our black-tie dinner; we described the vital work of the National Federation of the Blind; we demonstrated NEWSLINE for the Blind; and we discussed the impact that broad-ranging information services would have on the lives of blind people. But the story that appeared in the newspaper the next day did not contain the drama of the work of the Federation or the potential alteration in the future of the blind. Instead, to be perfectly frank, the reporter didn't get it. He reiterated the old, familiar theme, the stereotype--the blind can become good musicians. The importance of the NEWSLINE event was not, he seemed to say, the development of opportunity for the blind or enhanced access to information. It was music. The item in the newspaper began with the headline, "Boy upstages NEWSLINE." The text reads:
The star of NEWSLINE Night at the National Federation of the Blind was, of course, NEWSLINE, a system that converts newspapers into synthetic voice and delivers it through telephone lines to blind people. It's an exciting new on-ramp to the information highway, allowing the nation's blind to "read" newspapers first thing in the morning, the way the rest of us do.
During the black-tie dinner at the NFB headquarters in South Baltimore [the reporter writes], guests heard a demonstration; a synthesized voice read excerpts of stories fresh from USA Today, one of the first newspapers to agree to participate in the system. As impressive as NEWSLINE was [the article continues], a kid in dark glasses and tails almost stole the show.
Jermaine Gardner, a twelve-year-old boy, was called to the Yamaha grand in the front of the dining room, then proceeded to dazzle us with performances of classical selections, from Mendelssohn to Beethoven, scherzo to sonata.
I'm telling you, he was fabulous [says the reporter]. He was accompanied to the dinner by his "managers," James and Jacqui Gardner. They should be right proud. Jermaine, who was born blind, has been playing classical music since he was 2, performing since he was 4. By the way [says the article], his business card notes that Jermaine is available for weddings, socials, and "children's Barney parties." This is what the newspaper said, and it is not that the details are incorrect but that the perception, the tone, and the depth of understanding are wrong. Is it really impressive that a blind boy of twelve can play the piano, even that he can play it extremely well, even that he can play it like a genius? Maybe--but the musical performance fades into relative insignificance compared to the revolutionary impact which NEWSLINE will make on the lives of thousands and tens of thousands of blind people throughout the nation, and ultimately the world. NEWSLINE was the star, of course, and the reporter simply missed it and flubbed his opportunity. And what was it that the reporter thought was "fabulous"? A blind kid playing the piano.
Did the reporter believe that blind people are unable to play the piano? Is that why he found the performance so enthralling? Or is it that he thought there was nothing else in the evening worth reporting--nothing else that would strike a chord with his readers? Suppose, he thought, NEWSLINE would change the world for the blind--what difference could it possibly make in the broader society? What difference could it make to the people who really matter? Unstated but always present is the silent assertion that the future of blind people is not worth the trouble to report. Just give us the piano player--that's where blind people excel. It never occurred to the reporter that blind people have already made contributions to society (contributions he not only wants but needs) and that we will continue to do so. Apparently it never occurred to him that we, who are part of the society in which he lives, will necessarily help shape his future. He thought of NEWSLINE® as an impressive new toy with which the blind could amuse themselves, but the blind (according to his understanding) have nothing to give--except a little music. He thought of us as children. In fact, he concludes his newspaper item by telling us that the blind musician is available for socials and children's Barney parties. It matters very little how we spend our time--unless, of course, we can be entertaining-- unless we can play the piano.
This newspaper account completely misses the point. There are some of us who do play the piano--play it well-- and are proud of our ability. However, this is not what defines us as human beings. NEWSLINE for the Blind, on the other hand, is opening to the blind entirely new vistas of knowledge, of thought, and of experience. Our capacity to participate in the activities of our day is increased by NEWSLINE. No one can predict how important this is because the impact that it will have has not yet been realized. But we are certain that it will add to our capacity to contribute to our society. It will give us the knowledge to shape a better future not only for ourselves but also for the very reporter who misunderstands us. Our past, even our recent past, though sometimes filled with misunderstanding, is the precursor of today's conditions. We will act, recognizing that the consequences, even though not always wholly anticipated, will be determined by our capacity to comprehend, our judgment, our courage, and our faith in each other. But above all it is certain that we will act.
We should not be surprised by newspaper reporters who lack the perception and experience to understand the importance and drama of our struggle to move from second- class status to full equality in society. But we should expect something better from programs for the blind-- something more knowledgeable, more in tune with reality. The purpose of governmental and private agencies for the blind is, after all, to help blind users of their services achieve their highest potential.
It is gratifying that an increasing number of the agencies for the blind are working ever more closely with us with positive results. However, there are, in a few instances, still some so-called professionals in agencies for the blind who regard the organized blind movement not as a welcome partner but as an interfering adversary. In such agencies it is not astonishing that services for the blind are minimal and poor.
An article which appeared in the Sunday, April 21, 1996, edition of the Hartford Courant, one of the most widely-distributed newspapers in the state of Connecticut, describes with pride the services of the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB), the state-run rehabilitation agency. Keep in mind that we are not talking about ancient history. The article was written less than three months ago.
It begins with the headline, "Jobs for the Blind," and contains photographs of three workers who have been employed at the workshop for from nine to fifteen years. The theme of the article is contained in the subtitle, which reads: "At BESB Industries, visually impaired workers gain self- esteem." The impression conveyed by these statements is that blind employees are offered long-term employment, job security, a high level of self-esteem, recognition of their innate normality and capacity, and a level of pay sufficient to provide a livelihood. This impression is reinforced by the portions of the article that describe manufacturing in the workshop. The business at BESB is not trivial. The article puts it this way:
Each month the employees, some using special sewing machines, sew up to 20,000 pairs of sweat pants for the Army, 1,200 life vests for the Navy, and 5,000 "kit bags" for the Air Force, bags used as soft-sided luggage.
In March, the company was awarded a $13 million government contract to sew up to 800,000 T-shirts a year for the Army.
This is what the newspaper says, and with all of these thousands of items being produced for all of these millions of federal dollars, what do the blind get? The newspaper tells us. Here are excerpts from the article: Inside a concrete and brick building the Board of Education and Services for the Blind, or BESB Industries, offers about 115 people--the majority of whom are completely blind--the chance to hold a job and earn a salary. For many of the workers the program has provided something more: a chance to feel useful again. [The newspaper continues,] "This job has given me the opportunity to do the things I didn't think I would ever be able to do," [said one of the sewing machine operators.]
"It's a challenge," he continued, "and it's good for people to know blind people can be productive members in society."
The 25,000-square-foot building housing BESB [the article continues] is filled with people who strongly believe that. And they show up for work each day--some making as little as $1.50 an hour--to prove it to themselves, and sometimes to others.
I interrupt to observe that they are also coming to the workshop to produce 800,000 T-shirts a year so that the agency can get thirteen million federal dollars, but back to the article.
Overall, the average pay rate [says the article] is $3.50 an hour, less than the minimum wage, now at $4.25 an hour.
But for some of the employees at the West Hartford workshop, pay is not an issue. Howie Schwartz, 59, of Southington [the article continues], who has worked there for the past nine years, said that his job has given him so much, he would work for free.
"Don't tell them, but I'd come here for nothing, because this place has given me back some of my self- respect. What I do counts."
Schwartz [the article continues] lost his sight in 1985. When he had his sight, he was in charge of more than eighty employees in a manufacturing plant. Let me interrupt the article to emphasize what I just read to you. This man was in charge of more than eighty employees in a manufacturing plant, and now he is working for substandard wages--and in an environment that has so conditioned him that he would feel grateful to have the job even if it gave him no pay at all. Yet some people have the nerve to tell us that we are being negative when we point out the abuses of this kind of operation. He supervised eighty employees! Eighty employees--and now he works for a pittance and has been conditioned to think so little of himself that he is grateful. But back to the article: Schwartz said he did not work for a year after losing his vision. "You don't know what bored is until you've sat at home for a year."
"Now I'm using my past experiences and past contacts, and I know I'm making a contribution," said Schwartz, who worked for five years sewing various products before becoming responsible for purchasing. "I'm useful."
These are statements from the Hartford Courant. They promise jobs and self-esteem for the blind. But the promise is false, and the dream is a nightmare. One of the essential characteristics of a job is that the person doing the work gets paid--and at a salary commensurate with ability and performance. There is nothing wrong with volunteering time and effort. Most of the work of the National Federation of the Blind is done through volunteers. However, we know when we are volunteering. We don't pretend that it is something else. How different it is at the agency for the blind in Connecticut. At Services for the Blind the choices are apparently simple. Blind people who want to work can sit at home and be bored or produce T-shirts in the workshop at an average of $3.50 an hour. But they do get self-esteem. Let me ask you this, shall we offer to trade? Will the supervisors at the workshop take the subminimum wages and the self-esteem and let us have their salaries? Are they willing to work for $3.50 an hour? That comes to less than $7,500 a year.
But there is more in the article. Consider the description of services provided to a woman who has been receiving the benefit of this rehabilitation program for over three decades. She became blind in her twenties, and she was understandably afraid. What did the agency do to help? This is how the newspaper tells it.
[Kathy] Lunge, 57, of Wethersfield, was 23, with a newborn baby, when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that eventually took her vision. After she recovered from treatment for the brain tumor, she was afraid to leave home.
"It was hard to cope. I wouldn't leave the house," [the blind mother said.]
Then she was told about a special program BESB runs for blind people who are homebound. Those in the program work on crafts and other projects at home, and the products are eventually sold, mainly through a joint program with local Lions Club organizations. [The article continues] The program is designed to be therapeutic, [Fred] Zaiko [BESB director of industries] said, and give participants a feeling of self-worth.
Today the program is solely for people who can't, and probably won't ever, leave their homes [the article says]. But when social workers approached Lunge in the 1960's, they hoped she would eventually be able to [you guessed it] work at the workshop.
She did. [I interrupt the newspaper story to ask how long did it take for Services to the Blind to assist this blind worker to get out of the home and into the workshop? The article tells us. Remember that services began for this blind woman in the 1960's.] After gaining confidence while working in the home program [says the article], Lunge in 1981 began traveling to the workshop to sew. Now she's a receptionist there.
In 1991 Lunge was chosen as the National Blind Worker of the Year. "If you don't have any goals, you just sit and feel sorry for yourself. That's what I did," Lunge said. "Here you don't have a chance to do that. Here you are a busy, normal person going off to work. That is a gift you cannot imagine." This is the description of services for the blind printed in the newspaper. A young woman with a baby suffers serious medical problems in 1962 and eventually becomes blind. She remains homebound, being served by the agency for the blind until 1981. In 1981 she begins sewing at the workshop and finally becomes a receptionist. The lowest wage for the blind at the workshop is $1.50 an hour. The average wage for blind people is $3.50 an hour. She is grateful for her job. She does not believe she deserves such good fortune. Those who work at the agency have given her a gift of such great value that it is hard to imagine.
However, viewed in proper perspective, such a gift might be known by the ugly name of exploitation. If Kathy Lunge is today capable of being a receptionist, is it believable that she was only capable of sitting at home year after year? The images clash. The professionals at the Connecticut agency for the blind have discovered that there are blind people who believe that there is no alternative to the boredom of sitting at home except work at the workshop. Maybe these professionals don't know any better. Maybe they don't have any incentive to know any better. Maybe if their own lives were involved, they would find a way to know better.
In their despair (in the circumstances, how could it be otherwise?), many of the blind caught in this trap are prepared to take any alternative they can get--no matter how small. And they are prepared to be grateful for it. The professionals at the agency encourage that attitude.
The situation in Connecticut is further complicated by the fact that the volunteer board responsible for the operation of the agency seems both responsive and sensible, but the professionals who administer the program have all the advantages in their effort to maintain the status quo. I met the chairman of the board this spring. He is an intelligent, sensitive human being--and he has the strongest possible motivation to see that programs for the blind in Connecticut function imaginatively and well. He has a blind son. But he is not knowledgeable in the complexities of the federal/state bureaucratic maze, a maze in which the professionals can hide and dodge and double talk. Moreover, he does not have an extensive background in dealing with blind people. What is he to do when he is told, "Yes, but your son is different--your son is not like these other poor helpless blind people, who can do nothing else but spend their days in the workshop or at home!" He will have to be strong, indeed, to go up against the odds--to resist the seduction of the flattery, to ferret out the facts from the fiction, and to find the time and the courage to match wits with the bureaucrats, who have nothing better to do all day every day but to wage the contest and build their image of sensitive expertise. Maybe he can do it. I hope he can. It sometimes happens. But the odds are against him. It goes without saying that we will help him and the other members of the board if we can, but it will be a race between whether he can bring the professionals into line before they get there first and poison him against the organized blind movement.
The professionals at the agency for the blind in Connecticut may believe that the blind are unimportant--that we resemble children. But we know better. We who are blind are not inactive; we are not inferior; and we will not behave as if we were. Perhaps there was a time when second- rate jobs and substandard wages in the sheltered shop were all that the blind could hope to get, but that time is no more. We have the understanding, the energy, and the determination; and we are prepared, if need be, to meet confrontation with confrontation. We recognize that future conditions will be the consequences of present acts. But above all we will act.
A master's degree program to instruct teachers of the blind at Northern Illinois University distributes to the candidates for advanced degrees information about how to assist the blind and those with low vision. This course of study is euphemistically known as Programs in Vision. Apparently the word blind is not to be used by the professionals because it connotes inferiority. One of the teaching tools in the program is a document entitled "Over 65 Tips & Tricks for People with Low Vision to Use in the Home." The abstruse nature of this educational program and the depth of understanding required to comprehend it are indicated by its so-called tips. Keep in mind that this information is not offered in undergraduate school but only in the master's program. Here are some of the tips for you-- if you're not totally blind that is--if you have enough remaining vision to be able to perform these complex maneuvers. Those who are totally blind will have to wait. Here is tip number one.
Place the cat's food and water on a small table to avoid stepping in it.
That's not a bad idea. Maybe you could place the cat on the table along with the food and water to avoid stepping on it. But back to the tips.
Tie brightly colored ribbon bows to the ends of TV or radio antennae.
Why would a person want to do that? Is it easier to locate the television if there's a bright red bow on the end of the antenna? Or do the professors in the vision program at Northern Illinois University think that these bright colors will cheer us up? When I have visited blind people in their homes, I haven't found any such bows--and there aren't any in mine. But then, of course, I am totally blind. But there is more.
Staple drinking straws onto cupboard shelves or drawers [the document tells us] to create organizational areas.
[Or here's an imaginative one.] Floating objects such as ice cubes or a clean ping-pong ball help in determining whether a glass is full.
Think about this one for a moment. Your company comes over, and you want to offer refreshments. So you fetch out glasses and a bowl of ping-pong balls. You pour in a little liquid and drop in a ping-pong ball. If the ping-pong ball thumps on the bottom of the glass, you can be sure more liquid is needed. If not, you have a choice. You can pour more liquid or add more ping-pong balls. But there are unanswered questions which have not been addressed in this list of helpful hints. How many ping-pong balls should go into the glass? Do you give the glass to your guest with or without ping-pong balls? At Northern Illinois University there is a program to study these weighty matters, and professors to teach such things. But here is another tip-- this is for the bathroom.
Use a contrasting color toilet seat cover so it's very obvious whether the lid is up or down.
The assumptions in these suggestions about the ability of the blind would be amusing if they were not so serious. We can't figure out if the toilet seat is up or down, can't find the TV without a big red bow, can't avoid stepping in the cat food unless it's on a table, and can't organize cupboards or drawers without stapling drinking straws to them. What do the professors at Northern Illinois University think blind people are like? If you still have doubts, perhaps this suggestion about making the bed will make the matter clear.
Make the bed once with great care [the document says]; mark each sheet and blanket where it touches the corners of the bed with safety pins--each time thereafter when the bed is made up, simply line up the corners.
I don't know when the professors at Northern Illinois University learned to make their beds, but I remember doing it when I was four or five years old. My mother didn't know it was so complicated. She taught me to do it without the pins. Now that you have been informed by those who teach the teachers of the blind that this task is more intricate and difficult than you had imagined, you can go back to your hotel rooms, locate the corners of your beds, and insert the safety pins. And for all of this you can thank the professors at Northern Illinois University.
Can they really believe it? Do they imagine that blind people are so backward that teachers of the blind should study bed-making for the blind at the post-graduate level? Do they think we resemble small children? Oh, but I am being presumptuous! It is not the blind that they are talking
about. They believe you have to have a little sight to do the things they prescribe. They don't believe the totally blind can do these things at all. If the high-powered educators think this way, is it any wonder that newspaper reporters and the general public sometimes misunderstand? We are not children, and we will not be treated as children. Let them teach bed-making to each other if they want. But let them leave us out of it, and let them leave educational programs for teachers of the blind out of it. We prefer peace and goodwill, but we are prepared to meet confrontation with confrontation if we must. We have the determination, the understanding, and the energy--and we will act.
In 1996 are there still people who believe that the blind resemble children? Indeed there are, and sometimes the message is being driven home with such force that it is accepted and internalized even by some of the blind. The myth is powerful and destructive. But no matter how powerful or destructive, it can and will be changed. We of the National Federation of the Blind are determined to make it so, and we will not be swayed from the purpose.
There are newspaper reporters who fail to comprehend that we are coming to be as much a part of society as they are and that this trend must and will continue to accelerate. There are professionals in agencies for the blind who use us for their own ends--who tell us that services for the blind are adequate when they get blind people out of the home and into the workshop at subminimum wages. There are professors at the university who insist that we tie bright ribbons on our television antennae and put ping-pong balls in our glasses. They say that matters of such moment should be elevated to the university classroom at the postgraduate level. There are still blind people who are beaten down and kept out--forced to sit at home and accept custody and, moreover, made to like it.
Since some may (either deliberately or otherwise) misunderstand what I am saying, let me sort some things out for the record. Not all university programs that train teachers for the blind are negative or trivial in their performance. Far from it. Not all state agencies for the blind are regressive in their behavior. And not all newspaper reporters are lacking in perception. In fact, I am glad to say that many of the universities, most of the state agencies, and a growing number of reporters are living in today's reality and working with positive and constructive attitudes. It is for this very reason that we must call attention to those that are not. A few (I emphasize, a few) professionals in the field of work with the blind still live in the yesterday of limited understanding and negative concepts about the capacity of the blind. These we are determined to change, and we will not be swayed from the purpose. We are just as determined to support and work in partnership with those who live in the present and look to the future.
Yes, the things I have described are still occurring in 1996; and if that were all of the story, the picture would be bleak beyond bearing. But that is not all of the story-- not even the most important part of it. You and I, the National Federation of the Blind, are the other part of the equation--the element that is making the difference, the factor that has been of increasing importance since 1940 and that today is the moving force.
Maturity demands that we be prepared to expend effort and tolerate pain. It also requires that we range backward in time to understand the causes of present conditions and that we look forward to anticipate future consequences of present acts.
If the professors in Illinois, the agency officials in Connecticut, and the reporter in Maryland are correct in their assessment, blindness is intolerable and so is our future. But of course they are not correct. Their logic is false, and their perceptions are those of a bygone era, totally failing to take into account the realities of today and the possibilities of tomorrow. Their maturity is at the level of the children they believe we resemble.
Let us leave it at that. Ultimately our concern is not with them but with what lies ahead. Our progress toward full participation in society is accelerating, and our goal of full citizenship is near at hand. What stretches before us will not be easy (none of the travel on our road to freedom has been), but we have come a great way farther than we still have to go.
Let me conclude, as I have so often done, by reminding you of the commitment that holds us together and guides our actions. As we go forward, you have the right to expect that I as President will never ask you to make sacrifices that I am not willing to make, that I will not ask you to take risks that I am not willing to take. You have the right to expect that I will lead and that I will do it decisively. You have the right to expect that I will give to you and our movement my time, my effort, my devotion--and, yes, my love. And I have the right to expect certain things from you. This week you elected me again as President, and by that act you undertook by implication an equal commitment. You gave me the responsibility of standing in the front ranks to lead by example and not just with words. Here in your presence I publicly pledge to bring all that I have to the effort. I made that commitment ten years ago when you first elected me to be your President, and I repeat it tonight. I have tried to live up to it every day that I have been in office, and I will try to live up to it every day in the future.
That is my unequivocal commitment. Now let me say a word about what is required of you. I have the right to expect that you will support me in my efforts, that you will share with me our triumphs, and also that you will stand by me in time of trouble and disappointment. These mutual commitments are what make us a family and not just an association, a movement and not just an organization. As we look to the year ahead, let us go with pride; let us go with confidence; let us go with maturity. My brothers and my sisters, we will make it come true.
[Photo/Caption #30: Fredric K. Schroeder, Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services Administration]
CLIENT OR CONSUMER? RE-DEFINING RESPONSIBILITY IN PROGRAMS OF REHABILITATION
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: Fred Schroeder is more than the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration; he is loved and respected by thousands of blind people across the country. Before assuming his current position with the U.S. Department of Education, Dr. Schroeder was Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. He addressed the 1996 NFB convention on Thursday afternoon, July 4. This is what he said:
Last year the public rehabilitation program faced a serious legislative challenge. S. 143, introduced by Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, sought to consolidate America's job training programs into a single workforce development system, which would have been block granted to the states. Initially the workforce consolidation proposal included vocational rehabilitation; however, Senator Kassebaum soon recognized that, while there is significant advantage in linking vocational rehabilitation to the consolidated system, the comprehensive nature of vocational rehabilitation makes it uniquely different from other job training programs. As a result S. 143 was modified to provide important linkages between vocational rehabilitation and the generic system while maintaining specialized services through a distinct program of vocational rehabilitation.
In the House the treatment of vocational rehabilitation was approached much differently. Congressman Howard (Buck) McKeon of California introduced H.R. 1617, which proposed merging vocational rehabilitation into a generic block-grant job-training program. In essence this plan would have entirely voucherized rehabilitation services. Many questions persisted throughout the H.R. 1617 debate. In particular blind people questioned whether generic workforce- development personnel would have the knowledge and experience to assist a newly blind person in developing a plan of services which would ensure access to instruction in cane travel and Braille reading and writing in a context that would promote the development of self-confidence and positive attitudes about blindness. Under the McKeon plan, who would provide these services given that in twenty-one states and territories there are no private service providers offering services to the blind, and even where private services do exist, what would have happened if a blind person spent his or her voucher and was still unable to find work?
On September 19, 1995, Congressman Jay Dickey of Arkansas and Congressman Gene Green of Texas introduced an amendment on the House floor to remove vocational rehabilitation from H.R. 1617. As you know, the amendment was adopted, thereby staving off the amalgamation of rehabilitation services into a generic job training system. And why was this vote successful? Why was it possible to persuade forty-one Republican Members of Congress to join with the minority in opposition to House leadership? In a word the answer is advocacy--not the advocacy of state rehabilitation professionals, although they did their part; not the advocacy of those professional associations providing rehabilitation services, although many of them did their part as well. But in truth and in fact it was the advocacy of consumers and, more specifically, the advocacy of blind people, organized through the National Federation of the Blind.
In the Spring of 1995 the National Federation of the Blind convened a meeting at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore of representatives of the major blindness organizations. At that meeting a group was formed to provide coordinated advocacy from throughout all sectors of the blindness field--professionals joining with consumers, but perhaps of greater significance, professionals joining with consumers in an effort led by the blind themselves. There is an important lesson to be learned from this experience. If the rehabilitation system is to survive, it will do so only as long as blind people and others with disabilities regard the system as capable of delivering high quality rehabilitation services. If consumers lose faith in the system, then no amount of professional advocacy can save it. The only protection that the rehabilitation system has is the degree to which it wins the confidence of those people who come to the system for help.
In 1992 the Rehabilitation Act was amended in a number of important ways. Perhaps the most important change was the addition of a clear policy explicitly providing for a client's right to equal partnership throughout the rehabilitation process. And what was the driving force behind this change? It was the National Federation of the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind believed that blind people and others with disabilities must have the right to make informed choices about their vocational goals, the services that will enable them to reach those goals, and the entity to provide those services.
The choice amendments demonstrate the fundamental principle that blind people and others with disabilities must be active participants in the rehabilitation process. It is the client's future that is at stake and the choices that are made must make sense from the perspective of the client. Similarly, the way rehabilitation services are administered must also make sense from the client's perspective.
There has been a longstanding belief that the rehabilitation system is cumbersome and slow to respond. As a result the 1992 amendments included a provision that eligibility decisions must be made within sixty days from the date of application, unless the client agrees to an extension of time. While this is the law, it is important to keep in mind the driving force leading to this change. The sixty-day requirement was added in response to the frustration which many clients experienced, and it is that frustration which must be addressed by our system of rehabilitation. If a client is determined eligible on the sixtieth day and he or she believes that a determination could have been made on the third day following application, then the client will perceive the system to be bureaucratized and unresponsive. By contrast, if there are good and legitimate reasons why a determination of eligibility cannot be made in sixty days and the client agrees to an extension, and if the client perceives that his or her counselor is working hard to move the process along, then the client will continue to have faith in the system. The law alone cannot solve the problem. Shortly after the 1992 Amendments were enacted, we saw a decrease in the time it took to determine clients eligible for services. At the same time we saw an increase in the time it took for an IWRP (Individualized Written Rehabilitation Plan) to be developed after a determination of eligibility was made. Rather than waiting to be determined eligible, clients were waiting for plans to be developed. Compliance with the new law did very little to address the frustration that stimulated the sixty-day eligibility requirement. If the rehabilitation system is to be defended, then recipients of rehabilitation services must believe that the system is worth defending.
As a result the Rehabilitation Services Administration has entered into a collaborative effort with state rehabilitation agencies to streamline our nation's vocational rehabilitation service-delivery system. In February of this year, RSA entered into an agreement with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) to promote the streamlining initiative with state vocational rehabilitation agencies throughout the United States. We believe that by streamlining the rehabilitation process we can address much of the frustration which clients have experienced and ensure that the system continues to respond to the demand for increased efficiency for and partnership with clients entering the system. If we are successful in creating an efficient system driven by the principle of informed choice resulting in high quality jobs, then the public program will legitimately be able to withstand any challenge. The measure of our success will be the degree to which clients of the system perceive there to be value in the system.
The perception of value has two parts. First, there must be a perception of value within the process. Clients must believe that rehabilitation counselors are well trained and able to provide needed services. But a perception of value in the process alone is not sufficient. The client must also obtain a satisfying job with good pay, good benefits, and the prospect for upward mobility--a good quality job and an efficient process leading to that job. There is some evidence that the system is beginning to respond. In fiscal year 1995 209,509 clients were successfully placed in employment, an increase of 3.2 percent over the previous year. For blind people the rate of increase was even greater. In fiscal year 1994 (the most current year for which data are available), 11,409 blind people were successfully rehabilitated, an increase of 6.3 percent over the previous year.
The Randolph-Sheppard Program, which celebrated its sixtieth anniversary on June 20 of this year, continues to be an important source of high quality employment for the blind. As of fiscal year 1995 there were 3,510 blind vendors operating 3,414 vending facilities located on federal and other property. The program generated $408.9 million in gross income and $80.2 million in net earnings to vendors, for an average annual earnings of $26,420 per vendor. Our priority is on employment, and the system continues to make steady progress in this area. But, when we say employment, we do not mean simply a job. We do not want to press the system so hard for numbers that counselors are encouraged to seek out only the quickest and cheapest placements for the easiest-to- place people. We do not want to place such a premium on numbers that counselors are driven to work with a large number of inexpensive cases and to shy away from employment opportunities that may be less certain, more complex, and more expensive. We want people to find jobs, but beyond this we want people to find job that they themselves find satisfying--jobs that anyone in society would be glad to have. The 1992 Amendments describe this concept in terms of employment outcomes consistent with an individual's "strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, and capabilities." In other words, jobs that people want and value.
As I have previously mentioned, we at the Rehabilitation Services Administration believe that the most important measure of our work is the degree to which clients of our services perceive value in the system. Accordingly we have restructured our comprehensive monitoring to focus on high-quality employment. Did the individual go to work? Is there evidence of informed choice throughout the process? In essence, was it a job consistent with the individual's strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, and capabilities--a job that was valued by the client. We have a responsibility to monitor for compliance, but our prime responsibility is to ensure that the rehabilitation process delivers high-quality services as measured by the recipients of those services.
The system must be pressed to be efficient. The system must be pressed to place more and more people in employment each year. But, most of all, the system must work in partnership with those it serves. Without this partnership circumstance and not imagination will drive our system. Without this partnership economics will dictate that clients be tracked into the most expedient jobs at the lowest possible cost. Without this partnership the system will be doomed to stagnation and failure.
Together blind people and professionals can work as partners to create new and expanded opportunities. Yet, as we look to the future, one important truth remains. Throughout history the inspiration for change has invariably come from blind people themselves. As long as there have been blind people, there have been those who have been able to see beyond society's expectations. There have been those who have had the courage and the will to strive for something better than what was known. These people, mostly unsung, are real heroes in the movement of the blind toward first-class status.
On May 1, 1996, Pauline Gomez passed away. Pauline was a lifelong resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a founding member of the New Mexico affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. Pauline was an example of a blind person who wanted more out of life than conventional thinking of her day would have believed was possible. Pauline wanted to be a teacher at a time when it was assumed that the blind could only teach blind children at schools for the blind. But Pauline did not want to teach at a school for the blind; she wanted to stay in her home community of Santa Fe. To teach, she needed a college education. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. It did not matter to Pauline that no other blind person had ever attended the University of New Mexico. She wanted to be a teacher, and to be a teacher she needed an education, so she did what she needed to do. After completing her education, she opened a private kindergarten in her home in Santa Fe. As the reputation of her school, Los Ninos, grew, eventually Pauline built a separate school on the property adjacent to her home. Although Pauline retired in the early 1980's, it is still true today that virtually every prominent family in Santa Fe has had its children taught by Pauline.
In her life Pauline embodied the teachings of the National Federation of the Blind--the teachings of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and President Maurer. Through her life and work she has changed forever the attitudes of society about the capacity of blind people to live full and normal lives. But her life did more than simply change the attitudes of sighted people in her community. Through her work in the National Federation of the Blind, Pauline inspired countless other blind people throughout New Mexico and the nation.
I was one of those young blind people whom she touched and inspired. Through the way she lived her life, Pauline encouraged me to believe I could be more than I had ever thought I could be. I owe to Pauline an unpayable debt, not simply a debt of gratitude, but a debt of responsibility. It is the debt that we as blind people collectively owe to all those who came before us. For throughout our history we have had our pioneers. We owe a debt of gratitude to Pauline Gomez for daring to challenge society's assumptions about us, and we owe a debt of responsibility to keep alive her pioneering spirit and to continue challenging those beliefs and attitudes that would relegate us to lives of diminished opportunity.
The rehabilitation system can and should be our partner. But it is blind people themselves who must chart their own course. This has been our history, and inevitably it will be our future. The private and public agencies can speed our progress, but they cannot set our goals for us. The Rehabilitation Services Administration is committed to a system wherein blind people and others with disabilities can look to the rehabilitation program for meaningful partnership along the road toward first-class status: partnership that includes professional services drawn from the best of our experience, research, and technology; partnership that includes informed choice as a living part of the rehabilitation system; partnership rooted in the belief that today's impossibility is tomorrow's probability; partnership with the expertise and the resources to make it meaningful; partnership that results in a good job with good wages, good benefits, and a promising future; and, most important, partnership that is felt by the individual client who walks through the door of the local rehabilitation office in need of help.
[Photo/Caption #31: President Maurer meets with the Resolutions Committee while Ramona Walhof chairs.]
RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED BY THE ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND JULY, 1996
by Ramona Walhof
From the Editor: Ramona Walhof is the Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB of Idaho. She also serves as the Chairman of the Resolutions Committee. Each year she presides over the receipt and handling of all resolutions until they are acted upon by the convention. This is what she has to say about the resolutions considered at the 1996 convention of the National Federation of the Blind:
In 1996 the Resolutions Committee met at 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, as has become traditional. The committee consists of nearly fifty active Federationists from all parts of the country.
The 1996 convention passed nineteen resolutions. The National Federation of the Blind takes its resolutions seriously. These are policy statements of the organization, and we use them to let others know what our positions are.
Any member of the NFB may present a resolution to the committee for consideration. After reading and discussing it, the Resolutions Committee votes either "do pass" or "do not pass." In order to receive action, resolutions must be written clearly and presented to the NFB President or the committee chairman at least two weeks before the convention. The Board of Directors may also bring resolutions to the convention for action.
We know that NFB resolutions are taken seriously by Congress and others. At the time of this writing (less than one month after the convention) Congress has already acted affirmatively on legislation advocated by two of our resolutions: 96-101 and 96-03. The issues in the legislation (funding Books for the Blind at the Library of Congress and reducing copyright requirements for Books for the Blind) have been addressed by NFB representatives in various ways. All the resolutions are clear statements of our goals and are important tools in our work.
This year four resolutions were voted do not pass by the committee, so they never came to the convention floor for action. These resolutions are not printed here. One resolution was recommended do pass by the committee but defeated on the convention floor. As usual, we are providing full texts of all resolutions debated this year by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled. Here is a brief description of each:
Resolution 96-101, which was first considered by the Board of Directors, calls upon Congress to retain a rigid Books for the Blind appropriation for the Library of Congress.
Resolution 96-01 reaffirms the NFB's commitment to the link between blind SSDI recipients and retirees with respect to Social Security exempt earnings.
Resolution 96-02 urges the timely and orderly pursuit of the International Council on English Braille's Unified Braille Code project. The resolution was defeated.
Resolution 96-03 seeks quick action by Congress on copyright revisions.
Resolution 96-04 provides direction for services that make audio voice-overs to describe videos.
Resolution 96-05 urges Congress to act quickly to revise the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and to include requirements for Braille in that revision.
Resolution 96-08 charges the Congress to retain leadership by the federal government of specialized rehabilitation services for the blind in the states and public agencies.
Resolution 96-09 condemns the Department of Veterans Affairs policy which disqualifies blind persons as travel instructors.
Resolution 96-10 calls for continued federal support of public transportation and Amtrak.
Resolution 96-11 calls for equal access for the blind to telecommunications services and equipment.
Resolution 96-12 expresses extreme displeasure toward the Seeing Eye for its behavior and attitude at recent NFB conventions.
Resolution 96-14 protests the practice of the Post Office to contract with Coca Cola and other companies when they could and should provide food service under the Randolph-Sheppard program.
Resolution 96-15 urges Congress to retain the spirit of the Randolph-Sheppard Act when considering legislation to reform concessions policies in public land and national park areas.
Resolution 96-16 seeks to insure that organizations of the blind will be the dominant voice on advisory councils for state rehabilitation agencies serving blind citizens.
Resolution 96-17 condemns the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) statements that characterize separate agencies for the blind as providers of segregated services and reaffirms the long-standing NFB position that separate agencies for the blind are best.
Resolution 96-19 calls upon the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to establish a policy seeking to make computer technology accessible to the blind.
Resolution 96-20 calls upon the Social Security Administration to create work-report and benefit-adjustment procedures which will not needlessly penalize SSI and SSDI recipients when they go to work.
Resolution 96-21 seeks to preserve and strengthen specialized programs for the blind in the states which maintain accountability.
Resolution 96-22 urges the Social Security Administration to adopt a thirty-day requirement for approval of PASS applications.
WHEREAS, the Committee on Appropriations in the U. S. House of Representatives has approved funding for fiscal year 1997 for Books for the Blind from the Library of Congress in the amount of $44,964,000; and
WHEREAS, this sum is a portion of the total budget for the Library of Congress, and instructions in the Committee report on the Appropriations bill would allow the Librarian of Congress to shift money from one program to another, placing in jeopardy the appropriation for Books for the Blind; and
WHEREAS, the amount specified by Congress for Books for the Blind in the appropriations bill is presently protected against being used for other purposes of the Library of Congress, and this policy must be continued if blind people are to receive the reading matter which they need; and
WHEREAS, the Books for the Blind program is the principal source of Braille and recorded books and magazines for blind persons throughout the country, and the number of books and magazines is already far too few, which is why under no circumstances should money be taken from the Books for the Blind program: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization call upon the Congress to protect funding for the Books for the Blind program by prohibiting the Librarian of Congress from shifting funds for that program to any other activity of the Library of Congress.
WHEREAS, the Social Security Amendments of 1977 established an identical earnings exemption threshold for blind people and for individuals who retire at age sixty- five; and
WHEREAS, amendments to the Social Security Act which were included in legislation recently passed to raise the ceiling on the national debt have also raised the earnings exemption threshold for seniors but not for the blind; and
WHEREAS, while the Social Security Act limit on earnings for blind people remains at the level established in January, 1996 (subject to automatic annual adjustments), the senior citizens' exempt amount will be increased in seven mandated increments which far exceed inflation adjustments; and
WHEREAS, the mandated increases for seniors will result in an earnings exemption of $30,000 effective in 2002, while the earnings limit for blind people in the same year is expected to be $14,400; and
WHEREAS, the decision to separate the blind persons' and senior citizens' earnings exemptions reflects a pro-work policy for seniors but, by comparison, continues a far more restrictive work policy which blind people are still forced to endure; and
WHEREAS, the disability of blindness is not defined by the inability to work, and, therefore, blind people should be encouraged to become productive to the maximum extent possible by lifting the restriction on earnings: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization reaffirm its long-standing view that provisions of the Social Security Act which impose economic hardships on blind people who work must be changed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we request prompt action by Congress at least to restore the earnings exemption policy by which blind people and seniors have had an identical exempt amount for almost twenty years.
WHEREAS, Standard English Braille is recognized throughout the English-speaking world as the basic code for literacy among blind persons; and
WHEREAS, the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) now seeks to enhance standard English Braille by adding new symbols necessary to writing in sciences and technology; and
WHEREAS, the ICEB is committed to extending the Braille code without significant changes to the basic literary code; and
WHEREAS, ICEB has established the Unified Braille Code Project Committee and various technical committees with representation from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States to accomplish the task of developing the Unified Braille Code; and
WHEREAS, the ICEB has contracted with the International Braille Research Center to conduct an extensive evaluation of the proposed Unified Braille Code through direct involvement of blind consumers, transcribers, and teachers of Braille in all participating countries; and
WHEREAS, this international effort has demonstrated great progress toward developing an enriched English Braille code that will serve blind people well into the next century: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization work to ensure timely and orderly pursuit of this project to its successful conclusion; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization work to ensure that a unified Braille code be adopted and that after its adoption all blind students pursuing an academic course of study receive instruction in the Unified Braille Code and any other Braille codes, such as the Braille Music Code, that the student and/or the student's parent or parents deem necessary for a full and complete education.
WHEREAS, present provisions of the Copyright Act require approval by copyright holders before ink-print editions of published works may be transcribed or reproduced in Braille or sound-recorded formats; and
WHEREAS, imposition of the existing approval process does not serve the legitimate interests of publishers since there is no competition whatsoever resulting from the circulation of copyrighted matter in specialized formats for blind people who cannot use and generally do not purchase the ink-print editions; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind and the Association of American Publishers have successfully negotiated the terms of a revision to the Copyright Act which have been set forth in a detailed legislative proposal; and
WHEREAS, the copyright amendments which have now been recommended to the Congress would permit conversion of published works into specialized formats (including Braille, sound-recorded, or digital reproductions) without obtaining permission for the conversion or circulation of the material to blind persons or to other persons with disabilities as defined in the proposal; and
WHEREAS, enactment of this legislation would respond to an acknowledged need of blind people to have printed matter produced in usable formats without undue delay from the time of the original ink-print publication: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization request expedited consideration and passage by Congress of the proposed copyright revisions so that this legislation may be signed into law during the remaining weeks of the 104th Congress.
WHEREAS, presentation of information by audio-visual means is now a vital part of modern life; and
WHEREAS, audio description of visual images is a service that adds oral description of visual images to television and movie programs; and
WHEREAS, audio description of visual images can be quite useful by adding to the entertainment value of the presentation for blind viewers; and
WHEREAS, the Federal Communications Commission is considering the extent to which audio description should be required in television programming; and
WHEREAS, although audio description may at times make the presentation more enjoyable, this fact alone does not necessarily justify a requirement by the federal government that virtually all audio/visual programming must contain audio descriptions of visual images; and
WHEREAS, a requirement by the federal government for audio description in virtually all television programming would place an undue emphasis on entertainment as an issue for the blind and tend to draw public attention away from the real and cruel forms of economic discrimination and exclusion of blind people from normal integration into society which exist: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization support voluntary use of audio description in television programming but oppose the imposition of audio description as a federal mandate; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, to the extent that a mandate is justified, we urge the Federal Communications Commission to require both audio and visual presentation of essential information for the public such as warnings of hazardous weather or other emergency conditions.
WHEREAS, legislation to amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and extend the funding authority for certain programs now conducted under the Act is being considered in the House of Representatives and the Senate; and
WHEREAS, these measures are an extensive revision of the Act and include some controversial changes such as allowing local education agencies to alter the placement of a child with a disability as a disciplinary measure; and
WHEREAS, despite the controversy over changes such as this, the legislation as passed by the House of Representatives contains an unambiguous endorsement of the need for Braille for a blind child, requiring that Braille instruction and services must be included in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) of the blind child unless all members of the IEP team agree that Braille is not needed by the child; and
WHEREAS, this decisive approach toward Braille services for blind students represents the most positive statement on Braille services for children who are blind ever approved by a legislative body: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization urge the Congress to complete action this year on a bill to revise and extend programs conducted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon those responsible for negotiating the final bill in Congress to include in that bill the precise language as passed by the House on Braille instruction and the use of Braille to be included in the Individualized Education Program of any child who is blind.
Resolution 96-06 was submitted by Rami Rabby and was voted no pass during the Sunday Afternoon Resolution Committee meeting.
Resolution 96-07 was submitted by Linwood Gallagher and was voted no pass during the Sunday afternoon Resolutions Committee meeting.
WHEREAS, the authority for programs under title I and other important sections of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is presently scheduled to expire on September 30, 1997; and
WHEREAS, the upcoming reauthorization of programs under the Rehabilitation Act will be occurring at a time when the very existence of many federal programs has been called into question by a number of Congressional leaders; and
WHEREAS, during the first session of the 104th Congress the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunity in the U. S. House of Representatives recommended a merger of the vocational rehabilitation program with job training, education, and other programs for unemployed people; and
WHEREAS, this proposal was turned back only at the last minute on the floor of the House of Representatives when an amendment to remove the vocational rehabilitation program from the consolidation requirements was approved against the express position taken by the responsible House committee leaders; and
WHEREAS, the impetus for consolidation of federal programs has been an effort to reduce federal spending under the guise of turning responsibility for program organization and management completely over to state and local governments; and
WHEREAS, reforming the vocational rehabilitation program so that consumer responsiveness and client choice can prevail over claims of bureaucratic necessity is long overdue, but submerging the program into the generic job training system would not achieve this goal and would sacrifice the identifiable service-delivery system which now exists: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization urge the Congress to reaffirm the commitment to specialized services by maintaining leadership within the federal government over statewide and identifiable public vocational rehabilitation agencies; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization continue to serve as an advocate for an identifiable vocational rehabilitation service-delivery system throughout the coming debate over reauthorization of programs under the Rehabilitation Act.
WHEREAS, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides skills training, and other adjustment services to blinded veterans through specialized centers which are located in Tucson, Arizona; Birmingham, Alabama; West Haven, Connecticut; Palo Alto, California; Hines, Illinois; and San Juan, Puerto Rico; and
WHEREAS, orientation and mobility training is a significant adjustment service provided to those attending the centers in almost every case; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Veterans Affairs has made a conscious policy determination that, regardless of ability or qualifications, all totally blind individuals must be excluded from teaching orientation and mobility to the blind, whether as full instructors or as interns-in- training; and
WHEREAS, the general counsel of the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued a memorandum under date of October 23, 1995, which attempts to justify the Department's position by concluding that "... totally blind `O and M' instructors pose a significant risk of harm to their students due to their inability to correct improper techniques, to monitor and accurately report events, and to react quickly enough to events and situations so as to avoid placing the blind student in dangerous situations"; and
WHEREAS, the general counsel's conclusions are purportedly based on facts but are actually nothing more than a prejudicial restatement of the position taken by certain sighted professionals who feel the need to be superior and cannot accept the fact that blind people can teach other blind people to travel with independence and safety: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization condemn and deplore the Department of Veterans Affairs' policy of excluding totally blind people from employment or internship training as instructors in orientation and mobility for the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, in view of the cabinet- level status of the Department of Veterans Affairs, this organization bring the Department's policy against blind mobility instructors to the attention of President Clinton and others responsible for coordination of federal, domestic, and civil rights policies with the request that the policy against blind mobility instructors be withdrawn.
WHEREAS, public transportation provides thousands of blind Americans the freedom of movement essential to lead active, productive lives; and
WHEREAS, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) consolidates federal assistance for highway and public transportation, giving states and localities greater responsibility and flexibility to use federal funds for road and/or transit projects; and
WHEREAS, federal transit support includes capital grants based on local matching funds, as well as operating assistance for all modes--"fixed-route" bus, rail, paratransit, and subsidized taxi service; and
WHEREAS, Amtrak operates long-distance, regional, and corridor train service and has contractual arrangements to operate commuter train service for several transit systems throughout the country; and
WHEREAS, Amtrak already has curtailed daily service to tri-weekly on several routes and has eliminated portions of other routes, while raising fares; and
WHEREAS, Amtrak expects federal operating assistance to phase out by the year 2,000 but projects the need for ongoing capital assistance: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization strongly support the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, calling for continued federal capital and operating assistance, while maintaining state and local responsibility and flexibility to determine transportation projects and allocate federal funds accordingly; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call for continued federal assistance to Amtrak.
WHEREAS, Congress has enacted the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which includes provisions that require telecommunications services and equipment to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, guidelines which define access by persons with disabilities in the context of telecommunications will initially be developed by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board and will be subject to final review and enforcement by the Federal Communications Commission; and
WHEREAS, ready access to telecommunications services ` individuals since information necessary for work, entertainment, and social interaction is rapidly becoming available for distribution only through various telecommunications networks; and
WHEREAS, exclusion from the means of communication which is widely available to and in general use by most people would lead to intolerable forms of isolation and segregation of blind people from the rest of our modern society; and
WHEREAS, the guidelines and standards issued must avoid these conditions by requiring the use of effective access alternatives, including alternatives in which vision is not needed to navigate through or control elements in the telecommunications system in order to identify, retrieve, or benefit from the information available: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization insist upon a policy of equal access to telecommunications services and equipment which must, because of the nature of the technology involved, include requirements for equivalent, parallel access for non-visual use whenever access is otherwise achieved primarily by visual means; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we invite leaders in the telecommunications industry to work directly with the National Federation of the Blind in order to implement the equal access--including parallel access--standards established.
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind promotes security, equality, and opportunity for the blind; and
WHEREAS, the Federation promotes gatherings of blind persons including blind children, parents of blind children, and sighted supporters of the blind at local, state, and national conventions in order to increase positive attitudes toward blindness and blind people both in the blind community and throughout society as a whole; and
WHEREAS, one of the means by which the Federation increases positive attitudes toward blindness and blind people is by promoting respect for blind people; and
WHEREAS, the Seeing Eye, Inc., has been attending Federation conventions for the past twenty-five years, and has for the past twenty-three years availed itself of Federation convention facilities to hold an annual breakfast for its graduates, at no cost to the graduates; and
WHEREAS, Seeing Eye representatives have been able to reduce their hotel costs by at least two-thirds by taking advantage of Federation hotel rates, even though many Seeing Eye staff members have consistently been unwilling to pay the nominal registration fee (currently ten dollars) paid by all who attend Federation conventions; and
WHEREAS, because of rising convention costs the Federation finds it necessary to charge vendors, agencies, and all other non-member groups a fee for the use of meeting rooms for their activities at Federation conventions; and
WHEREAS, the Seeing Eye has refused to pay the fee and has refused to deal with the Federation directly but instead has begun the practice of holding its breakfasts for Seeing Eye graduates and guests at a neighboring hotel, this despite the fact that the Seeing Eye is the richest guide dog school in the United States, having millions of dollars at its disposal; and
WHEREAS, at the 1995 NFB Convention in Chicago the Seeing Eye attempted to undermine the Federation by engaging in subterfuge in planning and holding its breakfast outside the hotel, in that it singled out its graduates and surreptitiously provided them with information about the time and location of its breakfast, thereby attempting to create a schism between its graduates and other members of the National Federation of the Blind; and
WHEREAS, in the Spring/Summer, 1996, issue of Harness Up!, a publication of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, the Seeing Eye was warned that the Federation would no longer tolerate such behavior and that the Federation would no longer announce or sanction Seeing Eye breakfasts if they were to be held secretly and outside Federation convention premises; and
WHEREAS, during the registration period at the 1996 annual meeting of the National Association of Guide Dog Users at the NFB Convention, the Seeing Eye again engaged in subterfuge and trickery, handing out Braille information concerning the location of its breakfast in such a way as to take advantage of the fact that the majority of the members of the Division, being blind, would not be able to see what Seeing Eye staff members were doing; and
WHEREAS, the breakfast was held the following day at the Marriott Hotel, causing discomfort to Seeing Eye graduates and others who attended, because it was clear that the Seeing Eye was attempting to disrupt Federation activities by trying to isolate its graduates from the other members of the Federation; and
WHEREAS, these reprehensible practices of the Seeing Eye are an insult to the organized blind of this country and a calculated act of hostility toward the Federation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that the National Federation of the Blind express its extreme displeasure with the behavior of the Seeing Eye and its staff members; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, if this situation cannot be amicably resolved, the President of the National Federation of the Blind be authorized and instructed to call for and organize picketing of Seeing Eye headquarters in order to inform the general public that, while the Seeing Eye trains and provides guide dogs and instruction in their use, its attitude toward blind people and the organized blind movement of the nation is characterized by contempt and disrespect; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, if no resolution of this problem can be achieved, we give the broadest possible publicity to this cavalier behavior toward the blind by the Seeing Eye; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Seeing Eye.
Resolution 96-13 was submitted by Peter Donahue and was voted no pass by the Resolutions Committee during its Sunday afternoon meeting.
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act declares that an unambiguous priority is legally in effect to give blind persons the right to operate vending facilities on federal property; and
WHEREAS, property under the control of the United States Postal Service is specifically identified as falling within the priority assigned by law to blind vendors; and
WHEREAS, in spite of these provisions of federal law, officials of the Postal Service have acknowledged that a new initiative (described as "experimental") is underway in which, as a departure from existing Postal Service policy, vending machines dispensing Coca-Cola products have been installed in customer lobbies of some Postal Service facilities; and
WHEREAS, a memorandum marked "Highly Confidential" sent to U. S. bottlers of Coca-Cola products from a Coca-Cola USA Operations office in Atlanta, Georgia, confirms the initiative occurring at Postal Service sites, describing the project as a "strategic alliance which is expected to result in a ten-year agreement to provide Postal Service customers with Coca-Cola products through full-service vending"; and
WHEREAS, the strategic alliance envisioned by Congress in enacting the Randolph-Sheppard Act was to result in opportunities for blind people to serve the food and beverage needs of Postal Service customers and employees, in preference to a direct relationship between the Postal Service and any particular bottler of soft drinks: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization file an official protest with the United States Postal Service concerning its use of full-service vending through Coca-Cola or any other commercial bottler of soft-drinks in lieu of first making plans to provide sales opportunities to blind vendors; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization enlist the active support of members of Congress and officials in the executive branch who have oversight responsibilities to ensure that the priority for blind persons to operate vending facilities (including vending machines) at Postal Service sites is strictly enforced.
WHEREAS, the priority granted by the Randolph-Sheppard Act to blind persons for the operation of vending facilities applies to any building, land, or other real property which is owned, leased, or occupied by any department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States; and
WHEREAS, the priority under the plain language of the law applies to public land areas of the United States, including national parks and other recreation, tourist, or other public-use facilities; and
WHEREAS, proposals pending in Congress would promote the competitive awarding of business opportunities in national parks and public land areas as a means of raising revenues for the federal government; and
WHEREAS, changes in federal laws and regulations regarding concessions policies must protect and promote application of the Randolph-Sheppard Act priority for blind vendors: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization urge the Congress to include fulfillment of the priority granted by the Randolph-Sheppard Act as an affirmative duty in legislation to reform concessions policies in public land and national park areas; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the responsible officials and agencies of the executive branch to adopt regulations which will expand opportunities for blind vendors in national parks and public land areas.
WHEREAS, the 1992 amendments to the federal Rehabilitation Act created a new federal mandate for state rehabilitation agencies to have advisory councils, directing that the membership of such advisory councils must consist of at least one person representing the following: (a) the statewide independent living council, (b) parent training and information centers, (c) the client assistance program, (d) vocational rehabilitation counselors, (e) community rehabilitation program service providers, (f) a parent of an individual with a disability, (g) representatives from business, industry, and labor, (h) a current or former client of the agency, and (i) representation from blind consumers; and
WHEREAS, advisory councils, which existed in many states prior to the 1992 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, have included requirements for a significant number of the council members to be selected from organized consumer groups; and
WHEREAS, the 1992 federal requirements have resulted in diminishing opportunities for elected representatives from consumer organizations to serve on advisory councils; and
WHEREAS, this situation is best exemplified by changes made in the advisory councils in Washington state and Mississippi, where organized blind consumers have lost their majority representation on the advisory councils in favor of the selection of individuals who, in most instances, actually represent no one but themselves and are not accountable to the blind in the state: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization condemn and deplore requirements for advisory councils which have undermined the voice of the blind in agencies for the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon the Congress of the United States to amend the Rehabilitation Act to ensure that representatives of organizations of the blind are the majority voice on advisory councils of state rehabilitation agencies serving the blind.
WHEREAS, in a letter sent to the National Federation of the Blind under date of June 3, 1996, the President of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) referred to specialized programs which serve the blind as "segregated services" and programs which serve a general disability clientele without specialization as "integrated programs"; and
WHEREAS, use of the term "integrated setting" in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is meant to express the goal of integrating persons with disabilities into employment and other programs open to all, regardless of disability; and
WHEREAS, the goal of achieving integration into society can best be advanced by programs which meet the relevant, specialized needs of blind people; and
WHEREAS, "integrated setting" as used in the Rehabilitation Act does not imply that independent living centers are necessarily more integrated than other rehabilitation programs and, in fact, they are not; and
WHEREAS, the characterization of specialized services for the blind as "segregated" and general programs as "integrated" is a value judgment by NCIL which only reflects that particular organization's avowed bias against specialized programs for the blind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization condemn and deplore the view of the National Council on Independent Living that specialization of services constitutes any form of segregation, harmful or otherwise; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we reaffirm the longstanding policy of this organization to preserve and create wherever possible a specialized approach to services for the blind provided by identifiable and consumer- responsive agencies.
Resolution 96-18 was submitted by Linwood Gallagher and was voted no pass by the committee at its Sunday afternoon meeting.
WHEREAS, title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of disability; and
WHEREAS, employers who are covered by the Act are required and expected to provide equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in regard to matters such as hiring, work assignments, promotions, training, career development, and other conditions of employment; and
WHEREAS, use of modern computer technology has become the norm in the American workplace to such an extent that competitive performance of employees often depends upon their ability to receive and process information provided solely by electronic means; and
WHEREAS, computer technology provided to blind people in the workplace is often substandard and is frequently not equipped to integrate into the networks or systems that sighted employees use, resulting in time and opportunities lost due to artificial barriers; and
WHEREAS, the limitations imposed upon blind employees by technology barriers have not been addressed as discriminatory employment practices, although lack of opportunity can clearly be documented as a systemic problem affecting a significant percentage of blind people who work: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization petition the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to establish a clear and non-discriminatory employment policy to address the widespread condition of technology barriers that adversely affect equal employment opportunities for people who are blind.
WHEREAS, the Social Security Administration has an avowed goal of encouraging Disability Insurance beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income recipients to attempt to work and eventually leave the rolls due to work activity; and
WHEREAS, officials of the Social Security Administration continue to voice great frustration about the fact that less than one percent of the beneficiaries actually leave the rolls annually due to work activity; and
WHEREAS, procedures used by the Social Security Administration reflect a non-work presumption and rely almost exclusively on after-the-fact corrections if beneficiaries report work; and
WHEREAS, the after-the-fact procedures for reconciling work activity issues leave beneficiaries in considerable confusion and doubt as to their status in regard to continued eligibility or the possibility of liability for an overpayment caused by working; and
WHEREAS, uncertainty and the fear of consequences lead beneficiaries to mistrust work incentives and not to use them as a result: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization reaffirm its position that use of work incentives by persons who receive Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits largely depends upon creating work report and benefit adjustment procedures that anticipate work activity and seek to minimize the after-the-fact consequences that can be caused by earnings; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we enlist the cooperation of the Social Security Administration in jointly planning a work reporting system that assists beneficiaries by providing them with workable and responsive procedures to maximize, not penalize, their productive efforts.
WHEREAS, a planned and orchestrated effort has been underway in the United States to give states and governors more discretion in the organization of many tax-supported programs; and
WHEREAS, the exercise of greater discretion in organizing service-delivery systems at the state level frequently means program consolidation, which can often occur with very little regard or forethought given to the specific mission of particular agencies; and
WHEREAS, programs which serve target populations, such as the relatively small programs that provide vocational rehabilitation and other essential services to the blind, are predictably placed at great risk when the tide of program consolidation begins to rise within a state; and
WHEREAS, examples of the consolidation efforts underway can be seen in the states of Georgia and Kentucky, where in both instances plans were quietly made administratively to merge identifiable service-delivery structures so that personnel and programs exclusively devoted to serving the blind would be shared and merged with other, more general disability-related services for alleged reasons of efficiency; and
WHEREAS, combining agencies which have the focused responsibility of serving blind people with programs with a far less precise mission and a far more diverse clientele defeats the purpose of efficiency and results in growing dependency caused by lack of relevant service: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization call upon political leaders in the states to preserve and strengthen a service-delivery structure for blind people which provides both personnel and programs with clear lines of accountability for serving their identified, specialized needs.
WHEREAS, the Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) is an important feature of the Supplemental Security Income program, allowing SSI recipients to designate a portion of their income or resources for use in achieving self-support goals; and
WHEREAS, fulfilling the PASS often involves participation in education or training opportunities which begin at fixed times with enrollment dependent on the fixed schedule, rather than waiting for the Social Security Administration to complete the evaluation of a PASS; and
WHEREAS, the Social Security Administration has recently established centralized procedures for evaluating and approving all PASS applications, rather than allowing personnel in the local Social Security offices to approve PASS applications; and
WHEREAS, submission of all PASS applications to approval through a centralized process in all instances is bureaucratically rigid and, at a minimum, is likely to result in substantial delays with training opportunities postponed for the sole reason that the paperwork is not yet finished so that the PASS can begin: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fifth day of July, 1996, in the City of Anaheim, California, that this organization urge the Social Security Administration to adopt expedited procedures for obtaining approval of PASS applications in critical cases; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, whether the processing of PASS applications continues to be centralized or not, we reaffirm and communicate to the Social Security Administration the position of this organization that a thirty-day prompt approval standard should be in effect for PASS applications, with the presumption that the PASS is approved if the application has not been acted upon within that time.