Braille Monitor                                    July 2018

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Everette Bacon
(Rehabilitation Professional, Husband, and Sports Enthusiast)

Everette BaconEverette Bacon was born in Huntington Beach, California, in July of 1970. He was born to Arvil and Patricia in a naval hospital since his father was in the navy.

At the age of five Everette's uncle noticed that there was something wrong with his eyes, a condition his father had not noticed and one which his mother and other female relatives didn't observe because blindness ran in their family. Everette was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy, a condition inherited from his mother's side which went back for thirteen generations, causing rapid-onset blindness. Despite the diagnosis, his family took the advice of teachers and medical experts, believing—or, more accurately, hoping—that since Everette was male and his vision was not deteriorating rapidly like that of other family members, he was unlikely to go blind. As a result, he did not learn Braille or other alternative techniques during his school years. Instead he learned to avoid reading as much as he reasonably could. He became an excellent listener and simply took his lumps when it came to grades that suffered because he could not read long enough to make it seem reasonable to him. "I liked what I read with my eyes, but the pain and the eye fatigue always won out. It caused me to be a fairly average student, and that's unfortunate because I had more aptitude than the average student."

Everette got along well with his schoolmates in his school, most people not knowing he had a severe vision problem and was in fact legally blind. "I think I learned how to fake it before I knew what faking it meant," he says.

When Everette was around eighteen his family moved to Texas. He pursued a degree in church music at Dallas Baptist University. He jokes that he was pushed toward music because "you know, blind people sing." His first job was teaching a seventh grade choir, but he found it not to his liking. Searching for other employment, Everette ultimately accepted a management position with Blockbuster Video in 1997. He was very successful in this position, winning several awards and steady promotions. By 2004 he was managing ten stores in the Houston area.

Everette's eye condition began to worsen, and instead of giving up, he adapted by using alternative techniques. "I started carrying a cane, mainly for identity, but I was using it when I felt I needed it. I was never embarrassed or ashamed about becoming blind, because I grew up around blind people; adapting was something you just became accustomed to doing." However, when he asked for reasonable accommodations from his employer, instead of granting these, Blockbuster terminated his employment despite his outstanding record. The company even went so far as to describe Everette's conduct as "fraudulent," implying that he had deceived the company about his capabilities, even though he had previously been praised and awarded for his work.

This experience traumatized Everette and his family. His wife, mother, and other family members sent angry emails to everyone they could, urging readers to avoid shopping at Blockbuster based on discrimination against the blind. One of these emails found its way to Scott LaBarre, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and a successful disability rights attorney. Scott took Everette's case, and ultimately Everette received a settlement from Blockbuster. More importantly, though, he learned about the National Federation of the Blind and the many battles the organization has fought in the effort to advance and protect the civil rights of blind people. "I had heard of the Federation and been told that they were militant," Everette says, "but my experience taught me the importance of our advocacy. There are so many reasons to be proud of who we are as blind people, and the Federation has paved the way for our climb to the top of the mountain of civil rights!”

In 2004 Everette and his wife, Dr. Angela Peters, moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. Everette became involved in the Utah affiliate and developed what he describes as life-changing relationships with dedicated Federationists like Nick Schmittroth, Karl Smith, and Deja Powell. These friends helped Everette improve his blindness skills and grow in the movement. Everette was also looking for new employment opportunities in Utah and heard about a job opening as a blindness skills teacher at the Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Everette remembers speaking with Ray Martin about the fact that he knew nothing about teaching blind people. Martin told him that being blind was the most important qualification. The agency supported Everette in his pursuit of a master's degree in rehabilitation. He went from teaching technology to supervising the technology staff, and he now serves as the agency's field services coordinator, overseeing all of the agency's technology and employment services, supervising a staff of nine.

Everette began advocating for Utah's blind residents with an effort to encourage a prominent local cinema chain to incorporate audio description technology into its theaters so that blind people who wanted to experience movies with audio description could do so. An avid movie fan with an extensive collection dating from his Blockbuster days, he believes that audio description can enable blind people to connect more easily with their sighted peers when discussing entertainment. "One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from the NFB is the understanding that blending in to society is an important skill. Being able to relate to our sighted colleagues about movies, television, politics, and sports are excellent paths to opportunities that help change common misconceptions about blindness."

So how did he convince the cinema chain to spend the money? His pitch was simple: if you do this, you will attract more blind people, and we'll make it worth your while in terms of the publicity we get you for your efforts. The project was phenomenally successful—blind people got audio description, the publicity was significant, and the Federation had found a man with capability who could ask for, take on, and complete an assignment with flying colors.

In addition to serving on the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors since 2015 and as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah since 2012, he also serves as the organization's representative on the Federal Communications Commission Disability Advisory Committee.

Of course Everette does much more in his life than work for a living and work as an advocate. He is married to Dr. Angela Peters, a medical doctor whom Everette is proud to have helped support through medical school. Everette and Angela have a love for music, and a funny story around music brought them together. “In my junior year of college I had to practice piano, and I loved to play—badly—on the huge grand piano. One evening I was practicing, and I heard someone else doing the same in one of the small practice rooms with the lights off. I wanted to know who it was, so I went over to the window of the door and tried to peer in even though it was pretty dark. My future wife suddenly opened the door, and I practically fell into her arms! After my initial embarrassment, we started talking, and the rest is history.”

Everette’s “Angel” is his best friend and is very supportive of his work in the NFB. She has attended eight national conventions with Everette and hopes that they will be attending together for many years to come.   

Everette loves to work on his deck, and although he is not good at yard work, his wife Angela is very good at yard projects and is equally good at helping him know what needs to be done. He loves baseball, fantasy sports, and his two dogs that he fondly refers to as his children. In his future he hopes to skydive, visit Europe, and see a musical on Broadway. Thanks to the NFB and an opportunity to test some new descriptive audio software, he attended the musical Chicago right before this article was sent to the Braille Monitor.

So what has the Federation done to change Everette’s life and his perceptions of his place in the world? "I always thought blind people were capable of doing things, of being a part, but I never thought that we could lead things, control things, be in charge of extremely important projects with large budgets. I always thought blind people were great soldiers or fantastic worker bees doing whatever they were told, but I never thought blind people could lead in the way the NFB brought that to me. Until I met the organization I never knew how significantly blind people were changing policy, changing the law, changing the way businesses behaved, and changing the overall accessibility of the world. I've never lacked for inner-confidence, but I never understood how ambitious I could be as a blind person. I used to think that my difference meant there was a limit to what I could strive to be, but no more."

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