Photo of Deane Blazie

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Deane Blazie]

Attending Conventions:Deane Blazie Makes a Statement

From the Editor: In a field as comparatively small and inbred as the blindness field, a number of producers and vendors seem to struggle over the question of identification with one or other of the consumer groups. Not surprisingly, loyal members of each group would like to believe that their favorite suppliers agree with them about the various issues on which the NFB and ACB frequently disagree.

A company—or even an agency—may require that its employees have nothing to do with either group, but such a policy is not very sensible. The result is not the objectivity, which was presumably intended, but fence-sitting of a particularly uncomfortable and cowardly sort. Blind and sighted employees alike, if they are worth their salt, should know about and have views on the issues big and small that shape the lives of their blind customers.

Having personal opinions and convictions, however, need not affect the quality of the service or equipment provided. When Dr. Jernigan was Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, he constantly made it clear that the group affiliation of a blind consumer of agency services would never determine the excellence of the services provided by his staff. In fact, it seems to me that employees should be reprimanded for showing bias of any kind because of politics in the field. I have no personal knowledge of what effect ACB affiliation has on the general quality of service delivery by its members employed in the field, but over and over again I have observed NFB members go more than the extra mile to help a blind customer just because of their own personal commitment to the concept that every blind person should have the chance to succeed.

Last spring Deane Blazie and Blazie Engineering began receiving pronounced criticism for their corporate decision not to attend the ACB convention again in 1998. On June 15 Mr. Blazie finally made a statement of his position in an open letter which he put on the Blazie Engineering listserv. It is an articulate statement of an eminently sensible corporate policy. Here it is:

Dear Customers,

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about Blazie Engineering's decision not to participate in the ACB convention the last two years. There have been e-mails, letters, Internet discussions, stories, and proclamations. Many of them have been thoughtful and serious; many of the questions have been probing; many of the complaints courteous.

Not all of it has been nice, of course. In any controversy there is rumor, error, innuendo, and misinformation. Some of it arises from heartfelt passion, some of it to further personal and professional agendas. In the hope of answering the questions and to help in putting the record straight, I want to take this opportunity to respond and tell our side of the story.

First, however, I want to make a critical point. The issues involving NFB and ACB have no connection to the relationship Blazie Engineering has with its customers. I don't like wasting words, and I don't like repeating myself, but this point is too important to pass over lightly: The issues involving NFB and ACB have no connection to the relationship Blazie Engineering has with its customers. None.

The relationship we have with our customers is the centerpiece of our business. It is the reason we have survived and prospered. Making a good product is not enough. You must build trust, create customers that become lifelong friends, and you must listen to the people you serve.

We do.

We DO NOT ask anyone whether they belong to one organization or another. We ask them how we can help, and that is all we ask because that is all we need to know.

The suggestion that our support of NFB affects how we do business is, at best, disingenuous. At worst it is an attempt to force us to change our position by frightening our customers. It won't work because we believe in the rightness of our decision and because our customers know better. I am sorry but not surprised to see this tactic used, but anyone who knows us knows how shallow the charge is.

Now that we have gotten that nonissue out of the way, we can get to the question at hand: Why has Blazie Engineering chosen not to attend the ACB convention for the past two years?

To understand the answer, you need to know a little bit about me and about the origins of Blazie Engineering. I promise to keep this part short, but it is important. My introduction to electronics and to the special world of the blind started when I was a boy in Frankfort, Kentucky, and made friends with a remarkable man—Tim Cranmer—a name some of you will recognize. That friendship was one of the most important in my life, and I learned a great deal from it. Most important in the long run, perhaps, was the role it had in helping me develop a political and personal philosophy.

Slightly less than twenty years ago I made my first computer for the blind, and just over ten years ago I made the first Braille 'n Speak. In fact, I made ten of them, using all the money I had, and I took them to the NFB convention. From a business point of view I suppose the story is that I came home with all ten of them sold and with enough orders to start the business for real. But I came away with a lot more than just orders. I made friends. I got advice. I got support. Anyone who has built a business knows that these things are as valuable in their own way as orders.

I also found kindred spirits, people who had the same views as I did about being advocates for the blind, people who were committed to the same goals and ideals that Tim and I had discussed. I had found my place.

Blazie Engineering grew up with the NFB. Over time the relationship strengthened, and we found ourselves active and eager participants in many of their projects. We have supported their goals. We believe it is an important and effective organization.

Last year we had our ten-year celebration at the NFB convention. Because of the commitment that required from us, we decided we could not attend the ACB convention. The ACB responded by passing a proclamation attacking Blazie Engineering. I still do not know why they did that—don't understand why they would have bothered.

I did not seek to be caught in the conflict between ACB and NFB, but I am. Contrary to some of the charges that have been made, this is not a business decision. And this is not just about loyalty. This is a personal and philosophical decision. I have always been a Federationist. I believe in the organization. It is the most active, aggressive, effective, and important spokesman for the blind in the world.

ACB is largely a social organization. It is unfortunate, but I believe it siphons off energy and resources from NFB. Despite their proclamation, I harbor no animus or ill will toward the organization, and I remain personal friends with many of its members. But there can be no question about which organization I support. In the end I am not doing this because I was caught in the middle; I am doing it because it is the right thing to do.

I know my position will not satisfy every person. Any time you find yourself trying to make everyone happy, you can be sure that you are doing something wrong. It isn't personal. I respect the people who disagree with me, and I hope they return the feeling.

Deane Blazie President, Blazie Engineering, Inc.