National Federation of the Blind
Dallas, Texas, July 3, 1990
by Marc Maurer
At the fiftieth anniversary of our founding as a nationwide civil rights organization of blind people, the National Federation of the Blind has the enthusiasm, the know-how, and the determination to meet the problems faced by the blind and to ensure that we go the rest of the way to independence and equality. In 1980, only ten years ago, we had only recently established the National Center for the Blind. Today, this facility, fashioned by the blind of the nation, is unparalleled in the field of work with the blind. But a building, even the most impressive and practical of structures, is only valuable if it is used. As the nerve center and headquarters for all our efforts, the National Center for the Blind gets an astonishing amount of use. In slightly more than ten years we have built a facility which is admired by our friends and envied by others. In fifty years we have built an organization with enough understanding and enough power to cause similar responses.
Early in May Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind and Editor of the Braille Monitor, was invited to participate in a press conference to interview President George Bush at the White House. Dr. Jernigan asked President Bush about civil rights for the blind in air travel. The final results from this meeting are not yet known. However, for the first time in the history of the United States civil rights for the blind are being addressed by the chief executive of our nation. Never before in history have these matters been regarded by so many as so important. They have become significant because of the efforts of the blind throughout the nationbecause of the collective action of the National Federation of the Blind.
In June the United States Senate voted on a motion for cloture involving our Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act. Civil rights legislation for the blind has sometimes been a minor part of much larger legislative packages. However, this bill is focused entirely on the right of blind people to be treated as equals with the sighted in air transportation. It is totally and completely ours. The United States Senate had this civil rights bill as its pending business for several days. In the neighborhood of two percent of the legislative year of the Senate has been devoted to equal opportunity for the blind. To be successful the cloture petition required not a simple majority but sixty percent of the entire Senate. Fifty-six senators cast their votes with us. There are those who believe that the failure of this motion to be adopted will stop us from achieving the right to travel by air without harassment--that the discriminatory regulations adopted earlier this year by the Federal Aviation Administration will remain unchallengedbut you and I know better. The tactics we use may change, but the strategy will remain the same. Our objective is to win full first-class status for the blind, and we will find a way to do it.
In the 1950s we were battling for the right to be considered for employment in the civil service. In the 1990s it is the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration that are trying to insist that the blind are second-class. We lost in the original civil service confrontations, but hundreds of us are employed by the government today. The motion for cloture did not pass, but more than half of the Senate voted for it. And there will be a time when discrimination against the blind in air travel will be a thing of the past. The question is not whetherbut when.
In the October issue of McCall's magazine there appeared a full-length feature article about the National Federation of the Blind, concentrating on the work of the President. Personal details of my home and family life helped to fill out the story and provide background. How often we have said that the blind aspire to have a home, a family, and the responsibilities of citizenship. This article describes one family in which these aspirations have become a reality. I am informed that this article will have been circulated to more than fifteen million people.
Shortly after the McCall's story, the Maurer family was interviewed on a program called "Parent Survival Guide," broadcast by Lifetime Television cable network. Being disseminated to forty-nine million homes, this interview was shown once in the early fall and again just before Christmas.
On April 25, 1990, the Wall Street Journal carried a report about blind people in business. Although the blind have very often been the victims of discrimination in the job market, we have frequently been able to demonstrate our capacity by establishing our own businesses. The Wall Street Journal reported this success. Discrimination cannot stop us. We will find a way to circumvent it. For many of us the method is a company or an enterprise of our own. The headline of the article is, "For the Blind, Business Ownership Opens a Closed Door: Entrepreneurship Rises Along With Self-Esteem and Lender Confidence." The first three paragraphs of the Wall Street Journal article set the tone. Glenn Crosby, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas and a member of the national Board of Directors, is featured. Here are those paragraphs:
Like many other small-business owners in Houston, Glenn M. Crosby had to retrench in the wake of the Texas oil slump. Having sold or closed three restaurants, he is left with only one.
But his Mr. C Sandwich Shop earns a profit, and is the source of considerable pride. "I have survived, while a lot of sighted people in the same business have not," says Mr. Crosby, who is blind.
Many blind people such as Mr. Crosby are becoming entrepreneurs these days. Like other minorities before them, they are finding that entrepreneurship can create opportunities for people who otherwise might have found the door shut.
This spirit of independence is what makes us the unstoppable movement we are. This belief in ourselves has helped to shape our organization, the National Federation of the Blind.
We were also mentioned in the letters to the editor column of the Newsweek magazine for May 7, 1990. Newsweek had printed a story called, "Making the Most of Sight." The basic assumption of the report was that technology can be of great help in making those with a little remaining eyesight competitive. Strongly implied is the notion that if you can't see enough to use this technology, your ability to perform diminishes dramatically. According to the reporter, for those who are really blind there is virtually no hope. Also implied is the idea that techniques used by the blind are inferior.
Of course, these implications are false. They mislead the public into believing that the important factor for a blind person is the machinery available rather than the talent of the individual. Our experience demonstrates that a well-trained blind person can (using Braille and other techniques) compete effectively with the sighted. In the May 7, 1990, issue of Newsweek, we responded to the negative tone and substance of the earlier report in a letter to the editor. Our position was clearly articulated by Mr. Miller, an employee of the National Federation of the Blind.
No group of people can become a consolidated entity without traditiona sense of historyan understanding of where it is going and what its members are within the structure of society. Because this is so, one of the most exciting events of the last year is the publication of the most thorough history of the organized blind ever to be compiled. Our book (Walking Alone and Marching Together, by Dr. Floyd Matson) contains the facts not merely about those who have done work with the blind, but also about the blind themselves, organized to take collective action and accomplish common goals. Consisting of over 1,100 print pages, Walking Alone and Marching Together acknowledges the work that has been done by the agencies for the blind. But it also does something elsesomething more importantsomething that has never been done in the history of the blind. It tells of the actions of the blind themselves as an organized movementof our growth as a force and our emergence as a people. It tells of our struggles for equality, of the problems we have faced, and the achievements we have made. It is fitting that this book (costly as it has been to print) should be published by the organized blind, for it is our storythe story of the blind of Americathe story of the National Federation of the Blind.
This past winter the Director of Public Affairs for the Pepsi Cola Company came to the National Center for the Blind to ask for our advice and assistance. Pepsi was planning to produce and distribute an advertisement in which the principal character is the blind musician, Ray Charles. In the course of the meeting to discuss the ad, a number of plans were reviewed for making commercials that depict the blind as the normal, practical, independent people we are. The portrayal of the blind in television commercials and on television programs has such an enormous impact upon our public image that it is of vital importance to help shape the impression being created. There are still descriptions of the blind on television which are not as positive as they could be. However, in our advisory role to companies such as Pepsi Cola, we can do much to change the focus and alter the image presented by the networks.
It is to be expected that major American companies will increasingly seek our advice in planning advertising campaigns that depict the blind. Our own public service spots blanket the airwaves. In the neighborhood of one and one-half million dollars' worth of airtime was contributed to the National Federation of the Blind during the last year. These announcements help to educate the public about the ability of the blind. They tell employers that we can work, educators that we can participate in the classroom, and the public at large that our hopes and dreams are the same as those of the sighted. Our battle is one for understanding in the minds of those who make up this society. Much of what we do can be done most effectively by public education. Our campaign to distribute public service announcements is among the most important undertakings that we have, and it is bringing results.
Our interaction with other organizations dealing with blindness from throughout the world continues to be productive. In the past year Dr. Jernigan, as President of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, attended meetings of the Executive Committee of that organization in England and in Poland. The delegates from the North America/Caribbean Region met at the National Center for the Blind last December to discuss matters of importance to the blind in this hemisphere and throughout the world. We were able to trade information about technological progress which is likely to be of assistance to blind job applicants here and abroad. Our spirit of self-determination is a constant source of stimulus to blindness organizations in other lands. As blind people throughout the world gain independence, it becomes easier for those in the United States to achieve first-class status too. Dr. Jernigan also traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, to help the blind of the West Indies by providing information about self-organization and by presenting a reading machine.
Because of our interaction with other groups we have been able to establish cooperative arrangements with organizations in the blindness field in our own country. The director of research of the American Foundation for the Blind participated in a meeting of our committee on research and development at the National Center for the Blind last winter. There was an exchange of ideas regarding the most effective technological devices to assist the deaf-blind. Sharing of information increases the rate of progress. The National Federation of the Blind is today, as it has been for a number of years, on the cutting edge in technology for the blind. If we really need to have a thing developed, we will find a way to get it builtand will probably do much of the groundwork ourselves. That is one more reason for the National Federation of the Blind.
For quite a number of years the relationship between the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress and the National Federation of the Blind has been one of harmony and partnership. In May Dr. Jernigan was invited to make a presentation to librarians from throughout the United States in the NLS network. Because reading is essential for education, the Books for the Blind Program may well be the single most important long-range service for the blind in the United States. As the methods for providing reading matter to the blind are further developed, and as new ways are established of delivering this vital service, we believe that the close working relationship we have with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped will also continue to develop and grow. The blind of America need good library service. The National Library Service is committed to providing it. When those responsible for government programs to serve the blind come to feel a spirit of community with the organized blind of America, the result is predictable and can be stated in a wordprogress.
Those who are losing vision visit the eye doctor to get their sight restored. If the doctor cannot fix the medical problem, the newly blinded person is dismissed from the care of the medical profession. Sometimes the newly blinded individual finds the organized blind movement, and sometimes not.
This spring we have begun work with Johns Hopkins University on two projects that should substantially increase our involvement with those in the medical profession. Johns Hopkins University Medical School is inviting members of the National Federation of the Blind to make presentations about our organization to classes of medical students. In addition, we are participating in a joint research project to examine the attitudes of eye doctors and other health care professionals toward their blind patients and clients and to quantify the advice being given by these practitioners. With greater understanding by the doctors that the National Federation of the Blind is an available resource, an increasing number of blind people will be stimulated toward independence without wasting months and years in unproductive, dreary inactivity. Until 1990 we have not concentrated substantial resources in the medical fieldbut we know that literally thousands of blind people are faced with demolished dreams and a dead end in the doctor's office. This need not be the case, and we are changing it. We who are blind know how to reconstruct shattered hopes. We have the means and the will to provide inspiration and facts to the people who believe that their blindness makes them incapable of conducting a normal existence. In fact, this is one of the major reasons we have created the National Federation of the Blind.
The Federation sponsors an insurance program for blind merchants. It has been in operation since the early eighties. Some time ago a few people decided to appropriate our insurance for their own use. We informed them that the National Federation of the Blind had created the program and that it could not be lifted for the benefit of private persons. A lawsuit was filed to protect the interests of the organized blind. After much maneuvering on the part of the defendants, we have been able to pin them down. The insurance program we have been supporting is again in the hands of those who sponsored it in the first place. We intend to retain what is ours. And one thing more. Sharp practices and devious methods will not be tolerated in programs that bear our name. The National Federation of the Blind insurance program for blind vendors and merchants is now fully in operation and available to those who need it.
There have been a number of cases this year involving civil rights of blind individuals. Dave Schuh is a blind accountant. Until the last day of 1989 he was working as a supervisor of accounting at a Pillsbury products plant in Denison, Texas. When he began to request certain job accommodations (such as a Kurzweil Personal Reader and other computer equipment), Pillsbury officials started planning for the elimination of his job. But his job ratings were excellent. Dave Schuh applied for several transfers to vacant positions at other Pillsbury locations. Despite his superior qualifications, he was not considered for any of these vacancies. Company rules say that preference is to be given to persons whose positions are eliminated, but the rules were ignored in this case.
Pillsbury, a large federal contractor, is required to take affirmative action in employing the handicapped. The evidence demonstrates unquestionably that it did not happen for Dave Schuh. We have proceeded with a complaint against Pillsbury on his behalf. We are demanding that the company correct its mistakes by paying back wages, offering him another job, and making certain accommodations. If Pillsbury officials persist in disregarding Dave Schuh's rights, all of their federal contracts are in jeopardy. Thus far, the complaint process is proceeding quite well. The Department of Labor has agreed with us. Pillsbury violated the law. The company will pay, or we will find a method for seeking enforcement of these federal findings. And there are those who ask why we have the National Federation of the Blind. Dave Schuh will have his rights, and we intend to see that he does.
Although Richard Frost had been performing the duties customarily demanded of a federal employee at the GS-11 level, he was only being paid the salary of a GS-9. He asked for promotions but was not awarded any. Several years ago, Richard Frost filed a complaint of discrimination against his employer, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. We represented him during most of the proceedings. The federal housing department has insisted that the negotiations be kept (as they would put it) "confidential." Despite this demand for secrecy, I can tell you that we reached a favorable resolution this spring. There is no longer a complaint against this federal agency. There is no longer a request for promotion and reassignment. There is no longer a demand for back pay. Richard Frost has told me that it is eminently worthwhile to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind. They may insist upon hiding the details, but we can handle ourselves when it comes to an argument, and we know how to promote the best interests of blind employees.
In Florida, Adam and Denise Shaible have been facing discrimination because they use dog guides. The Island Club Condominium Association in Fort Lauderdale insisted that they sign a special agreement as a condition of purchasing their condominium. This agreement demands that the private patio attached to their new home be converted to a dog run. Of course, such requirements are in violation of federal law. Nevertheless, they would have been imposed on the blind in Florida if there had not been an organization prepared to prevent it. A law which remains unenforced may be an interesting statement of social policy or a curiosity in the annals of the past. But we have the means and the will to put these statutory provisions into effectwe are the National Federation of the Blind.
Robert Gumson is a blind man living in Needham, Massachusetts. He has applied to be a day-care assistant. Based on fears about Mr. Gumson's blindness, the Massachusetts Office for Children has refused to issue him the necessary license. Officials have said that state regulations assume that supervision of children must be done by visual observation, but there is nothing in the regulations to substantiate this discriminatory claim. Mr. Gumson would have been licensed long ago if he had been sighted. Despite the evidence that he is fully able to perform the tasks of a day-care assistant, the Office for Children has remained adamant. Consequently, we are assisting with a complaint. In recent years we have won the right for blind people to work in the day-care business in Missouri, California, and elsewhere; and we intend to bring non-discrimination to Massachusetts. The Office for Children must realize that equal opportunity applies to the Northeast as much as it does to the central states or the Far West.
Last year I reported to you that we had commenced a lawsuit in South Carolina on behalf of Joe Urbanek. Carnival Cruise Lines had proclaimed a policy which discriminated against the blind. All blind persons were required either to be accompanied by attendants or to sign release forms waiving the legal protections usually available to travelers. When Joe Urbanek was told that he would have to sign such a release, he refused. As a result, the cruise line told him that he could not board their ship.
On December 21, 1989, a court decree ended the dispute. Liability releases will not be required. Blind passengers will not be treated differently from others. When Joe Urbanek asks for a ticket and pays the tab, he will receive the same courteous treatment as any other passenger. He will walk the deck of the cruise ship, and blindness will be no bar. This is the power of collective action, and Merry Christmas to Carnival Cruise Lines.
We are assisting the National Treasury Employees Union in a grievance on behalf of several blind employees of the Internal Revenue Service. Working conditions for the blind throughout the Internal Revenue Service will be affected. Blind information specialists were expected to answer questions about income tax law and regulations, but they were not given the necessary technical manuals in a usable form. This information is, of course, already available in the computer. However, it was not provided to the blind. Because blind workers were expected to use out-of-date documentation, their answers were sometimes incorrect. Officials in the Internal Revenue Service charged incompetence. However, the blind had been competently giving the answers that had been recorded in the out-of-date manuals they were given. We are currently taking steps to ensure that the materials are made available in a usable form and that the performance of the blind is judged by a reasonable and fair standard.
We continue to work in a number of areas to help blind people obtain quality rehabilitation services. One of the most effective ways to improve the rehabilitation system is to create a legislative mechanism which authorizes individual clients to select the agency that will provide their training. A bill which we initiated that is now pending in the House of Representatives would create the process for individual choice.
Early this spring hearings were held before the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. I expressed the views of the National Federation of the Blind concerning the urgency of the need for this legislation. A number of other blind witnesses also made presentations, and the hearing record is sprinkled with the testimony of Federation leaders from throughout the land. The result is that the Social Security Administration is now establishing a pilot program which has as one of its main features free choice of rehabilitation programs for Social Security beneficiaries.
Of course, if the errors committed by the agencies for the blind are simply adopted by Social Security, this pilot project will work no better than the current program of rehabilitation; but if Social Security really tests the concept of free choice (and I believe that it will), there should be a noticeable change. When blind people control their own lives, enlightened self-interest will do the rest.
James Storey and Catherine Monville receive services from the Maryland rehabilitation agency. Rehabilitation officials told them that they could not obtain training from centers operated by the National Federation of the Blind because those centers were outside of Maryland. But the rehabilitation services offered to the blind of Maryland are inadequate, so we filed appeals. Here are the results. Both James Storey and Catherine Monville are students at National Federation of the Blind centers, and the state of Maryland is paying the bill.
At our 1989 convention we adopted a resolution which declared that the Americans with Disabilities Act must not be employed as a vehicle to force the blind to use special rooms, equipment, and services modified for the handicapped unless they wished to do so. We said that if an amendment to this effect were not adopted, we would reluctantly oppose the bill. This new law is intended to be a comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability. It applies to employment, to public facilities, and to most private businesses. When it is implemented, the Americans with Disabilities Act could affect almost every activity of our lives.
Accommodation to the needs of the disabled is the underlying principle of the act. Rather than seeking equality of opportunity, this bill asks for alteration of existing businesses, programs, and facilities to achieve equality of result. This form of civil rights has not worked for us in the past. Programs that have been modified to accommodate the handicapped have often first been offered to us on a voluntary basis. Later, accommodated programs become mandatory.
On busses there are seats for the handicapped. Some bus drivers insist that the blind sit there or get off the bus. It is possible that hotel operators will set aside rooms for the handicapped that the blind are required to use. This could have been the result of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, an amendment was included in the bill which gives each of us the right to accept or reject any accommodation. This principle must be implemented in regulations developed under the act. If it is not, this civil rights statute could be used to establish restrictions which were not authorized by law until its enactment. However, we will monitor the progress of draft regulations, and we will insist on our right to participate on a basis of equality in programs established to serve the general public. The role of the National Federation of the Blind is to be a watchdog on the programs and activities designed to serve blind people. Nowhere is the need for our organization more strikingly demonstrated than in connection with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the name of civil rights we might have faced reduced opportunity, but our amendment has avoided this negative result. This is one more reason for the National Federation of the Blind.
Richard Skipper is a blind vendor in North Carolina. Laurie Eckery is employed by the Marriott Corporation in Nebraska. Tom Anderson has been a social worker, a clerical employee, and a dispatcher. He lives in Ohio. Tony Jaramillo has been employed for many years in the industries program of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. These blind people are among those who have received extensive assistance from the Federation in dealing with alleged Social Security overpayments during the past year. The amounts that Social Security was attempting to recover ranged from $7,000 to $60,000. In each of these cases the Social Security Administration has been forced to withdraw its claim of an overpayment. It is beneficial to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
Gladys Penney, who is 63 years old, has been blind since birth. She last received a paycheck in 1951. In 1979 she heard that she might be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. She applied, but her request was denied. The decision said that her Social Security coverage expired in September 1956 and that she was no longer qualified for disability benefits. Although Gladys Penney filed several applications for disability insurance after 1979, the results were always the same. Then, she learned of the National Federation of the Blind. We agreed to help. An additional hearing was held, and a decision has been reached. In its previous rulings on her claim the Social Security Administration had failed to apply the administrative provisions related to blindness. The denials would have been correct if Gladys had not been blind, but she is. We explained the applicable rules, and in March of this year the Social Security Administration paid Gladys Penney the benefits she should have had since 1979. She is presently receiving a Social Security check each month. The amount of her back payment was more than $23,000.
Pete Salas is a blind vendor at the federal building in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Several years ago he learned from the National Federation of the Blind that the Social Security rules defining substantial gainful activity probably made him eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance. With our help he applied, but his application was rejected. Following a hearing last fall he was awarded disability benefits. However on January 18, 1990, Pete Salas was officially notified that his claim was being reviewed by the Social Security Appeals Council in accordance with a request from the office of disability relations at Social Security headquarters. Their protest memorandum said that the hearing officer had made an error of law in failing to consider the extent of Pete Salas's work activity in conducting his vending business.
The Social Security Administration has always tested substantial gainful activity for blind people in terms of money. If the money received by a beneficiary is earned, and if there is enough of it, substantial gainful activity has occurred. If it has not been earned, or there is too little of it, substantial gainful activity has not occurred. In the first instance, benefits will be withheld. In the second, they will not.
An alteration of the test for substantial gainful activity as proposed in the Pete Salas case would cost hundreds of beneficiaries tens of thousands of dollars. Such a policy shift cannot be initiated without authorization by law. So we took action immediately. On March 26, 1990, the Appeals Council concluded its review, reinstated the hearing officer's decision, and ordered the Office of Disability Operations to process the claim. Pete Salas will be receiving continuing benefits, and he has been paid the money due himamounting to over $36,000. Furthermore, many blind people (most of whom have never even heard of this decision) have been protected.
In Colorado we have achieved total victory on behalf of all of the vendors of that state. Four years ago officials of the state agency for the blind announced that they would take the best vending facility in the state and divide it between two blind persons. In making this decision they arbitrarily exercised judgment about how much money a blind vendor should be allowed to earn. We could not afford to have such a limit imposed, so we took the matter to court. We obtained an injunction, and the facility was never divided. Administrative appeals and an arbitration followed. A settlement has now been achieved. The state must negotiate new regulations with the vendors if any facility is to be split in the future. The business will not be divided, and the Federation will be reimbursed for attorney fees.
We are working to uphold the rights of blind vendors in two other arbitrations involving the states of Minnesota and Michigan. The Minnesota case involves a long-standing dispute between the blind vendor program and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, formerly the Veterans Administration. Observance of the blind vendor priority at VA hospitals is at issue. In Michigan the arbitration involves application of the blind vendor priority at Postal Service sites. We have joined with the state agencies in these cases to secure the rights of blind vendors. Regardless of what some of our opponents may say, when state agencies step forward on behalf of the blind, we support and work with them. We are glad to have them stand with us and share our know-how and expertise.
Then, there is the State Department. As long as anybody can remember, the State Department has rejected all blind foreign service candidates on grounds of blindness. Rami Rabby successfully completed the Foreign Service written examination three times and the oral examination twice. The State Department responded by establishing a policy that no blind person could take the test. They said that there was no discrimination, that reading was necessary, and that sight was required for reading. Congressman Gerry Sikorski attended our convention last year. He pledged to work with us to open Foreign Service jobs to qualified blind persons. The Congressman was as good as his word. Last October, State Department officials announced at a hearing that they would abandon their policy of rejecting the blind, and they initiated discussions with Rami Rabby about a job. The commitment of the State Department has been firmly stated. Future applicants will not be disqualified because ofblindness. One more opportunity is available to the blind, and it happened because of the National Federation of the Blind.
These cases are an indication of the work that we do on an ongoing basis. There are many others. When it comes to civil rights for the blind, we are really the only ball game in town. Nobody else has the knowledge, the skill, the determination, and the conviction that we possess. Nobody else has the tenacity and the willingness to meet conflict half-way, or the ability to settle arguments with finality. We have a reputation, and we deserve it. Those who want a tough, resourceful advocate in matters dealing with the blind join hands with us; they become a part of the National Federation of the Blind.
This year we have completed installation of new elevators and finished other remodeling at the National Center for the Blind. Our complex of buildings in Baltimore is the finest of its kind in the nation. Our facilities have helped to make it possible to carry on the extensive programs of the Federation. Without them we would be much less effective. Our growth during the past ten years has been dramatic. We are operating more programs today and assisting more blind people than ever before, and I confidently believe that our expansion will continue.
Again this year our activities have brought visitors from a number of foreign lands. Following our 1989 convention, the past president of the World Blind Union, Sheikh Abdullah M. Al-Ghanim of Saudi Arabia, spent several days examining our programs. There have also been visitors from England, Ireland, West Germany, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Poland, Australia, Jamaica and other Caribbean countries.
We continue to distribute a very substantial volume of material to the blind of the nation. During the past year over 20,000 aids and appliances and more than a million pieces of literature have been shipped and distributed. The total weight of these items is estimated at over 30,000 pounds.
Our Job Opportunities for the Blind program has remained one of the most effective job placement services for the blind in the nation. It has now been in operation for ten years. During all that time almost 150,000 contacts have been made with employers. More than 65,000 job-related publications have been sent, and over 900 blind people have become competitively employed.
We have continued our efforts to computerize. In our Records Center there are in the neighborhood of 600 documented discrimination cases, 7,000 photographs, and 20,000 file folders. These must be organized, and the computer is one very efficient method for doing it. This is only an example of the efficiency we gain with technology. Our experts tell us that we now have more than one hundred times the computer power which was required to put the astronauts on the moon. An extraordinary amount of paperwork is handled each year at our National Office. The computers we have obtained (and there are now more than fifty of them) greatly increase our efficiency.
Our monthly magazine, the Braille Monitor, is by far the most widely read publication in the blindness field. We are now publishing in the neighborhood of 30,000 copies each month. With this and our other publications we are educating an ever-growing number of individuals about the nature and needs of the blind. Our magazine for parents and educators of blind children, Future Reflections, has a circulation of over 10,000 copies. Our Diabetics Division newsletter, Voice of the Diabetic, is mailed to over 30,000 locations. Our other publications (the Student Slate, the newsletter of the National Association of Blind Educators, the newsletter of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, and the publications of the other divisions, committees, state affiliates, and local chapters) are proclaiming our message about blindness and creating a new spirit in the land. And of course, there are the other materials we disseminate: the American Bar Association Journal, Presidential Releases, and JOB Bulletins. In carrying on our activities we record, duplicate, and mail from the National Center for the Blind approximately 50,000 tapes each year. The literature of the Federation is growing tremendously. This year we have made available the Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students, by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Duffy. This handbook of techniques and resources used by the blind has been acclaimed by those in the field of education as one of the most valuable publications ever produced.
Our scholarship program has received more attention in 1990 than ever before. Over 500 blind applicants sought our assistance. The results of this program demonstrate its value. Not only do we distribute in the neighborhood of $100,000 each year to blind students, but because of our efforts blind college applicants throughout the country are encouraged to seek higher education.
There are many ways to comprehend the importance of our organization. A cataloging of our accomplishments is one of them, but the work we do is measured not only by statistics but also in the personal lives of the people who gain opportunity as a result. Our Monitor circulation, the thousands of pounds of material we distribute, our hundreds of chapters and tens of thousands of members are an indication that we care about the future of the blind. As I have traveled to state conventions, local chapter meetings, and other functions, I have met the Federation in person. The lives and experiences of you the members make this organization what it isthe warmth, the caring, the commitment.
In our first fifty years we have built a solid and substantial organization. We have solved literally thousands of problems. We have come to believe in our ability to meet the challenges that lie ahead in the future. The first fifty years are finished, but the next half-century is still to come. The challenge is formidable. It will transform the lives of the blind not only of this generation but also the generations to follow. You know this task as well as I. We must begin with the dream of a future bright with promiseof a time when the blind are accepted as equalsof a day when we can confidently say, "We have attained our freedom." If we keep faith with each other and our heritage, we can complete what Dr. tenBroek began in 1940. A new era for the blindthat is our objective. Can we have it? Of course, we can. If we believe with all our hearts, if we think and plan with all our minds, if we work as hard as we know how, and if we care with every atom within us, the goal can and will be achieved. It is within our reach! Do we have the intellect, and will we use it? Is there, in our midst, sufficient imagination? Are we capable of the sustained labor that must be expended? And do we possess the generosity of spirit necessary to care for one another and support our movement? Are not these characteristics the very substance of the National Federation of the Blind? You know they are, and so do I. I have met the great body of the Federation, and I am absolutely certain that the first fifty years are only the beginning. With the Federation as our vehicle and a spirit of determination as our driving force, we will create a climate of equality for all of the blind. The stakes are too high and the costs of failure too great to do anything less. With all of the problems we face, our future has never looked better. Therefore, with joy, with enthusiasm, with purpose, let us go to meet our second half-century. This is my hope; this is my certainty; and this is my report to you on this golden anniversary.
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Updated: March 14, 2002