Vol. 32, No. 6 June, 1989
Kenneth Jernigan, Editor
in inkprint, Braille, on talking-book disc,
and cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
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Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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Vol. 32, No. 5 June 1989
IS THERE A MISTAKE?
PRESIDENT MAURER TESTIFIES FOR A NATIONAL BRAILLE BILL
OUT OF THE
CLOSET: DIALOGUE MAGAZINE ACTUALLY
TAKES A STAND
by Barbara Pierce
SHOES THAT DON'T MATCH
by Shannon P. Duffy
LITERACY FOR THE BLIND AT SCHOOL AND WORK: A PANEL DISCUSSION
RULES IN FAVOR OF BRAILLE: VICTORY IN THE CHARLES
by Barbara Pierce
DICK PORTER DIES
by Kenneth Jernigan
BLIND WORKERS CLAIM WAGES EXPLOITIVE
VICTORY IN THE MICHAEL
YOUNG CASE: TEAMWORK PAYS OFF
by Barbara Pierce
BLIND WORKERS STEP BEYOND THE EXPECTED
JOBS, EQUALITY, AND THE
by Patricia Munson
A LONG TIME IN THE MAKING: SETTLEMENT IN THE LAUREN ECKERY CASE
by Barbara Pierce
OUT WITH THE OLD AND IN
WITH THE NEW!
by Ronald E. Milliman, Ph.D.
WHO IS BLIND AND IS IT
by Kenneth Jernigan
BUT WHAT A DIFFERENCE!
RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF
by Lauren L. Eckery
ANOTHER PROMINENT FEDERATIONIST
by Gary Wunder
by Judy Nichols
Copyright, National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1989
Spring is the time of year for housecleaning, and that includes the Monitor mailing list. You can help us with this task by taking a moment to check the mailing label on this magazine. If there are any errors or changes you would like to have made in your name or address, please let us know. If you are receiving more than one copy of the Monitor by mistake, let us know that as well, including the exact text of the mailing label and the format of the subscription you would like to have stopped. This correspondence should be sent to:
The BRAILLE MONITOR
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
On March 7, 1989, a hearing was conducted before the Select Education Committee of the House Committee on Education and Labor. Congressman Major L. Owens, Chairman of the Select Education Subcommittee, invited President Maurer to appear and give testimony on important questions dealing with the education of blind children. The response of the Committee to Federation testimony was enthusiastic. Here is what President Maurer said:
Mr. Chairman, I am Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this hearing today.
The subject matter of concern is the amendment and extension of certain authorities in the Education of the Handicapped Act. The National Federation of the Blind has a deep and growing interest in legislation in this area. We are an organization of over 50,000 blind people from throughout the United States. We have a state affiliate in each of the states and a local chapter in most sizable population areas. All of our elected leaders and the vast majority of our members are blind. The National Federation of the Blind is the blind speaking for themselves.
Because of the problems in achieving a decent education for blind children, a growing number of blind youngsters and their parents have become members of the Federation. In fact, we have an extremely active Parents of Blind Children Division. We also publish a magazine, called Future Reflections, which is distributed quarterly to parents and educators of blind children by our organization. Future Reflections reaches more homes where blind children live than any other publication which focuses on education for blind youth. One of the benefits of participating in the Federation is that blind youngsters have many in-depth contacts with successful blind men and women who serve as role models.
The evidence we have gathered points to a trend which is not at all comforting. The school systems are often not using the resources of special education to give blind students the tools and techniques (such as Braille) which they need to function on a par with their sighted peers. If blind children are denied the alternative techniques which they need in order to learn and compete in the classrooms on terms of equality, the purpose of the law is not served, because blind students are not getting an education. There is more to education, Mr. Chairman, than physical proximity. Sometimes blind students are being taught in the same classroom with sighted students, but the blind students are being forced to try to function with visual techniques that do not work for them. This is not integration. It is poor education, and it is second-class treatment. The sad truth is that practices which deny blind students the tools of learning are commonplace in America's public schools today.
There are those who may believe that these comments are unfounded generalities, but the facts support what I am saying. When blind students are not taught to read and write Braille (a skill which is basic to literacy for the blind), they are denied the same level of educational quality that the schools offer to the sighted. This happens every day in our schools. According to some educators, a blind child is prohibited from using Braille and forced to use print even when it is demonstrated that Braille is more efficient. Those students who struggle to read print with severely limited vision are seriously hampered in their ability to function effectively. Often, when we raise the question of teaching Braille, the excuse presented by the teachers and the school systems is that they are simply complying with the federal law to educate the blind student in the least restrictive environment. They say that it is normal to read and write print, and that all children who can do so must use that method whether the student likes it or not, whether the parents like it or not, and whether it is efficient or not. They say that Braille used by the blind child in the classroom makes him or her different. Only when a child has no other option (as in the case of the totally blind) will Braille be considered as a special education service. This is a fair expression of the position most commonly taken by many professional educators in their application of the "least restrictive environment" concept.
Because many people fear that they would not be able to perform effectively if they became blind, they are afraid of the techniques used by the blind, and they think of these techniques as inferior. However, this attitude is not reasonable, and it is unfair to classify blind students as second-class or second-rate.
We ask that the language of Public Law 94-142 be changed to encourage education of blind children with the special tools and techniques these students need to function effectively. We ask that the "least restrictive environment" concept be altered so that it cannot be interpreted to force blind children to use print when Braille would work better. It is, perhaps, a commentary on the educational system that we are discussing not the level of achievement of students who have matriculated, but the tools they have been permitted to use. There was a time when books were burned and certain scientific theories were prohibited by law. Although it is astonishing that this is so, if the books are in Braille, they are often still being banned.
Shall prejudice prohibit education? We think the answer is simple and obvious. We are prepared to work with you, Mr. Chairman, to draft the language to assist in bringing greater educational opportunities to the blind.
by Barbara Pierce
For over twenty-five years Dialogue Magazine has commended itself on being an impartial sounding board for blind readers and contributors. With pride it has claimed (a claim which has always been more in word than deed) that it refuses to take stands on issues of importance to the blind for fear that some element of its audience might disagree. Periodically through the years, individuals have debated with members of the Dialogue staff about the magazine’s alleged neutrality, pointing out that having and articulating personal and institutional convictions will not preclude airing both sides of a question or encouraging healthy discussion of an issue. The Braille Monitor would not be so widely read and studied if this were not so. In fact, the case can be made that frequently middle-of-the-road caution (even when it is truly practiced) is morally reprehensible. Consider those middle-class Germans in the thirties who looked the other way rather than take a stand against what Adolph Hitler represented, or whites who ignored the situation while black Americans were beaten, arrested, and killed for daring to claim their rights as citizens. Hindsight is always clearer and moral judgments easier to make after the facts are all in and history has decisively tipped the scales. But very often in life, fence-sitting (even honestly practiced fence-sitting) is an unconstructive activity. Taking a conscientious stand and then open-mindedly exploring the issues and implications are morally more responsible than refusing to voice and opinion or discuss controversial topics.
From Dialogue’s beginning, many members of the National Federation of the Blind have been dissatisfied with its carefully claimed posture of even-handed disinterestedness. In part our unease has grown from the arguments just outlined, but also in many subtle ways the so-called nonaligned editorial policy has been in reality very much a statement of position that undercuts a healthy adjustment to blindness and shows no comprehension of the philosophy which is now the central fact in the hopes and aspirations of the blind of this country—the philosophy pioneered, symbolized and given tangible form by the National Federation of the Blind. Fiction that undermines reality and positive attitudes about blindness is obviously damaging. Listing one consumer organization’s scholarship winners without printing the other groups’ is only one example of Dialogue’s concept of even-handedness. Consistently running columns like “K-9” that extol one consumer group’s activities to assist dog guide users without ever mentioning the many projects and programs of the other group clearly demonstrates editorial bias.
In 1981 Mary Ellen Gabias (at that time Mary Ellen Reihing) decided that it was irresponsible to grumble about Dialogue without first making an attempt to educate those associated with the magazine. She therefore agreed to join Dialogue’s Board of Trustees. After her mover from Chicago to Baltimore in 1982, she continued to serve on the board, attending meetings more faithfully than many board members resident in Chicago. She served on committees and chaired them. She also recruited me as a board member. I, too, attended meetings whenever weather permitted my plane to take off and land, and I also did what I could to raise important questions of policy and attitude during board meetings. We both worked to educate our fellow volunteers about the real concerns of blind people (unemployment, discrimination, and despicable rehabilitation services among others). They smiled and pronounced themselves inspired and moved by our earnestness. Then they resumed their unenlightened course in self-congratulatory smugness, chiefly occupied with their self-perceived dedication to helping the less fortunate.
In the wake of the financial crunch that almost swallowed the magazine in 1986 and 1987, the board decided to begin a serious effort to raise sufficient funds to preclude the repetition of that catastrophe. It hired a director of development and began producing materials intended to generate contributions. In their rough draft form, these were appalling—illiterate, ungrammactical, and poorly conceived. Most distressing of all, however, was their demeaning and undignified characterization of the blind. Mrs. Gabias and I did what we could with the text and the philosophy, but there is only so much that an editor can change without rewriting the document altogether. Moreover, the notion that it was important to stress the capacities and potential of the blind rather than the mythical bleakness and deprivation of their lives struck a majority of the board as novel and more or less pointless. The critical thing to their minds seemed to be garnering donations. Worrying about the cost to the blind in public attitudes was clearly an insignificant consideration to most of them.
Then, in December of 1987, Dialogue’s guardian angel, Ann Landers, who had single-handedly saved the publication the year before with her personal plea to readers to make contributions to Dialogue, weighed in to the airline discussion with a column on the subject, which failed to point out that no federal law or regulation limited the seating of blind airline passengers. At the February 8, 1988, board of trustees meeting Mrs. Gabias requested that the board send Ann Landers a copy of the letter written by Illinois’ s Attorney General which laid out the legal situation and warned Illinois police against arresting blind passengers seated in exit rows. My flight that evening had been canceled a the last moment, so I was not there to support Mrs. Gabias in the discussion, though my presence would not have changed the outcome. Correcting Ann Landers’s misinformation was entirely too daring and act for this board. After that meeting the handwriting was on the wall. The tow of us decided that there was no longer any point in trying to protect the interests of blind people by continuing to serve on the Dialogue board, so we resigned.
Here are the two letters of resignation sent to Dialogue’s Board of Trustees:
March 29, 1988
Mr. Jerry P. Novak, President
Dialogue began in the 1960’s as a forum for blind people to express their views and help one another find answers to questions posed by blindness.
I joined the board in 1981. When I moved to Baltimore in 1982, I continued to serve though doing so caused me great inconvenience. Although transportation, overnight lodging, and meals have cost several thousand dollars, Dialogue has never paid my expenses. During the crises of 1986 when it appeared that Dialogue would cease to exist, I came to a majority of the monthly board meetings. Many local board members cannot say as much. The principles Dialogue claimed to represent seemed eminently worth supporting to me.
Though Dialogue has not always lived up to its self-styled policy of neutrality, it has never attempted to censor information presented to the blind or to keep information about blindness from being distributed widely to the public.
At its February 8, 1988, meeting the Board of Trustees of Dialogue changed that policy. It’s reasoning for doing so strikes at the heart of Dialogue’s integrity as a publication.
I am referring specifically to the board’s refusal to transmit to Ann Landers a copy of the Illinois Attorney General’s ruling concerning seating of blind airline passengers. One of her columns included a letter on the subject. Her answer omitted important data which it would have been helpful to have published. Presumably, she omitted the information because she did not possess it. Dialogue’s board could have done her and the blind a service by making her aware of the attorney general’s ruling.
Ann Landers saved Dialogue financially last year. The board was afraid to do anything which might anger her for fear of “killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”
Since the earliest days of American journalism, publishers have wrestled with the moral dilemma of choosing between “calling it as they see it” and keeping advertisers happy. Ann Landers is not an advertiser of Dialogue, but she is undeniably a major financial factor in the organization. I believe the board acted reflexively to preserve the structure of Dialogue without even considering the moral implications of the decision as it concerns censorship.
I realize that the specific question which was raised did not deal with the editorial content of the magazine. However, the editor was present and could not have helped getting the message that she had better be careful what she says because of whom she might offend.
Let us supposed that the editor received an article written by a blind person which was critical of a local Lions Club. Suppose this article was well done, raised pertinent issues, but would cause offense to the Lions. Would the editor feel free to print it? I don’t think so.
The board of Dialogue has a responsibility to examine the implications of its behavior. If it decides to avoid any issue which might give offense to financial backers, it should make that decision consciously and should cease advertising Dialogue as an open forum in which the blind may express themselves. The blind and the contributing public should not be misled into believing that Dialogue is something it is not.
Sometimes charities take on a life of their own, independent of their announced original reason for coming into existence. I believe that has happened to Dialogue. Preservation of the organization itself has become paramount. This is why so many board members work hard for the organization without troubling to read the magazine.
I believe the financial base of Dialogue is healthier than it has been at any time since I joined the board, but I also believe that the spirit of Dialogue is in profound danger of being eclipsed or permitted to atrophy. The magazine and its board structure are virtually independent of one another, except that the board can act to squelch editorial expression at the magazine.
The board’s lack of involvement (except in a negative way) in the content and direction of the magazine has left the staff to shift for itself without guidance. Only one staff member has even as much as five years’ experience with blindness issues. Comments made by board members clearly indicate that they regard her as the least competent member of the staff. It happens that she is the only blind employee. I don’t believe this is coincidental.
With the best will in the world, the editorial staff cannot write with sensitivity about a subject which is relatively new to them. They don’t have the experience to recognize nuances in material submitted. As a result, the timeliness and overall quality of the magazine is less than it once was.
As the quality of the magazine continues to deteriorate, blind readers will inevitably lose interest. Perhaps someone will resurrect the spirit of Dialogue and begin publishing another magazine which will more nearly accomplish the purposes which brought Dialogue into existence. When that happens, I wonder if the board will even notice the departure of the Dialogue readership. I am afraid that board members will continue “helping the blind” even if the blind cease finding that help useful.
If has become clear to me that continued service on the Dialogue Board of Trustees will serve no useful purpose. I no longer wish to be associated with a board which values survival of Dialogue’s structure more highly than fulfillment of Dialogue’s purposes. I ask that my resignation from the board be made effective immediately.
Very truly yours,
Mary Ellen Reihing
March 30, 1988
Mr. Jerry P. Novak
A I told you during our brief telephone conversation on February 8, 1988, when it was obvious that I was not going to get to that evening’s board meeting, I was very sorry indeed to miss it. I would find this letter easier to write if I had been present to take an active part in the discussion. Mary Ellen Reihing has read me her letter of resignation, and I concur with her comments concerning the board’s decision to provide Ann Landers with correct information about federal laws affecting blind air passengers.
Another Board action of that evening requires, however, more detailed comment since, as chair of the nominating committee, Mary Ellen did not allude to it at all. I understand that the director of development brought two candidates’ names to the board for approval; in fact, I gather that he brought one of them in person. The nominating committee was bypassed altogether. Despite the speeches from time to time about the importance of broadening the scope and expertise of the Board, neither of these gentlemen (personally estimable as I am sure they are) contributes very much tat was previously lacking in the board composition. One is a Lion, bringing to at least half dozen the members of that service organization on the board. The other is a blind individual with no affiliation to a major consumer organization.
The nominating committee is the group on the board charged with the responsibility of thinking through board needs and seeking candidates that can fill the gaps. As nearly as I can see, the director of development, as a member of the staff, has taken over the function of recruiting board members at any time of the year to be added to the board, whether or not there are vacancies to be filled. This is to my mind a dangerous arrangement Boards must have autonomy if they are to guide the staff when necessary.
When I was asked to serve on the Dialogue board by a member of the nominating committee, I was told that the board was interested in broadening its reach. Dialogue was a nation publication, and it had to learn to think nationally if its funding base was to have a chance of supporting its journalistic expectations. Because I believed that there might be a place for a publication of the sort Dialogue was trying to become, I agreed to stand for election.
Both the publication and the board have come through some rough water since I attended my first meeting in November of 1984. A drowning man will grasp at straws; the same is true of organizations. But I must go on record as saying one last time that the plans and the materials being developed for Dialogue’s fund-raising effort cannot achieve their goals of establishing a broad, solid funding base for Dialogue.
I have done what I could with the written materials I was sent, but frankly it was not more than straightening the skirt and tucking in the blouse of an accident victim. The blind members of the board have raised questions about the image of blindness and blind people being articulated in fund-raising efforts, but I have always been left feeling that our concerns got lip service at best.
My deepest fear for Dialogue is that this concept of blindness and the blind as being heart-stirring and a little pathetic, awkward and not quite respectable, will permeate the magazine itself. Indeed, I believe that I see it happening already. How could it not be when only one member of the staff is blind, and the others have relatively brief experience of writing in this field?
It is evident to me that my hopes for Dialogue bear almost no resemblance to those of the growing majority on the board. Worse, I do not believe that the board really cares whether or not Dialogue Magazine meets the needs of its readers for information, advice, and constructive support. In short, if I was ever a useful member of the Dialogue Board of Trustees, that time has passed. I therefore tender my resignation from the board effective immediately.
I have enjoyed getting to know the individuals serving on this board. A number have been very kind to me, and I am grateful to them for their generosity. I wish the board well, but my task is to help blind people achieve equality. Our paths now diverge.
Very truly yours,
With these letters came the final parting of our ways with Dialogue. Jerry Novak wrote Mrs. Gabias a snippy little response, commenting that she could not resign until the board chose to act on her request. He didn’t bother to write to me at all. My board service of less than four years was, no doubt, too limited to warrant a response.
Meanwhile, things had been happening on the editorial side of the street. In the wake of the Fall 1986, announcement that Dialogue would cease publication at the end of the year (an eventuality only forestalled by Ann Landers intervention), article submissions to the magazine took a nosedive. The best of those on hand had been thrown into what was presumed at the time to be the last issue, and writers (including regular contributors) stopped submitting material for a few months. By the time of the Spring, 1987, issue, the cupboard was bare. As responsible members of the Board of Trustees at the time, Mrs. Gabias and I urged members of the NFB to submit material to the editor for consideration. A few pieces trickled in, including one that I wrote myself; but, for the most part, it was clear that Federationists had (and still have) little time for, or interest in, the sort of things that Dialogue thinks blind people want to read. So the magazine continued to bumble along, preoccupied with mail-order gadgets, music, travel, and games. Its reporters cover the consumer group conventions and avoid the serious issues debated (at least, that’s what they do at the NFB convention) in favor of reprinting the remarks of international visitors and scientific scholars. One might reasonably forecast that Dialogue will eventually dribble its way to extinction, ending not with a bang but a whimper – discounting Ann Landers, that is.
But wait! The Winter, 1989, issue has actually appeared with an editorial that overtly and avowedly expresses an opinion on a matter of real concern to the blind! Of course, the staffer taking this bold stand is the only blind Dialogue employee; and, not surprisingly, the view is opposed to that of the Federation. The writer, Deborah Blank, resorts to erecting straw men in order to have something to knock down and misses the real issues altogether, but it is certainly refreshing to have Dialogue out in the open, declaring its point of view on a substantive topic. Plaudits to Deborah Blank and, of course, plaudits to the notion of honesty. The views expressed are neither constructive nor courageous, but they are reflective of a real live point of view on a matter of urgent importance to blind people.
Ms. Blank opines that frequently fliers should be “allowed” to walk through airports independently if they choose and should also be “permitted” to sit anywhere they like on airplanes. She seems oblivious to the fact that any time a person submissively permits others to determine (unnecessarily and arbitrarily) whether and to what extent he or she can engage in the simple activities of daily life (walking through an airport unaccompanied, for instance) that person has (at least, to a degree) given up a certain amount of independence and humanity. We are engaged in a struggle with the airlines on precisely the question of whether or not the blind are as free as other passengers to sit where they please on an aircraft. But I was not aware that anyone had so far decreed that blind people cannot even walk through airports independently if they choose. Ms. Blank goes on to express her fear that we confident ones will spoil things for those who prefer assistance and do not wish to sit near window exits on planes. When was the last time anyone advocating independence for blind air passengers so much as intimated that none of us wanted help or that all of us would prefer to sit in exit rows?
But the most remarkable assertion made by Ms. Blank is that those who stand up for their own dignity have not yet adjusted to blindness and feel compelled to flaunt it ad nauseum before everyone. Despite the fact that the NFB has always defined independence as the capacity to accomplish the task at hand efficiently and effectively by using appropriate means, Ms. Blank lectures her readers on the point that accepting assistance does not diminish her independence. This is self-evident. Personally speaking, it always seems preferable to me to accept a proffered arm in a confined, complicated, or noisy area rather than to try following spoken directions, thereby causing consternation around me. But Ms. Blank seems offended by any preference for alternative techniques on the part of people who are comfortable using them. She accuses us of failing to affirm other blind people and of being insecure. It is an argument that strikes me as bizarre – and perhaps a little envious.
Here are the editorial and the letters to the Editor that Mary Ellen Gabias and I wrote in response:
Winter, 1988 (Editorial)
Where Is Your Independence?
by Deborah Blank
One of the benefits of working for a special interest magazine is that I have the opportunity to read many of the other publications in the field. In the past several months, I have had the opportunity to study in depth the entire airline question from the exit row seating issue to related topics such as preboarding and pre-flight briefings and quizzes. The more I read the more conflicting are my emotions.
I am considered by myself and my peers to be a better than average traveler. My tow-hour commute to work each day entails using two buses and an elevated train. I streak through downtown Chicago at the height of rush hour, crossing two of the city’s busiest streets. I vary the routes I travel just to keep my skills sharp. I travel shopping malls, and can locate many of the departments within the stores independently. I care for my own home, pay my own bills, and have my print mail read without the help of sighted family.
It is my opinion that blind people should be allowed to perform at the peak of their capabilities in every situation. What this means with regard to the airline question is that if a person is a frequent flier and is well acquainted with airports then that person should be allowed to travel unassisted through the airport itself. That person should also have the right to sit in an exit row, again because he or she would be familiar with the layout of the plane. On the other hand, a person who does not fly often and therefore is not familiar with airports and planes should be allowed to ask for and receive whatever assistance he or she needs without fear of degradation.
For my part, I appreciate the pre-boarding privilege, not because I don’t believe I could find my seat, but rather that I do not wish to slow the progress of the other passengers as I grope along touching the backs of seats to count rows. I fly once or perhaps twice a year, so I am not insulted if a stewardess wants to show me where such things as the oxygen masks are located. I would actually welcome a hands-on demonstration of how to convert my seat into a floatation device as I cannot seem to picture what is to be done simply from the verbal pre-flight description. I do not, however, think it necessary to be the last person off the plane, since disembarking means following the crowd up the aisle and out the door. There is no way for the visually impaired person to become lost or disoriented. I also would not want the responsibility of being the person to open the emergency exit or being one of the first persons out of the plane. Again, this is not because of any feelings of inferiority, but simply that I do not want the responsibility for so many lives, nor would I want to be crushed in the initial stampede. However, I don’t think the blind person should have to wait until the last moment so that a stewardess can guide him or her from the wreckage.
This is not to belittle those who have been hassled and even arrested in the period of strife with the airlines. Each person must do whatever he or she has to do. My fear is that the more militant among us will frighten the ground and air personnel to the extent that they will be afraid to offer assistance at all, which hurts more people than it helps.
Just as the fear of lawsuits prevents many doctors from taking high-risk patients, so this same fear may cause airport personnel to back away from the visually impaired passengers who do need their help, and, therefore, cause much unnecessary trauma.
Which brings us full circle to the title of this article: “Where is your independence?” I feel that those who make such a public display are fighting as much within themselves as with the public. They may never have truly accepted their impairment and so are seeking ways to prove that they are really no different from anyone else, or they may have received unfair treatment at the hands of one sighted person and have now launched a vendetta against all sighted people. This, to me, is unfair. Each person in this world is an individual. Yes, there are sighted people who are cruel to blind people, but, then, there are sighted people who are cruel to other sighted people. Conversely, there are blind people who are deliberately hurtful to other blind people and sighted people who seem to have an instinctual sense of the right way to help a blind person.
The blind do not like being stereotyped. Yet some unashamedly stereotype the sighted in the name of equality. They want to be thought of as no different from the sighted, yet they fight for revenue forgone for personal purposes and insist on unfair advantages within the social security administration.
Independence is a state of mind. Just because I allow someone to help me across the street or through an airport, bus station, or store does no mean I have given up a part of myself. I believe we must think not just of ourselves but also of our less mobile brothers and sisters. To say “I am my brother’s keeper” is nothing of which to be ashamed. There are those who a re just learning to travel independently and there are those who can travel very efficiently around their small towns but are terrified of big cities. There are situations in which a person is so upset by something in his or her personal life that keeping the mind on where the feet are going is too much of a hassle. Being rude to a sighted person who offers assistance may not hurt a particular individual but it may keep that person from offering assistance to someone who really needs it.
Blindness is nothing to be ashamed of, but neither is it a banner to be waved ceremoniously above the world for all to see. Both the beggar and the militant draw the negative attention of society and wrench the focus away from the basic issue: integration into the mainstream of life. Blind people need to grant each other the freedom to do what ever is comfortable for each one as an individual, offering neither blame nor glory but only support, basing each confrontation upon specific topics, not on superficial independence.
February 17, 1989
To the Editor:
I have just read Debbie Blank’s editorial in the Winter Edition entitled, “Where Is Your Independence?” I whole-heartedly agree with her premise that all blind air travelers (like all sighted ones) who require assistance should be entitled to receive it. In fact, I have never heard anyone on the equal-treatment side of the discussion argue anything other than that position. As a frequent flier, I do not believe that I have ever behaved in such a way as to discourage an airline official or fellow traveler from offering assistance to another blind person at a later time, even when I have refused unnecessary help. In fact, like all blind frequent fliers, I have allowed these helpful Hannahs to flutter around me far more often than most sighted people would have tolerated such interference. Most of us who are blind have been so indoctrinated with the idea that we must not offend well-meaning sighted people that we err far too frequently on the side of inconveniencing or demeaning ourselves.
I presume that I am one of those militants about whom Ms. Blank is writing. I was arrested for sitting in the seat which an airline official, dealing with me face-to-face, had assigned me. During that experience, despite unprofessional behavior on the part of the crew and jeering and epithets by the other passengers, I never raised my voice or behaved in any but the most restrained manner. I feel certain that some of us who have been molested by airline personnel have lost our tempers, but in the cases I know about, the blind people have remained clam and restrained.
None of this discussion, however, addresses the underlying issue in the struggle with the airlines, an issue which Ms. Blank sidesteps altogether. If the airlines are serious about the safety issue, no one, blind or sighted, should be seated in an exit row if he or she does not wish to assume the responsibility for opening the window exit and clambering quickly out onto the wing before sliding down the flaps. But air transport officials have no intention of raising the specter of possible emergencies in the minds of the flying public by asking each exit row passenger whether he or she would rather move than cope. Instead they equate blindness with incompetence and rule that those of us who are blind cannot sit in certain sears. Like it or not, such policies are precisely analogous to the Old Jim Crow laws which stipulated that the color of a person’s skin determined where he or she could sit on the bus. It is not waving one’s blindness like a banner to insist firmly that sight is not a reasonable test of competence.
I have spoken to many sighted people who admit that they would not wish to bear the responsibility of opening and exit door, but it would never occur to them to move out of the exit row or occur to the cabin crew to insist that they do so. Air travelers everyday make airline reservations requesting particular areas of the passenger cabin. There is nothing to stop blind people from checking to insure that their seat assignments are not in exit rows. I have a blind friend with arthritis who does so, but she is clear in her own mind that it is her weakness, pain, and poor balance, not her lack of visual acuity, that make this the responsible course of action.
I could not disagree more completely with Ms. Blank when she dismisses our insisting upon the right to be viewed and treated with respect and dignity as fussing about “superficial independence.” Like Martin Luther King, I have a dream. It is that the day will come when people, both blind and sighted, will look beyond visual acuity and consider the abilities of the individual, when fear of offending will no longer keep people from behaving appropriately, and when those who choose not to fight for their own freedom will at least stop chastising those of us who are engaged in the struggle for us all.
Dialogue Board of Trustees
February 23, 1989
To the Editor:
I was genuinely saddened by some of the assumptions Deborah Blank made about herself in the editorial “Where Is Your Independence” in the Winter, 1988, edition. I was also surprised and dismayed by some of the parallels she drew.
Ms. Blank says in part, “If a person is a frequent flier and is well acquainted with airports, then that person should be allowed to travel unassisted through the airport itself.” The operative word here is “allowed.” She later goes on to say that “A person who does not fly often and therefore is not familiar with airports and planes should be allowed to ask for and receive whatever assistance he or she needs, without fear of degradation.” Again, the operative word is “allowed.” I know of no other group of people (except small children) who are routinely expected to hand over control of their basic decisions to others. The word “allowed” implies that airline or airport officials have the rights to decide how a blind person should traverse the building. In reality, the blind person who buys an airline ticket is (in a sense) hiring the airline. Blind travelers, like all considerate passengers, should treat their airline hirelings courteously; but the traveler, blind or sighted, is the boss and deserves the deference usually accorded an employer.
Ms. Blank seems to make the assumption that any blind person who asserts the right to self-determination is automatically being rude. I simply don’t believe it. In fact, I find it exceedingly rude to patronize airline employees by accepting inappropriate treatment because we fear that they are so emotionally fragile that they will be unhinged by a polite “No thank you.”
I am saddened by some of the assumptions Ms. Blank makes about herself. She says in part, “I do not wish to slow the progress of the other passengers as I grope along, touching the backs of seats to count rows.” The word “grope” implies such incompetence and slowness that it contradicts Ms. Blank’s assertion that she is a good traveler. Does it really take more time for a blind person to find the proper row than for a businessman to load a laptop computer, suitcase, and briefcase into the overhead compartment? I don’t think so. I cannot count the number of times I have had to stop while walking down the aisle to my seat in order to wait for other passengers to stow carry-on luggage. Deborah Blank’s description of herself as groping demonstrates how blind people often internalize the assumption that blindness makes one slower and less competent than others. If I honestly thought my blindness caused delays in loading the aircraft, I would preboard as a matter of routine courtesy to others. Since blindness does not make me slower, I choose not to.
Ms. Blank descends into amateur psychology when she ascribes motives to blind people who resist airline coercion. According to her, defense of one’s civil rights is symptomatic of psychological maladjustment to blindness. I presume, then, that Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other leaders of the black civil rights movement were similarly maladjusted.
Ms. Blank’s comparison of the airline Security is perhaps the most poorly reasoned argument in her editorial. She says, “They [blind people] want to be thought of as no different from the sighted, yet they fight for revenue foregone for personal purposes and insist on unfair advantages within the Social Security Administration.” No thinking person has ever said that the blind are no different from the sighted. All that has ever been said is that distinctions should be made on a rational basis. The revenue foregone privilege within the postal service applies to all nonprofit organizations. The part which deals specifically with the blind is “free matter for the blind and handicapped.” If the blind could get reading material as readily as the sighted can get printed information, and if mailing it were not substantially more expensive, free matter for the blind would be unnecessary. Since we cannot, the free-matter privilege is an equalizer. [Incidentally, Dialogue uses the “free reading matter” privilege to mail its magazines, and the costs are paid through revenue foregone.] If the blind could find employment on the same basis as the sighted, the advantages we have under the Social Security Administration would be unfair. Since our unemployment rate is at seventy percent or higher, Social Security, too, is an equalizer.
If there were rational arguments for treating blind people differently on airplanes, the blind would have no reason to oppose different treatment. But since there is no logic in many of the airlines’ actions, the blind are justified in resisting segregation and mistreatment with firm determinations.
If Deborah Blank’s argument were followed to its rational conclusion, each blind passenger would have to decide between being treated exactly like the sighted or accepting every kind of whimsical and substandard treatment that others choose to impose.
Blind travelers should not have to demonstrate their worthiness to sit in an exit row unless all other passengers must do so. If and when that does happen, blind people should come up to the line and demonstrated competence along with everyone else. Until it does, we should be left in peace.
Very truly yours,
(Mrs.) Mary Ellen Gabias
Dialogue Board of Trustees
From the Editor: As I write this, I am riding in a car from Baltimore to Toronto to attend an officers’ meeting of the World Blind Union. It is March 28; spring is here; and the world seems a good place to be. As we ride Mrs. Jernigan drives; my secretary (Miss Myrick) handles the computer; and I deal with mail and dictation.
The letters and articles are varied, covering the entire spectrum of news, hopes, requests, intrigues, and sorrows. But through it all one thing is so predominant as to require no comment. Life is full to the brim—and as much for the blind as the sighted. Sight (or lack of sight) has nothing to do with it.
Yet, as all of us know, this is not the way most people see it. The common wisdom about the person who is sighted and then becomes blind goes like this: You are sighted and have a full life—happiness, friends, and money. You have the world by the tail with a downhill drag, carefree and blasé. But you don’t realize how lucky you are—not, that is, until later and as a contrast. Then comes blindness. You can’t hold a job, can’t appreciate the beauties of life, and can’t even successfully eat in a restaurant or match your shoes. Above all, you avoid the word blind. You are miserable, forlorn, desperate. Life is over. You avoid your friends because you don’t want to be dependent—and you withdraw into a black hole.
Yes, I know this sort of thing happens—and no, I don’t blame the individual or fail to experience compassion. It is just that it underscores how much work we in the National Federation of the Blind still have to do and how much the media (and often the professionals, too) aggravate the problem and make it worse. There is no question but that when an individual become, blind, he or she is going to experience some unhappiness and problems of adjustment, but this can be temporary. Life can be as full, as varied, as challenging, and as much fun for the blind as the sighted; and there are tens of thousands of blind people alive today to prove it.
The thing that provoked all of this commentary is an article which I have just fished out of my mail. It appears in the April 11, 1988, People Weekly magazine and is reprinted in a Lions publication. In both instances it is left to stand alone, implying that it is probably telling it like it is—which, in a sense (and certainly in some instances), is the case. But as we have so often said, the problem is not the blindness but the misconceptions and lack of understanding which exist. And nowhere is that better illustrated than here.
I want to share this article with you, and as you read it, I hope you will look for the nuances. How many of the things which the author takes for granted as true are really true—or, more to the point, need to be true if a different approach and attitude were taken? How many times do we create our own hell and then say God or fate or the devil did it? How many times do our friends or society or our families create our hell? And how many times do we acquiesce or conspire in their actions and then later blame them for what occurred—or, just as bad, fail to understand that it could have been otherwise? I doubt that this article will create in Monitor readers the response which the author and publisher intended—but it will create a response. Here it is:
A Former Star Model Faces A Future Clouded by Blindness
by John McMurray
As a blind, blue-eyed surfer, John McMurray caught the first wave of men’s fashion in the ’70s when designer Bill Blass spotted him in San Francisco and introduced him to modeling. Within a few years McMurray had become one of the country’s leading cover boys, had worked as a runway regular for Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta and had been posed for a brand of mannequins modeled after his six-foot, two-inch, one-hundred-seventy-five pound frame. He traveled with the fast crowd to London and Milan, dined at Versailles with Princess Grace and was once touted for giving New York’s choicest dinner parties. Now, at forty, McMurray finds his world as darkened and diminished as his vision. Like 100,000 other Americans, he suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable hereditary eye disease that was subsequently diagnosed in his father as well.
Victims of retinitis pigmentosa lose their sight slowly, sometimes going completely blind and sometimes developing tunnel vision. There is no cure for RP, which acts by destroying the cells of the retina, and McMurray, a native Georgian who grew up in San Francisco and graduated from Brigham Young University in 1970, is still grappling with the depression his blindness has caused. He recently found a job as West Coast editor for Black Elegance magazine, and there are those who believe he could model again. Says his friend, designer Bob Mackie: “He still looks wonderful.” McMurray, however, is uncertain about his future and spoke of his fears to reporter Melissa McCoy at the West Hollywood home where he lives alone.
I started modeling in 1970 when I was a senior at Brigham Young. I was home in San Francisco for spring break, and I was walking down the street carrying my dirty laundry. This big black limousine pulled over to the curb, and Bill Blass introduced himself and asked if I’d like to model in a fashion show he was doing in town. I was getting ready to graduate with my business degree and had already found out that modeling paid much more than business, so I thought I’d give it a try.
I was this big athlete and surfer, and they threw me out there in swimming suits. I guess the audience liked it, because Bill flew me to New York that week to sign with the Ford agency. I went back to school that semester and got my degree, but for the next seven or eight years I was modeling just about every day. At the height of my career I was making about $150,000 a year, which was a lot then, and for a while I was the most photographed male model in the world.
My eyesight was never really very good. I swam competitively in high school, and thinking back on it I realize that I was having problems even then seeing the end of the pool when I swam. I wore corrective lenses, starting in junior high school, thinking that would help. The doctors thought I was nearsighted, and I don’t think they knew what they should have been testing for. I’d get the lenses and wear them for a week and know they weren’t helping. It was a very expensive, not to mention frustrating, process.
For a long time it didn’t stop me from doing my job. I was still driving and I could do everything that I needed to do. Finally, though, I had to stop doing runway shows because I was walking into the footlights and was afraid of falling of the stage. You also have to make very quick changes backstage where it’s dark. Often I couldn’t find the right shoes or the tie that went with the shirt. It was so frustrating. People thought I was mentally slow. I thought it was because of the light, and I’d complain about it. Then people thought I was a complainer, because everybody else was making the changes on time.
In 1977 I decided to go to L.A. to get into television. I started with commercials, but it was really evident that I was having a problem, because I couldn’t see the cue cards. Then I got to where I couldn’t see the director. I also worked as a fashion consultant for TV’s AM Los Angeles. The models would come out, and I was supposed to describe the garments, but I couldn’t see them even though they were ten or fifteen feet away. There wasn’t any discussion of an eyesight problem; I didn’t talk about it, and they just thought I couldn’t do the job.
Then I went into public relations. I worked with big names like Diana Ross, Larry Hagman, Bernadette Peters, and Connie Sellecca. That ended up being a real disaster because I’d go to functions and I couldn’t function. I’d meet people, and then five minutes later I’d reintroduce myself. They’d say, “Well, we’ve just met. Didn’t I impress you enough?” Once I went to dinner with Linda Gray of Dallas. It was kind of dark in the restaurant and I couldn’t see the menu, so I put it near the candle to get more light. It caught on fire. I thought, “Okay, John, just stay calm and drop it on the floor.” I did, but I hadn’t seen the waiter standing next to the table. I dropped it onto his pant leg and set it on fire. Oh, God, I can laugh about it now, but it wasn’t funny then.
Around 1980 or ’81 I began seeing several eye specialists. Ultimately, it was my family optometrist who told me that I had RP. I didn’t know what to do. I just knew that my sight would get worse.
Eventually I had to give up driving. When I was just a kid, I had driven Ronald Reagan all around California as his chauffeur when he first ran for Governor. Driving was one of those things I didn’t want to give up, although I had already driven a lot longer than I should have. I even kept my car out there in the garage for about a year. I paid insurance and registration fees, all because I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t drive. I was losing my independence, and it was hard to deal with.
By 1986 I had lost about eighty-five percent of my vision, and it became much more difficult to have a positive attitude. I’d never been depressed in my life, but now there were days when I wouldn’t get out of bed. I’d start crying for absolutely no reason. I would sit there and wish I could die.
I had no money coming in and was living off my savings. A friend told me to get counseling, but I didn’t think it would do any good. Besides, it was just another expense, and I didn’t have a job. But I went, and it helped. The scary thing is, you start slipping into a black hole, and once you’re so far into it, you can’t climb out on your own.
To be honest, I never have any fun anymore. I miss reading. I’ve tried to take up hobbies, but it all comes down to the fact that I can’t see what I’m doing. Some friends invited me for a ski weekend, and I just sat in the lodge while they spent the day on the slopes. I was so bored. My whole life has shrunk. I can’t see myself in the mirror, and I have only remembrances of what I used to look like. I’ve had to become dependent on people, which I really hate. I can’t even take the bus anymore because I can’t see the numbers, and the drivers don’t tell you when your stop comes up. Now I have to rely on other people to drive me around to the grocery store, the bank, or whatever.
I know I need to start using the white cane when I’m out alone because people don’t look out for me. The problem with the cane is that, like everything else, it’s this huge emotional undertaking. It’s the process of dealing with life not as a normal person but as a handicapped person. I still say I’m “partially sighted.” I don’t use the word “blind.” My neighbor Marion Wagner [R.J.’s ex-wife] is always telling me I have to let people know I don’t see. I’m working on it.
My father has had eye problems for twenty years or more, but I don’t think he knew he had RP until they told me I did. He was always very quiet about it. He was married and had three children, and so he viewed himself as this man who was supposed to be macho and supporting his family, and so he never discussed it or admitted it. When I was younger, he used to embarrass me so much. At the dinner table, I thought he was just crude and his appearance was sloppy. Since I’ve had my problems, we’ve discussed it, but not that much. He needs to talk about it more, I think. I’ll always believe that part of the reason my parents were divorced was because of my dad’s eye problems.
My sister Luann, who is thirteen months younger than me, is getting RP now in one eye. I have always wanted kids of my own, but I wouldn’t now. I wouldn’t want to subject someone else to this disease. As for a permanent relationship with anybody, well, all of this, coping with this problem, really takes the wind out of your sails.
I have a job, which keeps me busy, but sometimes that’s a source of frustration in itself. I only work with photographers I know and whose quality I trust. I rely on them to get what I have in mind for a particular layout. When I work on a layout, I must go over in detail what I’m looking for—big and fluffy, silky and sexy, or whatever. I’ll ask very specific questions about how something looks to get a mental picture of it, and of course I feel the fabrics. The only thing is, I have a secretary, and the magazine doesn’t provide one for me. So I pay for her myself.
All this has taught me a lot about compassion. I’ve really learned to appreciate people more, and I take the time now to listen. I’m still trying to adjust. I think a lot of coping with it is just ignoring things. That’s not to be confused with not facing up to one’s problems. For instance, right now I’m trying to get my papers ready for my taxes. I’m very frustrated and nervous, but everybody can relate to that. It’s just that I can’t find things, and getting around is difficult. But I think I’ve grown. I was in modeling, and yes, maybe I used to judge people by what they wore or how they looked, but those things don’t matter to me anymore. You know, I’ve gone out of the house with two different shoes on. Now I realize, when it comes down to it, we’re not judged by whether our shoes match.
by Sharon P. Duffy
As Monitor readers will remember, Chris Kuczynski was a 1985 winner in the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program. He was recently elected First Vice President of the NFB of Pennsylvania. He was interviewed by a reporter for the Legal Intelligencer, a periodical for attorneys published in Philadelphia. The article appeared in the February 28, 1989, edition. Here’s what Chris Kuczynski, one of the brightest and most articulate young leaders, has to say:
Legally blind. Different from blind, but in the eyes of the law, it’s the same. Pardon the pun, but in fact, it’s a double pun. For law student Christopher Kuczynski, being legally blind has given him a unique outlook.
After graduating from Villanova in 1986 with a 3.98 average, Kuczynski chose Temple Law, where he has participated in moot court and served as research assistant for law professor Jane Baron.
His blindness hasn’t prevented him from excelling academically, nor curbed his professional ambitions. Having chosen the “big firm route,” Kuczynski is looking forward to joining the litigation department at Dechert Price & Rhoads this fall.
The Legal Intelligencer spoke with Kuczynski about public perceptions of blindness, big firms, and the importance of Charles Dickens.
The Legal Intelligencer: The first thing people probably want to know about a blind person who is as accomplished as you are academically is: How did you do it?
Chris Kuczynski: Well, I use a number of, what have been called in recent years, alternative techniques. During college and law school, I’ve used pre-recorded materials available from Recordings for the Blind in Princeton, N.J. They have about 70,000 volumes, including an extensive law collection.
I have some residual vision, so I also use a Visual Tec, which is nothing more than a trade name for a closed-circuit television device that magnifies print on a television screen to about 45 times its original size.
And I’ve used live readers more during law school, particularly recently, now that fewer and fewer of the materials I need are available on tape—for things like case reporters, legal treatises.
TLI: How do you take class notes?
Kuczynski: Well, I use a couple of different methods for that. In college and for the first year and a half of law school I used a tape recorder, editing them as I went along. But I was finding that I was coming out with a verbatim transcript of what the teacher said. When it came time to study for exams, it might be helpful and it might not. I often had more than I was able to go through in the limited time one has to study.
Quite simply, that method proved inefficient. A new device called the Braille ’n Speak—it’s a very small machine about eight inches long and four inches wide and it’s set up like an ordinary Braille writer, with six keys and a space bar, but the space bar is also a function key—has a limited amount of computer memory. It allows me to take notes at the speed I can type, and I can retrieve the notes in speech. I can also transfer from the Braille ’n Speak directly to a computer to print them out.
But perhaps the best way to take notes is the slate and stylus—just ordinary Braille on Braille paper. It works well if you’ve been trained well and picked up speed. It’s the best method because it allows you to come out of a class, not with a verbatim transcript, but with four to five pages of what’s important. Exactly what the other students might have written, only mine is in Braille.
TLI: Do you have your own system of abbreviations?
Kuczynski: Sure. The Braille system has its own abbreviations; for example the word “the” is just one symbol. But you also learn, as any student does who has to take a lot of class notes, to develop a shorthand of your own.
TLI: What made you choose law school after college?
Kuczynski: I think I originally had a perception in high school that I wanted to study law. I assumed what a number of high school student do who want to get liberal arts degrees: After you get a degree, particularly in English, you go to law school. That’s what you do. Either that or teach, and there wasn’t much of a market for teaching.
As I progressed into college, I began to think about a number of other career options. There was other graduate work I could have done. I even considered a career in journalism. I considered teaching literature.
But as I went along, I became more certain of why I wanted to go into law. It seems obvious to me, as one who’s always been concerned with, say, the condition of society, that I could make a difference. That what I did, or failed to do, was going to impact on society; it was either going to make it better or worse.
I began to develop a real social conscience while I was taking Victorian literature. My favorite author is Dickens, whose novels are as socially conscious as any. I began to realize that if there are going to be changes in society, the good things preserved and the bad things set aside, then the way it would have to be done—in this country, which was grounded on the law and the Constitution—is through the legal system.
Many of our representatives in Congress, for bad or good, are lawyers. Some of them are doing their jobs conscientiously, many of them aren’t. But I thought that an acquaintance with the law, being a part of it, would put me where the changes are occurring.
We’re a nation of laws. We’re not a nation of might makes right. And whatever changes occur should be based upon the Constitution and the legal system. Why not be a part of it?
TLI: Now that you’re on the other end of the interviewing process, what reflections do you have?
Kuczynski: In many ways, I found the process rather enjoyable. I don’t have any problems going in and speaking frankly to an interviewer. I like talking to people, and that’s a lot of what the interviewing process is. From that perspective I enjoyed it. But I must say the anxiety, and at the very least the waiting, was the most difficult part of the process and probably outweighed the fun that I had with it.
It can become very distracting when you’re doing class work in your third year and trying to do a lot of interviewing.
Having decided not to go through the process during my second year, but instead to spend the summer working as a research assistant for one of my professors, I was at something of a disadvantage this year. Many of the well-placed students entered the school year already assured of jobs or found out soon afterward.
TLI: Were you ever concerned that you wouldn’t get a job?
Kuczynski: I had done fairly well my first two years, and people were telling me, “This isn’t something you should be concerned about. Of course you’ll get a job.”
But that isn’t necessarily so. There is a lot of competition. And quite frankly, there’s discrimination against blind people who want to become lawyers, particularly in the private sector. Traditionally blind lawyers have been employed largely by the government, which is required not to discriminate.
TLI: But now it’s over, and you have a job with Dechert Price & Rhoads. Did you set out to get a job specifically in the private sector?
Kuczynski: I think anyone, blind or sighted, considers both the public and private sectors, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each. Certainly my decision was based partly on my hope for making a change, for improving the situation for future blind law students.
It relates to what I was saying about the Victorian novel. Valuable social change can come from the kinds of things that aren’t revolutionary at all, such as the simple task of a blind person’s getting a job where the opportunity didn’t exist before.
In the end, though, I chose the job because it was the one I liked the most. I felt that, of all the employers I spoke with, Dechert offered me a work atmosphere that was most conducive to what I want to accomplish as a young lawyer, with the most varied challenges.
The fact that I will also be helping other blind people just makes it that much more rewarding.
Name: Chris Kuczynski
Education: B.A., Villanova 1986 in English and honors; soon to graduate Temple Law School
Extracurriculars: Moot Court Polsky Competition, president of the student division of the National Federation of the Blind, sits on the National Scholarship Committee, running for vice president at the state level
Last Book Read: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but Ken Kesey. In the middle of a biography of Charles Dickens.
Idea of a pleasant Saturday afternoon: watching three Jack Nicholson movies in a row.
Braille literacy is undoubtedly one of the most important and pressing issues facing blind citizens today. Whether blind adults of the coming decades will take their rightful place as fully productive members of their communities will depend in large measure on their ability to use the alternative techniques of blindness. Winning for blind children the fundamental right to read and write with ease and efficiency is looming large on the horizon as a crisis facing the organized blind that will not wait.
During the Thursday morning session of the 1988 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Chicago, a panel of experts (moderated by President Maurer) discussed the issues and sought to find some common ground. Here is the text of the discussion.
President Maurer: The next item on the agenda is appropriately entitled “Literacy for the Blind at School and Work.” We have three people to make presentations on this panel this morning. The first of them is the President of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is the President of that Division, Barbara Cheadle.
Mrs. Cheadle: Today, I am taking all of you on a trip, a trip back in time. We’re no longer in the convention hall; we are in a time machine. I am setting the dials now. Are you ready? We are each going back in time to our childhood, and specifically our school days. Stay with me now; we don’t have much time. We’re going back through high school, eighth grade, seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth, stop! I want you, as we relive a typical day in the fourth grade, to compare your experiences with mine.
We have just finished reading a play out loud in class and the teacher is handing out some papers. Oh no, another English drill! Twenty-five unrelated, mostly meaningless sentences, and we have to go through every one making corrections. Does Louisiana have one ’n’ or two? I know you capitalize the months of the year, but what about the days of the week? Do I need to put a comma here or a semicolon? Of course I capitalize “Roosevelt,” but what about “high” and “school”? English drill over, time for history. Good, we’re going to do an outline. I love those. We’ve already read and discussed the chapter and now we are going to go through it again and outline it. The teacher says that it helps us to learn how to pick out important facts and organize them. She says it will help us when we start taking notes in class in the higher grades. Speaking of notes, did I remember to bring mine for science? Good, I did. Today, we have to get up and explain our science projects to the class. We get extra points if we use notes for our speeches. Uh-oh, the dials on the time machine tell me that our time is up. We must return to the present.
Now that we have examined a little bit of the process of becoming literate, for of course that was what the little excursion in the time machine was all about, let us take a look at the outcome. What role did that hard-earned literacy play in our lives on the job?
Let’s suppose you are a receptionist for a rather large office. One of your major responsibilities is the operation of a switchboard. You are seated at the board, and it buzzes. It’s a call for Mr. Smith. “He’s not in,” you say. “May I take a message?” You take a message and another call comes in. It’s for Miss Roberts. “She isn’t in,” you say, “but she asked me to give you this message.” You grab the note and read it.
Then again, maybe you are a teacher, and this is the first day of school. All of your students have arrived, and you begin reading the roll. After the roll call, you distribute the school handbook, and opening your copy, you begin reviewing it point by point with your students.
On the other hand, perhaps you are a homemaker. You have just finished reading some of the recipes in your new cookbook and have decided that it is time to sit down and make some notes about the vacation Bible school class you have volunteered to teach this summer.
I am sighted; you are blind. I read print; you read Braille. With that in mind, tell me—didn’t you become literate in the same way I did? And isn’t literacy as important to you in your job and in your daily life as it is in mine? There is no difference between the blind and the sighted in either the process or the outcome of literacy. Our methods differ. I use print, and you use Braille, but we both enjoy the advantages of literacy—the advantages of personal independence, better jobs, and fuller participation in our neighborhoods and communities—speaking of which, the examples in employment that I just gave you were all based upon blind people I know who are in this room. But we are not here today to talk about me or to talk about you.
Those of my generation, both blind and sighted, were given a good (or at the very least an adequate) foundation in literacy skills. We are here to talk about the blind children of today—children like my ten-year-old blind son who is here in the audience. As you heard earlier this week, because our son has some vision, our school district has flatly refused to teach him Braille. Never mind that his eyelashes brush the page and that the words (as he describes it) begin to jump and wiggle after just thirty minutes of reading print. Never mind the eye fatigue, the strain, and the frustration he suffers. And let’s not think about what will happen when the reading load gets heavier, and the print gets smaller, and the vision deteriorates. We have been told that we are limiting our son when we call him blind and ask that he be taught Braille. We have been told that it is a sighted world (have you heard that one?), and that it is not normal to read Braille. I ask you, what is so normal about being illiterate?
Our situation is not unique. Tragic as it is, it is the norm. In my capacity as the president of the NFB Parents of Blind Children Division and as the editor of Future Reflections, the NFB magazine for parents of blind children, I have heard from hundreds of parents from throughout the country. It doesn’t matter where you live; in Minnesota, Alaska, Florida, Wisconsin, California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, New York, and Maine teachers in schools are telling parents of blind children the same thing. No Braille! But don’t take my word for it, ask the parents who are here at this convention. We have parents who have learned to teach their children Braille because the teacher either could not or would not teach it. If you’re still not convinced, consider some of these statistics from the American Printing House for the Blind. As most of you know, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) receives federal funds so that it may provide free educational materials and equipment to legally blind students in the United States. These are distributed to the state strictly according to the number of legally blind children they have registered with APH, and I think these statistics have clear validity. In 1963, 9,000 children (52% of all legally blind students registered in this country) read Braille. In 1973, 5,200 children (18%) read Braille. I understand that this trend has not changed significantly through the eighties. I have been hearing for a few years now, and I must admit that I have said it too, that blind children are in danger of becoming illiterate. My friends, my colleagues, blind children are not in danger of becoming illiterate; they are illiterate. We cannot and we must not let this continue to happen to our children.
We come now to the inevitable question, why? Let’s examine what the professionals, the educators, say about Braille and why they don’t teach it. You’ve heard these things, I’ve heard them, and parents have heard them.
Number one, “But there are so few books in Braille.” So What! How many Braille books were there twenty-five years ago? A whole lot fewer than there are today. Did that stop your teachers from teaching you Braille? You see, the importance of literacy is not measured by the availability of books to read. Just think of the number of sighted people you know who seldom have ever read a book. Is literacy irrelevant to them just because they don’t read books? Of course not.
Number two, “But other technological advancements have replaced Braille.” Now isn’t it funny that every time you hear this argument, you never hear about the advancements in Braille technology? So what technology do they mean? Let me comment on the two most frequently cited technological advancements that allegedly replace Braille—the tape recorder and the closed circuit television magnifying aid. Both of these are nice devices, don’t get me wrong. But let’s take the tape recorder. If it were such a magnificent note talking device, why don’t sighted students use them? You know why, and so do I. Two hours of lecture on tape are two hours of lecture that you still have to review and condense. Why not learn Braille and take real notes with a slate and stylus—notes you can review and use just as they sighted students use and review their print notes? The closed-circuit television set: As most of you know, this is a magnifying device which is a large, heavy, and bulky piece of equipment, hardly portable. Tell me, how many people in this room today take notes with closed-circuit television systems? When was the last time you saw someone lug one up to a podium, plug it in, and give a speech? No, technology has no more replaced Braille than technology has replaced print.
Number three, “We’ll teach her Braille when she loses the rest of her sight and really needs it.” What a wonderful educational philosophy! Think of the money we could save. After all, children really don’t need to read until they are ready to vote or get a job. WE could close down all of the elementary schools.
And finally, my favorite, “Braille is tedious and slow.” To that I say, hogwash. I’m a firm believer in learning from experts, real experts, and it seems to me the real experts are right here in this room—blind people who use Braille every day of their lives. You tell me, is Braille slow and tedious? (Audience responds, No!)
So much for what the professionals tell us. What is really behind it? Here are some of the things I have said, and I have heard others say them, and I think they all have some validity. Teachers are too lazy to learn it. Teacher training programs don’t teach it. It’s easier to stick a tape recorder in a student’s hand or a closed circuit television system in a classroom, and it’s convenient to do that. Teachers don’t have to take the time to teach Braille. But more than anything else, teachers don’t teach it because they don’t really believe that blind children can make much of their lives.
What do we do about it? First and foremost, we must continue to educate the public and especially the educational establishment from the federal government on down. They need to know and affirm as policy that literacy is the birthright of all children in this country, including blind children, and that Braille is the foundation of literacy for the blind.
One more thing. My husband and I have been told that our son cannot get Braille instruction because he would have to be taken out of the classroom for four to five hours a week. This would be, so we are told, a more “restricted environment” placement. Can you believe such insanity? Are we to believe that illiteracy is the price our blind children must pay for integration into society and into the classroom? We, the parents of blind children and the blind adults of this nation, will not let our dreams and hopes for our blind youngsters be shattered by a rigid, uncaring, and ignorant educational establishment. Working together, we will find a way for our blind children to get a quality education. Thank you.
President Maurer: You can understand why Mrs. Cheadle is President of that Division. The next person on this morning’s panel is a parent and an educator of blind children from Washington State. She has had experience both in the classroom and with her own family. Here is Ruby Ryles.
Ruby Ryles: I’ve been told to speak quickly, and as you know, it is not very natural for someone with a southern accent to speak quickly, so I hope it doesn’t sound too foreign. I’m addressing a shameful disgrace. It is the actual premeditated programming of our blind children for illiteracy. I am speaking specifically about the concerns of the education of the child with partial sight. Partially sighted children and their parents are often told now more than ever the age-old fallacies that “Braille will make you more handicapped” and such nonsense as “Braille readers, by nature of their reading medium, are going to be poor spellers.” This devastating garbage has mushroomed in the last decade or so for many reasons.
One reason, as Barbara said, is technology. We are a society in love with its high tech. Special education teachers have their erroneous belief that technology will somehow eradicate the need for basic literacy skills for blind children. A special education director friend of mine was once bemoaning the extra cost of educating partially sighted children. I laughed, and said, “Jim, you can educate a partially sighted child for a lifetime with twenty dollars and twenty-five cents worth of equipment: a ten dollar slate, a twenty-five cent stylus, and a ten dollar long white cane.
Unfortunately, that pathetically humorous comment is a great deal less oversimplified than most V.I. teachers would like to believe. False statements about specialized field training are perpetuated by special education teachers because, as Barbara said, they neither understand the need for nor know how to teach specialized skills such as Braille. It’s woefully apparent that teachers who teach our children often have worse attitudes about blindness than the general public. The average V.I. teacher has had little or no contact with competent blind adults and therefore does not imagine, cannot imagine, the tragic results of the omission of basic skill training. I am not maliciously attacking teachers of the blind because, as the joke goes, I are one. But I do know from experience that V.I. teachers are not required to be proficient in Braille before leaving a teacher-training program. Ironically, teachers of Braille are taught that sight is a key component of literacy and travel, that blind techniques for a child with residual vision are taboo. Ridiculous programs called “vision stimulation programs” are supposed to develop more sight in young partially sighted children, when in fact they leave emotional wounds that may never heal. And, by the way, if you child is getting vision stimulation in his or her IEP, I’d really like to talk to you before this convention is over.
There is another important reason that teachers of the blind will not teach Braille to partially sighted children. They are often not trained in the teaching of reading, and they do not fully understand how a child becomes a fully literate adult. As an old first grade teacher and a reading specialist, I would like to share some insights with you.
You know, for example, how to spell “Chicago.” Did you ever have it on a fifth-grade spelling test? No, probably not. Did you make a conscious effort to learn how to spell it last week when you knew you were coming here? Most likely not. Is it phonetic so that you can spell it sound by sound? Most assuredly not. You spell “Chicago” accurately because it looks right to you. You have developed the “it looks right” ability because you have read the word “Chicago” many times. Standardized achievement tests used in schools normally test spelling in the same way. The child has four spellings of a word from which to choose. If he has not read enough to have developed the “it looks right” ability, he cannot give a correct response, and he will score poorly on the spelling subtest.
The partially sighted child will normally read only what is required of him. He does not read for pleasure because reading is not pleasurable. It is not fun for him. It is slow, tedious, and often painful for him to read print. Children with partial sight cannot sustain reading for long enough periods of time to read for pleasure or to complete normal assignments without a break. He never develops that “it looks right” ability because he doesn’t read. By the intermediate grades in elementary school the partially sighted child is a slower and less competent reader than is his classmate. The standard remedies are often extended time limits for him, magnification which slows him down even further, and of course taped books. Giving the child an efficient reading medium, namely Braille, is never seriously considered. A partially sighted child can’t read because he doesn’t read, nor can he express himself in writing, nor spell, nor punctuate, nor paragraph, nor capitalize, nor develop a vocabulary equal to his ability. Succinctly put, he is well on his way to illiteracy.
I want to tell you a story that will speak for itself. I had an eighth-grade partially sighted student whom I had supplied with large print and taped hooks since he was in elementary school. Anchorage, as most school districts do, requires annual standardized achievement testing. Taking the test in print, even with all the adaptations possible, his subtest scores were well below normal. The following year, a very dynamic and skilled blind man and his wife, who are Federationists, moved to Anchorage. I did a lot of talking to him and a lot of thinking about skills and the way I was teaching them to kids. It was pretty different from my professional training. In December I began Braille with my student. The next school year, his tenth-grade year, he did his schoolwork in Braille. At the end of the school year, he again took the ITBS Achievement test for his grade level. All of his scores on the test improved greatly, but one particular subtest sums up this story. His eighth-grade year he took it as a print reader with magnification and extended time limit, and he scored in the seventeenth percentile. His tenth-grade year, he took that test for the first time as a Braille reader with no extended time limits and scored in the ninety-third percentile. That year he read his first book for pleasure since third grade, he told me. I did not keep up too much with what he read after that first book, but I do know that his first one was Jack London’s White Fang, and he said it was fun.
Dr. Bellamy, I fully realize that literacy is a nationwide problem in education in general, but it is now the standard, it’s the norm, it’s the expected, that our visually impaired kids will be virtual nonreaders, with all the accompanying problems. They cannot help being nonreaders; they’re programmed for it. Sir, this organization is fifty thousand strong, and many of us are parents of blind children. We are the consumers of services of the special education system. The current education of visually impaired children in all placements is neither adequate nor appropriate. I sincerely believe that we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. The effects of this no-skills training philosophy on this generation have yet to be measured. Dr. Bellamy, I would ask you to use the power your title implies to insist that teachers teach Braille, slate and stylus, typing and cane travel to our children and not the time-wasting gobbledy-gook that’s coming from the standard V.I. teacher-training programs now.
In closing, I would like to thank Rami Rabby publicly for introducing a resolution that reminds all of us in the Parents of Blind Children Division just how deeply committed the blind adults in this organization are to resolving this problem. Parents, we do have hope. With the largest organization of blind people behind us, we can’t fail. We will make changes.
President Maurer: Thank you. We will argue the merits of the resolution tomorrow, so those of you who have questions about it, tomorrow would be a good time. The third person to come to us on this panel is the Director of Special Education Programs, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, the United States Department of Education. He has served as a professor of special education programs and rehabilitation at the University of Oregon, where he worked as a researcher and a teacher. He ahs also had experience as a public school teacher of students with severe handicaps. He has written a number of works, several books on school and adult services for people with disabilities, which have contributed to the research literature in special education. I introduce to you now Dr. G. Thomas Bellamy of the Office of Education.
Dr. Bellamy: Thank you, President Maurer. I am very happy to be at what is my first conference of the National Federation of the Blind. The literature that Jim Gashel sent along with his invitation billed this as the world’s largest gathering of people with disabilities who advocate for themselves. If that’s the case, I am particularly honored to be here. I was either forewarned or informed, one or the other that I would be speaking with the most determined and persistent group of advocates that exists.
I’ve not been in Washington in the Bureaucracy very long, but I have been there long enough to understand that I was brought here not because you wanted to listen to me but because you wanted me to listen to you, and I appreciate that. I’ll be fairly brief, but I do want to share two or three things that I think are very important about special education for all people with disabilities. I do that in part because one of the few things that the federal government really does have the power to do in education is to talk. Most of the decision making power about what really goes on in special education is at the state and local levels where, I guess, we would all agree that it belongs. But there is an important role, it seems to me, in setting a course for what special education should be about, and being very clear on what our values are about in this country, that we expect special education to achieve.
We are just entering the second decade of Public Law 94-142, which guarantees an appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, and establishes procedural safeguards to insure that decisions are made in certain ways. Now in that en years, we have accomplished an awful lot, but I know better than to dwell too much on those accomplishments with this group. I believe that we have established a national expectation of public acceptance that everyone with a disability belongs in school, and largely we have put in place the administrative structure and the child find mechanisms to accomplish that. As we read the public policy literature right now, Public Law 94-142 is often cited as one of those federal social service programs that actually work. But one of the things I have been saying over and over since I arrived in Washington is that while all of our problems of access to education might not yet be solved, it is clearly time to turn our attention to quality, to what people with disabilities get when they go to school.
We send a report to Congress every year that details the cost of special education that describes the number of children served, what their categorical labels are, and several things about the process of providing special education. But up to now, we have never told the Congress what the people with disabilities get as a result of all this effort. It seems to me that it is time that everyone involved with special education (the professionals, the parents, the establishment, and everyone) adopt improving the quality of what we do as our primary mission. That’s not saying a lot new, of course. We’re talking about quality in all aspects of education today. But in special education, I think, it raises some very specific issues that we need to discuss. I believe they relate pretty directly to the issue of literacy that’s been discussed quite a bit here this morning.
Quality in special education requires us to be direct and public about our values, about what we believe about ourselves and people with disabilities. We can’t talk about improving schools until we can talk clearly about the kind of lives that we’re willing to say we believe are the birthright of people with disabilities. And I propose that the law itself, much of what I know of this group’s positions, and my own personal feelings can be summarized in three broad values that I believe can guide us in the development of quality special education programs in the country.
The first one of those values: In the law we talk about appropriate education. To me it makes more sense to talk about outcome effectiveness. I think it is time for special education to take responsibility for its products. It is time for us to ask, “what happens to people when they leave school? We don’t need too much professional jargon, I don’t think, to say what we think should happen. Of course, education isn’t the only responsible part of society, but I think we can all agree pretty quickly that if people leave schools and have a job and the skills to perform that job (either by themselves or with support that we can afford), if they have a place to live and the skills to live there (either independently or with support we can afford), if they have a set of friends that provide the kind of opportunities and rewards that the rest of us get from our social networks, and if they have choices about the first three, I think we would all agree that we have done a pretty good job. And I believe that we would all agree that there is something wrong when we don’t see those things happening for people who leave special education. The fact is, those things aren’t happening for a large number of people who are leaving special education today, and it is time that we do something about it.
What we have started since I have been in Washington are some fairly major incentives for local districts and states to keep track of their graduates to find out what happened to people when they left school, on the assumption that the best decision making can be made within the district and within the state when people who are caring and responsible have good information about what results of the efforts have been. I’m convinced that when we do that, when we systematically look across the country at what’s happening to people who grew up in special education, we’ll begin to question a lot of conventional wisdom about our curriculum, about our instructional methods, and so forth and that we will look more and more to successful adults with disabilities to ask what it is that we should be doing. If I understand the concern about instruction in Braille, I think that’s very similar to what I believe the field will be addressing on many fronts over the next few years when we begin to seriously look at what’s happening to adults with disabilities.
The next value that is in the law is that there is an expectation that people with disabilities should be educated with children without disabilities unless there is an awfully good reason not to and that we would remove people with disabilities from the regular educational setting only when we can justify that removal for some important educational reason. One way to think about the research and development of the last ten years is that we have been gradually taking away good reasons for removal as we develop better curricula, better training materials, and so forth. One of the things we have done in this area—there’s a study we have just begun disseminating. I asked our staff to give me a legitimate comparison of states in terms of the extent to which people with disabilities were served in regular school settings versus being removed to separate public or private schools or separate public or private residential facilities. The results were astounding. Our question was really: for every million children in the school age census of a state, how many were removed outside the regular school to one of these segregated settings?
I was amazed to find that one state removed about six hundred pupils per million from the regular school, and another state removed about fifteen thousand per million from the regular school. In other words, the family that moved from one state to another, from the state that removed the fewest to the state that removed the most, would have a twenty-five times greater chance of having their son or daughter educated outside the regular school building. If we take the average of what the five states that served the most children in the regular environment (if we take the average of those states as a reasonable estimate of potential), the average state segregates five times as many children as do those five. Six states segregate more than ten times as many children as do those five. What I think we have to conclude from that is that states have been differentially successful in creating the kind of special education services in local schools that parents and other members of the IEP team have confidence in. Because when we don’t have confidence in the program in the local school, of course we’re going to advocate quality where we can find it.
One of the things that concerns me a great deal is that with all of the newspaper reports about reform in education, we almost never see mention of special education at all. As we read the news reports, we finally get down to the last paragraph searching in vain for something about people with disabilities, and if anything, what we find is that they are excluded from taking the test that the news story was based on. Well, I’d like to propose an alternative idea of what a good school is. It seems to me that the first characteristic of a good school is that it can do a good job of serving all of the kids. Inclusion is the first criterion, and then we will address the kinds of questions we read about in the newspaper articles. If attitudes, as I have heard several times this morning, are in fact one of the most important handicaps experienced by people with disabilities, it seems to me that it is awfully short-sighted to design a public school system that allows people to grow up as I did, surrounded primarily by people with no obvious disability. It’s clearly time to change that.
The third value that’s in the law that I think is very important is that special education is unique in that we make decisions about curriculum and instructional procedures, one child at a time with parent involvement (in many states with student involvement) by a team of individuals. It is by law illegal in special education to prescribe a curriculum for everyone who has a particular disability label. Those decisions have to be made one person at a time through the IEP process. This provides a balance of power between families and schools that really doesn’t exist anywhere else in education. Unfortunately, it often creates the kind of conflicts that we hear about—battles over curriculum: Braille over print—but it also empowers parents and families in a way that I think many other families would want to be involved in education outside of special education and don’t have a legal basis to be. One of the things we have done in our monitoring of states over the last few years is to focus on the administration of special education programs and the processes that are used to resolve disputes, to make decisions about individual children, to make sure the parents do have benefit of the full due-process guarantees of the law.
I’d like to conclude by saying that for the people this group represents, and I believe for everyone else with a disability, special education will improve in quality over the next decade if we are smart enough to have a balanced progress in all three of these areas that we value—outcome effectiveness, the capacity of regular environments to serve all children, and individual decision-making. W cannot afford to sacrifice any one of these for the others. We can’t afford to ignore one while we concentrate on the others. It’s easy for us to find situations where these three values can be in conflict, but it is important for us to find those areas where the overlap and to build on them. I believe that a focus on quality, an emphasis on what happens to students after they leave special education, and an open honest effort to build a consensus across all parts of the special education community will lead us to the focus on literacy and to the focus on quality that I’ve been hearing as I have talked to people here. I appreciate the opportunity to be here, and I ask for your help in making special education work. Thank you.
President Maurer: Dr. Bellamy, I want to thank you very much for coming and joining us here. We think that there are many problems with the education of blind children, but we think that an openness, a dialogue, and anxiousness to work with us who know about the problems first-hand are bound to make them better. Therefore, we welcome you to this convention, and we are pleased that you came. We have time for only a few questions. If those of you who were serving on the panel will take microphones at the table, we’ll take a couple of questions and see how it goes. Mr. Cheadle.
Mr. Cheadle: Dr. Bellamy, I’m John Cheadle, father of Charles Cheadle, who you heard about in Mrs. Cheadle’s address. He does have some vision. He has been denied Braille. We’ve been involved in negotiations and the due process for better than an academic year. We will continue the due process, and I believe that we will prevail. But all of this raises a question. The things that we have been through, and the things that Charles has been through, the loses he has had that are not regainable… they raise the question of what the policy of the Department of Education is or will be with regard to the availability of high-quality instruction of Braille for blind and visually impaired students. I want to underscore the fact that people with some vision often need to be taught Braille and also that Braille must be taught in a high-quality way. I would like to ask you directly as the Director of Education: What steps you will take to insure that policies in this direction are made?
Dr. Bellamy: I’m afraid that the honest answer sounds bureaucratic, but I have to give it anyway. It seems to me that while the things that I have heard here are personally quite convincing, it’s important to emphasize that the U.S. Department of Education really does not set curriculum policy in any way. There are some things that we do do, and I want to point them out, but it would be inconsistent with our mandate for us to say that a particular curriculum element should be included on a nationwide level. What we do do, though, and what we should be held accountable for is that, while special education is delivered at the state and local level, and the curriculum responsibility rests there, we have an annual budget of $170 million in twelve different discretionary programs that we are expected to use to improve the quality of services, either by funding research grants or demonstration programs or personnel preparation programs and so forth. As I listened to comments today, it seemed to me that the area that would encourage your attention to and that I will certainly look at is what it is that is happening in the personnel preparation programs themselves. Once again, we don’t set the curriculum for the teachers in training but we clearly are in a position to disseminate information about what works to those teacher-training programs.
Dr. Jernigan: Dr. Bellamy, you say you don’t set curriculum, and I don’t quarrel with that, but if you found that throughout the country there was a practice systematically being followed that sighted children in special education classes were not only not being taught how to read print, but when their parents went and truly pleaded that the schools were systematically refusing to allow them to read print, they were being ignored, you’d get up on your hind legs and yell and got to the press and all kinds of things, and you know you would. It seems to me that it is reasonable to ask you, when you are dealing with blind kids, and Braille is the only way for people who don’t have enough sight to read print to read, isn’t there anything that the department can do except make a demonstration project or write a paper or something of that sort? Isn’t there anything you can do? You could if they were sighted kids who weren’t being taught print, and it wasn’t just an individual instance.
Dr. Bellamy: What we can do is something similar to what I am doing here today, and that’s talk about ht values, the issues, and the objectives. But again, by law, curriculum decisions are made on person at a time; they are not made on the basis of prescriptions from Washington.
Dr. Jernigan: But that isn’t really curriculum. Reading crosses the lines of curriculum. Unless a child can read, the child is not literate. You know that the Education Department at the federal level, if it found a systematic policy throughout the country of not permitting—not only not teaching, but not permitting—children in special education to learn how to read print, the department would be making news releases and all kinds of things, wouldn’t they?
Dr. Bellamy: I believe that what you are raising is something that is a timely issue—we have reauthorization coming up in a couple of years. What you have presented is a set of circumstances. I don’t know how nationwide they are; the description is that they are very much so. It appears to me that I have a responsibility as do you to find out the extent of the practice, the effects of the practice in terms of what is really happening to children with disabilities, and to make that information known, and to use the discretionary programs in ways that we can to try to solve the problem once we have established the effects.
President Maurer: I just don’t think that we are going to be able to do much more by way of questions. I’m sorry that this has been the case all morning, but we’re running out of time.
Doug Trimble: Mr. Bellamy, I want to thank you for coming. I am one of those students who was programmed to read print instead of Braille all the way through school. I graduated from high school in 1983, not really being able to read print at a competitive level. I believe this is wrong. I went to college and actually flunked out because of this. I want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for taking time and energy to instill in me that it is respectable to be blind. I know what is happening to those blind kids in school. They’re not being allowed to learn to read Braille. If a child has some sight and can read some print, he should be permitted to read Braille also.
Dr. Bellamy: I’d like just to say one thing in closing. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to promote whatever practices exist, and all of the practices that exist, that prepare kids in schools for an integrated adult life. If Braille instruction is one of those, we need to be promoting it.
President Maurer: Dr. Bellamy, we are glad that you have come here, and we know that you are not thin-skinned. We’re glad that you come to have, as you have so very much said yourself, an opportunity to listen to what we have to say. As we have sometimes said to certain other officials in certain other instances, surely it’s reasonable for us to say to you that we would like to work with you to get something done and something changed. And either it’s reasonable to say that you are in a position to do that, to work with us, to see that changes take place which will be beneficial, or else there is not great pointing having you in the office. Because either the government works for the people who have established it, or it doesn’t. We are glad you have come, and we would like to be friends, but either we will make some progress, or we won’t. If we do, that will be great, but if we don’t, although we would personally wish you the best, it doesn’t matter greatly to us if you are in that office. The purpose for saying that to you is this: are you in a position to get together with us (we know that some of the things you have heard today may be new to you), are you in a position to get together with us to work on the problems, to try to bring genuine change in the possibilities of the education of blind children in the United States?
Dr. Bellamy: I’m very interested in meeting with you to make sure that I understand the problem and in working on solving whatever it takes to make sure that all people with disabilities get the best special education they can.
President Maurer: Thank you very much, Dr. Bellamy, Mrs. Ryles, and Mrs. Cheadle. We need to work on the problem of literacy for our children.
by Barbara Pierce
In the January, 1989, issue of the Braille Monitor Barbara Cheadle recounted movingly her family’s struggle to win the right for her son Charles (age ten) to learn Braille in school. The Baltimore City schools had agreed that, considering his poor (almost certainly failing) vision, he should be taught it. Then the Cheadles moved out of the city, and in the new school system the experts decided that Braille was not a good idea, that Charles should be encouraged to use his vision even though he could do so only for short periods, and that he should have not more Braille instruction until he could no longer use print at all. The Cheadles fought for inclusion of Braille in Charles’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) first with local school officials then at the county level. Finally, in August of 1988, they went to the State Board of Education for a hearing which was suspended for several months while an outside expert made an independent assessment of Charles’s skills and needs. Despite the fact that this woman recommended Braille, the school system still resisted its inclusion in his IEP.
So on January 9 and 10, 1989, the state hearing was reconvened. James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, represented the Cheadles. Fred Schroeder (Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, expert in the field of education of blind children, and member of the NFB Board of Directors) and Doris Willoughby of Iowa, a distinguished teacher of blind youngsters, were present as witnesses. The school system was represented by its two attorneys, Ronald Caplan and Marjory Rofel. Mary Buchheister, the special education teacher who had refused to teach Charles Braille, and Mary d. Brown, Charles’s current classroom teacher, were the two school witnesses. The transcripts from the previous hearings were also available to the state’s Hearing Review Board.
The testimony followed the pattern one would have expected. Each side made its case along the lines described in Mrs. Cheadles article in the January Monitor. In summing up the school’s position, Ronald Caplan made tow noteworthy statements which reveal the depth and pervasiveness of the school system’s misconceptions about blindness and appropriate instruction in alternative techniques for the blind. Caplan told the panel that if it were left to Charles’s parents, they would put him in “blinders”—presumably he meant sleepshades. If Caplan was suggesting that the Cheadles intended to cover Charles’s eyes constantly, he had willfully misunderstood them. If he was jeering at their eagerness to have Braille instruction carried out under sleepshades (the only effective way of teaching Braille tactilely to a low-vision student), he was articulating the school’s persistent ignorance.
Caplan’s final statement to the panel implored them to help in protecting Charles from his parents. It is never easy to be a loving, firm, and wise parent, but listening to a stranger warn a room full of listeners that one’s child requires protection from the people who yearn most deeply for his welfare must rank high among painful parental experiences. It will be a long time before the Cheadles fully recover from the anger, frustration, and hurt they have suffered at the hands of their local school system.
The panel of experts took nearly a month to prepare their summary and to recommend an IEP for Charles. When they issued their report, it was clear that the Cheadles had won hands down. The first item on the IEP was Braille instruction three times a week during school hours. They also mandated that he be given a battery-operated typewriter to use in class and instruction in the use of a computer with speech output.
Such rulings are almost never everything that one would like them to be. At the end of the document, the panel expressed itself as hoping that both parties in this dispute would now cease their bickering and get on with the job of providing Charles with necessary instruction. The State Board of Education still does not itself understand the desperate importance of establishing in everyone in the field of education of blind children the expectation that these youngsters need Braille. But at least they have assured that one child will receive it.
The Cheadles have won everything that they could reasonably have hoped for, and their cause will assist other parents fighting the same battle. Unfortunately, Charles is still a student in the same school being taught by teachers on the losing side of the struggle. Mrs. Buchheister can never instruct Charles in Braille with enthusiasm, and she is the only good Braille teacher in the system. Charles has won the right to Braille without being given a way of getting the quality instruction that the state has mandated.
The Cheadles case is certainly a victory for all blind children and their parents. Charles’s road has now been mapped, but his way is still not smooth. Three things he has going for him: his mother, his dad, and the National Federation of the Blind. Ronald Caplan may not know it, the school professionals who fought them may not believe it, but Barbara and John Cheadle, with the help and support of the Federation, have rescued Charles’s future from those who would have crushed it under the weight of their gadgetry and their prejudice.
Here is the relevant portion of the State Hearing Review Panel’s report:
Findings of Fact
17. Based on the educational assessment conducted on September 23 and 24, 1988, which both parties have agreed is an independent educational evaluation, (Doc. S11) the following items should be included on Charles’s IEP utilizing the standard BCPS form: Items 18 through 23. (Doc. S11 is cited as the basis for items 18 through 23, except where additional citations have been provided)
18. Charles demonstrates strengths in the following areas:
A. Charles is energetic and cooperative.
B. Charles is highly motivated to perform—even when fatigued.
C. Charles exhibits oral language filled with vivid descriptions and imaginative detail.
D. Charles has a good understanding of computer Keyboard functions.
E. Charles can read from a computer display at a greater distance than printed text.
19. Charles demonstrates weaknesses in the following areas:
A. The use of large print or magnification devices does not extend the time
Charles can work without fatigue.
B. The quality of Charles’s performance deteriorates as fatigue occurs.
C. Charles has difficulty attending to visual tasks for longer than 40 minutes.
D. Charles’s handwriting is inconsistent in size and quality.
E. Charles has difficulty reading his own handwriting when fatigued.
F. Charles’s written language skills are far below his verbal skills.
G. Charles is below grade level in basic writing skills of sentence and paragraph construction.
H. Charles has limited knowledge of magnification devices.
I. Charles has limited keyboarding skills.
J. Charles reads first and second grade level Braille readers at a rate of 40 WPM.
K. Charles’ left hand is not functioning well to support the reading of Braille with his right hand.
20. In the area of Braille, Charles needs:
A. Three 40-minute periods of instruction per week.
B. To complete daily assignments using Braille
C. To receive instruction in the use of the slate and stylus after he demonstrates third grade competency on the Braille writer.
Charles will use Braille as a secondary learning medium.
A. Using standard Grade II Braille, Charles will read third grade reading materials with minimal teacher prompts 80% of the time.
B. Charles will regularly write spelling sentences and classroom language assignments using correct Grade II Braille.
C. Charles will proofread and correct Braille assignments that he has completed 100% of the time.
D. Charles will complete one assignment in Braille daily.
E. Given Braille reading skills of tracking, identification of letters, reading words and short sentences, Charles will read his own third grade Braille for detail, main idea, and comprehension of supporting sentence 90% of the time.
F. Charles will regularly complete home assignments in Braille as directed by the itinerant teacher.
G. After Charles demonstrates third grade competency on the Braille writer, he will learn to use the slate and stylus with 80 % accuracy.
EVALUATION: MECC Primary Typing Post Tests; Typing for Elementary Children Post Tests; Record of assignments completed; Teacher observation.
22. In the area of handwriting and composition skills, Charles needs:
A. Level I service (Testimony of Ms. Buchheister).
B. Level II services to be provided on an as needed basis (Testimony of Ms. Buchheister).
C. To develop a style of writing which can consistently be read back with ease.
Goal: Charles will be able to write short amounts of information and read it back easily.
A. Charles will develop a consistent individual writing style composed of manuscript and cursive which will allow him to write clearly.
B. When given written language assignments, Charles will utilize his oral language skills and begin to write with vivid descriptions and imaginative detail.
EVALUATION: Classroom writing folder work samples; Teacher observation
23. In the area of reading, Charles needs:
A. Large type books and reference aids.
B. Oral readers.
C. Optical aids.
D. Tape recorded text.
E. Classroom teacher modified materials.
F. Preferential seating.
Goal: Charles will use print as his primary learning medium.
A. Charles will complete modified print assignments in all subject areas, especially spelling and basal reading, 100% of the time.
B. Charles will request and demonstrate his ability to use alternatives to print when appropriate
C. For assignments requiring extensive periods of reading, such as social studies and science, Charles will use tape recorded texts, oral readers, or optical aids 100% of the time.
D. Charles will demonstrate his ability to use optical aids for near and distant reading when appropriate.
EVALUATION: Teacher observation; Record of completed assignments; Record of materials supplied to school and utilized by Charles.
Decision and Rationale
Upon consideration of the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the Hearing Review Board hereby decides that:
The basis of a full IEP, which was developed by the Hearing Review Board, in the Findings of Fact 18-23, should be transferred to the standard BCPS IEP form and implemented. Care should be taken to minimize the disruption to Charles’ regular education program.
The IEP written by the Hearing Review Board can be criticized by both parties in a similar manner as those introduced by BCPS, the parents, and Ms. Willoughby. Do not waste Charles’ educational time by doing so. Implement the IEP.
The responsibility of developing an IEP normally rests with the local education agencies IEP/ARD Committee and the parents, not the Hearing Review Board. The Hearing Review Board does not see its role as that of an IEP/ARD Committee and did not wish to be viewed that way in these proceedings. However, after an impasse and at the request of both parties, the Hearing Review Board took it upon itself to write Charles’ IEP.
The concern of the Hearing Review Board is that Charles has over seven more years of education to go before he graduates from high school. Seven more IEP/ARD Committee meets to go, at least! It has taken 1 and ½ school years to settle on this IEP, if there is no appeal of our decision. Much longer if the decision is appealed.
The clear loser, as the bickering continued up to this point, was Charles. The Hearing Review Board hopes his losses end with this decision.
Two suggestions the Hearing Review Board has, which might be implemented if the bickering continues, is for the parents and local school personnel to sit down and write future IEPs together without the presence of the spokespersons for either side.
The other suggestion would be to engage in some form of binding arbitration.
The Hearing Review Board found the request for extended school year special education programming and related services for Charles during summer of 1989 to be without merit.
Right to Appeal
The decision of the Hearing Review Board may be appealed to the Circuit Court for the county in which the student resides or to the United States District Court within 180 days after notice of the decision is mailed. If the decision of the Hearing Review Board is not fully implemented, the aggrieved party may enforce it through a proceeding in the appropriate court.
by Kenneth Jernigan
It is never easy to write about the death of a friend, especially the death of a Federationist. These are my thoughts as I try to decide what to say about Dick Porter of West Virginia, who died March 24, 1989.
No one who has attended recent NFB conventions is unaware of Dick Porter. He said what he thought and said it directly, unvarnished and untainted by verbal niceties. As President of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia (a post which he held from 1979 to 1988), he always answered the roll loud and clear—often with humor, always with strength and purpose.
I don’t know when I first met Dick, but certainly it goes back to the seventies. One thing was certain. He always said exactly what he thought. There was never any wishy-washiness, and never any doubt about what he meant. Moreover, whether you agreed with him or not, you always knew that Dick cared about the blind and our movement. He added color and feeling and dynamism to the Federation. Meetings will be at least a little less vibrant because of his passing.
Mike Smith, President of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia, delivered a eulogy at Dick’s funeral. He said in part:
As we gather here today to commemorate Dick Porter’s passing, I think that he would have us celebrate a long life of activity and accomplishment. I am told that Dick was never one to do things halfway—and I knew this to be true in the years of our association. Dick never was afraid to take a stand, such as when he, with thousands of young men, faced the Japanese in World War II.
Later in life Dick strove to satisfy his need for a challenge by racing automobiles. His love for racing could have made blindness insurmountable—but not so for Dick. He just took the opportunity offered by the latest obstacle. From then on Dick faced the issues dealing with the blind with the same intensity that he had brought to the racetrack.
Many times he and I pounded pavement in the state capital, speaking on behalf of the blind of West Virginia. Many of you were also with him at the capital from time-to-time. Dick would always put his would effort into the fray. This was made evident on the day he suffered a near fatal heart attack while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Was Dick that concerned about West Virginia politics? Well, only in the sense of his concern of the effect of those proceedings on the blind.
Dick cared about people. He always seemed to have a house full, and many times it was he they turned to in time of need. Dick had a long and productive life, and he left it as he had lived it. On the day of his death his home was filled with friends.
Tom Stevens (who, as Federationists know, served as a colonel in the armed forces in Vietnam) also wrote about Dick Porter. He said:
When the word came that Dick Porter had died, I was not surprised, but I did have a strong sense of sadness and loss. I had lost a comrade in arms, a person whom I respected very much.
A great deal of that respect came from the fact that he know service in both World War II and in Korea. He was an ardent Marine, having served in the South Pacific as a “grunt.” In addition, Dick had been an enthusiastic supporter of the NFB member at large (Associates) program, one of the nation’s foremost recruiters. He won a red-white-blue ribbon two years in a row and spoke at state conventions in both Maryland and Kentucky on behalf of the program.
In our 1986 convention Dick was forced to go to the hospital and spent much of the convention time there. It was an ominous sign. In fact, in the last three years of his life he fought against cancer, which eventually took his life. During that time he had several major surgeries, including triple heart bypass and brain surgery. He completely lost the use of his right arm and spent much of the last years in a hospital bed in his home in Charleston, West Virginia.
Dick did not dwell on his struggle against what were overwhelming odds. He talked about it and his great respect for the doctors who helped. Joyce, his wife, says that he was in great pain much of the time, but he never uttered a word of complaint.
For many of us Dick Porter was Mr. West Virginia. Federationists will recall his often repeated statement, “NASCAR races and NFB meetings always start on time.”
He was born in 1924 in West Virginia, the most mountainous state in the East. After service in the Second World War and the Korean War he worked for twenty years as a salesman, retiring as the manager of a regional cooling and heating company. During the weekends Dick was involved in stock car racing. He knew many of the big name drivers at the time, competing against several of them. He became blind in 1973 due to the poisonous action of gas fumes on his optic nerves.
There was a period of adjustment to blindness. Then, Dick carried on, making the Federation the focus of his energy of life. Now, Dick is gone, and we will miss him.
This is what Tome Stevens said, and not only he and Mike Smith but hundreds of others could have written with equal feeling about Dick Porter’s life and contributions to the Federation. Dick’s wife Joyce was a worthy helpmate and a partner in Dick’s activities and interests. All of us share with her the sorrow of Dick’s passing.
From the Editor: The Southwest Lighthouse for the Blind in Lubbock, Texas, continues to attract nationwide publicity. Here is an article which appeared in the Columbia, Missouri, Daily Tribune on March 6, 1989. It is one more indicator of the progress that National Federation of the Blind is making and the changing public attitudes which are accompanying it.
Lubbock, Texas (AP) – Blind employees at a workshop established to rehabilitate them say they’re being exploited and are demanding the same wages their sighted counterparts get for comparable work.
But the founder of the Southwest Lighthouse for the Blind says the workshop trains blind people for work on the private sector and is not required to pay the minimum wage.
The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the workshop’s wages, and Lighthouse officials are to appear next month before an administrative law judge to defend the separate wage scales for blind and sighted employees.
“I think they’re trying to have more of a factory out there than to do something for the blind,” said David Rocco, a former Lighthouse employee who led a workers’ strike in August and was laid off in January.
The dispute comes at a time when the blind are increasingly questioning their treatment at such organizations. About 100 similar workshops employ 6,000 visually impaired people nationwide. Employees at workshops in Houston and Cincinnati have formed unions in the wake of wage and labor disputes. Unionization efforts by workers in Little Rock, Arkansas, were denied by an appeals court.
“Blind people have been exploited in workshops since workshops came into being,” said James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore.
“When you’re paying $2.10 an hour, you’re going to have a lot of wage disputes,” added the Federation’s President, Marc Maurer. “It’s not enough to live on.”
In Lubbock fourteen blind workers, carrying canes and wearing signs reading “Lighthouse wages are from the Dark Ages,” walked off their jobs in August in protest the $2.05 hourly wage and their $65-a-month health insurance fee.
They want the Lighthouse to pay them the same $3.35 minimum wage other employees receive.
by Barbara Pierce
To every blind parent the idea of losing custody of children because of one’s blindness looms as a nightmare at the edge of consciousness. Michael Young of Florence, South Carolina, is the father of two small children. He has been blind since the age of fifteen. In May of 1986, when his daughter Jessica was two and his son Daniel was a year old, their mother left home to move into her boyfriend’s apartment. They subsequently went to Boston for six months, leaving Mr. Young in sole custody of the babies. Then he was severely hurt in an automobile accident, and Mrs. Young returned to take charge of the children.
As he recovered from his injuries, Mr. Young resumed some care of the children, and he began to make strong efforts to take charge of his life. He became a student at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind’s Adjustment Center, where Frank Coppel, Director of Adjustment Training and an active Federationist, got to know him. He finished that program in September of 1988 and enrolled in a computer studies program at Florence Darlington Technical College. Mr. Young had come to the conclusion that his marriage was over, so in March of 1988 he filed for divorce.
In May Mrs. Young’s attorney notified Michael that his wife was prepared to fight to retain custody of the children on the grounds that he was unfit to care for them because of his blindness. At the recommendation of Frank Coppel, Mr. Young, who was not at that time a member of the National Federation of the Blind, called Don Capps, President of the NFB of South Carolina for advice. Mr. Capps assured him that the Federation would help and consulted with President Maurer and other officers, who together decided that Mr. Capps and Mr. Coppel would testify at the hearing that blindness need not be a bar to effective child care. Betty Capps, Don’s wife, was also prepared to testify, but in the end the judge made up his mind before it was necessary to call her to the stand.
The hearing was set for October 19, 1988, before Judge A. E. Morehead III, and the preliminary signs did not look hopeful. The judge called Mr. Young’s attorney to the bench and asked him why he was bothering with the custody battle at all since it was obvious that a blind parent could not assume full responsibility for young children. It is unusual for a judge with so biased a view of blind people to possess enough objectivity to hear testimony with an open mind. Judge Morehead’s summary of the case, however, demonstrates that effective witnesses can make a difference and that justice can still triumph.
Michael Young has been awarded custody of his children thanks to the National Federation of the Blind. This case is a good example of the close working relationship between the national organization and its state affiliates. Together they pooled expertise and prepared testimony, and Michael, Jessica, and Daniel Young are the beneficiaries. One result of all this has been that Florence, South Carolina, chapter of the NFB has a new, active member, who knows first-hand one more answer to the question, “ Why the National Federation of the Blind?”
Here is the summary of Judge Morehead’s findings:
STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA COUNTY OF FLORENCE
IN THE FAMILY COURT OF THE TWELFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
CASE NO. 88-DR-21-1329
Michael Robert Young
Route 4, Box 481
Florence, South Carolina
Pamela Jean Lee Young
Broaches Trailer Park
Florence, South Carolina
Date of Hearing: 10-19-88
Time of Hearing: 2:30
Trial Judge: A.E. Morehead, III
This matter came on before me for a final hearing on the above date. The parties, their attorneys, and the Guardian ad Litem were present and participated.
Prior to the taking of testimony, the parties stipulated that the only two issues before the Court were the question of the Divorce itself and custody. Neither party was seeking alimony from the other, and there was no marital property to be divided. That issue had been resolved at the time of the separation. In addition the Plaintiff, in the event that he was granted custody, was waiving his right to child support payments from the Defendant because he is receiving a disability check from Social Security, which includes a stipend for each of the children.
The Court heard testimony from Mr. Frank Coppel, the Director of Adjustment Training at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, and from Mr. Donald C. Capps, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. They testified that, in spite of their handicap, blind people are fully capable of raising sighted children. Each of them testified about the problems involved and how those problems are dealt with. Mr. Frank Coppel also testified in his professional capacity about Mr. Young’s capabilities as demonstrated in the extensive training program he underwent at the Commission for the Blind in Columbia. Of particular note was his testimony that Mr. Young was one of the most highly motivated and successful students who had ever gone through their program.
Mr. Young testified that in May of 1986, the Defendant abandoned him and the two minor children, who at that time were infants, when she went to live with her boyfriend, Richard Carroway. Sometime after the separation the Defendant and Richard Carroway moved to Boston, Mass. For approximately six months, leaving the children totally in the Plaintiff’s care. The Plaintiff kept the children in his custody until he was involved in a serious automobile accident, which involved a lengthy hospital stay and a period of rehabilitation. During this time the children lived with Mrs. Young and Richard Carroway. Following his return to health, the father went to Columbia for training at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, and that training was not completed until September of 1988. Mr. Young is currently enrolled at Florence Darlington Technical College matriculating in Computer Programming. He also testified that, ever since his recovery from the automobile accident, the children have been spending weekends with him.
Testimony was also received from Mrs. Ellen Lee. Mrs. Lee is married to the Defendant’s father and lives next door to the Plaintiff. She testified that she and Mr. Lee have provided assistance to the Plaintiff in the past both in meeting his own personal needs (such as transportation) and in assisting him with the children.
Testimony was received from the Defendant, who testified that the primary reason she left was the Plaintiff’s involvement with alcohol and drugs. However, she acknowledged that she left to move in with Richard Carroway, that she left the children behind in the Plaintiff’s care, and that she and Richard Carroway moved to Boston, Mass., for approximately six months while the children were in the custody, care, and control of the Plaintiff. She testified that the Plaintiff was a good father but that she was concerned for the children’s safety if they were in the custody of the Plaintiff, who was blind. I did not find her testimony credible. I believe that the reason she left was to be with Richard Carroway and that her behavior amply demonstrates that.
Testimony was also received from Richard Carroway. He testified that he met the Defendant shortly after he got out of prison. He basically attempted to corroborate the Defendant’s testimony. In addition he testified that he and the Defendant plan on marrying as soon as this Divorce is final; but he acknowledged that neither he nor the Defendant had taken any action to secure a Divorce on their own behalf during the entire time they had lived together.
Testimony was also received from Sarah Morris, who testified that she has known both parties and that both love the children and would do their best for them, although she preferred the Defendant because of the Plaintiff’s blindness.
While blindness is a circumstance which makes this case unusual, I find that it is just one factor that I am required to consider in deciding the question of custody. I placed substantial weight on the testimony of Mr. Frank Coppel that the father had finished the required courses in Columbia, had done an excellent job, was one of the sharpest clients ever to attend, was highly motivated, and was completely able to handle the children within his limitations.
I am persuaded that the reason the Defendant left the marital home was to be with Richard Carroway and that her testimony about her concerns for the safety of the children are overweighed by her behavior in leaving the children in the Plaintiff’s custody while she went off with her boyfriend. At the time she left, the couple’s daughter was two years old, and their son Daniel was one. I am persuaded that if the Plaintiff can manage to raise two children that age successfully as a single parent with the handicap of blindness, he has amply demonstrated to this Court his ability to continue to do so.
Another factor I have considered in making this custody decision is the children’s living conditions and environment. I do not believe that the mother is providing a wholesome and healthy environment for the children. She is still living with her boyfriend. She sleeps with him in front of the children, and I do not think that this is a good moral situation for them, even though the mother did indicate that she plans to marry her boyfriend as soon as the Divorce is granted. In addition on two separate occasions the children have had to be treated for lice by the Plaintiff. This was acknowledged and corroborated by the Defendant in her testimony.
Because of the special circumstances of this case, I believe that the Defendant and her parents will be providing substantial assistance to the Plaintiff in taking care of these children, and it is my intention to grant the Mother liberal visitation rights. I would strongly encourage the Father to give primary consideration to the Mother in taking care of the children while he is at class or involved in work at Florence Darlington Technical College.
Considering visitation, at a minimum the Defendant should have visitation every other weekend. The parties should alternate the Thanksgiving and Easter holidays, with the Plaintiff having Easter and the Defendant having Thanksgiving on even numbered years, and the reverse on odd numbered years. They should split Christmas holidays, and the Defendant shall have four weeks visitation in the summers. I am going to require that she give the Plaintiff notice of which four weeks she wants in the summer by April 15th of each year, so both of them can plan their vacation schedules. In addition, of course, she can have the children at any other times that the parties agree…
A.E. Morehead, III
Judge of the Family Court of the Twelfth Judicial District
Florence, South Carolina
December 9, 1988
This article by Joyce E. Smith appeared in the February 17, 1989, Kansas City Times. In sending it to us John Halverson said: “I think you will find this to be one of the most positive, outstanding articles on employment of the blind to appear in a long time. It’ good when the fruits of our labor pay off.” Although the article contains a good deal of information which is not news to Monitor readers, it (and others like it) can provide a strong push toward education of the general public. Here is what it says:
Joe Carlisle dazzles stereo customers with his knowledge of high speed dubbing and five bank graphic equalizers.
Then he baffles them by seeking help in writing up a simple purchase order.
“I just tell them I don’t see too well,” said Carlisle, a salesman at Brands Mart Stereo. “I don’t want to wear a T-shirt that says, ‘I can’t see for beans.’ That puts people off, they feel uncomfortable and they don’t buy things.”
When the effects of multiple sclerosis left Carlisle blind about three years ago, he decided to continue his sales career. He and many other blind persons in Kansas City hold their own with other workers in positions ranging from secretary to head of a multimillion-dollar company. They defy stereotypes that would limit the blind to uncomplicated manual tasks.
Although laws in many states prohibit employers from discriminating in hiring the blind or disabled, the unemployment rate among working-age blind persons seeking employment is more than 70 percent nationwide, according to the National Federation of the Blind of Washington.
“If this was any other group it would be a national scandal,” said John Halverson, division director for the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Kansas City and president of the public employees division of the National Federation of the Blind.
“It’s due to a lack of opportunity because of discrimination,” Halverson said. “That doesn’t mean bad discrimination. Employers just don’t see how blind employees can do a job.”
The National Federation of the Blind and Job Opportunities for the Blind will hold a seminar on hiring the blind March 3 at the Kansas City Club. The program will bring to the Kansas City business community some nationally known experts on blindness and employment of the blind.
After 20 years in the audio business, Carlisle finds his recent loss of eyesight to be more of an inconvenience than a serious hindrance in doing his job.
Occasionally he shows the wrong stereo system to a customer or trips over unpacked boxes in the showroom. But Carlisle was the No. 2 employee in sales at the store in 1988.
“I know every unit on a car stereo and I know this store as well, if not better, than my own home,” Carlisle said. “I also get a lot of help from the other employees, and it’s all welcome. A lot of places would have told me to hit the road.”
Halverson said many positions, especially clerical duties, could be restructured for the blind employee.
“A good manager recognizes the different strengths and weaknesses of his employees and works around those,” he said.
In 1959, Bob Schenke was blindness in an automobile accident. Two years later, he founded Construction Anchors Inc., a distributor of equipment for the heavy and commercial construction industries. The corporation, based in Kansas City, had gross revenue of $10 million in 1988 and employs about 35 people.
“The first order from a customer is oftentimes because I’m blind,” Schenke said. “But the second, and the growth, are because I’m doing a good job.”
At age 12, Schenke was helping his uncle build houses, and he later earned an engineering degree.
“I loved to build,” Schenke said. “I knew what I wanted to do, so I worked hard.”
But immediately after the accident, just getting dressed for the day seemed like an impossible task, he said. That soon changed.
“While I was in the hospital a student nurse ordered me out of bed and told me to go shave,” Schenke said. “And on my first day home my wife said, ‘The kitchen faucet was dripping before you accident and now it’s running.’ So I went and fixed it. It’s a case of not giving it a second thought.”
Schenke was turned down by more than 40 companies before he started his own business.
“I didn’t lay down; I got a dog and got selling and have been ever since,”
he said. “I was back in my stomping ground. Me and the dog walked those beams,
and I demonstrated to the contractors that I knew what I was doing and could
offer solutions to their problems.”
Schenke now spends most of his time on administrative duties. He uses a Braille and Speak for taking notes in meetings. By typing the information in Braille, he can later listen to it and have it stored on a computer disc.
“There are aids to take advantage of so you won’t lose that independence,” Schenke said. “There’s a common thread that runs through success: Believe in yourself or no one else will. You have to knock on lots of doors and do what’s necessary.”
When she applied for jobs, Peg Halverson told employers to hire her and if she couldn’t do the job, they could fire her as they would any other employee.
“If blind people have an opportunity to get jobs, they will do the jobs,” said Halverson, a secretary at Lawrence-Leiter & Co. since October 1987.
Society has a stereotypical view of blind people as being sheltered, she said.
“I had four brothers an didn’t have time to be sheltered; I was too busy climbing trees and riding bikes,” said Halverson, who was blind from birth. “Blindness itself isn’t a limiting thing.”
Secretaries at Lawrence-Leiter do most of their work on computers and us tape recorders for dictation. When monitoring the company’s eight phone lines Halverson runs a light probe along the flashing buttons. Varying vibrations emitted by the probe tell her which calls are on hold and which ones are incoming. Halverson also uses Braille to mark computer discs and files.
William Stephan, a blind purchasing agent for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Kansas City, said the computer had been the single biggest equalizer between the visually impaired and those with perfect vision.
Computers with a voice synthesizer enable blind workers to hear the same information that is shown on a computer screen. Braille printers are also available.
Stephan spends most of his day analyzing purchase requests, locating suppliers and soliciting prices on products. All of the documents are in print form, so he uses an Opticon to read the material. The device, about the size of a pocketknife, emits varying vibrations when placed over letters of the alphabet, and he interprets the vibrations.
“Some people are so used to using their eyesight for every little thing that they lose sight, if you will, of other ways they can get the job done,” Stephan said. “But you just have to be resourceful and logical about alternative ways of doing things.”
Ken Jacoby, chief of the contracting division of the Corps of Engineers for this area, said the office made minor adjustments when Stephan was hired, but no more than for any other employee.
“Each individual is unique anyway,” Jacoby said. “Bill has a super positive attitude and is extremely conscientious. He’s one of my better employees.”
Jackie Durham, administrative assistant at Lawrence-Leiter and Co., said Peg Halverson had exceeded the company’s expectations.
“Her references were fine and she had done the work before, but we never had any experience with someone unsighted,” Durham said. “It’s been an education; I don’t think of her as blind anymore. You just forget.”
Employers look at blind people in the abstract, Stephan said, when they see their résumés; they’re not persons, they’re blind persons.
“I’ve had my share of bullets,” he said. “It takes a long time to get employers to hire you.”
Increasing employment of the blind will come through education, and that doesn’t mean putting on a blindfold and pretending you’re blind for a day, Stephan said.
“All you’ll do is bang into doors,” Stephan said. “We need to get blind people into the workplace doing the kinds of things other employees do. We can’t be a truck driver or a jet pilot, but about everything else is possible.”
“Expectations for the blind shouldn’t be any lower than for anyone else.”
by Patricia Munson
From the Editor: Patricia (Pat) Munson is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of California.
This year I am celebrating my twenty-fifth year as a regular public school teacher. I was on March 13, 1964, that I stepped off the bus and walked to the personnel office of the Berkeley Unified School District. As I was waiting to be called in for the interview, the secretary’s telephone rang. I heard her repeat, as she wrote, that a music teacher at one of the junior high schools would be leaving at the end of that school year. Right then and there I made up my mind that I was going to get that job!
I had had a number of job interviews prior to this one, so I knew what to expect. I possessed the credentials, and I knew all I had to do was convince the personnel director that Berkeley simply could not survive without my services. The minute I affixed my signature to that contract was the happiest day of my life, not just because I got a job but also because I was one more blind person moving into the mainstream of society. My family was thrilled, my college professors elated, and the blind I knew gained hope for their economic future.
In late August my reader and I went into my classroom and sorted through and attached Braille labels to all the material I was to use. This very large classroom was used for five classes of introduction to music plus the girls’ glee club. The glee club had about 100 girls. I was a very nervous, happy new teacher that first day of school.
Being about two miles from the University of California, we had many demonstrations against the Vietnam War and all the rest. I survived it all, but when a transfer was offered to me to teach English to foreign students, I jumped at the chance.
For almost eighteen years now I have been teaching these students. The work is interesting and rewarding and would now qualify me to work as an ambassador, foreign service employee, or who knows what. I have taught English to almost all cultural groups on earth.
Of course, most students are shocked to find a blind teacher when they enter my room, for it is no secret that the blind of most of the rest of the world do not have as good a life as the blind in the United States. The blind of this country have jobs and more rights than before because of the collective work of the members of the National Federation of the blind.
My foreign students learn the very first day that I operate exactly the same way as all the other teachers. The only difference is my use of Braille. I keep my records in Braille and later copy the information on the appropriate records or student papers. I use exactly the same texts as they, but mine are in Braille. Around the room I have many pictures which I use for demonstration purposes. I hang them all myself and know what is in each, for Braille is on all of them. I discuss blindness, and they see me walking independently in the community. We openly talk about blindness so that when they return to their countries they can encourage blind adults and children.
Before the 1950’s the blind in the United States were excluded from all public school jobs. The law pertaining to teachers mandated that a teacher have “normal” vision. Members of the National Federation of the Blind worked long and hard to delete the discriminatory language and, of course, were successful. I, along with many other blind teachers, have eradicated the myth that the blind cannot teach the sighted. Like me, the blind who have been teaching in the public schools of this country have opened the doors for the generations of the blind to come.
I proudly share this momentous occasion with all the blind, for it is in concert that we all make large strides toward total equality in this land, which promises liberty and freedom for all.
by Barbara Pierce
In every minority group’s struggle for equality, individuals’ lives can become the front line of the battle almost overnight. One day a person like Lauren Eckery of Omaha, Nebraska, can be industriously working to create a life as an active member of her community, and the next she is embroiled in a civil rights dispute with a prospective employer.
In 1977, Mrs. Eckery was looking for a job as a technician in the Central Supply Department of Omaha’s Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital. As a matter of fact, she was negotiating with several area institutions for similar jobs. But Bishop Clarkson administrators were asking endless questions about a how a blind person could do the technician’s job, so that was the institution Mrs. Eckery, the NFB, and her rehabilitation counselor chose to concentrate on. John Cheadle, now a member of the NFB’s national staff, was the supervisor in the Omaha office of Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired, and he took an active interest in the Eckery case.
Barbara Cheadle, now President of the NFB Parents of Blind Children Division, had worked during college as a central services technician and was convinced that a person skilled in the alternative techniques of blindness could perform the job competently without vision. Both Mr. And Mrs. Cheadle, as well as Barbara Walker (President of the NFB of Nebraska) and Laurie Eckery herself, spent time with hospital officials demonstrating the ways in which the various tasks could be done. Light probes were used to read indicator strips and colored lights. Research was done indicating that the autoclave gauges could easily and inexpensively be modified so that Mrs. Eckery could read them. She Maneuvered carts through the halls and demonstrated ways in which she could distinguish between packages of different materials and equipment, but hospital officials refused even to give Mrs. Eckery a chance.
In the meantime word had filtered out to the other hospitals in the Omaha area that Bishop Clarkson was refusing to consider hiring this blind woman, and magically all the jobs that had been advertised for months suddenly evaporated. Mrs. Eckery does not believe in magic, and she wanted a chance to demonstrate her capacity to work competitively. She was also unwilling to allow all these hospitals to turn their backs on their responsibility to hire qualified blind people. She took her case to the Equal Opportunities Commission, which quaked in its boots at the prospect of finding against the city’s hospitals en masse, so it ruled that no discrimination had taken place.
Frustrated and discouraged but undeterred, Mrs. Eckery turned to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), where her case again hit rough water. In September of 1978 the Regional Office of the OCR ruled in favor of Mrs. Eckery, but the hospital maintained that it was not compelled to hire disabled people or provide reasonable accommodation. During this period several judges rendered opinions stating that section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 did not apply to employers, so the OCR decided not to proceed with the Eckery case, and there it languished until 1987. Then the OCR Regional Office decided, based on a recent Supreme Court decision, that it did have jurisdiction in the Eckery case after all and that it would indeed carry out its 1978 decision against Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital unless the facility was able to negotiate a settlement with Mrs. Eckery.
At this point Mrs. Eckery was faced with a difficult decision. After all she had been through, it was tempting to contemplate the prospect of seeing the hospital squirm in the spotlight of the publicity surrounding an OCR announcement of its decision in the case. She would also have liked to force its administration to offer her or some other blind person a job. But taking such a case to federal court or enduring the hospital’s inevitable appeal to the Washington, D.C., office of OCR would have been time-consuming and expensive. Moreover, she could not be certain of the outcome. A settlement, on the other hand, would mean immediate victory, albeit on a smaller scale. Mrs. Eckery’s life had moved on. She and her husband now had a child, and she had received her master’s degree in social work. After consultation with the Federation, she ultimately agreed to settle the dispute.
Of course, Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital claims in the written agreement that there was no wrongdoing on its part. That is an inevitable feature of such documents, but despite this disclaimer officials have agreed to pay Lauren Eckery $10,000. Presumably they would like one to suppose that this gesture is made out of the goodness of their hearts and as a token of their esteem for Mrs. Eckery and her effort to demonstrate that blind people can be competent employees.
Hospital officials also stipulated that Lauren Eckery could not speak to the press and should attempt to dissuade the National Federation of the Blind from doing so. Lauren Eckery has been as good as her word. The Braille Monitor did not speak with her in preparing this story, and she notified President Maurer of the request that the NFB not publicize the fact that Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital had settled this case rather than face the Office for Civil Rights judgment against it.
We have, of course, chosen to ignore the hospital’s natural wish to cover up its misdeeds and discrimination. This settlement is a victory for Lauren Eckery, for the Federation, and for all of us prepared to stand and fight for the principle that blind people are capable and deserving of a chance to demonstrate that fact. All such victories have their cost. Lauren Eckery and her family have suffered during these years. Her good name has been damaged in Omaha. First she was a thorn in the side of the business-as-usual medical establishment—a blind woman with the peculiar notion that she could compete on terms of equality. Now that she has won, she is a troublemaker who has brought home a painful truth. Blind people may no longer be ignored, but her name is still anathema. No hospital in Omaha will consider hiring her as a social worker. Principles are rarely convenient, and victories like that of Lauren Eckery carry with them a cost that must be paid. But she has now been vindicated, and all of us are stronger because of her courage and tenacity. Here is the settlement agreement she signed:
Settlement Agreement and Release
THIS AGREEMENT is made and entered into this 1st day of February, 1989, by and between BISHOP CLARKSON MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, a not-for-profit Corporation organized and doing business under the Nebraska Nonprofit Corporation Act (“BCMH”), 44th and Dewey Avenue, Omaha, Nebraska, and LAUREN ECKERY (“Eckery”), 5002 Burt Street, Omaha, Nebraska.
Lauren Eckery has previously filed a complaint with the predecessor to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights, alleging that on or about August 31, 1977, BCMH refused to hire her for a position in its Central Services Department as a technician, because of her blindness. Eckery further alleged that she was qualified to perform the job. The complaint was filed pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.
The Office for Civil Rights investigated and determined on September 21, 1978, that BCMH discriminated against Eckery.
BCMH denied these allegations, taking the position that the Office for Civil Rights did not have jurisdiction because BCMH was not a recipient of federal financial assistance within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its regulations; that even with the suggested reasonable accommodation, Eckery could not perform the essential job functions of a Central Services technician; that the reasonable accommodation suggested by Office for Civil Rights did not overcome the effects of her handicap; and that the suggested reasonable accommodation would result in an unreasonable loss of productivity in the Department and greater risk for patient safety, safety to Eckery, and safety to her co-workers.
On June 10, 1981, Office for Civil Rights advised BCMH that because of a decision of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, holding that OCR lacked jurisdiction under similar circumstances, the Eckery complaint was being administratively closed.
On May 11, 1987, Office for Civil Rights advised that because of a decision of the United States Supreme Court, it once again had jurisdiction over this matter; and further advised that it was preparing to recommend enforcement against BCMH. However, before doing so, BCMH was given the opportunity to resume negotiations with Eckery. Office for Civil Rights further advised BCMH, through its attorneys, in correspondence dated October 1987, February 17, 1988, and July 20, 1988, that enforcement action would not be taken against BCMH if satisfactory negotiations were reached with Eckery as to settlement. Such an agreement has been reached, as stated in the following conditions and terms.
Terms and Conditions
1. This settlement Agreement and Release is made as a compromise between the
parties for the final settlement of their claims, differences, and causes of
action with respect to the dispute described above. BCMH denies any liability
to Eckery or the Department of Health and Human Services: and the parties desire
to reach a full and final compromise and settlement of all matters and all
causes of action arising out of such dispute.
2. BCMH agrees to pay Eckery the sum of TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS ($10,000.00), the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged by Eckery.
3. Eckery agrees that all claims, demands, rights, and causes of action which she may have against BCMH with respect to such dispute are satisfied, discharged, and settled. Likewise, BCMH agrees that any claims and demands that it has or may have against Eckery with respect to such dispute are satisfied, discharged, and settled.
4. These terms and conditions are not to be disclosed by Eckery or her spouse to any third-parties, with the exception of representatives of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights, and the National Federation of the Blind. Eckery shall use her best efforts to restrict disclosure by the National Federation of the Blind to its own publications, and to prevent a general media release by the Federation that a settlement has been reached, and stating the terms and conditions of the settlement.
5. No provisions or statements contained herein shall be construed as an admission by BCMH that it or any of its officers, directors, trustees, employees, or agents improperly discriminated against her in conjunction with her application for a position with BCMH in its Central Services Department.
6. Neither Eckery nor her personal representatives shall file a charge, complaint, lawsuit, or other claim against BCMH, its past and present parent, subsidiary, and affiliated corporation or business entities, and its (and their) past and present trustees, directors, officers, agents, or employees, for any alleged act of discrimination arising out of any aspect of such dispute. In addition, Eckery agrees not to file any cause of action relating to the breach of any oral or written contract, misrepresentation, defamation, interference with contract, and intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress.
7. In consideration of the mutual agreements contained herein, each party hereby fully and completely releases the other party, and in the case of BCMH, its past and present trustees, directors, officers, agents, or employees, from any and all claims, actions, and causes of action which it or she now has against the other, and arising out of such dispute.
8. The parties acknowledge that execution of this Settlement Agreement and Release, and payment of the amount identified in Section 2, are specifically conditioned upon the Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights closing the Eckery complaint file and taking no further action against BCMH based on Ms. Eckery’s complaint. To the extent that the Department of Health and Human Services fails to do so, Eckery shall refund to BCMH the amount paid under the terms and conditions of this Settlement Agreement; and upon said demand the Settlement Agreement and Ms. Eckery’s Release of BCMH shall be void and of no further force and effect.
9. Each of the parties is to pay their own attorney’s fees.
10. This Agreement shall be binding on and inure to the benefit of the parties and their respective legal representatives, successors, and assigns.
11. This Agreement is Governed by, under, and in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and to the extent not inconsistent therewith, the laws of the State of Nebraska.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the parties have executed this Settlement Agreement and Release as of the dates following their respective signatures.
Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital
Howard L. Hays,
Chief Operating Officer
Date: February 1, 1989
Lauren L. Eckery
Date: January 10, 1989
I, DANIEL F. GOLDSTEIN, attorney for Lauren L. Eckery, have explained to my Client all the terms and conditions of this Settlement Agreement and Release, and she has represented to me that she fully understands all of the terms and their Significance, and has signed this Agreement voluntarily.
I, ANDREW E. GRIMM, attorney for Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital, have explained to my Client all the terms and conditions of this Settlement Agreement and Release, and it has represented to me that it fully understands all of the terms and their significance, and has signed this Agreement voluntarily.
by Ronald E. Milliman, Ph.D.
(Dr. Milliman is a professor of marketing at Western Kentucky University.)
Virtually everyone who reads this article has been, or perhaps currently is, a student. Some of you have completed high school while others have gone on to a university and perhaps, even beyond to graduate school. Thus, you have all experienced the frustrations of having to get papers typed in an acceptable, finished form to be handed in to your teacher or professor. I, too, have faced this predicament many times, and since I was a terrible typist, my only alternative was to seek assistance from someone else—thus, giving in to a degree of undesirable dependence.
Only too well I remember going through he laborious task of writing term papers and other assignments in Braille—then, facing the awesome experience of trying to make editorial changes once the material was written in Braille; finally getting to the point it could be dictated to the typist; and even then, making additional changes during dictation. Still, often when my sighted assistant read the paper back, I noted improvements that could be incorporated into the “final” draft. The whole process took considerably more time than it did for my sighted counterparts, but that was just a disadvantage of being blind, which one simply had to tolerate.
Later, when I was about to complete my Ph.D. at Arizona State University, I thought I had finally arrived—no more papers to write! Nay! not so, said my dissertation committee chairman. “Now, you will be expected to produce really ‘serious’ research papers toward the objective of making a contribution to your discipline.” Damn! That is what I thought I was doing all along by investing months of my life in conducting research for and writing a doctoral dissertation of 357 pages. Little did I realize, when I first decided to go for my doctorate and become a university professor, that research and writing scholarly journal articles would be a continuing state of life for me—an extremely naïve view as I reflect upon it now. In fact, it is a required part of the profession if one expects to keep one’s position—at least, at a quality institution. So, what I thought was a problem about to be substantially behind me turned out to be an even bigger mountain to scale ahead.
My first position after completing my Ph.D. was as an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Arlington. I was considered a good teacher and participated in all the necessary university activities and committees, but I found the research and writing expectations far beyond my level of productivity. In other words, after five years on the faculty, my contract was not renewed for lack of sufficient research. I had not produced the prescribed number of acceptable journal articles. You see, when a university requires its professors to publish a given number of research articles a year, it doesn’t mean in the Ladies Home Journal. It means very scholarly publications, often requiring exhaustive library literature searches; in-depth laboratory or field research; and sophisticated statistical analysis, culminating in a journal article which will make a major contribution to one’s discipline.
After the experience with that first position at the University of Texas at Arlington, I began to take the whole business of research much more seriously. I went on to teach at three other universities. I was promoted to associate professor at one of them and served as department chairman at another. My first major research contribution was published in the Journal of Marking. It dealt with the effects of background music on in-store shopping behavior. I have since published several additional articles on this same general subject, as well as many other marketing related topics. However, the first took me nearly two years to get published after the research was completed because of all the writing and writing and trying to comply with the many editorial reviewers’ suggestions and demands. Each alteration required rewriting large portions in Braille, dictating the entire paper to a typist, reading it back, again making editorial changes, retyping it, and finally sending it back to the journal’s editor for another review. With this process it is exceedingly difficult to produce very many scholarly journal articles a year.
Then, I found a better, much more efficient way of getting the task accomplished. What used to take me several months to complete in polished form and get published now takes me a fraction of the time, and what is really fantastic is that I am no longer dependent on a sighted assistant to type and read the several iterations of a research paper or other project. I do it all myself thanks to the National Federation of the Blind’s nifty invention called the Speaqualizer. It plugs into an expansion slot of any IBM computer (or compatible) and gives the user excellent speech output of any visual character set that a sighted person can see on the computer’s screen. It allows the blind used access to virtually all available “off-the-shelf” software packages that run on the IBM, PC, XT, and AT computers.
With my IBM “look alike” computer and Speaqualizer combo, I have become a fairly acceptable typist and now type all my papers (including the one you are now reading) directly into the computer, make all editorial changes, and polish the final draft—all without any assistance. Like most senior professors, I have a graduated research assistant assigned to me to help with the “go-fer” work such as library searches, running data to and from the university’s main computer center, etc. But now, with my NFB Speaqualizer, I am able to prepare scholarly research papers as efficiently as any of my sighted colleagues. In fact, they now bring research ideas to me to work on with them, which they never did before I got my computer and Speaqualizer. I even proofread their papers to help them get their articles ready for journal publication.
In fact, my computer enables me to be considerably more independent in, and to improve, virtually all aspects of my life. (Well, there are one or two dimensions which my wife says will take something much more than a Speaqualizer-equipped computer to improve!)
I am engaged in various business and consulting activities, as well as my teaching and research. For instance, I am quite involved with real estate, and we own a number of investment properties. I am able to write all of the contracts and keep various financial records with my computer.
Though I have several word processing software programs, I primarily use WordStar, along with the Borland Lightning SpellCheck program; the Borland package is especially suited for a blind user since it beeps immediately when you misspell a word. I also make extensive use of Borland’s Sidekick program, which is a resident program (like the Lightning program) and allows me to make notes, read other files, place telephone calls with my modem, do mathematical calculations, etc.—all while I am, at the same time, working on a research paper or something else. I use Lotus 123 in conjunction with both my research and the courses I teach in marketing. I also have a really handy computerized “gradebook,” which allows me to keep track of all my students’ grades.
In fact, I am so excited about the independence I have achieved with the NFB Speaqualizer that I now have two of them—one at home, which I purchased myself, and another in my office at the university, which the college purchased for me, to facilitate my scholarly productivity. Toward this objective, my output has gone up considerably by using the Speaqualizer. It used to be a challenge for me to get one article published a year in the old, inefficient way—but with the Speaqualizer, I published eleven major research articles just last year alone and have several well on their way this year.
There are numerous software packages available which allow a blind person to obtain acceptable speech output from a computer, and any one of them is better than not having access to a computer at all. However, I have examined several of these software solutions and feel they fall short of giving a blind computer user the total flexibility that the Speaqualizer does. The Speaqualizer is a hardware device and does not take up any of the computer’s RAM memory, nor does it require the use of a floppy drive. It is perhaps the easiest of the various talking output devices for a blind computer operator to use. I like the way it allows me to hear all types of punctuation, or none of the punctuation, depending upon my purpose. I can read the text back line by line, word by word, or letter by letter—again, depending upon my particular need.
Perhaps the largest single advantage of the NFB Speaqualizer is that it can give the blind use access to virtually any off-the-shelf software program available to a sighted computer operator. Another important advantage is that you can run all types of resident programs without any conflict with the speech output solutions with which I am familiar.
The price of the Speaqualizer is about the same as (or in some instances slightly higher than) most of the alternatives. However, I believe the modest investment can be more than justified by the substantially greater flexibility. If you are thinking about getting a computer or if you are not completely satisfied with your present software-based speech output approach, you should definitely consider the NFB Speaqualizer; I believe it is currently the ultimate solution.
by Kenneth Jernigan
It is interesting to note how flexible the attitudes about blindness are. When an individual with a little eyesight is trying to get a job, he or she is often not blind at all; but when that same individual is filling out Social Security or tax forms, he or she may be as blind as they come. A number of years ago when some of us were going to the Baltimore airport to make a trail evacuation of a wide-bodied airplane by going down the emergency slide, the reaction of a blind (or partially sighted or visually impaired, whichever way you want to think of it) young girl (about nine, I think) was right on target. She wanted to participate, but only the blind could go.
“I’m blind,” she said, “so I want to take part.”
“You can’t,” her father said. “You tell me all the time that you aren’t blind.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “That’s different. I’m blind, and I have a right to go.”
The term “legal blindness,” with heavy emphasis on the “legal,” is much in vogue these days, but what does it mean? Does it mean that the person who is “legally blind” is not really blind but just caught in a legal fiction, or does the term have meaning? Who created it, and why? Surely there must have been some reason, or was it simply arbitrary?
The definition that many of us use is that a person is blind to the extent that he or she must employ alternative techniques to do efficiently those tasks which the person with normal eyesight would do visually, and that a person should be classified as blind when he or she must use enough such alternative techniques that his or her patterns of daily living are substantially altered. The standard definition of 20/200 visual acuity in the better eye with correcting lenses or an angle of less than twenty degrees is presumed to be simply another way of saying the same thing—that a person with such limited eyesight will need to adopt so many alternative techniques to function efficiently that his or her patterns of daily living are substantially altered.
Of course, all of this hairsplitting is just that, hairsplitting. From the beginning of history blindness has been equated with inferiority and lack of ability, so people have done everything they could to avoid being thought of as blind—even if they have had almost no eyesight at all. Underlying much of the work which we of the National Federation of the Blind have done over the years is the concept that it is respectable to be blind. Here we have taken a lesson from the blacks.
As long as black people tried to hide their blackness or point to the fact that this or that black really had lighter skin than most, second-class status was inevitable; for even the lightest-skinned black was still black. The attempts at straightening the hair and lightening the skin never worked. Mostly they were a subject of ridicule. Only when blacks began to be what they were (and openly to say that they were proud to be what they were) did the world change. Within reason, others tend to treat us as we expect to be treated, so when blacks began to feel and act and believe that it was respectable to be black, it was respectable. After all, respectability is a social concept, not a chemical formula; and it always begins in one’s own mind.
Likewise with the blind. A person who sees so little that he or she cannot drive a car, read ordinary print, recognize faces at a distance, or do visually most of the rest of the things that others normally do with sight is (by any reasonable definition) blind—and will be regarded as blind by friends and associates. The blind person can react to this defensively or matter-of-factly. If the defensiveness is sufficiently strong, friends and associates will pretend and avoid the word blind, but they will not stop thinking about it. They will simply add pity to the emotions they already feel.
So we have blind people who avoid the word and tell people that they are not blind, just visually challenged, visually impaired, or visually limited—or perhaps they are suffering from a “profound reduction in their visual acuity.” And no one is fooled by the gobbledygook—no one, that is, except maybe a few of the professionals who love such fine and meaningless distinctions. Meanwhile the blind (both the totals and the visually challenged) pay the price, regarding themselves and being regarded as second-class. Since believing a thing tends to make it come true, they end up being as inferior as they think they are, needlessly.
For quite some time the Texas School for the Blind has been undergoing internal debate and soul-searching. Bill Miller (one of its chief executives, writing in the School’s December, 1988, publication—which is significantly entitled Insights) advocates changing the name of the institution from the Texas School for the Blind to either the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired or the Texas School for the Visually Impaired. In fact, he flirts with the notion of removing any reference whatever to loss of sight in the School’s name. The reasons he gives for making the change tell us more about him and his philosophy than he probably realizes. They also tell us much about the prospects for first-class citizenship and self-esteem of the School’s graduates both now and in the future. He talks of the resentment which some “legally blind” people feel at being referred to as blind, and he makes comparisons with the asylums which existed earlier in the century.
In sending Miller’s article to the Monitor, Norma Beathard (now Norma Crosby) says: “I am sending a copy of some information which concerns the possibility of changing the name of the Texas School for the Blind. As you can see, the administrators at the school seem to believe that the word ‘blind’ is dirty and offensive. I don’t know what use you might have for this information, but I believe that it is a prime example of how far we have to go before we make everyone understand that there is nothing shameful about being blind.”
Here is the Miller article:
About two years ago I drafted and enrolled legislation that would have changed TSB’s name to the Texas School for the Visually Impaired. However, the Board of Trustees felt that there had not been sufficient advance planning and the name change portion of the legislation was withdrawn. (It is very important to note, however, that some quite significant changes in the Education Code which I authored did pass into law. This new Code in relation to TSB will have a significant impact on TSB’s future role in Texas.) Now, back to that name changing business.
At the last board meeting in September I broached once again for discussion the matter of changing the name of the school. After a lively exchange, the board requested that we conduct surveys, formal and informal, of staff, students, parents, ex-students, other residential schools and professionals in the field to determine their opinions. Cyral Miller has conducted three such “straw polls” of TSB staff, students and parents of TSB students. These results point to a majority of support for a change to either the Texas School for the Visually Impaired or the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, with the nod going to the latter.
During the survey of TSB staff it became clear that some staff were voting against any name change because they felt that there would be a high cost associated with such an alteration. Not so. Documents and all else from the past would retain the Texas School for the Blind designation, stationary is usually ordered once or twice per year and thus the cost for a change would be minimal, and adding some more plastic letters to the outdoor titles and decals on school vehicles would also cost very little. In short, making any name change would most likely incur a cost of perhaps $1,000 - $2,000 during the first year and nil thereafter.
I am convinced that a name change is essential for a variety of reasons. I’ll describe just a few: the “Blind” only in the name is anachronistic just as “Asylum” was by the turn of this century; approximately 80% of the students who attend TSB are not blind as it is commonly understood by the public but have widely differing levels of residual vision; adding “visually impaired” far more accurately describes the nature of the population the school is mandated to serve; many of our students as well as adult persons who possess residual vision (and may also be legally blind) are uncomfortable, and frequently resent, being described as blind or having to “defend” or explain being labeled blind or attending a school for the blind when the public perceives them as having no visual disability or impairment.
A number of schools have already made the change in the past 5-10 years. For example, the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped, Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped, Kansas School…, etc. Some few schools have opted for no “exceptional” designation such as Parkview School (OK) or the Governor Morehead School (NC).
The motive to change TSB’s name is, of course, not aimed at “joining the crowd” but more simply to recognize that the perceptions of consumers, parents, and the public have, or should be, altered in the past century. The mandate for TSB and thus the students we serve has also changed dramatically. The time has arrived for us to officially acknowledge that this school serves school-age children who have no vision as well as children who possess a severe to profound reduction in their visual acuity, but retain some degree of functional vision, and thus are more accurately described as visually impaired.
To late for the April-May but right in time for the June, 1989, edition of the Monitor, we received the following announcement from Sandy Moyer of the Berks County Chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania: “Attention all you Federationists. Congratulations are in order for Tom Kerr (President) and Jackie Heck (Secretary) of the Berks County Chapter. They were engaged Christmas of 1988 and will be married May 20th of this year. (This is being written in late April.)
From the Associate Editor: Once, when I was a youngster, the local Lions Club offered to send me to summer camp for the blind. I was perhaps fourteen, and the possibility of meeting boys who might actually be interested in me was the most attractive aspect of the invitation. Even so, I hesitated to accept, vaguely uneasy about the quality of the camping and the other activities. Someone gave me the name of another young woman who had been to the camp the year before and suggested that I call her. She was certainly enthusiastic, but the quality of her endorsement was what convinced me to steer clear of the experience.
She began by assuring me that there were plenty of sighted people around to help, that you really did not have to do any hard stuff. Nobody expected campers to work, and there weren’t any horses or anything like that. Hikes were really walks, and crafts were a joke. Best of all, there really were boys, and not all of them were weird.
I did not know quite what I wanted in a camping experience, but it was not this. I decided to forego this opportunity and have never felt a gap in my education.
In college I took horseback riding, camp craft, swimming, folk and square dancing, and ice skating to fulfill my physical education requirement. By and large, these were positive experiences. I had to do my share of fighting for the right to participate, and sometimes the professor insisted in altering the requirements for me, but I worked hard and made A’s. Still I have always wondered what it would be like to take part in vigorous activities with a group of blind and sighted people who were bent on sharing the work equally. I for one am planning to go rock-climbing in Colorado after this year’s national convention, and I am looking forward to this chance in part because perhaps for the first time in my life, I expect to take part in an athletic challenge on terms of equality.
Recently as I leafed through the Winter, 1989, edition of The Bellringer, the newsletter of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, my abortive camping experience recalled itself to my mind. Three students wrote warmly and amusingly of their outdoor adventures with the Center’s staff and students. These are the experiences I had hoped to have when I was a teenager. It is deeply satisfying to know that there are four centers around the country in which blind people are taking part with pride and delight in such activities. It is, no doubt, the experience that camps for the blind originally hoped to provide, but what a difference!
Here are the reports of those who were there:
‘Twas The Three Days of Camping
by Teresa Blasingame
Take a moment and envision yourself as a new student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Like many of us, you haven’t had contact with blind people before, and you are very nervous and a little scared. Before you arrive at the center, your counselor informs you that the staff and students are going camping for several days at Lake Katherine near Hot Springs, Arkansas. You love camping and the great outdoors, but you have never been around blind people, and you don’t know what to expect. This was exactly the situation which confronted me when I arrived at the center in Ruston at noon on Saturday, May 28, 1988.
On Saturday after I had settled into my apartment and had repacked for the camping trip, I was handed a cane and a pair of sleepshades by Joanne Fernandes, the director. It was my first introduction to both the cane and the shades, and like many new students, I was uncertain what the next few days (let alone the upcoming months) would bring.
Monday morning arrived, and it was time to take off for Arkansas. After arriving at Lake Katherine, we all unloaded the van under sleepshades and set up our tents. The next group activity was boating. Small groups in canoes, paddleboats, and rowboats all spread out and explored the lake. After spending an hour or two boating, we arrived back at the marina, only to realize that one group (Joanne Fernandes, Suzanne Bridges, and Tom Ley) was missing. We were understandably concerned and eventually took the patrol boat out in search of the missing. As we neared their canoe we heard Joanne’s shouts of “Help! Marina!” Having assured ourselves that they were all right, and not realizing that they were looking for information about the location of the dock, we returned without waiting for them. Eventually they found the dock independently—tired and sunburned, but only a little worse for wear. After the excitement of the canoeing we relaxed in the beauty of nature, enjoying the trees and flowers and listening to the ducks and to the water rippling against the bank.
The next morning several of us went horseback riding up into the mountains. Others went swimming or hiking, and another group headed into Hot Springs to go shopping. At midnight two groups went hiking. Mine took the short route to the waterfalls and relaxed a while hiding in wait for the group who took the longer route. When they came near, we emerged from our hiding places and invited them to stop and admire our waterfalls. However, they just kept going and didn’t even slow down. They said that they had already seen the waterfalls, even though it was obvious to us that they hadn’t.
After they left, we decided that it was time to return to camp. Paul Lorensen informed me that I was supposed to lead our group back down the mountain. I was a little nervous as we started down the trail, in fear that we might fall over the cliffs. Only once did I go astray, and then only by five feet, and I realized the mistake and corrected it before any serious problems occurred. That night we decided to sleep in the great outdoors.
Wednesday at five o’clock in the morning, we were awakened by the quacking of ducks and the chirping of birds. After eating breakfast and breaking camp, we all took refreshing showers and headed towards Little Rock to visit the Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind training center.
During our tour of AEB, we observed training and treatment of blind people very different from our own experience of the previous days. For example, it seemed that the students at AEB were very restricted in their activities, and it appeared that they didn’t have much control over their own lives. In some ways it didn’t seem like they were being treated like adults. After just a few hours of observing AEB’s facility and organization, I was glad to be heading back to Ruston.
Up On Skis
by Donnie Russ
It was a beautiful morning as the students and staff of the Louisiana Center for the Blind loaded up vans to spend the day waterskiing on the Ouachita River. Reporters from channel 8 to 10 and several of the local papers were there to cover the events of the day.
While a few students were hesitant at first, they soon found water-skiing to be a lot of fun. After much persuasion, Teresa Blasingame from Shreveport finally give it a shot, staying out for over an hour. I, too, was one of the hesitant ones, but after much cajoling by Joanne, I finally went out. I had tried water-skiing several years before but had never made it to a standing position. This time I made it up; in fact, I made it up several times since I never managed to stay up for more than thirty seconds.
Despite the reluctance of a few, most of the students were anxious to hit the waves. Zach shore from Philadelphia was the first to try his lot on the skis, but after a few unsuccessful tries, he resorted to the water board.
The big event of the day, however, wasn’t the water skiing, but the six thousand dollar contribution by the Telephone Pioneers which went toward the construction of our new student activity center. In summary, it was a great day for the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
by Mary Hartle
“I just told them I wanted to rent a dozen horses,” said Joanne Fernandes. “I didn’t tell them that we are blind.” I felt a vague sensation of dread in the pit of my stomach. Would we have any problems riding the horses? I had looked forward to this day for quite a long time. I had not ridden since I was an adolescent, and at that time I still had a lot of sight. Now, as a totally blind person, I felt a mixture of excitement and anxiety as we drove to the stables near Shreveport. What would the staff’s reaction be when approximately 20 of us popped out of the big tab vehicle? Would they be shocked, scared, or angry? Or would they simply see us as a group interested in riding?
Actually, the staff at the stables received us well, bringing the horses out one by one for us to mount. I eagerly roamed around, looking for a free horse. After mounting, I learned that my horse did not have a name. No-name began circling, ignoring my efforts to control him. Several other horses seemed on the verge of racing off or rearing. It seemed unlikely that they would cooperate with us by following each other down the trail. I was beginning to suspect that this was not going to work out. I thought that we were having a lot of difficulty controlling the beasts because we were blind. But when I saw that Merilynn Whittle, who is sighted, was about to be thrown, I concluded that perhaps the horses were not well-trained. Suddenly, however, the horses began to move single-file in the proper direction. This was magic at work.
I felt a quick surge of excitement as we started riding down the trail. I, a totally blind woman, was steering a horse completely independently! The horse’s back was so broad that my legs had to stretch far apart to accommodate the width. I could also feel the bones in my seat as I bounced up and down on the saddle. I remembered my riding days of years before and the next day’s stiffness. It was an odd sensation, being able to feel every small movement of every muscle. As we plodded along, I endeavored to balance my weight.
Jerry Whittle fell into line behind me. Riding in front of him was especially entertaining—hearing him say every couple of minutes, “Are we back yet?” or “Are we home now?” I would respond “Just a could more hours!” “No! No! Don’t say that,” he would cry. You see, Jerry had fallen off a horse in his boyhood and has felt reluctant to ride ever since.
After a lunch of barbecued hamburgers, chips, and soft drinks some of the more fervent riders returned to the saddle for another run. This time I rode with Tony Brantley. We went trotting down the trail bobbing up and down as if we were on a very bumpy road. I kept swinging from side to side, and we both wondered if I would fall off. Well, I didn’t, but Arlene Hill did! So Tony turned our horse around and galloped back to the rescue. It was like helping a woman in distress in an old Western. Actually, quick-thinking Arlene had slid off her horse when she realized she might be thrown.
I then rode with Don Russ, another student. Our horse plodded along ever so slowly down the trail. The sun beat down, the wind dies, and I begin to feel very hot. We decided that our horse probably did not like having two riders. We got separated from the rest of the group, and our horse decided it wanted to go back to the stable. When Don turned the horse around to face the direction in which he thought we should be going, the horse made a 180-degree turn. After a couple of these disputes, we decided to submit to the animal’s wishes. After all, we were not experienced riders, and we did not know the horse’s temperament. So the horse took us back to the stable. He seemed to speed up when he saw the building.
We all left, having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Many of us were already beginning to feel the aches and pains which come from infrequent riding. But I, for one, had already started to daydream about riding again soon—that is, after my bones and muscles recovered from this trip. I had fun and gained more confidence in myself, all in one day’s ride.
by Lauren L. Eckery
As Monitor readers know, Lauren Eckery is a frequent contributor to these pages. She is a dedicated Federationist with a keen interest in education—education of the public at large, of blind children in particular, and of sighted youngsters as well. In the Winter, 1989, issue of “News from Blind Nebraskans,” the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, she wrote two stories—one about her own daughter Lynden and the other about the daughter of a friend. Both were interesting, thought-provoking, and highly instructive. Here is what she had to say:
Another Side of Literacy
Much has been said of late about the literacy or illiteracy of blind children. At our 1988 convention in Chicago, we heard from a panel discussing the subject and approved resolutions outlining proposed legislation on the education of the blind and the teaching of Braille to blind students. We are indeed beginning to move forward in this area, and we intend to continue our efforts until blind children across the land are receiving appropriate Braille instruction. However, there is another side to literacy which I would like to address—that of the unnecessary stress placed on the sighted children of blind parents to read earlier and more proficiently than those of sighted parents.
I remember a number of years ago being amazed at how well a young sighted child of a blind couple was reading print. After several children’s books were read to me, I decided that maybe the child had memorized the stories, so I took a church booklet from my purse and, handing it over, asked the youngster to read it. Even the big words were read correctly. I was thoroughly impressed by the intelligence of this child, and I asked, “How did you learn to read so well?” The answer somewhat dampened my pleasure in this youngster’s reading ability. “I have to read for them,” was the answer, referring to the blind parents.
Braille readers know that most of what is available in print is not equally accessible in Braille. Years ago this was even more the case. I was somewhat taken aback by this child’s response even though I am aware of how easy it is and how tempting it may be for blind parents inadvertently to use their children as readers while they are still too young to handle such a burdensome responsibility. Because this child had responded so docilely to parental persuasion, because the parents were so obviously pleased with the youngster’s accomplishments, and because they were also relieved of the constant frustration of arranging for readers from outside the family, it all seemed okay—superficially, at least. However, I was further concerned because I know that for a child to read well early, especially to please someone else, does not guarantee that he or she will continue to enjoy reading later in life. Such a reading arrangement also can result both in keeping the blind parents from taking the responsibility themselves to find good readers outside the home and in denying their children the pleasure of learning to read for their own satisfaction instead of responding to the pressure to read well for someone else.
I did not have children of my own at the time of this incident, but I filed the experience away in the back of my mind for later use. I remembered it once again last year when my daughter Lynden was in first grade and was having trouble reading. I had read to her from her infancy, using print/Braille books, which she loved. On occasions when I attempted to teach her to read for herself, she became impatient, saying “You read, Mommy. You read gooder.” Explaining to her that someday she might read as well as I did (if she worked hard at it) didn’t mean anything to her at the time. She was more interested in active play, and I wasn’t going to make her read because I did not want to force the issue. Knowing that children of a given age do not all read at the same level and that all children are not equally interested in learning to read, I decided that Lynden would be allowed to master reading in her own good time.
She had done well in kindergarten, although I had occasional pangs of fear that she might be behind in reading-readiness and that her teachers might conclude that she was slow because her parents were blind. I tried to talk myself out of this fear several times that year (Lynden is my only child, and much of what we learn together will undoubtedly be learned the hard way). As I say, I tried to talk myself out of this fear, aware that it stemmed from one of the many misconceptions about blindness held by the general public—a public of which we are all a part. My real fear was that if Lynden were behind in reading for some reason unconnected with her parents’ blindness, the misinformed would still be thinking “What can you expect?…” I felt extremely pressured to make sure that Lynden read on schedule in order to dispel such conclusions. It was very difficult for me to allow myself to let other people think whatever they wanted to. After all, I was an example, and I’d better be a good one.
When we attended Lynden’s fall parent/teacher conference in first grade, we discovered that she was indeed having some difficulty with reading. Her teacher suspected that given Lynden’s general high aptitude, she would suddenly grasp reading skills and that she was not at all behind. As it turned out, no one considered Lynden slow because her parents were blind. This was a relief, and yet…
Not long after this conference, as I was reflecting on the stress some children of blind parents are experiencing, it occurred to me to ask Lynden if she were afraid of learning to read well because we might require her to read for us sometimes, maybe for hours? Her response was a very dramatic mixture of frustration, impatience, and relief as we said, “Well year, Mommy. Everyone tells me that I have to. You know that!” I was painfully aware of the likelihood that people had said such things to her but had hoped, in the back of my mind, that this was just another one of my over-developed worries. I asked her if we had ever told her that she would be expected to do a lot of reading for us, to which she quickly replied, “No,” rather belligerently.
“Who are you going to listen to, them or us?” She must have considered this a rhetorical question, for she never answered me. I noticed, however, that by Christmas time she was remembering to take old books back to the school library, and she was bringing home two books to read rather than one (reading them several times over). She proudly read for her grandparents when they visited over the holidays. The answer was clear. Once the pressure was removed, she was off and reading.
This is not to say that we never have Lynden read for us—sometimes we do. It is good for children (whether they or their parents are sighted or blind) to take part in family chores—really to be a part of the operation of the family. Occasional reading not only gives children good practice, but it also helps them feel as though they are an important part of the family. In addition such reading helps them learn to use their newfound skills in the real world, away from school. At this point in her life Lynden is reading because she wants to, not because she has to.
I realize that neither the young child in the example I cited nor Lynden is unique. There are other children being similarly pressured by their parents or by other members of society. I further realize that many blind parents do not have a philosophy of blindness that encourages their independence. I am also aware that the process of assimilating the Federation’s positive attitudes does not happen overnight—they will be tested again and again. One can understand and practice our Federation philosophy in some areas of live more fully than in others. But I believe that it is best to think about these things and to modify our expectations for our sighted children’s reading responsibility if necessary.
While it is definitely a top priority for the organized blind to work toward appropriate reading instruction for blind children, I believe hat it is equally important for bind parents and their sighted children to come to a reasonable agreement on appropriate reading expectations within their homes. Such efforts would, as a consequence, lessen stress and frustration for parents and children alike. They would, in addition, further demonstrate an aspect of the fine parenting by blind people (as by sighted) that more and more Federationists are practicing.
Braille and Cane Travel for Amy: The Beginning
Kathy Brahmer and I go back a long way. We met as grade school children at the Nebraska School for the Visually Handicapped, and we were roommates when I was in seventh grade. Our friendship has continued over the years, and she considers me to be a trusted Federation confidante. Kathy was a member of the Omaha, Nebraska Chapter when she married Tom Brayman. They now have two daughters, Amy and Emily, both of whom have the same eye condition as Kathy—congenital cataracts.
For reasons most parents can understand, Kathy and Tom have chosen not to send their daughters away to the school for the blind. They have, therefore, enrolled the children in the Omaha Public Schools’ Visually Impaired Program, under the direction of Mary Ann Carstens, who supervises the instruction of the visually impaired.
Pre-school seemed to go smoothly for Amy. However, when she entered kindergarten, strange things began to happen. Kathy and Tom thought that everyone had agreed on an Individual Education Program (IEP) for Amy, but they discovered, upon requesting a copy of her file, that Braille was mentioned only on a comment sheet. The Braymans had specifically requested that Amy be taught both large print and Braille, but this past fall only large print was being introduced.
Then, to explain the headaches Amy had been having, a worker at the Meyers Children’s Rehabilitation Institute told Kathy and Tom that headaches were common among visually impaired children since their condition was so stressful. No other reasonable hypothesis (like eye strain for example) were suggested.
Next, the school nurse appeared at the Braymans’ door to ask innumerable questions about Amy and (Kathy suspected) to inspect the home. Together, these incidents signaled trouble for Amy Brayman’s education.
On Friday, November 11, 1988, at 12:30 p.m. the following people net to discuss the revision of Amy’s IEP: Kathy and Tom Brayman, parents, Diana Stiles, Amy’s teacher; Donna Holtman, Mobility Instructor; Mary Ann Carstens, Supervisor of the Visually Impaired Program; Dan Hill, Services for the Visually Impaired; and Lauren Eckery, parent-advocate from the National Federation of the Blind.
The program in general was discussed and explained for our benefit, and the staff reviewed Amy’s IEP while we asked a number of questions. The parents’ intention at this meeting and the reason for my presence were to insist on cane travel instruction and Braille for Amy—starting now!
To prepare ourselves for this meeting Kathy had contacted Barbara Cheadle, President of the National Federation of the Blind’s Parents of Blind Children Division, in Baltimore, and I had contacted Patti Gregory, an attorney and experienced parent-advocate in Illinois. She reminded me that the Omaha Public Schools (OPS) did not have to like us during this process but that they parents’ rights in determining the course of Amy’s education must be paramount.
I remembered this as we heard articulated the familiar fear and mistrust of the Federation, whose philosophy was dismissed as inferior to the professionals’ special-education perspective on teaching blind children. The experts assured us that training a blind child according to cognitive processes had been scientifically researched, etc., etc., etc. and that the Federation always bursts in as blind adults who are still angry about what they didn’t get when they were young. I responded that the NFB is concerned because blind children around the country are graduating from high school virtually illiterate and that we are advocating as blind adults from a perspective of common sense and hard-won experience. I went on to attempt to pacify them by saying that whereas most blind children being taught in public schools are receiving anything from absolutely no Braille or cane instruction to merely inadequate teaching, we in Omaha are obviously endowed with a program which has been in existence for a number of years. Actually, it is not always clear whether the Federation is better off starting from scratch or dealing with an already-existing program, but we always try to do our best with what we have.
OPS uses rehab-style training for both Braille and cane travel. They consider both sills to be far too complex for a little kindergartner to master, even though both have been successfully taught to children three and four years of age, using an everyday common sense approach. The staff had started Amy on large print in September, 1988, but by the time of the November meeting the teacher was only beginning Braille-readiness training. They had not yet begun travel instruction, preferring to wait until Amy was “more cognitively mature.” Her parents, who are common sense oriented people, wanted her to begin Braille and cane travel immediately. They were assured that if this was what they wanted, her teacher would begin Braille in the Spring of 1989, as outlined in the new IEP. Amy would be measured for a cane, and travel goals would be placed in the IEP along with the statement that the instructor did not agree with this decision and considered such instruction psychologically damaging to a kindergartner. But the staff did make it clear that they would comply with the parents’ wishes to being travel instruction immediately.
Since we are not impressed with the Braille teaching provided by the school and since kindergartners do not use canes in the OPS’s program (none of the students uses a cane indoors, and kindergartners are considered too young to use them at all since they would not be going anywhere on their own), the Federation will keep close tabs on Amy’s instruction and will provide any supplemental teaching which her parents find necessary.
While the programs being offered Amy are certainly less than desirable, it is unusual that they are being offered at all, and she is fortunate to have Braille and cane travel included in her IEP so early in her education. She is also lucky to have the added support of a mother who uses both skills and who can serve as a role model for her. We will continue to be vigilant in this case in order to assure Amy proper Braille and cane instruction. Whether Amy prospers in these early years may well determine how well things go for Emily when she enters school.
On Monday, November 21, 1988, a copy of the Mobility Goals for the parents’ perusal and approval was sent home with Amy. When I reviewed the document, I noticed that specific information seemed to be missing. Personally, I would have felt better if the instructor had included a beginning date for actual cane travel training. Furthermore, as the goals were worded, there was much talk about pre-cane technique. However, the word “cane” and its actual use were not mentioned in the goals as they were written in November. The Braymans asked for these revisions. In response to these requests, the mobility instructor asserted that the beginning date had been determined at the IEP meeting. I believe that this was not the case. She apparently did add the revisions, saying that the Braymans would see the results in three to four weeks. We will learn during the spring semester whether OPS really intends to respect the parents’ wishes.
I appreciate Kathy and Tom’s trust in the Federation as a reliable resource in this and other matters. We will continue to show our support and dedication to Kathy, Tom, Amy, and Emily.
by Gary Wunder
As Monitor readers know, Gary Wunder is the President of the NFB of Missouri and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. He wrote this article for the January, 1989, issue of “The Blind Missourian,” the newsletter of the NFB of Missouri.
Recently I had an experience which as State President I knew must come. As I sat at my desk on a Thursday afternoon, the telephone rang, and a voice said, “Gary, you have to help me. I am in jail.” My hands moved nervously to the Brailler. The notes on work meetings and assignments were quickly replaced with a blank card.
“Tell me about it. What did they do to you?”
As I asked those questions, my mind was thinking over the past months, which have seen the arrests of Jim Gashel and Peggy Pinder. In one case, Mr. Gashel was removed from an airplane because he had been assigned to an emergency exit row and had refused to move from that seat. In the other case, Miss Pinder was arrested because she refused to more from her seat in the smoking section after being told she must sit in an emergency exit row.
Had my caller, Annette Grove, been arrested for sitting in an exit row, for ignoring a demand that she sit in one, for refusing to pre-board the plane, or for declining a bulkhead seat? Would I be asked to find a lawyer for her, and if so, where would I look? The memory of sitting at this same telephone when Kevan Worley was arrested at the bus station flashed through my mind. His crime was objecting to the clerk’s refusal to sell him a full-fare bus ticket.
Beyond the embarrassment that would necessarily be a part of this confrontation, what horror story would Annette have to tell? Would her ill treatment be at the hands of airline personnel or the local police department, which had been convinced that an unreasonable blind person was breaking the law?
Probably everyone has lived through some event which causes images to bombard the mind in rapid succession. Some refer to this as seeing one’s life flash before one’s eyes. Such was the speed of my thoughts while I tried to listen politely.
As it turned out, Annette had not been taken from an airplane or been involved in a struggle with airline officials or law enforcement authorities. In an American Cancer Society fundraising scheme, some of Annette’s colleagues raised enough money to have her thrown in jail, and her freedom was contingent on raising $250 to meet her bail. I am always glad to make a contribution to the American Cancer Society, but never have I purchased so much relief in promising a donation.
I write this little note for “The Braille Missourian” not only because I think this experience was humorous, but also because it brought home to me just how intensely we care about one another as Federationists and how much we rely on others in our time of need. The experience also started my thinking about possibilities I had only flirted with before. Sooner or later we will have an airline incident in Missouri. Then one of us will be in jail, and his or her welfare will depend on the actions of the rest of us.
What happens to the jailed individual will depend on a number of factors under our control. What kind of funding will we have to hire legal help and get the press attention needed? Will we have worked hard enough to insure that our state is one in which the Attorney General has publicly declared that there is no law prohibiting the seating of the blind anywhere in the passenger cabin of commercial airliners? Will we have worked hard enough to ensure that the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act now before Congress is the law of the land?
The answers to these questions rest with us. If we fail in the struggle, it is our own fault, and we will be the people who take the consequences. Let us all do what we can to see that the next call from jail finds us just a little better prepared, a little more confident, and a little closer to ultimate success in our struggles with the airlines of the nation.
by Judy Nichols
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup oil
1 ¾ cups milk
1 8-oz. carton plain or flavored yogurt
Method: Mix together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add oil, milk, yogurt, and eggs. Mix well with a whisk. Fry on one side until bubbles form. Turn. Eat. Yum!
Barbecued Salmon Steaks with Avocado Butter
1 cup oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons barbecue spice
¼ teaspoon basil
¼ teaspoon marjoram
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
6 salmon steaks, about ½ lb. Each
Place all ingredients, except salmon, in a jar and shake well. Arrange salmon in a casserole in a single layer, top with sauce, and cover. Refrigerate about 4 to 6 hours, turning occasionally. Reserve half of the sauce for salmon and broil steaks 2 inches from heat for about 4 minutes, turn and spoon on reserved sauce. Broil about 7 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve steaks topped with avocado butter.
1 stick butter, softened
¼ cup mashed ripe avocado
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon seasoned salt
½ teaspoon barbecue spice
Whip butter until fluffy and light. Fold in remaining ingredients, cover, and refrigerate. Avocado butter may also be used as an hors d’ouevre spread. Let butter sit at room temperature for a while before serving. Serves 6.
Veal or Chicken with Cherries
2 lbs. veal or chicken fillets
Pound veal or chicken fillets. Dip meat in eggs (add milk to eggs if desired) and dredge in Italian breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for one hour. Brown meat in butter quickly and place in baking dish.
1 1/3 cups light cream
1 can Royal Anne cherries
2/3 cup cherry juice
1 cup beef consume
Place all sauce ingredients except for the cherries in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add cherries and pour over browned meat. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour uncovered.
2 tablespoons brewed coffee, cooled
3 oz. sweet chocolate
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
4 egg whites 1 ½ cups heavy cream
Combine the coffee and the chocolate in the top of a double boiler and warm over hot water until the chocolate is completely melted (the microwave is also fine to use and much faster). Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 15 minutes. Beat egg yolks and add sugar, beating continuously. Beat until light and fluffy; then add the chocolate mixture, continuing to beat constantly. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold them slowly and carefully into the chocolate mixture. Whip the cream and gently fold it into the mixture. Pour the mousse into a 2 qt. soufflé dish or into individual dishes or stemmed glasses. Chill at least four hours. You may top with more whipped cream in a decorative fashion and garnish with chocolate curls.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
“Could you please let your readers know I have two Perkins Braille writers for sale, due to the passing away of my husband, Leonard Marshall, on January 31, 1989. One writer is new (it was used four times at the most), asking $350. The other is about four years old but in excellent shape (it was used in our business and serviced once a year), asking $275. Also, there is one Braille writer carrying case, asking $50. If interested, please call Wanda or Hazel at (303) 482-7402.”
At the Office of the Dentist:
NFB of North Carolina President Hazel Staley, writing in that affiliate’s newsletter, says: “Every now and then someone asks, ‘What does the Federation do?’ ‘Why do we need it?’ A member of our newest chapter, the NFB of Rowan County, asked this question at a recent chapter meeting. The chapter president, Sharon Weddington, was ready with an answer. She related the following incident to her members: A blind lady in their hometown (we’ll call her Mary) went to her dentist for a checkup. She was accompanied by her sister. While waiting for her appointment, Mary began reading a Braille magazine which she had brought with her. Another patient who was waiting to see the dentist asked Mary’s sister what Mary was doing. The sister explained that Mary was blind and was reading her Braille magazine. The lady became irate. She said that Mary was making her nervous; that if she was blind, she ought to stay at home and not upset other people; that, furthermore, she didn’t have to be blind if she didn’t want to; that there were ministers on TV who could heal her. The sister told the lady that she had seen her reading an ink print magazine a few minutes earlier and that Mary had the same right to read her Braille magazine as she did to read her ink print. The sister called the receptionist, and she in turn called the dentist and explained the situation to him. The dentist told the disgruntled patient that he could not allow her to offend his other patients and that perhaps she could find herself another dentist. Sharon explained that this actually happened to someone that they all know and that something just as bad or worse could easily happen to any of them. She said that the Federation is changing what it means to be blind; that because of the Federation blind people no longer have to be shut away in a rocking chair at home. Go, Sharon, go. Glory, glory Federation!”
New Chapter and Growing:
In a recent report to leaders and chapters of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina Don Capps said: Wonderful news—the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina continues to enjoy and earn phenomenal growth. The North Augusta Chapter (the 29th) is now an integral part of our ever growing Federation family. A few days ago a blind gentleman in the North Augusta area discussed with me some questionable fundraising being conducted in that area in the name of the blind. That contact was all I needed to go to North Augusta and visit with that gentleman. It led to the formation of our new North Augusta Chapter. Last Friday (March 3) I traveled 171 miles throughout the Aiken County area making contacts, getting home that evening at seven o’clock. On Monday I traveled 178 miles throughout the greater North Augusta area, getting home that evening at 8:45. On Tuesday, March 7, I traveled 214 miles, arriving home at 11:30 p.m., but very happy and proud, having now traveled a total of 563 miles concerning this project. It was worth it all, as Tuesday evening we had a wonderful organizing banquet in a North Augusta restaurant with eighteen charter members proudly joining the NFB of South Carolina, including the gentleman who called me about the fundraising problem with the other organization. The new officers are: President, Mrs. Essie Kaney; Vice President, Mrs. Nellie Noakes; Secretary, Pat Malhalland; and Treasurer, John “Mercy” Parker.
Ned Godfrey, Secretary of the Capital District Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of New York, writes to say that recently the following people were elected: Gisela Distel, President; Brian Satler, Vice President; Ned Godfrey, Secretary; Bill Schultz, Treasurer; and Jennine O’Reilly, Board Member.
Patricia Morrow, editor of the “Blind Missourian,” the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, announces in the January, 1989 issue that Steve Machalow has assumed the position of Program Director with Alternatives for the Blind in Living and Employment (ABLE) in St. Louis. Steve holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Minnesota. One of his many accomplishments was helping to write a successful application for funds which enabled the National Federation of the Blind to establish the Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) program. He moved to Missouri immediately following the 1988 National Convention and has become a member of the Gateway City (St. Louis) Chapter.
Another Jail Bird:
South Dakota charities, as well as those in a number of other states, have resorted to jailing citizens in order to generate contributions. Theresa Hartinger, the eighty-seven-year-old President of the Mobridge Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota was recently jailed by the March of Dimes until she could raise $50.00 bail. She did better than that by raising $65.00 for crippled children. Everyone in Mobridge is aware of the work the National Federation of the Blind and of its members’ eagerness to help others.
Ed Bryant of our Diabetics Division announces: During this year’s national convention in Denver, Colorado, dialysis will be available. Individuals requiring dialysis must have a transient-patient packet and a physicians’ statement filled out prior to treatment. Patients should have their dialysis units contact the desired location in Denver for instructions on what must be done. There is a mandatory prepayment of twenty percent of what Medicare will not pay. This cost is approximately $30 per treatment. Interested persons should contact one of the following dialysis locations as soon as possible. The approximate one-way taxi fare from the Radisson Hotel to each location will be provided. Rocky Mountain Kidney Center, c/o Rose Medical Center, 4545 East Ninth Avenue—Suite 140, Denver, Colorado 80220, (303) 320-2121, Contact: Kim (taxi fare: $5.40); Denver Presbyterian Dialysis Center, 1719 East 19th Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80218, (303) 839-6111, Contact: Maintenance Manager Marie Zrust (taxi fare $3.20); Porter Memorial Hospital, 2525 South Downing, Denver, Colorado 80210, (303) 778-5703, Contact: Sally Pezzoli (taxi fare: $8.40).
Laurie Eckery writes: The Omaha Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska march forth on March fourth, electing the following slate officers for 1989: President, Larry Streeter; First Vice President, Lonnie Merritt; Second Vice President, Henry Vetter; Secretary, Laurie Eckery; Treasurer, Mary Handley; board positions: Alan Kopetsky, Floyd Bolden, Sandy Streeter, and Jerry Eckery.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement. We should emphasize that we do not have any data except that which is carried in the announcement. Here it is: Employment Opportunity—David Terrio, owner of Diamond Associates, is offering employment in all fifty states. Work from your home phone doing telemarketing. We need twenty-five people from each state to start immediately. Liberal bonus plan. For more information with no obligation, write or call: David Terrio, Diamond Associates, 5 North Mississippi Avenue, 3rd Floor, Atlantic City, New Jersey 08401, (609) 348-3692.
New Service for Texans, Possible National Implications:
We recently received the following letter:
“This is to inform you that State Comptroller Bob Bullock has introduced new services for Texas taxpayers who are visually impaired.
“As of March 16, 1989, taxpayers who are visually impaired may ask to be telephoned and offered tax assistance if time-sensitive information is sent to them from the Comptroller’s office. Rather than relying on a sighted person to read their mail from the Comptroller’s office, an individual who is visually impaired may be notified by telephone about items such as tax delinquent notices, providing them with the opportunity to resolve problems within time limits set by law.
“A brochure in Braille through the State Library is the Texas Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The Comptroller’s office is currently working with the Library to put into Braille Administrative Remedies, Your New Business, and The Rules of Practice and Procedure. Additionally, the office is in the process of making the brochures available in audio tape.
“Visually impaired taxpayers are encouraged to contact their local comptroller’s field office for special assistance in completing the forms. Moreover, personalized forms completion service is available in each office.
“For more information please contact the Comptroller’s office toll-free at (800) 252-5555.”
National Church Conference:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: “The 1989 meeting of the National Church Conference of the Blind will be held at the Ramada Inn, Grand Junction, Colorado, from July 23 to July 27, 1989. The conference them is ‘The Well Dressed Christian,’ (Ephesians 6: 10-17). In addition to morning and evening worship service, daily Bible studies, and the Thursday evening banquet, this year’s conference will include a luncheon and seminars on Communication, The Cults, and How to Deal with Loss. For further information, contact Reverend Frank Finkenbinder, Membership Secretary, National Church Conference of the Blind, Post Office Box 163, Denver, Colorado 802+01 (303) 455-3430.”
Taped Seminar Material Available:
We have just received the following announcement from Nancy Scott of the Writers Division of the NFB:
The Southland Writers Conference is now available. You’ve read about it. Now you can hear it for yourself. Held in August of 1988, it was sponsored by the NFB Writers Division and the Louisiana Center for the Blind. It costs $12 per copy and is on six ninety-minute cassettes (standard speed, two-track). It includes Jim Tracy’s talk on blind writers past and present; Jerry Whittle’s discussion about goal-setting for writers; a presentation by the editor of the Ruston morning paper; some how-to’s on getting published as a romance writer, presented by Myra Row (who is a published romance writer); writing and publishing a history, by Dr. John Winters; a grant-writing panel with information on both organizational and grants for individuals, given by Suzanne Bridges, Mary Hartle, and Coleen Tracy; and information about the Writers Division. This conference has something for everyone.
We also have another seminar on grant-writing. It is also on six ninety-minute cassettes (standard speed, two-track) and sells for $12. It is based on a one-day grant-writing workshop held at Northampton County Community College. It contains tow cassettes of classroom discussion about corporate and foundation grant-writing and four cassettes of handout information. The handouts feature program planning and proposal writing, published by the Grantsmanship Center, three sample requests for proposals for the same grant of which one was funded (which allows for comparison of proposals), and a bibliography of resource information.
For information about either of these items, contact: Nancy Scott, 1141 Washington Street, Easton, Pennsylvania 18042. Make all checks payable to the NFB Writers Division.
Large Print Books:
We recently received from the R.R. Bowker Company a news release which says in part:
In the past three years publishers have doubled the number of large print books published each year. Eight major publishers are providing almost 1,200 titles per year, while smaller publishers account for another 200 titles per year. The Complete Directory of Large Print Books & Serials 1989 gives testimony to this fact, as it reports, in comprehensive form, the growing numbers of large print books being produced each year. This book provides a complete resource for what’s available in the field of large print materials. For information, or to order, contact: Customer Service, R.R. Bowker Company, Post Office Box 762, New York, New York 10011, or telephone toll-free 800-537-8416. The price for the directory (226 pages) is $89.95.
Rick Lott, President of the Southwest Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, writes to say that at a recent chapter meeting the following people were elected: President, Rick Lott; Vice President, Ron Burns; Secretary, Sue Roche; and Treasurer, Cora Landreth.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: I have some recipes. Anyone who would like one or more of them contact: Annie Lou Otts, Route 3, Box 345-M, Nettleton, Mississippi 38858.
Speaks to Rotary:
The February 25, 1989, newsletter of the Rotary Club of Quincy, Illinois, says:
“A very inspiring and informative program was presented by Ms. Cathy Randall last Tuesday. Her presentation of ‘What it’s all about,’ with reference to the National Federation of the Blind, presented a subject that most of us are not familiar with. By her presence and presentation we are all better able to understand that contributions to our society can be made by all persons if only the opportunity exists and there is an understanding public. As their pamphlet states, ‘The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of opportunity which exist.’”
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
For sate: An Optacon in excellent condition (includes carrying case) for $1,500. Please contact: Pauline Bradenburger, 14192 Fairway Street, Livonia, Michigan 48154, (313) 591-6432.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
A new 1989 catalog is now available from Seedlings Braille Books for Children. Seedlings is a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing high-interest, low-cost children’s books in Braille. Twelve new selections have been added, which range from a Sesame Street easy-reader with print and Braille to the Newberry Award winning Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. This brings the total number of titles available from Seedlings up to ninety-five. And prices are still very affordable—averaging just $8 per book, which is half of what it costs to produce the books. Last year nearly 3,000 Braille books were shipped from Seedlings to forty-six of the United States and four foreign countries. To obtain a catalog, just write to: Seedlings, 8447 Marygrove Drive, Detroit, Michigan 48221, or call (313) 862-7828. And please specify if you would like the catalog in print or in Braille.
We recently received the following announcement:
The National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, Omaha Chapter, has just the recipe for you. In fact, we have a book of 201 recipes! We’d like to share “Our Favorite Recipes” for beef stroganoff, almond chicken, chocolate caramel nut cake, peanut brittle, spinach dip, and 196 other dishes with you. One section in our cookbook contains 37 low-calorie recipes; almost all of these recipes provide food exchange and calorie information. Our cookbook also provides countless tips on preparing appetizers, cooking soups, making salads, canning, baking, making candy, substituting ingredients, and using herbs. It also contains meat and vegetable cooking charts; weights, measures, and equivalents; nutritional charts, and calorie charts. To obtain your print copy of “Our Favorite Recipes,” send $5 to: Mary Handley, Treasurer, NFBN, Omaha Chapter, 5116 North 48 Street, Omaha, Nebraska 68104. Please make checks and money orders payable to: “NFBN, Omaha Chapter.”
Dr. Charles Hallenbeck, one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas, writes as follows:
This announcement from KANSYS, Inc., 1016 Ohio, Lawrence, Kansas 66044: The Grade 11 Braille translator you have been waiting for is now available. We call it “Turbo Braille” because of its speed. It processes Word Perfect, WordStar, or clear text files directly, or allows you to fine-tune formats in “BIF” files (Braille Intermediate Files). Turbo Braille is priced at $195 and is ready for your occasional or heavy users to rely on. Write for more information, or call Dave at (913) 843-0351, or Chuck or Cindy at (913) 842-4016.
Claudette Fletcher, President of the Las Curces Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico, writes that the following people were recently elected: Claudette Fletcher, President; Allison Romero, Vice President; Dean Hogins, Secretary-Treasurer; Mike Ruddy, Board Member; and Loren St. Germaine, Board Member. Cord’laine LeBlanc, who is five years old and very proud of her new position was elected chapter mascot.
Deaf-Blind and Doing Well:
Gayle Sabonaitis, who is an active Monitor reader, writes as follows:
“I am deaf, blind, and have multiple sclerosis—so am confined to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, I Braille all my letters, write articles, and have had both articles and poems published. I have wide communication through computer bulletin boards and HAM radio. A triply handicapped person can lead a happy, full life. Please carry the following as a Monitor Miniature: I can provide Braille copies of the Ann Morris catalog. To receive the catalog send a dollar to: Ms. Gayle Sabonaitis, 11 Maxwell Street, Worcester, Massachusetts 01607.”
Cathy Harris (blind) and her husband Michael (sighted) are active members of the Baltimore Chapter of the NFB of Maryland. When they wanted to adopt a baby. They faced some of the usual stereotypes and resistance. Mrs. Harris now writes to say: “Our adoption of Martha Christine Harris became finalized on January 3, 1989. Martha is blind and from Paraguay, South America. At the time the adoption was legalized Martha was almost thirteen months old. She was placed in our home on June 17, 1988.
Another Attorney General On Board:
Mike Smith, President of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia, reports that the Attorney General of the Mountaineer State has now written a letter to airport managers reviewing federal and state laws concerning the transport of blind air passengers. The text of the letter is as follows:
To: Manager, Yeager Airport
From: Charles G. Brown, Attorney General
Re: Travel Right of the Blind
Through the efforts of my Handicapped Task Force and my Civil Rights Division, we are committed to representing the interest and upholding the rights of West Virginia residents with disabilities. Due to national reports of misunderstandings about the laws relating to the rights of blind travelers, the following summary of the applicable laws may be of value:
1. There is no federal or state statute or regulation that compels air carriers
to seat blind people in any particular fashion on aircraft. For example, there
is no law barring blind people from sitting in seats near aircraft exits.
2. There are federal and state statutes barring discrimination against blind and other handicapped people in the provision of air transportation. Section 404(c) of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 as amended October 3, 1986 by Public Law 99-435 (40 U.S.C. S1274 (c) (1)) provides in part, “no air carrier may discriminate against any otherwise qualified handicapped individual, by reason of such handicap, in the provision of air transportation.”
3. The West Virginia White Cane Law (Section 5-14-4) provides that “blind and disabled persons are entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of all common carriers, airplanes, motor vehicles, …or any other public conveyances or modes of transportation…, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to all persons.” Violations of the act are punishable as a criminal misdemeanor.
Although the travel rights of the blind are generally recognized and respected by air carriers in West Virginia, I feel that all interested parties should be well informed about the laws relating to these rights.
Thank you for your cooperation.
Have A Heart:
Eileen Tscharner, President of the Black Hills chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota reports that again this January members of the group took part in creating candy Valentine Hearts. She says that it is a great fund raising project as well as providing a weekly activity for people. Members and interested volunteers meet each Thursday afternoon to tie individual starlight mint candies with read and white Christmas ribbon. Two pounds of candy are then attached to each heart-shaped frame made from a coat hanger. The two-pound hearts are sold for $6.00 a piece. It is a terrific project for making both fun and funds.
On the Right Track:
In April, 1989, a special edition of the newsletter circulated by the Cincinnati, Ohio, Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped included a notice that will interest everyone who believes in the importance of Braille today. Perhaps other regional librarians can be encouraged to follow suit. Here is the text of the notice:
All libraries are concerned about literacy, and your Regional Library is particularly concerned about Braille literacy. We want to do everything possible to encourage visually handicapped people to become literate, so we are promoting a Braille Literacy Campaign. Not every blind person needs to learn Braille—just those who want to live independently, those who want to go to school beyond the high school level. Children with visual handicaps which prevent them from using standard print materials also need to learn Braille, or risk facing a future as illiterate adults with all the limitations of illiteracy.
If you want to learn to read Braille, please call our office either locally at 369-6074 or toll-free in Ohio at 1-800-582-0335, and we’ll put you in touch with an agency that offers a free correspondence course in Braille. We’ll also try to match you with a tutor—a blind person who know Braille and wants to assist you in becoming literate. If you’re already a Braille reader and wish to help others become literate, call us, and we’ll try to match you with a student who needs a tutor.
Regional Librarian Carol Heideman is learning to read and write Braille as a part of the Library’s Braille Literacy Campaign. Mrs. Heideman, who is sighted, says, “If I can learn to read and write Braille, anybody can. One of our library users is a woman in her 80’s who learned Braille a couple of years ago. Another woman in her 30’s just learned to read Braille, and she’s sure that her new literacy is responsible for many positive changes in her life. These people, and many others like them, have reminded me of the importance of literacy. Contact the Library if you’re interested in participating in our Braille Literacy Campaign as either a student or a tutor.”
At its April 3, 1989, meeting the Kanawha Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia elected the following officers: Ruth Kirby, President; Sharon Nearhoof, Vice President; Joyce Porter, Secretary; and Mike Smith, Treasurer.
Facts You Should Know Concerning Disability Insurance
Social Security Disability Insurance, known by its initials as “SSDI,” protects working persons from the complete loss of income in the event of a disability. Cash benefits are payable to disabled workers and their dependents. Medicare coverage is also provided after two years of eligibility for SSDI checks. SSDI is operated under the principles of insurance, not welfare. Hence, being poor is not an eligibility requirement.
These concepts are generally applicable to blind persons as well as to persons with other disabilities. However, several rules apply in special ways to the blind. These and other significant eligibility provisions may be categorized as follows: (1) the blindness requirement; (2) the substantial gainful activity test; (3) impairment-related work expenses; (4) fully insured status; (5) recent work test; (6) period of disability; (7) disability freeze; (8) trial work period; (9) working blind age 55 to 65; (10) dependents’ benefits; and (11) Medicare.
The Blindness Requirement: Blindness is a qualifying medical condition, having a specific definition in the SSDI program. A person is regarded as blind if central visual acuity is 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best correcting lens or if the field of vision is 20 degrees of less. Anyone whose vision is restricted enough to meet this definition qualifies medically as “blind.” This is the critical first step in establishing eligibility for benefits.
Substantial Gainful Activity: The concept of “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) is used in Social Security to determine whether or not a blind person will be entitled to SSDI checks. Thus, blindness is not the only factor to be considered. SGA is an evaluation of any work which a person may be doing. The evaluation is based on earnings. To be eligible for benefits, a blind person may not perform SGA, or, in other words, have “countable earnings” exceeding $740 per month during 1989. The precise amount of “countable earnings” permitted per month is increased beginning in January of each year. “Countable earnings” generally refers to income before taxes, less any amount of income that does not actually represent payment for work performed. Any impairment-related work expenses must also be subtracted from income to reach “countable earnings.” SGA is intended to be a measure of a person’s ability to work, not a measure of income. Income subsidies and other benefits that do not result from work should be subtracted from monthly earnings in order to reach the “countable earnings” used to determine SGA.
Impairment-Related Work Expenses: If a blind person who works has expenses attributable to blindness and necessary for doing the work, these costs may also be deducted from income in order to determine SGA. Payments to readers, purchases of aids, and special transportation expenses (if suitable alternatives are not available) are examples of deductible impairment-related work expenses. These deductions will offset earnings which must otherwise be counted in determining SGA. Hence, they can make the difference between eligibility and ineligibility for benefits.
Fully Insured Status: In addition to meeting the blindness and SGA requirements, a blind person must have worked long enough under Social Security-covered employment to be “fully insured.” How much work depends upon a person’s age at the onset of blindness or at the time the individual ceases to perform SGA. Two general rules can be stated: one applies to persons age 21 in 1950 or before, and the other applies to anyone younger than this. A blind person in the former group must have enough quarters of Social Security-covered employment to equal the number of years beginning with 1951 up to and including the year before the year of disability onset. For persons who became age 21 after 1950, begin counting the years starting with the year after the year in which the person became 21. Count forward up to and including the year before the year of disability onset. For a blind person, the term “disability onset,” may be defined as the point at which both of the following conditions exist simultaneously: (1) the individual is statutorily blind; and (2) the individual ceases to engage in SGA. If both of these conditions do not begin simultaneously, the year of disability onset will be the year in which both of these conditions first exist. Six quarters of covered employment is the minimum for SSDI eligibility. However, most persons will need more quarters depending upon age and the year of disability onset. The circumstances are strictly individual.
Recent Work Test: Blind persons are exempt from a “recent work” requirement which applies to individuals with other disabilities. For a blind applicant, this means that quarters of covered employment will be counted no matter when they occurred. The “recent work” rule for others (not the blind) requires covered employment in five of the most recent ten years. Hence, disabled persons who are not blind must be fully insured and have recent work, but only the former requirement applies to the blind.
Period of Disability: A “period of disability” may be established for any blind person who works under Social Security-covered employment. The period of disability begins when both of the following requirements are met: (1) the individual is statutorily blind; and (2) the individual has worked long enough under Social Security-covered employment to be fully insured. SSDI checks are payable to a blind person who meets these “period of disability” requirements and is not performing SGA. For blind persons who are performing SGA, the period of disability continues even though entitlement to cash benefit ceases.
Disability Freeze: A “disability freeze” occurs for any blind person when a period of disability is established. The freeze protects a blind person’s Social Security earnings record from the effects of low or no earnings during the period of disability. If the disability freeze is not applied, virtually all of a person’s adult working years (including years of no earnings) must be counted in figuring the earnings average used to establish a monthly benefit amount. So the disability freeze for a blind person exempts from the average all years within a period of disability and is only used if exempting these years would result in a higher benefit. Conversely, if applying the freeze would result in a lower benefit amount, the exemption will be disregarded in order to pay the highest benefit possible.
Trial Work Period: A person who receives SSDI checks after an initial five-month waiting period is also entitled to one “trial work period.” This is a period of forty-five months. Entitlement to benefits continues uninterrupted for the first twelve months. Re-entitlement to benefits is automatic if work stops any time during a thirty-three month period following the first twelve months. During the first twelve months of the trial work period, earnings of any amount are permitted. However, monthly earnings during the first nine months of trial work are evaluated to determine whether entitlement to checks will continue after the twelfth month of trial work. If, during the first nine months of trial work, the earnings are regularly above the amount considered to be SGA, entitlement will be suspended after the twelfth month of trial work. On the other hand, if earnings are less than SGA, checks will continue uninterrupted as long as the blind person is not found to be performing SGA. The first nine months of trial work need not be consecutive. A month is counted as a trial work month any time a beneficiary earns at least $75.
During the thirty-three month period following the first twelve months of trail work, entitlement to benefits may be suspended on a month-by-month basis, depending upon earnings each month. Checks are payable for months when SGA is not performed. Conversely, there is no entitlement to a check for any month when earnings exceed the SGA amount. If work with countable earnings above SGA continues at the end of forty-five months of the trial period, eligibility is terminated, and a new application must be approved to have disability benefits reinstated at any point in the future. If, however, earnings from work do not exceed SGA (or if there are not earnings at all), entitlement to SSDI checks will continue indefinitely.
Working Blind Age 55 to 65: Blind persons age 55 but not yet age 65 may work while still having assurance of receiving disability benefits during any month when SGA is not performed. This is the effect of a special rule which allows continuing eligibility for blind persons in this age group who are unable to perform work requiring skills or abilities comparable to the work they did regularly before reaching age 55 or becoming blind, whichever occurred late. Under this rule, SGA is considered on a month-by-month basis just as it is during the second twelve months of trial work for a blind person under age 55. In other words, entitlement to benefits is suspended for any month of SGA and reinstated for any other month.
Dependents’ Benefits: Eligibility for cash benefits from Social Security is also extended to blind persons who have not worked by qualify as dependents or survivors of others. For example, a blind person may be a dependent of someone who is an SSDI beneficiary, a retired person receiving Social Security retirement benefits, or someone who died after becoming fully insured. Blind children, blind adults, blind widows, and blind widowers may all be entitled to regular Social Security checks as dependents.
Medicare: Blind SSDI beneficiaries automatically become entitled to Medicare payments for covered medical expenses after twenty-four months of eligibility for case benefits. These months of eligibility need not be consecutive. Medicare pays hospital and doctor expenses under certain rules and limitations which apply equally to blind, disabled, and retired persons receiving Social Security checks. If a person works enough to become ineligible for cash benefits, Medicare eligibility may continue for forty-eight months of work. This includes the twenty-four months of trail work and an additional twenty-four months thereafter. Any time a period of five years or more occurs between the termination and reinstatement of SSDI eligibility, there will be an initial twenty-four month waiting period for Medicare entitlement to commence. If, on the other hand, reinstatement of SSDI checks occurs within five years after a previous termination, Medicare begins simultaneously with reinstatement.