(back) (contents) (next)
DENVER, COLORADO JULY6,1989
[PICTURE] Marc Maurer gives Presidential Report.
Last year, as we came together in our convention (the largest gathering of the blind ever held in the history of the world), it seemed to me that we had completed one of the most successful years the National Federation of the Blind had ever had. As I come before our forty-ninth annual convention here in Denver, I think the same statement is equally applicable. Despite the problems we have had (and there have certainly been many of them), we, the organized blind, are stronger today, more unified in our purpose, and more harmonious than we have ever been. Sometimes we have measured our growth by the increase in the number of our publications, sometimes by the number of new chapters or affiliates that have come into the Federation, and sometimes by legislative or administrative achievements. This year we have not only been successful in strengthening our programs and increasing our membership, but we have also gained a deepened understanding of what we must do and how we must act.
Our public education programs (designed to inculcate in the consciousness of the public at large the normality and productive capacity of the blind) have received during the past twelve months growing acceptance and support. For the first time our television public service announcements are being carried on all of the major networks and a number of the cable channels-ABC, CBS, NBC, Cable News Network, Greater Media Cable, Manhattan Cable, Tempo Television Network, Trinity Broadcasting, and WTBS Cable. We estimate that our public service announcements are reaching the homes of over one hundred and twenty-five million viewers. In addition, our radio spots are being broadcast on five different networks. There are more than six thousand individual radio stations in these networks -- three quarters of all the commercial radio stations in the United States. When the subject matter deals with blindness, there is one voice on the airwaves more than any other --shaping public attitudes, offering encouragement, presenting information, and providing inspiration. That voice belongs to the foremost leader of blind people in our nation -- Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. That message belongs to the National Federation of the Blind.
We have often said that if the public understood the real problem of blindness, much of the exclusion which occurs would disappear. Our public education programs are central to this effort. Each time we show blind people crossing busy streets, working in offices, and handling all the activities of daily life, some of the prejudice and part of the fear about blindness are eliminated. In the past twelve months we have achieved real progress toward this end. In addition to our public service announcements on television and radio, we have distributed millions of letters describing the work that blind people do. We have placed messages offering assistance or information about blindness in tens of thousands of businesses, and we have issued hundreds of press releases about activities of the organized blind movement. These releases have been carried in newspapers and magazines throughout the country. All of this public education has a direct impact on opportunities available to the blind.
Not only has the significance of the organized blind been recognized in the United States, but our unique programs have also stimulated interest in a number of foreign lands. Between our 1988 and 1989 conventions, approximately fifty foreign visitors have come to our headquarters, at the National Center for the Blind. These guests (from Ireland, England, Japan, Australia, India, Korea, Canada, and the Caribbean) have come to learn from the blind of the United States. How did the blind become organized? What methods did we use to achieve the gains we have made? Why do the blind of our country possess such independence? How did it happen that the organized blind movement is at the cutting edge of change in matters involving blindness? These are the questions that attract interest not only throughout our nation but also from around the world.
Last September the second quadrennial convention of the World Blind Union was held in Madrid, Spain. Dr. Jernigan, President of the North America/Caribbean region of the World Blind Union, headed our delegation. For over a week, representatives from approximately one hundred countries met to consider the future possibilities for the blind. Although these meetings sometimes seemed chaotic, our delegates brought a spirit of self-reliance and self determination which changed the emphasis and altered the focus of the entire conference. After the meeting in Spain, we mailed several hundred issues of the Braille Monitor to delegates all over the world. The National Federation of the Blind is leading the way for the blind of this country and also for blind people throughout the world who are seeking independence.
Dr. Jernigan also traveled last winter to the United Nations to make a presentation on behalf of the Federation. Public documents and other materials are almost never available in Braille. The National Federation of the Blind presented a computer, a Braille printer, and our own Braille translation program to the U.N. These gifts will be used to produce documents in Braille for those who need them. U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar personally accepted the translation system on behalf of the nations of the world.
Last summer, shortly after our convention, Dr. Jernigan appeared in Montreal as a member of a panel consisting of representatives of some of the major organizations of and for the blind in North America. The purpose of the discussion was to consider the present circumstances and future prospects of the blindness system in the United States and Canada. As part of the give and take of the meeting, Dr. Jernigan invited the organizations present to a meeting at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore to consider the possibility of finding common ground and taking (even if only in a limited way and on a few issues) concerted action. The invitation was accepted, and by the time the meeting was held, all of the major organizations of and for the blind in Canada and the United States had indicated their wish to come. Thus, the Ad Hoc Committee on Joint Organizational Effort came into being and met this spring in Baltimore. Those present were: the American Foundation for the Blind, the Blinded Veterans Association, the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Canadian Council of the Blind, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and the National Federation of the Blind.
A number of projects were proposed and tentative understandings reached. Although it is too early to say what the final result will be, certaal things are obvious and beyond dispute. This wa the first time since the beginning of organized work for the blind that such a meeting had beoa held --and it will be remembered that it wa called, sponsored, and chaired by the National! Federation of the Blind. The meeting was hisi toric. It symbolized the new reality in the affairs! of the blind of this country -- the tacit statement of our centrality in charting the future, the recognition in tangible form of our growing prestige, influence, and strength.
We have come a long way since the early beginnings of the 1940's. We are no longer an organization which asks, and hopes it will be heard. We are now a force which must be considered in any decision affecting the blind or the blindness system. This does not mean that we should behave aggressively, arrogantly, or without restraint. Quite the contrary. With power goes responsibility, and we understand that. At the same time we also understand that the governmental and private agencies which provide services in our field have a responsibility not only to themselves and the public but also to the blind, the people who are most affected by their behavior -- and not just to individual blind people but to the organized blind as well. Individuals can be selected on the basis of docility or willingness to say what is wanted. We cannot. Those agencies which provide good service and treat the blind with dignity and respect can expect similar treatment from us. Those agencies which give poor service and poor treatment to the blind should heed the Biblical injunction: As ye do, so shall it be done unto you. Indeed, we have arrived at a new day in the affairs of the blind.
Approximately six thousand blind people are employed in sheltered workshops throughout the country. Very often, working conditions are poor and wages are low. Nowhere is this more dramatically demonstrated than in the Southwest Lighthouse for the Blind in Lubbock, Texas. Last September I went to Lubbock to meet with workers from the Lighthouse. I discovered that most of them were being paid two dollars and five cents an hour. A few were receiving even less -- some as little as eighty-five cents. A month earlier, the Lighthouse president had told the workers that the agency was planning to begin deducting money from their pay envelopes for their health insurance coverage. Health insurance had previously been provided by the workshop. Most of the workers barely had enough for their food and other living expenses. Nevertheless, agency officials insisted that these employees must pay for health insurance or be fired. Instead of handing over a substantial portion of their meager wages, the workers called on the Federation, and the blind took to the streets. The newspaper stories about the injustice in the workshop spread over the nation, and both television and radio carried the news of the exploitation. The Lighthouse president changed his mind. The workers would continue to receive health insurance, and the pay in their envelopes would not be cut. We won the first round.
Before the end of September, we had taken action to begin the next step. We hired a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and helped the Lighthouse workers file complaints with the United States Department of Labor. The minimum wage is three dollars and thirty-five cents an hour. Most sheltered shop workers in Lubbock are receiving two dollars and five cents. Nevertheless, they are expected to work a long day and produce results. The wages are artificially low and shamefully meager. So, we made plans to bring pressure to change them. We submitted complaints to the Department of Labor. These were the first appeals ever filed under the 1986 amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act, and it will be remembered that they were filed by the National Federation of the Blind. Because of our efforts to educate members of Congress in 1985 and 1986, all blind people receiving subminimum wages have the right to challenge the fairness of their pay. The lawyer we hired once served as the Assistant Secretary of Labor. In that position he learned about the workshops and how they maneuver to violate the law.
In October of last year still another element was added to the battle. With our help, shop employees asked that they be permitted to join a labor union. The Lighthouse challenged their right to organize. By November we were preparing for a full-blown hearing before an officer of the National Labor Relations Board. This hearing was of major importance because several months earlier, a judicial decision had been issued by the eighth circuit Court of Appeals saying that blind workers at the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind could not join a union. The right of blind workers in sheltered workshops to organize was being eroded. After the setback in Arkansas, a highly visible public counterstroke was required. We needed to protect shop workers, and Lubbock was the place to do it. There will be a full convention item to discuss this case later in the week. Without reviewing all the factors involved, let me just say that the National Federation of the Blind knows about blindness and the law. We are also able to get things done. On December 30, 1988, the workers voted. The question to be answered was: would the workers join a union--or not. By the most overwhelming margin ever recorded in any sheltered workshop election, the workers gave their answer. We won that round, too. There is a union at the Southwest Lighthouse for the Blind in Lubbock, Texas.
In addition to the administrative and legal proceedings involving the rights of blind sheltered shop employees, we continue to make other efforts to bring about improvements in the shops. Beverley Milkman, the new Executive Director of the Committee for Purchase from the Blind and Other Severely Handicapped (the agency responsible for distributing federal contracts to sheltered workshops), has met with me at the National Center for the Blind. She will be participating in the convention program. New management brings with it an opportunity for a fresh start and a reappraisal of philosophy. Will this change bring increased cooperation between the blind and workshop officials? The answer to this question is not clear. Nevertheless, the executive director of the Committee appears to be more responsive than those who have held this position in the past. If officials of the Committee for Purchase use their influence to diminish the exploitation of workers in Lubbock and elsewhere, the blind of this nation will be pleased to work with them. If they do not, we will oppose them.
Learning Braille is vital to the education of blind children. Nevertheless, the attitude of teachers of the blind often reflects the public misconceptions about blindness. Because teachers fear blindness themselves, and because they believe that the blind are inferior, they attack (often without knowing it) the special tools and techniques used by the blind. Training with a white cane is often discouraged for blind students, and it is frequently the case that Braille is taught only when there is no alternative. Blind students are sometimes required to learn print when Braille would be more efficient. The Charles Cheadle case is an illustration of the misunderstanding and prejudice against the blind that exist in the schools.
Charles Cheadle is the blind son of John and Barbara Cheadle. Of course, as Federationists know, Barbara Cheadle is the able president of the Parents of Blind Children Division and editor of Future Reflections, our magazine for parents and educators of blind children. John Cheadle is employed at the National Center for the Blind. The Cheadles are thoroughly knowledgeable about blindness, and they are prepared to fight for a quality education for their children. Two years ago Charles Cheadle entered the Baltimourt County School System. Although he had beea receiving Braille instruction from the educational institution he had attended, he and his parents were informed that Braille would no longer be available to him. Not only would he receive no instruction in its use, but he was also prohibited from having it in the classroom. As soon as it became clear that negotiation would not bring results, we began the process of appeal.
School officials said that Charles made impressive scores on achievement tests, that he could see well enough to read print --at least for a while, and that he could retrieve a pencil which had been thrown across the room. Therefore, they said, Charles did not need to know Braille. On the other hand, we pointed out that Charles could not read print for very long at a time. After only a brief period of reading, he found it so difficult that his interest in literature was declining. Charles had progressed through the early grades, and his reading and writing requirements had become more demanding. As he continued to advance through school, he would no longer be able to keep pace with the other students. The size of the print in a textbook for the middle grades is smaller than the print in a primer. Nevertheless, personnel in the school system ordered him to read print and stated unequivocally that he would be punished for reading Braille.
The school system may try to punish blind students for not being able to see, but we are prepared to take action to prevent it. We proceeded to a hearing before a state review panel in August, 1988, and again in January, 1989. An independent evaluation confirmed our view that Charles must learn Braille to perform well in school.
The final order of the state hearing review panel said that Braille instruction is required and that homework assignments should be completed in Braille. There was a time when well-educated individuals were regarded with suspicion, and books were considered the tools of the devil. In our supposedly enlightened age, we assume that this is no longer true. However, if the book is in Braille, it apparently may be regarded as a sign of iniquity and banned from the classroom. This is exactly what happened in the Charles Cheadle case. The representative for the school system asked the hearing officer to believe that Charles Cheadle was being damaged mentally and emotionally by the very presence of Braille. He suggested that teaching Charles Braille was tantamount to child abuse. However, ancient prejudices cannot be permitted to restrict our opportunities. We insist on literacy and the fundamental right of blind children to possess it. That is one of the reasons why we have the National Federation of the Blind.
We have also begun this year to take the issue of Braille literacy for the blind to the United States Congress. In March, I testified before the Subcommittee on Select Education of the House of Representatives. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act has been twisted by some educators so that it no longer guarantees what it was intended to protect. The language of the Act says that handicapped children are entitled to an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. Some of those in the field of education claim that it is restrictive to learn Braille because the number of print books is greater than the number of Braille books. Therefore, (they argue) the least restrictive environment requires students to learn print. According to this theory, Braille (being more restrictive) is prohibited unless the student has so little eyesight that print is impossible. In my testimony, I pointed out the fallacy of this argument and urged the Select Education Subcommittee to amend the law to encourage the teaching of Braille. Some problems with the airlines are still with us, but there are significant developments to report. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a proposed rule seeking to establish a federal prohibition against having blind persons seated near emergency exits on aircraft. The rule would apply to all seats in rows near all exits on all flights. The period for submission of public comments on this issue ended in June. I responded to the FAA on behalf of the Federation. As you know, the rule would violate the nondiscrimination requirement of the law. It would also increase the danger for the flying public -- especially the blind. Of course, the most significant danger of the proposal is that airline personnel would be sent an unmistakable message by the government that discrimination against the blind is all right.
However, prejudice and the hidden fears of blindness harbored by airline personnel cannot be tolerated. S. 341, the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act, was introduced by Senator Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina early this spring. On March 14, Senate hearings were held before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Dr. Jernigan presented perhaps the most powerful statement ever made about the rights of the blind in air travel. On the same day, I appeared for over five minutes on the "Today Show." Both Dr. Jernigan's testimony before the committee and my interview on the "Today Show" have had a substantial impact in raising the consciousness of members of Congress and the public about the urgency of preventing discrimination against the blind. On June 14, less than a month ago, a guest editorial by Dr. Jernigan appeared in USA Today. Next to Dr. Jernigan's striking editorial was a weak (almost apologetic) argument by the Air Transport Association (ATA). Dr. Jernigan's editorial contained a sworn statement by an airline pilot which said that blind travelers present no hazard in flying. The ATA said that it had no evidence, but it hoped that common sense would show that the blind are a threat. When they have no evidence, they call their prejudice common sense.
H.R. 563 (a bill identical to the one presented by Senator Hollings) has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman James A. Traficant, Jr., of Ohio. It has over 160 co-sponsors. If we take the actions that we must, Congress will pass the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act. We have every expectation that the Senate will approve the bill shortly. Senator Hollings has been a staunch and powerful ally. He agrees with us: a person's blindness should not be the basis for discriminatory seating on aircraft. This is what the bill says. Let us work to see that it becomes law so that we can put discrimination in the airways behind us forever.
Our efforts to protect the rights of blind vendors are well known. Even the state agencies have learned of our effectiveness in support of the blind vendor program. Two state agencies (one in Michigan and one in Minnesota) are currently receiving our help in arbitration proceedings against federal property managers. Some people have claimed that the Federation is simply anti agency and that we cannot work with rehabilitation officials. Of course, that is not the case. Here are two examples.
The Michigan case involves a large bulk mail facility near Detroit. The Postal Service has refused to issue a permit to bring the facility into the vending program. Vending machines have been placed throughout the building. The machines are currently operated by a commercial vending company, which pays a portion of the profits to a recreation fund established by the postal workers. We think the law is clear. The profits (all of them) should go to a blind vendor. The Michigan Commission for the Blind is pressing forward to obtain a permit to bring the facility into the vending program, and we are helping with the arbitration. When agencies fight for greater opportunities for the blind, they will find the National Federation of the Blind with them in the battle.
In Minnesota, officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs (formerly the Veteran's Administration) claimed a virtual exemption from the blind vendor priority granted under the RandolphSheppard Act. But last September, an arbitration panel, convened by the Secretary of Education, found that the law applies to veterans' hospitals just as it does to the rest of the nation.
The specific issue in Minnesota involves one location currently operated by Dennis Groshel. Dennis is the only blind vendor at a veterans' hospital. Before this arbitration began, he was in danger of losing the business altogether. He was also being required to pay as much as half of his income directly to the Veterans Canteen Service. Now, as a result of last September's arbitration, the business he operates is secure, and no payments are being made. It is likely that there will be further administrative or legal proceedings, but we will do what we can to help. In the meantime, all of the proceeds from the vending facility belong to Dennis. His income has been doubled. It pays to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
In California, we are assisting Frank Rompal and Tom Linker with a case against the Department of Rehabilitation, the state licensing agency for blind vendors. Last year, when the Department awarded one of the best vending locations in the state, rehabilitation officials disregarded their own rules. These require the appointment of a selection committee for screening applications and interviewing candidates. This was not done. Those with seniority and demonstrated performance records were apparently not considered in the selection process. A hearing at the state level has been held, and an arbitration is pending. The state agency cannot act in violation of the law or in disregard of its own procedures. When it does, as in this case, the National Federation of the Blind will stand with the vendors and fight for their rights.
The Federation continues to provide personal assistance to blind persons in resolving Social Security issues. The case of Sharlene Czaja is a good example. Shortly before the national convention last year, Sharlene was notified that she had been overpaid $6,495.90 in Disability Insurance benefits. We looked at her situation and decided that the overpayment determination was wrong. A hearing occurred the day before Thanksgiving in New York City.
Sharlene Czaja worked for a time as an investigator with the human rights department in New York. The Social Security Administration said that she had not been entitled to disability insurance benefits during the period of this employment. The judge at the hearing agreed with our argument, and the Social Security Administration was reversed. Sharlene Czaja had not been overpaid.
Sometimes one appeal is not enough, but the National Federation of the Blind is persistent. We never give up. A year ago, Deborah Strother, a blind person from Louisiana, was waiting for the results of a hearing concerning the denial of her Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Social Security had refused to pay her because they thought she had too much money. The issue concerned the approval of a Plan to Achieve Self-Support.
The decision issued last July was favorable, but the Social Security Administration would not write the check for the full amount of the back payment. So, we helped with a second appeal. The Social Security Administration finally admitted that it had made an erroneous determination. Deborah Strother has now received over $3,000.
In Florida, Louis Lombardo faced a denial of his Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Louis was not a member of the National Federation of the Blind at the time he contacted us for help. However, he had read some of the articles we have published on Social Security. Louis had received notices requiring repayment of $31,407.80. The Social Security Administration wanted the money within thirty days. When we learned about the case, the initial proceeding in the appeal had already occurred, and the decision had been unfavorable. Nevertheless, we agreed to do our best, and a hearing was held early this spring. If Louis Lombardo, a blind vendor, had not known about the National Federation of the Blind and the work we have done to assist with Social Security claims, it is a virtual certainty that the facts would not have been gathered to present and resolve this case. How often do blind persons fail to understand or appreciate the value of becoming involved with the National Federation of the Blind? Louis Lombardo knows of the power of the Federation. He will not be required to reimburse the Social Security Administration, and he will continue to receive benefits.
Gladys Penney, a blind person from Florida, is fully insured under Social Security; but all of her previous claims have been denied. We are currently helping her with an appeal. If found eligible, Gladys may receive disability cash benefits that she should have been paid for a period of more than thirty years. We believe that she became eligible to receive them in 1956. On the other hand, reconstructing the evidence necessary to prove that she was entitled to benefits in 1956 may not be possible. One thing is clear: Gladys Penney is not now receiving disability insurance, and she is entitled to get it. The only question to be answered is how much we can help her recover.
Rami Rabby has attempted to become employed in the service of the United States as a foreign service officer in the State Department. In this position, he would be responsible for working in a number of foreign countries. He has passed all of the required tests. By now he would have been employed in the foreign service if he had been able to see. The only reason for his rejection is blindness. Last November, the State Department announced that it had adopted a new policy. Although the State Department had never hired a blind person as a foreign service officer, it had been accepting applications from blind people and giving them the tests. An official of the State Department said that to deny the blind the right to sit for these examinations would be discriminatory. The State Department declared that it would certainly not discriminate against the blind and that blind people who could take the foreign service test under normal conditions would be welcome to apply. However, the test would not be made available in Braille, and blind applicants could not use readers to take it. In other words, sight is required. If you cannot see, you will not be permitted to take the test. No discrimination, of course. Just a little test to determine your qualifications. It is shallow, twisted logic like this that causes so much mistrust of the government. If the people designing this State Department policy are charged with international relations for the United States, it is no wonder that we find ourselves in so much trouble around the world. We are working with members of Congress to reverse this policy. Congressman Gerry Sikorski is leading the effort. He will be with us here at the convention later in the week.
In Connecticut, Laurie Doyle wanted a job doing substitute teaching in the East Hartford School District. The District hired her over the phone but withdrew the offer of employment when it learned that Laurie is blind. However, Laurie Doyle is not the weak, helpless, insignificant person the school system thought a blind person should be --and she has over fifty thousand friends. When we questioned District officials, they sent a written explanation claiming that sight is a bona ride occupational qualification for teachers. Tell that to the thousands of blind people who are teaching successfully in the public schools every day. Tell it to the National Federation of the Blind. Tell it to the judge. It didn't take long for officials of the East Hartford School District to recognize that they had made an error. The decision was rescinded, and Laurie Doyle was paid $3,000 in back wages.
In South Carolina, we have taken action to help Joe Urbanek bring suit against the Carnival Cruise Lines. For some time we have tried unsuccessfully to work with Carnival Cruise Lines to obtain a change in its policy concerning the blind. Carnival Cruise Lines officials insist that blind people may not travel alone on a cruise. Any blind person on a Carnival Cruise ship must be accompanied by a sighted guide. It has been a long time since I have needed a baby sitter, and I suspect you feel the same. We have tried to avoid confrontation on this, but enough is enough. Carnival Cruise Lines must change this policy. In short, a lawsuit has been filed. On land or sea, we will not remain idle while blind people suffer discrimination. That is why we have the strength, the commitment, and the resources we do. It is why there is the National Federation of the Blind.
In another South Carolina case, we have helped Michael Young with a custody battle. His right to rear his own children was being challenged on grounds of blindness. Frank Coppel, one of the Federation leaders in South Carolina, testified in court on behalf of Michael Young. The substance of his testimony was that the blind are neither unusual nor abnormal. We have the same capacities, hopes, dreams, and understandings that sighted people have. Don Capps, who is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind and who has been in the leadership of this movement for over thirty years, also appeared on Michael Young's behalf. Don Capps described to the court his experience as a blind father and his work with thousands of blind people throughout the United States. He told the judge that it is unreasonable to break up a family because there are misunderstandings about the ability of the blind. The love of a father for his children is no less significant because the father is blind. The decision of the court affirmed the rights of blind parents. Michael Young was granted custody.
There are new developments to report this year about the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). This so-called accrediting body was created as a political tool and shield for the most regressive and least effective agencies in the country, and it continues to be unresponsive to the needs of the blind and unconcerned about the quality of programs for blind people. NAC's claim that it is a reputable accrediting organization must be measured against the impact of poor service to the blind and the shocking behavior of some of the staff members at NACaccredited agencies. Disclosures of child abuse at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, (a NAC-accredited agency) are only the most recent revelations. At this school the children were abused physically and sexually. One student died because those charged with her care failed in their responsibilities. We have, of course, been actively working to try to change conditions at the Florida School. We do not believe (as NAC apparently does) that the death of a child can be ignored. Who with any decency at all would try to defend an institution where such behavior is permitted? Today, most of us in this room are adults. Once, we were children. How many of us had the power to defend ourselves against the abuse that has been exposed at the School for the Deaf and the Blind in Florida? Who will protect the children if the schools won't do it? There is only one answer. We must accept the responsibility ourselves. We have often said that ours is very serious business. It can become no more important than the security and care of blind children --our children.
There is more about NAC. Many of NAC's adherents are beginning to understand that accreditation by NAC is harmful to the blind. The American Foundation for the Blind has been the principal funding source for NAC since 1967. In all of these years, over half of the NAC budget has come directly from the Foundation. The American Foundation for the Blind has quite literally kept NAC alive. From time to time, there are rumors that the Foundation is ceasing its support of NAC. One can only hope that the administration of the American Foundation for the Blind has the decency to cease supporting programs that defend and protect agencies where child abuse occurs.
Last May, the Virginia Department for the Visually Handicapped took formal action against renewal of its NAC accreditation. The person who was the acting head of the Virginia Department at that time has now become the Federal Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services.
The Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind in Washington, D.C., (one of NAC's earliest and staunchest supporters) has withdrawn its accreditation.
In April, the Michigan Commission for the Blind voted not to put rehabilitation money into agencies that are NAC-accredited. As might have been expected, NAC's supporters (the few that are left) rallied to get the decision reversed. They have not succeeded. At a meeting (billed as a press conference by NAC supporters -- which, incidentally, was not particularly well- attended by the press) Allen Harris, who is treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind and a member of the Board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind, was asked why the Commission had taken its action. He responded by saying that NAC accreditation has never meant quality service, and he cited the example of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. The NAC treasurer, one Gordon Steinhauer, is employed at a hospital. He was asked if the hospital was accredited. When he said that it certainly was accredited by a commission for accrediting hospitals, one of the NAC officials followed up with this question: "Has anyone ever died at your hospital?" Such a question is as revealing as any commentary on NAC. People who are terribly ill are taken to the hospital. Some of them recover. Some of them don't. This is understandable--but the children at school do not ordinarily die. If they do, something is horribly wrong. Nevertheless, NAC supporters gathered to defend such behavior. As I have said, Allen Harris is a member of the Board of the Michigan Commission. He and the organized blind of that state have every intention of insisting that programs for the blind provide real service, and not just talk. He has every intention of defending the blind of the state against the activities of NAC and its associates. And we have every intention of standing with him to help him get it done. When we are finished, services for the blind will be improved, and there will be no more NAC.
During the past half-dozen years we in the Federation have conducted the most extensive scholarship program dealing with the blind in the United States. This has been one of the most fruitful efforts we have made. The success achieved by those who have received scholarships shows just how effective this program is. Eileen Rivera has received one of them. She is now the Director of Low-Vision Programming for Johns Hopkins University. Christopher Kuczynski has gotten another. He is becoming a lawyer and will soon be taking a job with a prestigious law firm in Pennsylvania. Michael Bailiff has been awarded still another. He has just spent a year in Europe on a Watson Fellowship. Shortly, he will be entering Yale University to study law. There are dozens of other examples. Our scholarship program has helped bring educational opportunities not only to scholarship recipients, but also to those who have been encouraged and inspired by the Federation. This one program is helping significantly to change the meaning of blindness. It is one more reason for the National Federation of the Blind.
Of course, with all of our growth, we continue with the fundamental activities of the movement. We are distributing literature and materials at a record rate. Approximately one and a half million items of literature and other materials have been shipped from our Center this past year. Our distribution of aids and appliances has almost doubled, and we have provided more canes than ever before. We have expanded the number of aids and appliances that we make available to everything from travel aids to writing equipment, from computers to clocks. We now distribute over five hundred different pieces of literature. With approximately 30,000 copies being produced each month, the Braille Monitor (published in print, in Braille, on disk, and on cassette) is the most widely circulated and thoroughly read publication dealing with blindness in this nation. We continue to produce Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children. There are over ten thousand readers. We distribute the Voice of the Diabetic to the blind and to interested sighted people. We circulated over 30,000 copies of a recent issue of this magazine. There are also the Student Division Newsletter, the American Bar Association Journal, the publication of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, and a growing number of newsletters from state affiliates and divisions.
A few months ago, our Committee on Research and Development (one of the most able groups of blind scientists ever assembled) developed software which makes a talking computer become a scientific calculator. I have been told that this calculator can handle numbers so big that they exceed the number of atoms in the whole known universe. Blind scientists who need a highly-developed calculator will be able to do much with this new product.
During the past year we have continued to conduct seminars at the National Center for the Blind, bringing state and local leaders from throughout the nation to Baltimore for sessions of intense training. In addition, there have also been seminars for educators of blind children. In June, we hosted, in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University, a symposium on the perceptual ability of blind youth. It has often been assumed that blind people are severely limited in learning because much of human knowledge is learned through the eye. However, this symposium focused on blind people's learning through raised pictures. The conclusion reached is that whether the perception is visual or tactile, information is gathered in the same way and with the same efficiency. Blind people may learn by using a different method, but the education is just as rapid, just as valuable, and just as effective.
On June 2, 1989, an incident occurred in West Monroe, Louisiana, which outlines with painful force the vital necessity for our movement. Jo Anne Fernandes, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind and president of our Louisiana affiliate, went with fifteen others to a nightclub called Sugie's. Jo Anne is the Director of the Federation's orientation center in Louisiana. She teaches our philosophy there and encourages blind students to become independent. The program she directs has had tremendous success.
Fourteen of the sixteen people who tried to enter the nightclub were blind. As they stepped through the door, JoAnne and her companions were met by one of the nightclub's owners. There ensued a confrontation which we had thought was far in the past. Sugie's owner said that the blind were not welcome unless they agreed to be led to the bathroom because he thought they would run into tables and spill drinks. If drinks were spilled (regardless of the circumstances), the blind must agree to pay for them. Finally, the owner said that all blind individuals must sign a waiver of liability holding him blameless in case of injury. As self-respecting Federation members would expect, JoAnne and the students with her refused. When they tried to discuss the matter with Sugie's personnel, the police were called, and JoAnne and three students were arrested. When the newspapers reported the incident, they enlarged upon the prejudicial attitude expressed at Sugie's. Notice the sanctimonious tone of the bar owner. Here are excerpts of his opinions as quoted in the newspaper.
"'I was looking out for their behalf, they won't use the aisle. They bump tables and spill drinks. All I was trying to do was help. I even help my drunks to the bathroom and back. I take them home sometimes. That's the way I am. I never told them they couldn't come in at all. I'm looking at liabilities here.'"
So, that's what the bar owner thinks -- that blind people and drunks are in the same category and should receive the same treatment. The bar owner may be expressing his sincere belief, but his attitude does not reflect reality. Furthermore, we are no longer willing to tolerate lack of opportunity based on prejudice. A press conference was held in Ruston, Louisiana, and the Federationists at the Louisiana Center told reporters what had really happened. The word spread throughout the state, and public officials offered support. In addition, a lawyer was retained to defend the rights of the blind to enter Sugie's nightclub. The charges were dropped. Ours is serious business. We know our rights, and we know how to get them. However, on the road to equality there is frequently confrontation. We regret the necessity for it, but we are simply not willing to tolerate second-class status. That is why we have formed the National Federation of the Blind.
When members of the public think of blindness, they should come to recognize that there is one organization in our country speaking and acting on behalf of the blind. We who are blind can and will help each other as brothers and sisters in the work place, the school, and the home. No one can solve our problems for us, we must do that for ourselves. We have made this commitment, and we intend to keep it.
As I reflect on the activities of the past twelve months, it is clear to me that the Federation has never been in better health. There is a closeness in this organization which is unparalleled. We expect much of each other -- ingenuity, energy, commitment, courage. But there is another element. We have the capacity to care. This year is one to remember. All of us have made it that way. As President I have come to know the sacrifice and dedication of the individual members of this organization. Not only do I feel humility at being entrusted with such responsibility, but I hope that I may measure up to the honor you have given. There is one more thing. I believe that everybody in this organization -- every officer, every member -- can feel a justifiable pride in our achievements during the past twelve months. If we do our work well (and I am absolutely certain that we will), next year will be even better. This is my report.
(back) (contents) (next)