Sunday, June 16, 2013

Blast from the past and blasting into the future

I will find the article and post it here. It is already on Facebook. Mike from Dog Guide School said he'd find it. Lynne Koral
Hey Lynne,
OMG!!! Guess what I just unearthed! It's the article from the Village Voice with you and Pat in it. You are named once; Pat is featured.


AND also, the whole thing is bracketed by Kenneth Jernigan, the President of the NFB, with his comments, which are extremely disdainful and patronizing to the Black Power Movement. Anyway, all of your demands and criticisms are in the article.
I can read it to you if you Skype me before 5:30 or after 9;30 today, or tomorrow afternoon and evening, but I've also attached it in case that's preferable to you.
Kitty



"BLIND POWER”--DIALOGUE AT A DISTANCE
by Kenneth Jernigan, President, National Federation of the Blind
Recently Mike Ewart of Maryland sent me an article from "The Village Voice," an underground newspaper published in Greenwich Village, New York. Not only did I find the article interesting but I wondered whether these people were part of our movement and what they were really doing to improve the condition of the blind.
Rallying of the Blinks in a (Short-) Sighted City
by F. Joseph Spieler
A rainy day can be a drag for the blind, for the sound of tapping umbrellas is the sound of tapping canes.
"Hey, someone's coming," called Pat Logan, as a rapping sound came down the stairs of the elevated subway at 90th Street and Elmhurst Avenue in Queens. "No, it's just an umbrella."
"Darn," she said, and continued her wait with others for more blind people whom she would escort to her home for a meeting of the Blind Power Movement.
A movement of mainly high school and college students, it wants to stimulate and serve--at first--the youth of a blind population that numbers 40,000 in the city. Somewhat to the left in individual persuasion, though non-partisan in its goals, it sees itself in confrontation with the stereotype of the blind as sub-human or super-human ("Oh, look at that blind man, how sad and empty his life must be"--"I know this blind girl, it's fantastic, she plays the piano and 12-string guitar, and she's only 16!"), with an industrial society that assumes it has less use for the blind than did Homer's Greece, and with New York's state and private service organizations, which, after standing pat on their pioneering efforts years ago, have become top-heavy and self-serving bureaucracies that bind the blind to a system that rewards conformity and punishes dissent, but whose greater evil is to effectively segregate its clients from sighted society.
Walking from the subway to the apartment that 20-year-old Pat, a student at New York University, shares with her mother, seven blinks ("that's our own sub-culture word for ourselves") talked about President Nixon, the Moratorium, drugs, rock records, and various goings-on at the institutions for the blind. Jerry, a black high school student, talked with a sighted (their word for you) about being blind.
"Maybe I was kind of up tight with you before, but you have to understand that sighted people have so many preconceptions about us that it can get to be a pain in the ---." In addition to being blind, we're supposed to be emotionally disturbed, too loud, picky, helpless. It always messes them up to find that we're like them, that we're involved in the same things they are, have the same bags and hangups--except that we have no vision."
The last is important, for the lack of vision in the blind does not imply the inability to "see." Pierre Villey, a blind psychologist, once wrote: "Sight is long-distance touch, with the sensation of color added. Touch is near sight, minus the sensation of color, and with the sense of rugosity added. The two senses give us knowledge of the same order."
Soon gathered in Pat's room--any young woman's room, with the addition of two tape recorders, a television set ("I like to watch Johnny Carson"), and other sound equipment--were sixteen persons involved in pre-meeting pleasantries. After a few minutes, Lynne, a diminutive seventeen-year-old high-schooler, began axing private conversation by calling it "irrelevant," and the movement's third meeting began.
Fitfully chaired by Jerry, the gathering sifted legitimate from personal grievances, split into contentious factions, and then unified itself and put a series of goals on Braille.
The agencies for the blind received the heaviest specific criticism. These institutions, of which the largest in this city are the Jewish Guild for the Blind, The Industrial Home for the Blind, and the Lighthouse (the New York Association for the Blind), provide, in part, mobility lessons (how to travel), evaluation programs for students, Braille, typing, sensory training, manual dexterity instruction, home economics, and reader services. Some run "sheltered workshops"--where blind workers make simple handicrafts for varying rates of pay. Some receive money from state agencies--mainly the Rehabilitation and Counseling Service--for mobility lessons and evaluation testing.
The meeting was unanimous in its anger over what it felt is the arbitrariness shown by the agencies in their dealings with clients (the agencies' word), their closed mouthedness about information (Wesley D. Sprague, executive director of the Lighthouse, when asked recently how many blind workers were employed by his agency, replied with a long and windy discourse on the meaninglessness of statistics), and the narrowness of their job training programs (the Lighthouse, for example, will train people, regardless of talent, for only three jobs--piano tuning, transcription typing, and newstand vending).
The young people made a special point of telling a visitor how they felt about being talked down to, and being "tested, tested, and re-tested." They said that the agencies' subtle, invidious message was that the social and vocational freedom of the blind was severely limited and that they were not to forget how dependent they were on agency support.
"Of course," said Jerry, "they'll deny everything and call us paranoid when we say that."
In fact, a sighted executive near the top of one agency's hierarchy came close to labeling the movement's sentiments in just that fashion.--"Sure, they think they're being given a raw deal," he said, "but they're just youngsters. Why I remember I rebelled as a kid myself, and in a way it's good for them."
Yet a recent study of the blind, "The Making of Blind Men" by Robert A, Scott, discussions with sympathetic professional workers in the agencies, and a talk with William Underwood, an educational specialist for the American Foundation for the Blind, a national consultative agency that carries Helen Keller's legacy, indicate that Jerry and others in the movement--who, like many blind clients and agency workers, are fearful that full identification will lose them their services and jobs--are neither paranoid nor juvenile.
Scott's work, published this year by the Russell Sage Foundation, says that self-conceptions of the blind contrast sharply with those held by workers for the blind, who regard blindness as "one of the most severe of all handicaps," "Socialization" of the agency's client, a process that Scott describes as learning "the disability of blindness (as a) social role," depends on "changing his views about his problem. In order to do this, the client's views about the problem of blindness must be discredited." The client "is listened to attentively and sympathetically. However, when concrete plans are formulated, the client learns that his personal views are largely ignored." A blind person who simply asks for help with reading can wind up facing a battery of psychological tests. If he asks for medical aid, he may be asked to involve himself in a long, complex series of tests, training classes, and re-tests.
Blind persons acceptable to the agency, Scott says, "will often find that the intake worker listens attentively to their views but then dismisses them as superficial or inaccurate." The result of such treatment, Scott says, is that the client's ability to act and think independently is severely diminished. Because "the workers have a virtual monopoly on the rewards and punishments in the system," he continues, the client ends up by conforming to the worker's conception of what a blind person should be.
Underwood agrees. "To get the services of the blind agencies, the blind individual must conform to the system, and let's face it, blind kids entering high school and college need their services."
One woman who holds a responsible position at the Lighthouse, afraid that the use of even her first name would lead to her detection and firing, confirmed Scott's description in detail. "The thing I absolutely can't stand is the way they pretend to like blind people--the hypocrisy is sad, it's sickening." She recalled an incident in which some blinks, after meeting at the Lighthouse with a psychologist, asked the doctor out for a drink at a nearby bar. Some staff people heard about it and, horrified at the possibilities, rounded up the imbibers into cabs and sent them home.
But beyond the textbook understanding and occasional good intentions of agency staff lies the fact that a small, intelligent, energetic, and growing Blind Power Movement has entered what social scientists anesthetizingly refer to as "the revolution of rising expectations." The foremost of their goals is "the education of the public to break down stereotypes about the blind, with particular emphasis on the consideration of individual intelligence and talent by educators, employers, and blind agencies.
Second is "increased and diversified job placement, with research into new areas where blind people can find challenging and stimulating work." (Perhaps nothing gives the young blind the sense of paternalistic manipulation as much as the agencies' vocational training classes, such as those run by the Lighthouse.)
The Blind Power Movement makes several other demands:
--A large increase in the number of blind staff workers in the agencies. (The movement members and their staff sympathizers speak of agencies' systematic placing in middle-management jobs of blind Uncle Tom workers who dead-end any innovative and experimental impulses among the clients. One revealing figure is that only one blind person sits on the Lighthouse's thirty-eight-man board of directors. Imagine all but one of the board of directors of the NAACP in 1969 being white.)
--"Expansion of self-help programs tied to public schooling to eliminate the need for special schools for the blind, which tend to reinforce the segregation of the blind."
--The creation of "instruction groups in which blind instructors would teach parents how to provide their blind offspring with more mobility--and hence independence--at an earlier age."
--Tutoring in such special areas as science and math so they may achieve competitive status with sighted students.
The movement is not heady. As well as taking on the agencies--which in the public image have halos around their offices--there is the problem of what Richard Adcock, a seventeen-year-old who attends Grover Cleveland High, calls the "unorganized blind"--those frightened of losing their agency's services if they join the movement, those who are unaware of the movement (publicity and meetings pose special problems for the blind), and those who feel they can do it on their own.
Joseph Ciccone is one who would like to do it alone. Though he earned a B.A. degree in economics from City College in 1967, he has, at twenty-five, been trained as a piano tuner. He has also taught himself electronics, holds a general-class ham license, and is attempting to start a business as a free-lance recording technician, using his own impressive equipment. "It's not easy, you always have to fight against the same thing--'a blind recording technician?'" Though his own experience with blind agencies would have enabled him to write much of Scott's criticism, Ciccone feels that energy on behalf of the blind should be directed at prying open the job market. Unable to get a job in his academic field, he qualified himself for work as a radio announcer and studio technician--but not one station in this city's progressive media consented to offer him even a tryout. "It was always 'we can't hire blind people' or 'we'll put you on our list and get back to you before not too long,' but they never did."
He wishes the movement well but is pessimistic. "Numbers," he says, "that's the whole thing about organizing the blind--the numbers aren't there."
But the movement doesn't think so. Its activists say the meetings--which are open to sighted people--are drawing a growing membership, and that they are earning sympathy and tacit support from progressive agency workers. "What we need now," said Pat Logan, "is publicity, publicity, publicity."

After reading this article I wrote to Bill Dwyer, President of our New York affiliate, The Empire State Association of the Blind, and to Sam Wolff, President of the Triboro Chapter of the Empire State Association of the Blind:
April 3, 1970
Mr. William Dwyer
94 Third Avenue
Rensselaer, New York 12144
Dear Bill:
I am sending the enclosed article to you and Sam Wolff to ask whether you know anything about this "Blind Power" group. If they are any good, we ought to get hold of them and bring them into the movement. Maybe they are in the movement. If so, I have never heard of them.
Sam, do you know these people? Can you get in touch with them and see what they are like?
Cordially,
Kenneth Jernigan, President
National Federation of the Blind

Almost immediately I received a response from Sam Wolff, who said in part:
"This is in response to yours of April 3rd regarding the blind power movement; I have just gotten off the telephone with the party I believe is their leader. She is intelligent, young, and one of the people who I have placed two years ago; she called to tell me of a job opening for another blind person in the hospital where she works. The young lady and her group have little liking for "talk" or organizations. It is unfortunate that their opinion of the Triboro Chapter is one of "all talk and no action," and this group feels similarly to the ESAB Inc. and the New York State Commission for the Blind as well. The blind power movement is a revolt against apathy and inactivity.
"I happen to have good dialogue with some of the people in the blind power movement, but they want no part of the ... much talk and no accomplishment."
I replied as follows:
April 13, 1970
Mr. Sam Wolff, President
Triboro Chapter of the ESAB
11 Park Place
New York, New York 10007
Dear Sam:
If the members of the blind power movement, as they call themselves, are really interested in action, then they should join the Triboro Chapter and, thereby, the Empire State Association and the NFB. Otherwise, regardless of their protestations, they will do more talking than acting, or they will waste their effort in an isolated, fragmentary demonstration, which will end up by doing more harm than good.
One of the most tiresome aspects of the so called "power" movements (whether black, blind, student, or something else) is their seeming arrogance, apparently based on lack of historical knowledge. As Roy Wilkins of the NAACP put it, there were people working to achieve civil rights (and with some effectiveness) before 1954. Otherwise, the first desegregation decisions of the Supreme Court would not have occurred in that year. These things did not happen by accident.
Likewise, the difference between the condition of the blind now and in 1940 when the National Federation of the Blind came into being is profound. Such rehabilitation as now exists (and it is considerable); Aid payments and exempt earnings; and the whole range of improved public attitudes, can all in substantial measure, be traced to the "action" of the organized blind movement, including the "action" of the Empire State Association of the Blind. Even so, many of the agencies for the blind have made real contributions, and some of them are working as constructively and progressively as could be hoped. While we are on the subject, Robert Scott is not a complete paragon of virtue but has some of the grossest misconceptions I have ever met. Things are just not as simple as the "blind power" group would apparently like to have them. However that may be, the real hope for the future of the blind lies in the organized blind movement--the National Federation of the Blind.
It is true that organizations often flounder, that we very often bicker, that local chapters some times do not even have enough talent among their membership to carry on a meaningful or worthwhile meeting. It is true that, despite all of our efforts, more blind people are unrehabilitated than employed and that more of the unemployed are living on starvation welfare checks than adequate grants. It is true that most of the comparatively few blind persons who have been successful still think they are superior to the rest of the blind and feel that they made it on their own and that they want to identify and associate with the sighted--except, of course, when they deign to do something "to be of help to other blind persons since I don't really need anything myself and there is nothing the organization can do for me." In fact, if all of these things were not true, we would not have the pressing need which we have to build and strengthen our organization. The very fact that so many blind persons are inactive and apparently more interested in recreation and talking than in political action, that they submit to custodialism with seeming gratitude, that they want the emphasis to be on coffee and cake (very often provided by somebody else) at their local meetings—-this fact illustrates and emphasizes the need.
All of the idealism, brains, courage, objection to hypocrisy, and just plain guts do not reside in that segment of the population under thirty. No age group has a corner on these virtues, and it constitutes arrogance and hypocrisy to delude oneself into believing that such is the case. The so called "power" movements often emphasize "rights" to the exclusion of responsibility and, in childlike innocence, blandly ignore long-range consequences, thus doing more to damage than help the cause they profess to support.
Yes, we need action and not just talk, and the NFB is where the action is. If the disability bill passes (with 180 million dollars in the pockets of blind persons the first year) it will be the organized blind who bring it about--the sheltered shopworkers, the welfare recipients, the unemployed, the uneducated--the people who, despite all odds, had the courage and the sense to stick together and work for a goal. If (and it will come) the climate of public opinion changes so that the average blind person can be judged on his individual merit, can be accepted for what he is instead of being victimized by prejudice and discrimination, it will be the organized blind (with all their shortcomings) who bring it about. It will not be the individual "successful" blind person, who thinks he is too good to associate with the rest of us; it will not be the agency for the blind; and it will not be the small, snobbish, elite groups, who think they are too good to associate with their intellectual inferiors, who think they are above going to a routine chapter meeting and helping to plan a Christmas party or talk about the humdrum details of here and now.
We need the members of this "blind power" group in New York City, as we need all blind persons in our movement--the old and the young, the stupid and the wise, the employed and the unemployed, the rich and the poor; but we need them with some humility. They should realize that they (all of them) have benefited tremendously by the efforts of the organized blind movement, even if they have never heard of it. The job opportunites and the social climate are better today than they were a generation ago because of what has already been done, and the blind of our day have some responsibility and obligation to make it still better for themselves and the coming generation. However, they also have the obligation to be grateful for what they have already received from those who have been on the firing line before them.
I hope you will contact your friend who is in the blind power movement and read her this letter. She may not like it, but perhaps it will cause her to do some thinking. The NFB is on the move, and we need all active blind persons of good will to join in the battle. Tell her that if the organization (whether at local, state, or national level) is not what she would have it be, she should join and make it better, not simply gripe about it from the outside.
Cordially,
Kenneth Jernigan, President
National Federation of the Blind


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