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APRIL. 1978 


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APRIL 1978 

























© National Federation of the Blind, inc., 1978 





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If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, 
you can do so by employing the following language: 

"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, a District of Columbia non- 
profit corporation, the sum of $ (or " percent of my net estate" or "the following 

stocks and bonds: ") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons." 

If your wishes are more complex, you may have your attorney communicate with the 
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ISSN 0006-8829 

APRIL 1978 





As Federationists are aware, the National 
Federation of the Bhnd has been working 
for many years to eliminate unfair discrimi- 
nation against the blind in the sale of insur- 
ance. The problem can be simply stated: 
Because we are blind, we are believed to con- 
stitute poor risks-no facts, just beliefs. 

As you will recall, the Iowa Insurance 
Commissioner last year issued a regulation 
barring discrimination on the basis of blind- 
ness, partial blindness, or physical disability. 
(This is another instance, like the civil rights 
protections in the white cane laws Federa- 
tionists have gotten passed in state after 
state, where what we do to protect the 
blind also protects those with other handi- 

Solving the problem of insurance discri- 
mination by regulation seemed a useful 
approach. (NFB affiliates in several other 
states have dealt with this by persuading 
their state legislatures to pass laws prohibit- 
ing such practices.) The Iowa Insurance 
Commissioner, Herbert Anderson, is also 
one of the leaders of the National Associa- 
tion of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). 
The NAIC, among other things, proposes 
model statutes and regulations which can 
be adopted by state insurance departments. 

Last fall Commissioner Anderson invited 
the National Federation of the Blind to ap- 
pear before the winter meeting of the NAIC 
to try to convince its members to adopt a 
model regulation barring unfair discrimina- 
tion against the blind. In this way we could 
achieve uniformity on a nationwide scale 
and eliminate yet another long-standing area 
of discrimination against the blind. 

On December 6, 1977, I appeared before 
masse at the commissioners meetings. At 
as a representative of the Federation. I was 
well received, and a lively question period 
followed my presentation. The questions 
were mainly from representatives of the 
insurance industry, since they show up en 
masse at the commissioners' meetings. At 

the conclusion of the discussion, a motion 
was made to establish a task force. The task 
force has two mandates: (1) It must study 
the problem in order to decide whether 
there is truly a need to regulate the insur- 
ance industry in this area. (2) If the task 
force concludes that there is a need, it is 
to submit a proposed model regulation to 
the next commissioners meeting, which will 
be held in June 1978. 

In my capacity as an NFB representative, 
I have been appointed an advisor to the task 
force. There will also be advisors represent- 
ing the insurance industry. 

It is my belief that the commissioners 
will adopt a model regulation next June. If 
this is done, the commissioners will be un- 
der a moral obligation to put the regulation 
into effect in their states. At that point I 
beheve that, on a nationwide scale, the in- 
surance industry will accept our position: 
and for the first time in history, the bhnd 
of this nation will be treated as equals by the 
insurance companies in the country. 

Sometimes people ask, Why the National 
Federation of the Blind? This is another ex- 
ample of the progress being made by the 
organized blind movement in this country, 
and why it is essential for blind persons to 
become actively involved in the movement. 

It is important to reahze that we are ask- 
ing no special favors of the insurance com- 
panies. We don't want to be sold insurance 
at rates lower than the risks warrant, simply 
because we are bhnd and undoubtedly suffer 
from economic discrimination in other 
areas. It is that the companies discriminate 
because of their ignorance about our real 
condition, about our ability to lead normal 
lives without walking off chffs or into ma- 
chinery. It is a matter of education. 

Following is the statement that was pre- 
sented to the NAIC. Federationists should 
study this document carefully so they will be 
prepared to discuss the matter with people 



in their own states as we continue to work 
toward ending this form of discrimination. 




(Presented on behalf of the National Feder- 
ation of the Bhnd by James Omvig before 
the National Association of Insurance Com- 
missioners (NAIC), December 1977) 

Issues: ( 1 ) Is it in the best public interest 
to permit insurance companies to continue 
to discriminate against blind persons in the 
sale of insurance on the theory that the 
blind as a class constitute poor risks when, 
in fact, such discrimination is based upon 
myth, ignorance, and prejudice rather than 
upon sound actuarial data? 

(2) If not, is it within the power and 
scope of activity of the NAIC to adopt and 
actively support a uniform regulation aimed 
at barring unfair discrimination against the 

At the outset, let me discuss briefly blind- 
ness and the National Federation of the 


So far as we are concerned (and accord- 
ing to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, longtime pres- 
ident of the National Federation of the 
Blind), blindness constitutes a social, not a 
physical problem. It is now established fact 
that, with proper training and opportunity, 
the average blind person can do the ordinary 
job in the average community or place of 
business, and that he can do it on equal 
terms with his sighted neighbor. Putting 
it another way, with proper training and 
with opportunity, blindness literally can be 
reduced to the level of a physical nuisance 
or inconvenience. 

At the present time, blind Americans are 
working successfully as lawyers, public 
school teachers, insurance salesmen and 
executives, computer programmers, legisla- 
tors, electrical engineers, and farmers. In 
short, the physical nuisance of being blind 
is not a bar to regular employment, social 

activity, participation in the community, or 
anything else. 

If this be so, why are there any problems 
whatever connected with blindness? As we 
have said above, blindness is a social, not a 
physical, problem. To elaborate, we who 
are blind have a major problem confronting 
us as we attempt to participate fully in soci- 
ety. We must face and eliminate the wide 
range of myths and misconceptions about 
blindness that have existed for centuries, 
and we must also eliminate the discrimina- 
tions and denials that result directly from 
the public's misunderstandings about us. So 
far as the social attitude about blindness is 
concerned (and if we strip away all of the 
niceties), the average citizen believes that 
blindness and helplessness are one and the 
same. To be candid about it, we are not 
thought to be capable of perfomiing at all 
in any area where competence above that 
possessed by a child is required. In effect, 
the classification "the blind" is thought to 
designate a helpless and hopeless group 
of people. 

On the other hand, if a blind person be- 
comes an achiever, he is not regarded as an 
ordinary, capable person. His ability to 
function is then regarded as remarkable, and 
he is now the exception the exception to 
the rule that blind people as a class are help- 

What we are saying comes down to this: 
The physical fact of being blind is not really 
a bar to anything and may easily be dealt 
with the same way that actual limitations 
arising from other physical characteristics 
are dealt with. But because of myth and 
misunderstanding, blind people face tremen- 
dous social problems and are confronted 
daily with massive discrimination. We are, 
in the truest sense of the term, a minority 
group-facing all the problems that flow 
from a stereotyped group status: "All blind 
people are alike, aren't they?" 

Many people find it difficult to believe 
that anyone would wish to discriminate 
against the blind. Therefore, at this point, 
a brief discussion of discrimination might be 
in order. 

APRIL 1978 ■ 


The word "discrimination" as used in 
connection with human rights and minori- 
ties means unreasonable and detrimental 
classification. It implies prejudice, denial of 
opportunity, unequal treatment, and exclu- 
sion from the main channels of economic 
and social life. But these are results, not 
causes the results of unreasonable and det- 
rimental classification. 

To be discriminatory the classification 
must have both elements-that is, it must be 
both unreasonable and detrimental. Other- 
wise there is no discrimination. It is, for ex- 
ample, undoubtedly detrimental to the in- 
dividual who has committed a crime to be 
classified as a prisoner; but it is not discrimi- 
natory, for the classification is reasonable. 
To be unreasonable, the classification must 
be made without relevance or logic. 

In other words, unless the trait used as 
the basis for the classification is related to 
the purpose for which the classification is 
established and unless that purpose is 
socially desirable, the classification is un- 
reasonable—therefore discriminatory. 

In addition to the requirements that dis- 
crimination be unreasonable and detrimen- 
tal, we believe there is a third component: 
It is that the person committing the dis- 
criminatory act believes he is acting ration- 
ally. At least, this is certainly the case when 
we are deaUng with the open and flagrant 
discrimination continually practiced against 
the blind. 

Of course, if the person committing the 
discrimination believes he is acting rational- 
ly, it follows that he beheves he is guilty of 
no discrimination whatever. The fact that 
people discriminating against the blind do 
not regard their actions as discriminatory 
makes things no easier for the blind. Nor 
does it help that the average citizen in our 
society does not regard denial of opportuni- 
ty fortheblindasdiscriminatory. The failure 
to recognize that blind persons are openly 
discriminated against, and that bhnd per- 
sons constitute a minority group, means 
that the blind of this nation have much 
work to do. 

The National Federation of the Blind 

This brings us to a discussion of the Na- 
tional Federation of the Blind (NFB)~-our 
purposes and goals. The blind of the nation 
joined together in the organized blind move- 
ment-the NFB-in 1940. It was clear to 
leaders of the blind that since blindness is a 
social problem, a social action organization 
was needed. Therefore, while for years there 
had been organizations "for" the blind 
that provided services and attempted to 
speak for the blind, an organization "of 
blind people was established. The National 
Federation of the Blind is not an agency 
speaking for the bhnd, but rather the blind 
speaking for themselves. 

In short, we have joined together in the 
same way and for the same reasons for which 
other minority groups have seen fit to orga- 
nize. In reality our problems are the same 
as those experienced by blacks, chicanos, 
Indians, and women, and we have joined to- 
gether in the same kind of self-help organi- 

The NFB has affiliates in each state and 
in the District of Columbia. In turn, each 
state affiliate has local chapters affiliated- 
with it. The national body is the ultimate 
authority of the NFB. 

In the broadest sense, the purpose of the 
NFB is to improve the social and economic 
well-being of blind Americans. We engage 
in the following types of activities: We edu- 
cate newly blinded persons to the facts 
about blindness. We engage in an ongoing 
public education endeavor aimed at teach- 
ing the truth and ehminating the myths that 
exist among members of the public. We 
monitor state and federal legislative activi- 
ties to make sure that laws and regulations 
are not adopted that will keep us down and 
out when we are trying to climb up and in. 
We provide information to state legislators, 
administrative officials, federal officials, 
and members of the U.S. Congress so that 
they will have accurate information upon 
which to make judgments when analysing 
proposed laws and regulations. And finally, 
we go to court, when necessary, to secure 
and protect the rights of blind Americans. 



Our Problem With the Insurance Industry 

In our experience, some insurance com- 
panies refuse to sell insurance to blind per- 
sons at all. Some will sell, but at a marked- 
up rate. Some will sell a basic policy at the 
standard rate, but will not sell extras such 
as waiver of premium or double indemnity. 
A very few will sell these extras, but at a 
marked-up rate. A very few will sell at stand- 
ard rates and with the extras, but will sell 
only to the so-called "well adjusted" blind 
person. Almost no company will permit the 
parents of a bUnd child to purchase insur- 
ance, and almost no company will sell an 
"individual" health and accident poUcy to 
a blind person. All of these practices are 
based on belief, not on fact. 

Generally, in the insurance industry, ac- 
tuarial statistic has been regarded as the 
basis for reasonable classification. When 
dealing with blind persons, however, the 
"I believe" syndrome is practiced to an 
astonishing degree. While we continually ask 
for statistics, insurers continue to believe 
that as a class we are poor risks. It seems to 
us that in the area of insurance we should 
deal with fact, not fiction; with statistics, 
not stereotypes and myths. Those who be- 
lieve we are poor risks must assuredly be- 
lieve that they are being logical. However, 
logic based on belief is often misleading. 
No doubt seamen in the pre-Columbus era 
believed the world was flat since that seemed 
to be logical. They were proven wrong. The 
point here is that mere opinion and belief 
have no place in the insurance industry. 

Let us make our position crystal clear: 
The physical fact of bUndness has no rele- 
vance whatever to risk of loss for purposes 
of insurability. 

It must be borne in mind that we are here 
dealing with blindness per se, not with medi- 
cal problems that might ultimately result in 
blindness. To explain this, let me give you 
some examples of statements insurance 
companies have used in defense of their 
unfair practices. They are: 

Some blind people have diabetes. Some 
blind people have mutliple sclerosis. Some 
blind people have arteriosclerosis. Some 

blind people have cancer. Some blind peo- 
ple have heart disease. Therefore, blind peo- 
ple as a class are poor risks. 

We find this argument totally irrational 
and unacceptable. To demonstrate the irra- 
tionality of such a defense: 

Some insurance underwriters have dia- 
betes. Some insurance underwriters have 
multiple sclerosis. Some insurance under- 
writers have arteriosclerosis. Some insurance 
underwriters have cancer. Some insurance 
underwriters have heart disease. Therefore, 
insurance underwriters as a class are poor 

False logic? You bet! No thinking person 
would seriously consider the establishment 
of a classification of insurance underwriters 
for insurance purposes. In both instances, 
whether we use the classification of the 
blind or of insurance underwriters, that 
classification has no relevance whatever to 
the question of insurability. Therefore, it is 
totally unreasonable to rely upon these 
classifications or even to refer to them when 
dealing with insurability. Rather, companies 
must use classifications that are relevant to 
risk of loss, such as: diabetes, multiple scler- 
osis, arteriosclerosis, cancer, or heart disease. 

Putting it another way, where the insur- 
ance industry has actuarial data demonstrat- 
ing that a particular characteristic (such as 
diabetes) results in poor risk, then it is rea- 
sonable to so classify since the classification 
is relevant to risk of loss. And although 
some conditions that cause blindness may 
reasonably be classified, blindness by itself 
may not be. 

Let some insurance companies speak for 

"Specifically, for individuals under age 15 
who are blind in both eyes, tlie usual practice 
is to decline life insurance unless there is evi- 
dence that the individual is likely to become 
gainfully employed as an adult. At ages 15 
and older, life insurance is generally available 
within the limits of insurable interest." 

"The accidental death benefit is not avail- 
able to individuals blind in both eyes because 
they are not able to avoid accidents as well 

APRIL 1978 


as those with sight. While this may sound Hke 
a tired old stereotype to you, the very small 
mortality margins in the premium for this 
additional benefit simply do not permit any 
excess deaths. It has been suggested that 
blind persons may in fact have fewer acci- 
dents than siglited persons. This may well be 
true for older blind persons who have be- 
come generally inactive because of this loss. 
However, those who would be applying for 
insurance are generally active in terms of 
earning a living and/or raising a family and 
thus would not 'benefit' from the limited 
exposure to accidents typical of the other 

"Those who have some vision, although it 
is seriously impaired, and those who are 
blind in one eye only may be issued a policy 
of health insurance with some limitation in 
the benefits provided. Such policies are not, 
however, offered to those who are totally 

"Life Insurance: If both eyes are blind, 
if the person is well rehabilitated and emo- 
tionally adjusted, and if there is no associ- 
ated or underlying disease such as diabetes 
or neoplastic disease, we would offer insur- 
ance on a standard basis. Those persons who 
are not well rehabilitated and emotionally 
adjusted to the blindness are offered insur- 
ance with a continuous extra premium of 
S2.50 per thousand. This includes children 
and persons who have only recently become 
blind and have not as yet adjusted to their 
situation. This rating can be reviewed at a 
later date, subject to evidence of insurability 
when the person has reached a point where 
he is adequately rehabilitated and has be- 
come emotionally adjusted to his condi- 
tion." [One wonders who will determine 
when a blind person is 'well rehabilitated 
and emotionally adjusted.'] 

"Health Insurance: We do not issue a 
hospitalization type of coverage. We do issue 
disability income and do not consider that 
we can issue this insurance to persons who 
are totally blind." 

"For ages 16 and over, waiver disability 
is not available because our definition of 
total disability is such that a blind person 

is considered totally disabled. The acciden- 
tal death benefit is not available because we 
judge the accident hazard to be high." 

"Health Insurance-Disability Income: De- 
cline, since the company recognizes that 
total and irrecoverable loss of sight of both 
eyes does constitute total disability by defi- 

As will be discussed later, since we are al- 
ready blind, blindness would obviously be 
eliminated as a disability for which waiver 
of premium or other disability benefits 
would be available. 

One final problem should be discussed. 
Many companies have come up with an in- 
teresting twist. When their unfair practices 
are challenged, they say something to this 
effect; "Although we have no data that 
would support it, we believe that you are 
poor risks, and accordingly, we will continue 
to deny you coverage on the same basis as 
the sighted. If you can provide us with data 
to support your claim that you are not poor 
risks, we would be glad to have it." In other 
words, many companies attempt to shift 
the burden of proof to the blind. 

The Iowa Solution to the Problem 

The Iowa Commissioner of Insurance, 
Herbert W. Anderson, proposed the follow- 
ing regulation, based on Iowa's version of 
the NAIC Model Unfair Trade Practices Aci: 

510-15.80 (507B) Purpose. 

The purpose of this regulation is to state 
that individuals who are blind, partially blind, 
or have a physical disability do not, for that 
reason, constitute a class. Therefore, indi- 
viduals who are blind, partially blind, or 
have a physical disability will not, solely on 
that basis, be unfairly discriminated against in 
the rates charged for any contract of life 
insurance or life annuity or in the dividends 
or other benefits payable thereon or in any 
other of the terms and conditions of such 
contract; and will not, solely on the basis of 
blindness, partial blindness, or physical 
disability, be unfairly discriminated against 
in the amount of premium, policy fees, or 
rates charged for any policy or contract of 
insurance other than life or in the benefits 
payable thereunder or in any of the terms or 
conditions of such contract, or in any man- 
ner whatever. 



510-15.81 (507B) Definitions. 

15.81(1) "Contract" shall mean "insurance 
policy" or "insurance contract" as defined in 
section 507B.2(3) of the Code. 

15.81(2) "Person" shall mean "person" as 
defined in section 507B.2( 1 ) of the Code. 
510-15.82 (507B) AppIicabUity and scope. 

15.82(1) This regulation shall apply to all 
contracts delivered or issued for delivery in 
this state by a person on or after the effective 
date of this regulation and to all existing 
group contracts which are amended or re- 
newed on or after the effective date of this 

15.82(2) Nothing contained in this regula- 
tion shall be construed to prohibit discrimi- 
nation between individuals of the same class 
who do not have equal expectation of life or 
who have an expected risk of loss different 
than that of other individuals of the same 

510-15.83 (507B) Prohibition. 

15.83(1) For the purposes of sections 
507B.4(7)(a) and 507B.4(7)(b) of theCode, 
individuals shall not be considered to be of 
the same class solely because such individuals 
are blind, partially blind, or physically dis- 

15.83(2) For the purposes of section 
507B.4(7)(a) individuals shall not be consid- 
ered to have a different life expectancy solely 
because they are blind, partially blind, or 
physically disabled. 

The required public hearing on this regu- 
lation was held in November 1976. The 
regulation was then put into effect, since 
industry representatives were unable to 
produce empirical data to support their 
discriminatory practices. In February 1977 
the Administrative Rules Review Committee 
of the Iowa Legislature approved the regu- 
lation unanimously. 

Since that time, several complaints have 
been filed against insurers who continue to 
practice unfair discrimination against the 
blind. In most cases, after our Commission- 
er's office informed the companies that 
they were in violation of state law. the com- 
panies took corrective action. 

It will be observed from a reading of the 
Iowa regulation that, in addition to barring 
discrimination against the blind and partially 
blind, unfair discrimination against other 
disability groups was proscribed. Some in- 

dustry officials suggested that our Insurance 
Commissioner was trying to require them 
to insure any disabled person regardless of 
risk of loss. This argument is obviously fal- 
lacious and was only raised to cloud the 

Finally, some insurers have asked why 
the characteristics of blindness, partial blind- 
ness, and physical disability were singled out 
in this regulation. We believe the "why" is 
simple. In this year of 1977, it is not neces- 
sary to issue a regulation forbidding discrim- 
ination on the basis of the irrelevant charac- 
teristics of race, color, creed, sex. or national 
origin. Sufficient social awareness now exists 
so that it would be unthinkable to discrimi- 
nate unreasonably-at least to do it in writ- 
ing-in these areas. On the other hand, it is 
not necessary to issue a regulation forbid- 
ding discrimination based on such physical 
characteristics as the color of one's hair, 
the amount of one's hair, the color of one's 
eyes, or left-handedness since insurance 
companies have generally not practiced un- 
fair discrimination based on these irrelevant 
characteristics. Therefore, the characteristics 
that have been singled out are the only ones 
used as the basis for open unfair discrimina- 
tion that is legally permissible. 

Nowhere in any of the documentation 
on this problem does a clearer statement of 
the case exist than in the following letter 
written to Commissioner Anderson: 

"DEAR COMMISSIONER: I strongly object 
to proposed 510 15.83(1) and (2). The 
statement which is proposed for adoption 
as law is completely wrong. 

"Persons who smoke do indeed represent 
a different life expectancy than those who 
do not. Persons who are overweight do in- 
deed represent a different life expectancy 
than those who are not. Persons with high 
blood pressure do indeed represent a differ- 
ent life expectancy than those who do not. 

"It is my belief that persons who do not 
have functioning vision represent a different 
life expectancy than those who do. On what 
basis do you conclude that they are precise- 
ly the same?" [Fmphasis added.] 

APRIL 1978 ■ 


The clarity with which Commissioner 

Anderson understands the problem is dem- 
onstrated by his response to this letter: 

■'I have your letter of November 15. and 
it will be considered when the record is 
closed on our proposed regulations .... 
However. I must tell you that you do not 
add anything of value to the record by ask- 
ing me on what basis I have reached the 
conclusion that you assume I have reached. 
The matter which you should address is the 
basis for your belief 'that persons who do 
not have functioning vision represent a dif- 
ferent life expectancy than those who do.' 
I have not seen any empirical data to sup- 
port such a belief, and 1 challenge you to 
supply me with any. Remember that your 
statement is that blind persons have a differ- 
ent life expectancy than sighted persons. If 
you do not furnish evidence to support your 
statement, then your statement will be con- 
sidered evidence of the strong need for a 
regulation such as that proposed. The regu- 
lation is directly aimed at preventing insur- 
ers from practicing 'bUnd' discrimination." 

After the NAIC meeting, I wrote to the 
governors of the states about the problem 
of insurance discrimination and what we 
were doing to try to end it. The responses 
have been very favorable. They indicate 
what we have learned in other areas— when 
the public is informed about the unfair 
treatment we meet as blind people, they 
are usually strongly on our side. Here are 
some excerpts from the replies I have re- 

Governor Robert Straub of Oregon wrote: 
"Discrimination that cannot be justified 
statistically is unfair and will not be toler- 
ated in this state in the purchase of insur- 
ance. Discrimination in regard to the blind 
in the benefits and availability of life and 
health insurance has not previously been 
brought to my attention. I am instructing 
the insurance commissioner to cooperate 
in every respect with the National Associa- 

tion of Insurance Commissioners to expedite 
the writing of model legislation or rules for 
insurance covering blind persons." 

Governor John D. Rockefeller. IV, of 
West Virginia wrote: "I applaud this initia- 
tive to eliminate the kinds of nonfactual 
policies which work to discriminate against 
disabled Americans, and I am particularly 
pleased that [West Virginia Insurance Com- 
missioner) Richard Shaw will be playing 
such an integral role in this effort. You can 
be sure that we will keep ourselves informed 
of the progress that is made." 

Governor William Milliken of Michigan 
wrote: "You indicated in your letter that 
where such regulations have been consid- 
ered, they have met with considerable in- 
surance industry opposition. Please be 
assured that the commissioner of insurance 
will have my support in any action he takes 
to develop and promulgate administrative 
rules prohibiting unfair discrimination 
against handicapped persons." 

Governor George R. Ariyoshi of Hawaii 
wrote: "I agree with you that unless the in- 
surance carriers are able to supply credible 
statistics to support their position, the blind 
should not be discriminated against when 
purchasing insurance. My insurance com- 
missioner will support efforts to have the 
National Association of Insurance Com- 
missioners promulgate a model code to 
eliminate unfair discrimination against the 

And finally, John Evans, governor of 
Idaho, wrote: "I would like to take this 
occasion to express my admiration for the 
great progress that your National Federa- 
tion of the Blind has made in attacking and 
overcoming the social and economic barriers 
placed in the path of the blind by well- 
meaning but thoughtless individuals and 
companies who insist upon looking at a 
bHnd person as one who is so handicapped 
that he cannot perform all of the vital func- 
tions in our complex society." D 





I am blind, and I have two sighted chil- 
dren. When they started school, I found it 
necessary to work hard to guard them against 
corruption. I am not talking about drugs, 
vulgar language, crime, or any of the things 
with which all families must cope. My chil- 
dren faced a very special, if unintentional, 
kind of corruption. 

It never occurred to my husband and me 
that bhndness could be considered a reason 
not to have children. We were both blind. 
We did some research to find out whether 
our particular eye conditions could be 
passed on to our children, and we learned 
that my blindness might be inherited. We 
wanted to know the likelihood, but the pos- 
sibility did not frighten us. We considered 
blindness a nuisance, but it didn't prevent 
us from living active and productive lives. 
We both had college degrees and good jobs. 
My husband was a rehabilitation counselor 
for the Idaho Commission for the Blind. 
I was teaching in the Head Start program. 
My class consisted of 15 four-year-olds from 
deprived families. The real problem of blind- 
ness was that sighted people much too often 
treated us as if we had no ability, intelli- 
gence, or skills. 

After we were married, we worked hard 
to save enough money for the down pay- 
ment on a house. We found one we could 
afford on a bus line in North Boise. It was 
old-fashioned and comfortable, and we 
bought it. 

When we discovered that I was pregnant, 
we were delighted. Both sets of grandpar- 
ents-to-be were also thrilled. We learned that 
when parents become grandparents, they are 
able to relax and enjoy the children. They 
are not expected to do the discipline. It 
must not have occurred to any of them that 
blindness could be considered a reason not 
to have children. But then they knew us 
pretty well, and they had learned some 
things about blindness as we learned them. 

We bought a crib and borrowed a basket. 
I bought diapers, undershirts, baby blankets, 
and the like. I got out the sewing machine 
to make maternity clothes. We were still 
budgeting carefully. That session of Head 
Start ended in May when the school year 
ended, and we still had a month to wait for 
the baby. It was the longest month of my 
life. My husband and I always made plans 
to attend the conventions of the National 
Federation of the Blind over the Fourth of 
July weekend, but that year we stayed 
home. Our friends went camping, fishing, 
water-skiing, etc.; and we read books at 

Finally, on July 9. Laura Kathryn decided 
to enter the big, wide world, and she didn't 
waste any time once she started. We arrived 
at the hospital at 9:35 a.m., and Laura ar- 
rived at 10:13 a.m. My husband didn't com- 
plain about not getting the boy he had 
wanted. He was extremely proud. I was feel- 
ing fine, and it became almost a race to see 
which of us could reach our friends first to 
tell them the baby had finally arrived. 

The hospital where Laura was born had a 
practice of having new mothers assist with 
the bathing of the baby at least once before 
taking it home from the hospital. I had 
changed diapers and given bottles many 
times, but I had very little experience with 
a baby that weighed 7 pounds, so I was ea- 
ger for some suggestions. I was lucky that 
the nurse involved did not get upset about 
the blindness. She just told me what to do, 
and I did it. Seldom since then has anyone 
been so matter-of-fact, and 1 appreciated it. 
Sight, as 1 expected, was not necessary. Ba- 
bies are fragile and delicate, but they want 
and need to be touched. 

After Laura and I came home from the 
hospital, my mother came from Nebraska 
to stay with us for a week. She was truly 
helpful. She did the housework and most 
of the cooking and left the baby care to me. 

APRIL 1978 • 


From her own experience she came up with 
some suggestions I found useful. By the end 
of the weeic I had most of my energy back. 
and Grandma went back to Nebraska. 

Laura was a pretty baby, healthy and 
alert. She obviously was not blind. She re- 
sponded to color and movement when only 
a few days old. We spent a few nights up- 
baby screaming with a tummyache. For the 
most part, however, everything continued 
to go smoothly. 

By the time Laura was 3 months old, I 
began to grow restless. I wasn't used to stay- 
ing home all day, even with a baby for com- 
pany. Sometimes my husband had to be out 
of town for several days at a time in his 
work, so I began to look for some other 
things to do. Head Start was beginning a 
new program in November, so I applied for 
a teaching job. When 1 got the job, we started 
looking for a baby-sitter. We were happy to 
find a good one. 

By Christmas Laura was crawling and pull- 
ing herself up on her feet. I have a picture 
taken of her at Christmastime crawling into 
the dishwasher. She had become quite a flirt 
by then also. She squealed at her daddy and 
played peak-a-boo with her grandpa. 

We knew that if we were to use a baby 
buggy or stroller we would need to pull it 
behind us, using the white cane in the other 
hand in front for safety. We found a buggy 
that converted into a stroller. This met the 
need, and we used it a great deal. It even 
folded up, so we could take it on the city 
buses. With a little practice we also became 
proficient at carrying Laura in an infant 
seat balanced on both forearms and one 
hand. We could dangle the diaper bag from 
an elbow, leaving the other hand free to use 
the white cane. Since Laura stayed with a 
baby-sitter during the day while I worked, 
I took her with me as much as I could. She 
seemed to Hke people: and I suppose what 
pleased me most was that people everywhere 
admired her. 

By Mother's Day Laura was walking. My 
father-in-law took us all out to eat, and here 
was Laura all dressed up in yellow and white, 

toddling around awkwardly and with a smile 
for everyone. My first Mother's Day was 
very special. For both my husband and me, 
it was a day we would always remember as 

In July of that year my husband and I 
did get to go to the convention of the Na- 
tional Federation of the Blind, which was 
in Houston, Texas. Laura celebrated her 
first birthday at her grandparents' house in 
Nebraska. When we returned there from 
the convention, she was thrilled to see her 
daddy, but mother was ignored. However, 
by the time the birthday cake appeared, 
she had hugs and kisses for me, too. 

Shortly after that convention, there was 
a letter to the editor in the local newspaper- 
a letter that disturbed us. It was written in 
response to an article about abortions. The 
letter apparently was in favor of abortions, 
but what disturbed us most was the argu- 
ment used. It said that the writer was per- 
sonally acquainted with a blind woman. He 
had asked her if she wasn't afraid her chil- 
dren might be blind. Her answer had been 
that she really thought she could handle it 
if she had a blind child. It was clear that 
the writer of that letter did not believe blind 
parents could be good parents, and that he 
considered it totally irresponsible for any- 
one to have a child that might be blind. 
What an attitude toward blindness! Since 
I knew the man, I was sure he was talking 
about me. It didn't matter that our lives 
were going smoothly. That man really con- 
sidered us irresponsible because we had a 
child! Laura was as precious and delightful 
as ever a child could be. That kind of atti- 
tude toward blindness was not new to us, 
but it hurt just the same. I had had trouble 
gaining admission to the student teaching 
program in college because of my blindness. 
I had been denied entrance to some rides 
and exhibits at the World's Fair in New York 
because of my blindness. In both cases it was 
because people didn't understand that blind 
people can function competently and inde- 

Ail we could do was write our own letter 
to the editor. The president of the local 



chapter of the National Federation of the 
Blind also wrote a letter. And we became 
more watchful of attitudes toward us, be- 
cause of course we knew this man was not 
alone in his thinking. 

We were expecting another child in the 
fall. My husband still wanted a boy. and I 
thought two children close together in age 
would entertain each other. They did and 
they do. They also fight. 

I had been managing a cafeteria during 
the summer, and I quit in September to do 
some work at home before the new baby 
arrived. Among other things I wallpapered 
the kids' bedroom with a nursery print. 
Laura loved it. She would point to the vari- 
ous animals and figures happily. Gradually 
she learned to say their names. She would 
take guests by a finger and lead them up- 
stairs to show them her pretty wallpaper 
with the pictures. She had been eating with 
a spoon since about 13 months. I didn't let 
her pick up food out of her plate with her 
hands, so she really wasn't as messy an eater 
as some small children just learning. 

Our little boy was bom on December 20. 
and we named him Christopher John. Chris 
was healthy, alert, cuddly, and always hun- 
gry. One evening just before we took Chris 
home from the hospital, one of the nurses 
stood watching me feed him and com- 
mented, "You handle him so well." I knew 
she meant that since I was blind this sur- 
prised her, but I only smiled at her and 
asked if she worked in the nursery. She said 
she did and added, "We had a blind woman 
in here a while ago who couldn't get her 
baby to nurse very well." So I knew there 
was more involved than the usual lack of 
knowledge about blindness. I figured that 
blindness had nothing to do with whether 
a mother had trouble getting her baby to 
nurse or not. I have several sighted friends 
who had trouble at first. 

"That's interesting, " I said. "I've known 
several people who had trouble getting 
started, but none of them were blind." Of 
course the nurse wasn't convinced. She 
gave me enough information that I realized 
I knew the woman she had mentioned. Her 

baby was about six months old by this time, 
still breast-feeding and doing fine. The trou- 
ble must have been very minor, because my 
friend had never mentioned it. I took note 
of an example of people attributing every 
problem a blind person has to the blindness. 
It just didn't seem fair. If my kids ever got 
hurt (and all kids do), would people blame 
me? I was forced to conclude that many 

Chris and I went home from the hospital 
the day before Christmas. Luckily all the 
shopping was done, and most of the pres- 
ents were wrapped. My mother-in-law had 
invited us to their home for Christmas din- 
ner, and I was glad to take it easy. 

That Christmas Laura was the center of 
attention and was enjoying herself. She 
wanted to share everything with her baby 
brother whether he cared or not. In a way 
she thought he was one of her Christmas 
presents, although we had been waiting 
even longer for his arrival than for Christmas. 

I could put Chris in the infant seat in the 
stroller with Laura beside him, and we could 
take short trips like that. There wasn't much 
snow that year in Boise; so often when we 
went out, Laura would walk. I could let her 
walk only if we weren't in a hurry, for she 
made lots of detours off the main sidewalk, 
and I would have to stop and wait or bring 
her back. My husband was glad to have a 
little boy, but his daughter really was his 
pride and joy. 

Shortly after we brouglit Chris home 
from the hospital, my husband began to 
have problems with his health. We saw a 
specialist who told us the condition would 
become stable with medication, but that 
didn't happen. I was glad both children 
were healthy, but I didn't have time to con- 
sider going back to work myself. My hus- 
band was in and out of the hospital for the 
next couple of months, and in April he died. 
It was a hard winter and spring. 

Laura insisted on having some explana- 
tions, and I did my best to help her under- 
stand. Her daddy had come home from the 
hospital many times; and no matter how he 

APRIL 1978 ■ 


felt, he always had a smile and a hug for 
Laura. She could not believe she could not 
see him anymore. It was hard enough for 
me to accept the whole thing. How could I 
explain it to a child 21 months old and help 
her to accept it? But 1 had to go on. 1 had 
two babies depending on me, and 1 would 
not let them down if I could help it. 

Before my marriage I had worked as a 
teacher for the Iowa Commission for the 
Blind. My employer had been Dr. Kenneth 
Jernigan, who was also President of the 
National Federation of the Blind, the orga- 
nization to which we belonged and which 
was changing so many things for the blind 
in the 1960's and 1970's. I turned to Dr. 
Jernigan. hoping 1 again could find employ- 
ment at the Iowa Commission. The jobs I 
had held in Boise hadn't paid enough money 
to support a family now that there was just 
one salary. Dr. Jernigan told me there would 
be an opening at the Commission in June. I 
thought I could be ready. I put our house 
in Boise up for sale, and it sold. We moved 
into an apartment in Des Moines, Iowa. A 
cousin of mine who was in high school 
came to stay with us for the summer until I 
could find a regular baby-sitter. I was ready 
to go to work by the second week in June. 

The new job was a demanding one and a 
rewarding one. We settled in and started 
over. By October I had found a house and 
made the down payment. It had three bed- 
rooms and a nice backyard. The day we 
moved into our new house, Christopher 
started to walk. He had been slow to roll 
over, sit up, and crawl, but not to walk. 
Our new house had all hardwood floors. His 
little tennis shoes got good traction, and he 
had a whole house to explore. He didn't 
sit down all day long, except for a nap. 
By the end of the day he was running. I 
had planned to let him stay in the play- 
pen while I unpacked. That was one of 
those plans that get rejected by the next 
generation. He enjoyed walking so much, 
and he had so much space in the new house 
to investigate, i just didn't have the heart 
to coop him up in the playpen. 

As might be expected, Chris' character 

was entirely different from Laura's. He 
could then and still can be very demanding. 
Laura got attention, for the most part, with 
smiles and flirtation. Chris knew how to do 
that, but he also made use of tantrums from 
time to time. Laura wanted to be where I 
was as much as possible. Chris, even when 
he was tiny, did not mind playing by him- 
self for an hour at a time. 

When the weather turned nice in the 
spring, Chris was curious to explore the 
neighborhood. I could count on Laura to 
stay in the backyard, but not Christopher! 
When he went outside that year. Mother 
went along. One day he climbed to the top 
of the iron grillwork on our front stoop. He 
couldn't get down, and I couldn't reach him. 
I said nothing but went into the house to get 
a chair to climb up and get him. He wasn't 
frightened, but I was glad to have him back 
on the ground. 

I suppose Chris w-as too busy to talk much 
that summer. Only occasionally a word 
slipped out. Sometime in October-all of a 
sudden, just the way he learned to walk-he 
started talking. And he talked all the time. 
And then the questions began. Laura had 
been asking some questions, of course. But 
Christopher wanted to know everything: 
"Why, Mommy? When? How?" 

By this time both children liked books. 
My baby-sitter read to them during the day, 
and I read to them at bedtime. I was able 
to borrow books for small children from the 
Iowa Commission for the Blind. The books 
had the text and pictures in both Braille 
and print. These are known as Twin-Vision 
books and are produced by the American 
Brotherhood for the Blind. I read with my 
fingers; others read with their eyes. My 
children grew up finding this quite natural 
and uninteresting. 

By the time Laura was four, she began to 
ask, "When can I go to school, Mommy?" 
There were no children her age in the neigh- 
borhood, but she played with the children of 
friends. She knew the alphabet and numbers 
and had known them since the age of two. 

Laura was a quiet child and sometimes a 



little overwhelmed by crowds, but if she 
found kindergarten frightening, she never 
let me know. She made many new friends; 
and for her, that was the best part of start- 
ing to school. 

Both children when tiny had accepted 
my blindness as normal and okay. I carried 
a white cane and used it to find steps, curbs, 
and other obstacles when we went away 
from home. We rode on buses and in taxi- 
cabs more than some people, because I did 
not drive a car. I read Braille with my fin- 
gers, while others read print with their eyes. 
That's about all there was to it. If the chil- 
dren had a toy to be fixed or a question to 
be answered, I was the first person they 
asked to do it. Sometimes I couldn't or 
wouldn't do what they asked, but most of 
the time 1 could and did. 

When Laura started to school, she began 
to hear some different things about blind- 
ness. I can only guess what happened. Some- 
one must have said to her, "I'll bet you're a 
big help to your mommy, aren't you?" At 
first she must have smiled and nodded 
proudly. Then she began to understand they 
were saying that something about her mom- 
my was different. Someone must have 
pointed her out on the playground and said 
in a whisper, "That little girl's mother is 
blind." And soon I became aware of a 
change in her attitude toward my blindness. 

One day when Laura was helping me find 
a spool of red thread in the sewing machine 
drawer, she said to me, "Mommy, I wish you 
could see." 

"Well, so do I, if I ever think about it," I 
answered. "But why do you bring it up?" 

"Well — " She couldn't quite find the 
words to say what she meant. "Well, then 1 
might not have to help you so much." 

I began to understand what was happen- 
ing to her. I thought a minute; then I took 
her on my lap. 

"I have some Braille labels for the thread 
and for the cans of fruit and vegetables in 
the kitchen," I told her. "We can put them 
on, and then you won't have to help me 
with those things anymore." Chris and 

Laura regarded it as a real privilege to 
choose fruit or vegetables for dinner, so she 
didn't Uke that idea very much. Laura was 
a Httle confused. 

"I just wish you could see like other peo- 
ple," she said. It had never bothered her be- 
fore, so something or someone at school, it 
seemed to me, must have made Laura think 
bUndness was a problem. I gave her a hug 
and told her not to worry about it. 

"You know better than most people," I 
said, "that blindness isn't really as big a 
problem as people think it is." I knew, 
though, that I needed to get busy and help 
the people at school learn some things about 

The PTA scheduled an ice cream social 
in October. 1 baked brownies for it, and we 
went. When we walked in the door, no one 
knew what to do. One woman tried to drag 
us through a line backwards. Another was 
so worried about how we would get our ice 
cream and cake that we could hardly get 
her to sell us tickets. Others ignored us com- 
pletely when we tried to get directions. I 
felt like a ghost or a body from outer space. 
No one was able to converse with me like a 
nonnal human being. But we did get our 
ice cream and cake. We sat down and ate 
them and left. I knew 1 must do more than 
that if my children's attitudes about blind- 
ness were not to be totally ruined. 

At the end of the first quarter, parents 
go to the school for conferences. Laura's 
teacher said my daughter was doing fine- 
there were no problems in school. The 
teacher was a little uneasy about the blind- 
ness, so I asked her if she would like me to 
come and talk to the class about Braille and 
bUndness sometime. This pleased the teach- 
er, and she also wanted Laura to bring a 
book with Braille in it that she could show 
to the class. This, I thought, would help 
Laura understand that people who know 
little or nothing about blindness are curious. 
It did. 

By the time I actually went to the school 
to talk, the project had broadened, and I 
was asked to speak to the entire school, 
two grades at a time. The students loved it 

APRIL 1978 ■ 


and had lots of questions-things their teach- 
ers would have been embarrassed to ask. 
"Why do your eyes wiggle?" "Do you have 
school books in Braille?" "How do you get 
to work?" 1 assumed the teachers were lis- 
tening, and I told the kids what 1 wanted 
them and their teachers to know. 

I told them, for instance, that the fact 
that I (and others) are blind is not a big 
problem, that the problems we face are a 
result of the fact that so many people who 
can see think blind people cannot do all 
kinds of things that we really can do. It 
made good sense to the kids, as is often 
the case. It helped the teachers also, and 
they were genuine in their thanks for a 
presentation that was helpful to the kids. 

Since then I have been to the school many 
times. I am much better acquainted with the 
teachers and parents and many of the kids. 
Many of them think of me as the blind lady, 
but they don't worry about it. We have had 
birthday parties and Easter egg hunts at our 
house. I have helped with Laura's Blue Bird 
Club, and we had a club meeting at our 
house. Kids float in and out regularly, espe- 
cially when the weather is nice. 

Chris is now in kindergarten, and Laura 
is in second grade. Some things are very 
much different. After the first few weeks 
of school, Chris came home and told me, 

"My teacher says I can bring a Braille book 
to school tomorrow if I want to." This is 
the same teacher who taught Laura in kin- 
dergarten. Chris was pleased to be asked to 
do that. 

Somehow, the whole neighborhood seems 
more friendly. 

I have always tried to teach my children 
to respect their teachers and baby-sitters. 
Now I must teach them that, at least with 
respect to blindness, they have more knowl- 
edge and experience than many adults they 
will meet. It is risky to tell children that is 
so about anything at such a young age. Yet 
it is important to me and to them that their 
thinking about blindness remain what it is. 
Laura helps me with the grocery shopping, 
just as she helps clean up her room, Chris 
helps take care of the dog, just as he helps 
sort socks in the laundry. Blindness is a 
characteristic. It is not to be forgotten or 
ignored, but it is only a characteristic. 

Mothers make their kids keep dirt out- 
doors (if they can). Mothers prepare meals. 
Mothers don't Hke kids to fight. Mothers 
sometimes have money kids can help spend. 
Sometimes mothers make rules kids don't 
like. Sometimes mothers help make kids 
feel better when they have a problem. Blind 
mothers are like other mothers. My kids 
know it, and their friends know it. D 



When everyone-including the top offi- 
cials and attorneys of a federal department- 
says you are wrong, they must know what 
they're talking about, right? Not if you have 
the conviction and determination of a Fed- 
erationist and a movement to support you. 
Let me explain. 

In 1973 the Social Security Administra- 
tion held meetings throughout the country 
to explain the new Supplemental Security 
Income (SSI) program. In Pennsylvania we 
sent representatives to these meetings. We 

were concerned that since our state had a 
liberal federal-state blind pension program, 
bhnd Pennsylvanians might lose income or 
other benefits when SSI went into effect. 

"Fear not," came the word from Social 
Security; "the new program has a 'grand- 
father clause' to ensure that no one will lose 

Having a healthy pessimism about prom- 
ises made by administrators of income main- 
tenance programs, we obtained the Social 
Security Act and read this "grandfather 



clause." Sure enough, there it was. Section 
1611(g) guaranteed that, with respect tore- 
sources, eligibility for SSI would be deter- 
mined using the same method as the former 
state plan. And regarding the amount of in- 
come that would be disregarded in deter- 
mining SSI eligibility, section 1611(h) stated 
that it would be, at the least, the maximum 
amount of earned or unearned income that 
could have been disregarded under the for- 
mer state plan. (The apphcability of these 
two clauses depended on your having lived 
continuously in the state since 1973, and 
having been eligible under the state plan.) 
Then came the fiasco called implementa- 
tion. In January 1974, with no warning, 
many blind Pennsylvanians suffered de- 
creases in their benefits or total loss of them. 
Contrary to the practice of the former pro- 
gram, blind people found that even small 
amounts of income earned by their spouses 
acted to reduce benefits. Those who had 
been getting the highest amount possible 
under the former program now found their 
checks reduced by one third if they lived 
with parents or other relatives. Working 
blind people had their grants reduced or 
terminated altogether. 

In short, there was a total mess; and the 
Federation advised the Social Security Ad- 
ministration that its promises had been 
empty. We finally persuaded the regional 
commissioner to hold meetings with our 

The Social Security Administration now 
put forth another interpretation of the 
"grandfather clause." It was that no blind 
person would receive less in benefits than 
he received in December 1973 unless it was 
necessary to apply rules of the new program, 
such as those concerning the income of a 
spouse or those pertaining to living in a 
room-and-board situation. 

We disagreed and said that Social Security 
had no right to apply new rules to those who 
had been "grandfathered" in. We argued 
further that section 1611(h) required the 
income of those who were "grandfathered" 
in to be calculated with the fonnula of 
the former program, including the person's 

special needs. When it was obvious that 
agreement was impossible, we decided to go 
to court. 

In late 1974, Community Legal Services, 
in Philadelphia, provided us the excellent 
assistance of Linda Bernstein, a most capa- 
ble attorney. We held one more meeting 
with Social Security. The regional commis- 
sioner and officials from the main office 
in Baltimore declared that we were wrong 
and that the only way they would change 
their opinion was if a court forced them to. 
We instituted a class action suit. 

The federal district court stated that it 
could not rule on all of the cases brought 
before it since most of the plaintiffs had not 
"exhausted their administrative remedies." 
But ruUng on the case of the one plaintiff 
who had done so, the court said that our 
interpretation of the act was correct. Final- 
ly, the court questioned whether it was 
proper for the Federation to be a plaintiff 
and whether a class action could be brought 
in this situation. 

The Social Security Administration ap- 
pealed the single ruling in our favor, and we 
appealed on behalf of the other plaintiffs, 
as well as for the right of the Federation to 
be a plaintiff, and for the right to bring a 
class action. We pointed out that Social Se- 
curity's top officials and attorneys had al- 
ready made a decision on the issues and 
that it would be a painful and unnecessary 
burden if all the plaintiffs had to go through 
the long administrative process only to ob- 
tain the same negative decision. In the 
words of Linda Bernstein, "Exhaustion of 
remedies is exhausting." 

In October 1977, the case was heard by 
the U.S. court of appeals. The court ruled 
in our favor on every one of the issues. In- 
deed, the case has national significance and 
goes far beyond the question of SSI: The 
court stated for the first time that, with 
regard to legislative questions, the individ- 
ual need not exhaust all administrative rem- 
edies before seeking judicial relief. 

Where are we now? The Social Security 
Administration can take one last step and 

APRIL 1978 ■ 


appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. It may 
choose to do tliis because of the national 
precedent mentioned above. The Supreme 
Court may refuse to hear the case, which 
would automatically affirm the decision 
of the lower court. Of course, the Supreme 
Court can hear the case and overrule the 
favorable decision, but we believe this will 
not happen and that we will prevail. 

In the event that no appeal is filed or that 
we win at the Supreme Court level, there is 
still much work to be done. We need to sit 
down with Social Security and work out 
procedures for implementing the decision. 

arranging for retroactive payments to those 
who did not receive the proper grants, and 
ensuring that all future payments will be in 
accordance with the policies of the former 
federal-state blind pension program. 

Let those who ask, "Why the National 
Federation of the Blind?" take note of this 
case and its far-reaching consequences. With- 
out our movement we would never have 
achieved the sense of self-confidence that 
enabled us to stand up when we knew we 
were right. From past achievements we gain 
strength, and from this achievement we will 
proceed with more strength. D 


The Iowa Commission for the Blind has 
issued its report for fiscal year 1977. The 
report is called "Accomphshment," and the 
title is appropriate. For one thing, fiscal 1977 
marks the 20th year the Commission has 
been directed by Kenneth Jernigan, and the 
annual report is a good summary of the 
strides made during that time. Federationists 
are famihar with the basic statistics about 
the Iowa program. In 1957 it was the worst 
in the nation (in terms of rehabilitations 
per 100,000 population). It consisted of a 
handful of employees operating out of 
three rooms. Now the program employs 
over 100 people and occupies a seven-story 
building. In 1957 there were 12 rehabilita- 
tions (as opposed to more than ten times 
that many in 1977). There were no library 
services. Now the Iowa Commission contains 
the largest library for the blind in the world- 
several times the largest. The program has 
become a model to the rest of the country. 
The former Commissioner of the federal 
Rehabilitation Services Administration ap- 
pointed Dr. Jernigan a special consultant on 
programs for the blind. 

A great deal of the credit for this growth 
is given to Kenneth Jernigan, but he would 
be the first to point out that it was possible 
only because of two factors. During the last 
20 years, the organized blind movement in 

Iowa has grown steadily in numbers and 
strength (at even a faster rate than it has 
grown throughout the country). The sup- 
port of an active and enlightened consumer 
population has provided the backbone of 
the program. Blind lowans have enlisted 
the support of the general pubHc and the 
state legislature. This has created the con- 
text in which the philosophy of the Com- 
mission programs could operate. 

And of course it is the Federation phil- 
osophy exemplified in the Commission's 
programs that has made possible the nota- 
ble accompUshments of blind lowans. As 
the annual reports says: 

"It is respectable to be bUnd. This state- 
ment cannot be emphasized too strongly or 
made too often. A great percentage of the 
population (blind as well as sighted) still do 
not believe it. The Commission's job? Make 
it a reality— otherwise, nothing else counts. 
Everything depends on it-self-confidence, 
belief, skills, techniques, the courage and 
the will to venture. 

"The Orientation staff at the Iowa Com- 
mission for the Blind not only develop new 
techniques and improve old ones; they also 
teach the hundreds of proved ones to new 
students. It would be impossible for a sin- 
gle individual to devise or think of all these 
on his or her own. By attending the Center, 



the student can quickly learn long cane 
travel, Braille, typing, the use of the abacus, 
wood and metal work, personal grooming 
and hairstyUng, cooking and shopping tech- 
niques, and other skills. 

"More important, the student must learn 
new attitudes about blindness. It may be 
on a field trip around a campfire; it may be 
water skiing, woodcutting, or attending 
meetings or visiting programs for the blind 
in another state; or it may be sitting in the 
recreation room at the Center, talking with 
a fellow student or staff members, or cook- 
ing meat on a charcoal grill. The where 
doesn't matter. The critical thing is for the 
bUnd person to come to have belief in him- 
self, to realize that he can be self-supporting, 
to learn that he can give as well as take, to 
be glad that he can have responsibilities-to 
dream the impossible dream." 

Another section of the report explores 
what it means to base the training of skills 
on the philosophy that it is "respectable to 
be blind." It shows that the rehabilitation 
of attitudes can be a subtle thing, but over- 
whelmingly important. The discussion ac- 
companies the picture of a blind woman 
wearing sleepshades and operating a power 
saw. It reads as follows: 

"Blindness won't keep her from operating 
a saw. Don't underrate her cut. Blindfolds 
(called sleepshades) are used in class by 
those students with some remaining vision, 
to overcome false dependence on inadequate 
sight and to learn faster the alternative tech- 
niques of blindness. If the individual con- 
tinues to try to use visual techniques (even 
though they are inadequate to her), she will 
probably not learn blind techniques at all. 
Also, if she has 10 percent or less remaining 
vision (the generally accepted definition of 
blindness) and learns (without blindfold) to 
operate a power saw or some other tool, 
she will likely think the reason she can do 
it is because she still has some sight. She 
wonders what will happen if she loses any 
or all of the remainder. 

"If, on the other hand, she blindfolds 
herself and learns that she can function with 
safety and efficiency in the manner of a 

totally blind person, it tends to remove the 
fear. When the techniques have been learned 
to reflex perfection, she can remove the 
sleepshades and use the combination of 
visual and blind techniques best suited to 
her own personal need. Her willingness to 
undergo such training will depend almost 
entirely on whether she perceives it as 'rele- 
vant' to her situation-which, in turn, will 
largely be determined by whether her in- 
structors have the experience and maturity 
to see the 'relevance.' If the atmosphere is 
such that the student must be 'required' to 
wear the sleepshades, use a cane, or employ 
any other technique, the value is probably 
already lost. At the heart of the matter are 
the subtle and often unrecognized attitudes 
about what blindness really is and what it 
really means-whether the blind person can 
truly compete on terms of equality, whether 
she can actually perform as well as others, 
and whether she can really be a full-tledged 
first-class citizen with all the rights and privi- 
leges and also with all of the responsibilities. 
Here, in this crucial area, many professionals 
in the field fall short (often without even 
knowing it) and do much damage. They lack 
understanding and skill. Even more, they 
lack belief that the blind can truly achieve 
a full life and real accomplishment." 

The annual report notes a number of 
honors granted to Dr. Jernigan during 1977. 
Some of these have been reported in the 
Monitor, but one very signal honor has not. 
The following letter gives the details: 

Washington. DC. January 24. 1977. 
Director. Iowa Commission for the BUnd. 
Des Moines. Iowa. 

"DEAR MR. JERNIGAN: 1 am pleased to 
inform you that the President [of the United 
States] has appointed you to the Advisory 
Committee to the White House Conference 
on Library and Information Services. 

"This Committee, established in Public 
Law 93-568, has the responsibility of assist- 
ing and advising the National Commission 
on Libraries and Information Science in 

APRIL 1978 ■ 


planning and conducting the White House 
Conference on Library and Information 
Services. Tiie purpose of the Conference is 
'to develop recommendations for the fur- 
ther improvement of the nation's library 
and information centers and their use by the 


"Executive Director. " 

This appointment recognized more than 
the vitality of Iowa's programs for the 
blind. It was a recognition of the important 
role of the National Federation of the Blind, 
and of Dr. Jernigan as its National Presi- 
dent, in improving library services to the 
blind. Dr. Jernigan is the sole representative 
from the field of blindness. This appoint- 
ment was a welcome acknowledgement that 
if you solicit the input of the president of 
the largest organization of the blind— repre- 
senting consumers in all areas of the coun- 
try—you gain the collective expertise of 
those most directly acquainted with library 
services to the blind. 

A similar recognition noted in the annual 
report was a request to Dr. Jernigan to be a 
special advisor to the Smithsonian Institu- 
tion. As the letter of invitation stated: 

"We would like you to advise us, not only 
on our own programs within the Smithsoni- 
an, but also to advise on program develop- 
ment nationally. . . . The Smithsonian Insti- 
tution has been asked by the Bureau of 
Education for the Handicapped, U.S. Office 
of Education, to write guidelines that all 
museums in the United States can use in 
implementing programs for handicapped 
visitors. We believe that the programs and 
philosophy of the Iowa Commission for 
the Blind should be applied to museums, 
and that your help and advice are essential 
for the successful implementation of muse- 
um programs for the blind throughout the 

With recognition and opportunity come 
responsibility. This was discussed by Dr. 
Jernigan in a guest editorial that appeared 
in an Iowa newspaper and was reprinted as 

part of the Commission's annual report. 
Some excerpts from this are a good sum- 
mary of the experience in Iowa, and this 
experience applies as well to the rest of the 
nation. The editorial reads as follows: 

"When Iowa's new programs for the blind 
were inaugurated in 1^58, the problems were 
difficult-but they were of a different nature 
from those facing the blind today. 

"A building had to be found for the 
Commission for the Blind; a staff had to be 
assembled and trained; and blind persons 
had to be encouraged to self-confidence and 
belief and be given instruction in skills and 

"The governor, the legislature, and the 
general public had to be persuaded to pro- 
vide the money and support to make the 
programs possible. 

"Difficult problems, but essentially non- 
controversial. On the surface there was no 
violation of traditional notions about ex- 
tending a helping hand to the blind and the 
fact that the blind needed that helping hand. 

"In those days (almost 20 years ago) it 
was not uncommon for passersby to watch 
with tears in their eyes as blind persons 
learned to use their canes to cross streets 
and go independently through busy traffic. 

"So the program was launched in an at- 
mosphere of general acclaim. . . . Then, 
something started happening. Trained for 
full participation in community life, the 
bUnd began to seek it^talking not just 
about gratitude but also about their rights 
as citizens. 

"They called denial of equal consideration 
for jobs discrimination-they asked that 
they receive insurance on equal terms with 
others unless it could be shown that they 
were a greater risk, and the State Insurance 
Commissioner agreed and issued the rule. 

"They asked for equal rights in the ren- 
tal and purchase of housing, attendance at 
educational institutions, use of public trans- 
portation, and access to all public accom- 
modations available to others. 

"And this is the source of the problem. 
This new role of the blind is taking some 



'getting used to' on the part of the public. 

"Some of the very insurance companies 
and landlords and employers who supported 
the training programs that led inevitably to 
the present insistence of the blind that they 
be allowed to participate are now resenting 
the results. 

"In effect they are saying. The blind are 
getting too pushy. They should stay in their 
place.' . . . 

"There is no such thing as a free lunch, 
so the blind will have to pay for the new 
freedom they seek. They will have to be 
willing to assume responsibilities as well as 
rights. They will have to give up the security 
of being taken care of and the countless 

little privileges which they have enjoyed. 

"The public, too. will have to give up 
some of its cherished traditions-the pleas- 
ure of treating the blind like pets and chil- 
dren instead of equal members of the com- 
munity-its feeling of superiority. 

"But what an exciting and challenging 
opportunity! It has never happened in any 
state or nation before. Iowa has the chance 
to take another step in leadership and pio- 
neering. The blind are ready, and we believe 
the public is ready. 

"The future looks better for the blind 
in Iowa today than it has ever looked at 
any other time or any other place in the en- 
tire history of the world." D 


On January 11, 1978. the House of Dele- 
gates of the Maryland Legislature passed 
a unanimous resolution that read as follows: 


"Be it hereby known to all that the House 
of Delegates of Maryland offers its sincerest 
congratulations to Mr. Ralph W. Sanders in 
recognition of his election to the presidency 
of the National Federation of the Blind, the 
largest organization serving the blind in this 

It is a tradition with the Federation that 
the leaders we elect lend honor to the office 
of President, and that the NFB presidency 
lends honor to those who occupy it. The 
resolution passed by the Maryland House 
of Delegates indicates that the tradition 
continues. The Federation is strong in 
Maryland, and as the result of contacts, 
legislative dinners, and public education. 
Maryland legislators are aware of who we 
are and what it means to be chosen our 

On the other hand, the legislature is 
becoming well aware of the qualities of 
Ralph Sanders. In the short period since he 
came to the state to take charge of services 

to the adult blind, as president of Bhnd 
Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), 
the state's programs in a number of areas 
have been completely turned around. A 
series of A/on/7or articles discussed the prob- 
lems that plagued BISM prior to October 
1975 when Ralph Sanders was named presi- 

Some of the problems grew out of the 
arrangement of state services -for instance. 
BISM. which manages three sheltered plants, 
the vending stand program, and some other 
services to the adult blind, is separate from 
the state rehabilitation program with its job 
placement staff. This problem, which still 
exists, makes it hard for BISM to move 
blind workers into private industry. But in 
1975, the problems extended beyond the 
confusion caused by organizational struc- 
ture. An audit called for by the governor 
found misuse of funds and general misman- 
agement. The whole operation was close to 

Since then, however, BISM has progressed 
steadily and quickly. In 1975, the average 
wage of shopworkers was $1.79 per hour, 
and some workers received as little as 51 
cents an hour. Today the average wage in 

APRIL 1978 ■ 


BISM's three plants is $2.86 an hour, and 
no worker receives less than $2.65 an hour. 

In 1975, one section of BISM performed 
endless and meaningless work evaluation 
(particularly meaningless since it led to noth- 
ing but subminimum wages and placement 
in the workshop). Today this unit is the 
rehabilitation division, which teaches inde- 
pendent living skills. The vending program 

remains one of the best in the country in 
terms of wages and independence of the 
vendors. The overall budget of BISM has in- 
creased from $3 million to $5 million. 

The key to this progress, as in Iowa and 
a growing number of other states, is that 
the programs are based on Federation phil- 
osphy and supported by the blind consum- 
ers of services. D 



[Note: The January 1978 Monitor pub- 
lished the story of Jim Nelson's efforts to 
serve on a jury panel in Virginia. The road 
to removing prejudice against the blind in 
the legal system has been a long one. In 
Hope Deferred, the study of public welfare 
and the blind written by Jacobus tenBroek 
and Floyd Matson and published in 1959, 
the following case was cited: 

["A superior court judge, duly elected by 
the voters of his county, was threatened 
with disqualification— not on the ground of 
bad character, inexperience, or lack of 
knowledge (he had been a police court judge 
and justice of the peace for eleven years) — 
but on the ground that he was blind. Im- 
mediately after his election a bill was intro- 
duced into the state legislature to disqualify 
blind persons from sitting as judges in any 
court of record in the state." 

(The situation has improved since then, 
yet instances of this type of discrimination 
have continued through the years. The Feb- 
ruary 1976 Monitor reported the decision 
of a Washington State superior court judge 
who ruled that the decision of a state human 
rights commission tribunal was invalid be- 
cause the tribunal included a blind woman, 
Federationist Sue Ammeter. The judge de- 
clared: "A person who is legally blind is 
not qualified to serve as a fact-finding tri- 
bunal member." The decision spurred the 
NFB in Washington to seek a state law pro- 
tecting the right of blind persons to serve 
on juries, a project that was successful. 
Recently, the NFB in California secured the 

same law; and again, the campaign grew out 
of the experience of a man who was barred 
from a jury because he is blind. 

[But as the following article shows, we 
are making progress, and the end of this 
sort of ignorant and arbitrary discrimination 
may be in sight.] 

An opportunity was given to me recently 
that I would like to share with oVatx Moni- 
tor readers. In mid-December of 1977 I re- 
ceived a letter from the district court in 
Des Moines, Iowa, saying that my name had 
been drawn for jury duty. I really wanted 
to serve but was unfamiliar with the whole 

I didn't know whether my employer, the 
Des Moines public schools, would allow me 
to serve. Also, people can be excused on 
the basis of disability or other problems. So 
I thought I might not be allowed to serve 
because I am blind. The principal at my 
school encouraged me to serve, indicating 
that it would be good experience. That 
question was solved. 

There was a brief form to fill out which 
asked, among other things, my occupation, 
my husband's occupation, and "Do you 
hear well?"— nothing about vision. The 
term of service was from January 3 to 27. 

I appeared at the courthouse on Janu- 
ary 3, very eager and not knowing what to 
expect. Perhaps they would remind me that 
I could be excused because of disability, at 
which time I would insist that I was able 
and willing to serve. Instead, when I stepped 



up to the clerk's desk, a pamphlet, juror's 
button, and parking permit were routinely 
pushed toward me. No questions, no pro- 

For the next four weeks I went about a 
juror's business Hke everyone else in the 
group: waiting around to be called, going 
into courtrooms, answering attorneys' ques- 
tions, hearing witnesses tell contradictory 
stories, and bringing back verdicts. 

During those weeks I served on threejury 
panels: two minor criminal cases and one 
competency case. I was questioned for a 
murder case; but after two and a half anx- 
ious days, I was not selected. That was 
rather disappointing. Of course, lawyers re- 
ject jurors for all sorts of reasons, but I 
would not rule out the possibility that 
blindness was a factor. It would be interest- 

ing to know whether a blind person has 
served on a major felony case. 

Considering the caseload that month, my 
experience was probably about average. 
Some people in the group had fewer cases, 
some had more. It was a very interesting, 
worthwhile experience. 

1 hope I changed some attitudes by going 
about a juror's business. There was one 
bailiff who thought it was quite wonderful 
that I walked up the stairs to the third tloor 
where jurors were selected. 

We still have a way to go in the area of 
jury service. I feel that I gained as much 
from the court proceedings as the sighted 
juror who sat next to me. Judges and at- 
torneys need to know that blindness is 
not an impediment to bringing back a just 
verdict. D 


Elizabeth W. Weston died October 21, 
1977, at the age of 69. She was a member 
of the Washtenaw County Chapter of the 
NFS of Michigan. Jan Clausing of that chap- 
ter sent the Monitor an obituary that had 
appeared in the Ann Arbor News. In her 
cover letter she wrote: "Most of us in this 
area have only gotten to know Liz well 
within the past year or so, . . . so we cannot 
give you much information as to Liz's past 
role in the Federation. We can tell you, 
however, that we will miss her very much. 
Though she was the oldest member of our 
chapter by several years, her spunk, vigor, 
and fighting spirit equaled, and probably 
surpassed, that of our younger members. 
Whether in support of a general cause, or as 
an individual member, Liz was always will- 
ing to take a stand." 

As it happened, the NFB's Washington 
staff was in a position to know a good deal 
about Liz Weston's past role in the move- 
ment; she had been corresponding with us 
for several years, and her last letter was 
written shortly before her death. Her story 
is worth telling. 

Elizabeth Weston spent her career as an 
attorney for the National Labor Relations 
Board in Washington, O.C. She joined the 
NLRB during the first term of Franklin 
Roosevelt and continued until 1964. As she 
wrote to Or. Jemigan some years later, "I 
was blinded by optic nerve atrophy at the 
end of 1963 and thereupon forced to retire 
from active federal service .... It was soon 
after that personal crash that a friend sent 
me to John and Virginia Nagle, and I joined 
the Federation and started getting rehabili- 
tated no thanks to the D.C. vocational re- 
habilitation agency." 

Mrs. Weston moved to Michigan in 1971. 
She had a small amount of peripheral vision, 
and on the advice of her doctor, purchased 
two hand-held magnifiers that allowed her 
to use this remaining vision. Later, when 
these were no longer useful, she purchased 
an Apollo Electronic Visual Aid (EVA) a 
closed-circuit television magnifying device. 
She submitted the bills for the hand mag- 
nifiers, and later the EVA. to Blue Shield 
of Michigan, which administers the Medi- 
care program in that state. Her request for 

APRIL J978 ■ 


repayment was denied. 

In May 1974 she wrote to Perry Sundquist, 
at that time editor of the Monitor, as fol- 
lows: 'i am having a battle with Medicare 
of Michigan (which in this state is Blue Cross 
and Blue Shield) over the magnifier issue. 
They pay for crutches, wheelchairs, and 
artificial limbs, not to mention psychoanal- 
ysis and lots of other nonsense. But not 
one penny for even my little magnifiers of 
the type you and I both carry around with 
us. White canes are out, too." 

Mr. Sundquist replied : "I can see that you 
are really mad at Blue Cross-Blue Shield. . . . 
Stay mad. thougli, Liz-it becomes you." 
He referred Mrs. Weston to JimGashel, who 
had succeeded John Nagle as Chief of the 
NFB Washington Office. Mr. Gashel wrote 
to her, expanding on Perry Sundquist's let- 
ter. He wrote: "Certainly I agree with you 
that the bhnd (actually of whatever age) 
encounter massive discrimination in health 
insurance, both public and private. . . . From 
your letter I can tell that you are not one 
to be content with things as they are if you 
can think of a better way to do the job that 
must be done." 

This was one of Liz Weston's notable 
characteristics— she stayed mad and she was 
willing to take on whatever was thrown in 
her path. She wrote back to Jim Gashel: 

"As for discrimination against the bhnd 
in the present Medicare and private insur- 
ance systems, you are quite right in pointing 
out that it's not confined to my age group. 
I do think it's somewhat more aggravated 
in our case, however; because we're unem- 
ployable as a practical matter, hence ineli- 
gible for vocational rehabihtation assistance 
in obtaining such things as visual aids and 
other 'hardware.'" 

In July 1974 Mrs. Weston began to plan 
an appeal of the Medicare refusal to pay 
for her magnifiers. She wrote to Jim Gashel 
again on July 23. The letter showed her 
understanding of the Federation point of 
view-the broad perspective rather than im- 
mediate personal gain. (In this and Mrs. 
Weston's other letters, the references to 
"the Blues" are to Blue Cross-Blue Shield.) 

She wrote, in part: 

"[A]s soon as I get my ducks in a row and 
get organized, sometime within the next six 
months, I'm going to appeal this Medicare 
ruling. 1 almost hope they (i.e., the Blues) 
turn down the appeal, because I might just 
possibly have enough resources and energy 
to sue Medicare of Michigan and the Blues 
in the federal district court-I suppose that 
would be the right forum, since the Blues 
purport to be relying on federal legislation 
and rules. ... I think I have them dead to 
rights legally; and if I could sue and win by 
any chance, it might be a helpful way of 
calling public attention to one more form of 
discrimination against the blind in general." 

As the case evolved, it turned on the legal 
meanings of the terms "prosthetic lenses" 
and "durable medical equipment." In reject- 
ing Mrs. Weston's claim, Dellmas Williams 
of Michigan Blue Shield wrote: "[A]lthough 
an item may be classified as durable medi- 
cal equipment, it may not be covered in 
every instance. Coverage is subject to the 
requirement that the equipment be neces- 
sary and reasonable for the treatment of an 
illness or injury, or to improve the function- 
ing of a malformed body member. These 
considerations will bar payment for equip- 
ment which cannot reasonably be expected 
to perform a therapeutic function." 

About this response Mrs. Weston com- 
mented: "In trying to convince me that my 
magnifiers are outside the Social Security 
definition of 'medical equipment,' Williams 
assumes two things that are simply untrue; 
namely, that they are 'generally useful in 
the absence of . . . injury,' and that they are 
not 'necessary and reasonable ... to improve 
the functioning of a malformed body mem- 
ber.' As applied to my damaged eyes and 
my magnifiers, this is utter nonsense." 

At her request, Jim Gashel explored the 
matter with the Social Security Administra- 
tion in Baltimore. He reported as follows: 

"The precise meaning of 'prosthetic 
lenses' is actually spelled out in Social Secu- 
rity Administration guidelines for admini- 
stering the act. As I read . . . the guidelines, 
a 'prosthetic lens' must perform the function 



of replacing the 'crystalline lens of the eye' 
in order to be covered. . . . 

"As 1 talked with personnel in the Bureau 
of Health Insurance in Baltimore. I explored 
the possibility that your magnifiers might 
be covered under 'durable medical equip- 
ment' as provided for in section 1861 (s)(6) 
of the act. ... I argued that it seems incon- 
sistent for Medicare to approve the purchase 
of wheelchairs, crutches, braces, and similar 
devices which fully or partially restore a 
lost body function, while not approving the 
purchase of magnifiers which supplement 
the sight of those with impaired vision. 
Medicare's response was: 'This may be so; 
therefore what you should do is tell the 
Congress about it.' I responded that I am 
on speaking terms with some members of 
the Congress who could perhaps be of help, 
but that the administration of the Medicare 
law concerning this matter seems somewhat 
restrictive and arbitrary. At this point 1 was 
told that the Social Security Act virtually ex- 
cludes Medicare coverage for 'eye care' .... 

"Well, Liz, there you have the results of 
my investigation of this matter. I must say, 
everyone I have talked to (including persons 
both inside and outside our movement) is 
dubious concerning the success of any ap- 
peal to get Medicare to cover the magnifiers. 
Perhaps, though, we are dealing with a gray 
area in the law. Maybe there is a loophole, 
or perhaps you can be successful in arguing 
that these magnifiers should be regarded as 
'durable medical equipment.' In any event, 
you are an old government lawyer, and if 
there's a way, you will likely find it." 

Liz Weston was undaunted. She replied: 
"I agree with you that my magnifier appeal 
doesn't stand much chance. But the initial 
stage won't cost me much either, and there's 
always a chance that I can smoke out a rul- 
ing which might be helpful in future efforts 
in behalf of blind people who need some- 
thing more than cataract lenses. In any 
event, it seems worth trying, if only because, 
as you say, magnifiers for the partially 
sighted are in a gray area a gray void, in my 
curbstone opinion." 

Two days later, on August 27, after Mrs. 

Weston had examined the law, she wrote 
again: "Section 1862(a)(7) is very interest- 
ing; and in my opinion it has no such scope 
as those Social Security people try to give 
it. In case you didn't keep a copy, it lists 
the following under the heading 'Exclusions 
from Coverage': 

"'(7) . . . routine physical checkups, eye- 
glasses or eye examinations for the purpose 
of prescribing, fitting, or changing eye- 
glasses, procedures performed (during the 
course of any eye examination) to deter- 
mine the refractive state of the eyes, hearing 
aids or examinations therefor, or immuniza- 
tions . . . .' 

"I'll be damned if that excludes any kind 
of 'eye care' except for the specific purpose 
of checking or changing 'eyeglasses'-and I 
wouldn't think Social Security would call 
my magnifiers 'eyeglasses' just because they 
are made of glass. 

"On the affirmative side— well, if Social 
Security could squeeze cataract lenses— cor- 
rection, I mean 'prosthetic lenses,' which 
are defined in terms which seem to exclude 
everything but cataract lenses- into section 
1861 (s)(8), it would be easy enough to fit 
my magnifiers into that or one of the adjoin- 
ing sections. The trouble is, they don't want 
to, so they probably won't. I'll give them as 
hard a time as I can, and that will be that. . . . 
Contrary to what the man [you talked to] 
said, there's no statutory basis for the gen- 
eral thumbs-down attitude about 'eye care.' 
That, I surmise, is just a bad old habit of 
the Blues. It's too bad that my case is so 
off-beat -and that the unit cost of most 
magnifiers is too low to be worth a lawsuit." 

The appeal dragged on for more than two 
years. As Mrs. Weston wrote in March 1977: 

"It's still at the Blue Shield level, believe 
it or not. A re-run of a hearing which the 
Blues loused up nearly two years ago is to 
be held here in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, 
April 5. With my counsel's enthusiastic 
approval, John Haiverson is going to sit in 
and say that tiie NFB of Miciiigan supports 
my position. Neither one of us will mention 
the new federal-level NFB proposal, but 
we'll have it in mind and won't compromise 

APRIL 1978 • 


it either. The whole story of this case would 
fill a book." 

(The NFB proposal Mrs. Weston mentions 
is the Comprcliensivc Services for the Blind 
bill that was introduced in the Congress in 
February 1977. Among other things, the 
legislation would provide services and funds 
for aids for bUnd persons not eligible for 
vocational rehabilitation-in other words, 
young blind persons and those over age 65. 
This bill is the Federation's remedy for a 
number of problems, including Mrs. Wes- 
ton's. It is our plan to seek to have the pro- 
visions of the bill included in the federal 
Rehabilitation Act when that act is extended 
this year.) 

Mrs. Weston's appeal was successful. As 
hearing officer Clarence Bomheim wrote, 
on September 29, 1977: 

"After an extensive and time-consuming 
investigation, the hearing officer was able 
to establish that this item could be covered 
under the State of Michigan Medicaid Pro- 
gram as durable medical equipment. It was 
further established that an item similar to 
the Apollo, called an 'Optacon,' is utilized 
by a bhnd legal clerk in the Flint, Michigan, 
Social Security Administration Hearings and 
Appeals Office. The machine makes it possi- 
ble for totally blind persons to read standard 
print. . . . 

"It does not appear that the Apollo could 
be classified as a prosthetic device since it 
does [not] replace all or part of an internal 
body organ. 

"However, by applying a broad interpre- 
tation of the durable medical equipment 
rules of the Social Security Administration, 
in this instant case the Apollo could be con- 
sidered durable medical equipment since it 
clearly serves a therapeutic purpose and 
makes a meaningful contribution to the 
treatment of the claimant's Ulness or injury." 

The hearing officer then reversed the de- 
cision of Blue Shield and authorized pay- 
ment for the Apollo EVA and the hand-held 
magnifiers. The decision closed with the 

"This decision is applicable only to this 
instant case and is not precedent-setting for 
any future claims." 

Despite the hearing officer's caution, this 
decision is a real victory. It indicates that in 
situations such as Mrs. Weston's, Medicare 
can pay for low vision aids. Her situation 
was not peculiar or out of the ordinary, so 
there is reason to believe the same decision 
will be reached in other cases. 

When she first got word of the decision, 
Mrs. Weston wrote to John Halverson, at 
that time president of the NFB of Michigan, 
as follows: 

"DEAR JOHN: You and Jim Gashel-to 
whom I am sending a copy of this letter- 
will be pleased to know that I won my bat- 
tle with Medicare over magnifiers. Hands 
down. Bomheim, the hearing examiner, held 
that the two little hand-held visual aids, as 
well as the closed-circuit TV magnifier, are 
covered by the Medicare B insurance as 
'durable medical equipment.' 

"It's a real break-through for the partially 
sighted blind. Maybe even for the totally 
bUnd, since the opinion compares my de- 
vices to the Optacon, 

"Not that I've seen the opinion yet. It 
just came through Friday afternoon, and 
Maxine Virtue [Mrs. Weston's attorney] read 
it to me over the telephone. Despite the 
favorable signals we all picked up at that 
April 5 hearing, Maxine was beginning to 
get worried about the delay. She figured 
that some high-level HEW type was vetoing 
release of the Bomheim opinion. 

"But no, we don't expect the Blues to 

"I'm about to start a long-delayed trip to 
Colorado to visit grandchildren. But I'll 
leave word with my secretary to get ump- 
teen copies of the opinion and send one to 
Jim. Translation and analysis iox i\\Q Moni- 
tor will come along later, when I get back 
and catch my breath. 

'Warm regards, 


This was the last we heard from Mrs. 



Weston. Three weeks later, while visiting 
her daughter in Colorado, she suffered a 
stroke and died. 

But Elizabeth Weston lived to see her 
case won and her point proved. It was a 
particularly Federation style of victory that 
she won. She was thinking not of her own 
situation, but of other bhnd people who 
were getting the same raw deal-blind people 
who had neither the money nor the legal 
experience to contest an arbitrary bureau- 
cratic decision. By the time the hearing 
officer awarded Mrs. Weston the cost of 
her visual aids, she had spent more than 
that amount on legal fees. When it was all 
over, she had lost money on the deal. 

From time to time Liz Weston wrote to 
the Washington Office about what some- 
times seemed to be a personal battle with 
the Blues. She wondered whether the 
national organization might not want to 
take over the appeal. After some delibera- 
tion it was decided that a legislative route 
might handle the problem more thorough- 
ly (and, as noted, we are now taking this 
route); but we encouraged Liz to keep on 
with her appeal. As we wrote: 

"The Federation makes immense de- 
mands of its members in terms of time, 
effort, and even money; but this is because 
these demands are made by the members of 
themselves. You have already spent more 
than the cost of the EVA on trying to re- 
cover the cost of it. This would be foolish 
if you were acting only for yourself, but 
of course your goal is much broader. You 
are what we need most members who meet 
discrimination, who understand the implica- 
tions of it not only for their own case but 
for thousands of others in the same situa- 
tion, and who are willing on their own to 
devote time and money to correcting it." 

Mrs. Weston replied to this letter with 
characteristic modesty. She wrote: "You 
credit me with too much altruism in pursu- 
ing this case as far as I have. At least 50 
percent of my motivation has been simply 
outraged professional pride— i.e., as an old 
federal administrative lawyer." 

As outraged federal lawyer or Federa- 
tionist, Liz Weston was a valuable member 
of the movement. She is gone, but the vic- 
tory she achieved and the example she set 
remain. D 


If you have neglected to send in your 
reservation for this summer's NFS Conven- 
tion in Baltimore, don't put it off any long- 
er. On the last page of this issue, underneath 
the PAC Plan card, is a special reservation 
form. Use this if you have not already made 
a reservation. Remember that you must 
send ten dollars to secure the reservation 
(this money will be applied to your hotel 
bill). On the reservation form are places to 
note what kind of room you want, and to 
give your first and second choice of hotels. 
These hotel preferences can be honored only 
so long as there are rooms left. All three 
hotels are within a block of the convention 
center where the Convention sessions will 
be held. 

We are using this reservation fonn to en- 
sure that you provide all the information 
needed to make your reservation. Once 
again, do not use this form if you have al- 
ready made a reservation. The Convention 
will be from Sunday, July 2, through Fri- 
day, July 7. 1978. Here are the correct 
room rates at the various hotels. (The room 
rates for the Holiday Inn listed in the Feb- 
ruary issue were incorrect.) Lord Baltimore: 
singles SIO, doubles $14, triples S19. four in 
a room S24; Baltimore Hilton: singles $12, 
doubles $16, each additional person in the 
room is $5; Holiday Inn: singles S12. dou- 
bles $14, triples $16, and four in a room $18. 
This will be our biggest and best Convention 
yet, so send in your reservations now. D 

APRIL 1978 ■ 



The excitement surrounding tiie Program 
for tiie Blind on the Central Campus of the 
Seattle Community College, Seattle, Wash- 
ington, is understandable. The year-old pro- 
gram has already made an impression on 
the Puget Sound region, and its influence 
is Ukely to grow. 

The program, funded by the Washington 
State Commission for the Blind, is a career 
exploration course. Students are referred to 
the program by the Commission. An inter- 
view with coordinator Ed Foscue, program 
manager Mary Jacoby, and program assist- 
ant Denise Wyatte detenTiines whether the 
student will profit from what the program 
has to offer. 

What is offered is a broad vista of job ex- 
plorations, practice for career and life deci- 
sion-making, field excursions, and hands-on 
experience in any realm of work that inter- 
ests a student. For some this is the first 
introduction to kinds of work and schooling 
traditionally considered closed to the blind. 
The explorations may include air transpor- 
tation, carpentry, meteorology, speech and 
hearing clinician, biomedical electronics, 
and interpreter for the deaf, among others. 

The students work hard in the program. 
They are largely responsible for setting up 
their own interviews and job explorations. 
They report on areas they explore, the rea- 
sons for accepting or rejecting interests, 
and plans for pursuing the chosen career 
through schooUng and training. 

A high standard of success was set by 
Colin Malcolm, one of the first students to 
enroll in the program. After a variety of 
interviews and research into training pro- 
grams, CoHn completed a two-year broad- 
cast technology course in nine months. In 
January 1978, he began work as a chief en- 
gineer for radio stations KGHO and KBKW 
in Aberdeen. Washington. 

Incorporated into the program is constant 
communication with and support from the 

staff. Daily planning sessions and weekly 
rap sessions are part of the schedule. The 
rap sessions provide a chance to develop 
group awareness about attitudes of and to- 
ward the blind. Other student groups and 
guests have participated and valuable sharing 
has occurred. 

In 1977, in order to improve service to 
the students and gain support from the 
community, the staff planned and partici- 
pated in three workshops. In May, a work- 
shop to introduce the program to the rest 
of the Seattle Community College system 
was presented. Chuck McNeil, an aviation 
mechanics student at the South Campus 
and part-time staff member for the pro- 
gram, offered straightforward information 
and personal examples of the wealth of 
opportunities available when blindness is 
accepted as a characteristic, not a handicap. 
A demonstration of alternative techniques 
and an appraisal of Chuck's work by one of 
his instructors cracked open some doors in 
areas that were tightly shut before the 

A more specific presentation, titled "The 
Blind Secretary: In Training and In Prac- 
tice," reached further into the Puget Sound 
region in December. Invitations were sent 
to instructors in vocational and technical 
high schools as well as community colleges. 
Darleen Walker, who has worked as a secre- 
tary for the California Department of Reha- 
bihtation for the past nine years, was the 
guest speaker and primary source of infor- 
mation. In spite of its seemingly narrow 
topic, the workshop presented a broad 
message of positive attitudes and the inde- 
pendence of the blind. 

While these workshops were aimed at 
public information, the program recognizes 
that to continue providing the most useful 
service to students and the community, staff 
development is necessary. A week-long train- 
ing session in November provided this. 



Working under sleepshades in a kitchen 
and in a wood-working shop was a new 
experience for some of the staff. Cane trav- 
el through a major business district resulted 
in some amusing and aggravating experi- 
ences. (One quickly learns about societal 
attitudes toward the blind when directly 
confronted with them.) The week also in- 
cluded discussions led by Al Fisher and 
Nancy Brenton of Spokane's Lilac Blind 
Foundation, and as a result of all these 

experiences, awareness and sensitivity grew. 
All of these factors-the purpose and im- 
plementation of the career search, the high 
expectation of success, the demands made 
of the students and staff, and the workshops 
for public information-make this program 
valuable and exciting. Most of the staff are 
strong members of the NFB; and from this 
description of the program, it will be clear 
that Federation philosophy and spirit are 
alive and well in Seattle. D 


The Federation's testing and evaluation 
of the Kurzweil Reading Machine is nearing 
its conclusion, and the results have been 
well worth the effort. The project has taken 
longer than expected, and this has been due 
to the emergence of small but difficult-to- 
correct problems with many parts of the 
system. Yet this is the most valuable aspect 
of the testing. For instance, the design of 
the book holder has been changed a num- 
ber of times. Inearly models of the machine, 
either the book holder would break or it 
would damage the books being read. It was 
the sort of problem not likely to concern 
computer engineers working in isolation in 
their laboratories, but it is important to 
bhnd people using the machine. 

The Federation purchased five of the 
reading machines; and as of February 1978, 
75 blind persons had used them for a total 
of more than 1,100 hours of reading. Heavy 
day-in-and-day-out use like this has enabled 
the Kurzweil engineers to locate problems 
before the machine is on the market in its 
final form. The difference is between a ma- 
chine that startles the public with its tech- 
nical sophistication and a machine that is 
actually useful to blind people. It is a dif- 
ference that the blind know well in an age 
when every laboratory of advanced research 
in the country seems intent on producing 
some miracle for the blind. 

The basic technology for turning print 
into speech has been around for several 

years, and a number of companies have dem- 
onstrated the use of it. What emerged as 
the Kurzweil machines were spread around 
the country and used for routine reading 
chores was that the basic translation of 
print was just the beginning. As reported in 
the June 1977 Monitor, Kurzweil Computer 
Products had made great progress in dealing 
with the enormous variety of typestyles 
used in printed matter. Originally restricted 
to a single typewriter type, the machine 
now comprehends more than 200 different 

Yet it turned out that this was just the 
first step. The traditions of book format- 
ting have been developing since the middle 
ages, and the innovators in the field never 
worried about what sense a machine would 
make of their work. Multiple columns, head- 
ings at the left or right margins, page num- 
bers in a dozen places, pictures, graphs, and 
the paraphernalia of scholarly texts-all of 
these have proved a nightmare for the engi- 
neers. Beyond this, the mechanics of the 
machine have come in for extensive com- 
ment. The placement of keyboard buttons, 
the pressure it should take to press one 
down, the spoken commands, even the 
kinds of screws and handles that will per- 
mit easy maintenance and replacement all 
of these have been tested and altered and 
tested and altered again. 

It has been an eye-opening experience 
for everyone involved, but the result will 

APRIL 1978 ■ 


be a machine that is not just a technical 
breakthrough but a useful tool. 

Kurzweil Computer Products is pres- 
ently at work on what is called Model III. 
This model will incorporate the altera- 
tions made as a result of suggestions from 
users in our testing project. It will be un- 
veiled for the first time at the NFB Conven- 
tion in Baltimore this summer. The Model III 
will be smaller than previous models, and 
the price has dropped from $50,000 to just 
under 520,000. This is still beyond the 
reach of most consumers, but it is a first 
step. Eventually, the price should come 
down to about $5,000. 

All five of the reading machines pur- 
chased by the NFB are now in operation. 
The NFB machines are in the following 
locations: the New York Public Library's 
Main Branch, in Manhattan; Bhnd Industries 
and Services ofMaryland, in Baltimore; Nor- 
lin Library at the University of Colorado, in 
Boulder; the Iowa Commission for the Blind, 
in Des Moines; and the State Orientation 
Center for the Bhnd. in Albany, California. 

It takes about a day of training to use the 
machine proficiently, and schedules of use 
have been set up to ensure constant testing; 
but interested blind persons and the general 
public can see the machine in operation at 
any of these sites. And of course, the new 
Model III will be on display at the Baltimore 
Convention in July. 

Although the Kurzweil testing proj- 
ect will end this June, the experience gained 
by the Federation in this area will not go to 
waste. The value of large-scale consumer 
testing has not been lost on other producers 
of technical devices for the blind. We have 
been approached by several companies inter- 
rested in setting up formal testing projects 
for their machines; and we are prepared to 
work with any firm that wants the input of 
its consumers. Particularly in the area of 
technical advances, it is far more productive 
to sohcit the input of consumers in the 
development stage than to work without 
their input and then wonder why the result 
is rejected by them. We are the ones, after 
all, who have to use the devices. D 




Note: Arlene Gashel is secretary of the NFB of D.C. and the wife of Jim Gashel, = 

Chief of the NFB 's Washington Office. S 


Ingredients 5 

6 oz. natural cheddar cheese 1 teaspoon salt = 

(not processed cheese) 1-1/2 cups milk = 

6 tablespoons flour Pinch of red cayenne pepper = 

3/4 stick butter or margarine 1/2 teaspoon paprika = 

Butter a two-quart casserole. Separate the eggs. In the top of a double boiler = 

over boiling water, melt the butter; blend in the flour, grated cheese, and season- = 

ings. Add the milk and stir constantly until thick and smooth. Remove from the = 

boiUng water and let stand. Beat the egg yolks until thick. Stir the yolks into the = 

other mixture. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Put them in the buttered casserole = 

and gradually pour in the cheese mixture, folding very carefully until well blended. = 

Bake for 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Serve at once. (Note: S 

This recipe may be prepared and refrigerated for up to ten hours before baking. = 

If you do this, place the refrigerated souffle in a cold oven and bake for 50 min- = 

utes at 350 degrees.) n = 




n On November 9. 1977, the Colonial Life 
and Accident Insurance Company honored 
NFB First Vice-President Donald C. Capps. 
Approximately 100 employees of Colonial 
Life were on hand as Mr. Capps was 
honored for 30 years of service to the 
company. During the ceremony, Leon S. 
Goodall, president of Colonial Life, pre- 
sented Mr. Capps a 5-piece inscribed silver 
service and said about him: "He began with 
Colonial in April 1947 as a claims examiner- 
trainee. He was later assistant manager of 
the claims department, and his present posi- 
tion is manager of the death claims section. 
Don is truly a fine example of a person who 
becomes involved in community affairs. 
He is active in church work, a former presi- 
dent of the Forest Acres Rotary Club, mem- 
ber of the state and national Federation of 
the Blind, and on the Governor's Committee 
on Employment of the Handicapped. This 
year, Don received the Jacobus tenBroek 
Award which is given to the bUnd Ameri- 
can making the greatest contribution to the 
blind during the year. He and his wife Betty 
have two children. Don is proud to be a 
part of an organization which has experi- 
enced tremendous growth over the years, 
and we are very proud to have him as a part 
of our organization." The organization Mr. 
Goodall was referring to here was Colonial 
Life, but the same is true of the NFB: We 
are very proud to have him as a part of our 

D Blind junior high students of either sex 
interested in attending Phillips Academy, in 
Andover. Massachusetts, should contact 
Mr. Donald Montgomery Reynolds, 4 Park- 
side Drive, Davis, California 95616. The 
academy's standards are high, but the ad- 
ministration is serious about enrolling quali- 
fied blind young men and women. Mr. 
Reynolds was instrumental in creating this 
receptive atmosphere, and he can assist 
with. admission procedures and scholarships. 

D The NFB of Indiana plans to offer a schol- 
arship to a legally blind resident of Indiana 
who has graduated from high school or will 
graduate in 1978 and who is studying in 

college or plans to enter college for the 
1978-79 term. To apply, send your name, 
address, the name of your high school, an 
official high school transcript, an official 
statement of grade-point average, what year 
of school you are in, the name of the college 
you attend or plan to attend. AppUcations 
should be sent by July 1, 1978, to Russell 
Getz, 321 North Main Street, Goshen, Indi- 
ana 46526. The scholarship will be awarded 
at the Indiana state convention this fall. 

D Federationists are invited to attend the 
1978 convention of the NFB of New Jersey, 
to be held May 5 through 7. It will be at 
the Gateway Motor Lodge, Raymond Boule- 
vard and McCarter Highway in Newark. 

n The NFB of the District of Columbia 
will hold its annual convention April 28-29, 
at the Central Holiday Inn, 1501 Rhode Is- 
land Avenue, Northwest, Washington, D.C. 
Registration will open Friday, April 28 at 
4:00 p.m., and the convention will close 
with a banquet at 7:30 p.m. the next night. 

D The NFB of Mississippi Newsletter has 
the following note: "Everybody is heading 
for the Jacksonian Motel on Interstate 55N 
in Jackson the weekend of April 21-22. Our 
sixth annual state convention will be held 
in this excellent facility." 

D The Greater Columbia magazine, pub- 
lished in Columbia, South Carolina, has 
recently had several articles about the ac- 
tivities of the NFB of South Carolina. The 
February 1978 issue had an excellent write- 
up about Federationist Suzanne Bridges, 
the executive director of the Federation 
Center for the Blind. The Center is owned 
and run by our South Carolina affiliate. 

Here are some quotes from the article: 
"Perhaps very few people know that Su- 
zanne is part of a new and fast-growing mili- 
tancy among America's over half a million 
blind people who are seeking equal rights in 
the areas of employment, housing, and 
transportation. They want to create a new 
image of themselves and help open new 
doors for themselves along with determin- 
ing their own destiny. The prejudice they 
face is 'all the worse because it is based not 

APRIL 1978 ■ 

on fear or hatred but on pity.' They are 
tired of the over-protection by society which 
'prevents them from ever reaching adult- 
hood.' . . . 'We are a proud bunch of people 
who ask for an equal opportunity and equal 
consideration.' says Suzanne Bridges; 'we 
are not asking for special privileges. Our 
biggest problem is not our own blindness 
but the attitude of the people towards our 
bUndness.' Due to this courageous stand of 
the blind, the National Federation of the 


Blind has gained over 10,000 new members 
in the past five years and is continuing to 
gain strength .... Suzanne sums up the 
present thinking and feelings of the blind 
this way: 'The day the blind can adopt 
children without a court fight, serve on a 
jury or acquire such a simple luxury as a 
safe-deposit box, will be the day that we 
know we're on our way. We're not less in- 
telligent or less capable than the next 
person.'" D 

PRE-AUTHORIZED CHECK PLAN (Instructions on back of the card) 

I hereby authorize the National Federation of the Blind to draw a check to its own order in the ainount of $_ 

payable to its own order. This authorization will remain in effect until revoked by me in writing and until such notice is actually received. 

_day of each month 

Bank signature of donor (both signatures if Two are necessary) 


We understand that your bank has 
agreed to cooperate in our pre- 
authorized check plan on behalf of 
your depositor. Attached is your 
client's signed authorization to 
honor such checks drawn by us. 
Customer's account and your bank 
transit numbers will be MICR- 
printed on checks per usual specifi- 
cations before they are deposited. 
Our Indemnification Agreement is 
on the reverse side of the signed 


Name of depositor as 

shown on bank records Acct. No 

Name of bank and branch, if any, and 

address of branch where account is maintained- 

For my benefit and convenience, I hereby request and authorize you to pay and charge to my account checks drawn 
on my account by the National Federation of the Blind to its own order. This authorization will remain in effect 
until revoked by me in writing, and until you actually receive such notice 1 agree that you shall be fully protected in 
honoring any such check. In consideration of your compliance with such request and authorization, 1 agree that your 
treatment of each check, and your rights in respect to it shall be the same as if it were signed personally by me and 
that if any such check be dishonored, whether with or without cause, you shall be under no liability whatsoever. The 
National Federation of the Blind is instructed to forward this authorization to you. 


Bank signature of customer (both signatures if two are necessary) 

Date of Arrival. 



a.m.D p.m.n Date of Departure 

(Name of Registrant) 



Single D Triple D 

Double a Quad D 

Twin D 

Mail completed form with $10 deposit to: Baltimore Convention, Box 4422, Baltimore, Maryland 21223. 


City, State, and ZIP Code 


1st Choice 

2nd Choice 

Lord Baltimore 



Baltimore Hilton 



Holiday Inn 




NFB PRE-AUTHORIZED CHECK PLAN. This is a way for you to contribute a set amount to the NFB each month. The amount you pledge will be drawn 
from your account automatically. On the other side of this card, fill in the amount you want to give each month and the day of the month you want it 
to be drawn from your account. Sign the card in two places, where the X's are. The rest will be filled in by the NFB Treasurer. Enclose a voided check 
with the card, and mail it to Richard Edlund, Treasurer, National Federation of the Blind, Box 11 185, Kansas City, Kansas 66111. Your bank will send 
you receipts for your contributions with your regular bank statements. You can increase (or decrease) your monthly payments by filling out a new PAC 
Plan card and mailing it to the Treasurer. Also, more PAC Plan cards are available from the Treasurer. 

To the bank named on the reverse side: 

In consideration of your compliance with the request and authorization of the depositor named on the reverse 
side, the NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND will refund to you any amount erroneously paid by you to 
the National Federation of the Blind on any such check if claim for the amount of such erroneous payment is made 
by you within twelve months from the date of the check on which such erroneous payment was made. 
Authorized in a resolution adopted by the Board Members 

of the National Federation of the Blind on November 28, 1974. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION 



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