The National Federation of the Blind has become by far the most significant force in the affairs of the blind today and its actions have had an impact on many other groups and programs. The Federation's President, Marc Maurer, radiates confidence and persuasiveness. He says,
If I can find twenty people who care about a thing, then we can get it done. And if there are two hundred, two thousand, or twenty thousand--well, that's even better.
The National Federation of the Blind is a civil rights movement with all that the term implies.
President Maurer points out,
"You can't expect to obtain freedom by having somebody else hand it to you. You have to do the job yourself. The French could not have won the American Revolution for us. That would merely have shifted the governing authority from one colonial power to another. So, too, we the blind are the only ones who can win freedom for the blind, which is both frightening and reassuring. If we don't get out and do what we must, there is no one to blame but ourselves. We have control of the essential elements."
Although there are in the United States at the present time many organizations and agencies " FOR " the blind, there is only one National Federation of the Blind. This organization was established in 1940 when the blind of seven states--Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri and California--sent delegates to its first convention at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Since that time progress has been rapid and steady. The Federation is recognized by blind men and women throughout the entire country as their primary means of joint expression; and today, with active affiliates in every state and the District of Columbia, it is the primary voice of the nation's blind.
To explain this spectacular growth, three questions must be asked and answered:
Even a brief answer to these questions is instructive.
When the Federation came into being in 1940, the outlook for the blind was certainly not bright. The nation's welfare system was so discouraging to individual initiative that those who were forced to accept public assistance had little hope of ever achieving self-support again, and those who sought competitive employment in regular industry or the professions found most of the doors barred against them. The universal goodwill expressed toward the blind was not the wholesome goodwill of respect felt toward an equal; it was the misguided goodwill of pity felt toward an inferior. In effect the system said to the blind,
"Sit on the sidelines of life. This game is not for you. If you have creative talents, we are sorry, but we cannot use them."
The Federation came into being to combat these expressions of discrimination and to promote new ways of thought concerning blindness, and although great progress has been made toward the achievement of these goals, much still remains to be done.
The Federation believes that blind people are essentially normal and that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap. It can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. Legal, economic and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that the blind are somehow different from the sighted must be abolished and equality of opportunity made available to blind people. Because of their personal experience with blindness, the blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems, but the general public should be asked to participate in finding solutions. Upon these fundamentals the National Federation of the Blind predicates its philosophy.
As for the leadership of the organization, all of the officers and members of the Board of Directors are blind, and all give generously of their time and resources in promoting the work of the Federation. The Board consists of seventeen elected members, five of whom are the constitutional officers of the organization. These members of the Board of Directors represent a wide cross section of the blind population of the United States. Their backgrounds are different and their experiences vary widely; but they are drawn together by the common bond of having met blindness individually and successfully in their own lives and by their united desire to see other blind people have the opportunity to do likewise. A profile of the leadership of the organization shows why it is so effective and demonstrates the progress made by blind people during the past half-century--for in the story of the lives of these leaders can be found the greatest test of the Federation's philosophy. The cumulative record of their individual achievements is an overwhelming proof, leading to an inescapable conclusion.
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