[Ohio-talk] Good Reading

Barbara Pierce bbpierce at pobox.com
Thu Apr 18 18:58:05 UTC 2013

Eric has come through his surgery very well indeed. I am glad that you liked
"Handicap or Characteristic." This is the bedrock of Federation philosophy.
Good luck chewing over the ideas. Call if you have questions.


-----Original Message-----
From: Ohio-talk [mailto:ohio-talk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Cheryl
Sent: Thursday, April 18, 2013 2:26 PM
To: NFB of Ohio Announcement and Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Ohio-talk] Good Reading

Thank you Eric, I know you are a little under the weather and I am keeping
you in my prayers, and hoping that you will be up to speed in a soon. This
is the perfect discussion starter, it may take us some time to digest it
all, but we will keep you posted on our discussions.
Thanks again. Blessings,

On 4/18/13, Eric Duffy <eduffy at deltav.org> wrote:
> I was asked by my Friend Cheryl Fields to suggest  something that 
> would clearly outline the NFB philosophy. There are many things out 
> there, but here is what I have for now. I have also attached it as a word
> :
> by Kenneth Jernigan
> It has been wisely observed that philosophy bakes no bread. It has, 
> with equal wisdom, been observed that without a philosophy no bread is
> Let
> me talk to you, then of philosophy-my philosophy concerning 
> blindness-and, in a broader sense, my philosophy concerning handicaps in
> One prominent authority recently said, Loss of sight is a dying. When, 
> in the full current of his sighted life, blindness comes on a man, it 
> is the end, the death, of that sighted life... It is superficial, if 
> not naive, to think of blindness as a blow to the eyes only, to sight 
> only. It is a destructive blow to the self-image of a man ... a blow 
> almost to his being itself.
> This is one view, a view held by a substantial number of people in the 
> world today. But it is not the only view. In my opinion it is not the 
> correct view. What is blindness? Is it a "dying"?
> No one is likely to disagree with me if I say that blindness, first of 
> all, is a characteristic. But a great many people will disagree when I 
> go on to say that blindness is only a characteristic. It is nothing 
> more or less than that. It is nothing more special, or more peculiar, 
> or more terrible than that suggests. When we understand the nature of 
> blindness as a characteristic-a normal characteristic like hundreds of 
> others with which each of us must live-we shall better understand the 
> real need to be met by services to the blind, as well as the false 
> needs which should not be met.
> By definition a characteristic-any characteristic-is a limitation. A 
> white house, for example, is a limited house; it cannot be green or 
> blue or red; it is limited to being white. Likewise every 
> characteristic-those we regard as strengths as well as those we regard 
> as weaknesses-is a limitation. Each one freezes us to some extent into 
> a mold; each restricts to some degree the range of possibility, of 
> flexibility, and very often of opportunity as well.
> Blindness is such a limitation. Are blind people more limited than others?
> Let us make a simple comparison. Take a sighted person with an average 
> mind (something not too hard to locate); take a blind person with a 
> superior mind (something not impossible to locate)-and then make all 
> the other characteristics of these two persons equal (something which 
> certainly is impossible). Now, which of the two is more limited? It 
> depends, of course, entirely on what you wish them to do. If you are 
> choosing up sides for baseball, then the blind man is more 
> limited-that is, he is "handicapped".
> If you are seeking someone to teach history or science or to figure 
> out your income tax, then the sighted person is more limited or 
> "handicapped".
> Many human characteristics are obvious limitations; others are not so 
> obvious. Poverty  (the lack of material means) is one of the most obvious.
> Ignorance (the lack of knowledge or education) is another. Old age 
> (the lack of youth and vigor) is yet another. Blindness (the lack of 
> eyesight) is still another. In all these cases the limitations are 
> apparent, or seem to be. But let us look at some other common 
> characteristics which do not seem limiting. Take the very opposite of 
> old age-youth. Is age a limitation in the case of a youth of twenty? 
> Indeed it is, for a person who is twenty will not be considered for 
> most responsible positions, especially supervisory and leadership 
> positions. He may be entirely mature, fully capable, in every way the 
> best qualified applicant for the job. Even so, his age will bar him 
> from employment; he will be classified as too green and immature to 
> handle the responsibility. And even if he were to land the position, 
> others on the job would almost certainly resent being supervised by 
> one so young. The characteristic of being twenty is definitely a 
> limitation.
> The same holds true for any other age. Take age fifty, which many 
> regard as the prime of life. The man of fifty does not have the 
> physical vigor he possessed at twenty; and, indeed, most companies 
> will not start a new employee at that age. The Bell Telephone System, 
> for example, has a general prohibition against hiring anyone over the 
> age of thirty-five. But it is interesting to note that the United 
> States Constitution has a prohibition against having anyone under 
> thirty-five running for President. The moral is
> plain: any age carries its built-in limitations.
> Let us take another unlikely handicap-not that of ignorance, but its 
> exact opposite. Can it be said that education is ever a handicap? The 
> answer is definitely yes. In the agency which I head I would not hire 
> Albert Einstein under any circumstances if he were today alive and 
> available. His fame (other people would continually flock to the 
> agency and prevent us from doing our work) and his intelligence (he 
> would be bored to madness by the routine of most of our jobs) would both
be too severe as limitations.
> Here is an actual case in point. Some time ago a vacancy occurred on 
> the library staff at the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Someone was 
> needed to perform certain clerical duties and take charge of shelving 
> and checking talking book records. After all applicants had been 
> screened, the final choice came down to two. Applicant A had a college 
> degree, was seemingly alert, and clearly of more than average 
> intelligence. Applicant B had a high school diploma (no college), was 
> of average intelligence, and possessed only moderate initiative. I 
> hired applicant B. Why? Because I suspected that applicant A would 
> regard the work as beneath him, would soon become bored with its 
> undemanding assignments, and would leave as soon as something better 
> came along. I would then have to find and train another employee. On 
> the other hand I felt that applicant B would consider the work 
> interesting and even challenging, that he was thoroughly capable of 
> handling the job, and that he would be not only an excellent but a 
> permanent employee. In fact, he has worked out extremely well.
> In other words, in that situation the characteristic of education-the 
> possession of a college degree-was a limitation and a handicap. Even 
> above average intelligence was a limitation; and so was a high level 
> of initiative. There is a familiar bureaucratic label for this unusual
> disadvantage: it is the term "overqualified". Even the overqualified, 
> it appears, can be underprivileged.
> This should be enough to make the point-which is that if blindness is 
> a limitation (and, indeed, it is), it is so in quite the same way as 
> innumerable other characteristics which human flesh is heir to. I 
> believe that blindness has no more importance than any of a hundred 
> other characteristics and that the average blind person is able to 
> perform the average job in the average career or calling, provided 
> (and it is a large
> proviso) he is given training and opportunity.
> Often when I have advanced this proposition, I have been met with the 
> response, "But you can't look at it that way. Just consider what you 
> might have done if you had been sighted and still had all the other 
> capacities you now possess."
> "Not so," I reply. "We do not compete against what we might have been, 
> but only against other people as they are, with their combinations of 
> strengths and weaknesses, handicaps and limitations." If we are going 
> down that track, why not ask me what I might have done if I had been 
> born with Rockefeller's money, the brains of Einstein, the physique of 
> the young Joe Louis, and the persuasive abilities of Franklin 
> Roosevelt? (And do I need to remind anyone, in passing, that FDR was 
> severely handicapped physically?) I wonder if anyone ever said to him:
> "Mr. President, just consider what you might have done if you had not 
> had polio!"
> Others have said to me, "But I formerly had my sight, so I know what I 
> am missing."
> To which one might reply, "And I was formerly twenty, so I know what I 
> am missing." Our characteristics are constantly changing, and we are 
> forever acquiring new experiences, limitations, and assets. We do not 
> compete against what we formerly were but against other people as they now
> In a recent issue of a well-known professional journal in the field of 
> work with the blind, a blinded veteran who is now a college professor, 
> puts forward a notion of blindness radically different from this. He 
> sets the limitations of blindness apart from all others and makes them
> Having
> done this, he can say that all other human characteristics, strengths, 
> and weaknesses, belong in one category-and that with regard to them 
> the blind and the sighted individual are just about equal. But the 
> blind person also has the additional and unique limitation of his 
> blindness. Therefore, there is really nothing he can do quite as well 
> as the sighted person, and he can continue to hold his job only 
> because there are charity and goodness in the world.
> What this blind professor does not observe is that the same 
> distinction he has made regarding blindness could be made with equal 
> plausibility with respect to any of a dozen-perhaps a hundred-other 
> characteristics. For example, suppose we distinguish intelligence from 
> all other traits as uniquely different. Then the man with above one 
> hundred twenty-five IQ is just about the same as the man with below 
> one hundred-twenty-five IQ-except for intelligence. Therefore, the 
> college professor with less than one hundred twenty-five IQ cannot 
> really do anything as well as the man with more than one hundred 
> twenty-five IQ-and can continue to hold his job only because there are
charity and goodness in the world.
> "Are we going to assume," says this blind professor, "that all blind 
> people are so wonderful in all other areas that they easily make up 
> for any limitations imposed by loss of sight? I think not." But why, 
> one asks, single out the particular characteristic of blindness? We 
> might just as well specify some other. For instance, are we going to 
> assume that all people with less than one hundred twenty-five IQ are 
> so wonderful in all other areas that they easily make up for any 
> limitations imposed by lack of intelligence? I think not.
> This consideration brings us to the problem of terminology and 
> semantics-and therewith to the heart of the matter of blindness as a 
> handicap. The assumption that the limitation of blindness is so much 
> more severe than others that it warrants being singled out for special 
> definition is built into the very warp and woof of our language and 
> psychology. Blindness conjures up a condition of unrelieved 
> disaster-something much more terrible and dramatic than other 
> limitations. Moreover, blindness is a conspicuously visible 
> limitation; and there are not so many blind people around that there 
> is any danger of becoming accustomed to it or taking it for granted. 
> If all of those in our midst who possess an IQ under one hundred 
> twenty-five exhibited, say, green stripes on their faces, I suspect 
> that they would begin to be regarded as inferior to the 
> non-striped-and that there would be immediate and tremendous
> When someone says to a blind person, "You do things so well that I 
> forget you are blind-I simply think of you as being like anybody 
> else," is that really a compliment? Suppose one of us went to France, and
someone said:
> "You do things so well that I forget you are an American and simply 
> think of you as being like anyone else "-would it be a compliment? Of 
> course, the blind person must not wear a chip on his shoulder or allow 
> himself to become angry or emotionally upset. He should be courteous, 
> and he should accept the statement as the compliment it is meant to 
> be. But he should understand that it is really not complimentary. In 
> reality it says:
> "It is normal for blind people to be inferior and limited, different 
> and much less able than the rest of us. Of course, you are still a 
> blind person and still much more limited than I, but you have 
> compensated for it so well that I almost forget that you are inferior to
> The social attitudes about blindness are all pervasive. Not only do 
> they affect the sighted but also the blind as well. This is one of the 
> most troublesome problems which we have to face. Public attitudes 
> about the blind too often become the attitudes of the blind. The blind 
> tend to see themselves as others see them. They too often accept the 
> public view of their limitations and thereby do much to make those 
> limitations a reality.
> Several years ago Dr. Jacob Friend, at that time a young teacher of 
> sociology and now head of the Jewish Braille Institute of America, 
> performed an interesting experiment. He gave a test in photograph 
> identification to Negro and white students at the university where he 
> was teaching. There was one photograph of a Negro woman in a living 
> room of a home of culture-well furnished with paintings, sculpture, 
> books, and flowers. Asked to identify the person in the photograph, 
> the students said she was a "cleaning woman,"
> "housekeeper," "cook," "laundress," "servant," "domestic," and 
> "mammy". The revealing insight is that the Negro students made the 
> same identifications as the white students. The woman was Mary McLeod 
> Bethune, the most famous Negro woman of her time, founder and 
> president of Bethune-Cookman College, who held a top post during 
> Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, and a person of brilliance and 
> prestige in the world of higher education. What this incident tells us 
> is that education, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and that when members 
> of a minority group do not have correct and complete information about 
> themselves, they accept the stereotypes of the majority group even 
> when they are false and unjust. Even today, in the midst of the great 
> civil rights debate and protest, one wonders how many Negroes would make
the traditional and stereotyped identification of the photograph.
> Similarly with the blind the public image is everywhere dominant. This 
> is the explanation for the attitude of those blind persons who are 
> ashamed to cany a white cane or who try to bluff sight which they do not
> Although great progress is now being made, there are still many people 
> (sighted as well as blind) who believe that blindness is not 
> altogether respectable.
> The blind person must devise alternative techniques to do many things 
> which he would do with sight if he had normal vision. It will be 
> observed that I say alternative not substitute techniques, for the 
> word substitute connotes inferiority, and the alternative techniques 
> employed by the blind person need not be inferior to visual 
> techniques. In fact, some are superior. Of course, some are inferior, and
some are equal.
> In this connection it is interesting to consider the matter of flying. 
> In comparison with the birds man begins at a disadvantage. He cannot 
> fly. He has no wings. He is "handicapped." But he sees the birds 
> flying, and he longs to do likewise. He cannot use the "normal," 
> bird-like method, so he begins to devise alternative techniques. In 
> his jet airplanes he now flies higher, farther, and faster than any 
> bird which has ever existed. If he had possessed wings, the airplane 
> would probably never have been devised, and the inferior wing-flapping
method would still be in general use.
> This matter of our irrational images and stereotypes with regard to 
> blindness was brought sharply home to me some time ago during the 
> course of a rehabilitation conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. I 
> found myself engaged in a discussion with a well-known leader in the 
> field of work with the blind who holds quite different views from 
> those I have been advancing. The error in my argument about blindness 
> as a characteristic, he advised me, was that blindness is not in the 
> range of "normal" characteristics; and, therefore, its limitations are 
> radically different from those of other characteristics falling within 
> the normal range. If a normal characteristic is simply one possessed 
> by the majority in a group, then it is not normal to have a black skin 
> in America or, for that matter, a white skin in the world at large.
> It is not normal to have red hair or be over six feet tall. If, on the 
> other hand, a normal characteristic is simply what this authority or 
> someone else defines as being normal, then we have a circular 
> argument-one that gets us nowhere.
> In this same discussion I put forward the theory that a man who was 
> sighted and of average means and who had all other characteristics in 
> common with a blind man of considerable wealth would be less mobile 
> than the blind man. I had been arguing that there were alternative 
> techniques (not substitute) for doing those things which one would do 
> with sight if he had normal vision.
> The authority I have already mentioned, as well as several others, had 
> been contending that there was no real, adequate substitute for sight 
> in traveling about. I told the story of a wealthy blind man I know who 
> goes to Hawaii or some other place every year and who hires sighted 
> attendants and is much more mobile than any sighted person I know of 
> ordinary means. After all of the discussion and the fact that I 
> thought I had conveyed some understanding of what I was saying, a 
> participant in the conference said-as if he thought he was really 
> making a telling point, "Wouldn't you admit that the wealthy man in 
> question would be even more mobile if he had his sight?"
> Which brings us to the subject of services to the blind and more 
> exactly of their proper scope and direction. There are, as I see it, 
> four basic types of services now being provided for blind persons by 
> public and private agencies and volunteer groups in this country today.
They are:
> 1. Services based on the theory that blindness is uniquely different 
> from other characteristics and that it carries with it permanent 
> inferiority and severe limitations upon activity.
> 2. Services aimed at teaching the blind person a new and constructive 
> set of attitudes about blindness-based on the premise that the 
> prevailing social attitudes, assimilated involuntarily by the blind 
> person, are mistaken in content and destructive in effect.
> 3. Services aimed at teaching alternative techniques and skills 
> related to blindness.
> 4. Services not specifically related to blindness but to other 
> characteristics (such as old age and lack of education), which are 
> nevertheless labeled as "services to the blind" and included under the 
> generous umbrella of the service program.
> An illustration of the assumptions underlying the first of these four 
> types of services is the statement quoted earlier which begins, "Loss 
> of sight is a dying." At the Little Rock conference already mentioned 
> the man who made this statement elaborated on the tragic metaphor by 
> pointing out that "the eye is a sexual symbol" and that, accordingly, 
> the man who has not eyes is not a "whole man." He cited the play 
> Oedipus Rex as proof of his contention that the eye is a sexual 
> symbol. I believe that this misses the whole point of the classic 
> tragedy. Like many moderns, the Greeks considered the severest 
> possible punishment to be the loss of sight. Oedipus committed a 
> mortal sin (unknowingly he had killed his father and married his 
> mother); therefore, his punishment must be correspondingly great. But that
is just what his self-imposed blindness was-a punishment, not a sex symbol.
> But this view not only misses the point of Oedipus Rex-it misses the 
> point of blindness. And in so doing it misses the point of services 
> intended to aid the blind. For according to this view what the blind 
> person needs most desperately is the help of a psychiatrist-of the 
> kind so prominently in evidence at several of the orientation and 
> adjustment centers for the blind throughout the country. According to 
> this view what the blind person needs most is not travel training but 
> therapy. He will be taught to accept his limitations as insurmountable 
> and his difference from others as unbridgeable. He will be encouraged 
> to adjust to his painful station as a second-class citizen-and 
> discouraged from any thought of breaking and entering the first-class 
> compartment. Moreover, all of this will be done in the name of 
> teaching him "independence" and a "realistic" approach to his blindness.
> The two competing types of services for the blind-categories one and 
> two on my list of four types-with their underlying conflict of 
> philosophy may perhaps be clarified by a rather fanciful analogy. All 
> of us recall the case of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Suddenly, in the 
> 1930's, the German Jew was told by his society that he was a 
> "handicapped" person-that he was inferior to other Germans simply by 
> virtue of being a Jew. Given this social fact, what sort of adjustment 
> services might we have offered to the victim of Jewishness? I suggest 
> that there are two alternatives-matching categories one and two of my 
> list of services.
> First, since he has been a "normal" individual until quite recently, 
> it is, of course, quite a shock (or "trauma," as modern lingo has it) 
> for him to learn that he is permanently and constitutionally inferior 
> to others and can engage only in a limited range of activities. He 
> will, therefore, require a psychiatrist to give him counseling and 
> therapy and to reconcile him to his lot. He must "adjust" to his 
> handicap and "learn to live" with the fact that he is not a "whole 
> man." If he is realistic, he may even manage to be happy.
> He can be taken to an adjustment center or put into a workshop, where 
> he may learn a variety of simple crafts and curious occupations 
> suitable to Jews.
> Again, it should be noted that all of this will be done in the name of 
> teaching him how to live "independently" as a Jew. That is one form of 
> adjustment training: category one of the four types of services 
> outlined earlier.
> On the other hand, if there are those around who reject the premise 
> that Jewishness equals inferiority, another sort of "adjustment" 
> service may be undertaken. We might begin by firing the psychiatrist. 
> His services will be available in his own private office, for Jews as 
> for other members of the public, whenever they develop emotional or 
> mental troubles. We will not want the psychiatrist because the Nazi 
> psychiatrist likely has the same misconceptions about Jews as the rest 
> of his society. We might continue then by scrapping the "Jew 
> trades"-the menial routines which offer no competition to the normal 
> world outside. We will take the emphasis off of resignation or of fun 
> and games. We will not work to make the Jew happy in his isolation and 
> servitude, but rather to make him discontent with them. We will make 
> of him not a conformist but a rebel.
> And so it is with the blind. There are vast differences in the 
> services offered by various agencies and volunteer groups doing work 
> with the blind throughout the country today. At the Little Rock 
> conference this came up repeatedly. When a blind person comes to a 
> training center, what kind of tests do you give him, and why? In Iowa 
> and some other centers the contention is that he is a responsible 
> individual and that the emphasis should be on his knowing what he can 
> do. Some of the centers represented at the Little Rock conference 
> contended that he needed psychiatric help and counseling (regardless 
> of the circumstances and merely by virtue of his
> blindness) and that the emphasis should be on the center personnel's 
> knowing what he can do. I asked them whether they thought services in 
> a center were more like those given by a hospital or like those given 
> by a law school. In a hospital the person is a "patient". (This is, by 
> the way, a term coming to be used more and more in rehabilitation 
> today.) The doctors decide whether the patient needs an operation and 
> what medication he should have. In reality the "patient" makes few of 
> his own decisions. Will the doctor "let"
> him do this or that? In a law school, on the other hand, the "student"
> assumes responsibility for getting to his own classes and organizing 
> his own work. He plans his own career seeking advice to the extent 
> that he feels the need for it. If he plans unwisely, he pays the price 
> for it, but it is his life. This does not mean that he does not need 
> the services of the law school. He probably will become friends with 
> the professors and will discuss legal matters with them and socialize 
> with them. From some he will seek counsel and advice concerning 
> personal matters. More and more he will come to be treated as a 
> colleague. Not so the "patient". What does he know of drugs and 
> medications? Some of the centers represented at the Little Rock 
> conference were shocked that we at the Iowa Commission for the Blind 
> "socialize" with our students and have them to our homes. They 
> believed that this threatened what they took to be the "professional 
> relationship".
> Our society has so steeped itself in false notions concerning 
> blindness that it is most difficult for people to understand the 
> concept of blindness as a characteristic and for them to understand 
> the services needed by the blind.
> As a matter of fact, in one way or another, the whole point of all I 
> have been saying is just this: blindness is neither a dying nor a 
> psychological crippling-it need not cause a disintegration of 
> personality-and the stereotype which underlies this view is no less 
> destructive when it presents itself in the garb of modern science than 
> it was when it appeared in the ancient raiment of superstition and 
> witchcraft.
> Throughout the world, but especially in this country, we are today in 
> the midst of a vast transition with respect to our attitudes about 
> blindness and the whole concept of what handicaps are. We are 
> reassessing and reshaping our ideas. In this process the professionals 
> in the field cannot play a lone hand. It is a cardinal principle of 
> our free society that the citizen public will hold the balance of 
> decision. In my opinion, it is fortunate that this is so, for 
> professionals can become limited in their thinking and committed to 
> outworn programs and ideas. The general public must be the balance 
> staff, the ultimate weigher of values and setter of standards. In 
> order that the public may perform this function with reason and 
> wisdom, it is the duty of each of us to see that the new ideas receive 
> the broadest possible dissemination. But even more important, we must 
> examine ourselves to see that our own minds are free from prejudices 
> and preconception.


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