by Reese Robrahn

(Excerpted from "The Braille Forum," vol. III no. 6, March 1965.)

(Presented at the 1964 convention of the Kansas Association for the Blind.)

A survey of the history of societies and nations of the world relative to the status of their blind members and citizens quickly makes apparent the fact that mankind has come a long way in the integration of people who are blind into the life and activities of the community.

But as is the case with so many of the facets of our civilization today, much of the progress has evolved during the last 100 years. The underlying factors that brought about this progress are many, some of which are as follows: diversification and specialization of business, manufacturing, and industry; the invention and refinement of braille; development of the talking book and tape recorder; development of fast and efficient systems of communication, making the dissemination of information inexpensive, easy, and widespread; some recognition by society of the abilities and special needs of people who are blind and some assumption by society of its responsibility for this small segment of society. But by far the most important factor is education and the word "education" is used in this context in its narrow sense, that of academic education, for once the people who were blind became sufficiently educated and in sufficient numbers to assert themselves and to raise their own voices in the interpretation of their special needs and to press on all fronts for opportunity to use their capabilities in gainful employment, set ajar at last was the door to some real progress. But nonetheless, we still have a long, long way to go.

We have just about reached the point now where, speaking as a lawyer, the burden of proof has shifted; the burden of proving our case, the case of people who are blind, is upon us. We must go forward with the evidence and by a preponderance maintain our right to and the fact of our full participation in the life of the community its duties and obligations as well as its benefits and privileges. We ourselves are the exhibits, the evidence, the proof. What kind of witness for the case of people who are blind are you?

Our adversaries, which are ignorance, misconception, fear, apathy, resistance to change, and the status quo, are well known and they are powerful. Their advocates are shrewd, persuasive and influential; and some of them have vested interests. They have already won over some of our own witnesses, to say nothing of the judge and the jury.

It is their contention that people who are blind are necessarily and severely and forever limited in their activities, their education, their trade, profession and employment, in their social intercourse and in their aspirations. They say that by the very nature of blindness "the Blind" must travel the straight, narrow, smooth, hand-railed and protected little path that is prepared by society for them. And, you know, some of us are convinced, some of us willingly and happily go along that little narrow path of security, some of us suffer from what has been termed by psychologists and sociologists as "the spread of effect." This simply means that we hear it so often and in so many different ways and from so many different sources that we come to believe it about ourselves. ...

But enough of the "path." What about the covenant? What about our covenant with God and our fellow man and the people who are blind that will come after we are gone? Do we not have a duty to function as independently and as responsibly as we possibly can at home with our families, with our neighbors, our employers, our fellow employees, and with the members of the general public with whom we come into contact day by day? Do we not have an obligation, a duty of performance, a moral contract with one another and with society? Absence of vision does not make us non-entities. We can still perceive! We are not deprived of all faculties or any faculty except sight just because we are blind. Again, I ask, do we not have a covenant?

If then say you that we do, let us, each and every one individually and all of us collectively, be up and doing! Let us kick over those handrails of the narrow path that is the status quo. Let us not ask society to make a place, but let us make a place for ourselves in society and fit ourselves into the life and activities of the community. Let us test our skills, use our talents and prove our capabilities. Let us take the initiative. Let us learn to expect the unexpected from hour to hour and from day to day with the joy of the anticipation of the new, the unknown, the different. That is the challenge! Let us think for ourselves and control our own destinies, and travel the broad highway and the main stream of life.

If we are doing all of these things, and without a backward glance of nostalgia or yearning for what once was, then we are truly winning our case. And we will no longer be "the Blind." We as individuals will simply be a person who is a housewife, a lawyer, a teacher, a factory worker, a social worker, simply a person who is blind.

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