[AI] The Advantage of Uncertainty

Sanjay ilovecold at gmail.com
Sat Sep 25 05:47:52 EDT 2010

Taken from the Braille Monitor, August-September 2010.

                           An Address Delivered by
                                 Marc Maurer
                   at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
                   of the National Federation of the Blind
                                Dallas, Texas
                                July 8, 2010

      Is there anything you do not know about blindness? Have you studied
the matter sufficiently that your curiosity can no longer be stimulated?
Are you ever startled by a novel turn of phrase, a fresh perspective, or an
unconventional approach to the topic? Do you want to know something that
you have not already learned? Do you wonder what frontiers remain to be
conquered, who will cross these frontiers, and what inventive genius will
be demanded in meeting the challenges they represent? Will the thoughts
that change the pattern of comprehension come from the ranks of the blind?
Have they already been formulated? Are they present in this room tonight?
      More than four hundred years ago Francis Bacon declared, "If a man
will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but, if he will be
content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."
      The famous observation of Alexander Pope is:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

The principal problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. Rather, it
is that almost everybody who encounters the subject believes that there is
nothing important left to learn. The scholars who study blindness are
almost always trying to find ways to eliminate it. Such efforts are
undoubtedly worthy of serious intellectual attention, but they do not
exhaust the potential areas of study. In fact, they are tangential to the
contemplation of blindness itself because their primary focus is not on the
topic at all.
      Almost nobody is seeking to learn what the potential of blind people
is and what methods may best be employed to train the blind to reach this
potential. Almost nobody is trying to find ways to capture the excitement
that can be a part of the lives of the blind. Almost nobody is aware that
the lives of blind people possess enormous potential for excitement. From
the point of view of most scholarly investigation, your lives as blind
people (and mine) are irrelevant. Francis Bacon said that we can start with
certainty and end in doubt or start with doubt and end with certainty.
However, in our case the problem we face is that most of the people we meet
begin with certainty and never change. Blindness is known (they believe),
settled, defined, and dismissed--and so also are the lives of blind people.
      In 1900 the scientist Lord Kelvin said, "There is nothing new to be
discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise
measurement." Only five years later Albert Einstein published his first
paper on the theory of relativity, a document which initiated a massive
change in the comprehension of physics.
      According to the oft-encountered common belief, blindness is a
disease that causes deprivation and suffering. Palliation is possible,
which signifies that the suffering may be lessened. However, the blindness
and the suffering are inextricably intertwined. The first cannot occur
without the other. Whether you like it or not, you are suffering. To deny
this is to pretend that reality does not exist. If you believe that you are
not suffering, you are deluding yourself and adding dishonesty or self-
deception to the diseased condition that is a part of your life.
      This is the summation that some of the experts would have us believe.
However, we reject this assessment. Although blindness can be caused by
disease, we do not believe blindness is a disease. We do not believe that
blindness signifies suffering, and we are absolutely certain that the
implications of this idea are false. We are not harbingers of despair but
emissaries of possibility. We express ourselves about blindness with the
confidence gained through experience. We are blind, but this is just one
characteristic among those that make us what we are. We have talent, and
our lives have the potential for enormous joy. We ask that we be welcomed
in the chambers of decision making, but if we are not, we will assert
ourselves. Our lives belong to us, and nobody else can make our decisions
for us. Our hearts are strong; our will is firm; and the goals we seek are
within our grasp. Blindness cannot stop us, nor can anything else. We will
continue to build toward a future bright with promise, and we will accept
nothing less than full equality!
      We value knowledge, but we value individual freedom at least as much.
Almost twenty-four hundred years ago Plato propounded the theory that the
wisest people among us should be designated our kings. The idea of the
philosopher king, somebody smart enough to be able to tell us how to govern
our lives, has been with us ever since. The tension in leadership is: do we
select our leaders to tell us what to do, or do we select our leaders to
carry out the responsibilities that we have given to them? In our own case,
in the circumstances that many blind people face, we often do not have the
opportunity to select leadership at all. Other people assert that they have
superior knowledge, and they designate themselves to serve as the
philosopher kings for us. They say, in effect, "You cannot possibly know
what is good for you, but I know what your life should be; so do as I tell
      Are there shades of blindness; what is this characteristic that we
discuss with such frequency? For half a century we have defined this term
to mean a lack of vision sufficiently great to require performance of
visual activities using alternative techniques. If individuals must adopt
alternative techniques to perform daily activities without vision that
would ordinarily be performed with it, those individuals are blind.
      Some people believe this definition is overly simplistic because it
does not explicitly say that some blind people have a small amount of
residual vision that can reasonably be used to perform some tasks. Whether
they have sufficient honesty to admit it or not, many of the professionals
dealing with blindness believe that the more you can see the better off you
are. They create a hierarchy of sight. Those only "mildly visually
afflicted" are at the top; the "stone blind" are at the bottom.
      Some professionals create an inverted hierarchy of sight. They
believe that partially blind people live in the midsts of a never-never
land of confusing definitions and distinctions--not really blind, not
actually sighted, and bedeviled by misunderstanding by all groups. These
professionals argue that, if a person is totally blind, that person is all
right because everybody knows what to do. The person is thought of as a
normal blind person. Such professionals designate the partially blind as
the low-vision, and they argue that the low-vision are in a class of their
own with the psychological disadvantages that come with isolation and
misunderstanding. One author avers that one of the psychological challenges
facing the partially blind is the terror that total blindness may be
imminent. Total blindness is regarded by partially blind people as a
monstrous menace.
      Of course, treating the partially blind as if they were almost
sighted helps to make this description real. If blind people are expected
to perform as sighted people do, failure is assured. Blind people
(including the low-vision) cannot see well enough to do it. Sometimes, when
we attempt to teach Braille and other alternative techniques to partially
blind students, we are met with the argument that we are just "trying to
make these students blind." However, the teachers, in these cases, are
trying to make these students sighted, when they are not. The failure and
misunderstanding are forced upon these students because the teachers want
them to be able to see. How many blind kids have been scolded with the
words, "Of course you can see that!"? This happened to me more than fifty
years ago. I tried hard to see whatever it was I had missed, but I could
not. The grown-up teachers wanted something from me that I could not give.
I was a failure.
      If we could be recognized for the valuable people we are, if our
worth could be measured by ability rather than by vision, if there were not
such great insistence that those of us with a small amount of residual
vision be made into sighted people (although not very good ones), we could
get the training we need, we could adopt the techniques that would serve us
best, and we could be productive as blind people. However, the hierarchy of
sight is a barrier to proper rehabilitation and good training.
      On a Website styled HealthMad.com, a so-called medical site, an
article entitled "Legally Blind" argues that legally blind people are
distinctly different from the totally blind. Here are excerpts from the

      I use the term "blind" [the article says] loosely because being
blind, not seeing anything, is completely different from being legally
blind. Most people seem to think that, when you say you are legally blind,
immediately people begin to think that means completely and very blind.
      Legally blind people use a white cane or a guide dog to help them
with life's tasks, esecially traveling. [Does the author think that totally
blind people use their white canes or their guide dogs to help them with
life's tasks other than traveling? When I examined this statement, I
wondered, what else would you do with a guide dog or white cane? I don't
study books with mine or write speeches; I just travel. But, back to
      The problem of cooking, [the article continues] cleaning, doing
laundry, or even personal care becomes a problem for anyone with only
partial vision.
[I interrupt to ask, is personal hygiene a problem for you? Patricia Maurer
recently visited the dentist. The hygienist asked her, "Who brushes your
teeth for you?" It would be possible to think of a couple dozen different
responses, but probably most of them would be misunderstood.]
      We do not walk alone [continues this writer], but sometimes we need
to learn how to be humble. We need to bury our pride and learn how to
accept the helping hands of those who love us.

      The person who wrote this idiotic drivel claims to be an expert
presenting thoughtful, inspiring commentary on a medical Website. Do not
demand independence, says the author, recognize the hierarchy of sight, and
learn to be humble. The class system means that there are the good blind
people (almost sighted), and the run-of-the-mill sort ("completely and very
blind"). The almost sighted will probably never get the training they need,
and they will be warned against obnoxious advocates who persist in
declaring that the blind have a right to full participation in society.
These are the radical, power-hungry blind who have not learned proper
humility. Humility is, of course, a virtue worth practicing. However,
humility cannot be demanded. It is like love; it must be freely given. In
this case, the humility signifies recognition that somebody else's
knowledge is superior to our own and that the moral authority such people
represent is greater than ours. The ability to see is what matters. The
blind are inferior. Take orders; do it pleasantly; be humble; start now.
      This kind of humility we can do without. We do not need anybody to
supervise us; we are more than adequate to be our own bosses. We have a
right to make our own decisions, we have the ability to determine the
limits of aspiration that will shape the pattern of our lives, and we have
the authority to demand from ourselves the courage to live with the choices
we make. Decide we can; decide we must; decide we will. Nobody can take
this from us. Our lives belong to us, and we will live them with excitement
and joy.
      The concept of perception has been the subject of speculation and
research for thousands of years. The five senses-sight, taste, hearing,
smell, and touch-are the mechanisms for sense impression, but sense
impression and perception are not the same. Perception involves the use of
      Can blind people perceive what sighted people do? If so, how can it
be done? What are the limitations? Are blind people capable of perceiving
information not available to the sighted? Does an intellect change with
altered sense impression? If it does, what kinds of changes occur? What
tests can define the measure of perception? How do we provide equivalent
access to information for the blind and the sighted?
      Some years ago we speculated that it would be possible to build an
automobile that the blind can drive. We are working on the machine at the
moment. We have observed that sighted people look out the windows of the
cars they drive, gather information visually, and use this information to
make decisions about what to do with their vehicles. We believe that a
system can be devised to permit the gathering and interpretation of
information nonvisually. We know that the knfb Reader Mobile, the reading
machine that fits in your pocket, already has a rudimentary capacity to
recognize objects. Ray Kurzweil, the inventor of reading machine technology
as well as the inventor of much else, has indicated he believes object
recognition will increase to permit recognition of human beings in the
foreseeable future. With respect to the blind-drivable automobile, the
problem is one of gathering and interpreting substantial quantities of
information with speed and accuracy in ways that are currently unfamiliar.
We are exploring methods of perception for the blind that we do not already
know. Will this exploration lead to increased perceptual capacity for the
sighted? Is the current visual system of operating an automobile the best
one that can be devised, or is it being used only because the majority in
society, the sighted, are comfortable with it? We have a firm belief that
the intellectual element of perception is as available to the blind as it
is to anybody else. We expect to build the machine that we have begun, and
we expect to learn some things during the building process that will
increase opportunities for the blind and the sighted.
      Some of the people we encounter who speculate about the perception of
blind people do not share our faith in the intellectual ability of the
blind. A company named Rousettus has discovered that some blind people like
yoga. However, the opinion of officials at this company is that blind
people cannot engage in yoga in the ordinary way. To benefit the blind who
want to perform yoga exercises, the company has devised a special yoga mat
for the blind called the VIYM, the Visually Impaired Yoga Mat. On the
Rousettus Website we learn:

VIYM is the brainchild of a yoga teacher who was empathetic to the
obstacles that her adventurous and courageous blind student encountered in
her yoga class. She was inspired by the student's willingness as he tried
yoga for the first time but observed his challenges as well as her own as
he attempted the postures. How could she teach yoga to someone who had no
visual frame of reference as to where his body was in relation to space,
himself, and orientation?

      That, in part, is what the description on the Website says, and it
seems hard to comprehend. The blind student did not know where his body was
in relation to himself? Does yoga give him some kind of out-of-body
experience? How could a yoga mat connect him to himself? The VIYM is a mat
incorporating raised lines, dots, and other figures intended to indicate
locations that can be used in assuming yoga poses. Rousettus says about the
yoga mat:

Prior to VIYM, visually or physically challenged aspiring yoga students
faced some discouraging challenges. They often had trouble detecting the
location of their body and the direction in which they were facing on a
mat. Balancing in yoga postures was awkward: students had a hard time
sensing and reaching optimal, ideal body alignment without any visual cues.

      If you do not have a visually impaired yoga mat, says Rousettus, you
are out of alignment, your life has no balance, and you have trouble
finding the location of your own body. However, a solution is at hand. For
only $75, plus shipping and handling of course, you can purchase the yoga
mat that will realign your being, bring balance to your life, and help you
find your own body.
      The language employed by the self-congratulatory officials at
Rousettus is sufficiently bombastic that it challenges credulity. Can they
possibly believe what they say? Would anybody else encountering this
material believe it? How did the company get its name, Rousettus? They tell
us that Rousettus is the name of an Egyptian fruit bat. Did company
officials mean to make fun of their customers? Does the blind-as-a-bat
reference apply to the people buying the mat or the people selling the
thing? It is worth considering whether sanity is less common than we have
always thought.
      Yoga can be very useful, and the blind can benefit from it as much as
anybody. Some of us teach it. A special yoga mat incorporating tactile
characteristics to assist in adopting yoga poses could also be helpful. It
is not the yoga or the mat that we find offensive. It is the language
describing blind people as imbeciles and company officials as our saviors
that stimulates our ire. The kind of help that we are offered from
Rousettus is the sort that creates the image of subservient blind people
under the direction of their benevolent masters. This image must be
defeated. Benevolent or otherwise, we will have no masters but ourselves.
We insist on freedom, and, if we must, we will take it with our own hands.
      Not all of the people devising new products for the blind expect us
to be without capacity. In 2008 a camera for the blind was invented that
won an International Design Excellence Award. The camera presents a tactile
image of the elements of the environment within the focus of the machine.
It also records a brief sample of the sounds present in the environment at
the time the picture is taken. The designers of the product anticipate that
blind artists will use the camera to develop artistic expression and that
blind people generally will use the camera to learn about elements of the
environment and to transmit these to others.
      Currently under development in Sweden is a device which captures
facial expressions and provides nonvisual interpretation of them. We have
been told repeatedly how important is the facial expression. A facial
expression is, of course, not the only means of gaining information about
the feelings of others, but the expression upon a face has been the subject
of song and story for thousands of years, and we are looking forward to
sharing what can be learned. Furthermore, development of interfaces that
provide visual information to us in nonvisual ways is necessary for
expansion of our full participation.
      If we speculate about the technologies that will be developed which
can be of benefit to us, we may imagine devices that will help us learn
about the environment, obtain and manipulate information, and assist with
travel. For example, the method of identifying products today is a bar
code. The method for identifying products in the future is likely to be
more interactive. Interactive product identifiers coupled with scanning and
recordation systems could produce astonishing capabilities. Some who have
pondered the impact upon human liberty of such technological development
have worried that invasion of individual privacy may occur on a massive
scale, but enormous potential for positive results is also possible. The
refrigerator in your house could keep track of the items you have placed in
it, the ones you have removed, and the ones possessing an expiration date
that has passed--the ones you might want to remove. It could identify the
caloric value of the products you have available, and it could supply
recipes that might be employed in preparing such items for consumption. It
could offer suggestions about what things you might want to purchase to
replenish the supply of food.
      The same interactive technology might be used in the grocery store to
tell you where the products you are seeking are located. The pork and beans
could be caused to call to you (or your handheld scanner) from two aisles
ahead and the shelf on the right at shoulder height. With the technology
that we now know, building such a system is probably within the realm of
      The same type of system could be used with your closet. I am told
that the toilet which can measure your weight, determine your temperature,
and find your pulse has already been invented. This device could suggest
when you have lost enough weight to be measured for the new, slimmer outfit
you had hoped to own. The system could also offer suggestions about which
items of clothing might accompany which others, keeping you coordinated and
remembering how you were dressed in the days and weeks gone by so that your
appearance is not overly repetitious. You could specify your profile to
emphasize certain characteristics: sporty, conservative, or racy. You could
decide on a specific occasion how you would like to look. You could specify
beach attire, picnic appearance, golf outing, or something else. For some
of us who often wonder what combinations of colors are likely to look well
together, this would simplify the sartorial aspects of life.
      Devising a technology to give a blind person enough information to
climb a mountain without visual assistance would be somewhat more
demanding. Satellite photographs offer relatively comprehensive information
about the surface of the earth. However, the interface to permit evaluation
of this information in nonvisual ways is not yet developed. The database of
global topographic information is not entirely accurate. For example,
sometimes shadows are interpreted as objects. Machine-based vision for
individual use must account for all topographical features and moving (or
movable) items in the terrain. All of this must be done in real time.
Although we do not yet have the technology to address this set of
challenges, it is coming within the foreseeable future.
      The development of new technology that offers access to equivalent
amounts of information available to the sighted is of vital importance.
However, overemphasizing emerging technologies can be misunderstood to
signify that the machines are more important than the people who use them.
If the blind don't matter, the machines don't matter either. We must modify
expectations to be certain that we who are blind are accepted as full
participants in society on terms of equality with others. This is at the
heart of the program we must create, and it is vastly more demanding than
technology alone. The management structures within our society are
governmental, educational, social, entrepreneurial, corporate, religious,
scientific, and legal. These management systems overlap and interact. All
of these systems possess an underlying philosophy which determines how they
will operate and who will be welcomed within them.
      The legal system is overarching, touching on most aspects of human
interaction. However, it cannot address every incident of life. The
philosophical comprehension of other societal structures does this. The law
says that blind people must be welcomed among the fans at football games,
but it does not require that the blind be permitted to play. What
circumstances must be changed to alter this requirement without diminishing
the excitement of the game?
      Some people believe that blindness is evidence of sin. A few of these
people would like to prevent blind people from participating in certain
religious activities. Many blind people with guide dogs have been refused
transportation by drivers who assert that their religious convictions will
not permit them to ride in the same vehicle with a dog. Such actions
violate the law, but the underlying philosophy often determines the
      The Merchant's House Museum in New York City currently displays a
statement on its Website telling patrons that no service animal is
permitted in the museum. When officials at the museum were asked to justify
their refusal to accept guide dogs for the blind, they indicated that,
because the museum is a historic landmark, it is not subject to certain
areas of nondiscrimination law. Besides, the saliva or the hair of the dogs
might damage museum property, which is 150 years old, they said. Of course,
the same argument might be applied to the United States Capitol, which is
more than 150 years old. Of course, there is no exception in the law which
exempts nondiscrimination provisions for owners or managers of historic
landmarks. We have a right to enter such public places with our canes or
our dogs, and we intend to do it.
      A movie entitled The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that appeared in
2008 and is loosely based upon the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald of
the same name tells the story of a man who is born old and ages backward to
infancy. During the movie the man marries and is contemplating having a
child. However, he is afraid because he cannot be a father to the child in
the customary way. As the child grows older, her father will grow younger.
As the years pass, the father will become younger than the daughter, and
the activities and mindset of each will change places. In the course of the
argument about whether a child should be born, the man's wife says to him,
"Would you tell a blind man he couldn't have children?"
      Hollywood employs images that, they believe, resonate with the
public. Sometimes the dialog contains new ideas, but most of the
presentation in a movie must be readily comprehensible by the audience. The
Curious Case of Benjamin Button was nominated for thirteen Oscars, leading
all of the competition. It won three. The content of this movie is in tune
with the thought processes accepted by the creators of screen artistry in
the most prominent film-creating industry in the world. Contained in that
movie is the concept that blind people have a right to expect to build
families. Is this the accepted philosophical understanding of the nation?
      A few weeks before this convention, a blind woman in Kansas City,
Missouri, proceeded to the hospital to have a baby. She is twenty-four, and
this is her first child. Her boyfriend, the father of her child, is also
blind. As is true for all new mothers, this blind woman needed to learn to
care for her babe. Part of the learning process is teaching the mother how
to nurse the child and helping the child to learn how to take milk from
her. While this new mom was attempting to learn to nurse her child, she
inadvertently blocked the nose and mouth of the newborn, and the baby
stopped breathing. The interruption was brief, and the baby was quickly
revived. This type of incident in the lives of newborn babies is often
encountered. Although new mothers are frequently stunned by such
occurrences, the babies survive and show no ill effects in most cases.
However, in this medical facility officiating personnel took immediate
action not customarily pursued. They seized the child from the blind
parents, and they initiated court proceedings to prevent this blind mother
and father from possessing and caring for their own child. The grounds for
the seizure of the child, the grounds for destruction of the family, are
that the parents cannot see--they are blind. Shortly after the seizure, the
court ordered that this child's parents may visit their own child for only
three hours per week. Would you tell a blind man he couldn't have children?
      A new mother wonders whether she will know enough to care for her
child. A new blind mother has the added worry about being capable of
managing the special tools that will be needed to deal with the lack of
information inherent in the condition of blindness. A new blind father
feels the same. "What am I going to do with this new precious life?"
Without discussion, without consultation, the bureaucracy of the hospital
in Missouri told these blind parents that they lacked the ability to build
a family, that their liberty would be restricted, that their moral
authority to live as others do would be withdrawn, that they were failures
before they started. In the subsequent court proceedings the judicial arm
of the state government agreed. Our job is to teach this government that
our rights cannot be abbreviated, that our moral authority cannot be
curtailed. Our nation was founded upon the principle that individual
liberty must be maintained. Building a family unit is among the most
fundamental expressions of this liberty. We are a part of this nation, and
we demand recognition of the same liberty and the same protection of the
law that applies to everybody else. Some things may be a matter of
discussion and compromise; this is not. What we say to the government of
Missouri is this: we will not tolerate seizure of our children.
      As Federationists know, we formed our organization in 1940. We have
lived, dreamed, planned, and worked for seventy years. The struggle to move
from second-class status to first-class citizenship has not universally
been peaceful. In 1957 Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founding president and
first great leader, said: "Today we stand an embattled organization. The
attacks upon us always present, but once few and scattered, have vastly
increased in number and bitterness . . . . Our motives have been impugned.
Our purposes reviled. Our integrity aspersed. Our representative character
      In 1973 Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our second outstanding leader, said:

I feel absolute confidence as to what the historians will say. They will
tell of a system of governmental and private agencies established to serve
the blind, which became so custodial and so repressive that reaction was
inevitable. They will tell that the blind ("their time come round at last")
began to acquire a new self-image, along with rising expectations and that
they determined to organize and speak for themselves. . . . They will tell
of the growth of our movement through the forties and fifties and of our
civil war. They will tell how we emerged from that civil war into the
sixties, stronger and more vital than we had ever been; and how more and
more of the agencies began to make common cause with us for the betterment
of the blind. . . . They will also record the events of the 1970's when the
reactionaries among the agencies became even more so, and the blind of the
second generation of the NFB stood forth to meet them. . . . They will
relate how the blind passed from second class citizenship through a period
of hostility to equality and first-class status in society.

      In 1996 Dr. Jernigan commented about his prediction of 1973, saying:

In broad terms the prediction has come true. The century draws to a close,
and there is unprecedented harmony among agencies and organizations of and
for the blind. But what about the future? . . . What will the movement be
like when we meet [twenty-three years ahead] in 2019? . . . If I am not
sure of specifics, I am absolutely certain of the general direction our
organization will take. Our mutual faith and trust in each other will be
unchanged, and all else will follow. I never come in to the convention hall
without a lift of spirit and a surge of joy, for I know to the depths of my
being that our shared bond of love and trust will never change and that
because of it we will be unswervable in our determination and unstoppable
in our progress.

      Among the management systems that confront us as blind people are
several that we have sought to change. At one period of our history, the
blind were almost unknown within the statute books of the nation. However,
we have been seeking to change the law to recognize the right of blind
people to be fully engaged in all aspects of society. We have been working
in this realm for seven decades, and much of what we have thought, and
dreamed, and planned is now reflected within the corpus of the legal
system. The judges do not always know that the law exists, and sometimes
they seek to interpret provisions of it in a manner to eviscerate the power
we intended to have it possess. But there are also the other times--the
moments when our right to participate guaranteed by statutory provision is
given the force that we expected.
      Governmental programs reflect the philosophy of the people who direct
them, and sometimes these are difficult for us to penetrate. For example,
the United States Department of Education recently issued its Technology
Education Plan, denominated Transforming American Education: Learning
Powered by Technology. Although this plan recognizes the dramatic changes
that are occurring for students through technology, it does not incorporate
provisions requiring equal access for the blind to the same information
available to all sighted students. The Department of Education did not
actually forget blind students. Instead, comments about such students were
relegated to a sidebar. The blind are mentioned in a sort of a footnote. We
are not a footnote, and we are not willing for our urgent needs in the
realm of education to be dismissed in this offhanded manner.
      In the seven decades that we have worked to bring equality to the
blind, we have made enormous progress. Many of the systems that provide
access to information for the public are accessible to the blind as well,
and more of them are being produced every day. As our country moves toward
the adoption of digital books as the standard for reading, access to this
digital information for the blind is increasing at an ever more rapid pace.
Rehabilitation centers have not universally adopted the idea that equal
opportunity for the blind is the standard to be used in creating their
programs, but a growing number of them have. Even social networks (the
online versions and the more homespun varieties) are being devised in ways
that welcome blind participants.
      Despite the progress, a cursory examination of conditions for the
blind today demonstrates how much is left to be done. Some entrepreneurs
creating products for the blind believe that we need special yoga mats to
help us find our bodies. Some so-called experts assert that we should
dismiss the notion of independence and accept the humility which says that
they should be in charge of decision making for us. Some governmental
officials believe that we can be ignored or tucked away in a footnote. Some
social services personnel would deprive us of our own children. When the
days have been long, when the misunderstanding has been monumental, when
the frustration has been seemingly endless, when the belittlement has
apparently been constant, when the deprivation has been real, sometimes it
is tempting to believe that the progress has been minimal. If this were the
summation of our existence, prospects would be dismal indeed. But it is
      The types of employment being performed by the blind, the
opportunities to gain substantive training, and the prospects to
participate within different aspects of our communities are greater today
than ever before in history. The reason is not hard to identify. We have
shared our hopes and dreams; we have set our objectives and made our plans;
we have come together in a formidable array to take control of the pattern
of the future; we have formed the National Federation of the Blind.
      Dr. tenBroek came from the first generation of the Federation; Dr.
Jernigan came from the second; and I am from the third. Already the members
of the fourth generation are handling much of the work we do and giving
shape to the Federation for the decades ahead. The members of the fifth
generation are coming on the scene, are beginning to take their place in
the movement, and are making their spirit felt. Yesterday held its moments
of despair; today is fraught with challenge; but tomorrow belongs to us!
      We maintain a bond of shared love and trust, and we believe in one
another. We know that what will happen to us is less a matter of prediction
than of decision, and we have accepted the reality that the decision is
      Nothing worthwhile comes without cost. To gain freedom demands not
just money, but will, imagination, guts, and courage. These must be
available not just now and then, but all of the time. Furthermore, these
qualities cannot be contributed by somebody else--they must come from us.
      Will the educational system for the blind get better? Yes, because we
will make it so. Will the rehabilitation system become more responsive?
Yes, because we will demand the responsiveness and keep working until we
get it. Will the scientific community come to know us as partners?
Certainly, because we have the intellectual ability to create the
circumstances that require it. Will other management systems of our society
welcome us? Indeed they will. Our sighted brothers and sisters will come to
value us for the people we are and will share our dreams for a brighter
tomorrow for us all.
      The objectives we have established are enormously demanding, and they
will require all that is best within us. However, we do not fear the
challenge; we welcome it. No matter the cost, we will meet it. No matter
the requirement, we will fulfill it. No matter the obstacle, we will
overcome it. Is there knowledge to be gathered about blindness that we do
not already possess? You bet there is, and we are learning it as fast as we
can. But this is only one of the elements of the future we intend to
create. We are also teaching all who will listen. Our hearts are strong;
our will is firm; and our determination is unshakable. The members of the
National Federation of the Blind have been in the frontlines of change for
more than two-thirds of a century. Because of the spirit we share, our
progress cannot be slowed, and our ultimate objectives will be met. Come,
join me, and we will make tomorrow our own!

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Saints are not always saints; sinners are not always sinners.

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