Sophistry, we are told, is an argument or option which is clever and plausible, but false and misleading. To illustrate let as consider color. We learn from the dictionary that color is: The property of reflecting light of a particular wavelength. In other words if an object is green, the color (or wavelength) green is reflected back, and all other colors (or wavelengths) are absorbed. White, as everyone knows, is the absence of color, and black is the opposite. Yet, what we call black reflects no light waves at all and is, thus, the absence of color white what we call white (again to quote the dictionary) is: The reflection of all the rays that produce color. Therefore, the logic is inevitable: black is white, and white is black.
I wish I could say that the linguistic sleight-of-hand which I have just performed is symbolic of nothing more vicious than verbal gymnastics or a pleasant game, but that is not the way of it. Sophistry is no toy. It is one of the most deadly weapons in the arsenal of tyranny. It has bedeviled and bedazzled humanity since the beginning of history. If (as the saying goes) hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue, then sophistry is the tribute which lies pay to the truth.
Sophistry takes its name from the sophists of ancient Athens. It was the principal instrument which they used first to discredit, then to imprison, and finally to execute Socrates. It was big in the middle ages with the Inquisition and the burning of witches. It flourishes today in the twentieth century. All we need do to understand the power of clever and plausible but false and misleading words is to remember the twisted rhetoric of Joseph Goebels and Adolph Hitler. Except for the glitter and hypnotic lure of sophistry the Nazi tanks might never have rolled, and the death and destruction of the Second World War might never have been.
And what sophistry has done to society as a whole it has done to the component parts especially and particularly to disadvantaged minorities. And of all the minorities, none has experienced more cruelly and bitterly the blight of sophistry than those of us who are blind. It has been our greatest stumbling block, our heaviest burden. It remains so today.
The clever and plausible but false and misleading arguments (the propositions which put us down and keep us out) are temptingly easy to accept and believe. With respect to the blind the message is clear and uncomplicated: the blind lack eyesight. Other people have it. Sight is important. Therefore, the blind are inferior. We are unable to compete. We must be taken care of. We cannot hold jobs not, that is, unless the work is very simple, very repetitive, and very subsidized. We cannot raise children, travel independently, or manage our own lives. When one of us makes an achievement of obvious excellence, we are told that it means we have special genius, special talents, or unusual powers. Our other senses have grown keener to compensate. We are marvels, freaks, conversation pieces, and objects of pity and often all at the same time and by the same person. According to this line of thought, whatever you call it and however you cut it, we are not (and can never hope to be) everyday, normal people laughing, crying, working, playing, succeeding, failing, hoping, and dreaming like those around us. We are blind. That is sufficient. It is a matter of simple logic and common sense.
This is the traditional norm, the time-honored belief; and if it is true, we should face it, not fight or deny it. And we should face it not angrily or bitterly but with acceptance and humility, with gratitude for the charity we receive and the sufferance we are given. Moreover, if (as we are repeatedly told) this is really how it is, we should disband the National Federation of the Blind and confront our troubles alone drawing whatever comfort we can from doctor, social worker, or priest; for there will be little purpose in collective action. If our problems are inherent in our blindness (if they are truly innate and not externally imposed), then our whole organizational existence has been not only a tragic mistake but a cruel detriment, for we have kindled hopes which can never be realized and conjured dreams which can never come true.
But, of course, this is not the way it is; and no carefully spun sophistry can make it that way. The arguments and propositions which hold that we are inferior are clever and plausible, but they are false and misleading. To put it bluntly, they are just plain lies. The fact is that the average blind person can compete on terms of equality with the average sighted person in whatever line of endeavor you care to mention: work, play, criminal conduct, saintliness, immorality, rectitude, ill-temper, gentle behavior, laziness, or creativity. Then, why (one reasonably may ask) do seventy percent of the blind of employable years not have jobs? And even when we do get jobs, why are so many of us relegated to the sheltered shops and paid less than the minimum wage? Why (if what I am saying is the truth) are we told where we can sit on airplanes, denied insurance on equal terms with others, custodialized in the home by our families, condescended to on the streets by strangers, and treated in general as if we were children or freaks?
The answer is easy to give but hard (at least at the emotional level) for the average person to accept. In primitive societies light (whether firelight or daylight) meant safety and survival. Darkness meant danger and fear. Light and the ability to see were equated, and they were thought of as good and pure. Blindness was considered synonymous with darkness, and darkness meant evil and inferiority.
The blind were not good at hunting or dodging a spear, so they were regarded as a drag on the tribe, a burden and a hindrance. They were treated and thought of as second-class, and they doubtless accepted the public view of their limitations, with a great many feelings of guilt and shame thrown in for good measure.
We no longer live in the hunting culture of primitive times, but we often act as if we do. The myths and prejudices of those times still dominate our feelings and control our subconscious. In today's society there is very little premium on killing a saber-tooth tiger or dodging a spear, but when you dig beneath the surface and get to where we live, our attitudes indicate otherwise. The cave-man culture is gone, but the cave-man values remain. At the core of our being we fear the dark; we shiver at the roar of the saber-tooth tiger; and we feel that the blind are a burden to the tribe.
How (in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary) are all of these myths maintained? How (with blind persons successfully doing every conceivable kind of job, having families and raising children as effectively as anybody else, and participating fully in the political and social life of the community) can the false assumptions and second-class treatment survive? The answer can be given in a single word sophistry. It is not, for the most part, that the average citizen on the street wants to do us harm or deprive us of opportunity. It is not (except when their jobs or their vested interests or their egos are involved) that the employees of the governmental and private agencies doing work with the blind wish us ill. Certainly it is not that we ourselves seek to sell ourselves short and limit our horizons. Yet, the myths about blindness remain, bolstered and reinforced by clever and plausible but false and misleading arguments and propositions.
The mistaken beliefs and false concepts are almost universally accepted by the general public, and when people lose their eyesight, they carry with them into blindness the erroneous ideas which they held when they were sighted. They then live the part they are expected to play and feed back to society the conceptions which it gave them in the first place. Likewise, those who are born blind are taught their roles from the beginning, and unless they are given counterbalancing information, they live as they are expected to live. They think as they are expected to think.
To make matters worse the employees (whether blind or sighted) of the governmental and private agencies established to give service to the blind are also (with notable exceptions) part of the negative process. The urge to feel important is very nearly irresistible. Therefore, when these experts tell the blind that they must adjust to a very limited existence and when they tell the sighted that their work is so difficult and complex as to approach the mysterious, they are generally believed. This is so even though what they are dispensing is not professional knowledge or the results of research or new truth but simply old ideas and the fear of the dark, which they absorbed as children. Thus, the circle is complete, with each component giving feedback and reinforcement to the rest of the loop.
Yet, despite the sophistry and the widespread belief that we are inferior, we have made gains. In fact, during the past four decades there has been such an upsurge of progress and achievement as to constitute a veritable revolution. The new element (the root cause) is represented by those of us here tonight. You know what it is as well as I do. It is the National Federation of the Blind.
When Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and the rest of that handful of founders met in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940 to organize our movement, they understood what they were doing and what it would mean. The Federation was to be the vehicle for concerted action by the blind. It was to be the circuit breaker to stop the flow of clever and plausible but false and misleading ideas which went in a seemingly endless circle from the sighted public to the agencies serving the blind to the blind themselves and back again.
That is what the National Federation of the Blind was created to do, and that is what it has done. We have done it in the past; we are doing it now; and we intend to keep on doing it in the future regardless of who dislikes it or how much they resent it. Established patterns are comfortable. They require no mental effort, and they give money and power and prestige to various groups and individuals. But we are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens. We want no strife or confrontation, but we will do what we have to do; and we are absolutely determined to break the circle of destructive sophistry which blights our lives and limits our opportunities. We know who we are, and we will never go back.
One of our problems is the tendency of the general public to try (regardless of the truth of the matter) to make us conform to their notions of what we are. When the facts are at variance with their preconceptions, they tend to forget the facts and cling to their preconceptions. No one is worse at this don't bother me with the facts; I know how it is attitude than the members of the media.
The July 24, 1981, edition of the Tribune of Tacoma, Washington, carried a feature article about Glen Latham. Glen, who is totally blind and a staunch Federationist, is a Vietnam veteran. He is also a home owner in Tacoma. The newspaper reporter (a Ms. Willene Anderson) said that she wanted to write an article to help remove the stereotypes and misconceptions about the blind. She came to Glen's house and talked with him at length. You can determine from the letter which Glen wrote to Ms. Anderson's boss whether she told it like it was or simply liked it the way she told it:
The purpose of my letter, [Glen wrote,] is two-fold. The first is concerned with me personally. The second is concerned with the blind in general and the stereotyped view that Ms. Anderson's article encourages.
Ms. Anderson has me quoted as saying, Our sight is one of many things we take for granted. When it is gone, we must start our lives all over again, just as children learning only this time in the dark. I do not recall making such a statement. Children learn to walk and talk. They do not have to be taught to see. I did not have to learn to walk or talk again.
I recall mentioning to Ms. Anderson that my mother had died. Ms. Anderson made no inquiries as to when my mother died or if I lived with her. I made no statement which could even possibly have implied that I lived with my mother after my return from the war. When I came back from Vietnam in February of 1968, I spent 50 months in Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, six months in rehabilitation in Palo Alto, then six months back in the hospital for further operations. My mother died a month after my release from the hospital. Had Ms. Anderson asked, she would have known this.
Ms. Anderson leads her readers to believe that after I recovered from my wounds, I went to live with my mother. Then she died, leaving me all alone to pick up the pieces of my life once again. Stating that I lived with my mother is a complete falsehood.
Ms. Anderson has me quoted as saying, It used to be so important to me, the outdoors things I could see. I had always dreamed of living in this area. This is false. During the interview, Ms. Anderson said, and I quote, Glen, you are very athletic. What do you think about the handicapped climbers of Mt. Rainier? Ms. Anderson assumed that I am athletic; I am not. I made no mention of liking the outdoors or of being athletically inclined. I did not tell her that I had always dreamed of living in this area. I stated that I had always liked living in this area. There is a big difference between liking and dreaming.
When I was looking for a home to purchase, Ms. Anderson implies that I had to take into account numerous special considerations. She states that many homebuyers are looking for things that are aesthetically pleasing. This implies that I was not. Why wouldn't I want a home that is aesthetically pleasing? Of course it was an important factor!
Ms. Anderson states that the house doesn't have any extra barriers, like steep stairs or sharp corners. Whose house did she look at? From the street it is obvious that the house has a second floor. She made no inquiries concerning the architectural design of the place. But how could she have missed the upstairs, even if she missed the basement? There are, in fact, two flights of what are considered steep stairs in my home. One flight leads to the second floor, and the other leads to the basement, where I spend most of my time working at my desk. My home could not be considered small. I have 2,400 square feet of living space. The previous owners of the house were not visually impaired or physically disabled in any way, and the house remains structurally and architecturally the same as it was when I bought it.
Ms. Anderson also states that I get help in mowing my lawn and other outside work. She made no inquiries concerning yard work. The fact of the matter is that I have hired a professional lawn service. The lawn service I use serves over 90 homes in the Tacoma area, and very few of these homes are occupied by the disabled or the elderly. The hiring of the lawn service does not mean that I cannot do the work myself. Why do the other homeowners have the same service?
Ms. Anderson states that my relatives help me. My cousin and her son live with me. I am helping her go to college. We have a living arrangement that is helpful to both of us. She has lived with me for the past year. Prior to that she lived in California, and for almost five years I lived alone. I was not, and am still not, dependent on my relatives.
Ms. Anderson states that my furnishings are simple. I think this is a commentary on her taste and not my furniture. She states that furniture in the middle of the room would be bothersome. Bothersome to whom? Perhaps she didn't see the coffee table that stands in front of the ten foot sofa that she was sitting on during the interview. Perhaps she didn't see the large ottoman which sits in front of the large round swivel chair that I was sitting in.
Ms. Anderson made no inquiries as to who does the grocery shopping. Yet, she says in her article that I rely on my relatives to do it. Sometimes I shop with them; sometimes I don't. My cousin and I usually shop for groceries once a month as a matter of convenience because of our busy schedules. We buy large quantities, requiring the use of a car which, I may add, I own.
Ms. Anderson also stated that house cleaning chores are mostly done by relatives. How does she know this? She certainly didn't ask. If she had, she would have found that we all share equally in the housework. Everyone keeps their own room clean, including my cousin's seven-year-old son. We all share in keeping the rest of the house clean. She has me quoted as saying that I can cook, iron clothes, and do household chores. However, she turns right around and states that house-cleaning chores are mostly done by relatives.
I am sure Ms. Anderson felt she was doing a great service to me and the blind community. I also realize that for a newspaper to attract its readers, it must have good copy, and that in many cases a story must be dramatized to emphasize a point. However, this article is so distorted and false that I feel it has done more damage than good. The attitudes she expresses are more sophisticated than the stereotyped sob story of the blind man selling pencils on the street corner, but the fundamentals are the same.
This is Glen Latham's letter, and it sums up an entire system the clever and plausible but false and misleading ideas and beliefs which have blocked our progress and blighted our lives through the centuries. The reporter's intentions were doubtless good and her motives the best, but the damage is no less severe and the hurt no easier to bear not to mention which a lot of us are getting tired of having our road to hell paved with other people's good intentions. More often than not, such people act shocked if we try to set them straight and feel angry if we are not grateful for the efforts they have made. Our conduct is at variance with the humility they expect us to demonstrate. We do not wish to be arrogant or turbulent, but we are not prepared to sit passively by and be pictured as what we are not. Let people think what they will and call us what they please. We are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens. We have learned the truth about ourselves and our blindness, and (regardless of the consequences) we intend to live that truth. We know who we are, and we will never go back.
If the Glen Latham story were an isolated instance, it would be regrettable but not worth making much noise about. However, it is not isolated but typical. The Jaycees of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, encouraged the blind of the area to become members. With no further details one would applaud the action. However, the Jaycees established a segregated chapter for the blind and what do you suppose the chapter was named? It was called the Deadeye Chapter. If the name was meant to be funny, it is sick. If it was not, it is sicker. Ben Mayry and our other South Dakota members are fighting hard to combat such madness, and we are making progress; but the road stretches far ahead.
The United States Association for Blind Athletes is relatively noncontroversial, but in 1979 a seemingly innocent event concerning that organization occurred which demonstrates why the sophistries about blindness are so attractive to the members of the sighted public. Jeff Hopper is vice president of marketing and administration for a savings and loan association in the Puget Sound area. He is also volunteer president of the Northwest Chapter of the United States Association for Blind Athletes. In a magazine column he wrote as follows:
The concept of winning has long been taught through athletic competition. It is a priority in our society and most people who would be considered successful can relate to some form of athletic competition.
Until recently, however, blind and visually impaired persons in the United States have been excluded from athletic participation. More importantly, the lack of athletic participation for the visually handicapped has restricted their learning of the winning process.
I am sure that Mr. Hopper is both generous and sincere, and at first glance there would seem to be nothing wrong with his statement. But look again. Is it really necessary for the blind (or, for that matter, the sighted) to engage in athletics to learn the concept of winning or understand how to be successful? If it is, and if the blind never had the opportunity to participate in athletics before the establishment of the United States Association for Blind Athletes, then how very much more important and significant is Mr. Hopper's volunteer work than it would be if he were simply performing a run-of-the-mill civic or community project. Of course, the whole proposition is nothing but nonsense and sophistry. A great many of the most successful people the world has ever known have not had the slightest interest in athletics; and as we know from personal experience, there are (and always have been) plenty of ways for the blind to learn the concept of winning without engaging in athletics. This is not to take anything away from the United States Association for Blind Athletes or Mr. Hopper. It is only to point out one of the reasons why sophistries about the blind are so attractive. They permit sighted people with feelings of inferiority to feel important.
Even though the actions of the newspaper reporter, the Jaycees, and Mr. Hopper do us harm, there may be some excuse for their behavior. They are not constantly dealing with blind people, and they do not have the opportunity on a daily basis to observe the problems created by the misconceptions and wrong ideas which they help to promote. For the most part they do not claim to be experts.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the employees of the governmental and private agencies established to give service to the blind. Their much vaunted professionalism, their very rationale for being, rests upon the premise that they know what blindness is about and how to deal with it. In the manner of doctors dealing with medical matters, they hold themselves out as the possessors of correct information, and they say they can teach that information not only to the public but also to those of us who are blind.
Yet, much of the literature which comes from these agencies is worse than what we get from the public. As an example, I call your attention to a book published by the American Foundation for the Blind in 1974 and reissued in 1978. It was written by a person with impressive credentials named Anne Yeadon, and it is entitled Toward Independence The Use of Instructional Objectives in Teaching Daily Living Skills to the Blind. If there was ever a case of destructive sophistry and just plain drivel, this book is it. If what it teaches represents all we can expect in the way of independence, who can wonder at the fear people have about blindness and the low esteem in which we are so often held!
This treatise on independence has sections on: table behavior, domestic tasks, kitchen equipment, and cooking. Let us look at the section on table behavior. It contains these subparts:
Seating Self at a Table The Locating Technique An Informal Place Setting Exploring Contents of a Plate of Food Use of a Knife and Fork to Cut Food Placing Knife on Plate When Not in Use Checking for Food Dropped from Plate Placing of Knife and Fork at Close of Meal Differentiating Pepper and Salt Applying Pepper and Salt Pouring Cold Liquids Adding Sugar to a Drink Use of the Spoon for Stirring Obtaining Food From a Relish Dish Boning a Fish Serving Self at the Table Pouring of Hot Liquids Carrying Containers of Food/Liquid Drinking Soup With the Aid of a Spoon Scooping Food With the Aid of a Fork The Buffer Technique Buttering a Piece of Bread Cutting Salad With a Knife and Fork Use of a Fork to Eat Desserts Handling and Eating Dry Foods Cutting Fried Eggs With the Aid of a Knife and Fork Cutting a Piece of Pie/Cake Lighting a Cigarette Using an Ash Tray
I think we can get the tone of the book by examining two of these items. First, let us see what it says about Placing Knife on Plate When Not in Use:
TITLE: Demonstrating the placing of the knife on the plate.
OBJECTS: During the course of a meal the student will demonstrate the ability to place the knife on the top right hand side of the plate. This will be done in accordance with the following criteria:
1. With the handle of the knife over-lapping the edge of the plate;
2. Without the knife being pushed over or into the plate;
3. Ensuring ease in relocating knife by using same position each time.
TECHNIQUE (Manual Dexterity): The student, during the course of a meal, may decide he does not need the use of the knife. In order to relocate the knife easily, it is suggested that it be placed in the same position on the plate each time, e.g. across the top right-hand corner of the plate, between a 12 o'clock and 3 o'clock position. [I might inject here that most of the plates I deal with do not have corners but back to the text.]
In order to achieve the above, the student will bring his right hand to the right side edge of the plate-but will not allow the knife to touch the table. The thumb will locate an approximate 3 o'clock position. The handle of the knife will be placed in this position, with the tip of the hand slightly overlapping the edge of the plate this allows the student to relocate the knife by running his fingers along the outer edge of the plate and not placing his hand into the plate.
Safety Awareness: The student will attempt to retain a mental picture of the position of the knife, as the fork, when being used, may inadvertently push the knife from the plate.
That is what it says, and for the life of me I cannot understand the comment about safety. Moreover, one gets the distinct impression that the author is speaking to a child, programming a robot, or talking to a person who has never had contact with civilization. When an individual becomes blind, that individual does not automatically lose all of the knowledge and abilities that he or she ever possessed; nor does the person become retarded.
But back to the book. What is said about the knife is no worse than what is said about the spoon:
TITLE: Demonstrating the use of a spoon for stirring.
OBJECTIVE: When presented with a container of liquid and a spoon the student will demonstrate the ability to use the spoon to stir the liquid. This will be done in accordance with the following criteria:
1. By placing the spoon into the container without causing the container to overturn or overflow;
2. By introducing the stirring motion without the liquid overflowing;
3. By replacing the spoon in its original position without disturbing other items.
TECHNIQUE (Manual Dexterity): The student will hold the spoon in the same manner as a soup spoon, except that it will be held with the inner bowl facing the student's body and in a vertical position when placed in the container. [I interrupt to wonder how else except in a vertical position one could hold the spoon if the container has any depth and if it is in an upright position with its bottom on the table but back to the learned text.]
If the container has a handle the student will grasp it firmly. If the container does not have a handle the student will place the thumb of the free hand over the top, side edge and the remaining fingers will lie just below the thumb along the side of the bowl. The spoon will be brought to the container and the bowl of the spoon placed to the liquid.
Finger Manipulation and Safety Awareness: The spoon will be turned, usually clockwise motion, around the circumference of the container, by a gentle circular motion of the wrist without scraping the sides or bottom of the container. The spoon will then be returned to its original position. If, however, the liquid is thick, the handle of the spoon should be lightly tapped on the side of the container to remove excess before returning to its original position.
NOTE: The instructor will hold her hand over the student's and vice versa, and demonstrate the smoothness of the task. A student low on concepts will probably require extensive practice to achieve successful results.
I find myself very nearly overwhelmed and also beset by a number of questions. What if the she is a he? What if I don't want to move the spoon in a clock-wise direction? What if I don't want to grasp the handle of the container or drape my fingers over the top side edge? It is enough to drive one to drink after, of course, the spoon has been removed as a matter of safety.
Remember that there is an entire book full of this idiocy and that this is not an isolated but a typical example of what we are getting from the agencies. Is it any wonder that the public is reinforced in its misconceptions and that the blind (especially blind children who grow up in the system or newly blind persons who fall into its clutches) come to doubt their worth and belittle their abilities!
With this sort of madness coming not just from the public but also from the agencies it is no wonder that blind persons (especially those not having the perspective which is gained by the information, the shared experiences, and the reinforcement which come from membership in the National Federation of the Blind) often develop offbeat and unrealistic devices for trying to gain prestige and for not appearing to be like other blind people. There is the Uncle Remus technique of pretending to be crafty and possessed of special powers, which is typified by a quote attributed to a blind man who was formerly in the Maryland legislature. In the article concerning his death in the July 31, 1979, Baltimore Sun, this passage appears: As a legislator, he maintained that his blindness was an aid as well as a handicap. He once told a reporter that he developed an increased sense of hearing because of his loss of sight, which he said allowed him to pick up word of political deals being made far down a hall or across a committee room.
Of course, we know that such claims are utter nonsense, playing on the credibility of the public and reinforcing and feeding back to the sighted their own superstitions. Or perhaps the man didn't say it at all. Maybe it was simply made up by the reporter as a good line and a plausible story. Whichever way it happened, this sort of thing does not achieve the objective of making the blind seem more capable. It harms us and increases the general notion of our abnormality.
Then, there is another technique. In the May 10, 1984, Washington Post there is an article headlined Blind Student Seizes Challenges. The article details the accomplishments of a blind student president of the student body, floor president of his dormitory, administrative assistant to the College Democrats, and a lot more of the same. In the midst of it all, this passage occurs: Schroeder lives in a house off campus with three other students. He usually walks the 20 minutes from home to campus alone. No dog, no cane, no guide. Using any of these aids would mean `admitting that he is blind,' said Andrew Sherman, a good friend. `And he doesn't envision himself as a blind person. He sees himself as a person who is blind.'
This is not independence. It is pathetic self-deception. Again, it does not elevate the image or improve the standing of the blind not even of the student in question. The very article we are discussing proves the point by talking about how the student gets lost and spends hours trying to find his way home, and how he is very proud of not having to ask for help.
So the circle is complete the misconceptions of the public, the acceptance and strengthening of those misconceptions by the agencies, the passthrough to the blind, and the feedback once more to the public: each component reinforcing the myths and false beliefs of the other and each using the other as authority. In such circumstances is it any wonder that I recently received a letter from an inventor who said that he had constructed a special toilet paper holder for the blind and that he would like us to help him market it? Is it any wonder that another inventor thinks the blind cannot clean themselves at all and should only use toilet paper for drying after being washed by the special spray he has constructed? In his letter of October 25, 1983, the inventor says: The blind will really appreciate the use of the Hygeia cleaning because the designed spray cleans quickly and thoroughly. Drying is complete by only using a few sheets of tissue or a small cloth.
Is it any wonder that a man wrote to me a few months ago saying that he would rather be dead than blind! In his own words: I have just been told I have the narrow type glaucoma that might lead to an emergency. I'm scared. Please send any prevention data. Couldn't live without eyesight. Wouldn't want to.
So what does it mean all of this analyzing of the circle of sophistry about blindness, all of this talk about where we are and where we have been? What is our present situation, and what lies ahead? In the first place let us recognize that, with all of our problems, we have it better today than we have ever had it before in all of our history. In ancient times we were exposed to die on the hillsides as babies. In the middle ages we were dressed in donkey ears and forced to fight each other at country fairs for public sport. In the early years of the present century we were treated with more apparent kindness, but as we know, appearances are not always what they seem. We were no longer put out to die on the hillsides or forced to fight each other for the entertainment of our neighbors, but the substance of public attitudes remained the same. There were no jobs, no opportunities, and no hope.
I know from personal experience (and so do many of the rest of you) the pain and despair of continued isolation and nothing to do. Some of us broke free. The rest remained captive some for a lifetime, and some still existing. There comes a time when the spirit dies and the body lives on. It is a close question as to whether it is better to die as a child or continue to exist year after year in the living death which many of the blind have endured. Yes, I know the implications of the question; and no, I am not exaggerating. I mean exactly and literally what I say.
But, of course, our answer to the question is simple: we are no longer willing to accept either one of these alternatives. We have learned to be free, and we intend to keep it that way. We have eaten at the table of liberty, and we will never again settle for the crumbs on the floor.
As our movement continues to strengthen, the circle of sophistry weakens. There is much good will toward the blind, and while it is true that some people resent our progress, most do not. As they learn who we are and what we are, the majority join with us. With the work of the Federation in South Dakota the Deadeye Chapter of the Jaycees lasted for less than a year. Our television and radio announcements blanket the airwaves, and we have had major network coverage in recent months. We confront the airlines when they try to make us take segregated seating. We find new jobs in expanded areas of employment. Above all, an increasing number of us are living our Federationism on a daily basis, knowing it to be our passport to freedom. In the days ahead our task will not be easy. We know it, and we are prepared. Whatever the sacrifice, we will make it. Whatever the price, we will pay it. We must finish our march to acceptance and full membership in society. Our heritage requires it; our purpose proclaims it; our humanity demands it. This cause of ours is a sacred trust. It is worthy of all that we have or can ever hope to be and we shall not fail. My brothers and my sisters, the future is ours. Come! Join me in the battle, and we will make it all come true!
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