Branded

If you’ve been a member of a discussion group on social media, then you will recognize a familiar pattern. Someone will pose a topic. At first, respondents will stay on-topic. Eventually, someone comes along and hijacks the message thread. Then, the topic snowballs until the final comments bear little resemblance to the origins.

Such a case has happened on the Colorado Talk list over the past week. Therefore, I am posting the initial message that sparked discussion. I will then post my response, which came a week afterward. NFB members who read this will recognize many old arguments reborn here, though some of my comments may leave a bad taste.

Here is the original post:

Date: Sat 1/4/2020 8:37 PM
From: Colorado-Talk ; on behalf of; Jenny Perdue via Colorado-Talk colorado-talk@nfbnet.org
Subject: [Colorado-Talk] Thoughts on the motto living the life you want.

Dear Colorado talk,

Earlier in the month, Kevin asked us to write things about living the life you want. Yes, I could’ve answered this privately. However, I wonder though, if more people feel like I do then we know.

The national Federation of the blind motto is living the life we want. Which, is a great motto. But at my very first NFB convention. I soon discovered that living the life I wanted would never be laudedor celebrated or even acknowledged by The national Federation of the blind either within a convention, or, any other format.

Let me explain why I say that. I was born and raised in a time where if you had vision you had to use it whether or not it was viable or not. So, my education fell through the cracks even though I asked to learn braille repeatedly over my education. I taught myself braille in 1999 at a rehabilitation center for the blind in Daytona. By myself. With no help. Just me and my determination to learn but I wasn’t given the opportunity to learn as a child.

There are a lot of us out there in the same position. I’ve heard the stories. Oh you can do it, go back to school. Well, at 46 with maybe a six grade education, having taught myself braille. And don’t know Nemeth code. School is just not an option for me.

OK, that’s the backstory. Now, as a 46-year-old woman. I also have health issues. So working is not an option for me. Which means, no mobility training, no computer, no computer training, or anything else I might need because I’m not valuable enough to receive training because I’m not working or going to school or planning on doing either or.

So, now I come to my point. Though I have these challenges. And a lot of us do. I volunteer at the Humane Society here in Grand Junction. As far as I know, I’m the only blind person that I know anywhere in the country who was allowed by a shelter to volunteer.

My Specialty is working with cats or kittens that have been traumatized, or feral. Or for whatever reason that their behavior and trust and a human being is not there yet. Which, has helped several cats and kittens become adopted because I worked with them and taught them how to trust people again. Or even for the first time. That’s important right, that’s valuable right? But do we see that in our conventions. No.

We see John does a lawyer, we see DJane doe Jane doe has the most successful DEP vending in the state. Awesome, kudos, wonderful things.

However, those people were given way more opportunities than a lot of us are. What I do with the animals and others do for volunteerism is just as valid, and just as important, and should be celebrated just as much as a scholarship winner for college. I didn’t exactly get that option. A lot of us didn’t. So why do we feel like If we didn’t go to college, CCB, have a successful career, we are not as respected or validated within the national Federation of the blind community. And that includes nationally.

Bring in money and status does not make a person successful. It does not prove that blindness doesn’t have to be an obstacle. What proves that, or people who do the best they can with what they got. What proves that is the fact that for me, I’m the most well known volunteer at that shelter. I’m also the one they come to before cat is adopted to say farewell. I’m the one they come to when a cat is so Farrell or so frightened that it could lash out, and I’m the person that they know will spend hours with an animal to gain trust and make them adoptable.

The amazing thing is, people the shelter feel it’s valuable, people at the shelter see what a blind person can do, we are celebrated and appreciated. They even bought a braille label order to label the signs so that I would be more comfortable there The foster families for the animals, the people that come in and look at adopting a cat or kitten, I know the cats and kittens better than the adoption counselors do. Again, very valid, respected.

The question is, why isn’t that felt in the blind community within the national Federation of the blind. It just doesn’t.

I came out of that convention more depressed than I had ever been in my life. Well, in a long time 🙂 I felt like my life didn’t matter. Because all the kudos all the celebration went to people who are successful. Who don’t have the health trials I do, who didn’t have crap for education, who don’t even have a computer because we’re not valid enough within broke rehab to deserve one if we can’t work. Have no equipment. No mobility training since I went totally year and a half ago because I have too many health issues to work but not too many to get training.

I’m not trying to sound like a pity party, because that’s not it. I have a great life. I just wish my life At what I do with it in the parameters of health, lack of education, lack of computers, lack of equipment, lack of training Was just celebrated.

I knew a lot of blind folks who have tons of opportunities who sit on their butt and do nothing. And get everything they could possibly want as far as equipment goes. Fine, I’m glad they can. But when the most prominent and respected blind organization that works for equality only makes a huge deal about people who are bringing in the dough, and have a status, what is that exactly say to me as a blind person who is supposed to matter to the national Federation for the blind.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, you can live the life you want, you can also live the life you’re dealt. And handling that stuff for Grace doesn’t seem to matter. So, I just figured I would express it.

I will never go to another convention. I already feel like I’m not good enough sometimes, I most certainly don’t need it in the blind community. Much less and NFB. I am a member still, because I know that there are people like me too. We may not get the notice of a credit, but we’re here. I just don’t have to have it shoved in my face that I’m not important or valid in in the organization.

I hope the other people who feel the way I do will read this, I hope that you will know that you are important. You may not feel like it, you may not feel that the NFB feels like it, but you are. We all are.

Maybe if we help each other out more, instead of shoving everybody’s success in the faces of people who aren’t that fortunate People like me would Feel like we were An equal and respected part of it or like we matter.

Maybe the NFB needs to think about those of us who still need to function in life. Who still need a computer, who still need training, those things don’t disappear because you don’t work. So instead of spending a bunch of money on conventions that celebrate everybody’s good fortune and make quite a few people feel like crap. Maybe we should start helping those of us who didn’t have the opportunities and make the national Federation of the blind really the voice of the blind. I haven’t heard my voice yet

Jenny

Sent from my iPhone
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That was Jenny’s message. I wrote her privately and told her that I applauded her for starting this dialogue; one that I think is important, as well as her work with cats. Over the following week, many replies came. A few were from the leadership in Colorado. Eventually, the conversation was redirected toward the Colorado Center for the Blind, which is the NFB training center located in Littleton.

Here is my response to Jenny and others, which I posted to Colorado Talk yesterday afternoon.

Hello, Colorado!

Greetings from Nebraska, where the temperature is 6 degrees and we just endured our first major snow of the season. Yes, I’m rubbing it in. You guys deserve it after stealing the Baldwins from us.

I still miss Denver and all of you terribly (except Kevan, of course) and long for the days when the climate and public transit were more temperate.

I’ve been following this thread for the past week with great interest. Frankly, I was glad to see that someone raised the issue. For many of us outside of the leadership ring of the Federation, there has been a growing perception of a widening disconnect between the leadership and the general rank-and-file movement. The Federation has always emphasized leadership, of course, and it’s top-down style has engendered criticism over the decades. Perhaps nothing has changed. Perhaps the leadership is the same as it has always been. Or, perhaps the emergence of social media as a dominant force has magnified the cracks that have always existed in the NFB armor. Or, perhaps it merely gives our critics a larger megaphone with which to shout at us.

I think that there is a kernel of truth in all of these possibilities. Whatever the case, this is a conversation that needs to happen.

I found Scott’s remarks on the branding process to be of particular interest. I shamelessly acknowledge that I am a free market capitalist. That said, I think it is a mistake for the NFB to take a corporatist approach to our messaging. We are a non-profit organization, not for-profit. The methods by which we recruit and motivate our membership should be entirely different than that of a for-profit enterprise.

My criticism of the slogan itself can best be summed up by a friend of mine (who shall remain anonymous) who said that our new slogan, “Live the life you want,” sounds like the tagline of an ad that you would see for a retirement community. His/her critique is profound. Even though a select group of people chose this slogan, there is nothing in it that really stands out as uniquely NFB.

I was a fan of our prior slogan, “Changing what it means to be blind.” I thought it was simple, direct, accurate and most important of all, it contained the word, “Blind,” within the slogan.

I have a larger point in bringing this up. This is the first time I’ve expressed my view about our slogan on any platform, or in any venue. No one asked me my thoughts when we adopted the slogan a few years ago. The first I ever heard of it was in the summer of 2014, when a group of us filmed a video singing around the piano in the CCB lobby for publication on the NFB YouTube channel. By then, it was already our official slogan. I don’t recall any discussion of it at chapter meetings, on list serves, at conventions or in casual conversations with NFB leaders.

This is why I was glad that Jenny wrote the message that she did. I believe that the leadership needs to hear feedback like this from outside of their comfort zone. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when like-minded people seem to congregate together, excising those with whom they disagree from their sphere of interaction. This phenomenon has created an echo chamber effect. If the leadership has always been this way, our recent shift toward further societal and cultural polarization has probably exacerbated the problem. This is why I think Jenny’s message was healthy and necessary.

Before I continue, I’m going to take a fit break in honor of Jessica and Maureen.

I’m back now. My fit break consisted of me getting up, stretching, then going to the kitchen for a root beer. If you ladies don’t feel that this was adequate, take heart in the knowledge that it’s a diet root beer.

Talking of comfort zones brings me to my next point. Jenny, while I applauded your initial message, I do feel that you and others have subsequently muddied it more than a bit.

It’s one thing to criticize the Colorado leadership for their approach to state conventions. These are conversations that the leadership has been holding for some years now. Like national, I think they need input from those outside of their comfort bubble. That said, criticizing a policy at the CCB is quite a different matter.

Here’s where I acknowledge a bias. While I am increasingly skeptical of our national leadership, I have great heart for the mission, the staff and the students at the Colorado Center for the Blind. I worked there for three-and-a-half months and it was enough to scar me for life. Unlike a random, superficial slogan, the CCB is transforming our high-sounding words into concrete action. They aren’t merely changing what it means to be blind; they are illustrating one course of action for doing so. The sleep shades are an integral component to this. Anyone can use their residual vision for everyday tasks, but it is quite another proposition to go outside of your comfort zone in order to experience an alternative, non-visual method of performing an ordinary task such as crossing a street, frying bacon or hammering a nail. The use of the shades is a compulsory means of pushing a student into that mode of learning.

Maryann kind of stole my thunder on this point. I will merely echo what she suggested and urge you to study your rights as a consumer; rights that the NFB was instrumental in defining. As blind consumers, choice is a right that we all have, but the choice of the CCB to implement a curriculum that aligns with its philosophy is just as important as your right to choose as an individual.

If you want to criticize the leadership for their messaging or their convention agendas, fine. More power to you. This is a relatively new conversation and it is worth having. If you want to take issue with the sleep shades, the long cane, the importance of braille, etc, just know that folks like Diane, Julie, Dan and Brent have been weathering storms of criticisms surrounding these issues for decades. Their arguments are well-honed and have withstood the test of time.

Finally, I will toss out the Nebraska state motto; a slogan that has proven somewhat controversial.

“Nebraska: It’s not for everyone.”

The simple truth is that the NFB could adopt this same slogan. The Federation approach is not for everyone. I know the leadership is resistant to this reality, but that doesn’t change it. Yet, our presence is vital as an option for those who wish to pursue their growth and independence as blind people living in the world. If choice is a basic human right, the NFB must be a choice.

On the other hand, if the leadership is not effectively communicating that choice, it is incumbent upon them to modify their outreach. I believe that such modification depends upon honest dialogue, not that which is manufactured and controlled by a mere few.

Sorry for the length of this message. I’m off now for another fit break; Sam Adams and a cigar. Love y’all.

… Except Kevan, of course.

Sincerely,

Ryan Osentowski

Modify This… Bitch!

This post is written in gratitude to Denise, one of my former counselors at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The other day, she wrote to me privately and alerted me to a mistake I’d made in one of my Facebook posts. She said that I’d used the word, “Cited,” when clearly, I meant to use its homophone, “Sighted.” After I corrected the mistake and thanked her, she said, “You’re welcome. Glad I didn’t offend you.”

The idea that I would be offended by an act driven by kindly intent is a sad commentary on where we are today as a society. Moreover, it is not the first time I’ve encountered this form of awkward benevolence.

In the past, coworkers have been hesitant to warn me of stains on my clothing, mismatched attire, or even crumbs of food on my face. I once went for nearly half a day before a friend told me that my fly was down.

I can appreciate the precarious position of sighted people. In today’s cultural climate, when intent is trumped by the recipient’s reaction to a benevolent gesture, and when the soft bigotry of low expectations has become the norm in the name of the salvation of one’s feelings, it may be easier just to hold one’s tongue and let a negative stereotype perpetuate itself. But I can tell you, kindly sighted people, that you are doing us blind folks no favors by shutting up in the name of your (or someone else’s) salvaged pride.

If my writing is to be taken seriously, then it must be serious. My spelling, my mechanics, my sentence structure and my expression have to be top-notch. If they are not, for good or ill, people will move the bar for me because of my blindness.

The same goes for my appearance in the workplace. If I don’t look clean and presentable, my coworkers may write it off as a blind thing, but they will also fail to take me seriously when equity is required.

As for Denise, she is still a fine teacher after all these years. She was the first person who ever had a serious, candid, discussion with me about sex. I think I was 12 at the time. I’m glad to say that I took her didactics to heart. IN fact, I’ve learned that sex and writing have a lot in common. Whether you’re talking about dangling participles or dangling extremities, proper placement is essential.

Hell on Ice

I wonder if any of you reading this have ever experienced real terror. I don’t mean the kind of terror you feel while watching The Walking Dead, or riding the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point. I’m talking about genuine, piss-your-pants terror, in which you are suddenly forced to confront your own mortality. It might be the kind of terror a reporter would experience in a war zone, or that of a police officer confronted by a mass shooter with an upraised gun.

I experienced such terror on February 19, 2018, one day after my 43rd birthday.

I did not hear of the harsh weather conditions on the radio because it was tuned to KOA out of Denver. My first hint that things were amiss came as I exited my apartment building to go to work and slid across the wooden front porch toward the steps. Still, I felt that I had the situation under control.

That self-assurance evaporated as I walked down the steps, slipped, and collapsed in a heap like a sack full of used kitty litter. My white cane went flying from my hand and I scrambled on the slippery ground, trying to retrieve it and get my feet back under me. It was a monumental effort. Sure, I’d fallen many times before, but this was the first time that every single surface was covered by a glaze of ice.

Eventually, I found my cane, got up and began to walk down the middle of the street to the bus stop.

Let me correct my last statement. The place where I pick up the Metro bus is not officially a designated bus stop. It’s a spot along the street where the bus drivers very charitably ignore Metro policy and pick me up, so that I will not have to walk in the street for a block-and-a-half to the actual bus stop. The walk is hazardous because there are no sidewalks along the route to the bus stop; only sloping grass and a curb that indicates the street.

So, I collected myself and off I went, trying to recall what an O&M instructor once told me about walking on ice. I think he told me to keep my knees slightly bent and to slide my feet, rather than taking actual footsteps. I tried this approach and was about as elegant as an elephant on a balance beam. Twice more, I fell before I got to the intersection of my street. Twice more I hefted my considerable bulk and soldiered onward to my intended destination.

Finally, I made it to the street crossing that I had to forge in order to catch the bus to work. I lined myself up, waited for a break in traffic and started across…

… And almost immediately, went down again. My cane flew out of my hand and rolled away. I began scrambling for it, but couldn’t find it. I tried to get up, but couldn’t regain my footing. Every time I managed to become half-upright, I would slam back down on to my hands and knees on the icy pavement.

And then, I heard the car rolling toward me. It didn’t sound as if it were slowing down. I scrambled like a gerbil on a hot griddle, but couldn’t seem to get any traction. The car rolled closer, then sounded as if it hit the brakes. I heard the unmistakable sound of tires skidding on wet pavement. I knew I was dead.

The two thoughts that flashed through my head like hurriedly-sent texts were:

God, don’t let Mags end up in a shelter!!! Please let one of my friends take her!!!

And.

Why the hell didn’t I just take Amy to bed that night after my house-warming party?

It’s funny what we think about in times of mortal peril.

The next thing I remember was a lady’s voice saying, “Sir, you look like you’re having a hard time.”

“No shit!” I bellowed.

“Can I help you up?”

“Yeah!” I said. I threw my hand up, she grabbed it, hoisted me to my feet and helped me over to the curb.

“Here’s your stick,” she said. I felt such relief at holding my cane again that I didn’t bother to correct her on the terminology. It’s called a cane, not a stick.

“Can I help you get somewhere?” she asked.

“Nah, I’m good,” I said.

“You sure?” she asked.

“Actually, can you help me across the street? I’m gonna catch the bus.”

She took my hand and walked with me across the street. I don’t remember if I thanked her properly or not. She got in her car and drove away. I didn’t think to ask her for her name. I couldn’t look at her car to note its description, or memorize her license plate number. My head was full of an odd buzzing sound; actually more of a sensation than a sound. It seemed to reverberate throughout my whole body, making the tips of my fingers and toes vibrate like a tuning fork. After she was gone, I sheepishly felt the front of my pants, not certain if the moisture was entirely that of melted ice.

I waited for 20 minutes, but the bus never showed. So, I clinched my sphincter extra tight and skated back home, aided this time by another resident from my apartment complex who just happened to see me flailing around in the street.

When I moved from Denver to Omaha in October of 2017, I knew there would be adjustments. I knew the cost of living was lower. I knew public transit sucked. As a native Nebraskan, I knew that the winters were more brutal than those in Colorado. But I was not prepared for the lack of sidewalks in my living area.

In Denver, you can walk almost anywhere. Convenient to me in my neighborhood in Denver were all of the necessities; a bank, a grocery store, a vet for my cat, a post office, and at least half a dozen restaurants, bars and coffee shops. Here in Omaha, my coworker informs me that sidewalks become more and more scarce once you get west of 72nd Street. I live within walking distance of Westroads, but can’t walk there due to lack of a pedestrian-friendly route. Once a month, I attend meetings of our local NFB chapter at the Swanson Library, located only a few blocks from my home, but I can’t walk there because most of the trip would be in the street. Some NFB hard-liners would read this and say, “Just shoreline the curb, dumbass!” I tried that at first, but many drivers came way too close for comfort. When I learned cane travel in the early ‘80’s, I was taught how to navigate streets where sidewalks were not present. That was long before the existence of terms such as, “Distracted driving.”

Even so, curb-hugging is all well and good in the warmer months, but what about winter?

Imagine walking in my neighborhood last February, when we got one snowstorm on top of another and the drifts were piled high along the curbs. Sometimes, they can push me out into the middle of the road. Then, there’s the time of thawing, when we get slush. Cars drive by and I often get an unwanted shower, courtesy of their spinning tires.

Worse yet, the problem extends to my apartment complex. We don’t have sidewalks here either. We only have islands of grass that serve as boundaries for parked cars. When I first toured the facility, it never occurred to me to ask the manager if they had sidewalks or not. It just seemed like it would be good common sense to have them. Now, every day, come snow, rain or shine, I walk in the street to catch the bus.

The absence of sidewalks may seem a small quibble to all of those who have the privilege of driving automobiles, but I can testify that it carries a real impact on those of us for whom walking serves as a primary means of conveyance. It is far easier to either take a bus, or more often than not, to call for a Lyft or an Uber to take me a short distance to a meeting, to the mall, to dinner, etc. The problem has become so enormous, and my sense of isolation has grown so vast that I find it necessary to move from my complex when my lease expires.

There are other reasons, of course, the most glaring being that of the family of raccoons that lives part time above my head.

… But that’s another subject for a future blog entry.

In conclusion, let me deliver a heartfelt thank you to the kind soul who stopped and helped the struggling blind guy regain his feet on the cold winter morning of February 19, 2018, at the intersection of Burt Street and North 94th Plaza. Thanks to you, I got to celebrate my 44th birthday this year. I apologize if I spoke rudely to you and didn’t properly express my gratitude. God bless. The meager staff of the Radio Talking Book Service thanks you as well. Without your kindly interference, they would have had to start another search for a new station manager.

To the rest of you drivers, GET OFF YOUR FUCKIN’ PHONES AND WATCH THE FUCKIN’ ROAD!!!

Join the Club

Today, my thoughts are with a man named Coby Mach. Most of you who live outside of the area of Lincoln, NE wouldn’t recognize the name. Coby was the host of Drive Time Lincoln, an afternoon talk show on AM 1400, KLIN radio. He was also the president of the Lincoln Independent Business Association for many years. Mr. Mach passed away this past Friday afternoon, a victim of an apparent suicide.

I didn’t know Mr. Mach personally. I never met him during my 14-year residency in Lincoln. I did speak to him several times when I would call into Drive Time Lincoln to voice my opinions on an issue, which was usually the inadequate state of public transit in the city. I found his attitude toward me and my views to be contemptuously dismissive. He ended one phone call with me by saying, “Ryan, the only thing that is a waste of time here, is this phone call.”

That served as the extent of my interactions with Mr. Mach. My only other vivid memory of him comes from a public hearing for Startran in June, 2007. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss sweeping changes to Startran bus routes that were being proposed. Mr. Mach was the first speaker at the hearing. He got up, delivered his remarks on behalf of LIBA, which took all of two minutes, then walked out of the hearing. The essence of his remarks were thus; those who rely on public transit should move into the core of the city so that they may still avail themselves of the service. I was dumbstruck by Mr. Mach’s cavalier attitude to an issue that impacts so many of us with disabilities in such a profound way. Even Dr. James Nyman, who recently passed away as well, and who was gifted with a razor-sharp intellect, voiced his bafflement to me at how someone so educated could be so oblivious to the effect of his own words on others.

In reading of Mr. Mach’s death, I discovered that he was afflicted with tinnitus, which is a disorder that affects one’s hearing. This disorder is very common among those who work in radio, due to the fact that they must wear headphones for long periods of time every day on the job. Mr. Mach’s passing is only about 48 hours old and there is still much we do not know about the circumstances surrounding it. If Mr. Mach did indeed take his own life, and if tinnitus was a major factor in his decision, then this is a tragedy beyond all measure. It is a tragedy that I find sadly ironic. When Mr. Mach chose to dismiss those with disabilities, he didn’t know that he was dismissing a club to which he would ultimately become a member. But then, every able-bodied human being eventually becomes a member of the PWD club, merely by getting older.

It may seem as if I am dancing upon Mr. Mach’s grave. I don’t mean to give that impression at all. I wonder if we in the disabled community ever reached out to Coby and others in the community to educate them on the richness of life that can still be experienced when one is disabled. He delivered his remarks in June of 2007. Three months later, I left Lincoln for a life in Denver, so I certainly didn’t try to initiate a dialogue with him. I doubt any of my brethren in the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska did either. Sometimes, we are as guilty of an ‘us and them’ mentality as we accuse our opponents of being. It can cause us to entrench ourselves and harden our hearts toward others, forgetting that they are three-dimensional human beings with their own lives and burdens to carry. This short-sightedness is our failure and our cross to bear as well.

The cross Mr. Mach’s family must now bear is unfathomable to me. I follow several people on Facebook who have relatives and friends who have committed suicide. Facebook offers me merely a narrow gap into their pain. Mr. Mach has set the survivors of his final act upon a long, arduous journey. Some of them may never be able to complete it. I have no words for them, or for anyone enduring such pain, other than to say that my heart is sad for you. Mr. Mach was 53 years old when he died; just nine years older than I am. I cannot believe that a man who was so vibrant and alive did not have much more to contribute to his family and his community, no matter what his physical state may have been.

As for the broader body of society, I can only state that everyone has choices. When you are faced with a disability, you can either choose to adjust to it and carry on for the sake of yourself and your loved ones, or you can surrender to the darker angels of your nature and end your journey. I believe in life. On that basis, I hope you will choose the path of living.

This was a long read. I thank those of you who chose to finish it.

If Only My Cane Were a Spear

The following rant is dedicated to Ralph Ellison.

There are a lot of blind people who traffic in what I call, outrage porn. Those are the long, rambling Facebook posts from the likes of Sassy Outwater who, not only point
out some legitimate issues that might annoy us as blind people, but who love to wallow in their own sense of offense. It’s not even so much about what
they say, but the tone in which they say it; or write it, as the case may be. I might agree with some or most of their points, but I find the entitled sanctimony off-putting.

I try not to engage in this behavior. I don’t want to be another faux social justice warrior with thin skin, carrying my minority
status like a badge of honor, all the while acting as if it’s a cross. I’ve found that you can have far more of an impact if you educate with civility
and humor, rather than acting butt-hurt every time someone knocks on the door of the office bathroom while you’re taking a piss with the lights out.

That said, almost every blind person knows of a common set of behaviors by sighted people that vex us no end. One of them is a classic I call, the invisible
blind guy scenario. Yes, ladies, you can switch the gender if you wish.

If you carry a cane or use a dog, you’ve likely been there. It happens when you
are traveling with a sighted companion. You go into a restaurant, bank, store, etc, and the clerk or a passer-by will talk to your sighted buddy as if
you don’t exist. They may ask your companion what you’d like to eat, or ask them to sign for you, or carry on an entire conversation, all the while barely
acknowledging your presence. Everyone does it. No one is exempt. The only common denominator is sight. Men do it. Women do it. People of all races and
sexual orientations do it. Rightists do it. Leftists do it. They are the worst, because they think they’re above it after all kinds of sensitivity training and college education about intersectionality, but it goes right out the window when a blindie approaches.

Today at work, we hosted a videographer who came in and filmed various aspects of our workplace for some documentary or other. I have no idea of the nature of it. My boss brought her into the
control room, introduced me and continued to talk to her. I was in the middle of hurridly editing a file for a political candidate, so it was kind of time
sensitive. Perhaps I appeared busy, but the filmmaker said to my boss, “Can I get some shots of him editing?” She didn’t ask me. She asked my boss.

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been the subject of various TV and newspaper puff pieces that were well-intentioned, but which actually
served no purpose, other than to ladle out a heavy dose of inspiration porn about the amazing blind kid/guy. Without exception, every photographer or cameraman
(or woman) talked to my parents, my teachers, my coworkers or some varient, while barely speaking to me at all. “Can he turn this way?” “Can he smile a
bit more?” “Let’s move him over here. This way. This way. That’s a good boy.”

Today, when the lady asked my boss about filming me, I wanted to say, “You
can talk to me, lady. It’s not 1950, we’re not in Alabama and I’m not the kitchen nigger.”

There are three reasons why I suppressed this comment:

1. I love my job.

2. I respect my boss.

3. We live in an increasingly reactionary world that now has little use for context. Megyn Kelly is a perfect example.
She just got railroaded out of NBC after making a racially insensitive comment; a comment for which she apologized. Twice.

No, I kept my thoughts to myself and decided to express them here. No outrage or sanctimony. If anything, I’m just weary of being treated like the invisible blind guy. I know why it’s
happening, of course, People are very tribal. If a sighted person sees another sighted person with a blind person, they will naturally respond more quickly
to the person with whom they have more in common. It’s similar to a person in a foreign country who will gravitate toward someone who speaks their own
language. It’s not so much about bigotry or insensitivity as it is about comfort. Like it or not, differences make us uncomfortable. This filmmaker is
probably a very nice lady who did not mean to be dismissive, but she has likely never encountered a blind person in her life. Should she be expected to
know exactly how to behave when she encounters a situation for which she’s never been prepared? I think not.

Just because I understand what’s going on, however, doesn’t mean I don’t get sick of it. In her memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People. Condoleezza Rice says, “I would rather be ignored than patronized.” I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. All things being equal though, I prefer neither option. I would just assume have a respectful dialogue.

Anyway, I need to actually get back to work before I get fired for slacking on the job, so I will close with this thought. All of you sighted folks, if you see a blind person with a sighted person, please don’t ignore us. Your courtesy is just as welcome for us as it is with anyone with whom you can make eye contact. And if you choose to engage with us, please talk to us as if we are human beings, not animals or overgrown children.

One last thought… I think Megyn Kelly’s firing is a blessing in disguise.

No! More! NABS!

The first time I attended a convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska was in 1993. I was in my fourth month of training at the orientation center of the state agency for the blind, known as the Nebraska Services For the Visually Impaired.

Sidebar: This blog entry is only one paragraph old and it’s already full of alphabet soup. NFBN and NSVI. Nice start.

Anyway, the agency offered to pay for my trip, so I went. I was less than impressed. My first impression of the NFBN was that it was full of older, cliquish people who had little use for outsiders. The sessions struck me as nothing but self-aggrandizing chest-thumping. No one in the affiliate seemed particularly warm or welcoming toward me. I don’t remember any outreach of any kind. My roommate was Scott Green (he goes by Mitch now), and we spent most of the weekend in our room watching Star Trek and listening to old-time radio. Our national representative that year was Diane McGeorge. Mitch and I listened to half of her banquet speech, got bored, left the banquet and ordered Pizza Hut back in the room.

My two best friends at the time were Shane and Amy Buresh. I barely saw them that weekend. They were scholarship winners that year and I think we briefly rubbed elbows at the scholarship reception. Shane mumbled something to me about starting a student division, but I brushed it off. I hadn’t yet started college and the thought was overwhelming to me, so the idea of a group of blind college students didn’t even register.

I left the convention that Sunday knowing that I had no use for the NFBN. When Della Johnston, the state president, approached me a few weeks later and asked me to take over the NFBN’s weekly radio show on KZUM, I jumped at the chance. This was it! My big break in radio had finally come!!!

I was far more excited about it than were the members of the Lincoln Chapter of the NFBN. I went to their January meeting so I could get to know them better. Barbara Walker was particularly unimpressed with me. The feeling was mutual. To me, she came off as a stuck-up, pretentious old blind biddy who looked down her nose at those who didn’t drink the NFB Kool-Aid. At one point I said to the group, “I agree with some of the stuff you guys think and I will probably join at some point.” Barbara’s retort was immediate and succinct. “Why not now?”

Barbara’s answer came about two months later, when I hijacked the NFBN Pioneers radio program on KZUM and made it my own. I called it, “In a Different Light.” No more NFB propaganda. I was going to focus on the disability community at large. Sure, the NFB could come and talk if they wanted, but so could the ACB. So could the League of Human Dignity. So could Mitch Green, advertising his newly-formed company, Alternative Technologies. As long as it was disability related, it was fair game.

The program lasted another three months before I went home from college for the May break. When I came back for summer session, I simply let the show go. I can only imagine the tongue lashing that Barbara and others gave Della over her serious miscalculation.

Yet, history seems to vindicate Della. She dug the hole in the NFB garden by forging a personal relationship with me and allowing me to fulfill one of my dreams. Still, it was Shane and Amy who planted the seed. I think it was February of 1995 when Shane invited me to attend a meeting of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students at Peru State College. The preceding October, Amy had been elected president at the state convention. We made a weekend out of it, complete with trips to the Dairy Freeze in Steve’s Bowling Alley in Auburn. The meeting itself was attended by the three of us, plus their weird pal, Chuck, who also served as our driver. Mass transit has not yet come to Southeastern Nebraska.

I’d like to tell a grand, emotional tale of how Amy decided to pass the torch to me in 1996. Honestly, I can’t remember her talking to me about it. I don’t remember agreeing to accept the job. I merely remember Amy stepping down as NABS president due to the fact that she was going to graduate the following May. She passed me the baton, I got up and said something like, “Thank you, all. I hope I can be half the president that Amy has been.”

My memories of my one term as president of NABS are mostly happy ones. I recall meetings in the basement of Selleck Hall on the UNL campus where a small group of us planned fundraisers. They culminated in the selling of candy bars, which was always a big hit with college students. I also remember our participation in career fares in partnership with the state agency. We did guest panels, mock game shows and trivia contests, social mixers where food and innocent card games were present, and picnics in the park.

But my fondest memory came at the state convention in 1998, at which we held a joint convention with the Iowa affiliate. Just after I stepped down as NABS president, I offered to shave my head bald, auctioning off each stroke of the razor for one dollar per shaver. All proceeds, of course, went to the NABS treasury. It was a big hit and I looked ravishing with no hair.

I left the presidency because I had dropped out of college, but my participation and support of NABS did not end. A year after I stepped down, Mike Hansen took over as president. NABS continued to partner with NSVI, soon to be rebranded as the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, for student and career fares. We continued to fundraise and, most important of all, we continued to spread the positive message about blindness to college students throughout the state.

My memory of the chain of successive NABS presidents after the turn of the century has faded somewhat, but I do know that Ryan Strunk eventually became the president. Involved with him were Jamie, Wes, Amy 2.0 and eventually, Randi. All of them went on to achieve bigger leadership roles in the state and/or national movements. Eventually, Karen became the president. Although she validates some of the negative stereotypes about elitism in Federation leadership, she did in fact become active on the national stage as well. As of this writing, both Karen and Amy 2.0 are working for the national office. Other NABS members of later generations included Kayde, Kelly, Stephanie and Bridgit. I have to believe that their exposure to NABS helped mold them into the leaders that they are today.

I moved to Colorado in 2007. I had very little interaction with the Colorado student division while I was there. My feeling was that, while I am supportive of student divisions, there comes a point when the more seasoned adults should move on and let the college students run their own show. This doesn’t mean pot brownies at the CABS parties, but only that those of us who moved on past college should let them make their own mistakes and celebrate their own failures with support and feedback available only upon request. When I moved back here to Nebraska, my plan was to do the same with NABS. Just let them do their thing and contribute to their treasury at every state convention when NABS snacks were being sold at the back of the convention room.

I was heading back from a board meeting with Bridgit a few weeks ago and we were discussing the current state of our affiliate. I don’t remember what lead to it, but Bridgit casually said, “Yeah…and NABS is gone.”

It hit me like a baseball bat in the stones. NABS was gone. NABS was gone. I sat there, not knowing if we were heading to Omaha or South Dakota, and felt completely stunned. NABS, my path toward taking the NFB seriously. NABS, where we spent so many late nights planning how to engage the students at a Round Tuit seminar. NABS, where then President Amy Buresh held regular agenda items called, “Cathartic conversations,” in which we discussed how to help more people become aware of the Federation. NABS, where I learned how to get up the courage to approach a stranger and ask them if they wanted to buy a candy bar for the cause. NABS, where President Ryan Strunk conducted a meeting in a stage whisper because he’d claimed to have lost his voice. Miraculously, it came back later that night at my place when it came time for him to play his guitar. NABS, where I helped the kids load coolers full of water and pop, along with boxes of sandwiches, chips and candy on to a bus headed for a state convention. NABS, where I sat in a chair while locks of my hair fell to the floor as various people clumsily shoved an electric razor against my head. NABS. Gone.

I sit here late at night, the cicadas angrily buzzing in the trees right outside my balcony door, and I ask myself, what the bloody hell happened? NABS was our most important endeavor. That was our best hope of training future generations of leaders to take up the torch and carry it when we moved on. Oh sure, you have national leadership seminars with high-minded philosophical questions and the separating of the wheat from the chaff, but nothing takes the place of the forming of the bond between the local leaders and the students that look to them on a regular basis for guidance and encouragement.

Is this how Woodrow Call felt when he went back to Lonesome Dove, only to discover that the ranch house was rat infested and the town saloon had burned down? He walked the streets of the deserted town and began to question his sanity when he thought he envisioned the one-legged ghost of Gus McCrae coming toward him. “Why, Gus?” he asked. He was really asking, what was the point? What did their 3,000-mile cattle drive really mean?

Why? Why? I sit here and ask myself that question in my head, and the tone I’m hearing is a mixture of befuddlement and deep, wistful melancholy. NABS is gone. NABS is gone. The “Why?” is followed by other questions. Where did it go? How did it happen? Can we ever revive it? Is this a sign of a larger trend as many seem to think, or does it represent failure of another kind? I don’t know. I wasn’t here for the last decade. I don’t know where the blame lies, or if any blame exists at all. I only know that, if we of the Federation cannot pass the torch on to future leaders in this state, we are doomed to the dusty corner of the memories of those who lived through the glory times. And all of those people who lived will eventually die, their memories, nothing but ghosts.

Little ears! Big ears! Sensitive ears!

The following is a guest editorial from the Denver Post from 2011. I heard local conservative commentator Mike Rosen read it on his radio program and wrote an Email in response. I will paste the editorial first, followed by my response.

I find it darkly ironic, since I now endure Omaha’s mass transit system. Yet, I would not change a word I wrote.

Guest Commentary: A car-free life in Denver
By
Special to The Denver Post
June 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm

We are raised on cars. For many Americans, the idea of riding a public bus or train seems foreign and inconvenient. Car owners who have no experience with
public transportation may believe a car is always the necessary method to get from here to there.

Two years ago, I moved to Denver from Chicago, well practiced in public transportation and committed to life without a car. To me, there is independence
in the car-free lifestyle. It is freedom from hefty car payments and dealings with insurance companies. It is the freedom to walk any way I want down one-way
streets, to cut through fields of untouched snow on the way to the store, to observe the moving city around me without worrying if I am holding up traffic
or about to cause an accident.

It is the opportunity to get more exercise and support a cleaner environment.

The year after college, I lived in a suburb of Seoul, South Korea, where public transportation was not just abundant, it also was efficient. Digital postings
at stops and stations told me exactly when the next bus or train would arrive. (They arrived often and crowded.)

Few of my peers owned cars in Chicago. We all took the “L” or bus to work or play — always a faster and cheaper alternative to driving.

So when I moved to Denver, I searched for an urban neighborhood that had all necessary conveniences within walking or busing distance. I settled on Uptown,
where, unlike other neighborhoods, I could walk to the grocery store, the movie theater, restaurants, cafes, shops, and the bus stop.

In Denver, when I tell people I don’t have a car, I get varied reactions of bewilderment: “You live without a car?” “Isn’t it dangerous?” “Isn’t it inconvenient?”
“Doesn’t it take longer?”

To these questions, I ask: Have you experienced the pleasure of reading a novel all the way to work? Do you know the convenience of finishing work on the
commute home? Do you know the peace of mind in not worrying about ice and snow? Have you watched the world move from day to night during the 5 o’clock
rush while someone else stresses about traffic?

This freedom, however, comes at a cost. Without a car in Denver, it takes longer to go just about anywhere. It takes more planning and more patience. The
appeal of owning a car is not lost on me, especially in Colorado, where cars are necessary for trips to the mountains and Sunday rides in the foothills.
Like most American cities, Denver’s adequate but inefficient public transit system will never reach its full potential without more citizens who use it.
Denver could lead the country in greener, community-oriented practices that encourage lifestyles where we walk, ride and bus more often.

Denverites, in general, love the environment, are committed to healthy lifestyles and will do anything to be outside. So why does it seem like the number
of Denverites who support those ideals is disproportionate to the number who use public transportation?

Denver needs improvements: safer bike routes, more comprehensive light rail, more bus users so routes run more frequently and at a lower cost. The city
needs more neighborhoods like Uptown, whose conception begins with, “How can we make this neighborhood as self-sustained as possible?”

The other day, when I got on the No. 10 bus on the way to the Highlands, I found it full of middle-schoolers on a field trip. For many, it must have been
their first experience on a bus. I applaud their teachers for exposing them to public transportation. On this trip, the kids no doubt learned where to
catch the bus, how to pay their fair and how to act.

We may be raised on cars, but we can learn to move in other ways. The first step, truly, is to try.

Elizabeth Costello of Denver is a writer at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.

June 9, 2011

Dear Mike:

I listened to your program today on public transit with great interest. I am a blind guy who relies on public transit on a daily basis. I’m currently unemployed, though I recently worked as a cashier at Lowrey Airforce Base; a job I could not have done without the aid of RTD. I’m also a rarity, a blind man who is a conservative. I’m stating this directly so you won’t misunderstand the intent of my message.

Elizabeth Costello’s guest editorial seems to serve RTD very well. It’s full of the same puffy propaganda that I read every day, courtesy of RTD’s Twitter feed. If Ms. Costello is as fulfilled as she claims to be, living life without a car and at the whims of RTD, then I am truly happy for her. More to the point, I’m amazed by her.

Most of us who use RTD services do it, not because of any moral obligation or intrinsic desire. Quite the opposite. We do it because we are compelled to avail ourselves of bus and light rail to get where we need to go.

I relocated to Denver four years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska, and RTD is a big step up from the pathetic transit system I was forced to endure there. RTD is a good bus system with good hours and adequate coverage of the Denver area. Having said that, if I could wave a magic wand and restore my ability to drive a car, I would do so in a heartbeat. I hasten to add that I’m not whining about my blindness. I live a comfortable life. I’m merely acknowledging that a car is a far more convenient mode of transportation than is RTD.

During your program, you stated a number of sound objections to public transit in favor of the automobile. The most persuasive argument for me was the time factor. This past Memorial Day, some friends and I decided to visit a local restaurant for lunch. If we were to have hired a driver to take us, the ride from my front door to the restaurant would’ve taken approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Since my friends and I are all blind, we naturally took the bus. From the time I walked out my front door to the time we arrived at the restaurant, an hour and five minutes had elapsed. This was due to a phenomenon I term, The Domino Effect.

An RTD route often involves one or a series of transfers from one bus to another, or from bus to light rail and back, in order to reach one’s final destination. If one of those buses happens to be even a minute or two late, it can cause a disruption that can result in the collapse of the traveler’s intended schedule. In our case, the driver of the originating bus was a few minutes late. The connection we needed to make was tight, so I asked him to radio ahead and ask the driver of our connecting bus to wait until we got to our first stop. I was within my rights as an RTD passenger to request this as it was in compliance with RTD policy. However, the driver either couldn’t or wouldn’t make the call. I’m not entirely certain as to his reason, since the driver’s thick accent made it virtually impossible to discern what he was saying. Whatever the explanation, we missed our transfer and had to stand at the bus stop an additional half-hour and wait for the next bus to arrive. I am hard pressed to think of a comparable inconvenience we would’ve faced had we been driving a car.

I mentioned previously that I used to work at Lowrey Airforce Base and that I used RTD to get to and from work. The commute home to Littleton usually took approximately an hour and 40 minutes. Near the end of my employment, I hired a driver to come pick me up after work and take me directly home. It cost more money, but it cut my travel time by over half. The cash I spent was well worth the extra hour I got to spend at home unwinding from the day.

As a regular RTD passenger going on four years, I had to chuckle at some of Ms. Costello’s assertions. She talks of happily trudging through snowy fields to get to the store. Such a scenario would constitute an annoyance for me at best and a nightmare at worst. Snow travel is often difficult for blind people and usually results in wet clothes, cold feet and in some cases, bruises or even broken bones. Moreover, I don’t know a single sighted person who would enjoy such an activity when they could more easily drive to the store.

The biggest laugh I got from her commentary came when she wrote about a joyful trip on the number 10 bus with a group of middle school students. I’ve taken many a long and arduous voyage with children of middle and high school age. I’m not a puritan by any stretch of the imagination, but I wouldn’t perform a sex act on my worst enemy with the mouths of any of those juvenile brats. The cacophony of yelling, swearing, extraneous cell phone conversations and blaring electronic devices results in stress that is only made worse by passive drivers who refuse to enforce RTD’s policies of civility and low music volume by all bus passengers.

Furthermore, if I could get back all the time I’ve wasted waiting on buses and light rails in my life, you and I could take three back-to-back cruises together. By the conclusion, maybe you will have broken down “A Conflict of Visions,” to a comprehensible level for me.

I’m not writing this to disparage RTD. They have a job to do and they do it fairly well. But Ms. Costello’s premise is that a car-free lifestyle is what she prefers and that more people should join her in this mentality. This is utter nonsense.

Recently, the National Federation of the Blind unveiled a car that could be operated independently by a blind driver. This was just a test run and I don’t suggest that a car will solve all of our problems, but if such a thing becomes a mainstream reality, I will kick, beat and claw my way to the front of the line to buy one in order that my life may become more convenient. You’ll be my first stop, Mike. We’ll go out and lift a jar or two and you can begin your translation of Thomas Sowell for me. Until that happy day arrives, thanks for taking the time to read this.

Yours truly,

Ryan Osentowski

That was written in June of 2011, three years before I took a job in Boulder that required me to spend over four hours a day commuting to and from work via RTD. It was also three years before ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber became a reality in my life. With that experience in mind, plus the downgrade to Omaha’s meager bus system, let me add a few additional thoughts to Ms. Costello’s assertions.

She says, “Have you experienced the pleasure of reading a novel all the way to work?”

A lot of people read novels while driving a car. Ever hear of audio books?

She asks, “Do you know the convenience of finishing work on the
commute home?”

Nope. I leave work at work. Based on some of the cell phone conversations I heard from my fellow RTD passengers, I wish they would have as well.

She further asks, “Do you know the peace of mind in not worrying about ice and snow?”

Umm, I presume you mean while riding the bus? I spent many a harrowing walk to and from the bus stop during Denver’s cold winter season worrying about ice and snow. And we won’t even talk about Nebraska’s brutal winter season. I nearly got killed more than once while worrying about ice and snow.

She says, “Have you watched the world move from day to night during the 5 o’clock
rush while someone else stresses about traffic?”

Yes, the buses in Denver were much more crowded during peak hours. However, if traffic or weather were severe, the passengers did not simply chill out and ignore it. The collective stress level would go up exponentially if we were in a traffic jam or an ice storm. See my above remarks about The Domino Effect for clarification.

IN closing, it’s been seven years since I wrote that Email to Mike Rosen. I miss Denver. I miss RTD. I miss Mike. Sorry, Elizabeth, but I still want a car.

Why I am a Federationist

From the Braille Monitor:

Why I Am a Federationist: Both Ends of the Spectrum

by Ryan Osentowski

From the Editor: The following speech was delivered at the 2002 convention of the NFB of Nebraska. Ryan is now a junior philosophy major and is
still a Federation leader: secretary of the Nebraska affiliate, first vice president of the Lincoln Chapter, and NFB-NEWSLINE� coordinator for
Nebraska. I uncovered this document the other day and remembered why I had thought it would be a fine addition to the Braille Monitor sometime. This
issue seemed to need some leavening of hope and inspiration. So here it is:

In considering why I am a Federationist, my train of thought began with the obvious reasons. The National Federation of the Blind is the largest,
most powerful movement of the blind in the country. We’re doing more for the blind than any other consumer organization for and of the blind. We’ve
developed NFB-NEWSLINE, America’s Jobline, and the Kernel Books. We have built the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore; training centers
in Colorado, Minnesota, and Louisiana; and now the NFB Jernigan Institute. We work every year to pass legislation that benefits the blind at the
local, state, and federal levels, and we come together annually for our national convention so that we can be heard en masse. Then we have the Braille
Monitor, divisions of all types, and a plethora of historically important speeches by such greats as Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, and President
Maurer.

I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to describe my ascent to the Federation and throw those facts in along the way so I could demonstrate
how great the NFB is. Then I realized that most of the people in this room already knew about those things. Those who don’t will come to know about
them during the course of this convention. I decided that my speech might seem redundant and I would have to throw in some jokes just to keep the
crowd awake.

Then my mind turned to more personal reflections. I thought I would talk about what I have benefited from in the Federation. But as I thought about
that, one of the many voices in my head broke free of the chaos and said to me, “Easy there, Ryan O. You don’t want to come off looking too selfish.”
I agreed with Mr. Voice, knowing that I shouldn’t take this opportunity to stand before a convention audience and look like a golddigger. Yet for
some reason the word “selfish” stuck in my head, and I began to ponder the concept of selfishness. What is it, and what does it truly mean? So
I ran with the idea of selfishness.

When we think of selfishness, we view it negatively. We think of selfish people as putting themselves first, people who are egocentric, self-centered,
and greedy. Those traits are often present, but is that all there is to the picture? What would happen if none of us ever acted selfishly? The
chances are that our lives would go nowhere. When Jacobus tenBroek founded the National Federation of the Blind in 1940, what were his motives?
Were they entirely selfless? Probably not. He surely wanted a better life for himself. He would not have been content to spend his days as a blind
man begging for food and money just to live. He wanted more than that.

When Kenneth Jernigan became involved in the Federation, was he doing it just because he had nothing better to do with his time? Not very likely!
He did it because he wanted to improve the quality of his life. He believed that there was more to life than making furniture at home to help support
his family. When our own state president, Carlos Servan, was blinded in a military accident in his home country of Peru, he could have stayed home
and become a wine taster. But he wanted more for himself as a blind person, so he came to America and achieved it. Didn’t these men do what they
did for selfish motives? Wasn’t a great deal of self-interest and self-preservation involved? Of course!

When I was growing up in my hometown of Kearney, my parents pushed me to strive to be better than average. They wanted me to be happy and successful
in life. Were they wrong to teach me these things? I firmly believe that my parents are a big part of the reason I am standing before you today.
They taught me to some degree to be selfish in my life.

Let me expand that idea. Many of us have selfish motives for being part of the Federation; let’s admit that. We all love socializing with our friends,
throwing parties at conventions, traveling to places like Washington, D.C., and rubbing elbows with the folks on Capitol Hill. Many of us get a
kick out of those things, and nothing is wrong with that. Yet something beneath those superficial desires also drives us. We all want better lives
for ourselves as blind people. We all want to be employed and work at a decent job, making decent money. Many of us want to go to school and acquire
a quality education. We all want to live in a world where our dignity as blind people will be protected from humiliation and discrimination.

Isn’t it selfish to want these things for ourselves? Yet they are positive, healthy things to strive for in our lives. How would it be if we all
just wanted to sit home with no job, no education, and no goals in life, indulging in simple, everyday pleasures? I say that this would be selfish,
but not nearly selfish enough to be constructive.

If we were an organization of people focused only on ourselves, we wouldn’t get very far. What about the other end of the spectrum? What about
selflessness? We all know what that term means, don’t we? A selfless person is someone who does for others or puts others ahead of him- or herself.
Isn’t that also a large part of what our movement is about? I mentioned Dr. tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan earlier and the fact that they were probably
fueled by selfish motives when they founded and built the National Federation of the Blind. Yet it only makes sense that a large part of their
motives were selfless. They were wise enough to realize that life does not exist in a vacuum and that their actions would affect many others. Sure,
they wanted a better quality of life for themselves, but they also wanted a fuller, richer quality of life for all blind people.

If you doubt that, just look at history. Dr. tenBroek endured a civil war within his own organization and stepped down as president for a time.
Yet he stayed. Dr. Jernigan endured public abuse from his enemies and the media during several years as NFB president in Iowa, but he kept on fighting
for the blind. Could you continue in a job where you were assaulted every day? Would you want to continue when everything from your character to
your personal life was attacked from every angle? Wouldn’t any self-absorbed man say, “Enough! I’ve had it! You go your way and I’ll go mine, and
that’s the end of it. Starting right now, I’m looking out for number one!” If you can say no to that, than you are a stronger person than I. Most
people would walk away, but these men didn’t. They stayed because they realized that the welfare of the blind was more important than their own self-interest.

That spirit of selflessness is still with us today. I recently attended a leadership seminar in Baltimore, and Dr. Maurer told us about his upcoming
schedule. He read his calendar to us, and we all noticed that he didn’t have a free weekend for at least three solid months. Can you imagine working
a full-time job with no free weekends? That would be tough on us and our families, wouldn’t it? Yet he does it without complaint because he realizes
that it is necessary for him to work tirelessly for our cause.

Our movement is so successful because men like President Maurer, Dr. tenBroek, and Dr. Jernigan were selfish enough to want more for themselves,
but selfless enough to want and work for it for others as well. As it is with so many things, a healthy balance must exist between the two. If
we leaned too far in either direction, our efforts would stall, and we would become bogged down.

The selfish and selfless motives of our past great leaders are still remembered today through many of our actions in the Federation. Take, for
example, our scholarship program. We’re giving money to students so that they can improve themselves, thereby improving the quality of their lives.
We also do it in the hope that they will come back to us and give the Federation the time, effort, and love a movement like ours requires of many.

America’s Jobline is a service for people to use to gain employment so that they can achieve the same result. When more blind people find jobs,
it makes us all stronger. Those training centers I mentioned earlier are there solely to teach blind people to do for themselves, but they also
help more blind people to become independent and demonstrate a more positive image of blindness that will benefit all of us.

I could go on, but I think you understand. The Federation continues to teach blind people to strive to do better for themselves. We have our own
motives that are both selfish and selfless. Whatever our members’ personal motives are, we have plenty of altruism to go around. Thousands of people
dedicate their time, energy, and loyalty to this organization, and they don’t receive monetary rewards for it. The rewards are intrinsic, knowing
that we are building a better life for blind people in our country. People join together each year to help raise funds, spread our positive message
about blindness, take minutes, balance the treasury checkbook, lobby for new and better legislation, spend time on the phone with newly blind people,
bring people to chapter meetings, chair committees, and do countless other things that benefit our organization. They do these things because they
are selfless.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am a Federationist. I’ve gained a great deal personally during my time here. I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’ve
also had the chance to grow as a blind person. My confidence has increased, and my attitudes about blindness have improved. My goals for myself
have expanded. Yet while I have taken my share of what the Federation has to offer, I would be remiss if I didn’t realize that I must give back
as well. When the day arrives that all blind people can work in an atmosphere of fairness and equality; when everyone, blind and sighted alike, comes
to know and respect our philosophy about blindness; when people are not ruled by their fear and ignorance of blindness, my time as an NFB volunteer
will be over. Until that day comes, I will stand proudly upon the barricades with my blind brothers and sisters, helping to make our positive vision
of the future come true.

The Country of the Sighted

“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
H. G. Wells

The following Email exchange occurred six years ago on the NFB-Talk discussion listserve. Said exchange resulted in the list administrator placing me on “moderated” status. This made me so angry that I unsubscribed from the list in a huff. Later, I reconsidered joining after I had cooled off, but realized that I didn’t miss the list that much, so I didn’t bother.

I will paste the correspondence below, then unpack it for you all. This shouldn’t be necessary, but given the ultra-reactionary times in which we live, I guess it’s necessary.

Here is the exchange:

December 17, 2011

Hi there,

Here’s a question that I guess could also be somewhat philosophical in that it will make us think about how we deal with and interact with sighted people.

As blind folks, do you think we have a responsibility to not only make our homes comfortable and accessible for us and the folks with whom we live, but also to sighted folks?

I’ve heard comments in the past that basically say that since it’s a blind person’s home, then the only thing that should be of concern is that things are comfortable and accessible for the blind person.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over a long period of time. I have some friends that come over, and one in particular who stays in my guest room when he’s in town, and when all of that happens, I’m the only blind person around. All of a sudden, I begin to think about lights and the amount of light in a room. I begin thinking of making sure that appliances that are labeled in Braille are done using clear tape so that they can also use them.
I even began thinking of the layout of my living room and how one of my friends finally said that it was uncomfortable to do things like watch TV or watch movies, because of how my furniture and TV are placed. People have to face sideways to be able to watch TV. And, my TV is so old that it doesn’t support or have HD capabilities.

I began wondering about the importance of a blind person having an aesthetically or visually appealing house, not only for himself but also for the sighted friends and family that come to visit. Are we being selfish by not considering these things, or should sighted company learn to live with how we have things and deal with them?

I’m beginning to think that if I care about my friends and family, then I should do something to make them feel comfortable in a place where they spend quite a bit of time. But then, where does one draw the line?

Anyway, hope you don’t mind the question. Just curious what other blind folks (especially those who are totally blind) think.

Thanks,

Juan

My response:

Juan:

Next time your friends come over and bitch about the lack of light, say something like this:

“You know what,” (insert name) “…You know what? Every freakin’ day, I get up and move around in a sighted world. I work on a finite schedule with the aid of public transit because I can’t drive. If the bus or train is late…so am I. If inclement weather strikes, I don’t get in my car and turn on the windshield wipers. I freeze my nuts off in the rain or snow until I can get on a bus.

When I go shopping, I pray to God that I can land a shopper’s assistant who is, at the very least, literate. If they speak English, it makes my day. If they speak English fluently…Jesus, I’ve been known to weep with joy. If I shop on line, I’ll be lucky if capcha, internet graphics and flash don’t give me a migraine that could floor Robin Williams on a coke binge!

Sorry if I seem a little grumpy. I just came from a job for which I’m vastly over-qualified. I have a freakin’ master’s degree in mathematics, or genetics, or whatever, but every institution/company at which I apply is run by sighted pricks who have figured out a way not to hire me. God bless the ADA and the well-intentioned, ignorant bastards who sleep better at night for having passed it. And God bless social security, who is still haunting my ass four years later because I forgot to report the
income I made running a cash register so that I could put bread on the table in between college semesters.

It makes a guy wonder if Walter White didn’t have a point. Screw it! Can blind people be meth cookers? You ever see Breaking Bad? You know…it’s that super good crime show on AMC that doesn’t air with description because Hollywood is too God damn cheap to give us description with all of their content, even though they can well afford to do so with minimal effort.

You want friggin’ light bulbs? Drive to the store and grab a few boxes. I’d take you myself, but I haven’t won the Power Ball yet and can’t afford a self-driving car. But let me give you directions. Siri! Work! C’mon, damn it! What’s the nearest Wal-Mart?

Flashlight? Who are you kidding? What friggin’ flashlight? Just use my cigar lighter to light your way to the door. Pick me up a new can of butane on the way back. Yes, I smoke cigars. No, I’m not amazing. Dealing with your ignorant ass makes me wanna smoke one right now. No, I don’t need help lighting it. Get your damn hands off me before Mr. Fist meets Mr. Sack!

It’s your world and you’re the king. Every day, I get up and I don’t just live. I thrive, brother. Grow the hell up!”

Then, out loud you can say:

“Umm, sure thing, man. Sorry for my insensitivity to your situation. Can you drive me to the nearest Safeway to grab a few bulbs? And hey…can we swing through for a Big Mac on the way home?”

Now Juan, I’ve been assuming that the people in question are men. If they are women, just say:

“Lights? Honey, for what we’re gonna be doin’, we don’t need no freakin’ lights.”

Sexist and boorish, but oh so true.

Love,

RyanO

That was the little chat that caused Dave, the NFB list admin, to write me and accuse me of exhibiting, “Bigotry toward the sighted.” Once again, let me state that it makes me sad to have to explain myself, but here goes.

Any clear-thinking individual would not interpret my previous message as being bigoted toward the sighted in any way. It was a mixture of sarcasm and satire. It is factual. Every day, we as blind people get up and operate within a sighted world. Although social morays seem to be changing, we must still adhere to the pragmatic view that the world defers to those who can see. This is not a question of philosophy; it is fact.

It is really a matter of numbers. The number of sighted people so drastically outweighs the number of blind people that it would not make any kind of sense not to set up the constructs of the world to favor the sighted.

That said, I find it darkly ironic that anyone would worry about the feelings of the sighted when they still reign victorious in every arena that matters. It is a reality that I accept, but please permit me to feel a burst of anger about it from time to time. This doesn’t mean that I am angry about my blindness, or in denial, or maladjusted. It simply means that, when I go outside my apartment and walk to the bus stop and have to travel in the street because there are no sidewalks to be found anywhere in my neighborhood, I might get a bit cranky, particularly when the first big snow of the season hits.

Am I a bad host? I try not to be. When my sighted pals Kevin or Christina come over, I make sure to accommodate them. If a lightbulb is burned out, I will replace it. I don’t own a TV, but if I did, I’d make sure to place it in such a position that my sighted guests would be comfortable while watching it. If I dated or married a sighted or partially sighted woman, and she wanted to hang pictures on the walls, or decorate our home in a fashion which she found visually pleasing, I would be all for it.

Incidentally, the last time my friend Christina visited, she helped me mark my microwave and my laundry machines, which are both touch panel. My thermostat is a bit more tricky as it is a push-button device with a visual display. I usually just call the good folks at Be My Eyes if I want to change the temperature, while I save up to buy a talking unit.

The philosophical money shot of Juan’s message (his real name is Jim, by the way), is this:

“Are we being selfish by not considering these things, or should sighted company learn to live with how we have things and deal with them?

I have never been a homeowner, but I have lived in my share of apartments. However, my parents owned the home in which I grew up. I have friends and family who own homes. Their domiciles are places that reflect their personalities. My pal Steve adorned the walls of his apartments with all manner of sports memorabilia. My father is an avid hunter, so it’s natural that he would have a few animal heads stuffed and mounted on his wall. Should my parents then go to great lengths to take down all evidence of Dad’s carnivorous tendencies if an ardent animal lover visits them at their house? No. Should my folks think about not entertaining said guest in the area where the animal heads are visible? That would go under the heading of good manners, in my opinion.

So yes, I think we should reasonably accommodate our sighted friends and family as a matter of courtesy and consideration. But don’t call me a bigot because I find a lot of dark irony in Juan’s questions. We used to call him Jaime, by the way.

As I said, this message was written six years ago. Certain things are dated in it. I referenced Robin Williams, who is no longer with us. Breaking Bad was still on the air. To this day, I’ve never found a described version that I can pirate from the Blind Mice Mall. Come on, Brits! Get with it! Also, it was written before Uber and Lyft became mainstream.

Yes… Uber and Lyft. Ride-sharing services have made it easier for us as blind people in many respects. Meanwhile, I went to order a Christmas gift for a friend the other night, but was not able to do so because the website was inaccessible. The owners of the company wrote me and said, “We appreciate your feedback. We hope to make changes to our site sometime next year and will do our best to incorporate the needs of our visually impaired customer base.”

Glad to hear it, guys. So should I just hold off till next Christmas? They don’t have a telephone option, but if they did, they would probably charge me an additional fee for ordering a product with a live representative. I’m reminded of the Springsteen song, “One step forward, two steps back.”

Now, if you want to accuse me of sexism or misogyny based on the “Honey, we won’t need no freakin’ lights,” comment, you could probably make a compelling case. That was written long before the #MeToo movement gained traction. However, I will take solace in the knowledge that I would never actually treat a woman in such a manner. I will humbly admit that I added that comment in an attempt to push buttons. It sure worked.

I will close with the words of Boyd Crowder from the TV series, Justified. After all, if we can open with Wells, we should close with Elmore Leonard, in the vain hope of trying to leaven this blog with a little culture, right?

“Whole world’s a tree, Raylan. I’m just a squirrel tryin’ to get a nut.”

Ghosts

There has been a great deal of talk over the past six days about Nazis and racism, punctuated by the violence in Charlottesville. Given the presidency of Donald Trump, this was a flair-up that was bound to happen sooner or later.

Someone I followed on Facebook made a comment that I’m paraphrasing here. “My grandfather fought in World War II, so I take this Nazi stuff very personally.”

I sympathize with this view. Both of my grandfathers, plus three uncles, fought in World War II, so I take it personally as well. I also take personally the fact that some members of the left are comparing the Antifa thugs to men like my grandfathers and uncles.

While the focus has largely been on President Trump, my thoughts are on Iceland. This past Monday, CBS News ran a story, discussing the fact that 100 percent of women in that country abort their babies if they are found to have Down syndrome. This is a phenomenon that is growing in Europe and beginning here in the United States as well. In my view, the tone of the report was positive.

I contrast this report with an Email I received from the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition a couple of months ago when healthcare reform was all the rage and it looked as if much-needed Medicaid reform would be a real possibility. The Email urged everyone to call and write their congressional representatives so that we might, “Avoid a second eugenics movement.”

Really? This from many of the same people who felt it necessary to occupy Cory Gardner’s office for days, until they were arrested for trespassing? All due respect, I can do without the hyperbole or the political theatrics. Moreover, if you want to see what real eugenics looks like, take a look at Iceland. Today, Down Syndrome. Tomorrow, when ultrasound technology becomes more advanced, why couldn’t it be babies who might be blind, deaf, crippled, or who’s brains might not develop properly?

You know who else loved the idea of designer babies? I’ll give you a hint. He was really big in Germany in the 1930’s and he damn near conquered Europe in the early 1940’s. So, all of you disabled people tossing around words like “Nazi,” and “Eugenics,” might want to do some research. Then, go take a hard look in the mirror and re-examine your own values system. Do you favor abortion under the pro-choice, pro-woman banner? If so, what’s your limiting principle? Many of you who call yourselves Christians or humanitarians, and who are tempted to just read this and move on, might ask yourselves some hard questions.

One more thing. Both of my grandfathers and all three uncles made it home from the battlefields of WW2, but not all of them were whole. Uncle Don had a severe case of battle fatigue; it would be called PTSD today. He could not speak coherently or fully take care of himself. He lived with my grandparents until he passed away. I was a kid when I knew him and, in my young mind, he rattled around in their basement like a strange, mumbling specter. Many countries might look at him today and decide that it would be more merciful to alleviate his suffering through euthanasia, rather than to expend the resources to provide him long-term care, despite his service to his country.

God bless you, Uncle Don. I hope it all makes sense to you now, because it sure doesn’t to me.

From dictionary.com:

Eugenics

Definition: The science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics. Developed largely by Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race, it fell into disfavor only after the perversion of its doctrines by the Nazis.