By Daniel J. Vance
One model organization making a lasting impression on the world of disabilities is the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
As mentioned previously in this column, rather than sighted people helping the blind, NFB is primarily an organization of blind people empowering the blind.
Perhaps that's why they have been so aggressive in trying to finish construction on their new 170,000 sq. ft. National Research and Training Institute for the Blind: NFB employees have a personal stake in its completion.
Helping fellow blind people gain meaningful employment is one of their top priorities.
The unemployment rate among the nation's 1.1 million blind is 74 percent. NFB realizes that a lower unemployment rate will certainly translate to increased self-confidence among the blind and more respect from sighted peers – ideals the organization embraces.
To help the 50,000 Americans who become blind each year find that employment, NFB and the U.S. Dept. of Labor now provide free employment listings via telephone. The service is called "America's Jobline," and it will soon be available in 40 states.
But that effort is only a start. NFB also must educate employers on blind persons' capabilities given new technologies that make employment possible, help develop confidence in blind persons seeking employment, and educate the general public on blindness.
It's a heady agenda, but the organization appears up to it.
NFB Director of Communications Patricia Maurer, in a recent telephone interview with me, expressed a desire for employers to believe more in the capabilities of the blind. "The average blind person can do the average job at the average business; and an extraordinary blind person can do an extraordinary job," she said.
The new 170,000 sq. ft. National Research and Training Institute will find ways to better evaluate, motivate, educate, and train the blind for employment -- even urging the nation's 57,000 blind children to learn Braille.
"We'll also do research in all manner of blindness issues: from accessibility to technology, programs for blind seniors, mobility issues such as determining efficient ways for blind people to travel, and even testing different kinds of canes," said Maurer.
The research and training institute will also create job partnerships with private industry.
organization has high hopes for the training and research institute. The
capital campaign to raise money for it has been called,
"The Campaign to Change What It Means to Be Blind."
Copyright 2002 by Daniel J. Vance]