Civil Rights Issues Facing the 
Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois

Chapter 4

Advocacy Groups and Individuals for the
Blind and Visually Impaired

Individuals and organizations advocating for the blind and visually impaired testified to the Advisory Committee. Illinois Parents of the Visually Impaired and Parents of Blind Children, two organizations concerned with the education of blind and visually impaired children, testified before the Committee. A representative from a center for independent living and another representative from a blind services association spoke to the Committee about practical accommodations that would allow people who are blind or visually impaired to fully participate in their community. The Committee also received statements from persons who are blind and currently employed by Federal and State government agencies, the agencies being: the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Social Security Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service.

Illinois Parents of the Visually Impaired
Lyle Stauder and Victoria Juskie 1

Members of the organization, Illinois Parents of the Visually Impaired (IPVI), have school-age children who have visual impairment. Illinois Parents of the Visually Impaired is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1986, and is a charter member of the National Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired, which is a national organization.

IPVI assists in creating a climate of opportunity for blind or visually impaired (VI) children and youth in the home, school, and society. IPVI fosters communication and coordination between Federal, State, and local agencies and organizations involved with providing services to the VI and advocates on a state-wide level for services to VI children and their families. IPVI keeps its members informed on current proposals and actions which impact VI children and provides materials about this organization to professionals so as to encourage them to share this information with their clients. The organization believes that with good transition services available to visually impaired and blind students, these individuals can be and will be successful in living skills and work throughout their lives.

John Dewey, the philosopher and educator, wrote: “To find out what one is fitted to do and to secure an opportunity to do it is the key to happiness.” The blind and visually impaired young people wish to live full and successful lives, and with proper transition programs, many can.

Because blindness or visual impairment is the lowest of the “low incidence” handicaps, it is necessary for us to protect the rights of this smallest minority.  Also note, according to a Prevent Blindness America report, by the year 2030 twice as many people will be blind as are today.

It is important to understand that visually impaired does not mean learning disabled. Provided the right medium, blind and visually impaired students can successfully compete against sighted students in the academic and adaptive vocational areas. Too many well-intentioned people underestimate the abilities of blind or visually impaired children. Harm occurs when “aids” do more for the child than make sure one can see the assignment, thereby making the child more dependent and robbing of self-confidence.

Another unique quality of this minority student population is that blind and visually impaired children usually do not have blind and visually impaired parents, so parents need training and support as well as the children, even though the parents/ caregivers are the resident “experts” on the abilities of their children.

According to a study conducted under the direction of the Illinois Department of Human Services, there are currently 2,254 blind or visually impaired youth identified within the State of Illinois in need of transition services.

Currently transition services for students who are blind or visually impaired entering vocational rehabilitation services and employment are virtually nonexistent in the State of Illinois.

At present vocational rehabilitation services for youth who are blind or visually impaired graduating from high school are greatly delayed because of the lack of a formal transition program continuing all through high school. It is important that vocational rehabilitation services begin earlier during high school to avoid delays in receipt of such services after school and in achieving self-reliance. It is necessary for the blind or visually impaired youth and their family to explore career paths long before graduation. States such as Oregon, Florida, Indiana, and Texas have in place successful transition programs which result in better services, jobs, knowledgeable self-advocates, and achievement of competitive outcomes. These programs should be reviewed and considered with the best points adopted so as to avoid beginning from ground zero. The better we assist the blind and visually impaired in transitioning to productive members of society, the better society becomes.

Important issues that a poll of IPVI parents has brought to light are:

1. There are too few trained visual itinerant teachers to service the blind and VI population. There are no backup substitute teachers in place for when the regular vision teachers are absent. This absenteeism causes delays in a VI student’s course activities. Additionally, when mainstreaming VI children, all of his or her teachers should be trained on issues involving adapting the classroom information so the VI student can take equal part. Again, being visually impaired is not learning impaired. Simple adaptations of material can make a significant impact on VI students.

2. Getting proper Braille instruction is imperative. Some of the vision teachers are not trained as well in Braille as they should be.

3. There is a lack of sufficient numbers of color closed circuit TVs (CCTVs) or computers to meet the needs of all the VI students simultaneously in a particular school. These CCTVs should be in a resource room adapted to assist the VI children. Also, personal computers (PC) hold the key to helping VI children. Once text is in the PC, it can be enlarged by a word processor, read by a text-to-speech program, or punched out by a Braille printer. For example, certain sites on the Internet, like the Gutenberg Project, have hundreds of classic books free to download.  It would be great if all published text was available in flat files with no formatting commands required for downloading by VI people. Copyright issues could be satisfied. This would make the material accessible to a blind person with a PC. Braille readers could produce their own copies at a fraction of the $3 per page cost that American Printing House charges. Just imagine how much the story Moby Dick would cost at that rate. This is certainly not equal access to written material. On-loan CCTVs for home use for homework should also be provided. The schools should make CCTVs available for the students to bring home to use for their homework.

4. Sufficient working-order tape recorders for blind and VI children with which to take notes would be very helpful.

5. Obtaining the correct text in either enlarged print or Braille for a student’s assignments in the proper timeframe for a VI student to compete academically is needed.

6. Poor mobility accessibility due to lack of qualified teachers presents a great challenge.

7. Lack of coordination of services to the blind and VI through the school and public assistance programs causes problems.

8. Many times individual education plans (IEPs) are not set up at a timeframe to include all individuals present that should be, so this negatively impacts a child’s progress. Additionally, integrating the parents into the education of their blind and VI children is important. Sometimes core classes such as math, English, or social studies are eliminated so the child can go to a “skills” class. These eliminations are sometimes done without informing the parents. We feel it is far better to eliminate a study hall, art, physical education, shop, or music class before a core class. If this was communicated to the parents in a timely fashion, a better education plan could be implemented, as the parents are the most knowledgeable in dealing with their VI child. Also, monitoring progress of a blind/VI child should occur on a monthly basis in order to prevent the child from getting too far behind.

9. In order to facilitate learning and transitions, early childhood classroom adaptations with qualified teachers is a must.

10. Professionals who specialize in handicap services should be required to take courses which improve their—for lack of a better word—"bed-side" manners. Having a degree does not make one an expert on any one particular child. The child’s parents and caregivers are the ones most experienced with the child, and their input is crucial in a successful transition program.

Successful transition programs involve a commitment from the community as well. Many school-to-work transition programs such as “Bridges” that have strong education, training, and support components achieve successful employment for young people with disabilities.

Our children want and deserve to have their civil rights protected. As Americans who hold the belief that our society can provide its citizens with opportunities to pursue happiness—which is clearly spelled out as one of our unalienable rights set down by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence—we implore you to maintain the civil rights of the blind and visually impaired and require mandatory transition programs be available to them.

Parents of Blind Children
Debbie Stein and Patty Gregory 2

Blind children in Illinois face two distinct forms of civil rights violations. First, these children often encounter overt discrimination that bars them from participation in programs and denies them access to a public accommodation. Second, blind children are excluded from equal opportunity in education, a form of discriminatory treatment to which these children would not be subjected if they were fully sighted. Another glaring example of civil rights violation often encountered in Illinois is commercial day care. Many day care facilities have a policy not to accept blind children, a stated policy where they will tell parents that children who are blind are not accepted. As a result, working parents of blind children often have severe problems finding adequate child care.

Education in the Least Restrictive Environment

Under Federal law, blind children are guaranteed an education in the least restrictive setting possible. This is usually understood to mean that blind children are to be integrated as fully as possible into the regular classroom unless there is clearly a reason for a child to be in a more specialized program.

In many Illinois school districts blind children are automatically retained in resource rooms. Ideally, resource rooms should be just what the name implies, a place where blind children can avail themselves of special resources on an as- needed basis as the child learns Braille, typing, and some other skills. Then the resource room should gradually be phased out of his or her educational plan.

Unfortunately, many school districts are holding blind students in the resource room setting; it becomes the child’s home base. The resource room becomes the place where she or he spends most of the day, and the result is that blind children are isolated and stigmatized. They are not treated as full members of the school community.

Braille Instruction

Illinois State law and sections of the Federal education legislation ensure that blind children will not be denied training in the use of Braille. Nevertheless, many blind children in Illinois receive little or no Braille instruction. Children with some remaining sight, no matter how little sight, are urged to use print exclusively. By 4th or 5th grade, as the reading load increases, these legally blind children are struggling desperately to keep up with their classmates. The signs of frustration and failure that result can be severely damaging to these children. Even if the child is clearly unable to survive as a print reader, teachers are often reluctant to consider Braille instead. Parents are told that the child can get by with books on tape. Recorded materials are certainly an invaluable tool for people who are blind, and blind children need to learn to use recorded materials effectively, but tapes have various limitations. Imagine that this Committee is making a record of these proceedings and that the record would be available only on audio cassette. Imagine a congressional intern trying to research today’s record purely by working the fast-forward and rewind buttons on a tape recorder. Imagine further that this intern is only able to synthesize the results of his work by making another oral report on yet another tape. Picture Members of the Congress reviewing that taped report in order to create legislation. Sighted persons would not find such a system acceptable, yet that is the system which blind children are being taught to use by well-meaning or uninformed teachers.

Some children in Illinois are successfully taught both print and Braille.  These fortunate few have the option of using whichever reading method is going to serve them best in a particular situation. This double media approach should be practiced much more widely than it is because it is proving very successful for the children who have it. For people who are blind, Braille provides the same advantages that sighted children get from print. It is a direct hands-on method for gaining access to information. It enables blind students to learn proper spelling and punctuation, to get a special sense of how mathematical problems are arranged, and to take notes from lectures or tapes.

So why are teachers so reluctant to teach it? For one thing, their own knowledge of the Braille code is often weak due to their own poor training in special education training programs. Many teachers do not really believe that Braille is an efficient reading method. As an end result, blind children are finishing school without being fluent in either Braille or print. They are, in effect, illiterate. In many other areas children are cut off from the opportunity and experiences that sighted children take for granted. When the child is lucky enough to learn Braille and to have a supply of Braille books, those books rarely, if ever, have raised pictures, maps, or diagrams. Sighted children learn a great deal about the world by visiting museums, but most museums are behind glass or chains; they’re totally off limits to blind children.

Computer Literacy

Computer literacy is another crucial area in which blind children are often excluded. A wide array of adaptive technology is available to blind people, yet school districts in Illinois are often unwilling or unable to purchase these costly devices. As a result, few blind students can access the computers that their sighted classmates are using. This is an increasing problem, since more schools are beginning to use computer rooms and computer programs to teach general subjects, such as geography, history, math, and so forth. So computer access is important throughout the school curriculum.

In addition to the full range of academic subjects, blind children need training in the alternative techniques of blindness. They need to learn how to travel independently with a long white cane. They need to learn effective methods of cooking, cleaning, sweeping, doing home repairs and often the best people to teach such techniques are blind adults, people who use these skills everyday. Illinois will not certify blind people to work in the field of orientation and mobility, that is to teach cane travel. In addition, few vision teachers make any effort to be blind mentors for their pupils; thus the blind child often grows up in the complete absence of blind role models. Neither the child nor the parents have a chance to develop healthy positive attitudes about blindness and to learn the full range of possibilities for the future.

Here are recommendations for things that can be done to improve the lives of blind children. Families need a greater range of resources. Additionally, families with a blind child need to have a greater awareness of their rights under the law to help them fight direct discrimination, such as in the case of day care centers that refuse to enroll blind children.

A Braille bill with some enforcement provisions is needed in Illinois. It is not uncommon to encounter teachers who are not teaching Braille to blind children, though such instruction is required several times a week as part of the student’s independent education plan (IEP). Yet there are teachers who ignore the IEP and refuse to provide Braille training to the child. There need to be some enforceable sanctions available for the parents to take in such cases.

With regard to the education system, teacher training programs should be improved so that their graduates are truly prepared to teach Braille. Teachers and student teachers should be strongly encouraged to network with blind adults, using them as a resource. Blind people should have the right to become certified as teachers of cane travel. Overall, schools and other programs should make a real effort to provide blind children with the same experiences as they offer to sighted children. Blind students should have the opportunity to benefit from all classroom activities, including laboratory experiments, art classes, physical education, music, and computer work. If an activity is strictly visual, then the teachers should find ways for the blind child to have a comfortable experience through hearing and touching. This commitment to equality means that blind children should be allowed the fullest possible participation in at least certain drama days, service clubs, and other activities, whether those activities are sponsored by the school or by outside organizations. In order for such a commitment to be deep and lasting, it must have a strong philosophical foundation. It must be based on the belief that getting by is never enough. Blind children deserve the same opportunities that sighted children are given. Investing in blind children is investing in the future.

DuPage County Center for Independent Living
Mary Cozy 3

I am a person with a visual impairment, and I serve a lot of consumers who are blind or visually impaired. The issues addressed in this statement are with regard to public accommodations, specifically the need for public accommodations for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Public accommodations fall into several areas: (1) signage, (2) unobstructed path of travel, (3) alternative formats of communication, and (4) public disability awareness. Public accommodations are required for both government and private entities, so they include libraries, parks, schools, restaurants, hotels, places of travel, and other destinations. It is a very broad range of public life.

People who are blind or visually impaired do not want special treatment or segregated services. People who are blind or visually impaired want to be included into everyday life. People who are blind and visually impaired fill many different roles, parents, teachers, service providers, churchgoers, volunteers, etc. People who are blind and visually impaired want to participate in their community, and in order to do that they need the kind of accommodations that will allow them to participate in everyday life.


Simple things such as signage are important. For instance, signs on bathrooms. That is a really important one if you need a bathroom. You need to know if it is a bathroom or a storage room or a stairway or elevator, and the signage needs to be accurate and consistent.

Signage that is consistent and accurate makes the difference for people who are blind going out and being able to get around independently. We are all familiar with the Braille and large print signage on elevators that say the numbers. It is even more important to have that signage at the floor so one knows that this is the 4th floor and not the 5th floor.

Unobstructed Path of Travel

Unobstructed path of travel is very important. One aspect of this is cane detectable obstructions, so that if something is protruding out of a wall, a flower pot is placed under it, a very simple accommodation. A person who is blind or visually impaired is not going to run into it. There are such things as detectable warnings, e.g., strips at the top of a flight of stairs that give an extra cue so that the person who is blind can be safe in his or her path of travel. These are simple accommodations that make it possible for people who are blind and visually impaired to have equal access to the community.

Alternative Formats

Alternative formats include readers of large print, Braille, audio cassettes, and computer disks. Many think that all printed information needs to be in all formats. That is not necessarily true, but it should be in formats that make it usable to more people, and the type of format that you need depends on the preference of the person and the complexity of the printed material being communicated.

For example, if it is a meeting agenda, it may be a good idea to have that in Braille because the persons attending will be sitting at this meeting and need to know the specific times on the agenda. If it is a handout that one will take home, then it may be best to have a computer disk so it can be read with a Braille output device or speech synthesizer device.

Along these lines, know that all people who are blind do not read Braille. As few as 12 percent of the blind population may have this skill. So it is not a good idea to have the only alternate format be Braille. Sometimes information can just be read to someone, e.g., a job application, a piece of information immediately needed. Another alternate format is to put something on the audio cassette.

So it is important to determine what is needed so the person who is blind or visually impaired can go to a meeting in their community and have access to the same information and participate at the same level as everyone else in the community. Many consumers call the DuPage Center and ask about how they can participate in all walks of their community. For example, one person might want to know where she can get music enlarged so that she can sing in her church choir. She does not have to sing in a choir composed of people who have visual impairment; she wants to sing with everybody else. Another person calls and wants to volunteer at her chamber of commerce, but she needed the information, such as the phone numbers of chamber members, put into Braille so she could independently call all the members of the chamber to remind them of meetings or help them with different projects. These are very simple accommodations that enable people who are blind or visually impaired to participate in all walks of life.

Public Disability Awareness

Finally, there is the issue of public education, which is really the most important thing that helps persons who are blind and visually impaired be participants in their community. It is important for sighted people to be educated in just how to work and accommodate people who are blind or visually impaired. For example, the law allows guide dogs to go everywhere. Yet even today, in this day and age people with guide dogs are still prohibited from going into some restaurants, and some taxicabs are refusing rides.

People who are blind or visually impaired do not want special treatment. They simply want equal access, something every speaker at this conference has advocated for.

Blind Services Association
Jim Ferneborg 4

The Blind Services Association serves people who are blind or visually impaired in the six-County area around Chicago. The Blind Services Association is your classic, private, not for-profit organization that lives almost entirely on private fundings, bequests, and endowments.

The association is the area leader in reading and restoring to people who cannot access the printed page. There is a very small staff… but a very large volunteer staff in the area of 400 individuals annually donating over 17,000 hours to people who needed reading and customized recordings. In addition, the Blind Services Association offers a large number of scholarships.

Similar to the sentiment of other advocacy organizations, the Blind Services Association thinks that the best judge of what is best for blind people are blind people themselves. This is why in the Blind Services Association blind consumers not only participate, but also generate and are the architects and the administrators of all the programs.

I administer one such program, a summer program for children operating jointly with the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park District. There are generally 17 to 20 children in that program every summer, ranging from 7th and 8th grade on through all the high school years. Every summer I notice that the children’s daily living skills have gotten worse, their Braille has deteriorated, their mobility has gotten worse, and so forth.

It is we blind people who should be in the business of delivering services to other blind people. It is all well and good to have people who are certified in this or certified in that, but sighted people really do not have much of an investment in vision issues unless they have a close relative or a child who is blind. Blind people have an investment in seeing that other blind people prosper, succeed, and are independent.

I recall a few months ago being at a meeting of area teachers. There were 50 to 60 resource teachers in the room. They were itinerant teachers and orientation and mobility instructors. I inquired as to the number of blind people there were in the room. The answer came back, “One.” I was the only one. I am not entirely sure that that is acceptable.

It is no mystery that blind children do not get the proper cane travel and the cane technique that they need, and the Braille skills that they need, and the tips and tricks that only blind adults can give them, who can become role models for them and can show them how to live successfully as a blind persons. It is easy for a child to go through the entire school system and never see a functioning blind person.

Upon receiving notice of this conference, I surveyed adults in our organization about barriers facing people who are blind. The main complaint centered around the delivery of services from our vocational rehabilitation system. The complaints included everything, from lack of money for schools to lack of vocational training programs.

Representatives from the Illinois Bureau of the Blind have testified at this conference that there are about 20 teachers in the State of Illinois who are rehabilitation teachers who actually go into the home to show people things. I understand that about four or five of them are blind or visually impaired, and that in the greater Chicagoland area there are no rehabilitation teachers who are blind or visually impaired. Our consumers tell us they want their teachers who come to the home to teach them things to be persons themselves who have learned to use and do things that blind people have to live with every day.

There is only one program that I know of in the United States that allows a blind individual to learn or to get a master’s in orientation and mobility. That is presently run through the joint venture of Louisiana Institute for the Blind and Louisiana Tech University. Presently the Blind Services Association is assisting one individual, an individual who is totally blind, to go there and learn to become an orientation and mobility instructor. But, the question becomes, when he returns to Illinois, is anybody going to allow him to work because he has to pass through a certification that screens out blind people?

Who is better at teaching a blind person to travel than a blind person? Yet when people who need orientation and mobility training ask for the help from the State, they get a person who is supposedly certified, but that person teaches them with inadequate tools.

I understand there are about 18 to 20 counselors in the State, counselors who help people plan their education, their job search, career training, and do job placement for them. Of the 18, there are about 4 or 5 who are blind or visually impaired. There are counselors in the State of Illinois who do not even know Braille assisting people who are blind in planning their whole future. Again, it is the lack of role models for persons who are blind.

This country is in a period of its best economic growth since the postwar period. Unemployment is the lowest it has been in the last 30 years, yet blind people are not benefiting from this. The unemployment rate for people who are blind is still in the 70 percent area. The purpose of the vocational rehabilitation system should be to help people find jobs. There was a time when we had marketing and employment specialists for the blind. These positions no longer exist. Is it any wonder that there are not enough options for those who are blind with regard to employment once they have completed school and are on the job? The blind are losing jobs. Individuals who are blind wait months and months for equipment—technical equipment that they need on the job. Students wait for learning materials.

Individuals who are blind are losing jobs. They are losing jobs because they cannot keep up with the shifting technologies. The system has to focus on employment, and there is a sentiment in the community that it is simply not doing that.

I go back to the theme that the people who know what is best for blind people are blind people. There is a strong feeling within the blind and visually impaired community that what is needed in this State is a commission from the blind, a commission built from the ground up with the active support and participation of blind people, because they are the ones who eventually are consuming the services and who understand the best manner of delivering those services.

Individual Statements
Don L. Davia,5 Counselor for blind people in the State of Illinois

I was taken by surprise when I heard that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was conducting a hearing on barriers to blind people in education, transportation, housing, and employment. I honestly thought we had been forgotten.

I have been a counselor for blind people in the State of Illinois for 30 years. For this circumstance I am grateful, and I feel I have a good perspective on what has been occurring in Illinois. When I was first hired in 1968, almost the entire counseling and teaching staff were blind. This was because of the active involvement of the Federal Government. Until 1943 the national vocational rehabilitation system excluded blind people from services because we were considered too severely disabled for employment. The need for workers in World War II changed this perspective. Blind people were hired in every State, and employment for the blind increased. In 1965 in Illinois blind counselors were first allowed to handle their own cases because the system began to realize that if a blind person had a good secretary he or she would take extra precautions to have accurate paperwork. As long as the Department of Rehabilitation continued to hire competent blind people appropriately, and good clerical help was provided, then blind people prospered, and the State agency saw disability services for the disabled grow in influence.

With the growth of affirmative action, things began to change. The Bureau of Blind Services (BBS) was created in Illinois in 1979. BBS was not allowed to have its own secretaries and, of course, the worst secretaries were given to the blind because BBS statistics were not part of the local supervisor’s concern. In 1986 this situation was changed, but the original damage to services was done, and poor clerical help was already in place and protected by civil service.

Second, the department was finding that placements as a whole were dropping. Marketing and employment specialists were hired. The Bureau of the Blind was not allowed to have any of these positions. Again, BBS statistics were not a concern for local supervision, and thus the MES only had to give token help for employment for the blind so appearances could be kept up with the public that all was well. This situation still has not been corrected to this day.

Third, the State of Illinois has had an excellent transition for high school students since 1965. This program mainly serves developmentally disabled. Bright physically disabled students are excluded by practice. This would include bright blind and visually impaired students. State law mandates transition services. Until now BBS has not been allowed to have its own transition services except at the school for the blind. We are in violation of State law and we know it.

In transportation the State transportation professionals treat the ADA not as a civil rights law but as a transportation limiting law. Medical visits and visits to the Social Security office are treated as priorities. Training, education, and employment are excluded as valid considerations. In the Chicago area there are not even an appeal procedures in place at PACE or the ADA for people to complain about this situation. There is only an appeal process at the RTA for eligibility.

In education the school for the blind is not under the Board of Education. It is under the Department of Human Services. Turf fighting over numbers has reduced the number of students referred to ISVI to the point where the school is threatened with closure. Educators in Springfield have stated they have no responsibility for direct services to students. This lack of accountability only affects the deaf, the blind, and the severely physically disabled.

Finally, since BBS was created in 1979 the number of blind professionals hired by the State has dropped dramatically. In 1979 the State had 18 blind rehabilitation counselors. In 1995 the State reported to the Federal Government that we had seven counselors. Today, the number is even lower. In 1979 the State had 20 blind rehabilitation teachers throughout the State, and 8 were in the Chicagoland area. Today, there are five teachers left in the State and none in the Chicagoland area. Only two teachers in the Chicagoland area know and can teach Braille. Braille illiteracy is a major reason for high unemployment for the blind.

The State claims that union contracts and intra-agency transfers are the major causes for lack of competent (especially blind) counselors and teachers. The deaf community faced the same challenge a few years ago and had mandated sign language as a requirement for hiring counselors for the deaf. The union has no objections to reasonable requirements for a job. Today the services for the deaf have a nice mixture of deaf and hearing counselors who serve the deaf competently. The Department of Rehabilitation has refused to make Braille a requirement for teachers and counselors because BBS has become a dumping ground for unwanted counselors, supervisors, and administrators in the rest of DHS. This is why Illinois ranks 49th out of 50 States in successfully completing services as reported by the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).

Under the official policy for hiring under affirmative action by the Illinois Department of Human Services, the State only is mandated to hire women and minorities. The disabled are not required to be hired. I have been told by my supervisors verbally that any list that includes the disabled is not asked for when people are hired. With no pressure to hire the disabled, exclusion ultimately becomes the practice of the agency.

Suggestions: We should return to the policy of strongly encouraging the hiring of blind people and others when it is known that a particular group of people definitely benefits from such a practice. Also, you should include the disabled in the whole hiring process with affirmative action and monitor all affirmative action programs to ensure that all disabled people are given a fair hearing in the hiring process.

For transportation make the ADA be enforced as a civil rights act and make training and employment a priority. Just adding employment could reduce unemployment of all disabled to 50 percent.

In Illinois put all schools for the disabled under the Department of Public Instruction. Educators are paid to educate and the disabled are American students. Turf fighting and faulty educator attitudes toward the disabled would be corrected.

In employment encourage DHS to give BBS its own transition and marketing programs. Encourage DHS to make Braille reading and writing a requirement for hiring teachers and counselors working with the blind. Include the disabled as equals when evaluating AA programs.

In conclusion, confer with the U.S. Department of Education, RSA, Chicago Regional Office. This department is responsible for monitoring the Federal rehabilitation program. In talking to their staff, I have found that they are concerned with the drop in hiring and employment shown by all blind services throughout the country. They also reported that State agencies have been getting around client assistance programs and appeals by not letting calendars start for appeal processes. Denial of rights to citizens may be at stake. In any case, this department should have the kind of information that could prove helpful in your search.

Ann Brash,6 Claims representative, Social Security Administration

Last August our office converted to a new computer system, Windows NT. I now use speech software manufactured by Henry Joyce and a Braille display made by Tel-Sensory Systems, Inc., Philly Systems. Although SSA and Henry Joyce have made significant improvements in the system since August, there are still a number of serious problems remaining that make it extremely difficult for me to provide either the quantity of service or the quality of service to the public that Social Security expects and that I used to be able to provide using my previous equipment. First, the speech and the Braille frequently do not work together. The speech reads several lines above or below where the Braille is reading, and in many instances neither of them tells me where I actually am on the screen. It is very easy to fill in information on a form in the incorrect places. Often the Braille and the speech are so incompatible that the computer keys lock up totally.

Secondly, the speech is out of sync with the screen. I can be in one part of a program and it will be reading information to me from another part of the program, making it almost impossible for me to concentrate on what I am doing or to know where I really am on the screen. Sometimes the speech stops altogether and the Braille disappears entirely.

Thirdly, there are applications which are still not easily accessible, such as our search documents. Through a complicated process of using different key combinations, I can eventually get to the section I need to read. However, this requires so many steps and is so slow that my claims processing time is significantly increased.

Fourth, problems result from the multiple uses of certain keys. For example, the insert key and the control key are of great importance in Microsoft Word and in SSA’s mainframes, but they are also of primary importance in allowing the speech program to operate correctly. When the issues of these key conflicts, which is often, the system freezes.

Those who do not use this software cannot understand the emotional impact that this system’s instability problems, i.e., the constant disappearing and reappearing of entries, can have for a person who is blind and trying to use the system. For the past year, I have tried to create within SSA a blind computer user’s network where solutions to problems could be exchanged. To date I have not been able to obtain agency support for this effort.

With the growth of technology, speed is becoming all important on the job as increased productivity is demanded with fewer employees. Our previous DOS-based computer system had its emphasis on the written word and did much to shrink the gap between what we as blind professionals could do on the job, and what our sighted coworkers could accomplish. Now, however, the Windows environment is widening that gap again.

Technology may make jobs easier for those who can see, but for those of us who are blind and using constantly changing technology, we struggle just to keep up technological innovations are causing us to lose all of the gains we have made. Those of us who have worked so hard for so many years to reach this point in our career may be forced out of the job market.

Terry Gorman,7 Tax law specialist, Internal Revenue Service

I am a tax law specialist at the Internal Revenue Service. I want to address my concerns about issues that involve the personal lives of people who are blind and visually impaired with respect to our functioning and enjoyment of life.

One of the wonderful things about living in a city like Chicago is the opportunity to go into places and enjoy the restaurants and art services available in the city. In that regard, blind people are actually physically barred from the enjoyment of some of these things.

Let me illustrate. Let us suppose a person who is blind and would like to go to a foreign specialty restaurant, and the restaurant has 150 items on the menu and no one at the restaurant speaks English well. The result in this instance is that if I am going to go to that restaurant alone or perhaps with a blind acquaintance, we are not going to be able to get served. I understand, that under the Americans with Disabilities Act a person who is blind has a right to have all of the items on the menu read to him or her. Actually, what frequently happens in restaurant situations is people avoid their obligation to really inform you of the menu. But let us say all 150 the items on the menu are read to you. What sort of an experience is it like to have someone read a lengthy listing of such items? So there is a physical bar to actually going into some of the most enjoyable places in the city.

What is the solution? The solution is a law mandating at some level that restaurants, museums, and other public entities be required to provide their information in Braille. This is an area where blind people can work for themselves. We know Braille and we can produce Braille. Some establishments have offered recorded menus and information. The problem with that medium is that the piece of equipment may be unfamiliar to the user. Upon being handed the piece of equipment, the first reaction is, What are the controls? Where’s the play back? Perhaps the piece of equipment is broken on the particular day the person who is blind visits. It is philosophically problematical when million dollar infusions are made into many restaurants and other public entities and there is no consideration for the blind in these kinds of services.

My last item is in a similar vein. If a person who is blind buys a piece of equipment, he or she would like a manual available about the operation and features of that product. Similarly, when a person who is blind is making a decision about insurance or medical care. It is not as if someone is sitting down at an old manual typewriter like they used to years ago. Yet the blind community seemingly has no legal right to request even magnetic computer disk copies of such manuals and pamphlets.


1 Statement by Lyle Stauder and Victoria Juskie to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Lyle Stauder is president of the Illinois Parents of the Visually Impaired; Victoria Juskie is regional vice president of the organization.

2 Statement by Debbie Stein and Patty Gregory to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Debbie Stein is a board member of the Illinois Parents of Blind Children, a division of the National Federation of the Blind; Patty Gregory is a member of Illinois Parents of Blind Children.

3 Statement by Mary Cozy to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Mary Cozy is an information and referral advocacy coordinator for the center.

4 Statement by Jim Ferneborg to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Jim Ferneborg is the assistant director of the Blind Services Association.

5 Statement by Don L. Davia to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Jim Ferneborg is the assistant director of the Blind Services Association.

6 Statement by Ann Brash to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Jim Ferneborg is the assistant director of the Blind Services Association.

7 Statement by Terry Gorman to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998.