by Art Schreiber
From the Editor: Art Schreiber is a first-class example of what adopting the NFB’s positive philosophy of blindness can do for a senior suddenly faced with vision loss. He now serves as president of the NFB of New Mexico and still broadcasts two radio programs a week in Albuquerque. Here is the speech he made at the 2005 meeting of the National Organization of the Senior Blind in Louisville. It is reprinted from the Winter/Spring 2006 issue of the NOSB Newsletter . This is what he said:
It was August 22, 1982--I remember it very well--I had been in New Mexico just nine months when my life changed. I had been working for a radio station in another state when I was offered a better job in New Mexico. As I said, that August day I woke up, and the lights had gone out. I was blind. I really did think that it was the end of my career. I had had the pleasure of being Washington and then foreign news bureau chief for Westinghouse Broadcasting Company. I had traveled with Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Martin Luther King on his marches through the South. I had covered all the race riots and the manned space flights. I not only traveled and worked with Democrats, but also Republicans like Goldwater. I even traveled with the Beatles in 1964. When I speak to young people today, I tell them to go home and tell their grandmothers that I was present when they were screaming at the Beatles. I have had a wonderful career in broadcasting ending up in New Mexico. But, as I said, that morning I woke up blind and was sure my life was over. When I was bureau chief, I had the pleasure of working with a man named Jerry Landay. He was my bureau chief in London. He handled all the foreign news for me. Later he moved to CBS. He also worked for the New York Times and as White House correspondent for ABC. When I became blind, I got a call from Jerry. He said that he had just done a story on a new reading machine for the blind. He said that I had to get one. He even gave me a number to call. I was in the middle of having surgery, but I had my nurse call the number because Jerry was so insistent. NFB member David Ticchi answered the phone because he was working for the company at the time. I told him that I had just become blind, and I had to get the machine right then. He replied that I did not need a reading machine right then; I needed to learn to function as a blind man. Of course he was telling me the truth, but I did not want to believe what he was saying. I was sure that that reading machine would solve all my problems. He would not leave it alone. He asked if I knew a Fred Schroeder. He said that Fred was one of the best white cane travelers and that I needed to give him a call. I did, but he never returned my call. I wondered what could be wrong with this Schroeder guy. But one day my secretary came into my office and told me that a bunch of blind people were in the lobby and wanted to talk to me. She said that it was something about wanting me to promote a white cane banquet. They sat down in my office, and the first thing out of my mouth was to ask if they knew a guy named Fred Schroeder. They said that he was the state president. I told them in no uncertain terms to have the guy call me, and finally he did.
He was at that time working for the local school district; I guess they could not afford to pay his secretary very much, for she never gave Fred phone messages. But I did finally talk to Fred, and the rest is history. He is the one who got me into the National Federation of the Blind, and that turned my life around. Now that I have all the NFB training and am the NFB president in New Mexico, I take at least six calls a week from seniors losing vision. They simply do not know what to do. This is what I tell them: accepting the loss of vision is fact, and living as a blind person is reality. Next I talk to them about attitude. Positive attitudes about blindness do not come overnight, but they must be worked on. Then I talk to them about getting training in the use of the long white cane and technology. Last I talk about the alternative techniques we blind folks all use. My very favorite is the one I learned from Dr. Jernigan. Sighted people put toothpaste on the brush. That works, but sometimes it spills. Dr. Jernigan said each person should have his own tube and simply take the top off and squeeze out in your mouth exactly the amount you want. Not a drop is lost. We NFB members must convince seniors losing vision that they can function normally using what we call “alternative techniques,” simply different ways of doing what they have done all their lives. I want to tell a story about myself and attitudes toward blindness and the white cane. A woman I was planning to marry and I and my best friend Ernie and his wife were vacationing in northern New Mexico. My intended told me one day that she did not want me to use that white cane. She said that it embarrassed her. We had been planning the wedding before I lost my sight. She simply could not accept the reality of my blindness. That was her problem, so we cancelled the wedding. Had we already been married, we might well have divorced, for there is absolutely no reason to hide any aspect of blindness.
The white cane allows blind people to go wherever we want to go. I love to travel, and I go on a lot of ships. However, my traveling has been curtailed a bit, for I am now back on the radio on Sundays. I do two one-hour shows, one for seniors and the other about disabilities. The old war-horse cannot give up. I love spending days and weeks floating around on the ocean, and I am very happy when fellow passengers come up to me and ask how I get around the ship. I take the time to show them how the white cane helps me find whatever I want. Technology can also be very helpful. I still cannot use one of the speech programs to read a computer screen very well, but thank goodness for the VoiceNote. It is my salvation. I use it for phone numbers, as a planner, and for word processing. We need to show newly blind seniors the tools we use to carry on a normal life. Let me end by telling a story about my boss at the radio station. I was to have surgery and was waiting with my son in the hospital for my turn. My son’s phone rang. When he answered, he said that my boss wanted to talk to me. My boss said again that he had hired me for my brains. When I handed the phone back to my son, I told him what the boss had said. My charming son then commented, “They will be surprised to learn that your brain has gone too.”