A Little Bit of Our History
Changing what it means to be blind in Rhode Island.
The National Federation of the Blind of Rhode Island is this state's affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. Our parent organization was formed in 1940 to try to improve the standard of living for the blind of this country. In 1970, this affiliate came into existence and began its work in bettering the lives for blind Rhode Islanders.
As we know, it is guaranteed in the United States Constitution that all people are created equal, however, like many minorities the blind have had to fight to achieve their civil rights. This is the reason why we have the motto Equality, Security, and Opportunity. Blind people should be equal, secure in the knowledge of their equality, and have the opportunity to do anything they wish like their sighted counterparts.
At its outset our national organization was instrumental in opening jobs to blind people in the Federal Government and establishing Social Security benefits for blind people. It set the provisions for the White Cane Law which allows blind people equal rights in the community.
Upon our formation in 1970 in Rhode Island, this affiliate went to the legislature and had the White Cane Law passed. This law was passed here faster than anywhere in the U.S. A couple of years later we had passed legislation allowing blind people to take anyone of their choosing in a voting booth. A short time later we had a blind tax exemption bill passed and later on, had it increased as property evaluation increased.
Thus far in our history, we have had to handle four discrimination suits. One involving a woman and the vending stand program, another involved a woman who wanted to take a cruise, another woman who was unjustly discharged from her job, and a man who was discriminated against when trying to rent an apartment because he used a guide dog. Three of the four cases were won with the aid of our national office.
We do work in employment for the blind. Our national organization has a job service, which provides blind people information on specific jobs that are available or job training, and resume writing.
In 1992, plans were being made to regionalize the State Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped with that of another state. We worked to keep it here in Rhode Island, and were successful.
We also worked to improve quality of education for blind children. We have worked with our Congressional delegation to eliminate a national Commission for the blind that was only going to breakdown our ability to communicate with our elected officials, and also to retain the earning levels for blind people so that it is equal to people of age sixty-five.
Our goal in 1993 was to get a Braille Bill passed, so that if a blind child or their parents want to have them learn Braille than they will be taught it regardless to the amount of sight they may have. This goal was achieved and Governor Sundlun sign this bill into law in July of 1993.
Our national organization holds a Washington Seminar at the beginning of February each year. In 1996, our affiliate presented to our Congressional delegation a piece of legislation that allowed printed materials to be put into a format that a person who was blind could use. This being either primarily recorded or Braille formats. This legislation stated that printed materials could be put into these formats without the written permission of the publisher or author. Senator Chaffee listened to our organization and worked diligently to get the legislation passed. Remarkably, it passed both Houses of Congress in a short period of time and was signed into law by President Clinton in September of that year. Now anything available to the sighted public to read in print can be put into a format for people who are blind without being held up through the bureaucratic process.
In the 2000 State Legislative year, we worked in conjunction with other organizations to get some significant laws passed. First of all, we worked to strengthen the ADA law here in Rhode Island, after a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999, which struck down some of the power of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These new laws now include a provision allowing persons with disabilities who use medication and/or assistive technology to "mitigate" the limitations of their disability, to be protected from discrimination on the basis of their disability. On July 13th Governor Almond signed the Braille Ballot Act. Braille or audio-cassette/tactile ballots will be available after September 2000, for visually impaired voters who file a request with the Secretary of State at least 45 days prior to the election.