Contents or Q & A or Who's Blind? or Braille or Travel or Cooking or Sewing or Marking & Labeling or Shopping or Older Blind or Causes of Blindness in the U.S. or Blindness Page or Home Page or Mail me


     The National Federation of the Blind has become by far the most
significant force in the affairs of the blind today, and its actions have
had an impact on many other groups and programs.  The Federation's
President, Marc Maurer, radiates confidence and persuasiveness.  He says,
"If I can find twenty people who care about a thing, then we can get it
done.  And if there are two hundred, two thousand, or twenty
thousand--well, that's even better." The National Federation of the Blind
is a civil rights movement with all that the term implies. 
     President Maurer says, "You can't expect to obtain freedom by having
somebody else hand it to you.  You have to do the job yourself.  The
French could not have won the American Revolution for us.  That would
merely have shifted the governing authority from one colonial power to
another.  So, too, we the blind are the only ones who can win freedom for
the blind, which is both frightening and reassuring.  If we don't get out
and do what we must, there is no one to blame but ourselves.  We have
control of the essential elements." 
     Although there are in the United States at the present time many
organizations and agencies for the blind, there is only one National
Federation of the blind.  This organization was established in 1940 when
the blind of seven states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Missouri, and California- sent delegates to its first
convention at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  Since that time progress has
been rapid and steady.  The Federation is recognized by blind men and
women throughout the entire country as their primary means of joint
expression; and today--with active affiliates in every state, the District
of Columbia, and Puerto Rico--it is the primary voice of the nation's
     To explain this spectacular growth, three questions must be asked and
answered: (1) What are the conditions in the general environment of the
blind which have impelled them to organize? (2) What are the purpose, the
belief, and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind? (3)
Who are its leaders, and what are their qualifications to understand and
solve the problems of blindness?  Even a brief answer to these questions
is instructive. 
     When the Federation came into being in 1940, the outlook for the
blind was certainly not bright.  The nation's welfare system was so
discouraging to individual initiative that those who were forced to accept
public assistance had little hope of ever achieving self-support again,
and those who sought competitive employment in regular industry or the
professions found most of the doors barred against them.  The universal
good will expressed toward the blind was not the wholesome good will of
respect felt toward equals; it was the misguided goodwill of pity felt
toward inferiors.  In effect the system said to the blind, "Sit on the
sidelines of life.  This game is not for you.  If you have creative
talents, we are sorry, but we cannot use them."  The Federation came into
being to combat these expressions of discrimination and to promote new
ways of thought concerning blindness.  Although great progress has been
made toward the achievement of these goals, much still remains to be done. 
     The Federation believes that blind people are essentially normal and
that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap.  It
can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance.  Legal, economic,
and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that the blind
are somehow different from the sighted must be abolished, and equality of
opportunity must be made available to blind people.  Because of their
personal experience with blindness, the blind themselves are best
qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems, but the general
public should be asked to participate in finding solutions.  Upon these
fundamentals the National Federation of the Blind predicates its
     As for the leadership of the organization, all of the officers and
members of the Board of Directors are blind, and all give generously of
their time and resources in promoting the work of the Federation.  The
Board consists of seventeen elected members, five of whom are the
constitutional officers of the organization.  These members of the Board
of Directors represent a wide cross section of the blind population of the
United States.  Their backgrounds are different, and their experiences
vary widely; but they are drawn together by the common bond of having met
blindness individually and successfully in their own lives and by their
united desire to see other blind people have the opportunity to do
likewise.  A profile of the leadership of the organization shows why it is
so effective and demonstrates the progress made by blind people during the
past half century; for in the story of the lives of these leaders can be
found the greatest testimonial to the soundness of the Federation's
philosophy.  The cumulative record of their individual achievements is an
overwhelming proof, leading to an inescapable conclusion. 



Author, Jurist, Professor, Founder of

the National Federation of the Blind

     The moving force in the founding of the National Federation of the
Blind (and its spiritual and intellectual father) was Jacobus tenBroek.
Born in 1911, young tenBroek (the son of a prairie homesteader in Canada)
lost the sight of one eye as the result of a bow-and-arrow accident at the
age of seven.  His remaining eyesight deteriorated until at the age of
fourteen he was totally blind.  Shortly afterward he and his family
traveled to Berkeley so that he could attend the California School for the
Blind.  Within three years he was an active part of the local organization
of the blind. 
     By 1934 he had joined with Dr. Newel Perry and others to form the
California Council of the Blind, which later became the National
Federation of the Blind of California.  This organization was a prototype
for the nationwide federation that tenBroek would form six years later. 
     Even a cursory glance at his professional career shows the absurdity
of the idea that blindness means incapacity.  The same year the Federation
was founded (1940) Jacobus tenBroek received his doctorate in
jurisprudence from the University of California, completed a year as
Brandeis Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, and was appointed to the
faculty of the University of Chicago Law School. 
     Two years later he began his teaching career at the University of
California at Berkeley, moving steadily up through the ranks to become
full professor in 1953 and chairman of the department of speech in 1955.
In 1963 he accepted an appointment as professor of political science. 
     During this period Professor tenBroek published several books and
more than fifty articles and monographs in the fields of welfare,
government, and law, establishing a reputation as one of the nation's
foremost scholars on matters of constitutional law. One of his books,
Prejudice, War, and the Constitution, won the Woodrow Wilson Award of the
American Political Science Association in 1955 as the best book of the
year on government and democracy.  Other books are California's Dual
System of Family Law (1964), Hope Deferred: Public Welfare and the Blind
(1959), The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment (1951):
revised and republished in 1965 as Equal Under Law, and The Law of the
Poor (edited in 1966). 
     In the course of his academic career Professor tenBroek was a fellow
at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto
and was twice the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation.
In 1947 he earned the degree of S.J.D. from Harvard Law School.  In
addition, he was awarded honorary degrees by two institutions of higher
     Dr. tenBroek's lifelong companion was his devoted wife Hazel.
Together they raised three children and worked inseparably on research,
writing, and academic and Federation concerns.  Mrs. tenBroek still
continues as an active member of the organized blind movement. 
     In 1950 Dr. tenBroek was made a member of the California State Board
of Social Welfare by Governor Earl Warren.  Later reappointed to the board
three times, he was elected its chairman in 1960 and served in that
capacity until 1963. 
     The brilliance of Jacobus tenBroek's career led some skeptics to
suggest that his achievements were beyond the reach of what they called
the "ordinary blind person."  What tenBroek recognized in himself was not
that he was exceptional, but that he was normal--that his blindness had
nothing to do with whether he could be a successful husband and father, do
scholarly research, write a book, make a speech, guide students engaged in
social action movements and causes, or otherwise lead a productive life. 
     In any case, the skeptics' theory has been refuted by the success of
the thousands of blind men and women who have put this philosophy of
normality to work in their own lives during the past fifty years. 
     Jacobus tenBroek died of cancer at the age of fifty-six in 1968.  His
successor, Kenneth Jernigan, in a memorial address, said truly of him:
"The relationship of this man to the organized blind movement, which he
brought into being in the United States and around the world, was such
that it would be equally accurate to say that the man was the embodiment
of the movement or that the movement was the expression of the man. 
     "For tens of thousands of blind Americans over more than a quarter of
a century, he was leader, mentor, spokesman, and philosopher.  He gave to
the organized blind movement the force of his intellect and the shape of
his dreams.  He made it the symbol of a cause barely imagined before his
coming: the cause of self-expression, self-direction, and self-sufficiency
on the part of blind people.  Step by step, year by year, action by
action, he made that cause succeed." 



Teacher, Writer, Administrator

     Kenneth Jernigan has been a leader in the National Federation of the
Blind for more than thirty-five years.  He was President (with one brief
interruption) from 1968 until July of 1986.  Although Jernigan is no
longer President of the Federation, he continues to be one of its
principal leaders.  He works closely with the President, and he continues
to be loved and respected by tens of thousands--members and non-members of
the Federation, both blind and sighted. 
     Born in 1926, Kenneth Jernigan grew up on a farm in central
Tennessee.  He received his elementary and secondary education at the
school for the blind in Nashville.  After high school Jernigan managed a
furniture shop in Beech Grove, Tennessee, making all furniture and
operating the business. 
     In the fall of 1945 Jernigan matriculated at Tennessee Technological
University in Cookeville.  Active in campus affairs from the outset, he
was soon elected to office in his class and to important positions in
other student organizations.  Jernigan graduated with honors in 1948 with
a B.S. degree in social science.  In 1949 he received a master's degree in
English from Peabody College in Nashville, where he subsequently completed
additional graduate study.  While at Peabody he was a staff writer for the
school newspaper, co-founder of an independent literary magazine, and a
member of the Writers Club.  In 1949 he received the Captain Charles W.
Browne Award, at that time presented annually by the American Foundation
for the Blind to the nation's outstanding blind student. 
     Jernigan then spent four years as a teacher of English at the
Tennessee School for the Blind.  During this period he became active in
the Tennessee Association of the Blind (now the National Federation of the
Blind of Tennessee).  He was elected to the vice presidency of the
organization in 1950 and to the presidency in 1951.  In that position he
planned the 1952 annual convention of the National Federation of the
Blind, which was held in Nashville, and he has been planning National
Conventions for the Federation ever since.  It was in 1952 that Jernigan
was first elected to the NFB Board of Directors. 
     In 1953 he was appointed to the faculty of the California Orientation
Center for the Blind in Oakland, where he played a major role in
developing the best program of its kind then in existence. 
     From 1958 until 1978, he served as Director of the Iowa State
Commission for the Blind.  In this capacity he was responsible for
administering state programs of rehabilitation, home teaching, home
industries, an orientation and adjustment center, and library services for
the blind and physically handicapped.  The improvements made in services
to the blind of Iowa under the Jernigan administration have never before
or since been equaled anywhere in the country. 
     In 1960 the Federation presented Jernigan with its Newel Perry Award
for outstanding accomplishment in services for the blind.  In 1968
Jernigan was given a Special Citation by the President of the United
States.  Harold Russell, the chairman of the President's Committee on
Employment of the Handicapped, came to Des Moines to present the award. 
He said: "If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than
anywhere else in the nation or in the world.  This statement," the
citation went on to say, "sums up the story of the Iowa Commission for the
Blind during the Jernigan years and more pertinently of its Director,
Kenneth Jernigan. That narrative is much more than a success story.  It is
the story of high aspiration magnificently accomplished- of an impossible
dream become reality." 
     Jernigan has received too many honors and awards to enumerate
individually, including honorary doctorates from three institutions of
higher education.  He has also been asked to serve as a special consultant
to or member of numerous boards and advisory bodies.  The most notable
among these are: member of the National Advisory Committee on Services for
the Blind and Physically Handicapped (appointed by the Secretary of
Health, Education, and Welfare), special consultant on Services for the
Blind (appointed by the Federal Commissioner of Rehabilitation), advisor
on museum programs for blind visitors to the Smithsonian Institution, and
special advisor to the White House Conference on Library and Information
Services (appointed by President Gerald Ford).  In July of 1990 Jernigan
received an award for distinguished service from the President of the
United States. 
     Kenneth Jernigan's writings and speeches on blindness are better
known and have touched more lives than those of any other individual
writing today.  On July 23, 1975, he spoke before the National Press Club
in Washington, D.C., and his address was broadcast live throughout the
nation on National Public Radio.  Through the years he has appeared
repeatedly on network radio and television interview programs: including
the "Today Show," the "Tomorrow Show," and the "Larry King Show." 
     In 1978 Jernigan moved to Baltimore to become Director of the
National Center for the Blind.  As President of the National Federation of
the Blind at that time, he led the organization through the most
impressive period of growth in its history.  The creation and development
of the National Center for the Blind and the expansion of the NFB into the
position of being the most influential voice and force in the affairs of
the blind stand as the culmination of Kenneth Jernigan's lifework and a
tribute to his brilliance and commitment to the blind of this nation. 
     Jernigan's dynamic wife Mary Ellen is an active member of the
Federation.  Although sighted, she works with dedication in the movement
and is known and loved by thousands of Federationists throughout the
     Speaking at a convention of the National Federation of the Blind,
Jernigan said of the organization and its philosophy (and also of his own
     As we look ahead, the world holds more hope than gloom for us and,
best of all, the future is in our own hands.  For the first time in
history we can be our own masters and do with our lives what we will; and
the sighted (as they learn who we are and what we are) can and will work
with us as equals and partners.  In other words we are capable of full
membership in society, and the sighted are capable of accepting us as such
and, for the most part, they want to.. 
     We want no Uncle Toms--no sellouts, no apologists, no rationalizers;
but we also want no militant hell-raisers or unbudging radicals.  One will
hurt our cause as much as the other.  We must win true equality in
society, but we must not dehumanize ourselves in the process; and we must
not forget the graces and amenities, the compassions and courtesies which
comprise civilization itself and distinguish people from animals and life
from existence. 
     Let people call us what they will and say what they please about our
motives and our movement.  There is only one way for the blind to achieve
first-class citizenship and true equality.  It must be done through
collective action and concerted effort; and that means the National
Federation of the Blind.  There is no other way, and those who say
otherwise are either uninformed or unwilling to face the facts.  We are
the strongest force in the affairs of the blind today, and we must also
recognize the responsibilities of power and the fact that we must build a
world that is worth living in when the war is over--and, for that matter,
while we are fighting it.  In short, we must use both love and a club, and
we must have sense enough to know when to do which: long on compassion,
short on hatred; and, above all, not using our philosophy as a cop-out for
cowardice or inaction or rationalization.  We know who we are and what we
must do--and we will never go back.  The public is not against us. Our
determination proclaims it; our gains confirm it; our humanity demands it. 



Attorney and Executive

     Born in 1951, Marc Maurer was the second in a family of six children.
His blindness was caused by overexposure to oxygen after his premature
birth, but he and his parents were determined that this should not prevent
him from living a full and normal life. 
     He began his education at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School,
where he became an avid Braille reader.  In the fifth grade he returned
home to Boone, Iowa, where he attended parochial schools.  During high
school (having taken all the courses in the curriculum) he simultaneously
took classes at the junior college. 
     Maurer ran three different businesses before finishing high school: a
paper route, a lawn care business, and an enterprise producing and
marketing maternity garter belts designed by his mother.  This last
venture was so successful that his younger brother took over the business
when Maurer left home. 
     In the summer of 1969, after graduating from high school, Maurer
enrolled as a student at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa
Commission for the Blind and attended his first convention of the NFB.  He
was delighted to discover in both places that blind people and what they
thought mattered.  This was a new phenomenon in his experience, and it
changed his life.  Kenneth Jernigan was Director of the Iowa Commission
for the Blind at the time, and Maurer soon grew to admire and respect him.
When Maurer expressed an interest in overhauling a car engine, the
Commission for the Blind purchased the necessary equipment.  Maurer
completed that project and actually worked for a time as an automobile
mechanic.  He believes today that mastering engine repair played an
important part in changing his attitudes about blindness. 
     Maurer graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1974.
As an undergraduate he took an active part in campus life, including
election to the Honor Society.  Then he enrolled at the University of
Indiana School of Law, where he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence in
     Marc Maurer was elected President of the Student Division of the
National Federation of the Blind in 1971 and re-elected in 1973 and 1975.
Also in 1971 (at the age of twenty) he was elected Vice President of the
National Federation of the Blind of Indiana.  He was elected President in
1973 and re-elected in 1975. 
     During law school Maurer worked summers for the office of the
Secretary of State of Indiana.  After graduation he moved to Toledo, Ohio,
to accept a position as the Director of the Senior Legal Assistance
Project operated by ABLE (Advocates for Basic Legal Equality). 
     In 1978 Maurer moved to Washington, D.C., to become an attorney with
the Rates and Routes Division in the office of the General Counsel of the
Civil Aeronautics Board.  Initially he worked on rates cases but soon
advanced to dealing with international matters and then to doing research
and writing opinions on constitutional issues and Board action.  He wrote
opinions for the Chairman and made appearances before the full Board to
discuss those opinions. 
     In 1981 he went into private practice in Baltimore, Maryland, where
he specialized in civil litigation and property matters.  But increasingly
he concentrated on representing blind individuals and groups in the
courts.  He has now become one of the most experienced and knowledgeable
attorneys in the country regarding the laws, precedents, and
administrative rulings concerning civil rights and discrimination against
the blind.  He is a member of the Bar in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and
Maryland; and he is a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United
     Maurer has always been active in civic and political affairs, having
run for public office in Baltimore and having been elected to the board of
directors of the Tenants Association in his apartment complex shortly
after his arrival.  Later he was elected to the board of his community
association when he became a home owner.  From 1984 until 1986 he served
with distinction as President of the National Federation of the Blind of
     An important companion in Maurer's activities (and a leader in her
own right) is his wife Patricia.  The Maurers were married in 1973, and
they have two children: David Patrick, born March 10, 1984, and Dianna
Marie, born July 12, 1987. 
     At the 1985 convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan
announced that he would not stand for re-election as President of the
National Federation of the Blind the following year, and he recommended
Marc Maurer as his successor.  In Kansas City in 1986, the convention
elected Maurer by resounding acclamation, and he has capably served as
President ever since. 


National Federation of the Blind

You can help us spread the word...
     ...about our Braille Readers Are Leaders contest for blind school
children, a project which encourages blind children to achieve literacy
through Braille. 
     ...about our scholarships for deserving blind college students. 
     ...about Job Opportunities for the Blind, a program that matches
capable blind people with employers who need their skills. 
     ...about where to turn for accurate information about blindness and
the abilities of the blind. 
     Most importantly, you can help us by sharing what you've learned
about blindness in these pages with your family and friends. If you know
anyone who needs our assistance please contact us. 


Other Ways You Can Help...

Donations in Memory

	When a loved one dies, many persons like to make contributions to
a nonprofit organization such as the National Federation of the Blind as a
living memorial to the deceased.  In this case, you may wish to print the
name and address of the NFB in the obituary and have it announced at the
funeral services. 

Matching Gifts

	Some employers will match all or a percentage of an employee's
donation to a charitable organization.  We participate in such programs
and can comply with any paperwork and guidelines requested by your

Bequests in a Will

	You can remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will
by employing the following language:  "I give, devise, and bequeath unto
National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland
21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of
$__________ (or "_______ percent of my net estate" or "The following
stocks and bonds: _______") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf
of blind persons." 

Combined Federal Campaign

	If you are a federal employee you may designate the National
Federation of the Blind to receive your CFC contribution.  You will find
us listed in the Independent Charities of America Section.  Our CFC
designation number is 1205. 


Helpful Products

     Here are a few of our most frequently requested items.  If you wish
any of these products, please send payment with your order.  For a
complete listing of everything we carry ask for our "Aids and Appliances
Order Form." 

     Cane (White wooden support - 39 inches)   $9.00
     Cane (White, Lightweight Fiberglass, Non-Support,  53 inches.
Specify rigid or telescoping)   $25.00 
     Kitchen Timer with Tactile Markings   $8.75
     LetterWritingGuide   $1.00
     Magnifier (3 lens, folding, pocket-size)   $6.50
     Needle Threader   $1.25
     Playing Cards
	  Brailled, regular deck   $6.00
	  Brailled, Pinochle   $4.00
	  Large Print, single deck   $3.50 
	  Large Print, double deck   $5.00
	  Large Print, Pinochle   $2.00
     Signature Guide   $4.00
     Talking Alarm Clock   $20.00


Additional Resources Available from

the National Federation of the Blind

     Literature & Materials Order Form
	  A listing of articles and speeches about blindness
	  ranging from current legal issues to tips on daily living
	  to information on Social Security.

     Aids & Appliances Order Form
	  Descriptive listing of various aids and appliances.
	  Contains a multitude of items, including canes, slates
	  and styluses, Braille paper, 4-track cassette recorders,
	  Braille watches, talking clocks and calculators, kitchen
	  items, and games. 

Selected Literature for Blind Youth Order Form

     Blindness and Disorders of the Eye
     The Blind Child in the Regular Preschool
     Comments on Clothing
     Diabetes, Complications, Options
     Parents of Blind Children
     So You Don't Know Anything About Computers and You Might Like
     to Nibble
     Who are the Blind Who Lead the Blind

* All of the above are available FREE from the National Federation of the Blind.


Top of Page or Contents or Q & A or Who's Blind? or Braille or Travel or Cooking or Sewing or Marking & Labeling or Shopping or Older Blind or Causes of Blindness in the U.S. or Blindness Page or Home Page or Mail me

Copyright (C) 1994 by the National Federation of the Blind. All Rights Reserved.