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EDUCATION AND ASSISTANCE TO THE BLIND
FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 1959
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to recess, in the caucus room, House Office Building, at 10 a.m., Hon. Carl Elliott (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Elliott, Gisimo, Green, and Daniels.
Also present: Mary P. Allen, subcommittee olerk, and Charles Backstrom, research assistant to subcommittee. Mr. ELLIOTT. The subcommittee will be in order.
We are happy this morning to recognize the gentleman from New Jersey, Mr. Widnall, who is the author of H.R. 4660.
May I say to you, Mr. Widnall, we are happy to have you with the subcommittee this morning. If there is anything you desire to say in behalf of your bill or any other bill pending before the subcommittee, we will be happy to hear you.
STATEMENT OF HON. WILLIAM B. WIDNALL, A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY
Mr. WIDNALL. Mr. Chairman, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to appear briefly before you this morning in support of my bill and in support of any bills that will contribute toward providing a better means for the blind to express themselves and to have representation in the areas that can do the most good to solve their problems.
Many of us in the Congress, I feel, are extremely pleased that the basic problem has been recognized to the point where hearings are being held. We are all hopeful that out of these hearings a constructive program will be developed that will be presented to the Congress this year and obtain favorable action.
I will not make any further remarks at this time, but I would like permission to extend my remarks and submit them to you within the next several days.
Mr. ELLIOTT. Without objection, the request of the gentleman is granted.
Please accept our thanks, Mr. Widnall, for coming here this morning and showing your interest in the bills before this subcommittee.
(The material to be furnished follows:) STATEMENT OF REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAM B. WIDNALL, NEW JERSEY, IN SUPPORT OF
H.R, 4660 Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, the bill I introduced, E.R. 4660, and others now being considered by you, is concerned with the blind and their rights as American citizens. My bill and the many other related bills before you are entitled "A bill to protect the right of the blind to self-expression through organizations of the blind.” These bills are similar in their terms and simple in their content, but they involve the assertion of rights which men do not lose when they lose their sight. These rights are theirs as Americans. It is our duty to restate these rights in order that all who question them may know the mind of Congress and be prevented from infringing upon these rights.
The first part of these bills directs the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to consult with representatives of organizations of the blind when for mulating and administering programs of aid and rehabilitation for the blind. The Secretary also shall recommend to the States using Federal funds in programs of aid and rehabilitation for the blind in their States that they, too, consult with representatives of organizations of the blind that these programs may be benefited.
The right of consultation is not a new right. It is as old as our history. The Congress has established the principle of consultation by including it in legisla. tion for various groups of our citizens. This has been done because it is believed that persons served by a governmental program are best able to judge the extent to which this program has served them in their need.
The blind people of America, too, have a unique contribution to make in the programs which have been adopted by Congress to help the blind. Their knowledge and experience would be of untold value to those administering such programs. Their advice and opinions should be sought. They must no longer be ignored.
The other part of my bill would prohibit any official from using his office to prevent a blind person from joining an organization of the blind. It requires the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to make all grants of funds for aid and rehabilitation of the blind subject to this prohibition.
The right to be consulted is of no value unless people of like interest have the right to join together to discuss freely, to elect their own representatives, and to have their views listened to by persons in Government when these views are expressed by their elected representatives.
It would seem that all persons in America today had these rights of free assembly, free discussion, and free choice of their own spokesmen-and even more, it would seem that the views of these people would be heard and listened to in high places. But in some parts of the Nation these rights are denied blind men and women.
Because blind people are dependent for various services upon State, National, and municipal officials it is very difficult in some parts of the country-and impossible in others--for many blind people to exercise their rights. It is our responsibility to come to the aid of these courageous men and women in their unstinting efforts toward creating a better life for themselves. They merit our help by their brave endeavors to solve their own problems.
I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to appear before your committee and I sincerely hope that you will act favorably on these bills before you, which would protect blind Americans in their constitutional rights.
Mr. ELLIOTT. At this time we have also for the record the statement from the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Ikard, in support of his bill
, H.R. 2168, a bill to protect the right of the blind to self-expression through organizations of the blind.
The statement of Mr. Ikard will be made a part of the record at this point. (Mr. Ikard's statement is as follows:)
STATEMENT OF HON. FRANK IKARD, OF TEXAS, IN SUPPORT OF H.R. 2168 Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I should like to call your attention to H.R. 2168, a bill which I have introduced entitled "A bill to protect the right of the blind to self-expression through organizations of the blind." It is one of more than 50 bills now before your committee to defend and promote this inherent right of self-expression by our 350,000 blind citizens.
A good friend of mine, Mr. Marcus Roberson, of Texas, has already appeared before this committee in behalf of this bill. He is the president of the Lone Star State Federation of the Blind, and is an attorney in good standing in his community. I would like to add to what he and others have already said that this bill is necessary and vital to the blind people of Texas and all other States if they are to be guaranteed the dignity of self-expression without fear of reprisal or retribution. Moreover, programs for the blind should only be formulated after the views and reactions of the people to be served have been expressed and considered. The blind men and women of our Nation are naturally intimate with the problems inherent in their disability. From their personal experience, constructive ideas can be gleaned by administrators and applied to help other blind persons regain normal and productive lives.
No one will question, I am sure, that regular and sincere consultation with affected groups those that are the clients and recipients of services—is a normal and anciently honorable procedure of democratic government. America is a plural society, a many-faceted constellation of voluntary associations at every level from the neighborhood to the national community. It is sometimes forgotten that the emphasis in our national motto, "E pluribus unum," is as much upon the "pluribus" as upon the "unum." Democratic government is government which is representative of all the people, which takes into account all the values and all the interests which come to be affected by the policies laid down by our legislatures and executed by our administrative departments.
The blind citizens of our Nation are peculiarly affected by the programs and services formulated for their welfare. It is of the greatest importance that programs of public assistance, of vocational rehabilitation and other services be geared to constructive purposes and made consistent with the real abilities and capacities possessed by these handicapped persons. Experience has shown that the blind themselves can contribute knowledge and insight from their intimate personal experience of disability which no sighted agencies, however expert, can quite duplicate. Without access to systematic consultation, without the right to have their views heard and seriously considered by policy-making and policy-implementing bodies, the blind are deprived not only of their rights but of the best possible services and programs.
For these reasons I commend my bill, H.R. 2168, to your favorable attention.
Mr. ELLIOTT. Our next witness is Maj. Gen. Melvin J. Maas, U.S. Marine Corps, retired, a member of the board of directors of the Blinded Veterans Association, and a former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
General Maas, will you come forward, please ?
STATEMENT OF MAJ. GEN. MELVIN J. MAAS, USMC (RETIRED),
BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION
General Maas. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me say before you do that members of this subcommittee-and I am certainly including myself when I say that-have followed your career and your interest in matters pertaining to the blind and the physically handicapped for years. We are happy to have you, General Maas.
General Mass. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am Melvin J. Maas. "While I am here officially representing, with Dr. William Thompson, who is the executive director, the Blinded Veterans' Association, I would also like to identify myself—although I am not speaking officially for them—as Chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped, and also chairman of the Handicapped Committee of the Peoples Program. It is from the experiences of these three organizations that I wish to comment on the pending bills this morning, Mr. Chairman.
All of these bills have one thing in common: They recognize that there is a problem in the services to the blind in this country. They have different approaches, but the recognition of the problem is very real, because there is a real problem.
I believe that the Congress wants to ascertain the facts as to what the problem is. Frankly, those of us who have been deeply and intimately engaged in the problem of services for the blind do not know the extent of the problem. If we did, we would be prepared to propose a solution.
But frankly, the most experienced experts in the field of services for the blind do not know the extent of the problem. There are many duplications of services by various private and governmental agencies. In some cases there at at least some of us who think that there are too many services rendered. There are services and benefits given to certain blind today that were well justified at the time the Congress or the States provided them, which are no longer applicable.
In some past 20 years, for instance, there has been tremendous progress in rehabilitation of the blind. But in other areas there is much left to be done. I will comment upon those. But to propose a solution at this time is an impossibility if you want an effective correction of conditions that do exist.
We feel that what is needed most of all at this time is a complete study of all the services rendered through Federal assistance. Some of the bills before you propose a study of all services rendered to the blind by all agencies—Federal, State, local, and private agencies.
This would be a very fine thing to do, except that we feel that such a complete study is not necessary, and would be unduly costly. The bills that do propose the complete, sweeping study, we feel, are inadequately financed--that is, the authorization for finances is inadequate--and the job cannot be done within the limits proposed.
We believe that such a study cannot be undertaken with any hope of success, giving the Congress the correct information, for less than $750,000 or $800,000. We do not believe that that cost is justified. We feel that if the Congress sets up a study by whatever device a study is to be made, in the blinded veterans we favor H.R. 5243 because we believe that it will give the maximum information to the Congress at the minimum cost.
We feel that if the Congress anthorizes a commission to study the services rendered to the blind by the Federal Government or agencies, private or State, financed in whole or in part by the Federal Government, we will get as complete a picture as is necessary to then legis. late properly for the correction of any inequities or gaps in services rendered to the blind.
While the more complete study, if done at several times the cost that this one would be, would be more complete, we do not think that the additional information gained would justify the additional cost, because we think it would only be a verification of what could be learned through a complete study of the services rendered with Federal funds.
There is at least one bill, II.R. 14, with companion bills to it, which recognizes that there is a problem, but we feel it is immature in that it proposes a solution without having found out the extent of the problem or in some cases even the nature of the problem.