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this is your official position and the position of the organization which you represent, is that so!
Mr. THOMPSON. Yes, sir.
Mr. GIAIMO. How do you ascertain the feeling of the members of the organization concerning these bills? Do you have some sort of a meeting or some sort of publication of these various bills and then receive reports from them?
Mr. THOMPSON. In August of 1957 the BVA annual convention unanimously adopted a resolution opposing, and the number of bill slips me, a bill identical to H.R. 14, at that time having been introduced in the current Congress. Last December our board of directors met and reconfirmed this stand of the BVA.
Mr. GIAIMO. How many were at the convention?
Mr. THOMPSON. Yes. Our bylaws provide that a quorum at a convention shall consist of members from at least three of our regional groups. There was a much broader representation at the Hartford convention than that. I would say there were not more than a very few States from which there were not members at that convention.
Mr. GIAimo. Are all of your members receiving compensation or pensions as a result of their blindness from one or other governmental agencies?
Mr. THOMPSON. All of the men whose blindness are service connected are receiving disability compensation from the Veterans' Administration.
Some of the associate members are receiving disability pensions which are payable from a non-service-connected disability." I said some of them, because there is an income limitation with respect to that pension, and I have no doubt but that some of the associate members have incomes that would make them ineligible to receive it.
Mr. GIAIMO. As a result of the compensation which most of our people are receiving from the Government does this make their economic situation better than the nonveteran blind ?
Mr. THOMPSON. I would say that it did.
Mr. GIAIMO. So that your problems are to that extent somewhat different and perhaps economically better than the many thousands of other blind people who are not veterans; is that so?
Mr. THOMPSON. I would say that, insofar as the problems that these persons have stem from their economic privation, that would be true.
Mr. GIAIMO. As a result of this better economic standard which many of the veterans have do you feel that that had any influence in causing these people to not favor H.R. 14!
Mr. THOMPSON. I am trying to recall the discussions that I have heard on this bill and other points allied to it. If there is a bearing it is indirect. I couldn't say that there was a direct association.
Mr. GIAIMO. Do you have occasion to speak and discuss these problems with blind people who are not veterans ?
Mr. THOMPSON. From time to time; yes.
Mr. GIAIMO. In your speeches or talks with the nonveteran blind have you found many who felt the same way about H.R. 14 as your organization does ?
Mr. THOMPSON. No; I am afraid that I would not have enough contact on that specific point to even make a judgment.
Mr. GIAIMO. Doctor, you have been here, I assume for some of the prior hearings we have held on this?
Mr. THOMPSON. I wasn't fortunate to be able to attend.
Mr. Giaimo. We have had a great many people who are blind appear before us and these are people, as I understand it, who have had to find their own economic security as best they could with their affliction, and I wonder if that is the reason why there seems to be a complete divergence in viewpoint as to H.R. 14, the fact that the blinded veteran has a basic amount of money which he will receive from the Veterans Administration which gives him some sense and feeling of economic security, whereas these other people are deprived of this and do not have it.
Mr. THOMPSON. May I comment on that?
Mr. THOMPSON. I wanted to, but I was trying to answer your question. Since this was not part of my testimony, I do not offer it as being the absolute policy of the Blinded Veterans Association, but as executive director and former national service director, having had supervision of our field service program, I have had an opportunity to talk with a great many blinded veterans in the past 4 years, and to see a good many agency operations and to observe that aspect of it, and I do feel this way: The economic stability which service-connected blinded veterans have has enabled them in many instances literally to afford not to accept services of an agency, not to solicit them, or to differ, no matter how unrealistically, with the advice, counsel, or policies of an agency or its personnel.
They have had this independence. By definition this is something that a nonveteran blind person does not have, and I have seen instances where a sense of frustration developed with respect to the services that were available and those who were providing these services. Nobody likes to be handled, and sometimes persons feel that they are being handled. We believe that this is true, this is valid, and this is something not to be desired, but as far as H.R. 14 is concerned, I think it is a misdirected thrust at this. As I said, the Blinded Veterans Association does not feel that the way to cure these ills is to burn down the existing structure of service to blind people.
There is a necessity, and we feel a grave necessity, for an increase in the principles and standards throughout this whole thing, but we want to start where we are and not go back to the very beginning.
Mr. GIAIMO. I thank you, Doctor.
General Maas. Mr. Chairman, may I just briefly supplement the answer? I probably have a broader opportunity than Dr. Thompson to talk to nonveteran blind, and I have talked with hundreds of blind persons all over the country, nonveterans, and discussed this, and in my own personal experience I have found very few who were agitated about it or who were in support of the principles involved in H.R. 14.
Mr. GIAIMO. Thank you, gentlemen.
Mr. Elliott. Thank you very much, gentlemen. It has been a pleasure to have you.
General Maas. Thank you.
Mr. ELLIOTT. Our next witness is Mr. Harry E. Simmons, executive director of the Florida Council for the Blind, Tampa, Fla.
STATEMENT OF HARRY E. SIMMONS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR,
FLORIDA COUNCIL FOR THE BLIND, TAMPA, FLA. Mr. SIMMONS. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for the sake of brevity I will attempt to summarize and make the statement very short because time is getting short.
Mr. ELLIOTT. May I say that the Chair deeply appreciates your consideration for the fact that following you we have six other witnesses today.
Mr. SIMMONS. Yes.
I would like first to make the statement that the Florida Council for the Blind in its professional blind advisory committee have long felt the need for a qualitative and substantive study of services for the blind in the United States at the present time, and they passed a resolution to the effect in formal meeting and I will not read the resolution, but it does support a study commission.
We feel that before any new legislation on a national level is passed, a complete scientific study of the present state of affairs is necessary and it should be carefully prepared and documented. The study should encompass such factors as overlapping in communities, lack of services, and where, geographically, those services are lacking, the methods of fund raising and the disposition of the funds, and all other facts that are pertinent to the problem.
We feel that then and only then with the facts on the table can effective action be taken, much the same as blueprints and engineering data and estimates are necessary before a construction project is started. In summary,
will say we strongly support a study commission bill.
Mr. ELLIOTT. Do you have any thought as to how that study should be conducted, whether by Presidential commission or a congressional commission?
Mr. SIMMONS. No, I think that after the committee has the facts they would probably be in a better position to decide the setup themselves. We feel the important thing is the study itself, and the extent of it and who does it I think the committee should take care of. I then wish to state that our organization is quite emphatically opposed to H.R. 14.
We feel that the title is a bit misleading. We feel that the organization in question has had the right to organize. In an article in the Braille Monitor in January of 1958 there is an article entitled, "Forty-fourth State Affiliate-Only Four To Go," and I believe at their national conventions and in the press and in speeches to other conventions and meetings they have demonstrated their ability to express their theories and philosophies, and I know in Florida they have done it very vocally to the legislature, to our State board in formal meetings, to the press, and in their newsletters, so we feel that they have had the right to organize and they have had the right to self-expression.
Then if we concede that argument, the only other reason we can see for the passage of the bill would be leverage to attempt to impose the philosophies and theories, which of course some of us do not feel are effective in providing services for the blind. Mostly our objec
tion, of course, is based on what we feel would be a very dangerous precedent, as has been outlined before, and that if we give these special interest privileges to one group, then you have the vast group of very severely disabled people that also would certainly be entitled to the same consideration, and some of the disability groups, the paraplegics and the quadruple amputees, are seriously disabled people. The closest analogy I can think of that might want similar legislation is the Townsend movement.
A quarter of a century ago Dr. Townsend devised the Townsend plan which was supposed to spend the Nation into unprecedented prosperity, organized all over the United States; and those groups exist today, and now Dr. Townsend is a neighbor of mine in St. Petersburg, Fla., and knowing him well I know he still believes in his philosophy and theories very strongly.
He probably would be the very next one to ask for privileges, since Congress has never given him favorable action on his plan or the Social Security Board or its successor, so that is a good illustration I think of what could follow one special-interest bill.
In summary, I would say that we very much favor a study bill and we do not like a special-interest bill, be it any kind of an organization, but, above all, I think we want the blind people of this country to get the very finest services that the Nation can afford. I will conclude with that.
(Statement is as follows :)
STATEMENT BY HARRY E. SIMMONS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FLORIDA COUNCIL FOR
THE BLIND, TAMPA, FLA. The Florida Council for the Blind and its professional blind advisory committee have long felt the need for a qualitative, substantive study of services available to the blind in the United States. Such a study should be an evaluative function to determine the adequacy of existing services and the need for extension or elimination of certain services.
With this thought in mind, in formal session the State board of the Florida Council for the Blind adopted the following resolution :
"Whereas the House Committee on Education and Labor will hold hearings on H.R. 1855, by Representative Matthews, a bill for the establishment of a temporary National Advisory Committee for the Blind, and
"Whereas it is believed by this council that the passage of such a bill would result in great benefits for the blind people of America, and
"Whereas this council has repeatedly expressed itself as being in favor of the general principles of H.R. 1855 : Now, therefore be it
“Resolved by the Florida Council for the Blind, That they request the House Committee on Education and Labor to report H.R. 1855 favorably so that the House of Representatives may have a chance to vote on this important piece of legislation."
We strongly feel, that, before any new national legislation is passed affecting the blind, a complete scientific study of the present state of affairs in the field of services for the blind should be carefully prepared and documented. This study should encompass such factors as overlapping of services in communities, lack of services, and where such a lack exists, professional level of services available and rendered, the methods of fund raising for services and the disposition of such funds, and all other facts pertinent to the subject of the welfare of blind people, or those threatened with blindness.
We feel that then, and only then, with all the facts on the table can constructive new legislation be considered at the national level. I personally feel that such a procedure is almost self-evident, much as the preparation of blueprints, engineering data, specifications and estimates are necessary before the construction of any physical construction project.
We, therefore, strongly recommend the endorsement by this subcommittee of a bill creating a temporary commission to study and report on the problems relating to blindness and the needs of blind persons.
Also before this subcommittee for consideration is H.R. 14, purportedly pre pared to protect the right of the blind to self-expression through organizations of the blind. The Florida Council for the Blind and its professional blind advisory committee take a vigorous stand in opposition to this bill. We feel that its innocent sounding designation and ostensible purposes disguise the intent of the bill and that it represents a dangerous precedent. We understand that there are bills of a similar nature introduced and would like to go on record in opposition to them.
The national organization sponsoring this bill has certainly been given every opportunity to organize, and has so stated in its national magazine the Braille Monitor in its January 1958 issue through the article entitled “Forty-fourth (State) Affiliate-Only Four To Go.” Other articles in its magazine gives figures on the national and State membership. It is, therefore, self-evident that the organization has already exercised the right to organize.
As to the term “self-expression,” I can only state that, at the national conventions each year, and through speakers in its organization to other conventions and meetings, certainly the right of self-expression was not denied-quite the contrary. In its national magazine, the Braille Monitor, and its Ink Print copy we can see no evidence of repression. Their philosophies and theories are ex. pounded at length. The members of its affiliate in Florida have been vocal and energetic in setting forth their opinions through the press, its newsletter, to the legislature and most surely to our board in formal meetings.
If then, as these statements indicate, they have the right to organize and the right to self-expression through organization-what is such legislaion intended to secure? Apparently it is an attempt to secure leverage to force the adoption of the leadership theories and philosophies. Some of us in the States feel that it is legislation designed to forbid us to duck when blows are aimed at usor a "no ducking” bill.
Further, the right of organization and assembly and the right of selferpression is such a basic part of our Constitution that it appears entirely unnecessary to have special legislation enacted to cover this one group exclusively. Any violation of basic constitutional rights can be the basis of legal action without this onerous legislation.
A good administrator of any social welfare program automatically secures the opinions and desires of those served and if he fails to do so his tenure of office is usually a short one. In Florida we have a blind advisory committee composed of outstanding blind persons, selected from varied walks of life and varied geographical locations, to guide us in our program of services.
The overwhelming preponderance of organizations for and of the blind that have taken a stand against this legislation should give pause to reflect on its validity and purpose. Among respected organizations referred to above will be found the American Association of Workers for the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, the Blinded Veterans Association of America, the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, and the National Rehabilitation Association.
I have said before that I believe this bill would set a dangerous precedent which would open the door to a flood of legislation on the part of all interest groups. If this bill should be passed by Congress, in all fairness then should not all he entitled to the same dubious privileges? Should not the deaf, the paraplegic, the permanently and totally disabled, and all other categories of the disabled be granted like privileges-if indeed they are privileges.
In the light of the above there is posed the problem of which favored group, when more than one group exists, should be given the right to vigorously advise on philosophies.
An analogy that comes to mind is that of the Townsend movement. Approri. mately a quarter of a century ago, Dr. Townsend devised the Townsend plan which in short was a plan to spend the Nation into unprecedented prosperity through special grants to the aged by means of a broad national tax. He organized on a national basis and on a local basis with Townsend groups expanding throughout the Nation which to this day still exist. He and his fellow leaders sincerely believed in their theories and philosophies and pounded the Halls of Congress and had numerous meetings with the Social Security Board and its successor. All to no avail-neither Congress nor agencies of Federal Govern ment would adopt his proposals or pass legislation to put them into effect. He is now one of my neighbors in the city of St. Petersburg, and should the above bill, favoring one organization of the disabled, namely the blind, be passed, I would not be surprised to see Dr. Townsend knocking on the door for like legislation to pressure his proposals. Thus, on, and on, and on.