News From 1973

The Cedar Valley Times
Wednesday, January 17, 1973.

Suit against Jernigan thrown out of court

DES MOINES (AP) — Polk County District Court Judge Leo Oxberger has dismissed a lawsuit filed last year by 18 blind Iowans against Kenneth Jernigan, director of the Iowa Commission for the Blid.

The suit charged Jernigan with misusing state and federal money.

The plaintiffs are members of the American Council of the Blind and contended that Jernigan and several members of his staff used commission funds to promote activities of the National Federation of the Blind, a rival organization to the American Council of the Blind.

The lawsuit asked for an injuction to stop Jernigan from using commission funds for that purpose.

Jernigan has been president of the National Federation of the Blind.

Oxberger said in his ruling that the suit was "motivated by feelings of enmity toward defendant Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind held by those leading a competing blind organization." and said he felt "strong aversion to use of the courts to serve such objectives."

Oxberger ruled that the suit's allegations were not "of such a nature" to justify an injunction.

Among the suit's contentions were charges that Jernigan and some of his staff used commission funds to bill office equipment for the National Federation of the Blind as well as devoting time to that organization while drawing a salary from the commission.





The Cedar Valley Times
Thursday, August 13, 1973

Blind can achieve and compete according to Kenneth Jernigan

Associated Press Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — All his life, Kenneth Jernigan was told he couldn't do this and couldn't do that because he was blind.

Now, his life is devoted not only to convincing other blind people they can do whatever they put their minds to, but also convincing sighted people that the blind can compete on an equal basis.

As director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and president of the National Federation for the Blind, Jernigan, 47, strives to instill the concept that blindness is merely a nuisance and not a handicap.

But the road to his goals has not been, and is not an easy one.

Three rooms in a condemned building constituted the commission 15 years ago when he became director. Now, housed in the old YMCA building, it is rated the best in the nation.

Why? A man who has been blind since birth had a dream when he came to Iowa in 1958 and made that dream a reality.

Jernigan said that since his youth he felt there was something wrong about being told he had to lead a restricted life because he was blind. So he decided to do something about it.

"I remember somebody when I was a kid saying that 'You've got to realize you're blind and there are just certain things you can't do."

That comment was made when he wanted to play checkers.

Playing checkers is a simple enough thing to do as far as the mechanics of it, Jernigan said. It takes some brainpower but it is so amazingly simple that "you would wonder why, with an imagination, you couldn't do it."

"We're so accustomed to thinking in terms of needing sight for everything that if you don't have it we automatically assume that you can't do whatever it is or, at least, can't do it competively," said Jernigan.

He said he thinks the exclusions, "the obvious pity on the part of other people, the feeling on the part of everybody I associated with that because I was blind I obviously had to understand that this was a major tragedy" was much more of a problem than the blindness itself.

Jernigan might not have the determination he does if it hadn't been for the dismal outlook given to him throughout his school days.

Jernigan attended a high school for the blind in Tennessee but "they (school officials) didn't really believe we could compete at all. Mostly the people who graduated from that school went home and sat down to do nothing."

The students looked forward to graduation not as most kids do with the idea it was a commencement, a beginning, but as if it were an ending of any active life, he said.

Jernigan wanted to be a lawyer, but a rehabilitation counselor told him it was out of the question because he wouldn't be able to see the jurors' faces or do his own research.

He did go to college, graduating from Tennessee Technological University with highest honors, but not in law. His family could not afford to pay his expenses and the counselor told him his way would be paid, but only if he chose another major.

After receiving his BS in social science he obtained a master's degree in English at Peabody College.

"I wanted to go on and get my PhD and thought I might do some teaching along with it. I went to a college official and he said, No." said Jernigan.

The refusal was puzzling since he had graduated with the highest grades in his senior class, receiving only three B's in undergraduate study.

Jernigan said the official told him that he could probably do a better job than anyone else available but if he failed it would put the official in an awkward spot by having to fire a blind person.

Jernigan said when he told the official that if everybody felt the way he did about hiring the blind, he would have to starve, the official told him that was his problem.

However, he was offered two jobs—one to teach at a university and another to teach at a school for the blind.

"I thought about it and decided what I really ought to do is go back and see if I could offer some encouragement and stimulation and help those guys come to believe they can do something," he said.

And so his career of working with and for the blind began. He stayed at that school until 1963 when he became a faculty member at the Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland, Calif.

Five years later he came to Iowa on a speaking tour and saw the condition the Iowa commission was in. He took over and built the 43th-ranked commission into one which has become a model for commissions throughout the nation to follow.

"Universally, I think this program commands more respect than any other program in this state and the evidence of that is the way the legislature appropriates for it and the recognition given it by state government," said Jernigan.

Jernigan feels the commission has done something and said the blind people of Iowa indicate that they feel it has dome something.

Building the Iowa Commission for the Blind to what it is today has not been easy for Jernigan. Many consider his methods and beliefs to be radical.

However, one official of the National Federation of the Blind summed up the story of the Iowa commission and the work of Jernigan this way: "If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than anywhere else in the nation or in the world."



The Cedar Valley Times
Wednesday, August 15, 1973

Attitudes are important to blind

Associated Press Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Two weeks ago, I thought that if I were blinded, my life would just about be over.

Today, I know I could continue a normal, productive life.

Like many others, I had a fear of not being able to see. One survey taken in­dicated that next to cancer, people are most afraid of being blind. 

Naturally, I would not want to be blind if I were given a choice, but the Iowa Commission for the Blind helped me realize that being blind is not a major tragedy but simply a nuisance.

I spent several days at the commission talking with staff members, students and actually learning what it is like to be blind. I was given a pair of "sleep shades" and became one of the group.

I had thought the commission was a place to learn braille, walking cane techniques, cooking and various other skills. I soon learned that was only secondary.

One of the primary purposes of the center is re-shaping attitudes, not just instilling confidence in the blind person but making him understand that he need not be less able, more dependent or have more problems than anyone else.

Blindness is a characteristic, a weakness. But people adapt themselves to overcome other weaknesses—why not blindness?

"Students who come here have to learn a new way of life, but I'm not suggesting a different world for the blind. It's the same world we all live in," says James Gaschal, an orientation staff member.

Gaschal is blind. When he graduated from high school, he came to the com­mission and told them he wanted to go on to college and become a teacher but wasn't sure he could because he was blind.

After intensive training at the center, Gaschal went to college and taught school for two years before returning to the commission as a staff member.

When students came to the center with hopes of entering a field new to the blind, no one asks if it can be done. Instead, it's: How can it be done?

"I am a reporter. If I were blind, could I continue in my profession?" I asked one of the staffers.

"Just because you lose your sight, doesn't mean you lose the knowledge you have. You will have to find alternate ways of doing certain things, but there is no reason you can't continue if you have the desire," came the answer.

Kenneth Jernigan, director of the commission, says one of the most difficult hurdles that must be overcome is "pushing back the frontiers of ignorance" about the blind.

Jernigan says that what the commission is trying to accomplish differs so much from what most people think about blind­ness that it is shocking to them when it finally sinks in.

When I first toured the commission I watched blind people working with power tools which didn't have any extra safety guards. The students gathered on the roof for barbeques and did all the cooking.

I was amazed.

That is just what the commission is trying to do away with — sighted persons being amazed at the accomplishments of the blind.

Although progress is being made, Jernigan cited a "typical example" of how difficult it is to get through to people.

Jernigan had just finishing giving a speech about how blind people can com­pete on an equal basis with sighted per­sons, when someone asked if he could tie his own necktie.

He showed them how he did it and then the audience applauded. He said that to him the applause was almost an insult since it was just an everyday, simple task.

Unless help is requested, trying to help a blind person across the street is another example. It's just as if someone asked if he could help you tie your shoelace.

After my brief encounter with the commission, I know that if I were blind  and given an equal opportunity I could compete with a sighted person. But that opportunity has to be given.

A motto which is heard frequently at the commission is: "The average blind person can do the average job in the average place of business and do it as well as his sighted neighbor."

Jernigan says the blind are not asking for a change of heart by society but a change of image—an exchange of old myths for new perspectives.