(Tim: Last week I was talking on the phone with my friend, David Faulkner, from Presbyterian Church (USA) days and heard again of his inability to get pulpit committees to give him a serious look, given his disability. David mentioned he'd written an op-ed piece on the plight of the blind that the newspaper had rejected, so I asked him to send it on for the blog. Brothers and sisters, David's a valuable and gifted part of the Bride of Christ and I commend him to you. Although earning more money would help him with the expenses of raising the five children he and his wife, Dorothy, have been blessed by God with, David also needs to be using the gifts God has given him.
If your church, school, or business could use a wise, thoughtful, cheerful man who's received the gift of teaching, get in contact with David, please, and give him a chance to use those gifts. To reach David, you can E-mail him at dfdf at acninc dot net).
A NATIONAL SCANDAL?
By David Faulkner
My friend David is blind. A few years back he was living in a tiny apartment in Washington, DC, working as a medical transcriptionist, making just enough to live. He might still be there had his parents not sent him a plate of cookies by a friend. David moved back to Michigan and married the messenger, a clinical counselor with a good job. They adopted a brother and sister out of foster-care.
David still types medical transcriptions. When I asked about the job he responded, “It’s something to do, but you can’t make a living at it.” David has a college degree. I have three, a Bachelors and two Masters. What’s more, I can see—barely. But I can’t get a job...
Even being a transcriptionist is impossible—I make more on disability than David earns.
As a graduate student at Ohio University I studied African-American History. The professor greatly stressed one statistic, that in 1964, in the South, a quarter of young black men were unemployed. He insisted this unemployment rate was a national scandal, producing all sorts of social ills.
My friend David attended public schools until sixth grade. But sliding grades led to his being sent to the Michigan School for the Blind, where he roomed with another blind boy—Stevie Wonder. Stevie certainly has been a success. I know others. I have two blind friends here in Athens. One teaches in the Scripps School of Communication at O.U., the other directs a facility that cares for the mentally disabled.
Recently we have heard much about the new governor of New York, David Patterson, being legally blind.
The scandal is that, for every blind person who has a job there are three who do not. If it was tragic that unemployment among young black men was 25%, what should we call it when 74% of the blind (the most reliable figure from the National Federation of the Blind) can’t get work? Worse, this figure has risen by about 5% since the economic downturn began, suggesting that blind people may be first out the door when things get tough. Yet the states spend millions to educate the blind and most go to college.
To try to brighten this picture, Rep. John Lewis has introduced H.R. 3834 in the House of Representatives. His bill would amend Title II of the Social Security Act to give blind people getting Social Security benefits the same privileges given to retired people in 1996. That year Congress raised the amount of income retired people could earn while still receiving Social Security. The goal was to keep experienced folks on the job (and on the taxpayer rolls). The amount retired people can earn continues to rise. Lewis’s bill would raise the amount blind people can earn while keeping their benefits in every year until 2012, when they could earn as much as retired folks.
How much that would help is unclear. It might help me find some minimum-wage job to give me something to do. But what may be more helpful is a commitment by the decision-makers in our society to stop their discrimination. The CBS news story on Patterson suggested his life might be an “inspiration” for change. But if other successful blind people haven’t inspired change by now, his success will likely do no more than make the country feel better about itself as a “land of opportunity for all” while blind unemployment worsens.
I am a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) with 28 years of experience. I’ve been called one of that church’s great preachers. Like Gov. Patterson I can speak for half an hour (or longer!) without notes. For three years I told every pastor-seeking church I contacted about my disability in my application letter.
Every one of them had pledged to abide by the Equal Employment laws. That pledge says, “Disability doesn’t matter,” since those laws ban discrimination based on disability. But all I got were polite form letters of rejection—and that in a supposedly enlightened denomination. For the past year I’ve not been telling them about my eyesight. There has been a lot more interest, but as soon as they find I might not be just like them, that interest dries up. I have taught History in college. But the record in academia is no better. I don’t even get asked to “sub” in the supposedly substitute-starved local high school.
So Lewis’s bill might be a good starting-point. But that’s all it is. Schools, businesses, corporations, charities and government—all need to make more effort to hire the blind. Chances are you know one of us who has been successful. It’s the three who aren’t who need your help, and you can begin by writing your Congressman in support of H.R. 3834.