Annual Humanitarian Award Acceptance Speech, delivered before the Lions International (April 8, 1961)
From a heart overflowing with happy gratitude I greet you for your years of service to the blind, and your warm homage to me. How marvelous it is -- over six hundred thousand Lions have given their might and ingenuity to our cause so that the blind of America, and throughout the world, might rejoice in intellectual light and some of them restored to the blessing of sight! These are among the miracles of the new era of humanity in which we who have faith believe. Such enormous good has been and continues to be wrought that I am sure you will stand by the American Foundation for the Blind in further useful service.
It is wonderful for me to realize the progress of the Lions since they welcome me years ago to their warmhearted fellowship. With an indescribable thrill of gratification, I keep going over in my mind the advance of government programs as well as voluntary and civic activities of other clubs in serving the sightless. With earnest confidence, I express the new steps that I trust will be taken to acquire still greater service to those who cannot see.
It is tragic that only half the conditions which cause loss of sight are understood and, as a result, there has not been discovered a sufficient remedy for thousands of injured eyes. The need of research remains imperative and that means enlarging the number of trained men and women in research and ophthalmology.
Because you Lions and others have increased public understanding and helpfulness, more and more blind persons are performing excellent work in countless jobs, but there are far from enough personnel and other practical means -- counseling, adjustment and tangible rehabilitation assistance -- which would quicken the return of the blind to useful labor. I am heartily grateful to Congress for continuing to increase aid to the states for vocational rehabilitation programs.
It still remains a deplorable fact, however, that nearly one- half of the blind of the United States, and considerably more than that number in other parts of the world, are dependent upon some sort of public assistance because of their age and other circumstances. Amounts of assistance to these people are grievously small and it is urgent that the national and state governments should endeavor to increase their aid to them.
While there remains occasional controversy over Federal aid to education, there seems to be a growing conviction that the Federal Government should at least provide education and funds to promote schooling of children who are physically, mentally or emotionally handicapped. Think of it -- probably seventy-five percent of all such children are denied the right of any education, and it is known that a large percent of them could benefit by instruction! Of course, we know how expensive special education is, but America should provide this advantage, so unspeakably precious to families whose young blind are growing up to adulthood. As matters now stand, there are more than fifteen thousand blind children in school -- approximately one-half in residential schools and the other day public schools. I am shocked to realize that there is probably an equal number of children without sight who are still not being educated. I am grieved by the information that the American Foundation for the blind has discovered a distress number of blind children in homes for the mentally retarded, and who should never have been sent to such institutions. It saddens me in inexpressibly to learn that this country urgently needs more educational agencies for blind children, more teachers, more embossed and an increased of amount school materials.
It is cheering for me to observe the great attention that is now being given to the special needs of elder blind people. More than ever, I abhor the idea of placing old blind persons in asylums or homes just for the blind. I believe that the blind are like other human beings -- they desire homes cheered by friendship, interesting amusements and opportunities for normal family living. Nothing, surely, can be more damaging and undesirable than situating them in institutions without a chance of home pleasures or the joys of social life. Who has the heart to segregate those who see to find wholesome pleasure or delightful experiences?
Truly it cheers me to know that some members of Congress, among them my good friend, Senator Lister Hill, are advocating greater activity in preserving the health and rehabilitation of the handicapped throughout the world. Earnestly I beseech you Lions to work further with them and the American Foundation for Overseas Blind in finding ways to solve the terrific problem of eye ailments and rehabilitation of blind people -- a desperate condition that cries for attention, particularly in Latin America, South Asia, the Middle and Near East, and Africa. Only when America and all other countries put energy and enthusiasm into the work of increasing the opportunities of the blind and saving sight shall mankind be blessed with the right to see.