Graphic: The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement

Janet Brown

Audio transcript: On the student chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and coalition building
Date: March 13, 1998
Interviewer: Sharon Bonney

Note: Transcripts have been lightly edited; therefore there may be slight discrepancies with audio clips.


Bonney:
Now while you were at Cal, were you part of the Physically Disabled Students' Program [PDSP]?

Brown:
We predated it. We were part of T-22, which was the blind students—they had a temporary building. I remember going to the house with this woman—she was old, you know, she was probably twenty-two, an English graduate student. I was going to get an apartment my second year at Cal. I wanted to know how blind people lived, because I had never been a grownup before. So I went to this woman's house—Judy Wilkinson—I don't know what happened to her. She was going to show me kind of how cool she was, you know, and everything went wrong. She was making me lunch and she messed up the coffee grinding, and I forget all that went wrong. She felt terrible. I thought, I'm so glad to see other people make these mistakes. It made me feel better, and it made her feel worse, but that's okay. I mean, not lastingly worse.

We called each other about things like tape recorders, about things like the National Federation of the Blind stuff. We were all involved in their legislative seminars. They were good seminars; they had had them frequently, and we were all up on whatever the legislation was that affected blind people. I didn't run into PDSP until around 1970 when I met David Konkel, who was part of what was later called the "Blind Component" at CIL. And Dick Santos was a strong NFB guy at the time, but he wasn't a student so he wasn't in our student chapter. We would go to conventions and things, and then Dave had told us about these other people, "crips," who were starting something that was going to try to be as good as us [laughter]. We said, "Let's go. Let's see what they've got going, and see whether we can have part of it because this is a coming movement. It sounds like they've got similar goals. Let's see if we can do a coalition." We tried, and we have been trying ever since.

Bonney:
Tell me what the NFB was like in those early days.

Brown:
It was pretty much like it is now. Real good at getting its agenda passed. Its agenda does not include anybody with any other disabilities. It makes no claims other than that. It doesn't pretend to but then not include people; it just doesn't include you. Blind people are blind people, and that's what's important to them. They're pretty militant about it. But they're good as far as they go. I don't like them and I'm not a member of them, but for what they are they are good.

Bonney:
What were the coalition attempts? What were you trying to do?

Brown:
Trying to bring the NFB student chapter—that was us. We would trade off heading, various ones of us—it's your turn this year, it's your turn that year. I took us out of the NFB officially. Kind of fun. At a convention I said that—I was righteous because I was young enough to be righteous—and I said something to the effect that these guys were not into coalitions and weren't considering anybody else's rights except blind people's, well then we're leaving. We did.

Bonney:
So much for coalition building.

Brown:
No, we left the NFB and went to build coalitions with—I mean, this is blind people leaving the NFB. So we were working on coalition with the Disabled Students' Program and this new community thing that we were inventing.

End of transcript


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