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Golden Jubilee 50 Years of The National Federation of The Blind

Editor's Note: The Federation movement is truly worldwide. In the following article we reprinted from the June 1997 issue of the New Beacon magazine; Jill Alien-King, MBA describes the history and accomplishments of the NFB of the United Kingdom. May their next fifty years be even more productive.

In November 1946, a handful of blind people came together with an idea from a blind gentleman, John Wilson--now Sir John Wilson CBE--to form an organization of blind and partially sighted people. In June 1947, the inaugural meeting took place. It will be with great pride and pleasure that Sir John Wilson will be welcomed as one of our honoured guests at our Golden Jubilee Conference dinner on June 21.

Over the past fifty years, the Federation has campaigned on a wide range of issues. Some campaigns we have won and some we have lost, but at all times we have tried to improve the quality of life for all blind people.

The Federation is a democratic organization, with branches throughout the country where members can meet monthly and are represented on many local committees. The National Executive Council of fourteen is elected by the membership each year at the Annual Delegates Conference, where the policies of the Federation are made. It is then up to the various committees, made up of Executive Council members and ordinary members, to implement them. The Federation can claim credit for improving representation on councils of and for blind people, and has responded to hundreds of government consultation documents on all subjects.

We have initiated concessionary fares for air, bus, and train travel. Since the Federationist Environment Committee was formed in 1973, we have campaigned to improve all aspects of traveling by public transport.

In 1978 we started the Give us back our Pavements campaign, and in 1992 launched the Get Streetwise video, which is helping to educate the public about the hazards on our pavements--which confront not only blind people but all pedestrians. The Federation was responsible for the introduction of tactile palming--a compromise between the needs of blind people, who require a defined curb, and people using wheelchairs, who need a ramped curb. Our members campaigned successfully for the first audible road crossing and for the password scheme for householders.

We have campaigned on improving access for guide dogs, and were responsible for initiating the 'no dogs allowed except guide dogs' notices and the amendments to the hygiene regulations for restaurants and food shops. Our campaigns brought a change in the British Rail policy on guide dogs in sleeping and dining cars and on access for guide dogs to the House of Commons public gallery.

Many of our members who have served as our representatives over these years have helped to shape the policies and the direction of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and many have gone on to become senior officers of the Institute.

Education has always been a top priority, and our members were instrumental in the setting up of units attached to mainstream schools, so that blind children could be integrated while at the same time special needs were provided for, especially those of children with additional disabilities.

Some of our members have been active in achieving improved facilities for blind people at higher education establishments and universities.

The need for improved employment opportunities for blind people has motivated one of the campaigns that has continued over the 50 years--though we still find that 83 percent of blind people of working age are unemployed. The Federation has helped with members' individual employment problems, and has worked with other organizations and responded frequently to government consultation papers on this issue.

Another ongoing campaign has been to obtain financial help for blind people to offset the extra cost of blindness. We campaigned for tax relief for blind people, which was introduced. In 1991 the Disability Living Allowance and the Attendance Allowance were introduced, and for the first time mobility and care benefits were made available to blind and partially sighted people.

The Federation was a founding member of the British Council of Organizations of Disabled People and of VOADL, which is now called Rights Now . Although the Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995, we have always campaigned for comprehensive civil rights legislation and will continue to do so. We have had many resolutions at our Annual Delegates Conferences over the years concerning the provision of services, rehabilitation, training, mobility, and the needs of newly blind and housebound people under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and the Community Care Act 1990. Our most recent concern is the decline of the home help service, and the reduction in training opportunities for social services staff working with blind people.

Many newly blind people have been helped and encouraged to overcome their disability and to take an active part in the life of the Federation. Much of this takes place at branch social activities, in branch meetings, and during the social side of our conferences.

I have only been able to touch on a few of our campaigns and a small amount of the work of the Federation, but at this time in the Federation's life we would like to thank anyone who has ever been a member or has helped the Federation in its campaigning work in any way in the past 50 years.

Viewpoint , the Federation's bi-monthly magazine, is available to non-members for an annual subscription of six pounds sterling including postage. The magazine contains features and articles of interest to people concerned with issues affecting blind and partially sighted people.

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