Feature Writer Karen Crowder – A Life of Advocacy

I have been in consumer groups advocating for rights and services for the blind since the early 1970s. It all started when I was twenty years old and began paying attention to and watching the civil rights and anti-war movements.  It made me ask, “Who speaks for the blind?” 

At first, I was part of a young adult group funded by the Massachusetts Association for the Blind, where I formed friendships and became involved in exciting activities.  During the summer of 1970, we attended a baseball game at Fenway Park and a beach in Situate where we went sailing and enjoyed cooking classes.  Though, shortly after, I learned that due to a lack of funds, the program was eliminated.

Not wanting to disband the group, we formed a blind leadership club.  This group then became a chapter of American Council for the Blind in late 1971.  Our original premise was to help mentor younger students, but it took a different direction.  During the five years I was there, we advocated for new legislation for guide dog users and continued dental coverage for Medicaid clients who are blind, among other issues.  In early 1974, consumer groups filled the state house, educating the public about job discrimination–a hot topic that is still talked about today. 

We also advocated for the blind at the local level.  In 1972 we worked to see that Braille menus were provided for blind customers at Brigham’s, a local restaurant chain in the Boston area.  In early 1974, we started talks with museums about making exhibits accessible.  It was not all work, though; we socialized after meetings and formed lasting friend ships. 

In 1977, I joined the NFB and made new friends among fellow blind students.  Besides joining the student division, I also joined our state division, and through the years I would learn more about advocacy.  Later, I rejoined the ACB and reunited with old friends to continue our work.

In 1991, we called our legislators about the threatened closing of a large work shop. The state house received so many calls that eventually the funding was restored.  They simply did not realize so many people cared. All over, consumer groups began to take a creative approach to fight deep cuts in library services in the early 90s as well.  We did this by sending our cassette books to the statehouse.   Again, funding was restored.  It was another instance where they didn’t take the time to see how important our library services are.  

The effect of our work can still be seen today.  Since the spring of 2009, a day for the blind occurs every April at the state house.  Agencies such as Perkins, Massachusetts Association for the Blind and the Carroll Center band together with the two consumer groups.  Our goals haven’t changed, though–we are still there trying to stave off deep budget cuts to vital programs.  This year, we are banding together on April 20 in an effort to keep programs we have.  It is an incredible feeling to know that our actions inevitably affect all of the blind residents of our state, and our advocacy keeps essential programs from being needlessly removed.

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