At that time, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was Director of the Commission. & just like the Braille instructor & piano teacher I had at IBSSS, Dr. Jernigan was himself, totally blind. Dr. Jernigan came to Iowa from Oakland, California. He was an individual who dared to dream. At the time of his arrival, Iowa didn't have adequate facilities to train the adult blind. Iowa ranked last, in terms of service to the blind. The Iowa Commission for the Blind, would be eventually housed in the YMCA, located on Fourth & Keo in Des Moines. Services for the blind would rise from being last, to being #1 in the country. That was due to Dr. Jernigan, & the belief he had in the blind of Iowa; & the philosophy he & the staff worked hard to instill in us. Simply put, Blindness, was not viewed as a handicap. Given the right sort of opportunity, a blind person could do about anything he or she set their minds to.
Philosophy class, was my favorite part of the day. We learned & discussed many things. It was the first time I would have heard of blind people being discriminated against. As a group, we experienced that sort of thing when we went to the Hardon County Fair held in Decorah. The Commission had a table there; where we did a variety of things. Things like baking cookies, demonstrating Braille, & so on.
One evening, when there wasn't much happening at the fair, we decided to go to an Eating Establishment in Iowa Falls. On arrival there, our driver who was a shop instructor, went in & made arrangements. On returning to the vehicle, he told us that the Manager would not serve us, when he found out that the majority in the group was blind. On getting back to Des Moines. the proprietor of a state owned cafeteria, learned of this; & he sent a letter to the Manager in question. He included a copy of the Iowa code. He told the gentleman, that if he felt like he didn't have to read the Iowa Code, he should read certain sections. Discrimination such as this, was subject to imprisonment, or a heavy fine. Needless to say, the guy changed his ways. The lesson here, was that the blind was not trying to do anything to harm him or his business. Our purpose was to educate. We wanted the same treatment that a sighted person received. This was, the 20th century. Discrimination such as this, should not happen.
There would be changes at IBSSS as well. In 1970, the school was required to change their format. They were now required to work with kids who were multiple handicapped. This meant that the blind would not get the individual help we had become accustomed to. There are those of us who feel that when we graduated in 1969, the timing could not have been better.
Submitted by Gary Gjerstad