Harold W. Snider, 61

Harold W. Snider, 61; Advocate for the Blind Helped Craft Disabilities Act

Harold W. Snider held local and federal government positions and aided in the creation of an audible newspaper service for the blind.
Harold W. Snider held local and federal government positions and aided in the creation of an audible newspaper service for the blind. (Family Photo)
By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 12, 2009

Harold W. Snider, 61, a prominent advocate for the blind who helped craft legislation that expanded the civil rights of Americans with disabilities and aided in the launching of an audible newspaper service, died June 26 at his home in Rockville after a heart attack.

While growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Snider said he was forced out of regular third-grade classes because he was blind. His parents sued the Duval County school system, and Mr. Snider became the first blind student in the county to graduate from public school.

The experience launched Mr. Snider's interest in advocacy, and in the mid-1970s he reportedly became the first blind employee of the Smithsonian Institution. As a handicap program coordinator for the fledgling National Air and Space Museum, he worked to make the facility a vivid experience for the sight-impaired.

"You can't look at the spacecraft, so you touch it, or you hold a model of it or a raised line picture of it," Mr. Snider told United Press International in 1976. "You can't see an airplane, so you hear its engine roar."

In 1978, he started Access for the Handicapped, a District-based consulting company for guidance on policy, technology and resources for people with disabilities. Through his company, he worked on projects for people with disabilities around the world, including Zambia, Ecuador and South Korea.

After Mr. Snider worked for the Republican National Committee on disability issues, President George H.W. Bush appointed him in 1990 as deputy executive director of the National Council on Disability. In that role, he served as a liaison among the council, the White House, Congress and the media.

He also helped draft the sweeping Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, which broadened civil rights already protected in earlier legislation. The act guarantees protection of disabled people from discrimination in the public and private sectors and regardless of whether agencies or businesses receive federal aid.

After Mr. Snider left the council in 1992, he worked in conjunction with the National Federation of the Blind to develop NFB-Newsline, a free dial-to-listen newspaper and magazine service that includes daily editions of The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal among its more than 250 publications. It debuted in 1994 and claims more than 50,000 users.

In addition, Mr. Snider was a former chairman of Montgomery County's Commission on People With Disabilities.

Harold Wexler Snider, whose father was a dentist, was born Sept. 6, 1947, in Jacksonville. He graduated in 1969 from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, where he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, but told UPI that he was not allowed to take the Foreign Service examination because of prejudice.

In 1970, he received his master's degree in British imperial and commonwealth history from the University of London and did postgraduate work at the University of Oxford.

About this time, he married Gail Lovelace, a British woman who also was blind. They divorced in 1994, the same year he married Linda Fossett. All three remained on good terms, with the two wives calling each other "wives-in-law."

Survivors include his second wife, of Rockville; two children from his first marriage, David Snider of Alexandria and Ellen Underwood of Fairfax County; three stepchildren; his mother, Shirley Snider of Jacksonville; two sisters; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Snider collected antique phones and music boxes, played the accordion, and spoke fluent French and Spanish. He was considered outspoken and sometimes called militant in his role as an advocate. But he also said he saw a value in using humor to make sighted people feel comfortable around him.

He said he was sometimes asked how blind people performed tasks such as crossing the street, cutting a sandwich or, as the more curious would ponder, having sex.

"I tell them I do it like everybody else," Mr. Snider told the New York Times. "In the dark."

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