James Daughton remembers when he and other blind employes at his sheltered workshop were told to use the loading dock entrance, not the front door, when coming to work. And he still gets angry recalling the time, only a few years ago, when a production manager decreed that no blind worker was worth more than 80 cents an hour.
Today Daughton, 45, who has had a workshop job of one sort or another for nearly half his life, earns $3.80 an hour as a "pick up man" in the paper department at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM).
And things are better now for Henry Williams, 43, who was 18 and in prison when another inmate threw lye in his face during a fight. He retains some light perception and earns $4.72 an hour operating paper cutting equipment for BISM.
It's steady work, better than several years ago when Williams worked on an assembly line corking bottles. Then, he says, "the work came in only once a year, and you really looked forward to those three months when you would have something to do--it was like Santa Claus coming."
But while some workshop conditions have improved, society's attitude toward the blind has not, according to BISM employes, who complain that sighted people expect less of them and often make them feel like nonpersons.
"I've been to doctors several times for medical problems, and when they find out I'm blind, they stop talking to me and start talking to my wife," Knowles Hovington, who sews in BISM's Salisbury plant, says. "Or I go shopping for clothes and they give my wife the change when I'm the one buying the suit."
The 38-year-old Delaware resident says he is the same person he has always been. With a high school education, "I'm no genius, but I'm no dummy, either."
After she went blind several years ago, Pat Winebrenner, who sews at BISM's Cumberland plant, says she and her husband went ahead with plans to have children, despite the misgivings of relatives.
"It really wasn't a problem," says the mother of a 4-year-old daughter. "You just have to be very organized, and you listen more."