Poor William F. Buckley Jr., victimized once more by "the rampant egalitarianism of democratic society" {"The Blind Man and the Sea," op-ed, Aug. 12}.

In his own lifetime, two southerners, a man without a college education and even a man in a wheelchair have been president. Blacks and women run for that office, serve on the Supreme Court and -- even worse luck -- are graduated from Yale. And now a blind man is sailing a boat across the Atlantic. What can a superior person do nowadays to demonstrate his qualities? There is probably even a cabdriver or two in Passaic who uses the adjective "hubristic" to curse other drivers.

"The beginning of wisdom in respect of the handicapped is to recognize that they are handicapped," wrote Mr. Buckley. And yet he has gone through life with his eyes closed trying his best to enlighten the rest of us. No one accuses him of not having the "necessities." But we might. RICHARD H. LEVINE Washington

By demonstrating that a person with physical limitations can take on unique, exciting and dangerous challenges with the help of modern technology, Jim Dickson has demonstrated that such a person can take on more "mundane" tasks with similar help -- tasks such as working for a living.

Those tasks are beyond the reach of many handicapped Americans not because they are unable to work, but because many people perceive them as unable to work. Despite the difficulties he has had during his voyage, one hopes Mr. Dickson has dispelled some widely held misconceptions about persons who are physically challenged.

Moreover, Mr. Buckley's choice of terms was offensive. For example, he said, "Jim Dickson has suffered, since age seven, from retinitis pigmentosa." The disability community has worked diligently to discourage the mass media from using such constructions. To portray a disabled person as "suffering" is to evoke pity from the reader. In doing so, Mr. Buckley adds to the "us" and "them" mentality, encouraging the stereotypes that make it more difficult for disabled persons to join the mainstream of American life.

Further, in describing society's attitude toward people with unique attributes, Mr. Buckley wrote, "Nothing is more heartening than the prosthetic device that permits a cripple to wake from surgery to find that he has five fingers again." Among members of the disability community, the word "cripple" is generally equated with the words used by racists (but not family newspapers) to describe black persons, Jewish persons and persons of foreign descent. I cannot emphasize strongly enough the need to avoid the use of the word. Because it connotes helplessness, dependency and a lack of wholeness, it is offensive to persons with handicaps.

SPENCER K. STEPHENS Editor, Handicapped Americans Report Washington

When I was a boy living in Massachusetts, one of our unproductive aspirations was to eschew the safe stairway and come down the steel struts on the side of the observation tower on Prospect Hill in Waltham. One day a blind boy from the Perkins Institute in Watertown accompanied our group on the hike to Waltham. Some of the more daring among us decided to come down from the tower the nonproductive way, leaving one behind to walk down the stairs with our "Jim Dickson." But the blind boy insisted he wanted to come down the more daring way and could not be persuaded otherwise.

So he, too, went down the side of the tower, with one of the sighted ahead of him to lead the way and another behind him to check his handholds on the steel struts.

He arrived on the ground to the cheers of those of active limb but inactive sense. Perhaps our "Jim" helped the blind by showing that their aspirations could be as foolishly unproductive as any man's. He was happy too. THOMAS J. McELLIGOTT Venice, Fla.

Curiously, William F. Buckley Jr. chose to castigate a blind sailor for failing to recognize the limits of his handicap. Further, Mr. Buckley declared that Jim Dickson "is endeavoring to pull off a stunt, and the blind stand neither to benefit from this adventure nor to take heart from it."

What qualifies Mr. Buckley to make these statements? Yes, he is a well-known sailor. But he knows nothing about being disabled. He made this abundantly clear when he said, "if you cannot see the water and the skies, why are you going on a sailboat to begin with?"

Aside from decreeing that the only way to see is through the eyes, Mr. Buckley also lectured disabled people "to recognize they are handicapped." Disabled people are all too aware of their handicaps and what they cannot do. In fact, most harbor negative self-images and are reluctant to take even small chances. Unhappily, this results in high unemployment levels and limited socialization among this population.

My job is to change these negative attitudes; that is why the organization I direct decided to sponsor Jim Dickson's solo sail. "You can't control the attitude of those around you, but if you let them control yours, you're in trouble," Mr. Dickson has said.

The object of Jim Dickson's sail is not to encourage blind people to jump in boats and head for England. His hope is to inspire people to think of life in terms of possibilities, not limitations. The same talking computers that enable him to sail alone also allow blind students to attend regular classes for the sighted and open up job opportunities previously reserved for sighted workers.

Mr. Buckley must have thought he delivered the coup de grace when he said, "it is profane to suppose that a cripple can run, a deaf man hear or a blind man see." He doesn't know what he's talking about. The body has an amazing capacity to compensate for a physical impairment. And with the aid of modern technology, "cripples" do run, deaf people can hear, and blind individuals do see.

As is evident from Mr. Buckley's column, there are many eyes still to be opened.

KIRK M. BAUER Executive Director National Handicapped Sports & Recreation Association Washington