Move over, Jim Dickson. William Buckley has just commanded me: Thou shalt not attend a ballet because you cannot hear the music and therefore cannot enjoy it fully {"The Stir Over Capt. Dickson," op-ed, Aug. 26}. It's true I no longer hear all the music (I've lost most of my hearing in recent years), but I certainly enjoy more than "just the dancers," asMr. Buckley says in a denigratory fashion. The appreciation is mine, a personal one, not Mr. Buckley's to determine.

What has astonished me most in this entire exchange is how everybody has missed the point. It isn't whether Jim Dickson as a blind man should or should not be sailing alone. Rather, it is that he is using that stunt as a dramatic demonstration of how modern technology can assist visually impaired people to achieve independent lives. His choice of demonstration vehicle -- the sailboat -- may or may not be a good one, but that's irrelevant. What he has proved is how computerized devices offer vital assistance in previously unknown ways (and not just in sailing).

In these more enlightened days, physically challenged people are learning many alternate modes of communication and mobility. I have learned recently how to use hearing aids, many listening devices, speech-reading and other techniques to bolster my failing hearing. I do so because I wish, deeply, to continue to participate in life around me, and not to be forced into isolation as a "handicapped" outcast. I am one of millions of Americans who can be and are being helped to overcome physical disabilities. Jim Dickson's feat, even if he didn't achieve his full goal, is a heartwarming example of how new techniques can break through barriers set up by disabilities and by public ignorance.

Yet William Buckley declaims: if you do not hear/see/move as a "normal" person like me, you have no right to participate in these things. Isn't it time to bury forever such antediluvian attitudes of discrimination against physically challenged people?



Goodness, I fear that William F. Buckley Jr. has further stirred things up with his second column about Capt. Dickson.

Mr. Buckley does call Jim Dickson a brave man, but his column insults all those who are disabled with its derogatory comments about a deaf person attending the ballet, a blind person in a horseback jumping contest and a blind sailor crossing the Atlantic, which Mr. Buckley likens to a book "written by a semiliterate."

Mr. Buckley seems to believe that what is most important is how perfectly one experiences or executes a performance, rather than human aspirations, will and courage.

As a psychiatrist, I have counseled children with severe orthopedic disabilities who have gained much self-respect and enjoyment from their participation -- in wheelchairs -- in the Special Olympics. I find this truly "a feat quite beautiful to contemplate," at least as much as the feat of "a gifted artist totally devoted to his craft." However, Mr. Buckley would no doubt belittle the Special Olympics as being "simply not natural."

A Chinses proverb says: "Nobody's family can hang out the sign 'Nothing the matter here.' " All of us, able-bodied and disabled, sooner or later will have our share of problems. Mr. Buckley would like us to view him as superior to the handicapped, who he feels are deserving mainly of pity. In truth, Mr. Buckley is handicapped and deserving of pity: his elitist values isolate him from real understanding of and empathy with his fellow human beings.


Silver Spring