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Advocacy: Kenneth Jernigan

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      Kenneth Jernigan

      “I think that to understand what we here at the Commission for the Blind are doing, you’ve got to see the blind as a minority. Since, from the time of childhood, all of us are conditioned to believe that, to be blind means necessarily to be less capable than others. Blindness means inferiority.  Now, we’ve got to help the person undo that kind of conditioning.”
      – Kenneth Jernigan

      Picture of Kenneth Jernigan walking down the sidewalk with the white cane, outside of the Iowa Commission for the Blind.

      Kenneth Jernigan was a leader in the blind community and was the first blind person to lead a state agency for the blind. As director, he introduced the long white cane for independent travel, positive philosophy of blindness, and revolutionary concepts of rehabilitation.

      During his tenure as director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind between 1958 and 1978,  Jernigan made significant and long lasting contributions for the betterment of blind Americans.  Building on the work of Newell Perry and Jacobus tenBroek, Jernigan sought to correct long held common social misconceptions about blindness and beliefs that it was a debilitating condition that led to inferior mental capacity. Instead he cast blindness in a positive light as a common characteristic that could be overcome by proper adjustment and learning alternative techniques that would allow blind people to do things as well or better than those with sight. 

      Jernigan was significant for having developed and implemented a revolutionary, new model for rehabilitating the blind at the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Later known as “structured discovery,” this highly successful model produced graduates who were more independent in terms of mobility, self-confidence, and better equipped to pursue their dreams than students enrolled in prevailing training programs of the time.  Reflecting its success, within a matter of years this model was copied by rehabilitation programs across the United States and around the world. 

      Jernigan was a social and governmental reformer who was the leading force in efforts to establish civil rights for the blind. His contributions were made both as an activist and as a national expert on blindness. He was instrumental in organizing the blind in their efforts to achieve equality. He also influenced and shaped national policy discussions, and worked with Congressional leaders to enact a number of specific national laws and policies that provide equal rights and equal opportunity for the blind. 

      In 1978, Jernigan resigned as director of the Iowa Commission. His departure was surrounded with controversy over some of his actions during his tenure as director. Jernigan faced criticism for numerous reasons, but much of the controversy of his departure centered around allegations of conflict-of-interest due to his association with other national associations of the blind.

      After his resignation, Jernigan moved to Baltimore, Maryland. He remained a leader in the organized blind movement and continued to fight for the rights of blind Americans until his death in October 1998. 

      For a more in-depth look at the significance of Kenneth Jernigan's connection to Iowa, and his contributions, please follow this link to the National Register Amendment.


      Newspapers Document Kenneth Jernigan's Departure from Iowa

      Jernigan Bid For U.S. Post Told - November 22, 1977

      Questions to be answered - March 15, 1978

      Legislators say Iowa will miss Jernigan - undated

      Contingent of blind Iowans wants a different approach - March 15, 1978

      Redmond: Restructure Commission for Blind - March 15, 1978

      Jernigan Moves On - April 2, 1978

      Blind unit probe issues outlined - April 8, 1978

      The articles listed above are a sample of the articles and letters related to Kenneth Jernigan available in the Iowa Blind History archives.