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The Dishwashing Tape

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      Kenneth Jernigan reads from a Braille book in the Director's Conference Room.What is known as “The Dishwashing Tape” is the recording of a lively discussion during a class in 1960 at the Iowa Department for the Blind's Orientation Center. Today, all new IDB staff and Orientation Center students listen to this recording to begin their understanding of the Department's positive approach toward blindness. Listen to the Dishwashing Tape.

      This discussion was prompted when a group of Center students approached then-agency Director Kenneth Jernigan, questioning a proposed division of labor for an upcoming legislative open house, during which the students would serve state legislators refreshments. Some students had decided that the job of dishwashing would be better handled by those students with no vision, while the serving would be better performed by those who had some sight. Jernigan decided it was important to discuss this situation with all of the Center students.

      The discussion focuses on the three main goals students in the Center should be working toward. First is the development of a positive attitude toward blindness. Second is learning alternative non-visual techniques and skills that promote independence. Third is learning to effectively deal with public attitudes about blindness in a positive manner.

      Jernigan's discussion also touches on how the use of sleep shades during Center training helps students achieve the first two goals. He emphasizes the critical need for students to understand that their future success does not depend on the amount of vision they have but rather on how they feel about being blind. A positive attitude toward blindness is more important for success than any individual skill, he says, adding that it is also important to react properly to negative public attitudes about blindness.

      The idea that positive attitudes about blindness should be taught on an equal basis with blindness skills was new to orientation centers around the country in 1960. However, after 50 years of teaching and living this philosophy at the IDB, this approach remains a major reason for the success of our clients. It has also become a model for other training programs around the country.

      If you have questions after listening to this discussion, contact Center director Alan Bickell, at

      Listen to the Dishwashing Tape (streaming audio).

      Learn more about the Department's positive philosophy toward blindness.

      Visit the Department and take a tour.

      Have a Department representative speak at your next event.