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Toastmasters-Lions Center
For the Blind Partnership

Where The Blind
Lead the Blind to Success

By Craig Harrison DTM, PDG

April, 2005
edition of
The Toastmaster

“The best and most beautiful things in the world
cannot be seen or even touched.
They must be felt with the heart.”
— Helen Keller

At first glance club #7509's weekly Toastmasters meeting is like any you might find at lunchtime on Fridays. Yet a closer look offers clues it's different than most. Although indoors, many members are wearing tinted glasses. The published agenda has no ink on it, just Braille dots. And guide dogs are seated at the side of members. Welcome to the Lions Blind Toastmasters club, a partnership of Toastmasters International and the Lions Club of America, which meets at Oakland, California's Lions Center for the Blind.

After the opening gavel is sounded, members sound off in a form of a roll call: Iona, Dan, Virgil, Edna, Asia, Betty, Josie, Larry, Mona, Peggy and others announce their presence vocally. As each name is heard, other members murmur in recognition.

Like many clubs, the Lions Blind Toastmasters meeting begins weekly with the pledge of allegiance, followed by the president’s introduction of that week’s Toastmaster. This week’s meeting is especially poignant with the recent passing of President Ronald Reagan and legendary blind Jazz pianist and singer Ray Charles. Each profoundly impacted members and, accordingly, they share their remembrances of these stellar communicators in the week’s Table Topics.

The prepared speeches this week come from the C&L manual. Speaker Dan Peterson's "show what you mean" speech is about the jitterbug. Remarkably, he does more than describe it. He asks for a partner and narrates the steps as he and his partner dip and sway. "Toe and heel, toe and heel, back-step…"

Why, you ask, would he dance when nobody can see him?

Just as a smile comes through over the telephone even though we can’t see the smiler, so too is Dan’s message authenticated through his movements. Members feel his energy and hear his exhilaration. As I close my eyes and listen I am struck by the vitality in Dan’s voice and the positive vibrations emanating from the makeshift dance floor behind the lectern.

Another speaker, Daniel Everett, gives speech #3 about fishing. He explains the license procedure, then describes his pole and narrates the casting action of his rod on the river. We’re on the expedition with him.

Expanding a Contracting World

Some club members have been blind for years. Others are currently succumbing to blindness at various ages. Others are partially sighted.)

"It can be harrowing," according to Peggy Nichols, executive director of the center. She explains the special role Toastmasters plays for those whose Retinitis Pigmentosa is advancing.

"When members lose their sight they have a tendency to draw inward and their advocacy for self goes away, she says." Their world closes in on them. Toastmasters helps them expand that world again. It helps them negotiate their world powerfully at a time when they may be feeling powerless and victimized.

Toastmasters fits in well with the vocational training the center offers. More than a few members tell me it’s their favorite activity of the week."

Advocating for Themselves

Peggy continues: "Some take no for an answer instead of asking questions that sighted people might ask, such as:

Why not?

When can I…?

How can I…?"

"They have a tendency not to push. Toastmasters helps our people develop the courage to ask questions for themselves and speak their minds. They become advocates for themselves."

There's something intrinsically gratifying about experiencing people supporting each other while actively building their skills. The Lions Center for the Blind, like Toastmasters, fosters understanding, community and a learning environment where mastery builds self-esteem.

While helping prepare its members for independence in a sighted world, the best of the human spirit comes together each Friday at the Lions Blind Toastmasters Club in Oakland. I invite all of you to visit this extraordinary club, or build one within your district in conjunction with your local Lions blind center.

Meeting the Challenges of Life

In conversations with Dana LaMon, Toastmasters’ 1992 World Champion of Public Speaking, I came to learn that two world champions were blind at the time they won their awards.
LaMon is now a professional speaker. The other, Evelyn Jane Burgay, won the International Speech Contest in 1977.  She served as international director in 1991-1993, Clearly, blindness, while posing challenges, needn’t limit one's aspirations or achievements.
Our closing thought this day sums up the prevailing attitude of the Lions Blind Toastmasters Club’s members:

 I will walk for you if you have no legs.
I will reach for you if you have no arms.
I will speak for you if you are mute.
I will interpret the sounds of the earth if you are deaf…
I will move your fingers over the shapes of the world if you are blind…
All these things I will do for you, if you ask me to.
But if you should ask for sympathy, I would give you none!
For in obliging your wish
I would surely rob you of the spirit to meet the challenges of life!

— Claude McPhee

Facts About Lions Clubs; Helen Keller Incites Lions!
  • A service organization founded in 1917.
  • Comprised of nearly 1.4 million Lions members in 46,000 clubs in 193 countries and geographic areas worldwide.
  • Their motto: "We serve."
  • Operating centers for the blind and visually impaired worldwide since 1847.

Lions are recognized worldwide for their service to the blind and visually impaired. This service began when Helen Keller, a pioneering advocate for the disabled, challenged the Lions to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness" during their association's 1925 international convention.


Lions Center for the Blind Toastmasters #7509-57
Fridays 11:00AM - 12:00PM
Lions Center for the Blind
3834 Opal Street, Oakland, CA 94609-2625 USA
Phone Gary Wong for more information: (510) 450-1580 e-mail: garycwong@aol.com.

© Copyright 2005 Craig Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Professional speaker Craig Harrison, DTM of Berkeley CA, is a 17-year member of Lakeview Toastmasters (#2767-57) and founded Laugh Lovers, into advanced Toastmasters club #96430-57 in Oakland, CA. Craig received a Presidential Citation in August 2004 in Reno, NV from Toastmasters International at its annual convention. You can surf Craig's site at www.ExpressionsOfExcellence.com.

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contact Craig by email: Craig@ExpressionsOfExcellence.com
or by phone: (510) 547-0664.

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