AVON PARK - If Robert "Bobby" Talley wants to attend support meetings, he has to travel about 85 miles - not an easy task for the blind Avon Park resident.
Talley, 59, who lost his sight to meningitis at age 4, is interested in joining the American Council of the Blind but the nearest chapter is in Orlando. The council is an organization mainly made up of blind and visually-impaired people who want to achieve independence and equality; there are 71 affiliates nationwide, but none in Highlands County.
Along with his wife, Judy McCarter, Talley said he's on a quest to make it easier for he and other blind and visually-impaired residents in the county to get support through the council's development and maintenance of policies that determine appropriate services for blind people.
At the Dec. 9 Avon Park City Council meeting, Talley spoke to the city council and staff, asking for support for his undertaking. He said due to transportation issues, it's difficult for the area sightless to get to chapter meetings so far away and he feels there is a definite need for a local chapter.
"I want to get more support and feedback from anyone that can help. I know people got more to do than worry about blind people, but we want them to stand up and be with us," said Talley, who co-owns Sight Unseen Enterprises, a recreational equipment rental company, with McCarter.
According to the National Federation of the Blind, based on the 2010 U.S. Census, in 2011 the number of non-institutionalized Americans with visual disability was 6,636,900, based on the 2010 U.S. Census. In Florida, there were 430,000.
Due to those statistics, Talley said he feels there is a definite need for a Council of the Blind locally.
"Maybe others would look at us in a better way. People with sight think blind people should keep their kids off the street, out of sight. You're not supposed to do that. That's something you could learn with a chapter here," he said.
Although she lauds Talley's initiative, Sally Benjamin, membership secretary for the Florida Council of the Blind in Tallahassee, is wary of his ability to get it off the ground. She said he has contacted her via e-mail on several occasions about the initiative and she has told him to make sure he has paperwork in place and the support he'll need committed before finalizing plans. She said the nearest chapters are in Orlando, which has about 100 members, and Venice, with between 50 and 60 members. There are around 800 council members statewide and Talley would need council board approval to become sanctioned and that board only meets in the spring and fall.
Benjamin said most importantly, Talley needs to become a member of the Florida Council of the Blind for several months, but Talley said he hasn't been able to afford the $10 membership fee.
"I think it's worthwhile; I told him to do that, just not right now, give it some time," she said. "It's a good idea. I don't know exactly how many visually-impaired are there. Because I don't know a lot about that area, I can't guess whether it would work or not."
Despite Benjamin's slight skepticism, the Avon Park City Council is willing to support Talley's drive. After Talley made is pitch Dec. 9, Councilman Parke Sutherland, who works as an attorney, said he was willing to do his part to make the council chapter a reality. He said he appreciated his willingness to speak to city council and seemingly genuine concern, adding anything local citizens do to better the community for themselves and others is a plus.
"If he gets into it and needs to get non-profit documents drafted, I'll do it for him for free. I want to support his effort in any way I can," he said.
The American Council of the Blind was founded in 1961 but many of its state affiliates and local chapters have a history that can be traced back to the 1880s, according to its website. Its primary focus is to provide adjustment and placement services to people who are blind.
For information on the Council for the Blind, see www.fcb.org. To assist Talley, call (863) 453-7010.