Through his work with the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana, Lee Martin Sr. works to empower a group often overlooked. In addition to drawing attention to the physical needs of the blind, he also fights for communal involvement that’s too often unavailable.
In January, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission recognized the importance of service to the blind community when it awarded Martin the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award for his multiple contributions. Martin is second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana and president of the Circle City chapter.
“Chills went through my body,” Martin said about winning the award. “And then the thought of the magnitude of such an award [hit me]. When you talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the strife that we had to endure for civil rights for all citizens in this country, that kind of overwhelmed me.”
Martin is no stranger to strife. Not only is he a Vietnam veteran, but he also lost his sight at age 48 to sclerosis. Martin worked for Daimler Chrysler before going blind. He had to pass a series of tests in order to continue his employment with the company. Martin passed the tests, but Daimler Chrysler fired him anyway. Martin’s resulting high publicity lawsuit was the first of his many efforts to speak up for the blind.
As someone working for the country’s largest organization for the blind, Martin displays serious dedication to advocacy and assistance. Florence Myers-McSwine, Martin’s colleague, describes him as very dedicated.
“He would get to work extremely early because he never wanted to be late,” Myers-McSwine said. “This man would get to work early, and if the transit picked him up late, that was fine. He just was not going to be late going to work.”
Martin hosts the TV show “NFB Newsline Indiana Monthly Report.” The show not only discusses disability issues but also shares inspiring stories of those who have persevered through hardship.
“The ‘NFB Newsline Indiana Monthly Report’ is a great asset to WHMB-TV 40’s local line-up of quality programs,” Jeff Elliot, production manager for WHMB-TV 40 Indianapolis, said. “Martin is an awesome talk show host, challenging issues that affect the blind community and beyond, bringing the issues of the blind to the consciousness of the general public.”
Another one of Martin’s favorite projects also falls under the Newsline banner: the National Federation of the Blind’s free news audio service for those who are visually impaired or otherwise physically unable to read newspapers, magazines and more. The NFB Newsline audio service includes 500 publications, including the Indianapolis Recorder.
“The program has helped other people to be more empowered, learning about what’s going on in their community,” Martin said.
He does not call his blindness a disability. Rather, Martin refers to it as “the gift of blindness” because of how it changed his direction in life. He credits the outlook to his mother, who encouraged Martin to be strong when he told her about his blindness.
“She did not raise me to be a weakling,” Martin said, “and she expected me to do what I’m gifted to do.”
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.