THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 43, No. 3 March, 2000
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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Web Page address: http://www.nfb.org
Letters to the President, address changes,
subscription requests, orders for NFB literature,
articles for the Monitor, and letters to the Editor
should be sent to the National Office.
Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year. Members are invited, and non-members are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 43, No. 3 March, 2000
Great Things to See and Do in Atlanta:
2000 Convention Tours
by Al Falligan
NFB Camp 2000: Child Care During Convention
by Carla McQuillan
What's Round and Mean?
Standardized Testing and Blind Students
by Peggy Elliott
The 2000 Washington Seminar
2000 Legislative Agenda and Fact Sheets
Living the Movement: Ferret Federationists
by Priscilla McKinley
Living the Movement: The Perspective from Sudan
by Thomas Philip
Ghana: Our Independence Outside the United States
by Angela Howard
The Universality of Truths
by Mariyam Cementwala
When to Stop Relying on Low Vision and Low-Vision Aids
by Norman Gardner
Ray Kurzweil Honored
Cars, Teen-agers, and Insurance
by Ramona Walhof
My Brother, My Friend, My Hero
by Lloyd Jernigan
Betty Niceley Dies
by Barbara Pierce
Copyright © 2000 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Three people stand beside an antique car. We can see the entire driver's side of the car, which is lime green with dark green fenders, whitewall tires, and distinctive hubcaps.]
[CAPTION: Standing at the front of this 1939 Packard are owner Larry Herweg, President Maurer, and Mrs. Maurer.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: A night view of the Coca-Cola Museum]
Great Things to See and Do in Atlanta:
2000 Convention Tours
by Al Falligan
From the Editor: The clock is running on preparations for the 2000 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind Sunday, July 2, through Saturday, July 8. If you have not yet made your hotel reservation, you had better get to it immediately. We will meet at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Atlanta, a truly beautiful and spacious world-class hotel. Rooms have been reserved for us at the Marquis as well as the Atlanta Hilton and Towers and the Atlanta Hyatt, both only a short walk away. Our hotel rates are excellent. For the 2000 convention they are singles, $57; doubles and twins, $59; triples, $61; and quads, $63. A tax of 14 percent will be charged, but there will be no charge for children rooming with parents as long as no extra bed is requested.
For room reservations write directly to Atlanta Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, or call (404) 521-0000. Marriott has a national toll-free number, but do not use it. Reservations made through this national number will not be valid. They must be made directly with the hotel. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If a credit card is used, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 4, 2000, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
But before you pick up the phone to make your travel and hotel reservations, read the following article and make sure that your arrival and departure times will allow you to take advantage of the wonderful tours the Georgia affiliate has arranged for our enjoyment. Here is what Al Falligan has to say:
On behalf of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia, thank you for coming to explore Atlanta, host city of the National Convention in 2000. With its southern charm and warm weather, Atlanta has always been a great place to visit.
Visitors to Atlanta can enjoy world-class museums; great restaurants; memorable shopping; the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Center; Zoo Atlanta; the World of Coca-Cola; and Stone Mountain.
We are offering five tour packages for your enjoyment. Sign up early. Please note that the deadline for reservations and cancellations is June 24, 2000. Also keep in mind that the prices quoted are dependent on guaranteed minimum sign-ups, so decide now to take a tour or two and invite your friends to join you. See y'all!
The prices for tours listed below include buses, experienced guides, tips, and sales tax and admissions where applicable. Tours leave from the Courtland Street entrance of the Marriott Marquis, which is just across the street from the Hilton.
Pre-paid tickets can be picked up at the tour desk. Remaining tickets will be sold on a space-available basis. Tour desk hours are Sunday, noon till 1:00 p.m.; Monday, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.; Wednesday, 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m.
Tour 1: Sunday, July 2, 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Martin Luther King Center/Coca-Cola Underground Atlanta: First stop, spend an hour at the King Center: ride to Underground Atlanta for a tour of the Coca-Cola Museum with time to browse in the shops at Underground Atlanta. Price, $25 per person including bus, guide, Coca-Cola admission, tax and tip. No child rate.
Tour 2: Thursday, July 6, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Black Heritage Tour: Spend two hours at Martin Luther King Center, visiting Ebenezer Baptist Church, Visitors Center, and the Crypts. Drive through downtown Atlanta to the Atlanta University Center, before driving past the Shrine of the Black Madonna on the return trip to the hotel. Price, $25 per person, includes bus, guide, tax, and tip. $22, children through age eleven.
Tour 3: Thursday, July 6, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Zoo Atlanta: Plenty of time is allowed to walk through the Zoo with a Zoo volunteer describing the many different exhibits and animals. Atlanta's two new attractions are the giant pandas on loan from China. Price is $30 per person, includes Zoo admission, bus, guide, tax, and tip. $28 child rate.
Tour 4: Thursday, July 6, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sci-Trek, Georgia's Technology Museum: Explore more than 90,000 square feet of exhibit space and over 150 interactive educational exhibits. With various levels of complexity, the exhibits range from basic pulleys and levers to the operation of virtual reality games and live science demonstrations. Price is $30 per person, includes bus, guides, admission, tax, and tip. $27 child rate.
Tour 5: Thursday, July 6, 7:00 to 10:30 p.m.
Ray's on the River Dinner Party: This tour is back by popular demand. The beautiful restaurant nestled on the banks of the Chatahoochee River is the perfect setting for your dinner party. Stroll through the gardens along the river, enjoy a delicious dinner (salad, choice of chicken or salmon, rice, vegetable, and Key lime pie or chocolate mousse pie, coffee, tea). Pianist will play popular tunes during dinner. Price is $58 per person, includes buses, guides, dinner, tax, and tip. No child rate.
Please complete the following order form and send it and your check for the full amount required to the address listed at the bottom of the form. If you read the Braille or cassette editions and have no access to the actual form, be sure to include all of the information requested on the form when you send your check and written order. Be very sure to include your contact information, legibly written, so that you can be reached in case of confusion with your request or a change in plans.
Tour Reservation Form
Please reserve the following tickets to be picked up at the reservation desk at the Marriott Marquis.
Tour 1, MLK-Coca-Cola: Sunday, July 2, number of tickets ____ $25: total ____.
Tour 2, Black Heritage: Thursday, July 6, number of tickets ____ $25 (adults): total ____, number of tickets for children up to twelve years ____, $22, total ____.
Tour 3, Zoo, Thursday, July 6, number of tickets at $30____, total ____. Number of tickets for children ____ $28, total ____.
Tour 4, Sci-Trek: July 6, number of tickets at $30 ___, total amount ____. Number of tickets for children, ____, $27 total ____.
Tour 5, Ray's on the River, Thursday, July 6, number of tickets ____, $58 total ____.
Grand total ____
Deadline for reservations and cancellations is June 24, 2000. Tours leave from Courtland Street entrance of the Marriott Marquis facing the Hilton. Checks or money orders should be made payable to Fran O'Reilly and Associates and mailed to Post Office Box 720336, Atlanta, Georgia 30358-2336. We do not accept credit card orders. Call (404) 255-3682 or fax (404) 255-2640.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Daniel Lamonds of South Carolina plays his guitar and sings with NFB campers]
NFB Camp 2000: Child Care During Convention
by Carla McQuillan
From the Editor: Carla McQuillan is a member of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Oregon. She also operates her own Montessori school, which has been growing rapidly since it opened. Since 1996 Carla has conducted NFB Camp, the childcare program during National Conventions. This year the Board of Directors has decided on an important change in NFB Camp registration policy. If you are considering using this important program during the convention in Atlanta, you will find this notice of deep interest. This is what Carla says:
Ten years ago child care during convention sessions was performed by parents, but times have changed. Last year we cared for ninety-four children in NFB Camp, nearly half of whom had not pre-registered. The increase in family participation at our conventions is wonderful news, but it has made advance preparations a necessity. By decision of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, beginning in 2000, all children who wish to participate in the programs and activities of NFB Camp must register, this year by June 15, 2000.
NFB Camp will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and banquet evening. Plenty of teens are always available to babysit during evening and lunch-time meetings. The schedule this year will be as follows:
Sunday, July 2, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (You are responsible for lunch)
Monday, July 3, Camp is closed
Tuesday, July 4, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (you are responsible for lunch)
Wednesday, July 5, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 6, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Friday, July 7, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.; and banquet
Saturday, July 8, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
These times may vary, depending on the timing of the actual convention sessions. NFB Camp will open thirty minutes prior to the beginning gavel and close thirty minutes after adjournment.
Fees: for the entire week (including banquet), first child, $80, second child, $60. By the day (does not include banquet), each child, $20, banquet, $15.
NFB Camp Pre-registration Form
Return by June 15, 2000
List name and age for each child
Weekly fees: first child, $80, second child, $60
Daily fees: each child, $20 times number of days
Banquet fee: $15 per child
Completed Pre-registration form and payment must be received by June 15, 2000. Make checks payable to NFB of Oregon. Mail to National Federation of the Blind, 5005 Main Street, Springfield, Oregon 97478, (541) 726-6924.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott]
What's Round and Mean?
Standardized Testing and Blind Students
by Peggy Elliott
From the Editor: A little over a year ago, at the 1999 Mid-Winter Conference of the National Association of Blind Students, Peggy Elliott gave a speech on the subject of standardized testing and the problems faced by blind test-takers. It was the clearest explication of the situation I, at least, had ever heard. Conference planners returned to the subject on this year's agenda. Because of the importance of the topic, here is Peggy's original speech. Next month we will carry the follow-up agenda item from this year's seminar. Peggy Elliott is Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB of Iowa. This is what she said:
The best description I know of standardized testing as applied to blind people is the old joke: What is round and mean? A vicious circle. I have discussed this topic with hundreds of blind people over the years, and it seems to me that those facing standardized testing need to know what is going to happen, why it is going to happen, the inevitability of experiencing one or more of the problems others have already experienced, and some techniques for positioning yourself for maximum benefit and minimum hassle. With this base of knowledge you can then consider what you personally and we as the Federation can do about standardized testing. My observation is that most blind people experience one or more problems in the standardized testing sphere, soldier through as best they can, achieve the goal in some way, and then move on, leaving the next blind person to experience the exact same set of problems anew. I think it is time to begin to pool our knowledge, our experience, and our wit to find solutions that will be effective for all blind people.
Any blind person needs to grasp three concepts to understand the context of standardized testing as we experience it. These are validation theory, the tip letter, and the gateway. As we discuss each of these three concepts in turn, please keep in mind what is round and mean. It will help in understanding the context.
Validation theory for standardized testing is arcane, complicated, understood by only a few people, and will hit you in the face every time you walk into a standardized testing setting. Therefore I recommend very strongly that at a minimum you study the basic concept of validation theory. It is one that you will be dealing with from now until you no longer need the services of any standardized testing agency. And on that bright day I hope that you are still interested in the effect of this validation theory on fellow blind people and will be willing to continue working to effect change in the current, unacceptable circumstances.
Validation theory holds that the administrator of a test can determine and vouch for the validity of a score to the user of the score. In this context validity is equivalent to predictive effect. The user of the test score wants a prediction of how you, the test taker, will perform in the thing for which you are being tested, and standardized test administrators claim to be able to provide this prediction. So, for most practical purposes, validity equals prediction.
The test administrator provides this validated score on a standardized test by a three-step process which will remind us of what is round and mean. First, the tester awards you a score on the test. Second, the test administrator tracks your actual performance in the context for which the test was created. And third, the administrator compares actual performance to score, adjusting the interpretation of the score so that it accurately predicts how someone else with the exact same score will perform in the context.
Let me untangle that a little bit by giving a concrete example. Colleges and universities almost all use either the SAT or the ACT test for admission into undergraduate school. The people who own and administer those tests have given them to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of high school students and then gathered data about the performance of those same students as they complete their freshman year of college. The SAT and ACT people then compare the two (score and performance) and adjust their interpretation of the test score so that the next group of people that comes along is awarded a score that is now validated to predict performance in that first year of college.
Another way of saying the same thing is that a certain score received by thousands of students is statistically correlated to a certain level of performance in a college freshman year. This correlation is then provided to score users as a valid predictor of the performance for persons who have taken the test and not yet entered college. College admissions offices can then make decisions based on this predictive score, confident that the prediction will largely be valid since it has been validated through the correlation process using hundreds of thousands of comparisons between score and performance.
This is the bare bones of validation theory. There is a great deal more to the detail and application of the theory. For example, test administrators include unvalidated questions or sections in the test everyone takes and are always performing this validation process on those unvalidated sections. Some unvalidated questions or sections are tossed out as unusable or non-predictive. These unvalidated questions or sections do not get reported in your score. They're for the benefit of future test users. You are just a cog in that round and mean wheel of validation theory. But the basic progression is score, performance, correlation, prediction, use as predictor.
The statistical underpinning of validation theory means that it is not valid on a small set of people. For a score's predictive value to be valid, it must be validated on sets of hundreds of thousands of people. Validation theory for a standardized test holds that, if you test enough people and then check their performance in relation to their original scores, you can make the score predictive. For example, the Library of Congress' test concerning Braille literacy is not validated, as I understand it, because they haven't had enough people take their test to look at what the people actually do and relate it back to the score on the test. Validation theory is much more complicated to apply and use than what I have just said, but that's the basic theorem.
Validation theory holds that all the conditions under which the test is administered must be standard or, in other words, as much the same as you can get them, for the score to be susceptible of correlation with performance in these huge, statistically significant sets of test takers. Everyone is familiar with many of the so-called standardized conditions. You sit in the same room as everyone else, use a No. 2 pencil, use your eyes to read the test, sit at a desk in front of and behind other people, are supervised and proctored by exactly one person who sits at a desk in front of the room. You can add a bunch of other subparts. Basically you have to be one of the herd. You have to be part of that big group that is tested and whose scores are then compared to your actual performance in the first year of college. One person, five people, ten people do not a validation yield. It has to be hundreds of thousands of people, and the conditions under which the test is taken are part of what is considered necessary for the scoring, for the prediction, and then for the validation.
If you happen to be an Orthodox Jew who can't take the test on a Saturday, your score will not be validated because you didn't take the test in the room, under the same lights, with people sitting around you in the desks. You didn't take it in the same conditions. You can be as sighted as you want, but the test is not validated because you did not take it under all the standardized conditions. Or consider people who use wheelchairs who can read their tests but can't get to the testing room because there happen to be steps in the way. When wheelchair users take the test in a different room, same day, same time, exact same everything except that they are not in the room with all the other people, those wheelchair users will not have their tests validated because the conditions of test administration are not the standardized conditions. "Standardized conditions" doesn't just mean using your eyes. "Standardized conditions" means all of the conditions--the herd conditions.
Validation theory is precise, specific, and based on the scores of masses of people that are used to validate, compare, and predict. You and I as blind people will never produce a valid score. It can't be done under current validation theory.
Since the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, I have heard numerous blind people say in genuine puzzlement and frustration: "But they could just validate the score!" Test Administrators are not going to "just validate" the scores of blind people because validation theory mandates the concepts of large-number correlation and of standardization I have described. There are not hundreds of thousands of us, and we don't sit in the same room and take the test under the same conditions as other people.
I can understand the frustration that causes blind people to ask why can't our scores just be validated? But I can tell you this: The test owners are not going to. This is round and mean. It's validation theory, and blind people do not fit anymore than people who are Orthodox Jews and can't take tests on the same day. Anymore than people who read the test in print and happen to be in a wheelchair in a different room. It doesn't matter who you are as long as you don't take the test under exactly the same conditions as the herd, as the hundreds of thousands of people. Your score will not be valid.
Why does it matter that your test score is not valid? The reason for the existence of most standardized tests is to predict for the institution we are seeking to enter how we are going to perform. As a blind person you can simply never produce a valid score. And, unfortunately, the people who developed validation theory aren't governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Validation theory is a law unto itself--the law of averages, and as nearly as I can determine, it supersedes the Americans with Disabilities Act. We could litigate this from now until every single person in this room is dead, and the law of averages is still going to supersede the Americans with Disabilities Act. That is a fact of life, no matter what kind of frustration it creates inside you.
This leads to the second fact that all blind people taking standardized tests will deal with: the tip letter or flagging, as it is currently called. When you as a blind person take a standardized test of any kind, a flag letter is going to be sent to the institution that you specify for receiving your scores. The letter is going to say in so many words that the accompanying score is not valid or not validated (the terms are essentially interchangeable). Many blind people do not even know their scores will be flagged. It is vital that you know it so that you know the context in which you are functioning. It does not matter what you do or how much you dislike it. All that matters here is that we have something that is round and mean. Your test score is going to be flagged.
I want to give you one more concept before we talk about what we can do in response. The final concept I want to discuss is the gateway. Standardized tests are used essentially in two different ways. One is the gateway of admission to a post-secondary academic program. You're trying to get into undergraduate school or graduate school or law school or social work school. You're trying to get into some program for which the number of applicants exceeds the number of places. The principal method devised for sorting out applicants and accepting only some for admission is standardized testing with the predictive value of a valid score behind it. So the gateway of admission to a program is one type of standardized test.
The second type is a gateway to licensure. We have all heard of the bar exam and the social work exam. Many professions have such exams, and many of these are standardized and function as a gateway. We therefore have gateways to admission and gateways to licensure.
A gateway to licensure is pretty much a single-option gateway. There's only one way into the profession in question, and that is to pass the test. These same single-option gateways are now beginning to show up in elementary and secondary schools, used to determine admission to programs such as gifted and talented programs or to determine eligibility for high school graduation.
However, with regard to a gateway to admission, please consider the concept that a gateway test is not the only way to gain admission to a program or course of study. Let's take for example the few colleges and universities around the country that do not award letter or number grades. You can actually get into some schools in which you earn merely a pass or fail in college. In other words, when graduates of such schools apply for graduate school, they do not have grades to present. Yet graduates of these colleges do achieve admission into graduate schools. How do they do it? They deal directly with the admissions department for the school and say, "I don't have grades. But there's some way you can fairly assess whether I'm a good candidate for your program or not despite the fact that I do not have any grades."
I want to commend to each of you the like thought for us as blind people appearing at a gateway without a validated test score. The objective here, please keep in mind, is not to take the test. I cannot tell you how many people I have talked to who have said to me, "But I want to take the test. I just want to be like other people."
I don't want to be mean about this, but I don't care how much you want to be like other people. Because of validation theory, you're not when it comes to standardized tests. You're blind, and your score is never going to be validated. So talk to me about getting into the program. Don't talk to me about wanting to take the test. Don't talk to me about just wanting to be like other people. Who cares if you take the test or not? The question is: Did you get into the program you wanted? Please, please keep in mind that there is more than one gateway into an academic program. Please also keep in mind that you do not have to go through the same gateway that other people go through to get into that program. The smarter you are, the more persistent you are, the better you network, the more you think about it, the likelier it is that you'll figure out that there is more than one gateway. And I want to commend to each of you that, in the case of gateways to admission to an academic program, you don't have to take the test to get in. You cannot get a valid score anyway.
These then are the three concepts that you need to have in your hands before you, as an individual blind person, can make decisions about what you are going to do regarding standardized testing. Your scores are not going to be validated. Your scores are going to be flagged. There are two different types of testing, for admission and for licensure. With those three concepts here are some things to think about in the case of standardized testing.
Many standardized tests are not fair to blind people. I've gotten some large national test administrators to admit in private that blind people as a class test lower than sighted people do. I can believe that because of lack of training and skills on our part. If you tell the admissions department that your score is not going to be valid, they will already know it because of validation theory, assuming they know you are blind. Then, if your score comes in a little lower than you would have liked, guess what? You've already undermined the score, and they are probably going to ignore or discount it.
The opposite, however, is not true; if you score very high, they'll believe it and possibly even rate you yet higher since, in their unspoken view, you had to overcome such obstacles to do well. It always helps to scope out how others will think and use it to your advantage. Boldly pointing out that your score will be invalid can't hurt, may help, and classifies you as proactive rather than reactive--someone knowledgeable about and in charge of his or her world instead of crushed by it. It's to your advantage to recognize that you are different in this context and to make a different approach to getting in. The objective is not to take the test. The objective is to get into the program and get the chance to show what you can do.
Now I want to back up one step and reiterate what I just said. I think one of the biggest problems that blind people have in taking standardized tests is that as a class our skills are still not as strong as those of any randomly selected class of sighted people. How many people in this room didn't start learning Braille until you were in high school or college? How many of you really prefer to take the standardized test using a tape recorder or reader because aural administration is currently your best test-taking skill? How many of you are really comfortable with your Braille skills and are sure that you could be as competitive in Braille as you could be using print? How many of you are proud of your Braille and are working very hard on it but, when it comes to a gateway test, are not going to trust your future to your Braille skills? Nobody is answering me out loud, but you should think about what I am saying.
When you get to that gateway, you're better off if your skills are strong and you can choose any of the options offered. The biggest problem we have at test time is the method of presentation of the test. How many of us go to a test and say we need extra time because we are using tape recorders, and that takes more time? Or we're using Braille, and we're not quite as good and can't be sure that we can rely on our skills to get us done in the same amount of time? I submit to you, and I want you to take this home and think about it, that we don't need extra time. Let me say that again. We don't need extra time. We need the skills before we step into the room. Take that one home and think about it. Argue about it among yourselves. Do we need extra time to perform all the regular tasks that we are asked to perform when we get a job? We better not get used to extra time and better not ask for it on the job.
The skills that you're going to take into the room where you're going to take that standardized test are probably weaker as a class than the skills that sighted people take into that room. Think about that. Don't blame it on the test. It's very convenient, I know, to blame weak skills on the testing authority, to blame them for not offering you the right type or level of accommodation. That's convenient. It feels good. Is it honest? Is it fair? Think about it, and work on your skills. But don't blame the messenger. If your skills are not fully up to your being competitive, don't say that the fault is in the administration of a standardized test. Find ways to work around the problem, but don't fib to yourself about it.
When you get to the test itself, if you need to take it, if you want to take it, or if you're dealing with a gateway to licensure where you really don't have a choice, this is where another set of problems comes out. How are you going to take the test? We know it's not going to be valid. We know that the person who receives your score is going to be told that it's not valid. But for whatever reason you still have to take it. What do you do?
Please don't ever tell anybody that the Americans with Disabilities Act is there to take care of this testing situation for you--that the Americans with Disabilities Act gives you this, provides for that. If you start down that road, then oh, I wish you good luck for the rest of your life because you will always be looking for somebody to take care of the hard stuff. Do it yourself. Don't count on the testing authority or the testing site to arrange that the test and the correct accommodations will be there. Whatever your choice of medium, make sure yourself that whatever is needed is there. Make sure that you push all of the buttons and jump through whatever hoops need jumping through.
I've heard many testing horror stories in which blind test takers themselves could have taken the initiative and solved the problem before it occurred. It's your job as the blind test taker to be sure that the testing situation is as completely handled as you can get it. It's not the job of the testing authorities, and it's most certainly not the job of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's your job. So call that testing authority. Bug them. Become absolutely insufferable until you're sure that you're going to get exactly what you want. And make your choice carefully. Assess your own skills. As I say, you should have that full quiver of skills. But you probably don't. So pick your best one and be sure that you get it.
The last topic I want to talk about is the one that creates the most fierce difficulties for blind test takers. What if you choose a reader as your method of taking the test? Your skills in Braille just aren't good enough. Tape recorders are so cumbersome. Your sight isn't good enough; a CCTV isn't good enough. Your personal assessment of your skills yields the conclusion that your best choice is a reader. That's where most of the worst testing problems begin.
When you show up at the testing site, they have a reader who's inadequate if they have one at all. In this no-reader situation, they'll recruit one on the spot, and you can be sure that he or she will be inadequate. What do you do? Remember in these difficult situations that the Americans with Disabilities Act gives you a right to reasonable accommodation, the technical term that means I get a reader, or I get Braille, or I get tape. You've done everything you can ahead of time. But keep this simple fact in mind. The United States Department of Justice and everybody who wrote the regulations that implement the Americans with Disabilities Act forgot one simple thing. What they forgot or didn't take the trouble to find out is that your own reader is the most qualified reader. I've been around, around, and around that vicious circle with the Department of Justice on this very topic.
This is what we may be taking into federal court, the issue that when you bring your own reader to a test site, you have a right to use that reader. Nowhere in federal law is a qualified reader defined as your own choice of reader. Many times, by persistence and self-advocacy, you can overcome this omission in federal law, but not always. Some of you are going to end up in testing situations in which the testing authority says, "I'm going to pick your reader." This is probably the single most important thing we as blind people can change right now--to find a way to get the proposition that "qualified reader" equals my choice of reader into federal law. Until that's true, I can make the absolute, unequivocal statement without fear of contradiction that the Americans with Disabilities Act has hurt blind people because there are a lot of us who have suffered the injustice of having a test site administrator say, you are going to use this reader we have provided, a reader who proves to be inadequate, to put it mildly.
I'm going to say one last thing about standardized testing, and I'm guessing that it will stimulate discussion. I just had another round of debate with a Department of Justice lawyer about a week ago during which he said that the testing authority with which my husband Doug is dealing has never had any complaints about its handling of blind test takers. According to the attorney from Justice, Doug is the first and only blind person who has objected to his treatment as a blind test taker. The testing authority, by the way, says very sanctimoniously that it accommodated the blind long before the passage of ADA, and it knows very well what the blind need because of its long record. So where is the evidence that we blind people are not getting qualified readers in the standardized tests that we are taking?
We're going to have to start generating that evidence. As I explained to the Department of Justice lawyer, once we pass the gateway, it is common for blind people simply to move on and put the experience behind them. The experience is often a miserable one; sometimes we pass through the gateway even though we have a bad reader; sometimes we simply back up and go a different way, entering through a different door or choosing to put our efforts into some other project because we can't get past that gateway. But I ask you: how many of you in this room and how many people back home have had a miserable experience with an imposed reader and simply walked away from the experience once it was over? Whether you pass that test or whether you fail it, if you have a reader not of your choice, we need to start documenting the poor quality of those readers.
The only qualified reader, in my opinion, is the one that you choose. But we are not going to have that option unless we as blind people stand up and say that, in the case of readers, the only qualified reader is the one I choose. At the absolute worst, I should have the choice to bring my own reader or have one assigned. The choice should always be mine. Of course, when bringing a personal reader, we all expect to be proctored by someone from the testing authority sitting there, watching to make sure that you don't cheat, as they say. But, if we are ever going to get the choice under the Americans with Disabilities Act to bring our own readers, people in this room are going to have to do it. Right now the law says that a qualified reader is a reader that someone else chooses for you.
I hope I've said provocative things about standardized testing. Maybe I've also said helpful things. There is no magic answer to this question. I think it is time for all of us to start discussing the framework and context of standardized testing so that we can make our own individual choices as informed citizens. And I also think it is time for us to start discussing this topic as an organization so that we can forge solutions to this difficult problem that we have for so long confronted as individuals and then moved on with our lives, never looking back on what is usually an unpleasant experience for everyone but doubly so for a blind person. Please remember that there are two basic things to keep in mind about standardized testing: we're going to do it better if we work together as Federationists to solve the problem, and the whole thing is round and mean.
Planned giving takes place when a contributor decides to leave a substantial gift to charity. It means planning as you would for any substantial purchase--a house, college tuition, or a car. The most common forms of planned giving are wills and life insurance policies. There are also several planned giving options through which you can simultaneously give a substantial contribution to the National Federation of the Blind, obtain a tax deduction, and receive lifetime income now or in the future. For more information write or call the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Seated at the Great-Gathering-in head table are (left to right) President Maurer at the podium, Diane McGeorge, James Gashel, and Kristen Cox.]
The 2000 Washington Seminar
For about twenty years now we have conducted our Washington Seminar in late January and early February. Looking back, it is remarkable that the weather has never before presented significant trouble. One year a sudden ice storm late one afternoon forced those walking back to the hotel from the Capitol to skate part of the way, and snowstorms from time to time have caused a few people problems coming or going. But by and large we have been very lucky.
That luck began to wear thin this year. Just before the seminar began, a storm traveled up from the South, dumping snow and ice in large quantities as it came. Washington, which doesn't even have many snow shovels, never mind serious snow-removal equipment, lay helpless for several days under more than a foot of snow. By Friday, though, the airports were open, and the planes that could get off the ground in other cities could land in Washington.
But more snow and ice were on the way. By Sunday, when tours of the National Center were scheduled, the forecasters were predicting everything from rain to another foot of snow. Apparently the meteorologists were so unnerved by having misjudged the speed with which the earlier storm was going to move in and level the city that they over-compensated by assuring us that everything they could think of in the precipitation line was going to fall on Washington, and in the end most of it did.
But it turned out not to be as bad as it might have been, and the rain/sleet/snow didn't begin falling until after noon, but several inches of the stuff certainly came down all afternoon and into the evening, causing the postponement of office-openings for a couple of hours Monday morning.
On the whole we were amazingly lucky. Hundreds of Federationists poured into Washington from all over the country in time for the student party Friday evening and the Mid-Winter Conference of the National Association of Blind Students all day Saturday. The seminar was splendid, and a wonderful banquet capped the event with good food, fine fellowship, and an inspiring address by NFB Treasurer Allen Harris. The Research and Development Committee met in Baltimore Saturday, and so many workshops took place at the hotel on Sunday that we ran out of meeting space.
By 5:00 p.m. well over 400 Federationists from forty-four states were gathered in the Columbia Room for the Great Gathering-in meeting of the 2000 Washington Seminar. A CNN news crew was even on hand to gather footage and interviews for a story about our efforts to have blind workers in sheltered workshops covered by minimum-wage protection.
Dr. Maurer reviewed the highlights of recent Federation activities. Director of Governmental Affairs Jim Gashel spoke generally about our work for the week. His assistant, Kristen Cox, dealt with the details of the issues we would be discussing, and Diane McGeorge made sure that everyone's hotel arrangements were working out properly. By 7:00 the meeting ended, and some rushed off to watch the Super Bowl while others headed for dinner and delegation planning for the morning.
Despite the two-hour delay Monday morning on the Hill, Federationists put in a full day in Congressional offices, discussing our three issues for this legislative year. (See the following article for the details.) Everyone was back in our briefing room by 6:30 to hear from Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Illinois, who announced that he was an original cosponsor of H.R. 3540, introduced the previous Thursday by Congressman Johnny Isakson of Georgia. When passed, this law will remove blindness from the list of worker conditions permitting employers to receive certificates of exemption from paying the minimum wage. Everyone enjoyed Mr. Shimkus's short speech and his enthusiasm for our cause.
Even those new to the Washington-Seminar routine quickly caught on to the requirements. Those returning from the Hill went straight to the Mercury Room to report on their meetings to the staff of volunteers organized by Sandy Halverson and Judy Sanders. There is something supremely satisfying to a Federationist in contributing to a record-keeping system conducted entirely in Braille. The information was fed into the computer, and Mrs. Cox got the information she needed with amazing speed and accuracy.
By Wednesday, though a number of meetings were still taking place on the Hill, many affiliates had met all their members and were heading home. The Congressional delegations whose constituents had been prevented from getting to the Washington Seminar this year because of weather had been covered by Federationists from neighboring states. Once again this year we visited every member of the House and Senate and discussed our fact sheets with them and their staffs.
We went home with Mrs. Cox's words ringing in our ears: "This is only the beginning of our legislative work for 2000." Now it's time to write letters, send faxes, and urge our members to sign on to our bills and keep working for our issues. The Washington Seminar is a splendid way to participate in the democratic process. Already we are recording additional cosponsors on our various bills. We must keep up the pressure on Congress to do what is right for blind Americans.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Kristen Cox]
2000 Legislative Agenda and Fact Sheets
Legislative Agenda of Blind Americans:
Priorities for the 106th Congress, Second Session
Public policies and laws affecting blind people have a profound impact throughout our entire society. Most people know someone who is blind. It may be a friend, a family member, or a co-worker on the job. In fact, as many as fifty thousand Americans become blind each year, and the blind population in the United States is estimated to exceed 1.1 million. By themselves these numbers may not seem large, but the social and economic consequences of blindness directly touch the lives of millions and--at least indirectly--have some impact on everyone.
Public policies and laws that result from misconceptions or lack of information about blindness are often more limiting than the loss of eyesight itself. This is why we have formed the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation's leaders and the vast majority of its members are blind, but anyone is welcome to join in the effort we are making to win understanding and equality in society.
Our priorities for the second session of the 106th Congress reflect an urgent need for action in three specific areas of vital importance to the blind this year. (For a further explanation of these issues please see the attached fact sheets.)
1. Congress should reinstate the policy of an identical earnings exemption threshold for blind and senior citizen beneficiaries under title II of the Social Security Act. This proposal seeks to reduce or eliminate altogether the work disincentive of the Social Security earnings limit as it now affects blind beneficiaries.
2. Congress should amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to exclude blindness as a basis for paying subminimum wages. This proposal is designed to achieve wage equity for blind employees by eliminating the subminimum wage policy as currently applied to blind workers.
3. Congress should amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to assist schools through the establishment of uniform nonvisual access standards which will be applied when purchasing instructional materials and technology. Without these standards instructional materials and technology will continue to be inaccessible to blind students, and the right to an equal-opportunity education for these children will be denied.
Blind people are asking for your help to address the priority issues listed in our current agenda. By acting on these priorities in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, each member of Congress can help build better lives for the blind, and society as a whole, both today and in the years ahead.
Winning the Chance to Earn, Work, and Pay Taxes:
How the Blind Person's Earnings Limit in the
Social Security Act Must be Changed
Short Title: "The Blind Persons' Earnings Equity Act," S 285 Short Title: "Blind Empowerment Act," HR 1601
To restore the linkage between the earnings exemption threshold for blind persons and the exemption allowed for retirees at age sixty-five under title II of the Social Security Act.
As the result of a 1996 law to raise the debt limit, senior citizens age sixty-five to seventy are encouraged to continue working while retaining entitlement to Social Security benefits. This is being done by annual changes in the exempt earnings threshold, which is $17,000 in 2000 and will increase to $30,000 by the year 2002. In making the case for this change, advocates in Congress explained that more senior citizens would have the opportunity to work, earn, and pay taxes, since they would not lose income from Social Security by working.
In spite of a law passed in 1977 to establish the earnings exemption threshold for blind people at the level used for seniors, a decision was made in 1996 to exclude the blind from the higher exemptions. This means that a lower earnings limit of $14,040 for blind people, as compared to $17,000 for seniors, is now in effect for earnings in 2000. By 2002, when the exemption for seniors becomes $30,000, the limit for the blind is expected to be approximately $15,360.
Earnings of this amount for a blind person who is age sixty-four will cause the complete loss of Social Security benefits until the individual becomes a retiree at age sixty-five. At that point the same individual is allowed to earn almost twice the amount allowed for the blind. This is the inequity that now exists.
Section 216(i) of the Social Security Act defines "blindness." Therefore, blindness--like age--can be determined with reasonable certainty. By contrast, "disability" is not precisely defined but is determined on the basis of "inability to engage in substantial gainful activity." Compared to evaluating blindness, this is a complex and fairly subjective determination. Although blindness is precisely defined, monthly benefits are not paid to all persons who are blind but only to those whose earnings are below the annually adjusted limit. Personal wealth not resulting from current work activity does not count as earnings and has no effect on eligibility. Only work is penalized. It was the recognition of this fact that led to the greater exemption of earnings now allowed for seniors, and the situation for blind people is precisely the same.
Congress should reinstate the policy of an identical earnings exemption threshold for blind and senior citizen beneficiaries under title II of the Social Security Act. Legislation has been introduced by Senator John McCain and Representative Robert Ehrlich. With 263 cosponsors of HR 1601 and forty-eight cosponsors of S 285, the legislation enjoys broad bipartisan support.
The National Federation of the Blind strongly supports this legislation. By creating a lower earnings limit for the blind, the action taken in 1996 has resulted in a harsh work disincentive policy which is widely regarded as an inequity created in the rush to pass the 1996 debt-ceiling bill.
NEED TO REMOVE WORK DISINCENTIVES
Mandating the adjustments in the earnings limit for blind people in the manner now allowed for age-sixty-five retirees will provide more than 100,000 blind beneficiaries with a powerful work incentive. Most blind people would not lose financially by working. Moreover, the mandated earnings limit changes would be cost-beneficial since among those of working age most blind people are already beneficiaries. At present their earnings must not exceed a strict limit of $1,170 per month. When earnings exceed this exempt amount, the entire sum paid to a primary beneficiary and dependents is abruptly withdrawn after a trial work period.
When a blind person finds work, there is absolutely no assurance that earnings will replace the amount of lost disability benefits after taxes and work expenses are paid. Usually they do not. Therefore few beneficiaries can afford to attempt substantial work. Those who do will often sacrifice income and will certainly sacrifice the security they have from the automatic receipt of a monthly check.
This group of beneficiaries--people of working age who are blind--must not be forgotten now that the earnings exemption has been raised for seniors. Just as with hundreds of thousands of seniors, the positive response of blind people to the higher earnings exemptions will bring additional revenues into the Social Security trust funds. The chance to work, earn, and pay taxes is a constructive and valid goal for senior citizens and blind Americans alike.
Wage Equity for Blind Employees
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enacted into law the principle that individuals with disabilities are entitled to equal treatment in all areas of life. Title I of the ADA mandates that individuals with disabilities must be given equal employment opportunity. But for blind people who work in special work settings known as "sheltered workshops," the ADA mandate for equality has made little difference in the pay received. This is so because agencies that operate the shops can be exempt from certain provisions of another federal law--the Fair Labor Standards Act, in order to pay employees less than the otherwise applicable statutory minimum wage.
The minimum wage is currently $5.15 per hour. The exemption permits payments below this amount based on an individual blind worker's productivity. All employers can use this exemption; but, with the exception of sheltered workshops, they do not. There are eighty-nine workshops that supply products and services to the federal government and private sector. While most of the assembly-line workers in these shops are currently paid above the minimum wage (it is estimated that approximately 200 are not), payment of even $5.15 per hour is not guaranteed.
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act requires the Secretary of Labor to grant exemptions from the minimum wage to employers who hire workers whose "earning or productive capacity is impaired by age, physical or mental deficiency, or injury." Subminimum wages are permitted "to the extent necessary to prevent curtailment of opportunities for employment." This principle is largely rhetorical since there has never been a finding that employment opportunities would decline without the subminimum wage.
There is no legal lower limit on wages below the statutory minimum. Employers, not the federal government, determine the pay rates. Affected employees may complain and seek redress of grievances in individual wage disputes, but actual compensation which may be received in these disputes is minimal, so workers who receive less than the minimum wage cannot afford the lawyers needed to bring the claim. Legal pay rates below the minimum wage are supposed to be based on individual productivity, as compared to standard productivity achieved by unimpaired people for essentially the same type, quality, and quantity of work performed.
Congress should amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to exclude blindness as a basis for paying subminimum wages. This proposal is designed to achieve wage equity for blind employees. Without the exemption all employers, including the sheltered workshops, would be required to apply the same pay standards to everyone regardless of visual acuity. In largely its current form, the minimum wage exemption has existed since the original enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. However, the exemption is philosophically inconsistent with current experience and more enlightened employment policies affecting blind people.
The proposal would amend section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act to clarify that impaired vision or blindness could not be used by an employer as the basis for obtaining an exemption from paying the minimum wage. Subminimum wage certificates could be issued to employers for hiring people with impairments that actually affect productivity. However, it has never been demonstrated that, in the types of work settings where subminimum wages are ordinarily paid, blindness has any negative impact on worker capacity to produce.
NEED FOR LEGISLATION
The 1986 amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act extended important new appeal rights to persons employed under subminimum wages. In the few hearings that have been held so far, blind workers have recovered significant amounts of back pay. They have done so, however, at great expense. Through the efforts made in these hearings it has been demonstrated that employers control virtually all of the factors which affect worker productivity. Yet the blind employees, not their employers, bear all of the costs for low productivity and suffer the economic consequences. No worker or class of workers in American industry is subjected to such a rigid and unfair work-place standard. It is not uncommon to find that blind workers in sheltered workshops are being paid as little as half the minimum wage or even less.
The pay inequities resulting from the minimum wage exemption policy are particularly odious in view of the federal government's significant purchasing role, including price determinations, which ultimately affect wage payments. In all too many instances productivity records are not maintained to justify wages below $5.15 an hour. Officials of the Department of Labor have acknowledged that violations of the current law are found in over 50 percent of the wage and hour investigations that they conduct. A fraction of the sheltered workshops exempt from paying the minimum wage are reviewed each year. This leaves the rest free to pay less than the minimum wage at virtually any level without fear of scrutiny. When employers are caught illegally paying below the minimum wage, the penalty is only to pay the affected workers the amount due them. Under these circumstances the present law is unenforceable and must be changed.
ACCESS TO EDUCATION FOR BLIND STUDENTS
How the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Can Meet
the Needs of Blind Students
For blind students attaining a high-quality education can be very difficult. This is due in large part to marketplace forces which favor mass production of educational media designed for sighted students. As a result instructional materials and technology used in classrooms throughout America are often inaccessible to blind students. Modifications required for nonvisual access are time-consuming and result in significant expense to school districts and the taxpayers. As a consequence many needs go unmet.
With textbooks, for example, converting the printed version for use by the blind is labor-intensive. The process involves electronically scanning or manually inputting the printed information to create an electronic file. This file is used to produce books in nonvisual formats such as Braille or synthetic speech. At an estimated average cost of $1,200 for a single book for a single child, this process may take six months or more to complete. Therefore, it is an exception--not the rule--for a blind student to receive an entire book when needed.
In the purchase of technology school districts often procure computers not compatible with devices or software that allow nonvisual access. If the technology is purchased without regard to speech or Braille output, after-the-fact modifications are very expensive and may be impossible. The result is that blind students are left out of computer-based instruction and online learning available to their classmates.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and other laws have established the policy of equal access and equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities. Successful implementation of these laws cannot occur, however, without anticipating the needs of people with disabilities and taking steps to meet them. For instance, contractors must include access ramps that meet specific criteria when building a new public facility. Doing this before construction ensures that costly later modifications are avoided. In contrast, schools do not employ standards that permit blind students access to information that is fundamental to all education programs. There are no federal laws that create standards for nonvisual access to technology and published materials.
In an attempt to create nonvisual access standards, fifteen states require publishers to provide an electronic version of any textbook purchased by a state or local education agency. The electronic version is then used to convert the material into a nonvisual format, but considerable variation exists among the states in the file formats required for this purpose. These differences compel textbook publishers to meet inconsistent and conflicting standards. Even more troubling, most of the state requirements are imprecise and result in electronic files that cannot be used for the purpose intended.
In purchasing technology, five states now include a clause in procurement contracts to require compliance with nonvisual access standards. The states do this to permit both blind and sighted people to use the technology purchased. These standards for nonvisual access anticipate needs before they arise and avoid the expense and problems of modifying technology after the fact.
Congress should amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to assist schools through the establishment of uniform nonvisual access standards which will be applied when purchasing instructional materials and technology. The standards will be used by schools or state education agencies. Leadership to develop consistent and cost-effective criteria for nonvisual access will be developed at the federal level and applied at the local level. This approach will coordinate efforts to solve a problem of national scope, with local control left in place.
Under the proposal the Secretary of Education will promulgate standards to support conversion of electronic text into formats suitable for use with Braille or speech technology. The standards will also specify criteria for technology used in the classroom to be compatible with devices and software used for Braille or speech access to information.
The Secretary will develop these standards in consultation with all affected parties, including publishers, representatives of the information-technology industry, producers of alternate-format materials and adapted technology, representatives of blind consumer organizations, parents of blind children, and representatives of general- and special-education programs. Once in place and applied by state and local agencies, the standards will assure that all schools are better equipped to meet the present and future access needs of blind students.
NEED FOR LEGISLATION:
As last re-authorized in 1994, title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides funding to address the needs of disadvantaged children in general education programs. This fulfills the policy of our nation: to provide all children with the opportunity for a high-quality education regardless of economic, social, or cultural factors.
Keeping this commitment for blind students means convenient and ready access to instructional materials and technology which they can use. Some states and local schools can be praised for their efforts to support blind students, but this is the exception. In general the lack of uniform nonvisual access standards for schools to use in purchasing educational media places the burden on the schools themselves to obtain or create specialized materials and technology.
This is a responsibility which suppliers of textbooks and technology should help to meet by providing accessible products. For example, the standards may require textbook publishers to supply a single copy of the text in an electronic format suitable for producing a Braille version of the print editions purchased. Compatibility of classroom computers for use with nonvisual access technology may also be required.
Standards such as these are reasonable conditions for schools to use in purchasing. If they do not, the problem of access will persist, and the right to an equal-opportunity education for blind students will be denied.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Priscilla McKinley]
Living the Movement: Ferret Federationists
by Priscilla McKinley
From the Editor: At this year's Mid-Winter Conference of the National Association of Blind Students, two students were invited to speak about their notions of what it means to live the movement. The first to address the audience was Priscilla McKinley, President of the Old Capitol Chapter of the NFB of Iowa, a member of the affiliate's board of directors and a graduate student at the University of Iowa. Priscilla has also twice won NFB scholarships. This is what she said:
Good morning, Federationists, or perhaps I should say, "ferret-like Federationists." Yes, you heard me right: ferret-like Federationists. The other day, while sitting in my office thinking about my life as a blind person, I was continually reminded that my ferret was in the room asleep in her hammock hanging from the ceiling of her cage--the sound of her breathing very soft, but noticeable. And then I thought of it, the perfect metaphor for this speech, my pet ferret Chloe.
A few months ago I had a dream in which I had a mink, a ferret, a mongoose, and a goat. When I woke the next day and asked my husband Brian if I could get one of those, he rejected the mink, mongoose, and goat, but finally agreed on the ferret. Two days later I had a pet ferret, and my obsession began.
Do any of you in this room have a ferret? Well I can tell you a few things about them. Ferrets are adorable little animals with long bodies that seem to change form with each movement. They have triangular heads with pointy little noses. They're related to weasels, badgers, otters, minks, and even skunks. But unlike those animals, ferrets have been domesticated for centuries because they were originally used to ferret out rabbits for hunters in England and later rats on farms in this country.
Spending most of their time in dark tunnels, most ferrets have very poor eyesight. They don't see well in the bright light, and they don't see color at all. Many are totally blind. Yet according to my ferret book, blind ferrets get around better than their sighted counterparts. Studies show that the blind ferrets use their other senses and are actually more aware of their surroundings. In fact, with their keen sense of direction, ferrets have often been used to wire planes and other equipment.
So what does this have to do with my life as a blind person, with your lives as blind people? Well, since spending about ten hours a day with Chloe, whose cage is in my office, I know that ferrets have two modes of operating: lethargic and lively, off and on. First there is mode one, in which the ferret sleeps between fourteen and sixteen hours a day, often climbing out of her hammock only to get a drink or piece of food. Sometimes too lazy to get out of her hammock, she will hang over the edge, stretching her long body to snatch up a raisin or a fruit treat.
When I lost my sight due to complications of diabetes, I was much like a ferret in the off-mode, extremely passive. I was content in my situation, letting others take care of me, letting others determine my fate. At first, suffering from depression, I wanted to sleep sixteen to eighteen hours a day. When my mother compared my blindness to the deaths of my sister and father, I thought she was right. I believed that my blindness was a tragedy, a death. When I decided to go back to school, my rehab counselor told me that maybe I could get a job at Goodwill--a good job in the office, not a job sorting clothes. I actually considered this for a while, but then I told my rehab counselor that instead I wanted to go back to school.
When I thought classes like science and foreign language might be too hard for me, a blind person, I requested waivers for those classes. When I was accepted into grad school and decided to apply for a job as a graduate instructor, one professor told me that perhaps I should teach a correspondence course, where I wouldn't have to deal with students. Another professor told me that I should apply for a job in the writing lab, where I wouldn't have to worry about an entire class, but would be working one on one.
When I registered for a practicum in that writing lab and asked the instructor when we'd be working with our students, she said, "We won't have to worry about students. I don't know how they would react to having a blind teacher." So what did I do? I went home and cried. I snuggled up under my blankets on my bed, just as my little ferret snuggles up under her blankets in her hammock.
Even though I eventually had my own writing lab students and secured a position as a graduate instructor, I lacked self-confidence and a positive attitude about blindness. I remained in mode one--the off-mode. Then in 1996 I attended my first convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Anaheim, California. For the first time in my life as a blind person I wasn't the minority, and I started scratching at the door of my cage, anxious to move into mode two--the on-mode. Just as my little ferret does the weasel joy dance, hopping and skipping and jumping, moving independently across my office floor, I observed Barbara Pierce, one of my mentors, flying across the floors of the Hilton, hurrying to get to her public relations meetings. Just as my little ferret extends her pointy nose to ferret out every nook and cranny of my house, I observed Peggy Elliott extending her seven- or eight-foot-long cane, eager to explore uncharted territory.
Just as my little ferret takes on my two sighted spaniels, chasing them through the house, often tugging on their tails, I observed Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and the other leaders in the NFB taking on the big dogs in the world, not at all intimidated by their size.
When I returned home after the convention, I knew that I could never go back to my cage. I had tasted the freedom and the positive attitude about blindness the NFB offers blind individuals. Unlike ferrets, who spend their lives in those two modes, we as blind people can choose the mode in which we want to live our lives. We can choose to live in mode one, content to be locked in our cages, letting others determine what we can and cannot do. Or with the love and support of the National Federation of the Blind, we can live our lives in mode two, taking on the big dogs, exploring new ground, doing the weasel joy dance for all of the world to see.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Thomas Philip]
Living the Movement: The Perspective from Sudan
by Thomas Philip
From the Editor: Thomas Philip came to this country less than three years ago and now serves as President of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. He was the second person to address the topic of Living the Movement. This is what he said:
The English writer Salman Rushdie once said: "The sun is a blessing, and a blessing requires the gratitude of the blessed." These words frequently visited my mind when I became blind at the age of ten. For two years I suffered isolation and despair, discrimination and rejection, not only from my countrymen and women, but also from my family. My dad, who is the husband of five wives and the father of more than thirty children, made it clear through his actions that he didn't want anything to do with a blind child. My mother loved me, but at the same time she did not know what to do with me. By the end of the second year, however, I decided that it was time for me to fight for freedom and independence.
When I graduated from the Rejaf Center for the Blind at the age of thirteen, I told my father that I was ready to go back to school. In theory he agreed to help me do it, but in practice he thought it was not worthwhile to send a blind child to school. As a result, I took the initiative to go and tell the director of the Catholic school myself. The director said my blindness made it impossible for me to join the public school. However, I told him I could use the slate and stylus to take notes and even to Braille my textbooks. I added that I could take all my exams aurally since none of the teachers there knew Braille.
In the end he gave me the chance to try it for two weeks. In this short time I proved to them that blind kids could compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers. Since then, we, the blind of southern Sudan, have never been denied the right to go to school. This is how each of us can change what it means to be blind in different corners of the earth.
But at the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, hundreds of blind Africans suffered injustice at the hands of blind Arabs for political reasons. Some were forced to give up their identity and beliefs, while others were denied services. As the Secretary for Southern Affairs at that time, I took a militant stand against such practices. Consequently they attempted to assassinate me. Luckily I flew to Ethiopia and became a refugee for three years.
That was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. When I came to the United States two-and-a-half years ago, I went to BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for proper blindness training. There I began, not only to hear more and more about the history and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, but to experience its love when they taught me to do things I had been told that blind people couldn't do.
I started reading NFB literature and talking to many Federationists about the organization. In the end I came to the conclusion that the National Federation of the Blind was the family I had been looking for, a family built on love and commitment, a family of collective action and self-determination. I joined the Federation, and all my family members warmly welcomed me.
Now I am no longer a lonely blind man trying to kill an elephant all by myself. Whenever I face obstacles, there is always somebody to talk to, somebody ready to take action. This is why I am a Federationist and why I hope all of you are Federationists as well. You and I have indeed come a long way and must continue to work with love and commitment as we journey down the road to first-class status in America.
In closing, I would like to leave you with the wonderful words of Mr. Albert Einstein: "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Angela Howard]
Ghana: Our Independence Outside the United States
by Angela Howard
From the Editor: Angela Howard has been an active Federationist since she was a child. It is no wonder, then, that she eagerly embraced the opportunity to live and study for a semester in Ghana. This is what she told the Student Seminar about her experience:
I'm used to being known as the blind girl, but in Ghana I am known as the white girl. My friend even once overheard someone refer to her as the white girl who sees. [laughter] In a way being blind helped me to adjust to being a white person in Africa. The other white students in my program had never experienced what it is like to be different, and they had a hard time adjusting always to being a spectacle. My friend used to say that we looked like light bulbs in the sea of dark faces, but I'm used to being a light bulb, and I quickly adjusted to all the attention.
Ghanaians have a reputation for being some of the friendliest people in the world. I can speak from experience: this is the truth. I never once experienced hatred or hostility on the streets. I experienced discrimination only once when a taxi driver refused to take me to town unless I brought a companion with me. Other than that, my problem was only that people tried to help me too much.
Certain ethnic groups in Ghana believe that, every time you help a blind person, you receive points in paradise. I can assure you that I helped many of them make it across that line. I will tell you that living in a developing country is quite different from living in the United States, and much of the help I would not need here, I welcomed in that environment. Other help I accepted simply because it helped me to avoid conflict.
For example, the children in Ghana have the job of leading blind people around, and naturally they tried to do the same with me. They would follow me in large crowds, grab my cane, and sort of pull me along. I would try to explain politely to them why I needed my cane to touch the ground, and sometimes they would understand, but if they did not, I didn't push the matter. I knew I was safe with them surrounding me and I did not want to scare them away by scolding them.
The people I met in town were interested in me and glad to have me around, but living with someone who is different from you is much more difficult and frightening than simply passing them in the market from time to time. My struggle to gain acceptance in my family and in my neighborhood was much more difficult. Originally the directors of my program assigned me to a home where a blind man lived, thinking that the family would be better able to understand my situation. But as we all know, making decisions about where to go based on blindness is usually a mistake. When I first got to the house, my house mother informed me that I was to come straight home from school every day and that I wasn't allowed to walk alone on the roads. They insisted that one family member be with me at all times, and this included the bathroom and the shower. I was willing to give up some of my comfort in order to fit in, but I knew that I could not live under these conditions.
I did not say anything to the family, but the next day I told my director that I could not go back. She told me to meet her at town hall at six o'clock, and she would tell me what to do. So that afternoon I sat by the ocean, more frightened than I have ever been in my life. I'm in Africa and I'm homeless, I thought. Would there be any family who would accept me as a normal person? I knew the name of a woman who had hosted a friend of mine when he was in Ghana, and she agreed to let me stay with her family until the directors of my program could find another home for me. However, as soon as I walked into that house, I knew that I wasn't going to leave. We got along so well together that everyone agreed it was best for me to remain at Auntie Jane's place.
Auntie Jane's house was always buzzing with people. I had a mother, a grandmother, a great aunt, four sisters, and five brothers. They all gave me a tremendous amount of love, and fortunately they were also good about blindness. They were perfectly willing to give me any assistance I needed, but they allowed me to decide when I needed help and when I did not.
Living with Auntie Jane helped me to gain a measure of acceptance and more than just a family. Auntie Jane is one of the most respected mothers of the neighborhood. Her mother, Auntie Victoria, had once been the queen mother, and Auntie Jane herself had turned down the opportunity to be the queen mother in her younger years. Everyone in the neighborhood knows Auntie Jane, and this came in handy as I tried to find my way home during the first few weeks. As Auntie Jane's American daughter, I automatically received a measure of respect that I would not have been given had I lived with another family.
Auntie Jane owns a bar attached to the house. Now the bars in Ghana are not like the bars we have in the United States. They are more like outdoor patios where people gather to have a few drinks and to socialize with their neighbors. When I first started sitting in the bar with my Auntie Jane, I could feel that tension--that feeling we get when we sense that people don't quite know what to do about us. I felt that tension, but I wasn't sure how to get rid of it. However, I soon found a strange solution to the problem. One afternoon, when I had been there about a week, I came into the bar and announced to my Auntie Jane that I had failed my test and that I needed a beer. The bar filled with laughter, and immediately people began talking and joking with me. Now I don't particularly like the taste of beer, but I have nothing against it, and I decided that, if it would help me to become part of the neighborhood, I could bear it. Once I started drinking beer with the neighbors, they decided I was pretty okay.
These people became my dear friends, and I have many cherished memories of sitting in the bar with them. We sang Lionel Richie songs together. They taught me some of their language and laughed at me when I didn't get it right. They taught me how to chew sugar cane, and they even tried to marry me off to one of their own.
One day a man sat down beside me and told me, "We have all taken a vote, and we have decided that we want you to marry Pappa, but he has to pay the dowry."
"How much am I worth?" I asked.
"Twenty cows," he told me. I still wonder if that was an insult or a compliment.
Now I'm not trying to give the impression that my journey towards gaining acceptance was as easy as drinking a glass of beer, far from it. Many of my Ghanaian friends struggled to understand blindness and who I was. Sometimes it was painful. It was a constant struggle for me to know when I was close enough to people to be able to tell them that I didn't like it when they did a certain thing to me. I let a lot of things go unchallenged, and that was hard for me, but in the end people treated me just about the way I liked to be treated, and I didn't scare anyone away with an overly assertive attitude.
One night towards the end of my trip, a young man told me, "You know, Auntie Jane has a lot of foreign students come here, but we want you to know that we will miss you the most." Another friend, who in the beginning told me that he was afraid no one would want to be my friend because I'm blind, confessed, "Everyone here loves you, and anyone would be proud to walk by your side." I too grew to love these people very much. I know that the neighborhood would welcome another blind student from the United States into their community, and for this reason I feel that I made some good choices.
On my last day in Ghana I ate lunch with an American friend, and we looked back together on our trip. I confided in her that I was afraid that I had not done things right as a blind person. "What if other blind people come to study abroad, and come home to tell me that I wasn't as independent as I could have been or that I could have done certain things in a better way?"
"Isn't that what you should hope for--that more blind people will do these kinds of things and that they will keep finding easier ways to do them?" she asked. I believe that she is right. I hope that all of you will go out and travel the world. I hope that you will come home to tell me that you have learned how to carry a basket on your head or strap a baby to your back. Most important, I hope that you come home to tell me that there was an easier way, that you found more independence and acceptance than I could have dreamed possible.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mariyam Cementwala]
The Universality of Truths
by Mariyam Cementwala
From the Editor: Mariyam Cementwala is a leader in the National Association of Blind Students. She was a 1997 NFB scholarship winner. She now studies at the University of California at Berkeley. She also told the student seminar audience about a recent experience abroad. To understand her tale, you must bear in mind that in Braille the word "right" is written dot five r. This is what Maryiam said:
What I am about to share is a true story and a little frightening now as I look back in retrospect. I called this bit of it "The Universality of Truths."
Though I had been to Mumbai (Bombay) many times since moving to the United States, I anticipated this trip to India with special fervor, because he was supposed to be quite a man, the tall, dark, and handsome son of one of Mumbai's wealthy industrialist families. His father was an exporter of imitation jewelry, and he helped in the family business. A side note to everyone in my family was the fact that he had an eye problem. After all, I had the same eye problem. The important thing was that he was an eligible bachelor of twenty-five from a good Muslim family and interested in meeting me. Never mind that the concept of an arranged marriage was as foreign to me as the planet Mars. So with some trepidation and some girlish excitement I began this philosophical adventure.
I readily expected a few things that happened to me. When I traveled using my cane on the streets and in public in Mumbai, people would gawk. I expected that some would wail, "Oh you poor thing," or some other pitying comment. I expected that some would be curious about my big white stick and what was wrong with my foot, and that all would be over-helpful, over-cooperative, and basically try to over-do everything. But, because I thrive on even a shred of optimism, I expected that some would actually understand or come to understand blindness as I have come to understand it through the Federation as we live it. In fact, I secretly hoped that Mr. Dot Five R would transcend culture and be able to embrace NFB philosophy as well as me.
I did not expect a few of the things that happened. I didn't expect that the streets would be so small, cramped, dirty, and crowded with rickshaws, taxis, buses, cars, and trucks going every which way at whim--that life for sighted and blind people alike would be so disorderly. I kept trying to listen for parallel and perpendicular traffic but heard instead only a clamor of honking horns and traffic going every which way. I wondered if the techniques I had learned in order to become a competent traveler in Ruston, Louisiana, would still be effective in metropolitan Mumbai or anywhere else in the third world, for that matter.
One night, as I was walking in a tiny crowded lane, a rickshaw (a sort of motorized bicycle used to carry passengers) crushed the bottom of my straight cane. I felt a pang of defeat. I wondered how I could advocate independent travel when I was struggling myself. But then I realized that true independence meant control. I began using a sighted guide as and when efficient. Though my confidence waned after the rickshaw incident, I also refused to stop traveling alone to places. The bottom line was that I came to believe I actually could somehow figure out a way to do things, asserting myself in the streets as the cars came to a crashing halt, just as the sighted were doing. I wondered how the blind did function in the third world. Maybe Mr. Dot Five R, who had been to one of the finest universities in India, would shed some light on this question.
New Year's Eve came and brought with it the possibility of meeting him. Unfortunately, as it turned out, he had a prior engagement, so I celebrated New Year's Eve there as anyone else might, eating, drinking, and dancing at Radio Club. That's where I met a seven-year-old blind girl who was being taught Braille by her mother. I found that the only reader this child had in school was her mother because of the lack of economic resources in the education system. But from the start this child was being taught that she could do anything any other kid her age could do.
Finally arrived the long anticipated evening. My cousin and his wife told me the reason for Mr. Dot Five R to meet me was to find out more about what an NFB training center was like, a prospect which I found exciting. In India there is no equality of opportunity among either the sighted or the blind. The rich have it good. They have access to information and education, but the poor don't. The rich blind have a chance to better their lives and escape the constraints of the third world if they choose to. The poor blind compete for bare survival, just like their sighted counterparts.
Here was someone who was interested in making his life better and had the affluence to do it. As we approached the porch of the restaurant, we were greeted by his brother and sister-in-law. He was awaiting me at the restaurant entrance. At first glance he seemed tall and not too bad looking. There was a quiet, aristocratic reserve about him. I would obviously have to be the first to speak. This was not hard for me. We exchanged polite greetings and walked inside. I noticed that he clung to his brother's arm and sat down at the far corner of the booth. As I got to the table, conveniently the only seat available was in the corner across from him. When I asked my cousin to read the menu items containing mushrooms, I noticed that Mr. Dot Five R was just sitting passively. While the food was coming, my cousin, sensing a lull in the conversation, nudged me and said, "Maybe you should start talking about the center now."
I turned to Mr. Dot Five R and said, "So, what's the first word you think of when you hear the word blind?"
He looked aghast: "Blind? I don't know."
I said, "Well, do you consider yourself blind?"
"Oh no, I'm partially sighted. I have a deal of vision yet."
"Really," I said coyly, not liking this arranged-marriage situation anyway, but wanting to give this guy a good try. Smiling and remembering Dr. Jernigan, I asked, "So how many fingers am I holding up?"
"I don't know. I can't see your fingers from here."
"Then I'd say you were blind." I was taking the liberty of being slightly impertinent in making the point. "Look, I didn't really see myself as a blind person for a long time, but I've come to realize that blindness is not a tragedy or anything. It's not the end of the world. There is no shame in it." I moved on from semantics. I found out that this man hadn't learned Braille or cane travel, and I wondered how he had worked, studied, and lived for so long here.
"Well, I have a full-time chauffeur," he said. "I am totally dependent on my father and brother in the business. They do the business. I just do the correspondence work. Right now I am totally dependent."
Sadly I asked, "Are you happy?"
"I am pretty content."
"Well if you are so content, why seek out rehabilitation?"
"Well, I don't mind if it changes, but it doesn't need to change--there is no urgency to it. I'm a curious person and like to seek out information." (I wondered if it was information or women he was seeking.)
Hearing this, I thought, "Maybe there is still hope." During dinner we talked about my training at an NFB center. Mr. Dot Five R thought it preposterous to say that blindness could be reduced to an inconvenience. "After all," he said, "It's not so hard to eat when you are a blind person. I see what's on my plate with the little vision that I have, and I eat what I want and push aside what I don't want. How would you eat if you were blind?"
When I tell you this next part, I want to assure you that what I did really happened. My friend asked, "Mariyam, you didn't really do this, did you?"
I said, "Yeah, I did." I turned to him and said, "Let me see if I can answer your question about eating as a blind person." I pulled out a pair of sleepshades worn at the center from my purse and wore them and began to eat, and then asked, "Do you want to try?"
"But I eat sloppily as it is, especially noodles," he said.
"Everybody has a hard time eating noodles, sighted and blind alike--that's not something intrinsically associated with blindness." Later on my cousin suggested that we all gather at his house to chat some more. Great, I thought.
When we arrived home, they asked where we, meaning the six of us, should sit, indoors or outside on the terrace. Mr. Dot Five R's sister-in-law suggested it would be cooler outside, so Mr. Dot Five R headed outside, and I followed, assuming that everyone else would follow. Instead the sliding glass door shut behind me, and I was left alone with this supposedly perfect match in the dark. Searching for a neutral subject, I said, "So I hear you studied sociology. You got your bachelor's degree in it? Did you have a particular interest in the field?"
"No, I just did it because it was the easiest thing to get a degree in."
"What--I didn't quite understand?"
"Well all the other programs just seemed too difficult. I wanted a degree, so I studied sociology."
"What would you like to gain from blindness training?"
"I want material independence, you know, to pick up a book and read it, to use a computer effectively, to go where I want to go--the skills, as you call them."
"The skills will do you no good without the proper attitude. Here in Mumbai I'm struggling myself to find appropriate alternative techniques, but what really matters is whether you have the control. People acquire skills anywhere and get by, but if you don't have the self-confidence and the positive attitude to use your skills and take control of your life, what good are they?" At that moment I realized how much the Federation had given me. In Mumbai I didn't have the skills I needed, but because I found the Federation, I was able to work out the skills. But a healthy attitude is the first step.
He said at that point, "Well you know, I don't really care about superficial independence; I mean I am happy with everybody else making decisions for me. My father knows best. My brother knows all. They are very competent--that's no problem. I'm happy with them making my decisions."
"I could never live like that," I replied. Then I said, "Look, I realize that I've lived in the U.S., and things are different there, but I live on my own. I pay my own bills. I carry my share of responsibilities. Occasionally I turn to my parents for help and advice, but sometimes I don't listen to what they say. I make my mistakes and learn from them. I find that, as you gain your own experiences, you become a better decision-maker. This does not depend on where I am but who I am and what I believe."
"Well I'm content with things as they are now." I began to wonder if this man could really change.
He said that he believed God controls destiny, and I realized at that point that I couldn't do much to help him. I said, "I completely disagree with you. I don't doubt that God does control our destinies, but there is something to be said for individual responsibility for choices. Think of it this way, God cuts out the fabric, but we have to decide what we would make with that fabric: a dress, a skirt, with embroidery, without it. But we make it ourselves. Accepting one's blindness is not intervening in fate; it doesn't mean that we give up. there is a blind woman in Mumbai, and the bank where she works told her that she couldn't take the test to be the head of the foreign exchange department. She fought the system and won. She took the test, and now she controls a department."
"I have no need to fight the system," he said. I realized that at twenty-five this man had woven a straitjacket for himself, whereas a seven-year-old girl looked to the future. He had chosen to blow his chance. At the end of the evening his sister-in-law told me that she would love for me to come over and meet his parents.
I exited at that point, saying, "You must excuse me, but I've had three glasses of coconut water, and I must use the bathroom. It will hit my system eventually." I left her with this, "You know it's not for you or me to decide what he wants. It's really up to him. He says that he is content with his life, and, if that's the case, there is nothing you and I can do. I want you to know that it's not my skills that have made me confident. It's all in the attitude. Sometimes skills fall short, and when they do, the attitude helps us find solutions. That's what makes me successful, and that's what makes everyone I know who is blind successful. That's something I can't give him unless he wants it."
By the end of the evening I became keenly aware that people are a product of their environment. When my family pressed me about whether I would marry him and take him up as a challenge, I said, "No, I feel that in this case his jewelry really is all imitation. Maybe he'll change; maybe he won't. I hope he does, but I don't think I can take up this challenge."
I had always wondered if an arranged marriage by my family would work out for me. Now I knew.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Norman Gardner]
When to Stop Relying on Low Vision and Low-Vision Aids
by Norman Gardner
It has been said that, in the world of the blind, the one-eyed man will be king. The inference here seems to be that the more sight a person has, the more capable he is. This is a widely-held but very damaging and false idea. How ironic it is that many partially sighted people who consider themselves superior to those who are totally blind are in many respects less capable as a direct consequence of coming to rely too much on their partial sight. Rather than making of them a king in the world of the blind, partial vision can make of them that very inferior being, which they supposed they had avoided by possessing partial vision.
Is it possible that having some vision can actually impede the progress we would make if we had no sight at all? How can this be? When should we stop relying so much on low vision and low-vision aids? Here are four suggestions:
1. Stop relying on low vision and on low-vision aids the moment you find yourself clinging to them as a passport to normality.
In the mid-seventies I was a client at the Idaho Commission for the Blind. I had just taken my first teaching job on the faculty at Boise State University. I wanted the Commission for the Blind to buy me a CCTV that I could use at home. I already had one at my office, but I wanted another at home so that I could be more productive there. As evidence of how normally I could function with such a machine, I told the commission director, with pride in my accomplishment, that I had just recently used my CCTV at the office to grade some hand-written quizzes. I told him that with the CCTV I was able to grade almost all the quizzes by myself. I had to have someone else read only three of them to me because of the poor handwriting. I desperately wanted to be able to grade all my students' papers by myself. I knew very little about alternative techniques at the time. The thought of having someone else read my students' papers to me seemed an admission that I was incompetent as a professor and that I was not normal.
The commission director helped me to see how much I was relying on my partial vision and on the CCTV as a way to prove that I was normal. He asked, "What will you do if your CCTV machine ever breaks?" I suddenly had the very unpleasant vision of myself lying helpless on the floor, unable to perform my job at all until my CCTV could be repaired. I had assumed I would be more normal as a professor if I could get a CCTV. I also felt that I would be a more worthy and acceptable professor if I could grade my students' papers by myself, in the same way the other faculty did.
Of course these ideas are simply not valid. The important thing for me as a faculty member was not how I graded my students' papers but that I would get them graded and facilitate learning for them.The exact method of grading--whether I graded them by myself with a CCTV or used a sighted reader or had the students submit assignments electronically for me to access with my speech-synthesized computer--was really beside the point and irrelevant.
The real damage of such ideas is that they can lead us to believe that we really are inferior when we have to use alternative techniques. Accomplishment of the task at hand is more important than the method of its accomplishment. So stop relying on low vision and low-vision aids the moment you notice yourself clinging to them as a passport to normality.
2. Stop relying on low vision and on low-vision aids if doing so keeps you illiterate during part or most of your day or life. True literacy is the ability at any given moment to read and write. Like many other partially sighted people, I have had to struggle to accomplish the requirements of my job. One day I realized that my main problem was not that I couldn't see very well but that during much of each day I was illiterate. When I was more than an arm's length away from my desk and my CCTV, I could neither read nor write. At those times, for all practical purposes I was an illiterate Ph.D.
Recently several national programs have been developed to reduce or eliminate illiteracy in this country. One of the biggest problems these programs have is finding those who are illiterate. People who have grown up in our society without ever learning to read or write go to great lengths to hide this fact. They feel great shame and bluff a lot. Partially sighted people do the same thing. Many of us feel shame, and we often pretend more sight than we really have. Why do we do this? I think it is because of our illiteracy.
One day I was introduced to the Braille 'n Speak. Within only a few days I was able to write whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted; and, what is even more wonderful, I could actually read what I had written. After a time I began to hunger for the ability to read Braille with my fingers. I began using simple Braille notes to read things which I had formerly committed to memory. I will never forget what a liberating feeling it was when I conducted my first meeting by referring to a small card on which I had Brailled a few characters or a single word on each line to remind me of the next agenda item. I still remember the feeling of freedom the first time I Brailled my flight itinerary complete with departure and arrival times, connecting flights, and seat assignments, on a card and was able to refer to it at any given moment during my trip. I felt I had achieved major milestones in my life the first time I read a treasurer's report in Braille at a public meeting of the NFB of Arizona and the first time I completed a Braille book that consisted of seven volumes. These were times I wanted to ring the Freedom Bell and shout for joy. As I increased in literacy, I felt much less shame at being partially sighted.
Don't wait to start learning Braille. Get going now! You'll never do it any younger.You can still use print when you want to or when you are near your CCTV, but during the rest of your day and for the rest of your life you won't be illiterate.
3. Stop relying on low vision and on low-vision aids if doing so deceives you into thinking you can make it on your own or that you don't need the National Federation of the Blind. Simply by being members of our society, we all develop false notions about blindness and doubts about our abilities as blind people. These ideas lurk deep within us, far below the conscious level. The problem is that, when we encounter a situation, large or small, in which our vision or the lack of it becomes an issue, those old feelings come back to erode our self-esteem and confidence.
The National Federation of the Blind has taught us the truth about blindness. It has taught us that the blind are normal people with the full range of normal abilities. Every blind person should read Walking Alone and Marching Together. This book chronicles the fifty-year history of the organized blind movement. It sets forth our philosophy--the truth about blindness.
The NFB provides an invaluable support system. Without the NFB we would be forced to spend our lives walking alone. Regardless of how strong our resolve and how hard we work to achieve our goals, our chance of success without the NFB would be greatly diminished. As we walk alone, we are constantly bombarded from every side with the subtle message that blindness means inferiority. Since we all tend to see ourselves as others see us, we can come to expect less of ourselves. When we march together with other Federationists, we are constantly reminded of the truth about blindness. We are normal individuals. With proper training and opportunity we can achieve normally.
Read Walking Alone and Marching Together. Learn the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. It is the truth about blindness. Get involved. Help other blind people to find and understand this precious truth. You will be helping yourself.
4. Stop relying on low vision and on low-vision aids when they are doing you more harm than good. Is it possible that partial or even 20/20 vision could actually be a disadvantage to someone? The answer is absolutely yes.
Aaron was a student in one of my finance classes at Boise State University. Soon after the start of the semester, Aaron came to my office for help. He was flunking out of all his classes and was about to drop out of school altogether. Right away I knew something was wrong because Aaron was quite obviously a dedicated and intelligent student. During our conversation it became clear that he was severely dyslexic. For him reading was unbelievably difficult and slow. He spent many hours each day trying to read even a little of the material for his classes. He just couldn't do it.
Aaron had 20/20 vision. He had a driver's license and was an accomplished gymnast. But when it came to reading print, Aaron was functionally blind. When I first pointed this out to him, he was even more discouraged and just wanted to give up. I explained some of the alternative techniques which the blind use when dealing with printed material. Aaron caught the vision and was soon using recorded textbooks and live readers to accomplish the studying and library research required in his classes. He rose to the top of all his classes and graduated with honors. Here is an example in which reliance on 20/20 vision was a severe handicap when it came to reading the printed word.
In a similar way those of us with partial sight often come to rely so much on our remaining vision that we often reject techniques which in reality could be much more effective. Perhaps the reason is that we have accepted, at the emotional level, the notion that anything done with vision is superior to what can be accomplished without vision, even with the use of alternative techniques.
The last time I talked with Aaron he was studying Braille. Even though he had 20/20 vision, he understood that in order to be successful, he had to adopt techniques for dealing with print which did not rely at all on vision. The challenge for those of us with partial vision is to know when to adopt these so-called blind techniques and when to continue relying on our limited vision.
In my own case I have found that with few exceptions the alternative techniques which totally blind people use effectively have made me more efficient and effective in accomplishing the full range of tasks and activities of daily living. I did not come to this conclusion all at once. The most difficult thing for me to accept was that I should carry a white cane. When I first began carrying a cane, I felt as if I was a fraud because many people treated me as though I were totally blind. This was, of course, not true at all. But when I did not carry a white cane, some people, especially those I met in casual encounters, thought I had 20/20 vision. Of course this was not true either. It finally occurred to me that I had no obligation to ensure that everyone around me had correct information about my visual acuity.
As I continued carrying my white cane, a wonderful thing happened. I began to feel more at peace about my partial vision, or as I began to refer to it, my blindness, than I had yet felt at any point in my life. Perhaps it was because, when I held a white cane, it seemed pointless to try and bluff more sight than I had or to give the impression that I could see things which I could not. I also began to feel more comfortable crossing streets at crosswalks where there was no traffic light. I found it much easier to find the first step when I went down a flight of stairs. I also felt less stress when I entered dimly lit theaters and restaurants.
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that there is another reason for us partials to carry our white canes. We are trying to change what it means to be blind. In order to do this more effectively, the public needs to see more of us with white canes going to school and work and doing all the normal things. We shouldn't hide.
I still use my CCTV at times. I still use a screen-enlargement program on my computer at times. I am grateful for the useable vision I have. But these days I am even more grateful to the National Federation of the Blind for teaching me that it's okay to be blind or even partially sighted. I feel as if a whole new world has opened to me as I have begun to rely less and less on my partial vision and more and more on alternative techniques to accomplish necessary tasks at work and at home.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ray Kurzweil]
Ray Kurzweil Honored
From the Editor: We recently received notice that Ray Kurzweil, a true benefactor of blind people and a dear friend and colleague of the Federation, has just received a significant honor. The material we received not only describes the award he recently received from President Clinton but includes a brief biography that outlines in lay terms several of Ray Kurzweil's most important contributions. Here is some of the information we received:
The White House has announced that on March 14, 2000, Ray Kurzweil received the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor in technology, from President Clinton in a White House Ceremony. The citation on Mr. Kurzweil's National Medal of Technology reads:
For pioneering and innovative achievements in computer science that have overcome barriers for and enriched the lives of disabled persons and of all Americans, including developing the first print‑to‑speech reading machine for the blind, the first commercially marketed, large-vocabulary speech-recognition technology, and the ground‑breaking Kurzweil 250 computer music keyboard.
The National Medal of Technology is the nation's highest honor in technology. Enacted by Congress in 1980, the Medal has been awarded by the President of the United States each year since 1985. It is awarded to several individuals or groups each year. In most years a company has also been honored. No categories are specified in the award.
Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley writes: "The National Medal of Technology is the Nation's highest honor for technological achievement, presented annually by the President of the United States. The men and women awarded the National Medal of Technology are those whose extraordinary works in research, development, and design have made significant contributions to U.S. prosperity and competitiveness, our overall quality of life, and our understanding of the world around us."
When Ray Kurzweil was developing the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the first print‑to‑speech reading machine for the blind, he worked closely with a team of blind engineers and scientists assembled by the National Federation of the Blind, not just to test the Kurzweil Reading Machine and design its user interface, but on all facets of this complex undertaking. It was a simple but pioneering design philosophy-‑work closely with the intended users of one's inventions as key participants in the invention process. That philosophy combined with Kurzweil's own innovative genius has led to a dazzling array of landmark inventions.
The Reading Machine itself has been called the most significant advance for the blind since the invention of Braille in the nineteenth century. Introduced in 1976, it reads ordinary printed materials such as books, magazines, and memos to blind, visually impaired, and dyslexic people in a synthesized voice. Its invention required solving several important computer science problems and resulted in the creation of the first omni‑font optical character recognition (OCR) technology, the first CCD (Charge Coupled Device) flat‑bed scanner, and the first text‑to‑speech synthesizer. Unlike limited‑font OCR systems, Kurzweil's OCR recognized print regardless of type style. It would be ten years before anyone else was able to duplicate this capability.
Each of these inventions evolved into what is today a major commercial field or industry, and the technologies that Kurzweil created and their successors continue to be market leaders within those industries. Virtually all American information workers use, at least indirectly, CCD flat‑bed scanning and omni‑font OCR, technologies first created and pioneered by Kurzweil. These are key enabling technologies that have made possible text and multi‑media data bases, on‑line information services, image and text documents on the World Wide Web, and other manifestations of the information age.
When Kurzweil turned his attention to developing the first computer music keyboard that could accurately and convincingly recreate the sounds of the grand piano and other orchestral (i.e., acoustic) instruments, he applied the same lesson he had learned in developing the reading machine. All the engineers and scientists that worked on the new project were musicians, and many were quite accomplished. The Kurzweil 250, introduced in 1984, was able to fool concert pianists in an A‑B oblindo comparison as to whether they were hearing a grand piano or the Kurzweil invention. The technology Kurzweil created allowed musicians for the first time to play the sounds of any acoustic instrument, to play them polyphonically (i.e., multiple notes at a time), and to apply the full range of computer control techniques such as sequencing, layering, and sound modification to the rich sounds of acoustic instruments. As with the Reading Machine and the OCR technology, it would be several years before any other person or organization would duplicate this feat.
The type of computer‑based music synthesis that Kurzweil pioneered has evolved into what is today a multi‑billion dollar industry and is used to create virtually all commercial music‑recorded albums, movies, TV, etc. The Kurzweil brand of electronic musical instruments is a market leader, sold in forty-five countries.
Kurzweil was also the principal developer of the first commercially marketed, large-vocabulary speech-recognition technology. Kurzweil VOICE Report, introduced in 1987, could convert speech into print, the opposite of the reading machine. Today it is widely used by hands‑disabled persons to create written documents, use computers, and control their environment. A combination of Kurzweil's speech-recognition technology with a Kurzweil‑developed medical expert system and knowledge base is also widely used by physicians to create medical reports.
Overall, Kurzweil's inventions have involved major advances in computer science while at the same time yielding practical products that meet fundamental needs. It is rare for one individual to work successfully at both ends of this spectrum. He has also created multiple businesses to bring these inventions to market, all of which continue today as market leaders. His inventions have provided significant benefit to mankind by overcoming major barriers for disabled persons, enriching the world of music, and expanding the usefulness of computers for everyone.
In addition to his inventions, Kurzweil is a prolific author. His latest book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Viking, 1999), has quickly achieved a high level of critical and commercial success. Kurzweil received his BS in computer science and literature from MIT.
Cars, Teen-agers, and Insurance
by Ramona Walhof
From the Editor: The following article is taken from Remember to Feed the Kittens, the sixteenth in the Kernel Book series of paperbacks published by the National Federation of the Blind. It begins with Dr. Maurer's introduction:
Dealing with teen-age drivers presents challenges for any parent: What car will the teen-ager drive and how to acquire it? What about insurance? What about learning how to drive? Are these challenges the same or different if the parent happens to be blind? These are the questions Ramona Walhof, who is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho, deals with in her story, "Cars, Teen-agers, and Insurance."
As readers of earlier Kernel Books will remember, Ramona became a widow when her two children were very young. Now they are both young adults, finished with college and launched in their careers. As a matter of fact, each of them has wedding plans for this year. Here is what Ramona has to say:
In 1983 I was thirty-nine years old, working as director of a state rehabilitation program for the blind, a single mother of two children ages twelve and thirteen, and it came time for me to buy my first car.
I had saved money and thought I needed a van. I wanted to take my children places and include their friends. I wanted to take groups of students on trips. I wanted to take groups of blind people to activities of the National Federation of the Blind. I had sighted drivers available, so the time had come.
I asked my assistant if he could spare a Saturday to drive me around and give me some advice. He said he would be glad to drive but wasn't sure how much advice he could give. This was reasonable. I knew I would have to look before buying. We spent the whole day looking at a lot of vehicles, most of which I did not want. Many were set up as campers or did not have enough seats. I wanted fifteen seats. I saw three vans I liked, and two were very plush. I was looking for something utilitarian.
Near the end of the day we found a Plymouth Voyager that seemed right. We were pretty sure it was the only one in Boise, but I didn't want to offer too high. I had to learn about the negotiations. The salesman didn't really believe I was buying the van. He tried to talk to my assistant, who simply waved at me and said he wasn't buying it.
I made my offer, which was cash, and I could tell they were interested but not ready to accept. The salesman disappeared to talk with his supervisor but said almost nothing. I believe I was the only serious customer in the store that afternoon about 5:00 p.m. I could not tell whether they were reluctant to deal with me because I was blind and female or for some other reason, but they were uncomfortable.
Soon the supervisor came back and tried to talk to my assistant, who wasn't responsive. Then the supervisor told me that their price was a very good one. I said that maybe it was, but I would not go any higher. The supervisor wanted to know who would be driving the van, and shouldn't he or she have something to say about it? I answered that a number of people would be driving the van, but I was buying it, and he had to deal with me. Both men disappeared, and I called a friend, thinking we were going to come to terms and would need another driver.
I wasn't sure whether the salesman and supervisor were more worried about the price or the blindness. Then they came back and agreed to accept my price. As we proceeded through the paperwork, I was becoming excited.
When Harry and Jan arrived, the supervisor immediately began to talk to Harry as though the van were his. Harry directed the comments back to me. Harry was asked: "Aren't you her husband?"
Jan answered: "No, he's my husband."
They just couldn't believe a blind woman could or should buy a van. I was grateful to my friends who were members of the National Federation of the Blind and helped me deal with the attitudes of the salesman and the supervisor.
Jan and Harry Gawith and my assistant, John Cheadle, knew exactly how to respond when they were addressed even though I was the customer. This made my van-buying experience easier and more enjoyable. We got the job done, and I then had to learn about insurance.
Later I found that new cars are generally insured by the seller for forty-eight to seventy-two hours, but I didn't know that then. So Saturday night I thought I had to find insurance. Of course we did not want to wait until Monday to drive this wonderful new van. Harry would be driving the van some and had a good driving record. So I called his agent, who agreed that Harry could be the primary driver.
We used the van as planned for more than a year. Then I changed employment and started a bakery, and we also used the van for deliveries. At that time in Idaho teen-agers could be licensed to drive during daylight hours at age fourteen. My daughter Laura was most anxious to take driver's education. I knew that starting to drive a fifteen‑passenger van was not a very good idea. Still that was the vehicle we had needed when we bought it.
I found a driver's ed teacher who agreed to give her an extra lesson or two in the van, and my assistant was also willing to work with her. Soon Laura took driver's ed, and the teacher thought she was ready. She got her license.
I decided there would be some special rules. The state said Laura could not drive after dark until she was sixteen. I decided she must drive only with me or an adult driver in the van. When spring came and the days were longer, I began letting her take the van by herself on certain errands. Still she was not to use the van as transportation for her friends unless I was in it.
One Saturday afternoon she went to run some errands and then to band practice. She was more than an hour late getting home. Her explanation was that a lot of her friends needed rides home, and she had this big vehicle. She could not refuse to help out. She had disregarded a very specific rule.
I told her to consider alternatives, but she could not think of any. She had not thought of a telephone. She had not thought of stopping at home to pick me up or talk about what to do. She got one warning. I thought a van full of teen-agers behind a driver so young was dangerous. Teen-agers spend too much energy entertaining one another, which is distracting to any driver.
Although Laura had had her license about six months, I wasn't sure she was ready for that. Laura must have believed me when I told her that a repeat offense would make her a retired driver, because it did not happen again.
Another time Laura came home late and did not have to be questioned about the problem. She had taken the wrong approach to the interstate and could not get off. When she found an exit in the next town, she had no idea how to get back on the freeway.
This is not a new experience for most drivers, but Laura clearly needed to learn the local interstate system, and I was not the best person to teach her. We chose a time when we were not in a hurry and took my son Chris along. Although Chris was still too young to drive, he was a good sign reader. We practiced on freeway entrances and exits, and Laura got over being frightened.
Another tense moment occurred one Sunday afternoon when we were shopping at Sears. Laura said: "Let's park in the garage." Before I could suggest caution, she had turned in. There was no trouble parking the van, but when we were ready to leave, there was. Laura rubbed the side of the van against a pole and scratched it. She didn't know how to get away from the pole in the restricted space. As people began to line up behind us, she became upset.
A stranger got out of one of the cars behind us and offered to help. Fortunately he knew exactly what to do and inched the van away from the post. With relief and an ugly scratch on our van, we left the garage, and Laura no longer had a fascination with parking garages.
During that first summer after Laura got her driver's license, I took her with me on business trips to Idaho Falls (300 miles from Boise) and to Spokane (400 miles away). Perhaps I should say I used her as a driver on these trips, and we both enjoyed it. It was good experience for Laura and helpful to me. I could tell that she was gaining in skill and confidence.
About that time they tore up the road in front of our bakery, and I decided to close it. Then we began to get numerous requests to borrow the van. Apparently people got the idea that we weren't using it much. We really didn't need so large a vehicle any more, so I decided it was time to trade for a smaller car.
I took Laura and Chris to look for a small car, and we agreed on a GLC Mazda. The salesman had no trouble dealing with me, but many people behaved as though the car belonged to Laura. I thought she was too young to have a car, and I intended to manage its use. Laura may have faced some pressure from her friends and others, but she lived within the system.
Now the question of insurance was more complex. Laura was not the primary driver, but she was the only driver in the household. Again I turned to a friend in the National Federation of the Blind. Mary Ellen Halverson and her husband were both blind and had a sighted son, who was the only driver in their household.
Mary Ellen told me how they handled car insurance and gave me the name of their agent. I contacted that agent, who agreed, after consultation, that it was possible to name Laura as the secondary driver and my business associate as the primary driver. So that is what we did.
Then Chris took driver's education and got his license. I made the same kinds of rules for Chris as I had for Laura. I was able to use him as a driver during the summer when I made trips out of town. He did not have to learn to drive the van, and he turned out to be quite a good driver. But the insurance agent was having a hard time saying that there were two drivers in the household, and neither was the primary driver.
It was true, but it was so unusual that it was not believed. I wrote up a schedule of how I used the car in my business while Chris and Laura were in school. The insurance company listed the drivers as they should: business associate, primary driver; Laura, secondary driver; and Chris, secondary driver.
When Chris was in ninth grade, he had a paper route. Although he could do it on foot or on his bike, he preferred to drive, especially on Sundays when the papers were large. When he drove, I would go along and put rubber bands on the papers.
One morning a police car pulled us over. What, we wondered, could it mean? "Why don't you have your lights on?" the policeman asked. He didn't wait for an answer. He must have seen the newspapers in the back seat because he said, "Did you just pull out of a brightly lit intersection?" We had.
"Don't forget to turn on your lights," he said and waved us on. He didn't even ask to see Chris's license. If he had, he probably would have had to write a ticket. It was still dark, and Chris was too young to drive in the dark. I'm sure it helped that I was in the car, and I'm sure Chris did not forget lights when he needed them after that.
By the end of her junior year in high school, Laura had been driving three years, and Chris one. Laura had been riding to school with a friend and her mother since the city bus did not start early enough in the morning and the school bus did not stop at our corner.
We lived about one and a half miles from school, but there were always band instruments, piles of books, and other things to carry back and forth. Furthermore, schedules for two high school students were complicated. I never intended to let my high school kids drive to school, but it seemed the best way to go.
We started reading ads in the newspaper to find a small used pick‑up. After looking at and driving several, we found a 1976 Datsun with a reconditioned second engine for $800. I decided to take a chance on it. It turned out to be the right decision. Laura and Chris drove that truck for three years. We replaced the battery, the tires, and the ignition and nothing else. Its performance was amazingly good. Now I had two vehicles.
I wanted to insure the truck (liability only) with Laura and Chris as the drivers. The Mazda was still mine, and I used it far more than either Chris or Laura. The policy came back with Chris on one vehicle and Laura on the other. That's the standard way, and the insurance company didn't believe you could have two drivers and two cars in one household and not insure them with one name on each vehicle. With the help of our agent, the insurance company was finally convinced.
After high school graduation Laura went to college at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston and did not need a car. We all agreed on that. Two years later, when Chris enrolled at the University of Idaho in Moscow, we decided a car was reasonable. Chris enjoyed driving, and other transportation was limited. The little Datsun pick-up, I was afraid, might not be reliable enough for the 300-mile trip several times a year.
Chris and I bought a used Renault Fuego. That was a mistake. He loved it. It went fast. He must have controlled the speed, because I never heard about any tickets. But he drove it only one year. We couldn't get parts to repair the transmission, and that was the end of it.
Chris had decided to do door-to-door sales during the summers to help pay his way through school, so I wanted him to have a car that could be worked on absolutely anywhere. The Fuego helped me learn this lesson. In high school Chris had shown no interest in what was under the hood of a car, but in college he did. We replaced the Fuego with a Ford Escort wagon.
At first he wasn't sure he was a wagon man. He drove that Ford Escort for almost four years and put another 100,000 miles on it. He got good use out of the car. Those summers away from home selling books helped Chris grow up, and learning about engines, mechanics, tires, etc. was a part of it.
Meanwhile I had traded the Mazda for a 1987 Dodge 600, which is a little larger. It carries six people instead of four. This is still my car today. By the time I bought it, I felt I had learned how to shop for a car.
But Chris and Laura still had a few more challenges for me. When Laura graduated from college, she needed a vehicle. I decided that would be her graduation present and my last financial contribution to her education. She wanted a red pick‑up but did not want to pay the extra insurance premium. She had a teaching job at a school in the Chicago area, so we needed to move boxes and some furniture from Boise and from Boston to Chicago. We found a used Ford Ranger (blue) that seemed O.K. She drove it hard for two years and was able to trade it for a new Saturn.
The four years of driving during high school were important to Laura. She was not a natural driver and needed the practice. If she had gone to college without that experience, she might never have become as good a driver as she now is.
When Chris graduated from college, his Escort was worn out. I decided to get him one more vehicle for graduation. We chose a Toyota pick-up, which he is still driving. Chris is now employed in Boise as a head hunter and doing well enough that he has invested in a used Porsche. He did not seek advice or money from me.
When I was a child, I never thought about needing to own or buy cars. Other children did, but they would be drivers. I knew I would be using public transportation or riding with other people. And for the first part of my adult life that was true.
For the last fifteen years I have used my car regularly. I do not drive to work and never have. I now live about three fourths of a mile from work and walk most days. When Laura comes to Boise, my car is available.
I did not teach my children to drive, but I played a part in the process. Since they lived with me, they heard what I had to say. I wanted them to be safe, considerate, and responsible drivers. When they were beginners, my presence in the car doubtless sometimes made a difference.
Buying that first van was an adventure, and I was not prepared for the disbelief that a blind person could want such a thing. But it was the beginning of more flexibility in my life, just as the first car is for most people. It gives me one more alternative for transportation.
In many ways cars in my family have been handled very much the same as in other families. Blindness adds a wrinkle, but it really doesn't change basic interactions. Will I continue to own a vehicle as long as I live? I cannot predict the future, but I have no plans to sell my Dodge. It is old, but I hope to get a few more years out of it. I'll cross the next bridge when the time comes.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Lloyd Jernigan and his sister-in-law Mary Ellen]
My Brother, My Friend, My Hero
by Lloyd Jernigan
From the Editor: Those who attend NFB conventions know and admire Lloyd Jernigan, Dr. Jernigan's older brother. Some months ago he wrote his own quiet tribute to his brother. Here it is:
At the close of the century, historians and writers are busy choosing its heroes. The twentieth century certainly has had many to choose from. I recently read that the world has advanced more in the past fifty years than during the rest of history combined. Despite all the other worthy and heroic candidates, my vote for hero would go to my brother, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.
Kenneth Jernigan was born blind in Detroit, Michigan, in the year 1926. Our mother and father were sure that the doctor was responsible for his blindness. I do not believe that they ever tried to prove it, but that is what they believed. I remember our mother grieving and struggling each day, seeking information and help in raising a blind child, but no help came. She believed that Kenneth would live his life depending on someone else to care for and support him. Why did she believe that? Because in those days it was a sad fact that blind people had no chance for an independent, self-sufficient life. In one of the last conversations I had with our mother, she asked me to promise that I would take care of my brother. Thank God fulfilling that promise was never an issue.
Kenneth Jernigan lived in Detroit until he was four years old and then moved with his parents and me to a farm in Tennessee. The farm was located in a remote area without electricity, running water, radio, or other conveniences as we know them today. The chances in those times and that environment of any child's becoming a world-famous person were remote; one would have thought them nonexistent for a blind child. Yet that is what happened.
When Kenneth entered the school for the blind in Nashville, we soon learned that his strong will, determination, and intelligence were extraordinary. He earned high marks and honors from day one to the conclusion of his graduate studies. After college graduation he tried sales work, teaching, and other things but decided to join Dr. Jacobus tenBroek in California and teach students being rehabilitated in a residential program.
This was the beginning of his life-long devotion to aiding his blind brothers and sisters. He was determined to change the attitudes, not only of blind people about their blindness, but also of sighted people about blindness. He believed that, before the blind could become full participants in society, they themselves had to believe that they could do so. He believed that sighted people must stop pitying the blind because what blind people really need is a chance to hold jobs and become full partners in society. He believed that the blind could compete with the sighted if given a chance, and as time went by, he proved the truth of his belief.
His teachings about blindness and his advocacy of constructive legislation helped change the lives of blind people around the world. They not only changed the attitudes of the blind, they also changed the way that sighted people think about and act toward blind people. How do I know this for a fact? Because I am one of those sighted persons whose attitudes will never be the same. Let the record show that Dr. Kenneth Jernigan is most certainly a hero of this century.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Betty Niceley, April 15, 1934, to February 13, 2000]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer smiles down at Betty Niceley while she and Tim Cranmer face the camera at the May 8, 1999, celebration in Louisville.]
Betty Niceley Dies
by Barbara Pierce
Very early in the 1999 public meeting of the NFB Board of Directors, Betty Niceley, who had been a member of that board since 1985, sought the floor to make the following statement:
Dr. Maurer, I would like to say that I am not seeking reelection to the Board this time. I want to say first of all that this decision in no way indicates a lessening of my commitment to this organization. I have served on the Board for fourteen years, and I have been deeply touched by the trust that has been placed in me in electing me to this position.
I feel the need to spend a lot more time in affiliate-building in my own state and to devote my attention to the Braille concerns of the Federation. I am grateful for the wisdom of our beloved Dr. Jernigan, who put his confidence in you, Dr. Maurer, as our leader. I want to pledge to you and to the future leaders of this organization my willingness to do whatever I can as you lead us to greater heights of success, which I know you will do.
Later in July Betty retired from a career of twenty-eight years with the Kentucky Department for the Blind. In early November she was elected President of the International Council on English Braille, and following that election everyone expected that her plan to devote her energies to building the Kentucky affiliate and to working for the health and propagation of Braille were now in place.
Then, just before Thanksgiving, Betty suffered a stroke, which was actually caused by a defective heart valve damaged years before by rheumatic fever. On February 8 she underwent open-heart surgery, from which she seemed to be recovering. Then sadly, Sunday morning, February 13, her damaged heart gave up, and she died.
It's hard to imagine the Federation without Betty. She became a member in 1967, and by 1979 she was President of the Kentucky affiliate. When the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille was established in 1983, she became its first and, until her death, its only President. She served as Vice Chairperson of the Braille Authority of North America. In 1997 she received the Jacobus tenBroek award.
But beyond and undergirding all the offices, responsibilities, and honors, Betty was a cheerful soldier who would put her hand to any task for the Federation that needed to be done and see to it that those around her had a good time while they were doing their work. She was an optimist and an extravert who believed in people, especially young people, and she was always willing to go the extra mile and overlook the shortcomings of those who were trying to learn how to lead.
In early November of 1978 Betty attended an NFB leadership seminar. For several reasons, including the fact that the meeting began on All Saints Day, the group clamored to be named the Saintly Seminar--an impulse that Dr. Jernigan resisted mightily. Eventually the weight of reasons for the group's preference beat down his opposition, and one of many facts about the seminar marshaled by seminarians during discussions was that Betty Niceley was a member, and, while niceness was not exactly saintliness, she was so very nice that it ought to count for something. This was not the decisive argument, but it was irrefutable that Betty was simply one of the kindest, most considerate people any of us had ever met.
Those qualities didn't make her a push-over, however. She fought like a tiger to protect Kentucky's separate agency for the blind. She stood up to the American Printing House for the Blind when she thought they were in the wrong. When city officials engaged in unfair practices against the blind, they could count on Betty to stand up in meetings, write letters, and talk to the press about the injustice. Her absolute integrity brought her respect even among her opponents, and often those opponents stayed to become her friends.
Betty loved a party. The final night of the 1984 convention in Phoenix the Kentucky affiliate hosted a mint julep party to get the organization in the mood to come to Louisville the following year. And before the memorable 1985 convention, Betty, the President of the host affiliate, announced that the big dance that year would be a genuine southern ball. Ladies were encouraged to wear real ball gowns, and many did. It was a glorious evening.
But Betty's triumph, and perhaps the finest hour of the blind of Kentucky, was the May 8, 1999, celebration of the accomplishments of blind people. This was the evening after the University of Louisville awarded Dr. Maurer an honorary degree. Representatives from city and state government, private and public organizations, and educational institutions gathered to pay tribute to what blind people, working together, have accomplished in the past and can accomplish in the future. Federationists from eighteen states were present to celebrate. The evening was filled with elegance and joy, and at the center, organizing and announcing everything with poise and radiance, was Betty Niceley.
She is survived by her husband Charles, their daughter Sharon, her stepdaughter Barbara, two brothers, and seven grandchildren. Betty also leaves behind her a large circle of Federation friends and colleagues who love and remember her still and for whom the world will be a bit grayer without her. As Betty would say, "Pay-back time." She brightened the world for us; now it's time for us to pass it on.
We are about to begin making our way again through the alphabetical list of state affiliates for providing recipes, but this month, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, we have gathered some favorite Irish recipes. So, even if you can't make it to County Down on March 17, you can conduct your own celebration.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Carla McQuillan]
Corned Beef and Cabbage
by Carla McQuillan
Carla McQuillan serves as President of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon and is a member of the NFB Board of Directors. She is also an Irish lass proud of her heritage. She frequently gathers interested Federationists together to sing Irish folk songs, so it's not surprising that she prepares and serves dishes like this traditional Irish favorite, which is amazingly simple and delicious. The key, she says, is to simmer the corned beef for hours and to cook the vegetables in the same pot. Corned beef comes in either a point or a flat cut. The point cut is generally less expensive and more fatty, but no less tasty.
1 corned beef brisket, any size
Red potatoes, halved and cleaned, but not peeled (if you use white potatoes, you will want to peel them)
1 head of green cabbage, cored and quartered
Method: Place the corned beef in a large pot or slow cooker. Add enough water to cover the meat. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and simmer for at least four hours. Add the potatoes about thirty to forty minutes before desired meal time. Fifteen minutes before serving, remove the beef and add the cabbage to cook till tender. The beef must rest for at least ten minutes before cutting. Slice the meat across the grain. Serve with mustard for the beef and vinegar for the cabbage. Note: Leftover corned beef and potatoes may be ground or chopped finely for hash. Serve corned beef hash for breakfast with eggs and toast.
Irish Ale Stew
by Carla McQuillan
Carla reports that this is by far the tastiest stew she has ever made.
3 to 4 pounds lean beef, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 pound large onions, thinly sliced
1 to 1-1/2 pounds potatoes, cubed
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cooking oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 small bay leaves
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1 tablespoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 10-1/2-ounce cans beef broth
24 ounces beer (dark ale will enhance flavor)
Dumpling batter (recipe below)
Method: This recipe will serve eight. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut the beef slices into pieces about one inch by two inches. Flour them lightly, brown them a few at a time in hot oil and put them into a large oven-proof casserole. (A deep six- or eight-quart size is about right.) Add onions and garlic to oil in pan and brown them lightly, adding more oil if necessary. Put them in the casserole, then add sugar, two tablespoons of the vinegar, parsley, bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper. Stir once or twice. Pour off any oil remaining in the skillet. Put in the broth and heat over low flame, stirring to loosen all browned bits. Pour over meat mixture in casserole. Add the potatoes and the beer. Cover casserole and bake for two hours. Transfer the casserole to the top of the stove. Stir in the remaining vinegar. Cook over medium heat until the sauce bubbles. Drop dumpling batter by teaspoonfuls on top of the hot stew, cover, reduce heat and cook for fifteen minutes. Do not remove cover during these fifteen minutes.
2 cups sifted self-rising cake flour
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
Method: Combine all ingredients, mixing lightly. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls into simmering stew or stock, cover, and cook for fifteen minutes or until fluffy. Do not remove lid during fifteen minutes--just let them steam.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Barbara Pierce]
by Barbara Pierce
1-1/2 pounds lamb or mutton
3/4 cup onions
2-1/2 pounds potatoes
salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
2 cups boiling water or stock
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Method: Note that this famous stew is not browned. Cut the lamb, onions, and potatoes into 1-1/2-inch cubes. In the bottom of a heavy pan arrange a layer of potatoes, a layer of meat, a few slices of onion. Repeat this twice, ending with potatoes on top. Season each layer with salt and pepper. Add to the pot the bay leaf. Pour water or stock over the layers and add parsley. Bring to a boil. Cover tightly. Simmer gently over very low heat for about two and a half hours or until done. Shake the pot periodically so that the potatoes do not stick. When done, all the moisture should have been absorbed by the potatoes.
Key Lime Shortbread Cookies
by Sylvia Cooley
Sylvia Cooley is the secretary in Barbara Pierce's office. Perhaps this is not truly a St. Patrick's Day recipe, but it goes well with tea, and with a few drops of green coloring added, these cookies keep the spirit of the day.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon Key lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated Key lime zest
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch or rice flour
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
a few drops of green food coloring (optional)
Lime sugar for garnish (optional)
Method: In a large mixing bowl beat the butter, sugar, lime juice, salt, and one half the lime zest (1-1/2 teaspoons) until light and fluffy. Stir in the cornstarch or rice flour, then all-purpose flour, beating only enough to incorporate. The dough will be very soft. Divide dough in thirds. Spoon each portion onto wax paper or plastic wrap and form a log about 14 inches long and 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Fold the paper over the log, then roll with your palms until smooth. Twist ends of the paper and refrigerate or freeze until firm, one to four hours.
To make the lime sugar, place sugar and remaining zest in a blender or coffee mill and whirl until zest is very finely minced and sugar is lightly colored, about three minutes. Strain mixture through a fine sieve, discarding any bits of peel that remain. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Slice chilled dough into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Place one inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. If garnish is desired, lightly butter the bottom of a flat-bottomed jelly glass and dip into the lime sugar. Press lightly onto tops of cookies, dipping the glass into the sugar mixture before pressing each cookie to prevent dough from sticking. (Or lightly sprinkle the sugar on each cookie, being careful not to get any sugar on baking sheet). Bake fifteen to twenty minutes, until light golden. Cookies will be very fragile, so let cool about five minutes on baking sheets before removing with a spatula to continue cooling on wire racks. Makes five dozen.
Quick Irish Soda Bread
by Barbara Pierce
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons chilled shortening
1/2 to 1 cup raisins
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1/2 to 2/3 cup buttermilk
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Have all ingredients at about 75 degrees. Sift together in a large bowl flour, soda, salt, and sugar. Cut chilled shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until it is the consistency of coarse corn meal. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Gradually add the buttermilk. The mixture should not be dry. Knead briefly and shape into a round loaf or a 9-by-5-inch one. Put the dough in a greased bread pan. Cut a bold cross on top, letting it go over the sides so the bread will not crack in baking. Brush the top with milk. Bake for forty to fifty minutes. If loaf pulls away from the sides of the pan, it is done. Another test is to tap the bottom of the pan to release the loaf. Then tap the bottom of the loaf, and, if it sounds hollow, the loaf is done. Otherwise return the loaf to the pan and bake a few minutes longer. When the bread has finished baking, remove it to a wire rack immediately to cool. Keep it shielded from drafts, which cause shrinkage.
Irish Shrove Tuesday Buns
by Barbara Pierce
Shrove Tuesday is the day before the beginning of Lent, and these buns are worthy of the tradition of finding something rich and tasty to enjoy before the rigors of Lent begin.
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1-3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 egg yolk, beaten
Approximately 5-1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fine dry cake crumbs, preferably macaroon crumbs
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk, cream, or Irish whiskey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (if using milk)
Method: Dissolve yeast in warm water. Heat milk to scalding and pour into a large mixing bowl. Add butter, sugar, and salt. Stir until butter and sugar have dissolved. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in yeast. Add beaten egg and egg yolk and blend well. Fold in flour. Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead dough until smooth and elastic. Cover with a clean cloth. Set in a warm place and let rise until double in bulk, about two hours. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth. Divide dough into about two dozen pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Place side by side on a greased baking sheet and spread with melted butter. Cover and let rise in a warm place until increased two and a half times in bulk. Bake for about ten minutes in a 350-degree oven or until lightly brown on top. Cool on rack before filling.
Filling: While buns cool, prepare filling. Beat cream until stiff, but not dry. Beat in sugar and cake crumbs. Cut off tops of buns and scoop out a little of the center. Fill with cream mixture.
Icing: Cream together the butter and powdered sugar. Add the milk or other liquid. Blend well. Spread icing around rims of the openings in the buns, and press tops over filled halves. Ice the tops of buns. Serve at once or refrigerate until ready to serve.
President Maurer writes as follows:
In the October, 1999, issue of the Braille Monitor, an article appeared entitled "Technology Replacing Braille." This article was a reprint of an article from the July 28, 1999, issue of the Los Angeles Times. The article consisted in part of material gathered in an interview with Mr. Jeffrey C. Senge.
In introducing this article, the Braille Monitor Editor said, "It is refreshing to see reporters get the story right." Mr. Senge has written us a letter dated January 1, 2000, in which he says that the article we reprinted is misleading because it is incomplete, and it lacks a proper focus. He has sent to me with his letter an amended copy of the article with extensive commentary, which he has asked that we reprint. The Braille copy of the article as amended by Mr. Senge is forty pages long.
There is insufficient space for us to reprint Mr. Senge's article. In addition, as I look at his letter and accompanying material, I reflect that he is facing the same circumstance that all of us have faced. Reporters have so much less experience of blindness than we possess that they almost never get the story reported with the depth of understanding that we would wish.
Even when they get the story right, it is often incomplete. People in the news business report what they believe will sell papers. Fortunately we do not have the same limitations. We can report in depth, and we do.
Although we have chosen not to reprint Mr. Senge's article as amended, we offer his address. Those who want more information about his interview can communicate with him directly. His address is 107 Revuelta Court, San Clemente, California 92672.
I want to be clearly understood about one thing. Mr. Senge does not say that the Monitor reported errors. Rather he argues that the reporter from the Los Angeles Times failed to include material that Mr. Senge thought to be pertinent. If Mr. Senge had demonstrated that we had reported what was not so, we would have printed a retraction. This is the only responsible way to report the news, and we are committed to it.
Time Magazine in Large Print Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Time Large Edition magazine is now available in 16-point type. It ships during the same week as Time's regular edition. For subscription information contact Caren Yanis, (212) 522-0925 or (914) 723-5991 or Diana Pearson, (212) 522-0833.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Braille, large print, cassette books, magazines and journals, Braille writing paper, computers, typewriters, Braille translators, photocopiers, Perkins Braillers, cassette players, talking watches, calculators, white canes, glasses frames, and various other materials and equipment for the disabled are needed for the blind and disabled population of Bangladesh. You can send most items surface mail marked "Free Matter for the Blind." Send to Mr. M. Milon, Secretary, Dustha, Juba-O-Pratibandhi Kallyan Sangstha, 12-E, 5/6, Mirpur, Dhaka 1221, Bangladesh.
Attention Those with Agricultural or Equestrian Interests:
Anyone out there interested in farming, ranching, gardening, composting, or animals like dogs and horses? For the past four years I have attended meetings of the NFB's Agriculture and Equestrian Interest Group. We had about forty people in Anaheim, a dozen in Dallas, about five in New Orleans, and about two dozen in Atlanta.
Last summer a few blind farmers and government staffers mentioned the availability of grant money for blind people interested in starting farms or ranches of their own. As the meeting broke up, we were told to keep an eye on the Braille Monitor for a note like this calling on people to write in and sign up.
I know we have many members who are very interested in the prospect of running a small service-dog ranch, earthworm farm, fish farm, dude ranch, or other such agricultural operation. We've got successful blind farmers with advice and stories to share. Atlanta farmers and ranchers have volunteered their places for us to visit. Let's start networking.
Please write if you are in the Agricultural and Equestrian Interest Group or wish to be: Braille, print, cassette, or e-mail. Contact Fred Chambers, North San Diego County and Greater Pasadena Chapters of the NFB of California, 3510 Bedford Circle, Carlsbad, California 92008, e-mail <[email protected]>.
Braillewriter Cleaning and Repair Service:
Paul and Bernie Dressell, leaders of the Ohio affiliate, have asked us to carry the following announcement:
We are now able to process orders made using VISA or MasterCard. We have a backlog of parts and normally have a turn-around time of two weeks for Perkins Braillewriter repairs. Contact Paul Dressell at (513) 481-7662, 2714 Ruberg Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45211-8118; e-mail: <[email protected]>.
Online Store Now Open for Business:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
You can purchase unique step-by-step tutorials and keyboard guides twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. From the store Web site you can order a tutorial on cassette tape or download a tutorial and keyboard guide. Taped tutorials cost $35, downloaded tutorials cost $25, and keyboard guides cost $5. Go shopping at <www.blind.state.ia.us/assist>. The following are new: Windows 98 with JAWS for Windows 3.3; Windows 98 with Window-Eyes 3.0; Internet Explorer 5 with JAWS for Windows 3.3; Internet Explorer 5 with Window-Eyes 3.1; Excel 97 with WinVision 5; Word 2000 with JAWS for Windows 3.31; and Word 2000 with Window-Eyes 3.1. In the works are Outlook 2000 with JAWS for Windows 3.31; Outlook 2000 with Window-Eyes 3.1; Internet Explorer 5 with JAWS for Windows 3.31; and Outlook Express 5.
You can still order a tutorial by calling (515) 281-1357 or by mailing your order to Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50309. You can contact IDB at <[email protected]>.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Alva 380, 80-character Braille display for sale, all cells work perfectly, but there is a bow in the tape on one of the cursor routing buttons, which does not prevent effective use of the button. Asking $5,200 or best offer. May accept installments or trade for a portable 40-cell display plus cash.
Computer tutorials and magazine: Up-to-date interactive tutorials from Top Dot Enterprises include Top Win98 basics, Top Eudora 4.2 and before, and Top Real Internet Explorer 5.0. These and other tutorials are available in two- and four-track tape formats; four-track tapes cost $19.95 each, while two-track tapes cost $27. A per-order shipping charge of $5 will be added. To order, send check or money order to the address listed below.
Top Dot also publishes Sound Computing, a bimonthly magazine for any blind computer user. The magazine is available on tape and in RealAudio. Subscriptions to the cassette edition also give the subscriber access to the RealAudio edition. They cost $24 in North America. RealAudio-only subscriptions cost $19. Contact Top Dot for more information or to subscribe.
Top Dot Enterprises, 8930 11th Place, SE, Everett, Washington 98205. If you wish to order by credit card or have other questions, contact us at (425) 335-4894.
During the January, 2000, meeting of the Seattle Chapter of the NFB of Washington, annual elections were conducted. The results are Dan Frye, President; Rita Szantay, First Vice President; Ben Prows, Second Vice President; Renee West, Secretary; Gary Deeter, Treasurer; and Doug Johnson and Yelana Semenyuk, Board Members.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Eileen Tscharner]
Karen Mayry, President of the NFB of South Dakota, writes the following:
It grieves me to inform you that Eileen Tscharner, age seventy-two, of Rapid City, South Dakota, died on Friday, January 14, 2000. She had been suffering from emphysema for many years, and complications of heart disease hastened her death. She joined the NFB in 1985, following training at the Nebraska Rehabilitation Center for the Blind. She served as President of the Black Hills Chapter and as NFB of South Dakota Vice President. She volunteered in our state office until one month before her death. She is a great loss to all of us.
At its November meeting the St. Louis Chapter of the NFB of Missouri elected Rhonda Dycus, President; Loretta Benavidez, Vice President; Kathy McCracken, Recording Secretary; Lori Pollina, Corresponding Secretary; Brian Schultz, Treasurer; and Thelda Borsch, Board Member at Large.
Free Computers to Those Who Qualify:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Have you ever wanted a computer but been unable to afford it? There is an answer. To obtain a computer, you must know the keyboard or complete a touch-typing course. This can be done by using "Touch Typing in Ten Easy Lessons," available at your Talking Book library; by taking a free, home-study typing course from the Hadley School for the Blind (800) 323‑4238; or by going to a local high school or community college and taking a class. You then pay a $30 fee to cover the cost of packing and shipping. You can receive a 386 or 486 CPU, monitor, and keyboard if you demonstrate your interest by reading the provided recorded tutorials and practicing on DOS, WordPerfect, and the screen reader commands.
If you lose interest, return all the materials so that another person can use them. Buying access software and the synthesizer are your responsibility. Your state rehabilitation agency may purchase the screen reader, synthesizer, modem, printer, and other equipment; consult your vocational rehabilitation counselor. For more information about this program, contact Robert Langford, Texas Center for the Physically Impaired, 11330 Quail Run, Dallas, Texas 75238; phone (214) 340‑6328.
Reading Resource Guide Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The first reference book written for sight-impaired students and those who serve their needs, A Field Guide for the Sight-Impaired Reader by Andrew Leibs, explains how to locate, obtain, and integrate all forms of aid to construct a world of reading equal to that of the fully sighted reader. It profiles the major blind service organizations; explores specialized formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic texts; and shows what technology readers require and where to find it. It provides comprehensive lists of audio and large-print publishers, a state-by-state listing of resource agencies for the blind, and valuable Internet resources to assist students, their teachers, and librarians in obtaining the texts they need to succeed in both academic and pleasure reading.
Beginning with thorough coverage of the national organizations in place for visually handicapped readers and how they can assist both students and librarians, A Field Guide for the Sight-Impaired Reader (ISBN 0-313-30969-8) outlines the types of technology available to readers and the companies that manufacture it. Available software, Braille resources, large-print resources, and Internet Web sites are all discussed in detail with contact information. Also included are reading strategies for a variety of academic subject areas, a detailed listing of state resources with addresses, phone numbers, and Web sites; an exhaustive list of audio publishers; and a list of books compiled from recommended reading lists such as the American Library Association's Outstanding Books for the College Bound. A discussion of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its impact on libraries is provided, as well as funding sources for librarians who want to provide more materials and technology for their sight-impaired patrons than their budgets allow.
To order using a major credit card, call (800) 225-5800; or send check made payable to Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 88 Post Road West, P.O. Box 5007, Westport, Connecticut 06881-5007, (203) 226-3571 or fax (203) 222-1502, or Web site <www.greenwood.com>. The book costs $49.95 plus applicable shipping and handling.
At its January 11, 2000, meeting, the Jefferson City Chapter of the NFB of Missouri elected Rita Lynch, President; Brian Wekamp, Vice President; Connie Taylor, Secretary; Betty Walker, Treasurer; and Joe Dobbs, John Donley, and LaVerne Toebben, Board Members.
International Exchange for SSI and VR Beneficiaries:
We have been asked to carry the following Announcement:
The Social Security Administration and Mobility International USA have joined together to ensure that people with disabilities and the professionals who work with them understand the importance of and options for international exchange as part of employment preparation. If a person with a disability receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and has the opportunity to participate in an international exchange program, he or she should apply to have benefits continued while abroad. A little-used SSI provision allows for the continuation of benefits while participating in an overseas educational program.
The Social Security Handbook states: "A student of any age may be eligible for SSI benefits while temporarily outside the U.S. for the purpose of conducting studies that are not available in the U.S., are sponsored by an educational institution in the U.S., and are designed to enhance the student's ability to engage in gainful employment. Such a student must have been eligible to receive an SSI benefit for the month preceding the first full month outside the U.S."
"There is no federal regulation that prohibits the funding of an international program as part of an individual's vocational rehabilitation plan," reports Mary Davis, Rehabilitation Program Specialist at the Rehabilitation Services Administration. "Each state has flexibility in the nature and scope of what activities they cover, but cost alone can never be the only reason to deny a particular program." She adds, however, "There does need to be a clear link between the international activity and the individual's vocational objective." It should also be clear that the experience is not available through participation in a domestic program. If a VR counselor agrees that the experience would be valuable and the VR department is supportive, it should be written into the vocational plan.
For more information contact Mobility International USA and the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, P.O. Box 10767, Eugene, Oregon 97440, phone (541) 343-1284 (voice/TTY), Fax (541) 343-6812, e-mail <[email protected]>, Web site <www.miusa.org>, or contact Georgia Thrower, Social Security Administration, 112 Altmeyer Building, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235, phone, (410) 965-3987, Fax, (410) 965-9063, e-mail <[email protected]>, Web-site, <www.ssa.gov>
The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) conducted its annual meeting at the close of October, 1999, hosted by the National Federation of the Blind in Annapolis, Maryland. Those elected to serve as officers during 2000 were Phyllis H. Campana, Chairperson; Eileen Curran, Vice Chairperson; Frances Mary D'Andrea, Secretary; and Susan Reilly, Treasurer. BANA can now be found on the Internet at <www.brailleauthority.org>. Principles of Print to Braille Translation 1997 (Volume 1: Rules) is now available on the Web at <www.brl.org>, a site maintained by the Shodor Foundation under the auspices of BANA. A link to the site is maintained on BANA's Web site.
The American Printing House for the Blind has now provided BANA permanent office space. The new mailing address for BANA is P.O. Box 6085, Louisville, Kentucky 40206. Any mail or inquiries may be sent to this address.
At the November 2 to 5, 1999, meeting of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) in Baltimore, Maryland, which was hosted by the National Federation of the Blind, the following officers were elected: Betty Niceley, President; Darleen Bogart, Vice President; Raeleen Smith, Secretary; Kim Charlson, Treasurer; Reinette Popplestone, Public Relations; and William Poole, Jean Obi, and Bruce Maguire, Members-at-large.
Stand Up and Be Counted:
We have been asked to give you the following information:
The United States Census 2000 is coming. The census questionnaire is sent to every residence in the United States. By completing your census questionnaire, you help insure that your community and your needs are not forgotten. Census data are used to distribute millions of dollars for schools, hospitals, community centers, healthcare, childcare, and facilities for sick or disabled persons.
The questionnaire will arrive at your home during the month of March. The Census Bureau uses two different questionnaire forms. You will receive either a D-1 short form that comes in an envelope about the size of a half sheet of paper containing a cover letter, a return envelope, and a large piece of paper folded in thirds or a D-2 long form in an eight-by-eleven envelope. Inside is a questionnaire booklet and a return envelope that are also eight-by-eleven.
If you need help in completing the form you receive, either have a relative, friend, neighbor, caregiver, etc., assist you or call (800) 471-9424. To use the Web at <www.2000.census.gov> to complete the questionnaire, be sure to have your ID code from the census form label available.
The Austin Chapter of the NFB of Texas elected officers at its January meeting. They are Zena Pearcy, President; Wanda Hamm, First Vice President; Mary Ward, Second Vice President; Norma Gonzales Baker, Secretary; Margaret (Cokie) Craig, Treasurer; and Angela Sasser and Diane Domingue, Board Members.
Attention Blind Gardeners:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Blind Gardeners is an e-mail discussion group for blind and visually impaired people interested in gardening. Discussion topics include gardening in general, problems unique to blind and visually impaired gardeners, the availability, quality, and speech accessibility of gardening CD's, gardening books in other formats, and what to do with the produce of the garden.
To subscribe to the group, send an e-mail to <[email protected]>. Be sure to leave the subject line and body of the message blank. Also be sure to include the hyphens in the address.
To post messages to the group after you subscribe, send them to <[email protected]>. Be sure to include the hyphen in the address.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Alaska Center for the Blind is looking for an adventuresome, flexible rehabilitation teacher to assume the job as Braille instructor. Blind or visually impaired candidates preferred. Send resume and cover letter to Carolyn Peter, Executive Director, Alaska Center for the Blind, 3903 Taft Drive, Anchorage, Alaska 99517. We are hoping to fill this position as soon as possible.
New Cookbook Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Are you sick of spending hours scouring books, magazines, and libraries for that perfect recipe you can never seem to find? Wouldn't it be nice to have over seventy delicious, quick and exquisite recipes in just one book? I Can See Books now offers Delicious Desserts, in Braille or on computer disk, a brand‑new cookbook filled with over seventy classic and new tasty recipes. The book costs $13.95 (U.S.) and can be ordered from I Can See Books, 88 Captain Morgans Boulevard, Nanaimo, British Columbia, V9R 6R1 Canada, Phone (250) 616‑7414, e‑mail <[email protected]>, Web site: <www.icanseebooks.com> or <www.braillebookstore.com>.
Free Texts from the Jewish Heritage for the Blind Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Jewish Heritage for the Blind announces the availability of a new large-print Megilas Esther, as well as the Braille edition of Rabbi Shrage Feivel Mendlowitz, zt'l, free of charge for the visually impaired. Mail or fax your request to the Jewish Heritage for the Blind, 1655 East 24th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11229, fax (718) 338-0653. A doctor's note is not required. Supply is limited to one per family.
Hoping to Buy:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I am seeking Double Talk external hardware, which would facilitate JAWS for DOS or a PCMCI internal card for my 486 Toshiba laptop computer. You may e-mail Joe Morgan at <[email protected]>.
Skits on Tape for Sale:
The Nebraska Association of Blind Students has produced a cassette containing two original skits written by several of its members, produced by Easy Street Studios and performed at the Nebraska state convention during the last two years. The titles of these skits are "The Blind People's Court" and "Changing TV's Channel." They seek to entertain and educate people about blindness and Federation philosophy. Spoofing the popular TV program "The People's Court," the first skit uses humor to illustrate the need for blind people to take responsibility for themselves. The second skit depicts a young blind man learning about his blindness through popular television shows.
The cassette contains both skits on each side. Side A is in stereo sound, and side B is in mono so as to be compatible with NLS or APH players. To obtain a copy of this cassette, send a check or money order for $5 per cassette, payable to NABS. Mail orders to Mike Hansen, President, Nebraska Association of Blind Students, Apt. #5, 910 South 22nd Street, Lincoln, NE 68510. If you have further questions please call Mike Hansen at (402) 475‑1280, or email Ryan Osentowski at <[email protected]>.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
An Optacon I in working condition, asking $700. If interested call Leah Zamora at (305) 237-1313 between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. or call (305) 362-1219 after 6:00 p.m.
I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.