THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 46, No. 2 February 2003
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
Web site address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® number: 1-888-882-1629
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
Louisville Site of 2003 NFB Convention!
The 2003 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, June 28-July 5. We will conduct the convention at the Galt House Hotel and the Galt House East Tower, a first-class convention hotel. The Galt House Hotel, familiarly called the Galt House West, is at 140 N. Fourth Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. The Galt House East Tower, or Galt House East, is at 141 N. Fourth Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. Room rates for this year's convention are excellent: singles, doubles, and twins $57 and triples and quads $63 a night, plus tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2003. The other 50 percent is not refundable. For reservations call the hotel at (502) 589‑5200.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made to secure these rooms before June 1, 2003, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold the block of rooms for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
Our overflow hotel is the Hyatt Regency at 320 W. Jefferson Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202, phone (502) 587‑3434.
Those who attended the 2002 convention can testify to the gracious hospitality of the Galt House. This hotel has excellent restaurants, first-rate meeting space, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Louisville, close to the Ohio River and only seven miles from the Louisville Airport.
The 2003 convention will follow what many think of as our usual schedule:
Saturday, June 28Seminar Day
Sunday, June 29 Registration Day
Monday, June 30 Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 1Opening Session
Wednesday, July 2 Tour Day
Thursday, July 3 Banquet Day
Friday, July 4Business Session
Plan to be in Louisville;
The action of the convention will be there!
Vol. 46, No. 2 February 2003
All Feet on the Street:
NAC-Tracking in the 21st Century
by Carla McQuillan
NAC in Isolation
by Peggy Elliott
A Threat or a Promise?
by Marc Maurer
From One World into Another
by Ahmed Chaing with Debbie Kent Stein
Kentucky Department of Education Attacks School for the Blind
by Pauletta Feldman
Kentucky Rallies to Save the Kentucky School for the Blind
by Lora J. Felty
In the Corner
by Patti Gregory‑Chang
The Kentucky Country: Land of Tomorrow
by Pamela Roark-Glisson
Copyright © 2003 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO: This is the way our National Research and Training Institute for
the Blind looked in mid-January of 2003. Both the south face (right), on Wells
Street, and the west face, on Byrd Street, are visible. On the Wells Street
side the crew is beginning to construct the outer walls, which have been framed,
clad with plywood, and covered with Tyvek®, an opaque plastic sheeting to prevent
air penetration. These areas will later be covered with red brick in a design
similar to that visible on the Byrd Street side of the building (left).
[LEAD PHOTO: This is the way our National Research and Training Institute for the Blind looked in mid-January of 2003. Both the south face (right), on Wells Street, and the west face, on Byrd Street, are visible. On the Wells Street side the crew is beginning to construct the outer walls, which have been framed, clad with plywood, and covered with Tyvek®, an opaque plastic sheeting to prevent air penetration. These areas will later be covered with red brick in a design similar to that visible on the Byrd Street side of the building (left).
The fourth floor (left) and the mechanical equipment room (right) on the top
of the building show the various stages of EIFS (Exterior Insulation Finishing
System). This is a four-step process with glasboard on the inside, followed
by two inches of Styrofoam-like outsulation, a troweled ground coat of cement-like
material, and finally a troweled finish coat, which is green.
The fourth floor (left) and the mechanical equipment room (right) on the top of the building show the various stages of EIFS (Exterior Insulation Finishing System). This is a four-step process with glasboard on the inside, followed by two inches of Styrofoam-like outsulation, a troweled ground coat of cement-like material, and finally a troweled finish coat, which is green.
Some of the columns and beams visible along Wells Street are white instead
of red steel like the rest. These have already been fireproofed. Roofing was
well underway when the winter weather interrupted that part of the construction.
Some of the columns and beams visible along Wells Street are white instead of red steel like the rest. These have already been fireproofed. Roofing was well underway when the winter weather interrupted that part of the construction.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Federationists protesting NAC marched on two picket lines outside
the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tampa.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Federationists protesting NAC marched on two picket lines outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tampa.]
All Feet on the Street:
NAC-Tracking in the 21st Century
by Carla McQuillan
From the Editor: Carla McQuillan is a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the NFB of Oregon. She was also one of the organizers of the December 13 and 14 demonstration in opposition to the National Accreditation Council Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC). Well over a decade has elapsed since the NFB's last picket outside a NAC meeting. Many Federationists, particularly those who have joined the organization during the intervening years, have expressed real regret at having missed participating in what came to be known as the highlight of the fall social season. For this reason, when word began spreading in November that once more, perhaps for the final time, the call was going out for Federationists to put a hold on their holiday preparations and head for Tampa, Florida, in the middle of December, an almost palpable shiver of anticipation rippled across the country. Reservations began pouring in until almost three hundred people had made arrangements to rally in Tampa to deliver the message to the blindness field that, important as quality, categorical services are, reviving NAC is not the way to ensure them. Here is Carla McQuillan's account of the events outside the NAC meeting room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel December 13 and 14:
I became a member of the Federation late in 1988, and, though I have heard many stories about and songs written for NAC-tracking, I never actually had the opportunity to attend any of the protests myself. That changed this past December in Tampa, Florida. Festivities began with a general strategy session Thursday evening led by Jim Gashel and Diane McGeorge. From the start spirits and energy were high. Members throughout the room could be heard calling out the letters that spelled their home states and generally displaying pride in the Federation. This fairly rowdy gang was quickly organized into three teams of protesters--each led by prominent members of the Federation. In the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, the teams were identified as red, green, and white. Marshals were assigned to organize the lines of marchers, direct traffic, and maintain order.
Jim announced that 8:30 to 10:30 Friday morning would be, in his words, "all feet on the street," meaning that all three teams would march together to welcome the summit participants and make sure they recognized that blind people do not approve of their attempt to revive NAC. From 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., teams would take turns in two‑hour shifts, culminating in the final all-feet-on-the-street effort in honor of NAC's cocktail hour and reception. After some discussion of plans and settling of details, the assembled crowd was serenaded by the NAC Choir, with its most recent hit, "Hark! The Last Few NACsters Sing," written by Peggy Elliott (sung to the tune of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing").
Hark! The last few NACsters sing,
Ease to agencies we bring.
All you have to do is pay
Enormous sums without delay.
We won't listen to your clients.
We'll just brand them as defiant.
Evidence of wrongs and crimes
We'll overlook for bucks and dimes.
Hark! The blind have this to say,
NAC, be gone as of today!
Following the strategy meeting, various task groups met to finish sign construction, make plastic ponchos against the forecast of rain, organize marchers, etc. The marshals were scheduled to meet at 8:15 a.m. Friday to study the streets around the hotel and plan specific marching routes. The light rain that had been falling Thursday evening became a storm during the night. The rain was falling hard and steadily when the marshals met Friday morning, causing Jim Gashel and Diane McGeorge to consider alternatives to marching on the sidewalk, in order to avoid exposure to the severe weather. We finally decided that the teams would gather at each of the three hotel entrances, which all had large overhangs.
Peggy Elliott and I were the leaders of what we dubbed the "Green Machine." We were assigned the main hotel entrance. After shuffling nearly eighty people into cramped quarters on either side of the entrance to avoid blocking the passage of other guests, we noticed that the wind and rain had eased up a bit. Not having heard whether the hotel would permit us to remain at the entrances (an idea that I was confident would not go over well with the hotel management), I decided to test the crowd's resolve. "How many of you would be interested in getting a little wet by marching out on the street as originally planned?" I asked. The cheers that greeted this suggestion from Green Machine members were deafening. My heart swelled with pride in our great Federation. These people had traveled from thirty-eight states across the country to make their protest heard, and no amount of water and wind was going to discourage them.
I rallied the team and set off ahead of them west across the hotel unloading zone towards the grassy knoll between the parking lot and the sidewalk that paralleled Westshore Drive in front of the hotel. As I crested the hill and began my descent toward our post, I suddenly became aware that the sidewalk had been covered by a three‑inch pool of water. A local resident later told me that Tampa rarely has rainstorms of this magnitude, and the city's storm-sewer system had been unable to rise to the challenge.
I made a quick retreat, rejoined my team, and directed the troops south, across the hotel parking lot, toward Cypress, the street running perpendicular to Westshore Drive. As I approached the corner of Cypress and Westshore Drive, I noticed that the lake extended approximately twenty feet from the corner up Cypress, after which the sidewalk re‑emerged with only occasional puddles. This left a marching zone of approximately forty feet, bordered on the west by water and on the east by a hotel driveway.
We waded through a few inches of water toward higher ground. The Green Machine then began its elliptical march up and down Cypress, raising signs and chanting such slogans as "NAC, go back; your standards don't mean jack!" Just as we were getting into a fine protest mode, we were joined by members of the red and white teams, who had been directed to join us on the streets. Eighty people marching on a forty‑foot stretch of sidewalk must limit their strides. As more and more of our colleagues joined us, the marching necessarily slowed to a crawl.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Picketers display their signs and serenade Tampa's morning
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Picketers display their signs and serenade Tampa's morning rush-hour traffic.]
For a time, caught between the lake and a driveway, we stopped our march and lined up members four and five deep from sidewalk to curb, facing Cypress, and singing "Hark! The Last Few NACsters Sing." It may not have been as interesting as blind people marching, but the media were about, and we thought it would be more dignified than stumbling over each other as we attempted to navigate our tiny island of dry land. Sometime around ten a.m., the water subsided, and we were able to march to the end of Cypress. We were also able to set up another line on Westshore Drive, making two complete ellipses of marching, sign-waving protesters.
We had duplicated a number of copies of an informational flyer to hand out to the general public but quickly noticed that there was virtually no foot traffic in the area. Once the rain and wind had died down a bit, we sent Federationists out to all four corners of Cypress and Westshore Drive to hand flyers through the windows of cars stopped at traffic lights. Over the course of the day, our leafleters developed a technique that proved extremely effective. They would wait at the corner, and, when cars stopped at the traffic lights, they walked down the line of cars, facing the drivers and waving the flyers at the windows. The car windows would roll down, and flyers would be tossed in. In this way they worked their way up the street. The busy intersection allowed three to five minutes to work in each cycle of lights. In this way we were able to distribute about twenty-five hundred leaflets explaining our position and calling upon members of the community to help put a stop to NAC accreditation in Florida.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Santa and Mrs. Claus joined our protest against NAC.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Santa and Mrs. Claus joined our protest against NAC.]
To top off the mood and the season, Kevan and Brigitte Worley came out in full Santa and Mrs. Claus garb with NAC signs and white cane in hand, waving and ho-ho-ho‑ing at the passersby. Every now and then a car or truck horn sounded as the vehicle drove past, and answering cheers welled up among the marchers. The recognition and support from observers definitely helped to revitalize the marchers and energize the chanting. Occasionally cars even honked in rhythm with our chants. This was particularly popular among the crowd. As the day wore on, the crowd became more creative with its chants and songs: "NAC, NAC, what a snack! Chew 'em up and spit 'em back!" and "I don't know, but I've been told, NAC is smellin' mighty old."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Every marcher wore a cheerful button saying, "All I want for Christmas is no more NAC!" Here two Federationists can be seen wearing their buttons.]
At 10:30 a.m. the red team was scheduled to stay on the line, while white and green took a break. Many of our members, however, stayed at work and marched far beyond their required time. Around eleven a.m. Federation leaders got word that the NACsters intended to break for lunch a little early, since many of them had not been able to get breakfast that morning due to the number of Federationists occupying the restaurant. Not wanting these poor, isolated folks to eat alone, many of us gathered at the hotel restaurant between 11:00 and 11:30 a.m. to greet them as they came in for lunch. Of course it never occurred to us that this friendly gesture would slow down their service and prevent them from reconvening on time.
At 12:30 p.m. the Green Machine came on duty, followed at 2:30 p.m. by the white team. Then at 4:30 p.m. it was all feet on the street again. A committee was established to collect signs from one team and hand them out to the next. Aside from several of the signs meeting an untimely death due to saturation and other abuse from the gusty weather, these transitions occurred with amazing efficiency. Throughout the day I ran back and forth, checking with the marshals positioned at the end and center of each ellipse, trying to give breaks to those who needed them and maintaining the integrity of the lines. As was the case with our protest in Portland in October, I was impressed with the stamina, dedication, and lung capacity of our members. Those who attended should be proud, and those who didn't should plan to participate in any such events occurring in the future.
NAC-tracking is exhausting work that demands constant attention to what you are doing, creativity and timing to switch chants at the right moment, and unflagging determination. Many on the lines had made real sacrifices to be there because we had never been a part of such NAC-tracking demonstrations in the seventies and eighties. I must say, however, that the old hands definitely demonstrated the value of experience and the determination that has fueled our resistance to all that NAC stands for in the way of condescension toward real blind consumers and the arrogance of a system that gives lip service to high standards but is never serious about enforcing them.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: After snarling traffic for a while, the Tampa police prepare
to leave the marchers in peace.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: After snarling traffic for a while, the Tampa police prepare to leave the marchers in peace.]
Shortly after 4:30 p.m. we counted approximately 250 NFB members marching up Westshore Drive, around the corner to Cypress, and back again. It was then that we received a visit from Tampa's finest. In fact not one, two, three, or even four police cars came by‑‑there were five law enforcement vehicles and several other officers who ostensibly came to ensure that we did not disrupt traffic during rush hour on Friday evening. They attempted to achieve this goal by randomly parking their cars in the middle of the street. Two cars parked in the middle of the left turn lane on Cypress, with doors left open and officers milling about in a rather leisurely way.
If I were suspicious by nature, I might have suspected that someone attending the NAC meeting had notified the local authorities and suggested that we were causing trouble‑‑but I'm not suspicious. The officers remained in the vicinity for about a half hour, monitoring our activities and telling our leafleters to stay out of the streets. After some time had passed with no significant disturbance, the officers reentered their vehicles and drove into the sunset one by one. We were left to continue our protest unfettered. The loudest cheer of the day went to a black and white that drove by that evening, blaring its horn in support of our cause.
Friday evening we met to discuss the day's events and look at the schedule for Saturday. Dr. Harold Snider and Dick Davis, who observed the NAC meeting, gave a report of the events. (For details, see the article by Peggy Elliott elsewhere in this issue.) Harold has recorded the NAC meetings graced by our picketers for many years. Dick Davis, as a sighted member, was assigned to assist him by identifying meeting participants when necessary, making visual observations, and taking written notes while Harold monitored the equipment.
While giving their report of the summit, they brought the house down with one statement and confirmed our conviction that NAC members are still mired in the old medical model of blind people as patients who require care and protection by the trained professionals. Harold and Dick told us that during the introductions Dick had been identified as "Dr. Snider's attendant." The Tampa paper published a story Saturday morning quoting NAC president Steve Obremski to the effect that allowing blind people to take a significant part in the standard-setting process would be like inviting hospital patients to set the rules for hospital care. Setting aside the fact that contemporary hospital management makes a point of seeking out patient and family participation in developing hospital practice, Obremski's quote and Dick Davis's identification as an attendant spoke more compellingly about NAC attitudes than any amount of protestation about NAC's wanting a consumer representative from the NFB at the table for their discussions.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Jim Gashel addresses the Friday evening meeting. In front of
him is the NAC headstone propped in front of the podium, and the NAC casket
leaning against the table.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Jim Gashel addresses the Friday evening meeting. In front of him is the NAC headstone propped in front of the podium, and the NAC casket leaning against the table.]
The highlight of our evening session was a rehearsal funeral for NAC. Pallbearers carried in a cardboard casket for NAC. Brother Ray McGeorge read the inscription on the cardboard headstone, Brother Kevan Worley conducted and narrated the event, and Sister Peggy Elliott delivered a brief but memorable eulogy for NAC. The NAC Memorial Choir offered a stirring rendition of the funeral dirge sung with the following words repeated mournfully: "NAC be gone; you have hurt the blind too long!" The members assembled joined in solemn reflection and harmony. A rehearsal of the NAC Memorial Choir and an evening of celebration and fellowship followed the meeting.
The next morning NAC met to conduct its annual meeting. "All feet on the street" was the order of the day from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. This time the chants were interspersed with the NAC funeral dirge. The chants were even more creative: "From their head down to their toes, NAC's begun to decompose." We also had the opportunity to hear reports of the articles that appeared in several local papers. The Green Machine was scheduled to march until 12:30 p.m., at which time the other two teams came back for a grand finale. At one p.m. we packed up our signs and our bags and headed home.
So, after years of hearing anecdotes and stories from NAC-trackers, I can finally count myself among those who have fought the tyranny of a system that has worked to preserve the status quo and has looked the other way when agencies destroyed the lives of the blind people they were charged with helping. In future years I will be among the old-timers who regale the youngsters with my own tales of the NAC wars, for it is possible that we heard the death rattle of NAC in December of 2002. I pray we do not see its like again.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott]
NAC in Isolation
by Peggy Elliott
From the Editor: Those unfamiliar with the history of the blindness field undoubtedly find the vehemence of Federationists' reaction to the National Accreditation Council (NAC) somewhat surprising. Even newer NFB members from the vast areas of the country that no longer have to fear the negative effects of NAC's influence on agency service delivery sometimes find it hard to believe that NAC could ever have posed a significant threat or might do so again.
The danger to blind people was very real twenty years ago in NAC's heyday, and blind people are painfully aware that, until the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired ceases to exist, the threat inherent in NAC's possible revival is still serious.
Peggy Elliott is second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and a close observer of NAC since the early seventies. She listened to the recordings made of the recent NAC meetings and prepared the following analysis of the discussions. The information offered here is complicated in places. Chapters should seriously consider forming study groups to discuss the article. This is what Peggy has to say:
The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC) has not been much in the news in recent years. Many knowledgeable professionals and blind people are startled when the subject of NAC is raised. Common reactions range from "I thought they had disbanded years ago" to "What is NAC?" NAC, having apparently noticed its image problem, decided to call what it termed a "summit" on Friday, December 13, 2002, the day preceding its biennial corporate meetings for its membership and board on Saturday, December 14, 2002, in Tampa, Florida. Having long opposed NAC, the National Federation of the Blind decided to picket the Tampa meeting.
Interested readers can find a description of the picket elsewhere in this issue; this report is confined to an analysis of the NAC summit--a term used for convenience and not because of its accuracy--based on the reports of observers in the room and on tape recordings of the proceedings. This report will cover both the summit and the next morning's membership meeting; the subsequent board meeting and executive committee deliberations were closed to observers, though no reason was given. This has always been standard practice with NAC--talk about openness but make sure that all decisions are made in secret.
A total of thirty-five people were present in the room for the summit, in contrast to the nearly three hundred protesters outside. For the most part, as described more fully below, these participants were people of good will whose intentions were sincere and whose motives were beneficent. The fact that most missed the point of what was happening is attributable largely to the design of the summit and not to any fault of the participants. With this in mind, most speakers will not be identified by name since their identities cannot add to the description of what happened, while their comments are often telling for what they did not say as much as for what they did.
Five exceptions to this rule of anonymity will be observed: Carl Augusto, executive director of the American Foundation for the Blind; Charles Crawford, executive director of the American Council of the Blind; Lee Robinson, new president of NAC and superintendent of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind; Steven Obremski, outgoing NAC president and executive director of the Iris Network in Portland, Maine; and Paul Edwards, immediate past president of the American Council of the Blind and incoming NAC board member.
The National Federation of the Blind chose not to participate in the summit and sent no representatives to the meeting room, although two Federation observers were present throughout the public portions of the NAC meetings. Some might say it comes with ill grace for the Federation to criticize NAC outside its meetings without offering the benefit of its analysis at the table. Federationists would reply that the analysis has been extensive and public. Fortunately, this difference of approach need not detain us since at the summit table Carl Augusto offered a succinct and dispassionate view of NAC with which the picketers outside would have agreed. So, though the Federation did not carry the message to the table, the message was delivered. The reaction of the summiteers is available in the pages of this report.
Charles Crawford of the American Council of the Blind provided the summit with some vintage Crawford material marked by his now familiar attitude toward the National Federation of the Blind; his wearyingly repeated claim that two or three people referred to as "Baltimore" run the Federation, the rest of the membership functioning as brainwashed puppets for "Baltimore"; and his customary conviction that anger and crudity move audiences. Anyone who has not yet experienced Crawford's predictable substance and style in person can sample it vicariously later in this report.
The incoming NAC president, Lee Robinson, made a significant contribution to political science, sociology, or perhaps mathematics, depending on one's reading of his analysis. The outgoing NAC president, Steven Obremski, contributed some valuable historical validation for the Federation's oft-repeated criticisms of NAC in his closing moments as NAC's president. Some of Paul Edwards's contributions to the summit are also provided. A sampling of the contributions of other meeting participants also appear later in this report.
NAC: A Primer
For those who really do not know what NAC is, here is a short history. In the early 1960's various professionals in the blindness field, led and largely funded by the American Foundation for the Blind to the tune of nearly half a million dollars, conceived the idea of an accreditation body for agencies in the blindness field. An occasional Federationist or blind client or professional was invited to the occasional committee meeting, and fieldwide unanimity was claimed for the idea of accreditation. NAC granted its first accreditations in 1967 based on the standards thus developed by the committees and then applied by on-site review teams.
From the beginning Federationists doubted the value of NAC's standards. We urged the importance of having knowledgeable consumer representatives deeply involved in shaping standards and accreditation, but our participation was barely tolerated. Our representatives to committees were expected to participate without access to the reams of print material. Then NFB president Kenneth Jernigan agreed to serve on the NAC board, but was routinely ostracized and attacked. He finally resigned in 1971 when it became clear that NAC officials had no interest in taking consumer participation seriously.
During the seventies NAC closed its meetings to all observers for a time, made the decision not to publish the names of organizations failing to meet its standards in the mistaken belief that rejection should be confidential (who will take a standard seriously if violating it is never seen to have consequences?), and accredited agencies known to pay less than the minimum wage or to condescend to blind clients or to be the subject of governmental investigations into allegations of embezzlement, sexual abuse, and even negligence leading to death. It attempted to have state and federal funding to agencies conditioned on having NAC accreditation. In other words, NAC's name came to be associated with arrogance in the delivery of services and synonymous with the view that anyone serving blind people professionally was above reproach and not subject to scrutiny. Yet, in its self-defined "universe of agencies," which it estimated at 500, NAC accredited only 106 at its height.
During these years agency after agency chose not to seek NAC accreditation or chose to drop it. As a result, today thirty states of the fifty-two (including D.C. and Puerto Rico) are NAC-free; and, at the start of NAC's December summit, only forty-five agencies were accredited. During the three decades in which NAC rose briefly and then fell on hard times, the NFB was developing its own approach to blindness, adjustment-to-blindness training, employment services, opportunities for seniors, and the future of blind children. Gradually more and more agency professionals have discovered the strength and value derived from working with their clients as partners, both individually and through organizations of the blind. Where once they thought it sufficient to proclaim that they "were the best," agency directors and other professionals now routinely sit down with representatives of blind people and ask: "What do we need to do to improve?"
Instead of developing as a standard-driven field, the blindness field has moved into an interactive model in which professionals more and more respect and seek partnerships with the people they serve, who then, when satisfied, can help to create or protect separate agency structures and to protect or increase funding streams both private and public. NAC's model, cast in the 1960's, would have had the field ruled by professionals because they knew what was best for the blind. Instead, through the steady and effective advocacy of the NFB, the blind are now often a desired partner at the table.
NAC has long maintained that the Federation's opposition to NAC grows out of opposition to accreditation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Federation believes fervently in high standards, in improved service to blind people, and in categorical services to the blind. Everyone in the field knows it was the Federation that saved vocational rehabilitation from Congressional destruction in the 1990's. The Federation's position very simply is: NAC standards are minimal, meaningless, and intended to keep blind people away from the table. To get real improvement, start with getting rid of NAC and then invite knowledgeable clients and consumer representatives to the table. NAC's adherents do not see the world this way and have long chosen to accuse the Federation of opposing standards and quality, in an attempt to marginalize the Federation's criticism.
When meeting participants sat down on December 13 in Tampa, they found themselves in a room of thirty-five people, all of whom were on the by-invitation-only list prepared by NAC. Three of these people were self-described observers, and another was the meeting facilitator, a man aggressively willing to support the NAC president and the executive director, who had hired him, but who was nonetheless not technically a participant. This left thirty-one participants, of whom sixteen have a formal relationship with NAC's corporate structure: thirteen were members of NAC's board (some just completing service, some newly elected, and some in mid-term), and three were otherwise NAC functionaries (two serving on NAC's Commission on Accreditation and one as NAC's executive director). In addition, eight accredited agencies other than those represented by board members had officials in the room, meaning that twenty-four of the thirty-one meeting participants had some formal connection with NAC and could be expected to validate it.
When NAC's plans for its 2002 summit were announced, students of the history of the blindness field took note. In the creation of NAC, the Federation had appointments to a few committees, but its participation can only be described as that of a tiny minority of the people who collectively called NAC into being. Now in 2002 NAC sought once again to put one Federation person at the table with numerous others, all of whom were convinced of the value of NAC. Apparently NAC thinks this appropriate; obviously the Federation does not.
Here's President Obremski on the subject: "They [the Federation] were invited to participate in this meeting, and they were involved. They did receive an invitation to be here. Dr. Snider is here as an observer as a result of that invitation. So I don't know what else NAC can do, but I hope that we as a field can do something and find some way to work together for the betterment of services for people who are blind and visually impaired and the continuation of specialized services."
Many in the field might wish to reply to this by saying that, in fact, the field has largely taken care of that task already by ignoring NAC and beginning to work directly with organizations of the blind. Obremski seems to have missed this development and also seems to believe, as do many other meeting participants, that the only way to improve standards in the field is to improve NAC. In today's world of improved relations with clients and improved services over those of thirty years ago, this notion seems quaintly outdated.
What Is a Summit?
NAC termed this meeting of thirty-one a summit. Other phrases such as "foregone conclusion" and "sure thing" come more readily to mind, given the make-up of the participant list.
Summits are more commonly thought of as meetings which bring together evenly balanced teams from two sides of very difficult issues; for example, the summits between the American and Soviet chief executives during the Cold War. Summits do not always yield results and are often more notable for the discussion than for conclusions. NAC's summit met none of these criteria. Instead, NAC's summit brought together people largely persuaded of the value of NAC and asked them to discuss the value of NAC. The result was hardly astonishing. What was astonishing was Carl Augusto's contribution.
Confusion of Roles
Before detailing Augusto's comments, we should summarize the first several hours of the summit. Participants, prodded by the already persuaded facilitator, outlined, reviewed, re-hashed, reiterated, articulated, and voiced their support for standards. Really. That's what they did. Occasionally a participant would add that specialized standards were also important, in fact, probably even more important than standards in general. After a while this constant reiteration apparently hypnotized the participants, and they began to tell each other that the existence of NAC was the only way that specialized services for blind people would be preserved. No one actually claimed that NAC was responsible for specialized services in the first place, but a large majority of participants stated that having NAC was essential to the preservation of specialized services. Several went so far as to say that, should NAC for some reason cease to exist, specialized services would also cease to exist.
The entire morning session can be boiled down to these propositions, repeated over and over:
Standards are good.
Specialized standards are optimal.
Specialized services for the blind are essential.
Specialized services cannot survive without NAC.
Participants occasionally departed slightly from the text to mention related threads such as the importance of improving the quality of service to blind people. Any mention of improving services would draw the response that only NAC can bring about improvement in services, and then the general themes would reemerge.
As mentioned earlier, the participants seemed sincere, genuine, and committed to what they said. The problem they faced was that they were speaking to others equally convinced of their basic propositions. Their beliefs and reasoning could not be tested in the crucible of real debate since they all thought pretty much the same thing. The only astonishing development was the notion that NAC must thrive for specialized services to survive. That was a new one, and it really seemed to delight meeting participants.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Carl Augusto]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Carl Augusto]
Carl Augusto's Contributions
Carl Augusto made a heroic attempt to change all that, and he waited until mid-afternoon, possibly to see if any other meeting participants would try the novel approach of a reality check before he did. No one did. Though his statements, four in all, were delivered dispassionately and with the clarity of logic and a strict use of data notably out of keeping with the rest of the meeting, his comments went largely unanswered as meeting participants, after politely noting the remarks, simply went back to the morning's themes. Here are Carl Augusto's remarks , transcribed from actual tapes of the meeting. Pellucid in themselves, these comments need no explication beyond the actual words.
First speech: ". . . The American Foundation for the Blind was one of two founders of NAC. The Rehabilitation Services Administration (under a different name) and AFB came together, and AFB has been the largest financial supporter of NAC, supporting NAC for the first twenty or so years of its existence. I worked at the National Accreditation Council for ten years out of my career, and I was a supporter of what NAC stood for; I was a supporter of its standards and a supporter of its accreditation process. And I saw how NAC positively affected the agencies and schools that were willing to submit themselves to the process. When I left NAC, I came to Cincinnati and ran the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and was very happy that it was accredited, and if it wasn't, I would have pursued accreditation. I saw first-hand from another perspective how accreditation could benefit an agency for the blind, and I felt it was very beneficial in all aspects of accreditation.
"But with this background, I think this organization, NAC, and this board need to face a reality. And I think I know what this reality is, and I think maybe many of you know what the reality is, but maybe some of the nonblindness members of the board don't know the reality. There are some things that need to be said. First of all, the purpose of accreditation is to improve the overall level of functioning among the organizations that are eligible to apply. It is not just for one; it's not for ten if there are more than fifty or sixty. The purpose of accreditation is to improve the overall level of functioning for organizations. You can argue this point the rest of today and tomorrow.
"There are four hundred to five hundred agencies that are eligible to be accredited. So accreditation doesn't work unless there is a critical mass of those organizations that are willing to apply. A critical mass is not one hundred in my opinion. You might say that out of four hundred, five hundred, a critical mass might be two hundred, two-fifty. Maybe, if there were that many, there would be a stigma attached to those who don't apply. NAC reached its pinnacle in 1984 with 106 organizations. The number of accredited organizations has diminished since then. Now at this point there are forty-five.
"You can't pin it all on the National Federation of the Blind. There are some four hundred organizations that have either never applied or don't want to apply now. Whether or not they agree with the NFB that NAC is irrelevant and/or dangerous, that is irrelevant. They are not applying. They're not going to apply. And the NFB will continue to oppose NAC. No matter what you do--if you become the most effective accrediting body as viewed by President Bush--the blindness field is going to stay away as it has stayed away. The numbers may increase to fifty, fifty-five if you do some incredible marketing campaign, but you're never going to achieve your objective--accreditation, the purpose of which is to improve the overall level of functioning of the organizations eligible to apply.
"This board needs to face the reality that, no matter how good NAC is or could be, it's not going to be effective, and I strongly urge its board of directors to dissolve the organization."
In response to a request for clarification about whether he thought this situation was "due to the opposition or due to the nature of the beast?" Augusto's answer was "due to the lack of demand now and for ever."
Second speech: "This is not a well-formed recommendation, but if I were to have a recommendation right now with a gun to my head, it would be that the board of directors of NAC make a decision to dissolve by a certain day in order to protect some of the agencies that are accredited now and that need to remain accredited and then to bring the blindness field together to help decide what the future of specialized accrediting should be. Removing the question of the future of NAC, I think, is absolutely essential. NAC or any other form of this organization--we have got to make it clear that NAC is gone, and any other form of NAC is gone, and give time for the blindness field to work together to determine whether or not there is enough of a consensus that an alternative approach, which could be CARF and/or regional accrediting bodies, is viable.
"I think it could be. Perhaps years from now there could be specialized accreditation that would be established with greater consensus in the field. Or the third alternative would be that the demand for specialized accreditation isn't great enough to even warrant a specialized accrediting body. But I don't think that we in this room can make that decision. I think NAC can make the decision that it will no longer exist--but it needs to have time to find a resolution to the specialized accreditation in our field--I think [it] would be a constructive way that the organization, meaning NAC, could fold its tent at the same time and try to work with the field on possible alternatives."
President Obremski immediately responded by saying: "The purpose of this meeting was to bring people together to discuss this specifically but also to see a commitment from the field that there will be a continuation of the development and implementation of specialized, disability-specific standards for people who are blind and visually impaired." In other words, while Obremski didn't cut Augusto off as he did others who tried to raise this topic, Augusto's comments were out of bounds, according to Obremski's definition of why the meeting was occurring, an unspoken definition that the Federation had assumed all along and was pleased to find Obremski articulating. It is, however, interesting to watch the NAC president treating the president of the American Foundation for the Blind exactly the way he treats Federationists--in effect saying, "If you're not going to say something with which I agree, then I'm going to say you are irrelevant."
Third speech: Another participant asked Augusto what is different now in his view beyond the number of accredited agencies. Augusto responded: "Other than one hundred six to forty-five? I don't think accreditation is in the news; it's not a central issue in the blindness field. It doesn't get around in terms of the most critical issues facing our field. I'm not sure how else to answer that question. I think the most important thing that has changed is that the organization has grown from a staff of fifteen and a budget of about $500,000 to a staff of two, that there are fewer and fewer agencies that want to be accredited, that the agencies that have dropped out, many of which are the larger agencies in this country; so there's been a lot of change in NAC and accreditation, but certainly the support for accreditation and for NAC just isn't reflected in those numbers. The fact that there are no sponsors when there used to be ten or eleven sponsors--and I would disagree with Paul Edwards; ACB was an official sponsor, and if that's not an endorsement, then I don't know what is in terms of endorsing a specific accrediting body."
Fourth speech: Several participants in a row mentioned some aspect of the following: They only knew NFB opposed NAC and didn't know why and didn't know if the NFB opposed accreditation generally or had more specific criticisms. One participant stated that, if the criticisms were specific, then NFB should be at the summit table as a player instead of outside picketing. Augusto responded to several contributors at once by saying: "What part of the sentence `NAC needs to go out of business' don't you understand? Because they've been saying that essentially consistently for ten, fifteen years now. Back in the early days, in 1971, it was `reform or dissolve.' That was their battle cry, or words to that effect. In the last ten, fifteen years they have said consistently--I don't think they have said anything different, Steve and Steve--that first of all `NAC needs to go away.' Yes, you could start a dialogue, but I'm wondering what you're hoping to hear from them that they haven't said very firmly in the last ten or fifteen years."
At the very end of the summit, Augusto attempted to raise with participants the growing trend against specialized standards as more and more entities subject to accreditation demand a single source for their accreditation. Several other summiteers casually dismissed this point as essentially showing that Augusto didn't know what he was talking about. Actually Augusto is right, and specialized accreditations for specialized services are coming under growing disfavor by entities seeking accreditations. These entities seek to satisfy, not every possible accreditor, but the fewest number possible to preserve funding and licensure.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Charles Crawford]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Charles Crawford]
ACB Represented Representatively
Charles Crawford of the American Council of the Blind was a meeting participant of a very different type. Again, in his own words as transcribed from meeting tapes, here are Crawford's three major contributions to the NAC summit. As mentioned previously, they also represent fairly the style Crawford has adopted in his capacity as ACB executive director--confrontational, abusive to those he dislikes, confusingly convoluted, and earthy.
First speech: "In determining the relevancy of NAC to the blindness system, there is a foundation that needs to be laid before you can answer that question. And I think that the foundation is: Are services to blind people important, do they make a difference in the life of blind people? If so, then something has to mediate those services to ensure that the level of services is appropriate to the needs of blind people. How you mediate those services is a multifaceted question because on the one part of it there is the consumer opinion, to be sure, and that is, you know, what do blind people think of the services they are getting? Are they meeting the need? Are they contemporaneous with what the experience for a blind person is, and do people want them? That's one level of questioning.
"If the answers are yes to all of those, then there has to be some consequences to that, which is that the services are valuable. If the services are valuable, then there needs to be the ability to protect and enhance and move those services along so that the maximum amount of blind people can benefit from them, if we are all agreed on the original foundation.
"If that's going to happen, there have to be mechanisms in place to make that happen, and NAC is one of those mechanisms to ensure that there is some reasonable expectancy of some level of quality and assurance that a person is going to get decent services if they cross state lines into a new jurisdiction. So from that perspective I don't think there is any question that NAC, or some entity doing more or less the same thing, is relevant and necessary. I do challenge, on the other hand--with all due respect to my fellow consumers in the National Federation of the Blind . . . but I'll be damned if I'm going to expect any organization to hold itself hostage to the interests of any one particular organization. Dialogue is dialogue and requires two parties or more to the discussion. It requires some level of good faith on all sides to respect the other side and come to common agreement. I don't for one minute expect that any organization--ACB or anybody else--should ever claim to have the exclusive right to truth and therefore hold the process hostage to their interests."
Second speech: Speaking shortly after Carl Augusto's second speech, Crawford had this to say:
"I disagree with Carl to some extent, and the extent of that disagreement is about--let me bastardize a phrase and say that opportunity abhors a vacuum. If NAC were to go away, the reasons for its existence would not, and what comes in its place may be a worse problem than what's left. Speaking from ACB's point of view, Paul [Edwards] is right that we have not endorsed NAC, but it's clear from our resolutions and history that we endorse having a level of assurance of quality in the preparation of professionals and the operations of agencies and even accreditation, so that, if we are then faced with an answer that says, well all right, we'll have a sort of pragmatic, tacit standard operating wherein (no offense, NFB) dog guides don't get allowed into these centers, or, if they do, they stay in the room all day, or people are forced to use sleep shades, or people are not allowed to use low-vision devices or people are told that the long white cane is the only solution for their life, and from my point of view that's not a standard. (It may be a standard, but it's certainly not acceptable to a large number of consumers inside and outside of ACB.)
"So we're not about to sit here and say, 'Well, okay, we'll endorse; just let the chips fall where they may.' What we are prepared to do is to acknowledge the good work of people around this table. You run agencies, and those agencies provide services to people who benefit from those services. So from our perspective, yeah, it's fine to come up with another model, but it's gotta be a model where everybody around the table gets a legitimate recognition of what their interests are, and ultimately the standards reflect that consensus, and we will not participate in an operation to simply drive the knife into the heart of the reasons why NAC was created."
Third speech: "I'm going to say this as gently as I can. First of all, I view what's going on outside as a legitimate exercise of an organization's point of view. It's also simultaneously a temper tantrum because they didn't get their way with regard to what this organization ought or ought not to do. I think we ought to be clear about that. In ACB we thought pedestrian safety was important. Some folks in Baltimore didn't. So what? We thought that descriptive video was important. Some folks in Baltimore didn't. So what? Point is that somebody can be a player, but, to be a player, you gotta have some good-faith involvement in the process. It's not 'my way or the highway.'
"From my perspective, if you guys were suddenly to decide, well, we've got to make sure these folks are happy and can come in and talk to us, and, golly, we need to be open about this--screw that! You've done more than enough in terms of inviting participation of that group, and, if the organization doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to simply say at some point: You got to fish or cut bait; either standards are worth it or they're not, then I'm not sure we want to be a player."
The New President Speaks
NAC elected a new president, whose service began following this meeting. Lee Robinson is superintendent of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, an institution much in the news recently in Utah because of parental allegations of physical and sexual assault on the institution's students. We have come to expect such incidents at NAC-accredited schools, just as we expect NAC's pretense that nothing is amiss when they occur. Robinson spoke up when the topic of support from the field of work with the blind arose, wading into the discussion two separate times with his own unique contribution and style. It is not clear whether Robinson, in his second speech, is plowing new ground in political science, sociology, or mathematics, perhaps all three. Here are his exact words:
First speech: "The demand [for accreditation] is also a function of time that's past. When we first started looking at changing our direction and investigating what might be possible, what became patently clear was that there were a lot of people in the field who didn't even know NAC existed. This was both true in both the education field as well as the rehabilitation field. My surmise is that that has a great deal to do with the current rapid turnover in the field, a whole new crop of people who are now performing these services, and in this day and age that happens very frequently and very often for economic and other kinds of reasons.
"Even if people at one time left NAC for their reasons, at this point in time I don't think that they even know what NAC is, what NAC has. They don't know the history, so I guess what I'm saying with all that is, when you say there is no demand or that it can't happen, I think first of all NAC has to be told that story. The second point that I would disagree with is, if you shut down this organization, how long will it take to gain, reestablish, construct all the things you want to do, and in the meantime several years, which I believe are terrifically important to a lot of folks, would be lost with no standards that anyone could look to. So time loss, and the fact that people just simply don't know all the things that I think many of us around the table are presupposing that they know about NAC just doesn't exist."
Various other participants at various times confirmed their agreement with Robinson that NAC's virtual invisibility in the field is a mere result of people not knowing about NAC. No one but Carl Augusto seemed to understand that people know enough about NAC and don't want any more. The "if we just educate, we'll survive" concept was repeated by numerous subsequent speakers.
Second speech (beginning his comments regarding the seeking of grant funding): "The thing that will kill a proposal, wherever it goes, is if you submit the proposal, and they specifically call somebody, or someone who they know on a personal level says, `I never heard of NAC,' or says `Uh, I don't know.' . . . There needs to be that sustained and supportive mass of agreement or support for where you want to go. I realize, and I agree with Carl [Augusto], that this is a critical piece of making a real outstanding success, and, as I mentioned earlier, what I part with him on is, I don't, I don't think other people know what NAC stands for. I think that support has to be garnered from people of the level of the people sitting around this table, and that's one of the reasons for calling this group together, I think. We need to not just listen to the Sterling report; we need to hear from folks like you [addressing other summit participants]. It's just critical.
"Well, put it from another perspective: in my state there have been times when one organization has gone looking for funds. And when they had the support of the rest, it was a given; when you have divisiveness amongst your own group, that's a problem. We all [unintelligible] have acknowledged that problem here today. There has to come a time when you can say, `We have 80 percent, 90 percent, 99 percent of the field behind this effort.' And if you can't get into those very high percentages, then, yeah, it's going to be a real tough pull."
Another summit participant interrupts to ask: "Do we have that--forty-five out of four hundred?" Robinson responds: "But that's not my point. Those are the ones who have taken the bullet and accredited; what about the people who don't know about NAC? What about the people who really believe in standards but just haven't had the gumption to come forth and support it? I think, if you took those numbers together, then, yes, we have it. I think the Sterling report said that; I think this group has said that."
In other words, Robinson asserts that, if you take the people who now support NAC, the people who don't know anything about NAC, and the people who don't care enough to know anything, then they all have some relation to NAC, and they can all be counted as supporting NAC, resulting in the conclusion that the entire field supports NAC. One's first reaction is to suppress incredulous laughter since the comment was meant sincerely. One's second reaction is to stand in bewildered awe before someone who builds his argument on the two classes of people, those who don't know and those who don't care. One's third and final reaction is to wonder just who thought of proposing a man for president of a frail and fragile organization who utters and believes such rank nonsense.
Perhaps the Federation should merely nod sagely and rejoice at this unexpected gift from the gods. Two things are certain: one is that Robinson is the only person who can actually believe that those who don't know and those who don't care can be counted as supporters. The other thing is that a very great many people in the field of work with the blind do indeed know and do care and oppose NAC.
A few minutes later, the summit falls to discussing whether consumer organizations should formally be invited to join NAC's board. No resolution is reached, but Robinson speaks up to state: "Organized consumer groups represent less than ten per cent of the population." He goes on to note that NAC already has blind people designated as consumers on its board.
Paul Edwards responds: "I think we have to be careful about discounting consumer organizations by saying they only represent 10 percent. Whether that's true or not (it may well be) I think there is an argument that can be made, and a fairly strong argument, that by default those organizations that have taken the time and trouble to work effectively with their members to develop consensus about what things should happen by default ought to be perceived to a much larger degree than one might think as speaking for the masses of individuals who are blind and visually impaired. Granted, there are loads of differences among blind folks, but I think we have to be careful about categorically arguing that we need to reach out for that 90 percent, because it isn't reachable."
While this is a bit convoluted, Edwards clearly has grasped the heart of the argument rooted in experience--the fact that people who don't join choose not to be represented. Edwards could have added the entire history of representative democracy to support his position. But Edwards is not the one who is going to sit in the president's chair; Robinson is. And to stretch credulity even further, because he has restricted vision, he will sit there as, according to NAC's peculiar description of its board members, "a consumer."
Robinson's argument that the organized blind don't represent the unorganized blind is the oldest dodge in the book, allowing agency heads such as him to appoint themselves as the leaders of the unorganized blind and convince themselves that they are standing up for the unrepresented. It's also partly the reason why NAC got itself where it is today, by ignoring the result of thoughtful debate among thoughtful blind people who have chosen to step forward and join organizations of the blind.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Steve Obremski]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Steve Obremski]
The Outgoing President Shares
Steve Obremski served as president of NAC during the summit and the public membership meeting. At the end of the summit he explained that he was going off the board and made several jocular references to his board and staff being glad he was, implying that his work with NAC had been time-consuming. He jokingly assured NAC members that he would be available to help but that they would have to ask his board before calling him. As his sort of valedictory speech, Obremski offered summit participants his own unique analogy between the history of the United States and the history of NAC in these words:
"If we look at the history of our nation and democracy, at one time we enslaved people because of their color; at one time we attempted genocide on Native Americans. That's our history, and we overcame that history, and we have a much greater democracy now, and we've come a long way, and I feel that, even though NAC has a history that some folks think is the end-all and we should go away because of that, I feel that NAC can change and look at the needs of our service system and adapt to that and, in doing so, we are going to help insure the continuation of specialized services for people who are blind and visually impaired."
Obremski's tone indicates that these are phrases with deep meaning to him. The blind of America can certainly agree that the phrases have deep meaning. Applying the analogy strictly, Obremski as good as says that NAC's history is as rife with offenses against humanity as U.S. history is rife with slavery and mistreatment of Native Americans. The Federation's criticism of NAC has always featured anger at NAC's endorsement of sub-minimum wages, its looking the other way when police investigate financial or sexual abuses at an accredited agency, and its accreditation of agencies whose treatment of blind clients is reprehensible.
Federationists can well embrace the historical half of Obremski's analogy. We can wonder whether he really meant it even though he said it. Federationists can also reject the prediction of growth and reformation by using Obremski's own analogy. U.S. history includes a civil war and a widening understanding of inclusion as steps to the growth of our democracy. NAC's history includes only its long slide into insignificance and the summit at which NAC's value was assumed by all except Carl Augusto. Inclusion, as always with NAC, was not on the agenda.
Other Contributors: A Sampler
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Paul Edwards]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Paul Edwards]
Former American Council of the Blind President Paul Edwards, somewhat puzzlingly, accepted election to NAC's board of directors. Here is some of what Edwards had to say: "There has been a history recently of cooperation, but it is accurate to say that at one point during the history of NAC certainly there was acrimony on both sides, and I don't think there was any shortage of name-calling during the height of NAC-tracking in the late seventies and early eighties. I make that point to say that one of the pieces of baggage that NAC carries, unfortunately, is its history. It's a long history that I think is perhaps its largest disadvantage because it doesn't really matter how good NAC is. It doesn't really matter how capable they are or how good the product they have to sell is. As an organization they are perceived by a pretty substantial proportion of the consumers--and I need to say a pretty substantial proportion of both consumer organizations--as bankrupt. . . .
"Initially it was the feeling that NAC, at one point in its history, was accrediting agencies--left, right, and center--without very much effort to assure that services that they were providing were very good. That's certainly the claim that was made. I am not here to argue whether that was ever true or whether it was ever not. Well, in fact I would argue that it was never so true as it was made out to be, but that is still the perception that persists among a pretty substantial number of consumers. The American Council of the Blind has never passed a resolution in support of NAC."
Near the end of the summit, Edwards commented that any revival of NAC was very dependent on having funds to perform desired goals. He then asked what the likelihood of funding for the requested grants might be and asked if a schedule existed to evaluate at some specified time whether the NAC revival plan was working. The NAC executive director offered platitudes about hoping for funding and then stated categorically that there is no bench mark planned for evaluation of whether the plan is working.
One summit participant described himself as currently being on a "rock tour right now going to all the optometric schools to work on these doctors to have more compassion, sensitivity, and awareness to the plight of the visually impaired and blind." No one chose to point out during the meeting how condescending and patronizing this comment was. Perhaps no one in the meeting thought there was anything wrong with the remark.
In discussing specialized accreditation, another participant commented: "I don't want to go to a dental hygienist who was a patient the day before. I have a friend who owns a gas station. He has to meet standards. If pumping gas requires standards, why should a person who has lost or is born without vision not expect some minimal level of services, whether they live in Florida, New Jersey, or California?" It is not clear but obviously possible that the dental hygienist remark was meant to reject the notion of blind people teaching travel. More broadly, it's not clear at all what either of these examples has to do with the existence of an organization others have already described as bankrupt and incapable of performing its mission.
Yet another participant could not resist blaming the whole NAC-NFB disagreement on Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, former president of the NFB, who died in 1998. He said: "It's been my perception that this division with NFB goes back to a battle of wills years ago. Those personalities are gone. It really irritates me that after this many years it, at least from my point of view, is what has kept this going. It's history. We have said that there is a need for specialized services. Steve and I talked on the phone, and I said, `You know, there's gotta be a way to bury the hatchet or at least to shame the people that are refusing to bury the hatchet into doing it.'"
This is the common variant of the Charlie Crawford main theme. Crawford holds that the entire Federation is run by two or three people, thus declaring the rest of the membership to be brainwashed puppets. This variant is that Jernigan did it: same lie, different words.
One summit participant suggested that the thing he had learned about the field was that there were "a lot of skunks" out there. This statement was greeted by laughter from fellow summiteers. He then told his colleagues that what the clients he serves want is "hope supported by science." Since the participant was speaking to and about NAC and had just accepted election to NAC's board for the first time, the implication is that NAC provides that hope and harnesses the science to do the supporting. Those of us long familiar with NAC can be sure of two things: NAC is commonly found where the least hope for real opportunity for the blind is present, and NAC is the antithesis of science, having operated for years and continuing to operate as a network of buddies playing "let's pretend" in accreditation garb. The sad thing is that this participant, a fairly new addition to the blindness field with no background in its issues, clearly means well, wants to do a good job, and is being misled by NAC into believing its propaganda.
If he meant something else, it isn't clear what, and it's particularly not clear what NAC has to do with hope supported by science. I guess Federationists will have to wait to have this comment elucidated.
Regrettably, several times during the summit President Obremski stopped discussion by fellow summiteers of topics he viewed as unpleasant. Such behavior, unchecked and uncorrected by other summiteers, doubtless spoke volumes to those few in the room who might have wished to discuss difficult topics. One effort to stop discussion has already been described in the case of Carl Augusto. Here's another example:
One summiteer tried to raise the question of the Sterling report, which in coded language identified the lack of support by the National Federation of the Blind as NAC's key problem. Referring to the slide of agencies away from NAC, he described NAC as "half-dead" and then said: "I don't think we are the ones who can answer that question [to be or not to be]. I'm not sure we will survive just by willing ourselves to be. My sense is that a lot of the reason that we're half dead right now is that we've had some folk who have trained their guns on us for many years because they think we're irrelevant and maybe even dangerous. Many of these folks are out here on Westshore Avenue right now, and the shame of it is that the kind of thing you just heard Steve Obremski say, which was eloquent, will not make it to the Tampa paper tomorrow or onto the 6 o'clock news. Likely those yellow and green signs will be on tonight's news and in tomorrow's paper."
The speaker then hypothesizes a newspaper interview in which President Obremski gives his eloquent statement about NAC, after which the reporter naturally asks Obremski the "next question: Have you talked to the folks who are picketing? Have you invited them to your meeting? And Steve will have to say `no' to both, I think." At this point, the speaker is interrupted by President Obremski, who says distinctly and firmly: "Not true." The speaker pauses and then says: "I'm going out on a limb here, and I'm saying some things that may be unpopular, so let me finish." Obremski says, again very firmly: "You're getting near the end." The speaker pauses again, and someone explains that Obremski meant the "end of the limb." But the speaker chooses not to continue. Obremski and then the facilitator attempt to get the speaker to continue, but he remains silent. Eventually someone else takes the floor on a completely different topic; so concludes the thought patrol incident.
It is regrettable that this speaker was argued with and interrupted, one of very few instances of participants interrupting one another. To other participants in the room, the meaning had to be bitingly clear: going too far into the issue of relations with the Federation will result in interruption and argument as no other topic will. Other participants heeded the warning and avoided the thought patrol. Except for Carl Augusto. And he was simply ignored wholesale once he had his say.
The effort to avoid truly difficult subjects continued the next day as a summiteer, also attending the membership meeting, attempted to raise the idea of dialogue with NFB for discussion. President Obremski briskly announced that the membership meeting was out of time and moved to the ceremony of recognizing retiring board members.
NAC's Current State
While the summiteers assured each other of NAC's importance, the membership meeting the next day received a few bits of data more grounded in reality. Prior to the meeting NAC was generally assumed to have forty-five accredited agencies, but the disassociation of three agencies was announced at the membership meeting, bringing the total to forty-two. Each of the three, NAC explained, had not paid its dues and had had its accreditation extended in the hopes that the agency would pay up and stay in. All three have now made it clear that they are not paying and not staying. They are the Alphapointe Association for the Blind of Kansas City, the Elizabeth Olmstead Center for the Visually Impaired in Buffalo, and the Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Vision Impaired in Pennsylvania.
To balance these three losses, NAC has a new agency in Akron, Ohio, for which the executive director, a man with no background in service to blind people, served as half the on-site review team, along with NAC's previous executive director. Unsurprisingly, the agency has been accredited. The agency was described by the executive director as a for-profit agency whose job is to get blind people jobs. He stated that he was impressed at the extent to which the agency will go to get a person a job. For example, he said, a woman living in a nursing home who is blind and paralyzed needed a job. The new accreditee got the nursing home to hire the woman for twelve hours a week making up menus. While it is certain that the woman's income has been improved by this activity, one can hardly take delight in an agency that sees part-time work as its goal. In fact, this is the criticism many in the blindness field have of existing agencies and particularly of one-stop shopping as the new trend: any job, any minimum-wage job; any part-time, minimum-wage job is good enough for a blind person and can be claimed as successful service. More and more people in the blindness field are rejecting this demeaning and ineffective approach to rehabilitation, but apparently not NAC. Of course, from NAC's point of view, this is one more agency to count.
NAC also suffered a reduction of its endowment of $70,000 and an operating loss of $49,251 in its most recent fiscal year, ending June 30, 2002, and reported assets at that time of $113,000.
The membership meeting also saw some discussion which began very gingerly to lift the cloth from over NAC's secrecy. The Federation has for years asserted that NAC accreditation consists largely of three items: willingness to associate with NAC, willingness to pay NAC dues, and the mere formality of an on-site team visit. Discussion erupted during the membership meeting which further verifies the characterization of NAC as interested only in willing dues-payers.
First, the mention of agencies that had not paid dues being extended in hopes of persuading them to pay and stay verifies what Federationists have long suspected. We have heard anecdotal reports of such extensions and have even heard from individual agencies that, after several years of not paying dues, the agency still had to write a letter formally requesting that its name be removed from the list of accredited agencies. So much for the value of the list of accredited agencies.
Federationists have also long suspected that, once accreditation occurs, nothing in the way of monitoring or review occurs until the arrival of the next on-site team. This allegation was verified in two interesting ways: first, a member of the Commission on Accreditation since 1997 objected to the new executive director's revision of paperwork for accredited agency annual reporting. A fierce supporter of NAC, he nonetheless described in exhaustive detail his unease with the system he has helped to administer for the past five years and which the new reporting form merely tinkered with. This board member said that he served on an on-site team and should have received the annual reports from the agency being reviewed for reaccreditation. Only one report was produced, and it said merely "nothing to report" in every blank. Someone asked if he meant that there were no reports for the other four years, and he said that he didn't know, that only one was produced.
He then went on to say that in his five years on the Commission on Accreditation, Commission members would get ten or so annual agency reports per meeting and would devote a minute or two to each agency. He referred to the annual progress reports as "no-action" reports and suggested that they should instead chart annual progress on on-site team recommendations as well as progress on other agency goals. His description confirms what Federationists have long suspected: once accredited, the agency can ignore NAC for the period of the accreditation.
The board member asked that the streamlining planned by the new executive director be delayed so the annual reporting function can be beefed up instead of merely carried forward, that the agencies' annual reporting be more thorough, and that NAC dedicate more time to the annual reports. And this from a guy who supports NAC. One can only shake one's head and say yet again that the Federation's allegation of empty accreditation has been correct all along.
That was the first revelatory point of disagreement. The second broke out over a proposal to require accredited agencies to report immediately "significant and unusual events," namely "investigations, litigation, catastrophe, unexpected death, serious injury, or threat." Some felt that suggestion was onerous, should only be reported annually, or was far too broad because it picked away at the whole concept of confidence in the agency that has been accredited. Others felt that accredited agencies should have to report such events to their accreditor and that this was the only way to assure continued quality and knowledge on the part of the accreditor. The difference of opinion petered out, and nothing was resolved.
This has been another long-standing criticism by the Federation: accredited agencies get in trouble with the police, the courts, or child protective services; and their accreditation is unaffected to the extent that NAC often does not even know of the events. The discussion of this point suggests why: once accreditation is granted, at least some at NAC believe it is a static and unchangeable state for the period of accreditation, regardless of events in the real world. Again one shakes one's head and asks why any agency would want accreditation from such an entity.
As followers of recent events in the ongoing NFB-NAC arena would expect, this topic brought forth a comment from NAC's new president, Lee Robinson. Monitor readers will recall the September 10, 2001, meeting between three NAC and three NFB officials, reported in the May 2002 issue. Robinson was a member of NAC's team, and Federationists raised with the other two NAC officials (NAC's president and executive director) the fact that the Utah school had recently been reviewed for reaccreditation and the additional fact that a number of articles had recently appeared in the Utah papers reporting allegations involving the Utah school's inappropriate handling of students. As reported by the Monitor, both the NAC president and executive director indicated at the time that they had no knowledge of the allegations.
During the membership meeting's discussion of proposed mandatory reporting of such events by accredited agencies, Robinson asserted that the on-site team reviewing NAC for reaccreditation was aware of the allegations--which is hardly surprising since they were repeatedly splashed across the state's newspapers--and that he had also called NAC headquarters to ask what to do. (One wonders what the "what" was; was he really asking what to do, or asking merely how to get reaccredited?)
The question still remains: How could NAC's president and executive director indicate on September 10, 2001 (shortly after the school's on-site team visited the school) that they were unaware of the allegations--regardless of what they or Robinson have said since? While it is likely that some member of the on-site review team or some staffer at headquarters did hear about the allegations, that was never the Federation's point. The Federation's point has always been that agencies, once accredited by NAC, aren't scrutinized further until the next round of reaccreditation.
One would think that an agency providing accreditation to a school accused of harming or endangering children would undertake additional scrutiny, additional paperwork documenting that NAC representatives believed the allegations to be unfounded, and additional monitoring to assure that safeguards asserted to be in place were in fact present and effective. Instead of this additional paperwork, monitoring, and therefore cognizance by NAC as a whole, we find NAC officials, including its new president, quibbling about who told whom what and when, in order to bolster the position that the accreditor knew about the allegations, when its two top officials patently did not. The Federation isn't interested in the question of who told whom and when; it is interested in the broader issue of whether NAC's standards mean something when applied.
Then, as a continuing matter, the whole debate whether reporting should be mandatory ought to be embarrassing; of course it should be mandatory, but NAC doesn't see it that way. The whole discussion of who knew about Utah at what point should be seen in the same light--not a factual question to be answered but a topic representative of the problem: no routine reporting, no reliable monitoring, no accountability to the standards NAC claims to hold so dear. Robinson's very quibble proves the point that the system wasn't holding him accountable.
One final note on the issue of reporting and monitoring: this discussion demonstrates that NAC adherents are not in agreement on the need for or the frequency and depth of proposed reporting and monitoring. Even clearer is that the Federation's raising of the issue at the September 10 meeting brought the whole issue to a head and caused the discussion which, in turn, revealed NAC's current lack of commitment to reporting and monitoring. If the Federation had not raised the Utah issue in a sensitive context, it is unlikely that NAC would have discussed the issue at all.
This discussion led to one more interesting point. Various summiteers alluded to the lack of training of on-site team members and the need to establish it. From the discussion it is apparent that NAC has never trained on-site reviewers, assuming that people chosen to conduct reviews know what is needed. Once again Federationists find the topic familiar since we have believed for years that on-site reviewers are chosen primarily for their willingness to accredit a fellow agency willing to accept accreditation.
The gentleman who brought up the topic is classified as a public member of the NAC board, apparently meaning that his expertise lies outside the blindness field. He served on the Commission on Accreditation for five years before being tapped for an on-site team for a hometown agency he already believed was wonderful. Again unsurprisingly the agency was reaccredited, but one is forced to wonder how NAC can pretend to accredit anything when it admittedly has no standards and has no training for its on-site teams. The answer from NAC adherents seems to be that they're now asking for grant money to establish such training--thirty-five years and countless accreditations after NAC's founding.
The same discussion also revealed that the list of on-site reviewers had recently dwindled to a mere twenty, once again reinforcing the Federation's criticism that only those willing to accredit are tapped for teams and underscoring our contention that interest in NAC accreditation is virtually nonexistent.
Another subject that recurred several times during the summit is NAC's lack of follow-up. Not only were the annual reports not required or heeded; agencies that wished follow-up on individual pieces of advice or recommendations from on-site teams couldn't get it, and the team members who made such recommendations made no effort to follow up themselves, according to several participants who head NAC agencies.
NAC's Future, According to NAC
NAC's future, according to the summiteers, is rosy. However, listening more carefully to the discussion, one must conclude that the future seems more filled with thorns. During the summit and especially the next day, summiteers congratulated each other on their collective openness and willingness to discuss difficult issues. They assured each other that this amounted to an affirmation of NAC's continued health and survival. Warning notes kept sounding, but the self-congratulatory statements continued to pour out, apparently in an attempt to drown out the warnings.
For example, one NAC board member, retiring from the board after twelve years, told the Saturday membership meeting that the discussion during the summit had been "good, professional, and surface." She added that, without abandoning the professionalism (used by participants as the highest praise and apparently standing for not bringing up anything unpleasant), NAC needed to get well below the surface if it was going to thrive. This summiteer's assessment of the depth and value of the discussion was scorchingly accurate; yet she sat through the summit and made no effort to brave the thought patrol and force deeper discussion in her waning hours as a board member.
The NAC summit began with a review by officials of the Sterling report, a survey commissioned by NAC two years ago to determine whether there was a need for NAC. In the view of NAC officials, the Sterling report validated all their beliefs, registering widespread opinion in the field of work with the blind that standards are good and that there is a need for quality. One hardly needed a report to discern that much.
But the Sterling report went on to record the view of the field that NAC's continued value is tied to its forming partnerships with what were termed by Sterling "national organizations and consumer organizations." With the exception of Carl Augusto and a brief statement by an official of the Association for Education and Rehabilitaion of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), the consumer-organization topic then dropped off the table. Everyone knows that the Sterling report coded phrase "consumer organizations" meant getting the support of the National Federation of the Blind. Whether summiteers did not wish to do so or couldn't figure out how that could be managed is unclear; that they barely paid attention to the point is indisputable.
Twenty minutes before the summit ended, an AER official asked the group to consider "institutionalizing" the participation of consumer organizations in NAC's governance. This led to a confused discussion involving questions about whether the NAC bylaws would have to be changed; questions from participants about what a consumer group was and a long list of answers; and assertions that NAC's bylaws currently require equal representation from accredited agencies, public members, and consumers. This means that five consumers are currently on the board, suggesting apparently that there is no need for change. This discussion petered out as the summit ended.
NAC's executive director presented a plan to the summit and the membership essentially involving lots of grant applications. His outline of things NAC needs to do was prefaced and elucidated by statements that steps would be taken as funds were made available. These steps included updating and adding to the NAC standards, which everyone seemed to agree were outdated; streamlining office procedures (which led to the discussion about annual reports mentioned earlier); training on-site reviewers (which led to another discussion already reported); and developing databases.
From the emphasis placed by the executive director on the word "databases" every time he uttered it, a listener is led to conclude that "databases" is the executive director's mantra and cure-all rolled into one. Once NAC has them, all will be fine. He referred several times to the half-million dollars, largely from AFB, used to start NAC and suggested that a like amount would be needed again. He and others thought it unlikely that the whole amount would be quickly and readily available. They commented that improvements would be made in chunks as the necessary funds were acquired.
Another part of NAC's rosy future is relations with other accrediting organizations, apparently the NAC interpretation of the Sterling report's mandate to partner with national organizations. NAC had invited a national health care and a national rehabilitation accreditation organization to attend the summit. The health care organization declined; the rehab organization considered sending its national president but, when it learned of the NFB protest, switched to a board member living nearby, who was then classified by his own organization as only an observer.
Despite these disappointments, the executive director outlined elaborate plans, more in the nature of hopes, to partner with both organizations for joint accreditation. In addition, one regional accreditor of colleges and schools has agreed to some sort of joint project with NAC, though the descriptions of this partnership were hazy. As summiteers dabbled in discussing a partnership not well defined, one asked why such partnerships had not been formed years ago. A long time NAC official responded with a stellar description of the two kinds of accreditation. He explained that NAC's accreditation instrument was like taking a temperature, ascertaining class size and presence of certified teachers and the like, while the educational accrediting bodies use outcome-based measures. The two are so very different that it's very difficult to conduct both at once in a single review of a school, according to the NAC official. Federationists could hardly agree more except to add that the value of measuring objective "temperatures," which can be done purely from documents, has long been abandoned by educators but not by NAC.
A small discussion on this topic erupted for a moment, focusing a piercing light on the differences NAC has with other accrediting bodies of today. Some summiteers wanted to consider outcome-based accreditation, referring to it as a need to avoid locking an agency into a specific methodology and wishing to emphasize goal-setting with clients and achieving those goals instead as the key factor in agency performance. Others clung to the temperature model, commenting that outcome-based standards would allow an agency to hire someone without a university education who simply uses a cane well to teach cane travel--obviously a bad thing from the speaker's point of view. Several summiteers referred to outcome-based standards as bringing about deprofessionalization--also a bad thing from their point of view.
One participant described outcome-driven standards in this way: "One need only look at the realm of community-based services to see in many states, when we look at having something done or an outcome, that the level of professionalization tends to deteriorate--there's a lot of pressure in human services to dumb things down; we have great personnel shortages in our field, and there's great pressures on any agency administrator not to have really highly qualified people. I think that, in designing standards, what we need to recognize is that there are multiple paths to the same outcome, but I do think that there's got to be some sense that people have specific qualifications. Do we need to be rigid about which certification someone has? I don't know. I mean, that's something that has to be discussed, but I do think that we have to have some sense at least that people have specialized qualifications, or we don't need accreditation."
Most of the blindness field has actually come to this same conclusion: There are many paths to good results; the good results are the key, not the paths; since there are many paths, no accreditation involving qualifications is needed. This does not mean the field has abandoned good results; in fact, they're more prevalent as NAC declines. The reason is agency focus on results and listening to consumers rather than obsession with paper degrees.
Interestingly enough, NAC's long-held desire to have state and federal funds conditioned on NAC accreditation came up once, early on, and never again. It was one of the topics in the Sterling report, reviewed at the beginning of the summit, and thereafter it dropped from sight. Only entities that feel their services are essential and their position is strong can dream of such mandatory accreditation. NAC summiteers didn't.
An interesting undertone underlay the comments of a number of summiteers representing accredited agencies. They viewed their step forth to seek accreditation as symbolizing risk-taking and were proud of it. They view agencies who have not sought NAC accreditation as either too lazy to put in the time or too worried about low quality or public embarrassment to risk contacting NAC. This view is truly astonishing considering the fact that most outside the NAC world view NAC's standards as a combination of minimal and irrelevant standards which have often been used to shield low-quality or questionable behavior. No one at the NAC summit seemed to have the slightest notion that NAC's standards are anything but high and accreditation with NAC reserved only for the best. And this despite the immediate and ready agreement that the standards are outdated and need revision.
In fact, NAC has no commission on standards at all. It used to have one, but somewhere during the dark years in the wilderness of the last decade the commission on standards was formally disbanded and eliminated from NAC's corporate structure "for financial reasons," according to NAC's president. One of the areas of focus for NAC's future involves standards: NAC is seeking grant funding to revise existing standards, to add new areas of standards, and to resurrect the commission on standards in order to manage the revision and addition. It is interesting to note that summiteers believed simultaneously that the standards are outdated and incomplete; that NAC stands for quality standards; that the commission on standards should be resurrected; that training of on-site reviewers can await funding; that NAC on-site teams and NAC itself do not perform follow-up during the period of accreditation; and that NAC's mission is to improve the quality of service in the blindness field.
Outgoing President Obremski has often expressed his belief that NAC should be the leader in the blindness field and should be the self-appointed creator and enforcer of standards to achieve that goal. The field in general has long since rejected this view of NAC, and the summit did not change that rejection. It merely confirmed that devoted NAC adherents remain convinced that NAC should lead the field, though they are slightly puzzled that it hasn't happened. Summiteers seem to have missed the point clearly made by Augusto that mostly the large agencies in the blindness field weren't in the room. Objectively viewing the available annual budgets and staffs of the agencies that have chosen not to affiliate with NAC as compared with those who have, the observer could reasonably ask why this handful of the smaller agencies serving the blind would ever think that they are the field's leaders, the possessors of wisdom for the entire field, the self-appointed standard-setters. Of course, these have been the questions Federationists have always asked about NAC, but its present state, as Carl Augusto said, makes the Federation's questions starkly real. Yet none of the participants seemed interested in probing this question of leadership. Instead they were content to thump themselves on the chest and proclaim that they were now the leaders, yet again side-stepping the question posed by the field: "Just why do you think you're the leader when you have no followers?"
The best way to summarize NAC's minority view of itself is to quote a summit participant who spoke near the end of the membership meeting Saturday morning. He claimed to have first "tangled" with "Jernigan" in the 1970's but could not accurately name leading organizations in the field such as the National Federation of the Blind (the first word of which he replaced with "American") or the American Foundation for the Blind (which he described as "Carl's organization"). After a lengthy list of what he thought the faults of the National Federation of the Blind were, he concluded by saying: "We're not the kind of enemies where one is accusing the other of creating weapons of mass destruction; we're all looking for a better life for blind people. That's really what everybody wants to do."
After thirty-five years we are still at the same point with this gentleman and many of the other summiteers. Had the field of work with the blind followed NAC's prescriptions starting thirty-five years ago and continuing through the intervening years, work with the blind would be frozen in the model of service used in the 1960's, which blind people so vehemently rejected and have largely swept away. We rejected the role of the grateful client, the silent client, the client satisfied with anything certified professionals said we should receive. Instead, blind people have redefined what it means to be blind, what it means to be a client, and what it means to succeed as a blind person. In the process NAC was left back in the 1960's and hasn't noticed.
No, Mr. Summiteer, we do not all want the same thing. And, when NAC adherents finally realize that, we may have actually taken a long step forward in the field of work with the blind. It is NAC who is out of step and marching to the wrong tune and listening to a different drum. The rest of us, blind people and agency officials of good will, have calmly swept the NAC model of leadership by the all-wise standard-giver aside and have worked diligently to create real improvements for real blind people in agencies serving those blind people. If the NAC summit can end with summiteers affirming their belief that everybody is working for the same thing, NAC has missed the key developments in the field during the past thirty years, which means it truly does stand alone, and that's a darn good thing.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer]
A Threat or a Promise?
by Marc Maurer
Until recently the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC) has had as its president Mr. Steven Obremski. Mr. Obremski's term as president came to an end at the NAC board meeting which occurred in December of 2002. That was the board meeting which had been planned to coincide with the meeting called by NAC to bring together supporters of the NAC system. This meeting (denominated by NAC as a "summit") appears to have failed in its objectives. NAC had sunk into obscurity, and the NAC summit was called for the purpose of improving its image and enhancing its influence.
The National Federation of the Blind had earlier been invited to assist NAC in improving its political and economic fortunes, but NAC persisted in the behaviors which have come to be associated with NAC--namely offering the blind tokenism while continuing accreditation of programs which provide doubtful services. In the process of offering agencies accredited status, NAC has sometimes condoned or ignored unethical practices and has almost universally refused to consider in any meaningful sense the views of the blind.
With this as background, the National Federation of the Blind decided to conduct an informational picket of the NAC so-called summit and board meeting. This took place in Tampa, Florida, on December 13 and 14, 2002. A report of the picket appears elsewhere in this issue.
On December 20, 2002, a letter from Mr. Obremski arrived at the National Center for the Blind. It accuses the National Federation of the Blind of criminal behavior. This accusation is like so much else associated with NAC: the facts described to back up the charge do not justify the high-flown accusatory language. I responded to Mr. Obremski immediately. Of course I was not there, and I had no opportunity to observe what occurred. We have only Mr. Obremski's characterization of the incident about which he has complained. We do not even know that the person about whom the complaint has been made was a member of the National Federation of the Blind. However, even if the facts are as characterized by Mr. Obremski, his accusation is unjustified. Here is the correspondence:
National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired
December 16, 2002
Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
Dear Mr. Maurer:
I am writing to make you aware of some behaviors of NFB members at the Crowne Plaza Hotel during the NAC Summit on Accreditation held December 13 and 14, 2002.
Most concerning was a threat that I received on the morning of Sunday, December 15th. After entering an elevator with either two or three other people (I am not sure because of my blindness), a person said, "You're with NAC aren't you?" I responded affirmatively. The person then said, "Well, if you continue what you're doing, we're going to come looking for you and you'll be sorry." I asked if we could talk about this, but the elevator stopped on a floor and they left. This was very frightening to me, to say the least.
This behavior is criminal in nature and has no place in the interactions between NAC and NFB. I cannot help but hold you responsible for this because you have created an atmosphere of mindless hatred that encourages people to act in an antisocial way.
In addition, I heard many comments from Summit attendees regarding the protesters' lack of knowledge of NAC, and the lack of knowledge of why "NAC was bad." Remarks included the fact that some people were at the protest because they were told to do so, while others said they were there only because the NFB paid their expenses to attend.
I am sorry that you choose to continue your distrust of NAC and refuse to work with NAC and other members of the field of blindness to develop a mutually acceptable system of standards and accreditation. However, personal threats are not necessary to express one's opinion and have no place in the expression of views in regards to a concept or entity such as NAC. If you choose to protest future meetings of NAC, please convey this to your protesters.
I hope that in the future there can be cordial ways to resolve our differences for the betterment of the field of blindness.
cc: J. Doug Armstrong, Esq.
December 20, 2002
Mr. Steven Obremski
National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired
Dear Mr. Obremski:
I have your letter dated December 16, 2002, postmarked December 18, 2002. It has just this moment arrived. Your letter is filled with charges which are unsubstantiated. It is more of the same old NAC tactics, and it does not do you well.
For example, you say that I have created an atmosphere of hatred. This is an absolute lie. I have reacted to what you have been doing--nothing more, nothing less. I have exposed shabby behavior of NAC-accredited agencies and poor performance of NAC. You are the one who brought the subject of hatred into our exchange of correspondence--not I.
You tell me that you were threatened. You say that somebody in an elevator indicated that, if you continue what you're doing, we're going to come looking for you, and you'll be sorry. You characterize this as a threat. As the old saying sometimes has it, it may be more of a promise. We said in 1972 that we would track down NAC and expose its shabby and unethical behavior for what it is. Perhaps your companion in the elevator was reiterating a commitment made thirty years ago.
You say that the conversation you had in an elevator was frightening to you. Your words are meant to suggest that there was something evil in intent implied by the statements of the person who confronted you. In fact, you say that these words are criminal. Such hyperbole is foolishness. You want to convey the notion that there might have been a violent intent. There is not, and you should know that there is not. In all of the history of NAC there has never been violence on the part of the National Federation of the Blind. There have been violence and threatening language and behavior by NAC officials. One NAC official was arrested for assault on one of the members of the National Federation of the Blind. Study your history. The facts will reveal whether NAC has threatened or intimidated.
I will end this letter in the way that you began yours. I want to tell you of some of the behavior of NAC representatives toward the blind of this country. I hold you personally responsible for it. Did you know that NAC-accredited schools have permitted abuse of blind children? Are you aware of the rest of the history? The blind will not tolerate what NAC has been doing.
Very truly yours,
Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
Mr. Don Wells was hired by NAC to facilitate its so-called summit. Being hired by NAC apparently, according to Mr. Wells, gave him expertise in relationships within the blindness field. Mr. Wells has written his own letter, which arrived shortly after Christmas. His letter is also accusatory, but the accusations are of a different type. Since Mr. Obremski's letter and Mr. Wells's letter are dated the same day, it is likely that they were both writing for the record. Here is the exchange of correspondence with Mr. Wells.
Don Wells Consulting
Cedar Grove, North Carolina
December 16 2002
Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
Dear Marc Maurer,
I was hired by NAC as the facilitator for their recent Summit at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Whereas I direct a statewide Nonprofit Certificate Program for Duke University, I also facilitate various meetings throughout the country each year. This letter is prompted by my observations during the facilitation for NAC in Tampa last week.
The approximately forty persons attending the Summit were from a wide variety of agencies--you no doubt have their names and agencies provided to you by Dr. Harold Snider. (Who, by the way, seemed a very thoughtful and intelligent man. A pity he was only an observer.) In addition to the diversity of agency, there was also a wide diversity of opinions regarding the importance of standards and accreditation for agencies serving the blind and visually impaired as well as the role NAC might play in providing such services.
The quality of the participants' efforts to reach consensus on some rather complex issues during the course of the day was most impressive. Despite the presence of an "observer" from NFB, discussions were candid, insightful, germane to the topic, and bespoke an earnest effort to honor the importance of serving in a field that strives to be responsible to both its clients and the general public by upholding high standards of excellence in their work.
The sessions in the context of the Summit meeting were in stark contrast to the circus NFB orchestrated on the street outside the hotel during the Summit. The slogans displayed (I am sighted) and shouted were, in a word, inane. In the conversations that I had with demonstrators, their knowledge concerning what they were picketing for (or against) was absent and as such, in my opinion, a marked embarrassment to NFB. No one I spoke with (out of about twenty) had more than a two- or three-line response that was, in effect, a paraphrase of the chants uttered when on the picket line. Indeed, a well-dressed man in the lobby asked me who those "yahoos" outside were. I suggested that he ask them.
In my preparation for facilitating the Summit, I read a great deal about the long history of antipathy NFB has for NAC--and undoubtedly vice versa. It seems (as your transcript will reflect) that NAC owns its part in the evolution of this conflict and would like to move on. However, from an outsider's perspective, the continued public warring prompted by NFB appears strikingly sad to me, as well as destructive to the entire field of blindness. In short, NFB's position is intractable and a zero sum game.
I would therefore ask you to please consider the future, search with NAC for ways to cooperate and build in a generative way. We are in a time when examples of leadership that are strident and destructive are abundant, while leaders who build consensus and harmony are rare. Such leaders are sorely needed. I would ask you to consider becoming such a leader.
In this season of peace on earth, I would entreat you and NFB to explore ways in which a consensus might be forged. If you do, there might then be a chance that a level of cooperation and excellence in the field of blindness may be achieved--perhaps even before there is peace in the Middle East.
I do wish you and yours a restful and happy holiday season. We have much to be thankful for.
Donald A. Wells
January 3, 2003
Mr. Donald A. Wells
Don Wells Consulting
Cedar Grove, North Carolina
Dear Mr. Wells:
I have received your letter of December 16, 2002, which was undoubtedly written for the record, and I am responding in the same spirit. However, I shall refrain from the name-calling that you employ in your letter.
You ask me why I am not a peacemaker. What makes you think that I am not? You accuse the National Federation of the Blind of conducting a circus. You say that those who participated in the circus are inane. I shall not use the same terminology in addressing you, but I will observe that you do not know what you are talking about. You tell me that you sought to engage members of the Federation in debate about NAC. You tell me that they responded with brevity. You charge that this means that they do not have an understanding of NAC.
If the conversations occurred as you describe, it is likely that Federation members accepted the reality that the time for debate is before the picket line is established. As NAC had refused to recognize the right of the blind to determine their own destiny, the time for debate had passed. It would be fair to observe that Federation members know more about NAC than you do.
At the meeting you facilitated, the president of NAC, I am told, said that the blind are patients. He is alleged to have offered the opinion that it is inadvisable to turn the hospital over to the patients. [Actually, Mr. Obremski made this comment to a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, and it appeared in the paper's December 14 story.] The blind of America decline this designation. Furthermore, we insist that we will have the right to decide for ourselves what programs of service to the blind will be like. After all, our lives are at stake--our futures are in the balance. To keep us from having a voice except as a matter of tokenism is unconscionable. That is what NAC has attempted to do in the past; that is what it is trying to do now. It didn't work then, and it won't work now.
Don't be taken in by the propaganda. Study the facts. Approach the matter with an open mind. Perhaps you will discover that the blind should be labeled with a different word than "inanity."
Very truly yours,
Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ahmed Chaing]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ahmed Chaing]
From One World into Another
by Ahmed Chaing with Debbie Kent Stein
From the Editor: Are you looking for a bit of inspiration? Could you use a dollop of reassurance about the resilience of the human spirit? If so, the following story is just what you need. It also puts into perspective the problems blind people have in twenty-first-century America.
Ahmed Chaing and Debbie Kent Stein were both members of the NFB leadership seminar that took place over Labor Day weekend in 2002. Debbie came to me during that gathering and said she had discovered that Ahmed had an incredible story to tell. I encouraged her to help him do so. Here it is:
Mal was a tiny Sudanese village of mud‑and‑straw huts surrounded by patios of hardened mud. In our hot climate children didn't wear clothes. In Mal we knew nothing of money, nothing of the government, nothing of schools or hospitals. If we wanted something, we bartered for it. We could trade food, goats, knives, or pots, but we didn't have government currency.
From the time I was small I explored my surroundings freely. I learned my way over the entire village. I knew all the rocks and trees, dips and rises as landmarks. There were no cars, no machines of any kind. No one even had a gun. The men hunted using spears. I remember the sounds of animals in the bush-‑the chatter of monkeys, the grunts of hippos, even the roaring of lions. Sometimes the other boys teased me, throwing stones at me and dashing away. I would take my time and hunt them down. When I caught them, I pounded them mercilessly. I won the boys' respect, and we spent many happy hours playing hide-and-seek or making figures with the clay we gathered on the banks of the Nile.
Because my mother couldn't walk, she sent me on a lot of errands. She would often send me to bring water from the river, either on foot or on a donkey. When I was nine or ten, I started going with the other boys my age to herd the cattle, goats, and sheep. I recognized my family's animals by the sound of the bells they wore. If one of our animals wandered away, the other boys chased it back for me. At harvest time I used a sharp blade to cut the stalks and helped the other boys separate the grain from the chaff.
I did my best to make myself useful, but my father was bitter about my blindness. Sometimes he got drunk and beat me, shouting that I was a burden to the family. When I was about eight, my father went away with one of his other wives, leaving me and my mother alone. To keep the two of us alive, my mother made pottery, which she traded for food. Mostly we lived on manakala, a grain resembling rice.
One day, when I was ten or eleven, my mother got into a dispute with a neighbor. They argued over a goat which my mother wanted to give to her brother as a wedding present. The next morning, when I got up, I called my mother as usual, but she didn't answer. I searched the hut and found her lying cold and dead, a cord pulled tight around her neck. Some of the villagers thought the neighbor murdered her, but to this day I don't know for sure how my mother died.
After my mother's death I went to live with my aunt, my mother's sister. This aunt was also one of my father's wives. Little by little the outside world was reaching toward our village. One of my older half brothers, Luanj, took a boat north to the city. A year later he came back with amazing stories of paved streets, cars, and shops. He brought the first money we had ever seen. He showed me the laway he was wearing, a long, flowing garment that hung from his shoulders, and I was very impressed. Luanj urged the whole family to move to the city, where life wouldn't be so hard.
The world finally crashed in upon the village of Mal when Sudan erupted into civil war. Soldiers stole our cattle, and gunfire rumbled across the hills night and day. My father decided to move the household north to safety. He wanted to leave me behind to die, convinced I would slow them down in their flight. But my aunt insisted on bringing me along. At last we set out on foot with everything we could carry, heading north. Nobody guided me, and of course I had no cane. I had to keep up with the others as best I could. I didn't dare ask for help, even when I tripped over rocks or cracked my head on branches. After a day's journey on foot, we came to a larger village where we all crammed into an automobile for a jouncing three‑day ride along dirt roads to the city of Rank. Rank stands on the west side of the Nile, and we crossed the river on a raft.
After a short stay in Rank I moved with my family to Joda. Rank and Joda were full‑scale towns with roads, cars, stores, and an economy based on money instead of barter. Most of the people spoke Arabic, a language we didn't know. Town children taunted me and pelted me with stones because I was blind and didn't wear clothes. Finally some of the adults intervened and told the children to be kind. I discovered I could earn a few coins by singing in the streets, and this was a new way for me to be useful. I gave the money to my aunt to help her buy food.
My life was transformed in Joda when I met Babker, a Muslim, who ran a local shop. Babker spoke some Shuluk and took a real interest in me. He taught me the principles of Islam and encouraged me to convert from my tribal religion. I became a Muslim and changed my name from Omad to Ahmed. My family was shocked at first, but as time passed they accepted the change. My new Muslim friends treated me very well, even giving me my first set of clothes. Soldiers at the nearby military outpost made me into a sort of unofficial mascot. They were astonished when I recognized their voices and gave me coins whenever I performed this feat. I got to know everyone at the post, from the officers to the lowliest privates.
I was visiting my friend Babker at the shop one day when a customer described a program he had seen recently on television. According to this stranger there were blind people in Khartoum, the capital city, who knew how to read. I got very excited. I plied him with questions, but the man's information was extremely sketchy. To find out more, I would have to go to Khartoum myself.
For the next year I moved from town to town, selling candy, mangoes, and cigarettes in the streets. Wherever I went, I was dreaming of Khartoum, the magical city, where blind people learned to read. Finally a friend from Joda, a man called Mousa, told me that he had a house in the capital. If I could get there, I would have a place to stay. I memorized the address and the directions. But when I tried to take a bus, I found I didn't have enough money for the fare. Besides, some drivers didn't want to take a blind passenger traveling alone, afraid I would get hurt. At last, however, a bus driver let me ride on the floor, and I was off.
With Mousa's house as home base, I made inquiries about training for blind people in Khartoum. Eventually I learned of a school for blind children in the neighboring town of Bhari. I hurried to the school, eager to enroll, only to be told that I was too old. The school only accepted children between the ages of seven and ten, and by this time I was about thirteen. The teachers referred me to another program, the Blind Union, also in Bhari. The Blind Union was a training center run by the Dutch. There I learned daily living skills and some Arabic Braille. I really wanted a more academic program. One of the teachers told me about a scholarship that enabled blind students to study in the Mideastern nation of Bahrain. I applied and was accepted into the program. After what seemed an endless series of delays and complications, including turmoil caused by the Gulf War, I finally enrolled as a fourth‑grader at the school for the blind in Bahrain in September 1990.
For the next six years I studied in Bahrain, returning to Sudan when the school closed for its long summer vacations. In 1996 I completed ninth grade--as far as I could go in that program. Back in Khartoum I entered a regular high school, where I was the only blind student. None of my books were in Braille. I was lucky to have good friends who read to me and put some of my material onto tapes, but it was a constant struggle. One of my friends from the Blind Union had studied at a school for the blind in Egypt and told me it had a strong high school program. In 1998 I scraped together money for a ticket to Alexandria and tried to enroll at the school. To my dismay the director refused to accept me because I was not an Egyptian citizen.
For months I negotiated with the Department of Immigration in Egypt, filling out forms, pleading my case before officials, waiting, hoping, and meeting one disappointment after another. At last I learned of a United Nations‑sponsored resettlement program for refugees from southern Sudan. The application process stretched over six months. In April of 1999 I received the thrilling news that I had been accepted. In December I made the long journey from Cairo to South Dakota, from one world into another.
In South Dakota I joined a community of resettled refugees from Sudan and Ethiopia and enrolled in a state‑run rehabilitation program for the blind. Two of my friends from the Blind Union in Bhari were now living in the U.S., and I managed to get in touch with them. One of these old friends, now settled in Rochester, Minnesota, spoke glowingly about BLIND, Inc. When I heard about the training offered by this program, I knew this was what I wanted. I moved to Minnesota and stayed with a Sudanese friend until I could establish residence. Then I entered BLIND, Inc., to learn new skills and a whole new philosophy about blindness.
The NFB philosophy really made sense to me. All my life I had heard other people telling blind people what they couldn't do, controlling and excluding them. Now for the first time I met blind people who felt good about their lives and wanted to help others.
After spending a year at BLIND, Inc., I am in a GED program to earn a high school diploma. I work part-time for the Bureau of Collections, and I am second vice president of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. In September of 2002 I had the honor of attending a national leadership seminar at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. I'm still not sure what I want to do with my life. I might like to be an Arabic‑English interpreter. And I would like to find a way to help blind people in Sudan. Whatever I do, I know my NFB philosophy will make it possible.
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $__________(or "______ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: ________") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
Kentucky Department of Education Attacks School for the Blind
by Pauletta Feldman
From the Editor: Pauletta Feldman is the secretary of the Kentucky Parents of Blind Children Division. She and her husband, Maurey Weedman, are both active NFB members. Their eighteen-year-old son Jamie Weedman is blind and attends the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) part-time. Jamie is mainstreamed to Central High School for several classes.
For many years blind Kentuckians have been justifiably proud of their school. It has a lovely campus, and in its buildings and programs students receive some of the best education available to blind young people today. As a state with a good deal of rural area, Kentucky's school districts have not made a serious effort to provide effective services to the blind students they are supposed to serve. The result has been that KSB has attracted a number of academically able blind students and has offered exemplary services, skills training, and education.
One would think that this recipe for success would protect the school from the sort of tampering that destroys service and undermines excellence. Not so. In the following article Pauletta Feldman describes what the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) is now doing to the blind and deaf students it is supposed to serve. This is what she says:
A broad spectrum of the blind community throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky is protesting a recent plan introduced by the Kentucky Department of Education which could result in the destruction of the Kentucky School for the Blind. Concerned stakeholders include consumer groups, alumnae of the Kentucky School for the Blind, parents of blind children, and teachers of the visually impaired. A Save-KSB Steering Committee has been formed with NFB-K president Cathy Jackson as one of the members.
At the October 3, 2002, meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education, the leadership of the Department of Education unveiled an ill-conceived plan for revamping services to blind and visually impaired and deaf and hearing-impaired children in Kentucky. This plan will ultimately destroy the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) and the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) and leave Kentucky's blind and deaf children at risk. Unfortunately, the Board of Education gave the plan its support, and implementation has begun, though no official board vote appears to have been taken.
This plan is similar to those in other states that have resulted in the weakening of schools for the blind and the deaf throughout the United States. The Kentucky School for the Blind, founded in 1842, is the third-oldest school for the blind in the nation; the Kentucky School for the Deaf, founded in 1823, is the oldest institution of its type in the country.
Of particular concern are two provisions of the plan:
1. Elimination of the superintendent positions at both KSB and KSD and replacing this expert leadership with a four-person team from the Department of Education, which lacks experience and expertise in administering educational plans for blind and deaf students
2. Restriction of access to the wealth of expertise at the two schools for children throughout Kentucky in grades kindergarten through eight
KDE leadership responsible for the plan have no real knowledge of blindness or blindness education. Their only guidance in forming the plan came from a $200,000 study commissioned by the Kentucky Board of Education and conducted by the American Institutes of Research (AIR) of Palo Alto, California. None of the researchers were familiar with the field of visual impairment but were instead specialists in school finance. AIR did commission experts in the field of visual impairment to provide direction; however, their advice and 110 years of collective experience in the field were barely tapped and ultimately discounted. And while a number of stakeholders participated in the study, their concerns went unheeded and their advice was ignored.
The AIR study revealed that the per-pupil costs at KSB were well below the national average. During the past couple of years KSB has exceeded state test score goals, boosted enrollment, and enhanced outreach to other parts of the state, while maintaining cuts in budget and personnel. Despite these promising trends, KDE has forged ahead with a flawed plan for blind children without heeding the views of those who live with or understand blindness.
Two families whose children attend KSB moved to Kentucky just so their blind children could receive a good education. They have come from states--Nebraska and New Mexico--where the schools for the blind have been weakened by draining resources to create regional programs.
"We came here because Kentucky still had a good school for the blind. And now they [KDE] are trying to do the same thing to KSB that was done to the Nebraska school," says Mitch Dahmke of Taylorsville, Kentucky.
While KDE claims that its plan will expand services to children, it will ultimately limit them by destroying the best option for a good education that many children in the state have. The proposed plan will make it virtually impossible for children throughout the state in grades K through eight to attend KSB and will have them instead educated through regional programs. However, Kentucky has a dire shortage of teachers of the visually impaired to staff regional programs. In response to this shortage the AIR study stated: "These circumstances suggest that this is not the best time to be raising standards for some of these professions." ("A Study of the Kentucky Schools for the Deaf and Blind," American Institutes of Research, May, 2002, p. 85)
Now this new plan for students who are blind or deaf is drawing national attention and concern. Several national organizations of and for the blind, representing the collective wisdom of tens of thousands of blind and visually impaired people, as well as nationally recognized experts in the field of visual impairment, are weighing in on the KDE plan. The groups include the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children in Baltimore, Maryland; the American Foundation for the Blind in New York City; the American Council of the Blind in Washington, D.C.; and the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired in Alexandria, Virginia.
These national groups are expressing dismay at the removal of expertise from the guidance of the new plan through elimination of the superintendent positions at KSB and KSD. Of equal concern is the plan to regionalize services in such a way as to restrict younger students throughout the state from attending the schools, forcing them instead into regional programs--poor substitutes for the richness of educational experiences children at the schools currently receive.
Kentucky's blind children deserve to have a good education. Sadly, this will not happen if the Kentucky Department of Education has its way.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Lora Felty]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Lora Felty]
Kentucky Rallies to Save the Kentucky School for the Blind
by Lora J. Felty
From the Editor: Lora Felty is secretary of the NFB of Kentucky and president of its division of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. She was also a 1992 NFB scholarship winner and now works with blind children as a teacher of the visually impaired. Here is her perspective on the Kentucky situation that Pauletta Feldman discussed in the preceding article:
As changes in special education have occurred in recent years and inclusion becomes the focus, the traditional role of schools for the blind seems to be becoming a thing of the past. In Kentucky we know the importance of maintaining specialized services for blind children, and we are fighting to maintain the proud 160-year tradition of the Kentucky School for the Blind.
Just over a year ago the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) began an initiative to study the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) and the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD). The Department of Education hired an independent agency to undertake a study that would look at the effectiveness of services provided by KSB and KSD and how they serve students across the state. The American Institute of Research (AIR) conducted a six-month study, and a final report and recommendations were presented to the Kentucky Department of Education this past June.
Throughout this process we in the blind community have been concerned about the outcome of the study. On October 3, at the KDE board meeting, a proposal entitled "A New Direction for Statewide Services Supporting Success for Children with Vision and Hearing Disabilities" was presented to the board. The proposal outlines many changes in the way blind and deaf children in Kentucky will be educated. Many of the recommendations appear positive, such as improving early identification and intervention strategies, strengthening regional programs, and creating comprehensive high school programs.
However, two key issues are of grave concern. First, the superintendents' positions were eliminated. Second, according to the plan regional service centers will be established and kindergarten-through-eight students will be educated near their homes. After the development of K-through-eight programs regionally, residential services for this group will be available only to students with the most severe disabilities. The superintendent positions were replaced by a committee of four, based in Frankfort, at the KDE office. On site the schools will be overseen by a business manager and a principal.
Knowing the fate of schools for the blind in other states, the blind in Kentucky took action. We established a Save-KSB Steering Committee, made up of representatives from parent groups, consumer organizations, and agencies serving the blind. On October 15 representatives from the Kentucky Department of Education met at the American Printing House for the Blind to discuss these changes with concerned citizens. The approximately ninety people who attended the meeting were disheartened at the KDE's unwillingness to consider the special issues associated with providing an appropriate education for blind children.
Since key individuals in the Kentucky Department of Education were unwilling to listen to our concerns, the Save-KSB Steering Committee decided to go directly to the top to voice our concerns. We initiated a letter-writing, e-mail, and phone campaign directly to Kentucky's governor, Paul Patton.
On Thursday, October 24, nearly a hundred people gathered at the Capitol in Frankfort. The NFB of Kentucky rented a bus to transport concerned people from the Louisville area, and others traveled from across the state to make our opinions known. Upon our arrival at the Capital, we were taken into a gathering room, where Governor Patton met with us. NFB-K President Cathy Jackson and others spoke to the governor, explaining the importance of maintaining current services for blind students.
The governor was stone-faced throughout the interview. He appeared both deaf and blind to our entreaties. Upon being questioned directly, he insisted that he has no control over decisions made by the Department of Education. He assured us that funding for services for blind and deaf children will not change. We have been told by other sources that funding will be available to carry out the plans outlined in the proposal. But this assurance comes at a time when the governor announces that a budget cut of $77 million will be made in elementary and secondary education during this fiscal year unless something is done to offset budget deficits.
Following the interview with the governor, we gathered on the capitol steps. Others had the opportunity to speak. Several people representing the deaf community voiced their concerns through an interpreter. Following the rally, news articles appeared in the Frankfort and Lexington papers. The Louisville and Lexington areas also received television news coverage.
Since we did not make an impression on the governor, our efforts continue. We are gathering letters of support from individuals and organizations from across Kentucky and the nation. These letters will be put in an information packet to be presented to Kentucky Board of Education members, Kentucky legislators, and others. We are writing letters to the editors of newspapers across the state, explaining the importance of maintaining services for blind children. We are also contacting legislators to let them know of our concerns.
As we continue to e-mail, write letters, and call the Department of Education, we are beginning to see some progress in our efforts. We have argued that the KSB superintendent position must be reinstated. In order to develop quality programs for visually impaired students, KSB must have leadership with expertise in that field. In November Dr. Ralph Bartley, who had been told that as of June 30, 2003, he would no longer hold his position as superintendent of the Kentucky School for the Blind, was appointed to oversee regional programs for visually impaired and hearing impaired students. He will take over this new position in January. Also, because we have argued that K-through-eight programs for all VI students from across Kentucky must be maintained at KSB as an option, KDE personnel appear to be backing off the initial proposal that K-through-eight programs be for children with only the most severe disabilities.
We know that the fight isn't over yet. As the new legislative session begins in January, we plan to make contact with legislators to gain their support. As this issue once again comes before the Kentucky Board of Education at its meeting in February, we plan to be there in force to let our opinions be known. We know what is best for blind children, and we won't stop until we are heard and heeded.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Patti Gregory-Chang]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Patti Gregory-Chang]
In the Corner
by Patti Gregory‑Chang
From the Editor: Patti Gregory‑Chang is one of the leaders of the NFB of Illinois. In the following story she puts her finger on one of the problems all blind people face at one time or another. The support, understanding, and camaraderie she describes demonstrate the value of the Federation family. This is what she says:
Our experiences as blind people sometimes differ from those of our sighted neighbors. On occasion it takes another blind person to really get it. When I think about how we as blind people need each other, one particular episode comes to mind.
Debbie Stein and I have been friends for almost a decade. We met at an NFB chapter meeting. Some years ago Debbie and I walked along a quiet neighborhood street on the way to a school function for Debbie's daughter. Debbie explained to me that our trek to the gym was really a precursor to the main event, a dinner to be held that weekend.She went on to tell me that all of the mothers of seventh‑grade students were expected to prepare this dinner for the soon‑to‑graduate eighth‑graders and their families. Since her daughter Janna was in seventh grade, Debbie felt she ought to take part in this school tradition. Mrs. Arscott, one of the event organizers, had even told her she was welcome.
As soon as Debbie began talking, I knew she did not want to help in the school kitchen. With a wrench of empathy, I knew exactly why. "Yeah, you mean you don't like standing in the corner `keeping other people company,'" I said before Debbie finished.
Debbie and I then talked about the frustration of being pushed off to the side during family events and fundraising functions at our kids' schools and clubs. We agreed about how difficult it was to communicate to our sighted friends, families, and coworkers that this shunting aside made us feel angry and unwilling to participate.
I expressed the bewilderment I feel whenever I return to Michigan for family functions. When I was a teenager my stepmother refused to let me beg off from chores, no matter how elaborate or pitiful my excuses. She helped to make me the self‑sufficient mother, lawyer, and wife I am today. Yet now this same stepmother politely insists that she doesn't need me to set the table or help with wedding preparations for her grandchildren's nuptials. "You're on vacation," she tells me, and "It's easier if I do it myself."
Debbie echoed my feelings about the stand‑in‑the‑corner syndrome. I felt incredibly connected to her and other blind people during that walk because this is one of the things that sighted people just don't get. No explanations and euphemisms were necessary. Debbie and I communicated without having to articulate our complete thoughts.
Equally important to me, we went on to explore ideas about how to get around the problem. Debbie decided to confront the issue head‑on.
As soon as someone mentioned the upcoming dinner preparations and asked if she would be there, Debbie agreed to come upon one condition. She said that she would come if she could really help, not just stand in the corner. Pam Arscott took in what she was saying. She assigned Debbie to make salads for the dinner. Debbie fully participated by ripping lettuce and slicing tomatoes like all the other mothers who worked. Recalling this walk helps me remember one of the most important reasons why I belong to the National Federation of the Blind. Debbie and I met through the NFB, and through our shared experiences and exchange of ideas we have overcome some of the well‑intentioned discrimination we both deal with regularly.
[PHOTO/DESCRIPTION: Acollage of Kentucky pictures
[PHOTO/DESCRIPTION: Acollage of Kentucky pictures
CAPTION: A greeting from Kentucky]
CAPTION: A greeting from Kentucky]
The Kentucky Country: Land of Tomorrow
by Pamela Roark-Glisson
From the Editor: Have you made your convention reservation? Already the east tower of the Galt House is full, so don't delay any longer. Consult the reminder at the front of this issue for convention details and reservation information.
Kentucky is a wonderfully warm and welcoming state. Below is a sampler of interesting facts about the Bluegrass State. The material has been gathered by Pamela Roark-Glisson, president of the Lexington Chapter of the NFB of Kentucky. This is what she says:
Nestled almost in the center of the North, South, East, and West, about a one-day's journey from 75 percent of the population of the United States, is the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Some know Kentucky as the Bluegrass State, the horse capital of the world, the dark and bloody ground, or the land of beautiful women, fast horses, and good whiskey.
Ancient Indians, known as mound builders, first inhabited what is known today as southwest Kentucky in about 1650. Because of the abundance of wild game, Kentucky became a hunting ground for the Indians to the north--Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingold--and for the Indians to the south--Cherokee and Iroquois. Yet this land remained unclaimed by any one tribe.
In 1736 French traders are recorded as the first white settlers to cross the Ohio river at Portsmouth, Ohio, to develop a village for a brief period before moving on westward. Later, in 1750, an exploring expedition led by Dr. Thomas Walker entered the Kentucky country through the Cumberland Gap. But with these early explorations no official settlement of the land occurred.
Even though Daniel Boone was not a native of Kentucky, he achieved much of his fame as an American pioneer and frontiersman during his exploration of Kentucky. In The Adventures of Daniel Boone he is reported to have written on May 1, 1769, "I resigned my domestic happiness for a time and left my family and peaceable habitation on the Yadkin River in North Carolina to wander through the wilderness of America in quest of the country of Kentucky. We proceeded successfully, and after a long and fatiguing journey through the mountainous wilderness, we stood on the top of Pilot Knob and saw with pleasure the beautiful level of Kentucky. This land is replete with wild, rugged mountains; rushing torrents, which meet with cliffs to make majestic waterfalls; romantic woods; glens; palisades; and the calmly rolling meadowlands. The natural beauty and realism of Kentucky is unending and unrestrained."
In the early days, when Kentucky was being developed, the settlers discovered a land with miles of waterways, rich farmland, favorable climate, and an abundance of minerals. The white settlers mined the minerals, made salt, and planted crops. Often business was interrupted and the crops were not harvested because of Indian attacks.
The first settlers came mainly from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and eastern Tennessee. A group of Baptists from North and South Carolina settled in southern Kentucky in Monroe County in 1773 and constructed a new house of worship. Daniel Boone's sister Hannah is buried in the cemetery next to the church. Boonesborough, along with other settlements, was established in 1775. With the increase of white settlers in more and more villages, by 1777 the conflicts with the Indians were also on the increase. In 1778 the Shawnee Indians captured Daniel Boone and held him five months; he finally escaped in time to warn of a planned attack on Fort Boonesborough. Even with the impending danger from the attacking Indians, the white settlers maintained their faith and determination. The first Baptist church west of the Allegheny was formed in Elizabethtown in 1779.
Harrodsburg was the first parliamentary settlement in Kentucky. It was established in 1784. Today a historic replica of Fort Harrod is located near Harrodsburg. Frankfort was established in 1785 and later became the state's capital. It now has one of the nation's most beautiful statehouses, with elaborate historical murals. Kentucky's floral clock, dedicated by Governor Bert Combs in 1961, is unique in all the world. The clock is situated directly behind the capitol building, high in the air above a pool of water with its face, a planter, weighing one hundred tons and using 20,000 plants as decoration. Frankfort is located in central Kentucky on the Kentucky River.
In 1792 Kentucky became a state--the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Kentucky is one of four states to call itself a "commonwealth." It was the fifteenth state and the first on the Western frontier. The term "commonwealth," meaning government based on the common consent of the people, dates to Oliver Cromwell's England in the mid-1600's. The other U.S. commonwealths, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, were originally British colonies. Kentucky, once part of Virginia, chose to remain a commonwealth when it separated from Virginia.
Despite the ruggedness of the land and the hostility of the Indians, easterners continued their movement west. The frontiersmen and women were a strong and courageous people with great passion for the development of the new nation. Twenty thousand people attended a church meeting at Cane Ridge Meeting House in Paris (Bourbon County) in 1801. This was the largest religious gathering west of the Allegheny Mountains at that time, and the site is believed to be the largest log structure meeting house today in North America and the birthplace of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. During the War of 1812, over half of the American casualties were Kentuckians who left their homes to fight for the freedom of the new nation. The 1840's saw Kentucky the most traveled region of the new world by steamboats using its 3,000 miles of river waterways. The 1850 census ranked Kentucky as the eighth largest among the existing states with almost one million people, among whom were many notable Kentuckians.
Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States during the Civil War, and Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States, were both born in Kentucky just seven months and one hundred miles apart. Lincoln was born in 1809 and Davis in 1808. With the prominence of this new land, located between the north and the south, came a greater challenge than all previous hostile forces had presented. Kentuckians were faced with abolition of slavery.
After President Lincoln rejected Kentucky's policy of neutrality, the spell of peace for the meadowland vanished. The Union began its deployment across Kentucky to lay the foundation for some of the most significant battles fought during the war between the states. The first major battle fought on Kentucky soil during the Civil War took place near Prestonsburg in 1862. The bloodiest civil war battle fought on Kentucky ground was the battle of Perryville, also in 1862. Columbus, located in the far southwestern region of Kentucky, was known during the Civil War as the "Gibraltar of the West." It was the key to the lower Mississippi River defense. Guerilla activity during the Civil War destroyed more of Kentucky's covered bridges than any other force even though Kentucky was neutral ground, not officially supported or protected by either side.
Although the pioneers met with many obstacles to survival, exploration, and development of this new country, generation after generation persevered into the industrialization of a new society. Settlements continued to be developed, such as Beattyville, situated at the fork of three rivers and then known as the Paris, France, of the mountains. Tobacco growing, the development of the railroad, and coal mining increased the wealth of these early pioneers. Since 1825, when loose-leaf tobacco was marketed for the first time, Lexington has become the largest loose-leaf tobacco market in the world, and since 1865 Kentucky has been the leading producer of tobacco among the states.
Kentucky's first horse races were held in Harrodsburg in 1783 with the first annual Kentucky Derby run at Churchill Downs in Louisville in 1875. The leading occupation in Kentucky was thoroughbred horse farms. In addition, the settlers found the bluegrass growing on Kentucky's limestone-rich soil, and traders began asking for the seed of the "bluegrass." Bluegrass is not really blue; it is green. In the spring it produces bluish purple buds that, when seen in large fields, appears to have a rich bluish cast, from which derives the familiar term, "Bluegrass State." The unique and beautiful bluegrass seed and orchard grass seed were profitably traded and widely distributed in the early years and remain internationally known today.
Currently Kentucky's economy has expanded to include some of the largest industrial groups. Kentucky is third in the nation in coal mining and the production of hardwood. Travel and tourism is Kentucky's third largest revenue-producing industry and the second largest private employer in Kentucky.
Kentucky abounds with travel opportunities, including six national areas, forty-nine state parks, and hundreds of historic, natural, cultural, and recreational attractions. One such attraction is found at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park--the Moonbow, the only phenomenon of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Cumberland Falls in Kentucky is known as the Niagara of the South. A 125-foot curtain of water plunges sixty feet to the boulder-strewn gorge. The mist of the falls creates the magical colors of the Moonbow, visible only on a clear night with a full moon.
Kentucky ranks thirty-seventh in land size and is bordered by seven states. Its neighbors are Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee. The highest point is Black Mountain in Harlan County (far southeast Kentucky), and the lowest point is at the Mississippi River in Fulton County (far southwest Kentucky). It has more miles of running water than any other state except Alaska. Kentucky has 12.7 million acres of commercial forest land, which is 50 percent of the state's land area. The principal minerals and by-products are coal, crushed stone, natural gas, and petroleum.
Kentucky naturally divides into six regions: the Mountain in the eastern part of the state, also known as the Eastern Coal Basin; the Knobs Region, producing oil and natural gas (an aerial view depicts this area as an array of enormous door knobs); the Bluegrass Region, the fertile ground and meadowland; the West Coal Fields Region, the western mining area; the Pennyroyal Region, named for the pennyroyal herb of the mint family; and the Jackson Purchase Region, purchased from the Chickasaw Indians by President Andrew Jackson.
Kentucky's history is replete with firsts, lasts, oldests, largests, and onlys. The longest siege in United States frontier history was the thirteen-day siege of Fort Boonesborough in September of 1778. The Gazette, Kentucky's first newspaper, began publication in 1787 by John Bradford in Lexington. Colonel William Price, a Revolutionary War veteran, held the first Independence Day celebration in the West in Jessamine County on July 4, 1794. Mammoth Cave (discovered in 1809) contains the longest underground cave system in the world and is second only to Niagara Falls as the oldest tourist attraction in the United States. The first millionaire west of the Allegheny Mountains was John Wesley Hunt, who settled in Lexington in 1814. His Federal-style house remains as a historical landmark and is known as the Hunt-Morgan House. Mary Todd Lincoln's childhood home is the site of the first national shrine to a First Lady, also located in Lexington. The first steamboat trip was taken in 1817 from New Orleans to Louisville, which was a twenty-five-day trip.
The public saw the electric light for the first time when Thomas Edison introduced the light bulb in Louisville in 1883. Mother's Day was first observed in Henderson, Kentucky, by teacher Mary S. Wilson in 1887 and became a national holiday in 1916. Camp Knox was established in 1917, and in 1932 became Fort Knox. It is a permanent depository for national gold. More than six billion dollars worth of gold is stored in the underground vaults, the largest amount of gold stored anywhere in the world. Cheeseburgers were introduced in Kealin's Restaurant in Louisville in 1934. Colonel Harland D. Sanders started his nationally known Kentucky Fried Chicken business in Corbin, Kentucky, in the 1930's. Today more than 10,000 KFC restaurants flourish worldwide.
Middlesborough is the only city in the United States constructed in the middle of a meteor crater. Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort is the largest bourbon distillery in the world. Labrot and Graham Bourbon Distillery in Versailles is the oldest operating distillery in America. Penn's Country Store in Danville, Kentucky, is the oldest country store in America. Shaker Village, located at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, is the largest restored Shaker Village national historic landmark in America. Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, is the first interracial college of the South.
The only monument south of the Ohio River dedicated to a Union soldier was constructed in Vanceburg, Kentucky. High Bridge National Park contains what was once the highest railroad bridge in the world. Bybee Pottery in Berea is the oldest pottery business west of the Allegheny Mountains. The Latrobe House, Pope Villa, located in Versailles, is one of the few remaining examples of the work of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol. Kentucky was the first state to complete the writing of its state constitution and was the first state to be mapped topographically.
Some tidbits about Kentucky: Man O'War won all of his races, except for one, which he lost to a horse named Upset. The Robeling Suspension Bridge in Covington is a scale model of the Brooklyn Bridge. In nearby Maysville the Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge is a model of the Golden Gate Bridge and is built across the Ohio river. In 1833 the importation of slaves was prohibited. Kentucky was second to Georgia to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. The University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball program is the winningest program in basketball history. Louisville houses the largest manufacturer of baseball bats (Louisville Slugger). Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the home of the only Chevrolet Corvette manufacturing plant.
Music is perhaps one of the most notable factors that bring recognition to Kentucky. Stephen Collins Foster's writing of "My Old Kentucky Home" in 1853 has brought much fame to Kentucky and has been adopted as the official state song. Earlier in mountain history, mountaineers plucked out melodies expressing the savagery and fury of mountain life as well as the majesty and gentleness of the wilderness and meadowlands. Kentucky is well known for its bluegrass music, which tells of Kentucky country life. "Blue Moon of Kentucky," written by Bill Monroe in 1947, is Kentucky's official bluegrass state song. Artists in all areas have capitalized upon the beauty, magnificence, tranquility, magic, ferocity, and wilderness of Kentucky life.
A good number of notable Kentuckians have contributed to the development of the nation. Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, born in Richmond, Kentucky, achieved fame at the top of his field, world championship boxing. Johnny Unitas, a football star from Kentucky, became a household word in the 1960's. And PeeWee Reese from Kentucky received recognition in the baseball world.
Country music stars from Kentucky have continued to bring attention to the state: the Judds, John Michael Montgomery, Montgomery Gentry, and Loretta Lynn, to name a few. Contemporary pop musicians from Kentucky, such as the Everley Brothers, have also made contributions. Many others, including Jesse James, whose first bank robbery was of the Southern Bank in Russelville, and Kit Carson, who was a noted frontiersman and Indian scout, bring both negative and positive examples of success to the Kentucky Commonwealth.
Richard M. Johnson served as vice president under President Martin Van Buren beginning in 1836. Henry Clay, notable congressman and diplomat, and Laura Clay, women's rights activist, were both from Kentucky. Bobbie Ann Mason is a well-known author. Paul Hornung is a Heisman Trophy winner in football. Marsha Norman is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her drama. Other native Kentuckians have also brought honor to the state, for example, Robert Penn Warren (Poet Laureate and twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize), Henry Watterson (journalist), Terrence W. Wilcutt (astronaut), and Whitney Young (civil rights activist).
Perhaps southern hospitality began in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. After all, hickory-smoked and sugar-cured ham, along with apple stack cake, exemplify delicious food originating in Kentucky. The elegance of hand crafted furniture and the colorful spinning, weaving, and quilting (telling stories of the past, present, and future) exemplify the state's mellow and friendly culture. The state seal and flag, as well as other official state indicia, depict solidarity, beauty, and serenity. The state seal pictures two men greeting one another above the words "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." This is surrounded by the words "Commonwealth of Kentucky." The seal is embroidered on a field of blue as the state flag. The original is displayed in Frankfort at the Kentucky History Museum. The state bird is the Kentucky cardinal, and the pleasant melodies of this red-crested songbird can be heard year round. The state flower is the goldenrod. The golden blooms of this wild flower decorate the highways each fall. The state tree is the tulip tree in the magnolia family, growing 145 feet tall and living two hundred years. The state gem is the elegant freshwater pearl. The Kentucky bass is the state fish, and the gentle grey squirrel is the state wild animal. Now that you know something about the history and culture of Kentucky, come and explore what we have to offer. See you in Louisville.
The recipes this month are from members of the NFB of New Hampshire:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mildred Dickey]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mildred Dickey]
Midwest Cheese Casserole
by Mildred Dickey
Mildred Dickey is a charter member and vice president of the Lakes Region chapter of the NFB of New Hampshire and is head of the affiliate's diabetics outreach committee.
1/2 pound American cheese, cubed (use the government surplus distributed to eligible senior citizens)
1/4 cup milk
1 pound ground beef
1/3 cup regular or quick oats, uncooked
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
Method: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook cheese, milk, and mustard over low heat until smooth, stirring often. Reserve 3/4 cup of this sauce for later. In large bowl mix remaining ingredients, including raw meat, with all but the reserved sauce. Pour into a casserole dish. Bake forty minutes. Top with reserved sauce and serve.
Fruited Chicken Salad
by Mildred Dickey
2 cups cooked diced chicken
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup chopped apple
1 cup orange sections
1 cup pineapple chunks, drained
1/2 cup grapes, halved
2 cups celery
6 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
5 tablespoons low-calorie mayonnaise
4 tablespoons skim milk
2 packages Sweet 'n Low
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spices
Method: Toss chicken with soy sauce and let stand fifteen minutes. Mix fruit and celery, add to chicken, toss, and chill. Blend dressing ingredients well and toss with salad.
Serve on lettuce leaves. Makes six servings, 175 calories each.
Ultimate Snack Mix
by Mildred Dickey
1/4 cup oleo
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon sugar
7 cups Ralston Corn or Rice Chex
1 cup pretzels
1 cup peanuts
1 cup oyster crackers
Method: In large bowl melt oleo in microwave and stir in seasonings. Then stir in cereal, pretzels, peanuts, and crackers. Stir all ingredients together to coat. Microwave mix on high for five to six minutes, stirring thoroughly with rubber spatula every two minutes. Spread on absorbent paper to cool. Store in airtight container.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ed Meskys]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ed Meskys]
Diet Cheese Cake
by Ed Meskys
Ed Meskys is the past president of the NFB of New Hampshire.
1/4 cup cold water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
10 packets sugar substitute (to taste, depending on flavorings used) I use bulk Splenda, stopping at 5 1-ounce coffee measures.
Flavors: (in all cases add a dash of vanilla)
almond: 2 teaspoons almond extract
lemon: 1 teaspoon lemon oil--not extract
chocolate: 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
mocha: 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 teaspoons instant coffee
chocolate raspberry: 1 scant tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 teaspoons berry extract
plain vanilla: 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Method: Place the quarter cup of cold water in a small sauce pan. Sprinkle the gelatin over it and allow it to soften for a few minutes. In the meantime beat the softened cream cheese until light and fluffy, adding the sweetener a couple of packets at a time. To get it smooth and creamy, I beat on low for about ten minutes total. Beat in the desired flavorings. Heat the gelatin over low heat until it is dissolved, then pour it into the cream cheese mixture. Beat until thoroughly mixed, then turn out into 9- or 10-inch pie plate sprayed with nonstick spray. Spread to level, and chill for at least one hour. Total pie is 1600 calories, so, if cut into 8 servings, each is 200 calories.
Fake Breakfast Danish
by Ed Meskys
For one serving:
2 slices diet raisin bread
1/4 cup fat‑free ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons Smuckers light sugar‑free jam, any flavor
Method: Spread the ricotta on the two slices of bread, then the jam. Of course keep away from edge to prevent dripping. Toast in toaster oven. Eat warm. The two slices make a hearty breakfast at only 120 calories.
by Ed Meskys
1 pound lean beef
1-1/2 ounces croutons or stuffing mix (not Stove Top)
1 can condensed mushroom soup
Method: Combine all ingredients and place in meat loaf pan with rack. I use the double pan with the inner one perforated to drain any fat. With 90 percent lean beef there is almost no drainage. Bake at 350 degrees for about seventy minutes, which is also enough to bake medium potatoes as a side dish. Serves four, 10 Weight Watchers points each.
News from the Federation Family
The NFB of Rhode Island elected new officers at its October 26, 2002, convention. They are Richard A. Gaffney, president; Barry Humphries, vice president; Mary Jane Fry, secretary; Ken Bryant, treasurer; and Angelina Teixeira and John Carvalho, board members.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: a Federation plaque from O'Leary's Emporium]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: a Federation plaque from O'Leary's Emporium]
Marc Maurer, Barbara Pierce, Sharon Maneki, Steve Benson, Allen Harris, Kris Cox, Kevan Worley--what do these people have in common? Well, of course, they are all Federation leaders. In addition, they have used O'Leary's Emporium to supply high-quality plaques, which have been produced exactly right.
Not only can O'Leary's create perfect plaques for presentation to your award winner, we can also include the engraved Whozit logo. Plaques are available in a variety of sizes to meet your specific requirements.
Plaques will be shipped by UPS approximately two weeks after receipt of your confirmed order. Please mail, e-mail, or fax your typed plaque order (after double checking spelling). If you wish, we can assist you with wording, punctuation, and design.
For NFB affiliates our prices are 25 percent below our standard retail. We accept all major credit cards. We offer other commemorative items as well, which can be engraved and can include the Whozit logo. Don't delay. To recognize or commemorate a person, deed, event, place, or service, call O'Leary's Emporium for highest-quality engraved plaques. Contact O'Leary's Emporium, P.O. Box 479, Emmitsburg, Maryland 21727, fax (301) 447-2799, phone (301) 447-2795, or e-mail <[email protected]>.
The NFB of Oregon Rose City Chapter conducted elections on November 16, 2002. The officers are president, Carolyn Brock; vice president, Laine Gardinier; secretary, Jerry Hathaway; and treasurer, Joyce Green.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Pathamon is in need of a family.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Pathamon is in need of a family.]
Adoptive Family Needed for Young Child:
The World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP) is seeking an adoptive family for Pathamon, an affectionate little girl of seven who loves her trampoline. Pathamon was born blind and with hearing loss in both ears. In January 2002 she had surgery for her hearing, which is reported to have improved dramatically since the surgery. The caregivers at the orphanage are eager for her to have parents of her own. They care deeply about her and are concerned whether they can do everything possible to help her reach her full potential.
For more detailed information contact WACAP's Family Finders Team at (206) 575-4550 or <[email protected]>. WACAP will mail her photos, video, and medical information upon request. Financial assistance is available for the adoption of this child.
U.S. and Canada Adopt New Braille Terminology:
We recently received the following press release from the Braille Authority of North America. It seems a sensible idea:
The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) announces a change in terminology to what has been traditionally known as Grade 1 and Grade 2 Braille. These categories will now be referred to as uncontracted and contracted Braille respectively.
The change is being made at the request of many in the blindness field. People often confuse grades of Braille with first and second grades in elementary school. BANA believes that the change to more accurate descriptive language will increase awareness and improve the overall understanding of how Braille is learned, read, written, and transcribed.
BANA urges all organizations, agencies, teacher-training programs, Braille-production facilities, software developers, professionals in the field of blindness, and Braille readers to incorporate this terminology into writing, publications, presentations, and general practice. The ultimate goal is to enhance understanding and more accurately reflect what Braille truly is‑‑a versatile and effective reading and writing system for people of all ages.
Free Braille Transcription and More Available:
Does your child enjoy a book series so much that he or she would love to read every book in it? Is the whole class talking about a new book, but your student hasn't had a chance to read it because it's not yet available in Braille? Introducing The Braille Bookstore's Read What You Want program. We'll transcribe any popular book for ages two to twelve into Braille at no charge. Your only cost is our everyday low Braille-production prices (based on the number of Braille pages). For instance, you can order any book in the Magic Tree House or Cam Jansen Adventures Series in Braille for just $6.95; any Goosebumps mystery for only $15.95; or any title in the Babysitters Club or Nancy Drew Mystery Stories collections for $19.95 and $21.95 respectively.
And since we can usually get a copy of the print book you want transcribed locally, you won't even have to mail it to us. What all this really boils down to is that kids can now read any book of their choice in Braille a week or two after you call us, without its costing you a small fortune. Give us a ring at (800) 987‑1231, or send an e‑mail to <[email protected]> today to get us working on whatever book you want.
One more thing: over a thousand Braille titles are already available for all ages from our online catalog. What's more, we have a gift shop and a Learning Braille category, featuring such popular items as Print/Braille flash cards, Braille magnets, bookmarks, key chains, calendars, playing cards, tactile board games, and gift certificates. On our Web site you can even type in a list of words or names for us to use to make print/Braille flash cards for just $6.95. You can browse through our online bookstore (and order right on the Web site using our screen-reader‑friendly, completely secure shopping cart) by dropping by <www.braillebookstore.com>.
Dancing Dots Releases CakeTalking for SONAR:
Dancing Dots announces the release of CakeTalking for SONAR, software that gives the blind user premium access to Cakewalk SONAR. Blind music students, composers, arrangers, performers, and audio professionals can now easily access the features of Cakewalk's powerful mainstream digital audio and MIDI software. Using CakeTalking and the JAWS for Windows screen reader, blind musicians can independently create sound recordings and printed versions of their musical ideas with SONAR.
SONAR converts your PC into a multitrack, digital audio and MIDI recording studio. CakeTalking customizes the way the JAWS for Windows screen reader behaves with SONAR's user interface. The result: blind musicians can spend their time creating, not configuring JAWS to cope with SONAR's graphical presentation of information. In addition, CakeTalking for SONAR comes with a sophisticated online help system and detailed documentation for the blind JAWS user, useful to beginners and experienced musicians as well as audio engineers.
The initial release of CakeTalking 3.0 is for Windows XP (both Home and Professional editions) and Windows 2000. A version compatible with Windows 98 and Millennium will follow very soon. Customers must have JAWS version 4.5. Various versions of all these products can be ordered directly from Dancing Dots.
Special pricing on some products may be available from the Web site <www.dancingdots.com>. For more information contact <[email protected]>; 1754 Quarry Lane, PO Box 927, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania 19482‑0927; phone (610) 783‑6692; fax (610) 783‑6732.
Online Yarn Craft Group:
Eileen Fleming has established a listserv for blind knitters and others who enjoy yarn crafts. She says: VIP-SHEEP-TALK is a list for blind and visually impaired people who enjoy yarn-related crafts (typically knitting or crocheting). However, if you have another yarn craft you find enjoyable, come and join us because we'd love to hear what you're working on and how you manage the craft.
This is the group to join if you want to share and learn patterns, get the scoop on yarns and related supplies, get some help on one of those difficult-to-learn patterns or stitches, and make new friends. It doesn't matter if you're at a beginning, intermediate, or advanced level in your craft; we're looking forward to hearing from you. Our shoptalk is about more than sheep. It can be about cotton, silk, goat, rabbit, man-made fibers, or anything else pertaining to a yarn craft. Please note, however, that advertising is not allowed.
To subscribe to [email protected] send a blank e-mail message to <[email protected]>. To post a message, send it to <[email protected]>.
To unsubscribe, send a blank e-mail to <[email protected]>. And to contact the owner and moderator, Eileen Fleming, e-mail <[email protected]>.
National Braille Press is pleased to announce the publication of a new book featuring twenty-five gardening and garden‑related projects for any time of year: Kids Gardening is in a large print/Braille edition in one volume, for $13.95. It includes free seeds and shovel.
This is the gardening book for any climate, any time, any place, and anyone. This entertaining project book describes all the ins and outs of growing plants-‑both indoors and outdoors. Whether you want to grow an avocado seed in your kitchen window or plant an entire vegetable and wildflower garden in the back yard, this book has all the information you'll need in clear, easy‑to‑understand language. We've also included a list of helpful tips from a blind gardener. To order, send $13.95 (same price as print book) to National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115. Or call us toll‑free at (800) 548‑7323.
Braille Transcription Service Available:
We offer customized Braille transcription service that meets the individual needs of the customer. Print can be transcribed into Braille at modest prices for all kinds of documents, including bulletins, agendas, menus, theater programs, employment materials, legal documents, letters, lists, invitations, labels, and much more.
Documents can be received on disk in MS Word format, and e-mail attachments. For more information about this service give Kerry Smith a call at (314) 644-7733, or e-mail <[email protected]>.
Voice Internet Service:
Imagine accessing the Internet without a computer when you are on the go, stuck in traffic, or just away from your computer. Sound like science fiction? Not any more, using InternetSpeech's netECHO®, the only voice Internet service to give you access to the entire Web. No computer is needed.
You can surf and browse any Web site, listen to and respond to your e-mail, do a search on any word, and much more. Pretty much anything you can do with a computer and a visual browser can now be done with any phone and your own voice. If you have a phone, you have access to the Internet.
The rates are very affordable. Program A: $9.95 a month, unlimited use. You call a toll number in the 408 area code. Program B: $19.95 a month, includes three hours of use. After three hours, $2.50 for every thirty minutes. Both programs have a one-time set-up fee of $20. Just call (877) 312-4638 to take advantage of our introductory specials. You can also visit our Web site at <www.internetspeech.com>.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
Security System for Sale:
I have for sale an ITI Simon 2.0 talking security system for the house. It comes with the following:
1. The Simon 2.0 panel
2. Four two-way touchtalk keypads (one is missing the cover that goes over the keys)
3. Two door/window contacts
4. One internal motion detector
5. One user's guide on VHS and one installation guide on VHS.
6. 1x10 lamp module for interfacing with a light so that the security system can turn the lamp on and off
The security system comes with the installation guide and user's guide also in PDF (portable document format) on a CD-ROM, allowing a sighted person to program the sensors and options. I am asking $200 or best offer. The Simon 2 works perfectly.
If interested, please e‑mail me at <[email protected]> or call (716) 510‑5409.
Ameenah Ghoston has a Kurzweil Reading Edge for $475 or best offer. Also a Braille 'n Speak 2000 for $500. For more information call (217) 355‑9784 or e-mail <[email protected]>.
Jim Blacksten from San Francisco has two Braille displays and a Braille/graphics printer for sale at reduced prices. All equipment is in good working condition.
40-character Windows Braille display, $4,500
66-character Windows Braille display, $7,500
Braille/graphics embosser, $5,200
For more information or to make an offer, please call (415) 495‑3101.
I have a Smartview CCTV with 21-inch ViewSonic monitor and on-screen calculator/time/date functions. Barely used. Originally $3,600. I will sell for $1800. Call Renee at (704) 263‑1314 and leave message. Or e-mail <[email protected]>.
Outlook color CCTV, asking $1,500 (negotiable). Contact Philip I. Brake, 9100 Gue Road, Damascus, Maryland 20872, (301) 253-3136.
CCTV, Aladdin Ultra Pro 75 by Telesensory, less than one year old, asking $995. If interested, contact Hyman Easton, 320 E. Shore Road, Great Neck, New York 11023, (516) 487-7882.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts 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.
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION FORM
The National Federation of the Blind has chapters in all fifty states and in almost every local community in the nation. The Federation has more than 50,000 members and is working to help the blind to have full and meaningful lives. It is not financed by the government but depends for support on contributions from its Members, and its Friends.
Yes, I want to become an Associate Member of the National Federation of the Blind in the classification I've indicated:
o Contributing Associate-$25
o Supporting Associate-$50
o Sponsoring Associate-$100
o Sustaining Associate-$500
o Member of the President's Club-$1,000
I am making payment by the following method:
o Enclosed personal check o Enclosed money order
o Credit Card: o VISA o Master Card o Discover
(Please type or print legibly.)
City __________________ State ___________ZIP ___________
Local representative of the National Federation of the Blind:
Please send your donations made payable to
National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Associates Program
1800 Johnson Street Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Received of _____________________________________________ in the amount of ____________ dollars.
Signature of local representative of the National Federation of the Blind __________________________________________________
(All contributions to the National Federation of the Blind are tax-deductible.)