Vol. 49, No. 11 December 2006
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
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: [email protected]
Web site address: http://www.nfb.org
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 49, No. 11 December 2006
Convention Bulletin 2007
Maxi-Aids Seeks to Intimidate
Competitors by Claiming that Somebody Stole
Intellectual Property from It
by Marc Maurer
Blindness: The Lessons
by Kenneth Jernigan
It's a Long Way from School
Plays to Community Theater
So How Did I Get from There to Here?
by Gail Snider
An Examination of Four
Stand-alone Reading Machines
by Steven Booth, Mike Tindell, and Anne Taylor
A New Day for Disabled
by Karl Smith
Ask Miss Whozit
Leadership In Action:
Jernigan Institute Establishes New Program to Empower Youth
by The NFB Jernigan Institute Education Team
The 2007 National Federation
of the Blind
Children Award for 2007
by Sharon Maneki
The 2007 Blind Educator
of the Year Award
by David Ticchi
What A Relief!
by Denice F. Brown
Massachusetts Appoints the Right Man
A New Way to Demonstrate
by Jerry Whittle
Social Security, SSI, and
Medicare Facts for 2007
by James McCarthy
The Momentum Is Building
Copyright 2006 National Federation of the Blind
It is time to plan for the 2007 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This year we are returning to Atlanta and the beautiful Marriott Marquis Hotel, site of the 1999, 2000, and 2004 conventions.
Once again our hotel rates are the envy of all. For the 2007 convention they are singles, doubles, and twins, $61; and triples and quads, $66. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 15 percent. No charge will be made for children seventeen and under in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested.
For 2007 convention room reservations you should write directly to the Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, or call (404) 521-0000. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 1, 2007, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
The Marquis is a beautiful, fifty-story atrium hotel with a panoramic view of this bustling city in the heart of the New South. It is twelve miles north of the Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport. Those driving to the convention will find the hotel conveniently located off Interstate 85, by taking Exit 96, International Boulevard, turning left onto International Boulevard, going to Peachtree Center Avenue, and turning right. The hotel is on the right in the second block. The Marriott has several excellent restaurants. The hotel is currently undergoing renovations that will result in some alteration in the configuration of these. We will report on the changes as the convention draws near. It still features indoor and outdoor pools, a solarium, health club, whirlpool, and sauna. Guest-room amenities include cable television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and dataport.
Federationists attending the convention will have access to a wealth of restaurants, shops, and other attractions like Martin Luther King Center (1.5 miles), Underground Atlanta (0.8 mile), and World of Coca-Cola (0.8 mile). See later issues of the Monitor for information about tours and other attractions in the Greater Atlanta area.
The 2007 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. The schedule this year is the usual one. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Saturday, June 30, and adjournment will be Friday, July 6, at 5:00 p.m. Convention registration and registration packet pickup for those who registered online will begin on Sunday, July 1, and both Sunday and Monday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Monday morning annual meeting, open to all, of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
Immediately following the first NFB Independence March through downtown Atlanta, the general convention sessions will begin on Tuesday, July 3, and continue through the afternoon of Friday, July 6. The annual banquet will take place on Thursday evening, July 5. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 1.
Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time (identifying the item and donor and listing the value in print and Braille) to Thelma Godwin, 1705 Paradiso Drive, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30307.
The best collection of exhibits, featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; memorable tours arranged by the Georgia affiliate; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made--all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2007 national convention. We'll see you in Atlanta in 2007!
For more than a decade
the Maxi-Aids Corporation, along with the family of companies that have been
created by Maxi-Aids's principal, Elliot Zaretsky, has been featured in the
Monitor as an entity that would shave the truth, steal names and intellectual
material from others, and lie about its businesses and practices to capture
market share (See "Was It Swiss or Hong Kong: The Story of Maxi-Aids," December
1994; "Summary and Brief Excerpts from the Trial," March 1998; "On Ethics and
Maxi-Aids," July 1998; "Department of Veterans Affairs Debars Maxi-Aids," December
1999; "Maxi-Aids Exposed Again: ILA Files Contempt-of-Court Motion," December
2001; "Elliot Zaretsky Visits the National Center for the Blind," January/February
2002; "Maxi-Aids Exposed Again Part II: Able-Vision Established to Circumvent
the VA's Proposed Debarment," January/February 2002; "Perkins School for the
Blind Sues Maxi-Aids," July 2002; "Maxi-Aids Held in Contempt of Court," May
2005; and "Maxi-Aids Held in Contempt of Court," July 2005). Now we have a document
from Maxi-Aids which purports to be a report that somebody else has taken intellectual
property from Maxi-Aids. Given the long history of prevarication of Elliot Zaretsky,
one must look upon this latest document with a substantial degree of skepticism.
Nevertheless, the Maxi-Aids missive is clearly a threat--one which apparently
seeks to intimidate others into dropping lines of business that compete with
Maxi-Aids. Here is exactly what Elliot Zaretsky says, punctuation and usage
errors and all:
Farmingdale, New York
To whom it may concern,
It has come to the attention of our Legal Department, that a company that was contracted by Maxi-Aids, has used manufacturing molds which were designed and paid for by Maxi-Aids for the expressed purpose of the production of Reizen products. These products have been re-produced without the permission or knowledge of Maxi-Aids and were sold on the open market to distributors and competitors. As this was done without the knowledge or permission of Maxi-Aids, it is a violation of our intellectual and material property rights.
Please see the included list of items as well as the pictures showing the products in question. If you have purchased these items from any reseller besides Maxi-Aids you must contact us immediately so we can let you know if the reseller is an authorized distributor of these products. If you have purchased products from an unauthorized reseller we will instruct you on the proper handling of this merchandise so as to avoid litigation.
Maxi-Aids will pursue all
legal avenues available in order to defend our material and intellectual property
and will seek damages from anyone including distributors who are either knowingly
or unknowingly in possession of merchandise that was obtained without our consent.
Very truly yours,
This letter of Elliot Zaretsky's was apparently distributed far and wide. It contains considerable irony along with allegations which seem to be false. Attached to the letter is a sheet containing pictures of products associated with certain legends. For example, one of the pictures is of a liquid level indicator. Tim Cranmer, a member of the National Federation of the Blind, who died some years ago, invented this liquid level indicator. He named it the "Say When." Tim had this product manufactured in Kentucky. The National Federation of the Blind was one of the principal distributors of Tim's Say Whens.
At one point in the history of the Say When, Maxi-Aids pirated the product. Later, when an administrative mix-up caused the copyright on the Say When name to lapse, Maxi-Aids appropriated this as well despite the prior use of the name. Both the name and the product have been taken from their inventor by Maxi-Aids. Maxi-Aids is now alleging that this is its own intellectual property.
Another of the pictures on the Maxi-Aids sheet is a set of dominoes. Maxi-Aids proclaims that it owns the intellectual property "Tactile Double Six Dominoes." My memory tells me that Maxi-Aids came into being in 1986. I was playing tactile six dot dominoes at the school for the blind in 1961. Sets of such dominoes could be purchased during the sixties and seventies. We in the National Federation of the Blind sell raised dot dominoes today. Inasmuch as we do not do business with Maxi-Aids, we got them from another supplier. Because we don't believe we can trust Maxi-Aids, we have adopted a policy not to do business with the company. We think Maxi-Aids's claim of intellectual ownership of this idea is complete idiocy or worse.
During the past dozen years or so, we have reported that Maxi-Aids has engaged in many forms of sharp practice. We do not believe that it is fair for us to be subject to intimidation, and we do not believe that the field of blindness is well served by the behavior of Maxi-Aids. Now Maxi-Aids is accusing others of stealing from it. The only comment that seems to fit is that Maxi-Aids should know. It takes one to know one.
An Address Delivered by
President, National Federation of the Blind
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Minneapolis, July 3, 1980
From the Editor: Many of the seminal speeches of the Federation are readily available for reading and study on our Web site. But I suspect that very few of us take the time to reread them and remember the past and understand our history.
In the closing month of 2006 we are reprinting President Jernigan's memorable 1980 banquet address. He was looking back over forty years of Federation history and drawing important distinctions between the problems the organization faced at forty from those that had beset it in earlier days.
From the distance of more than a quarter century we may well find ourselves startled to remember or learn for the first time just how beleaguered the Federation was in 1980. The blindness world has indeed changed in the years since Dr. Jernigan's report. The National Accreditation Council staggers along, more dead than alive, with a bit over half the number of agencies it had in 1980. The American Foundation for the Blind has retreated from its efforts to rule the field and frequently works fairly collegially with the organized blind. The American Council of the Blind meanders along, cursing the NFB and struggling with its financial difficulties. And no one even remembers the Affiliated Leadership League of and for the Blind. Considering the matter month-to-month, it is difficult to see progress. But rereading the 1980 banquet address, we can recognize it. With luck we will also gain the perspective to view the problems and challenges that face us today in a clearer light. Here is the speech:
Napoleon, in one of his more expansive moments, is said to have quipped: "History is merely a legend agreed upon." Queen Elizabeth I, reportedly squelched Mary Queen of Scots with the regal comment: "No, history will not vindicate you, for I will write it." In other words, according to this view, history is only a myth and a fable.
But there are those who think otherwise. A time-honored cliché proclaims, with almost mystic authority: "History repeats itself, and those who do not learn it are doomed to relive it." The very qualities which make this pronouncement so attractive are also the ones which make it so dangerous as a standard of conduct. Its slick phraseology and apparent logic divert attention from its oversimplification. History does, indeed, repeat itself--but never precisely and never exactly. There is always a new twist, a different nuance, an added element. For one thing, the past event itself (the one which is currently in the process of being repeated) is now a factor. Its former occurrence is part of the pattern. It has left its mark and skewed the picture. Those who fail to recognize this truth can never effectively learn the lessons of history. History can give us a sense of heritage and broaden our perspective; it can help us understand and cope with the present; and it can assist us in predicting the future.
Tonight (in July of 1980) we stand at the threshold of the fifth decade of our organization. As we look back to the past and call up our heritage so that we may deal with the present and plan for the future, let us bear in mind what the poet Tennyson said in the middle of the nineteenth century: "I am a part of all that I have met." Let us also remember that history has its cycles, its not quite repetitions, and its patterns and lessons for those who can read and understand.
When the blind came to
organize in 1940, the situation was as bleak as it could possibly be. It was
bright enough to create hope and dark enough to make that hope seem impossible.
Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the brilliant scholar and constitutional lawyer who founded
our movement and led it for the first quarter century, summed up the early years
as only he could have done it:
The paramount problems of our first decade, the 1940's, [he said] were not so much qualitative as quantitative: we had the philosophy and the programs, but we lacked the membership and the means. The workers were few and the cupboard was bare.
Each month as we received our none too bountiful salary as a young instructor at the University of Chicago Law School, Hazel and I would distribute it among the necessaries of life: food, clothing, rent, Federation stamps, mimeograph paper, ink, and other supplies. So did we share our one-room apartment. The mimeograph paper took far more space in our closet than did our clothes. We had to move the mimeograph machine before we could let down the wall bed to retire at night. If on a Sunday we walked along Chicago's lakefront for an hour, four or five fewer letters were written, dropping our output for that day to fewer than twenty-five.
The decade of the forties
was a time of building: and build we did, from a scattering of seven state affiliates
at our first convention to more than four times that number in 1950. In the
decade of the forties we proved our organizational capacity, established our
representative character, initiated legislative programs on the state and national
levels, and spoke with the authority and voice of the blind speaking for themselves.1
This is the way Dr. tenBroek summed up the first decade. The second decade, the 1950's, was a time of both triumph and trouble. It began with hope and momentum. It ended with internal strife and a civil war. By the midfifties we had forty-seven state affiliates, money in the treasury, and power in the halls of Congress. In the fifties we established our magazine, the Braille Monitor, and began to outline to ourselves and to others the distinctive nature of what we were and what we intended to be. By the end of the decade we were so divided and demoralized that our very existence as a continuing and viable movement seemed highly doubtful.
Dr. tenBroek recognized, as did the rest of us in that corps of leaders he trained in the fifties, that it was no mere accident or coincidence that our growing independence and influence were followed by furious attacks from without by the agencies and defections and strife from within by people who had been our colleagues in the movement. The governmental and private agencies (the American Foundation for the Blind, the sheltered shops, and the rehabilitation and social work establishment) had money and position and prestige. They used these resources lavishly--not as instruments to aid the blind but as weapons to fight us and to protect their vested interests. They intimidated, offered jobs and positions to our potential leaders, promised services and rewards, threatened reprisals, and did everything else in their power to break our spirit and crush our determination. They complained to the post office and tried to discredit our mailings and fund appeals. They exploited the vulnerability of blind vendors and sheltered shop workers. They coerced and promised and rewarded. The purpose was clear: it was nothing less than the complete and total destruction of the National Federation of the Blind. In the face of such pressure it is not surprising that strains developed from within--that what might, in normal times, have been minor problems of thwarted ambition or temperamental difference became major conflict and civil war.
That first tide of Federationism
and independence (which, during the fifties, lapped higher and higher up the
walls of the agency establishment and the bastions of custodialism and exclusion)
fell back upon itself at the end of the decade, spent and exhausted.
But the Federation did not die. The movement did not disintegrate. Too much was at stake. Too many lives had been touched. The blind had, for the first time in their existence, sensed the possibility of first-class status--and they would simply not be denied. We knew (all of us--not just the leaders but also the rank-and-file: the old, the young, the educated, the uneducated--everyone of us) that what we had so painfully achieved must not be surrendered, that self-organization (once lost) might not come again for a generation or a century. Those of us who were left in the movement closed ranks, fought where we could, encouraged each other, remembered our heritage, and marched toward the future. We understood from first-hand experience what the black demonstrators meant when they surrounded the factory gates and shouted with mingled hope and desperation:
I go to my grave.
Before I be a slave.
The decade of the sixties was almost the exact reverse of the fifties. It began in despair and ended in triumph. The Federation drew itself together, shook off the civil war, and began to rebuild. It was during the sixties that we lost our great leader, Dr. tenBroek, but he had done his work well. The progress continued. By the end of the decade we were bigger, stronger, better financed, and more united than we had ever been.
Perhaps the sixties can
best be capsulized by the opening verse of our Battle Song, which was composed
in 1964. It is known by every Federationist:
Blind eyes have seen the vision of the Federation way;
New White Cane legislation brings the dawn of a new day;
Right of the blind to organize is truly here to stay;
Our cause goes marching on.
And our cause did go marching on, swinging into the seventies. And what a decade it was! At the beginning of the seventies we were saying to the world, "We know who we are"; and by the end we were confidently adding, "And we will never go back!" In the seventies the tide of Federationism rose higher than it had ever reached before--far beyond the peak of the fifties. It was during this decade that we completed the transition from a scattered confederacy to a single, united national movement--powerful, self-assured, and full of destiny. We knew that whatever happened to the blind in the years ahead, the responsibility was ours. Our future, for the first time in history, was in our own hands. Despite the odds, we could do with it what we would. If we had the intelligence and the guts, we could win first-class status and the full rights of citizenship. We did not shrink from the challenge. We welcomed it. In fact, we demanded it. Our declaration of independence and purpose left no doubt as to the course we intended to follow. "We want no strife or confrontation," we said, "but we will do what we have to do. We are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens. They tell us that there is no discrimination and that the blind are not a minority; but we know who we are, and we will never go back!"
More and more in the seventies we discovered the truth about our heritage and history and drew strength and pride from what we learned. Our annual conventions were the largest meetings of blind persons ever held anywhere in the world, and (with affiliates in every state in the nation) we came universally to be recognized as the strongest force in the field of work with the blind.
Then the cycles of history began to assume familiar patterns. Superficially viewed, it was a second run of the 1950's. As our voice grew louder and our strength increased, so did the antagonism and fear on the part of the custodial agencies. As early as the mid-1960's, there were hints and signs of what was to come. The American Foundation for the Blind, seeing its influence diminishing, undertook a new tactic to tighten its loosening grip on the lives of the blind. It announced that it was establishing a so-called "independent" accrediting system for all groups doing work with the blind. As a first step, the Foundation appointed what it called the Commission on Standards and Accreditation of Services for the Blind (COMSTAC). The Commission was to hold meetings, appoint subcommittees, and arrive at a "consensus" for the entire field. Certain blind people (mostly agency officials or persons who were, as the saying goes, "unaffiliated" and, therefore, largely uninformed) were brought to the meetings; but tight control was carefully maintained.
When COMSTAC had finished
its work and written its documents, it appointed NAC (the National Accreditation
Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped). The accreditation
was, of course, to be purely voluntary and altogether impartial. The American
Foundation for the Blind provided NAC's first executive director, gave most
of the money, prepared to control our lives for at least the rest of the century,
declared the whole process democratic, and said it was all very "professional"--as,
indeed, in a way it was.
By the middle of the seventies it was clear that the principal issues of the fifties were again to be put to the test. It was the old question: did we have the right to run our own lives, or did the agencies have the right to do it for us? As the decade advanced, the struggle exceeded in bitterness anything which had ever before been seen in the field of work with the blind. Many of the agencies worked with us and shared our aspirations, but others (the reactionary custodians in the American Foundation-NAC combine) abandoned all but the shallowest pretense of dignity and so-called "professionalism" and tried by brute force to beat the blind into line. Especially did they concentrate their hatred upon the National Federation of the Blind and its leaders.
But the 1970's were not the 1950's, and 1980 is not 1960. The custodial agencies we face today are not the agencies of twenty years ago, nor are we the blind of that generation. We are stronger and more knowledgeable than we were then, and the agencies which oppose us (of course, many do not) are more desperate, more frightened, and more shaken in their confidence. Even the most reactionary are now forced to give at least lip service to consumer participation and the rights of the blind.
1960 and 1980 have many similarities, but they also have distinct and significant differences. For one thing, the forces which oppose us today have (probably because of our greater strength and their greater desperation) combined in a closer alliance than was the case twenty years ago. Led by the American Foundation for the Blind, this alliance consists of NAC; our break-away splinter group, the American Council of the Blind; the Affiliated Leadership League of and for the Blind; and a handful of other would-be custodians and keepers. They have interlocked their boards, concerted their actions, pooled their hundreds of millions of dollars of publicly contributed funds and tax money, and undertaken the deliberate and calculated destruction of independent organization and self-expression on the part of the blind.
If what I say seems exaggerated,
consider a prime example right here in this city where we are meeting. Consider
the Minneapolis Society for the Blind and its president, Dick Johnstone. The
Minneapolis Society for the Blind accepts federal and state funds and solicits
charitable contributions from the public-at-large--all in the name of helping
the blind. Mr. Johnstone (the Society's president) supposedly serves without
any compensation whatsoever, purely as a matter of public service and civic
duty. Yet last fall at the NAC meeting in Oklahoma City, Mr. Johnstone made
a speech about the National Federation of the Blind (the largest organization
of blind people in this country--a group one would think he would particularly
love and cherish since his purpose is to help the blind and promote our interests).
Here are some of the things Mr. Johnstone said:
All NAC needs now is a few more teeth--and the money to apply them. Money can come to NAC--the same way it was lost: with pressure! ... NAC has a policy right now, in hand, ready to go. They can help you in any problems with the NFB without board action. Dr. Bleeker [NAC's executive director] has that authority, right now, unlike other agencies who have had to fiddle around and go to their boards. Believe me, the Minneapolis Society for the Blind is going to have a policy the same way: any help you need, you'll get it out of us ... Anything we needed [from NAC] we got ... One thing we did learn, and we have researched this a little; and I hope you will, too, to prove it to yourselves: fight! ... Negotiate? Never! ... The only thing the National Federation of the Blind respects is strength. The power is with us right now, if we will use our heads and use it. If we unite and help one another, as you united to help us, we can't lose ... It's time we go on the offensive, quit hiding our heads in the sand ... Programs and agencies banding together in strength can only secure success for NAC and all other legitimate agencies ... The National Federation of the Blind is going to come back and fight harder than ever, now. The pressure is on us, the legitimate blind, to counter the new attacks that are sure to come....
How does one account for this bitter tirade? Is this the talk of a dedicated volunteer working devotedly for a "professional" service agency, which has only the well-being of the blind at heart? And what does he mean by the "legitimate blind?" Is Mr. Johnstone (in addition to damning our morals and denying our right to exist) also questioning our paternity? This is not the language of service and love, but of slander and war. It smacks of dark alleys, blackjacks, and hoodlumism. Why?
Perhaps the answer is not so difficult after all. Possibly there is a perfectly plausible explanation, one which may explain not only the conduct of Mr. Johnstone and the Minneapolis Society for the Blind but also the behavior of many of the others who attack and condemn us with such spleen and irrational hatred.
First let us consider Mr.
Johnstone personally--this dedicated, unpaid volunteer. He has been president
of the Minneapolis Society for the Blind for many years. The Minneapolis
Daily American in its June 2, 1972, edition carried an article headlined:
"Charity Group Refuses to Talk/Blind Are Being Kept in the Dark/President
of Non-Profit Society Given Whopping Contract." The article says in part:
The Minneapolis Society for the Blind has refused to answer questions regarding bids on a federally assisted construction project.
The question arose when the Daily American learned that Richard Johnstone, president of the Society, also is president of the South Side Plumbing and Heating Company, which has the mechanical contract on the project....
Frank A. Church, a U.S.
official in the Chicago office of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare,
said that "special problems" are raised if a member of the board bids
on such a contract.
Perhaps the fact that we of the National Federation of the Blind exposed and publicized this situation helps explain Mr. Johnstone's attitude toward us. Some professionalism! Some volunteer! It may also help explain the attitude of the Minneapolis Society in general. But there is more: in the early 1970's the Minneapolis Society for the Blind had a thirty-member board of directors, none of whom was blind. According to the by-laws anybody who made a cash contribution was, thereby, a member. When the blind tried to become members, the board of the Society declared that all members were expelled and that, in the future, nobody would be considered a member except those on the board. As Federationists know, we took the matter to court in the early 1970's; and after some seven years of battle and delay, we forced the Minneapolis Society to abide by the state law and honor the provisions of its own articles of incorporation. The courts made the Society accept blind members and hold an election. The issue is still not finished and awaits further action by the courts. Is it surprising that Mr. Johnstone and the Minneapolis Society hate us and wish we would cease to exist? Not really.
But there is still more. There is the Kettner case. Lawrence Kettner was "evaluated" so that the Society could get an exemption and wiggle out of paying him the federal minimum wage. To say the least, the "evaluation" was unusual. Kettner was evaluated over a period of fourteen days, but the studies of his work were made only on the third, fourth, sixth, and eighth days. His duties were changed, the equipment was faulty, and there were delays in bringing him supplies. Even so, Kettner's productivity increased markedly (from 49 percent of normal production to 79 percent), showing the unfairness of not giving him time studies after the eighth day of the fourteen day period. He says he was called into the director's office and badgered into signing a statement that he was capable of only 75 percent of normal production. He says he was told he would not be paid for the work he had done if he did not sign. He needed the money. He signed. Even as this was happening, he secured a job in private industry at a rate above the minimum wage.
We publicized the Kettner case far and wide, and we told the Department of Labor about it. Yes, I think I can understand why Mr. Johnstone and the Minneapolis Society for the Blind hate the organized blind movement--and it has nothing to do with so-called high-toned "professionalism." It is a matter of money and cover-up and exploitation. It is as simple and as despicable as that.
As to Mr. Johnstone's statement concerning the "legitimate blind," I would say this: he is not blind, so I do not see how that part applies; and as to the question of legitimacy, I would think (in the circumstances) the Minneapolis Society for the Blind would not want to discuss it. The matter of unblemished paternity is a sensitive issue. So much, then, for Mr. Johnstone and his talk about the "legitimate blind."
But what about the others who attack us, the others in the American Foundation for the Blind-NAC combine? Are their reasons for hating us similar to those of Mr. Johnstone and his Minneapolis Society? Let us call them off and examine their "legitimacy." First, the Cleveland Society for the Blind. It is locked in a battle with blind snack bar operators. In 1972 the director of the Society told the blind operators that they must contribute specified amounts to the United Torch Campaign or face dismissal. Under the Federal Randolph-Sheppard Program, Ohio was authorized to take as a service charge no more than 3 percent from the gross earnings of operators, but the Cleveland Society was taking 8 percent. This could amount to as much as half of the net earnings of an operator. Moreover, as a condition of employment each blind operator was forced to sign an agreement giving the Cleveland Society unbelievable power over his or her personal life. The operator had to agree (and I quote) to: "have an annual physical check-up; eat a balanced diet; obtain adequate rest commensurate with the hours to be worked at a snack bar; bathe daily; shampoo frequently; use appropriate deodorants; wear clean underclothing; and wear comfortable shoes."
We in the Federation (at least, most of us do) believe in regular bathing and good personal hygiene, but we are not willing (as a condition of employment) to have somebody cram it down our throats--tell us how much rest to get, what kind of food to eat, what kind of deodorants to use, and when to change our underwear. In the newspapers the director of the Cleveland Society defended his rules by saying that "Blind people have to be especially careful."
And, of course, he is right.
We do have to be careful--of people like him. We (you and I, the National Federation
of the Blind) took this director and his custodial agency to court and publicized
what he was doing. The battle still continues. Is it any wonder that the Cleveland
Society for the Blind and its director hate the organized blind movement and
wish we would cease to exist? Not really. Yet, they tell us that there is no
discrimination and that the blind are not a minority; but we know who we are,
and we will never go back.
The Cincinnati Association for the Blind and the Houston Lighthouse for the Blind have refused to comply with orders from the National Labor Relations Board that they permit their blind workers to organize. We stimulated those organizing efforts and are now fighting these two agencies in the federal courts. Is it surprising that they hate us and brand us as "militants" and "trouble-makers?" Not at all. How could it be otherwise?
The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind used every tactic it could (including the firing of blind organizers) to prevent blind employees from forming a union. We took the matter to the National Labor Relations Board, and we picketed. It is hardly necessary to add that the Chicago Lighthouse is a principal leader in the combine which attacks us. We picketed the Evansville Association for the Blind and told the public what the Association was doing (all in the name of charity, and with publicly contributed funds) to exploit and hurt blind people. We picketed the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind in Washington, D.C., when it was having a gala charity ball attended by leading socialites. We told these socialites and the public-at-large how the Lighthouse really operates and what it is doing to the lives of blind people. Agency officials in Florida and Alabama have been criminally indicted. All of these groups (the Minneapolis Society for the Blind, the Cleveland Society, the Cincinnati Association, the Houston Lighthouse, the Chicago Lighthouse, the Evansville Association, the Columbia Lighthouse, and the Alabama and Florida agencies) have two things in common: they exploit the blind, and they are all accredited by NAC.
Then there is New York--New York, the home territory and the special turf of the American Foundation for the Blind and NAC. In 1978 there was a state audit of Industries for the Blind of New York, Inc. The audit showed that this organization (which was the principal governmental procurement agency for blind-made products in the state) spent its money on liquor and lavish parties and expensive cars and high salaries and God knows what else which the average human being would consider to be totally unrelated to the welfare of the blind. And what is Industries for the Blind of New York, Inc.? Well, it is a board consisting of the representatives of ten agencies, seven of which are accredited by NAC. They are flagships in the NAC fleet. Wesley Sprague, director of the New York Association for the Blind, is (of all things) the longtime chairman of NAC's Commission on Standards. Joseph Larkin, director of the Industrial Home for the Blind of Brooklyn, is a NAC board member. Peter Salmon, the Industrial Home's former director, is NAC's past president.
There are some five hundred organizations and groups in this country which might conceivably choose to be accredited by NAC. Yet by January of 1980 (a decade and a half after its formation) NAC was forced to admit that it had only seventy-nine agencies in its fold. But let me hasten to add that these are very special agencies. Our best information indicates that they probably have a total combined wealth of somewhere in the neighborhood of a half a billion dollars. Think about it--half a billion dollars! A few of them may truly be service-oriented and dedicated to high standards and the best interests of the blind--but there are the others, the ones that Mr. Johnstone would presumably call the "legitimate blind." I have detailed for you the conduct of sixteen of these. Sixteen! More than 20 percent of NAC's entire membership. And there is evidence which could be brought against many of the rest. NAC: what a sorry, miserable spectacle! It is not a concern for "professionalism" which is the bur under the saddle of some of these people. It is the fear that we may expose their real concerns: the making of money, the lapping of liquor, the lust for luxury, and the push for power.
No, it is not surprising that the American Foundation for the Blind-NAC combine hates us and that they are determined to destroy the National Federation of the Blind. We are the principal threat to their master plan--their effort to gain complete control over the lives of every blind man, woman, and child in this nation--their hope to live happily in luxury ever after. To speak of "legitimacy" in the same breath with NAC is reminiscent of what Franklin Roosevelt said in 1936 about mentioning the Depression in the presence of the Republican Party. It is like showing a rope to the family of a man who has been hanged.
As I have already said, there are both similarities and differences between the 1950's and the 1970's--between 1960 and 1980. In the fifties the external attacks brought severe internal conflict. In the late seventies we saw some of the same tendencies--but even though the pressures have been greater this time around, the dissension among us has been minimal, giving testimony to our increased strength and maturity as a movement. We are a part of all that we met in the 1950's. We learned--and history does not quite repeat itself.
There is also a new element, one which was not present twenty years ago. In the fifties we had not yet become strong enough to get very many of our own people appointed to positions of leadership in the agencies. By the seventies the situation was different. In 1976 and 1977 we came within a vote or two of having a majority in the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind. A number of our own members had been named as state directors, and many of the other state directors were and are supportive of our cause.
However, there was a problem, one from which we must learn. Just because an individual calls himself or herself a Federationist, that does not necessarily mean that he or she is immune to the temptations of agency power--the ability to control lives and the urge to equate one's own interests with those of the blind consumers. Increasingly in the seventies we became strong enough to bring reform to a growing number of agencies and to play a deciding role in determining who their directors would be. Quite naturally, our people (having suffered so grievously from the poor service and custodial treatment dished out by the agencies) wanted to have Federationists as directors. Sometimes we made bad choices. It was almost as if, out of reaction to the miserable service we had received, we said: "Give us a Federationist--any Federationist--just so long as we can throw off the yoke of what we have had." It was a mistake--one for which we are now paying.
Some of these so-called Federationists had hardly been appointed to office before they tried to take over the affiliates in their states and make them mere auxiliaries and fronts for their own vested interests. They put aside their loyalties and principles and seemed to forget that they had obtained their jobs as part of a national movement--the overall struggle of the blind as a people to be free. They forgot (if, indeed, they had ever truly believed) what it is that has brought us as far as we have come on the road to first-class status and the full rights of citizenship. No individual or state organization--no local group or single person--could have done it alone. It required the combined effort of us all. It still requires that combined effort if we are to finish the journey. In its absence none of us (not a single blind human being) will go the rest of the way to equality and freedom. We should have been more selective in supporting candidates for agency leadership--but we are a part of all that we have met. We have learned. Fortunately we are strong enough to absorb the shock of the lesson. We will not make the same mistake again.
In the future the primary test of whether we will support an individual for a position of leadership in an agency will not be whether that person is called a Federationist but what kind of philosophy and commitment the individual demonstrates. Of course, this has always been our concern, but the emphasis is now different and the care more thorough. Better a neutral (one with the basics of a good philosophy, who is willing to work with us in partnership to win our support) than a Federationist in name only (one who takes it for granted that, because of his or her reputation as a Federationist--even a strong Federationist--we will automatically be supportive, regardless of the agency's conduct or behavior). We have come too far on the road of liberation to turn back now. We are not willing to exchange one master for another, even if the new would-be custodian has been our colleague or uses the name "Federationist." We will say it as often as we must: we want no strife or confrontation, but we will do what we have to do. They tell us that the blind are not a minority and that there is no discrimination; but we know who we are, and we will never go back.
As Federationists know,
I get a constant stream of letters from blind people from all over the country.
Some of these letters are highly literate. Others are not. Taken together, they
show the pattern and give the details of what it is like to be blind in America
today. They tell of the hopes and aspirations and problems which the blind confront.
I want to share with you a brief passage from one of these letters. It is from
a woman in her early fifties. In page after page she cries out with the heartache
of a life of frustration. Here is part of what she says:
I went to the state rehabilitation agency because I was seeking employment. I believe I was referred there by the employment service. I couldn't understand why no one wanted to hire me. The reason given most frequently was lack of experience. But I was young. "How does one get that experience?" I kept asking myself. And the rehabilitation agency could do nothing to help me. I am sure that each employer I saw felt that I should get my experience someplace else....
This part of her letter refers to her early twenties. When she comes to the present (the time of her early fifties) she says:
The rehabilitation agency can still do nothing to help me. My efforts to obtain employment are the same continuing story. I won't drag it out any further except to say that I have met with repeated failure. I haven't enough skill to get a typing job, and apparently I haven't the training or skill (or is it that I can't get the opportunity?) to do anything else. I never have enough experience to compete, but as was the case when I was young, how can I get that experience if no one will give me a chance to try? And (now that I am in my fifties) who is going to give me the chance to try with my lack of experience?
I feel already as though
I am in forced retirement. I shudder to think how the actual retirement years
will be. I am not sure where to go from here--whether I should try to change
my life, or merely be resigned to the fact that this is probably how it will
be from now on.
I am sure that my story is not new to you. You must hear something like it almost every day. Perhaps you can measure my despair by the number of pages in this letter. I see my life ebbing away, and I have yet to find my niche to occupy. This inactivity and lack of a life's work is not how I would choose to spend what is left of my productive years. I dreamed of the future when I was young. Now I look around me sometimes and say, "Dear God, this is the future." I'm living it now. Perhaps it is the only future I will ever have.
How can I answer such a letter? What can I say to ease the burden or lighten the load? Day by day the hope has been killed, the spirit has been crushed, and the dream destroyed. Yet NAC and Mr. Johnstone tell us that all will be well if we will only leave it to them and their agencies. All they need, they say, is a few more teeth--and enough money to crush the NFB. How twisted! How pathetic! In their luxury and so-called "professionalism" they do not even know of the existence of the deprivation and the misery--of the daily struggles and problems of the ordinary blind individual.
As we stand at the door of the fifth decade of our organization, we must thoroughly understand the lessons of history, for the eighties will be a time of trial and decision. They will require all that we have in the way of ability and devotion and courage. We must work not only for ourselves but also for the blind of the next generation, for they are our children. If not biologically, they are surely morally our children, and we must make certain that they have the chance for better lives and fuller opportunities than we have had.
When we talk of history,
we usually think of the past--but what will future historians say of us--of you
and me--of the National Federation of the Blind in 1980? What will they say of
our struggle for freedom and our battle with NAC, the American Foundation for
the Blind, and the other custodial agencies? As I said in 1973, future historians
can only record the events which we make come true.
They can help us be remembered, but they cannot help us dream. That we must do for ourselves. They can give us acclaim, but not guts and courage. They can give us recognition and appreciation, but not determination or compassion or good judgment. We must either find those things for ourselves or not have them at all.
We have come a long way together in this movement. Some of us are veterans, going back to the forties; others are new recruits, fresh to the ranks. Some are young; some are old. Some are educated, others not. It makes no difference. In everything that matters we are one; we are the movement; we are the blind....
If we falter or dishonor
our heritage, we will betray not only ourselves but those who went before us
and those who come after. But, of course, we will not fail. Whatever the cost,
we shall pay it. Whatever the sacrifice, we shall make it. We cannot turn back
or stand still. Instead, we must go forward.2
We shall prevail against NAC and the other custodial agencies; we shall prevail against social exclusion and discrimination; and we shall prevail against those few in our own movement who would destroy it with bitterness and strife. We are stronger and more determined now than we have ever been, and we have learned well the lessons of history. My brothers and my sisters, the future is ours. Come! Join me in the battle line, and we will make it all come true.
1. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, "The Federation at Twenty-Five: Postview and Preview," August, 1965, Braille Monitor, pp. 87 and 88.
2. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, "Blindness: Is History Against Us?" September, 1973, Braille Monitor, pp. 10 and 11.
An Overview of Planned Giving
Making a charitable gift is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Here are some of the special giving programs available through the National Federation of the Blind.
The National Federation of the Blind is a service organization specializing in providing the help to blind people that is not readily available to them from government programs or other existing service systems. The services of the NFB are specially designed to meet the needs of all blind people. By maintaining a widespread campaign of public education, advocating for the rights of blind children and their families, administering scholarship and mentoring programs for blind youth, providing financial and other specialized assistance, conducting seminars on blindness, evaluating and developing accessible technology, and providing information and services to senior citizens so that they can adjust to vision loss and live more accessible and independent lives, the NFB is changing what it means to be blind.
We will be happy to provide you with further information about the National Federation of the Blind or any of these giving opportunities. Please call or write us at:
National Federation of
Department of Outreach Programs
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2406
by Gail Snider
From the Editor: Gail Snider is a longtime Federationist who lives in the Washington, D.C., area. As you will soon learn, she is an energetic amateur musician and actor. She is always eager to learn and to take up new challenges. She says that she knows that many other blind people are active in community theater, but I suspect many more of us would like to be but have never quite dared to try out. So here is Gail's story of her life in amateur theater. If you have always had a yen to tread the boards, maybe her experience will inspire you to give community theater a whirl. This is what she says:
When I was nine years old, I played the Queen of Hearts in a school production of Alice in Wonderland. I don't remember most of my lines, but I know I put lots of energy into the queen's signature line: "Off with his head!" Fast-forward to November 2006 when I will appear as Rebecca Nurse in a local theater production of The Crucible, Arthur Miller's historical drama about the Salem witch trials of 1692.
So what happened in between, and what have I learned from it? As a child in England, I attended schools for the blind until I was sixteen, when I was given the chance to attend my local public school. At elementary and high school level, I participated in a number of dramatic and musical productions because, well, we all did. As far as I can remember, no elite group of students were selected because of extraordinary talent: being in a play, like singing in a Christmas carol concert, was just part of a well-rounded education. Also the part you got didn't depend on whether you were totally or partially blind: in a production of Peter Pan in which I was one of Tinkerbell's fairy companions, I had to run across the stage as if I were flying. I had some sight then, but Peter and Tinkerbell did not, and they did even more flying about the stage than I did.
At university, as I recall, I was more active in choral groups but still took part in funny skits when they came my way. I never auditioned for the university's drama group, possibly because I wasn't an English major but also, probably, because I felt my blindness would disqualify me.
In 1977, two years after my family and I came to live in Washington, D.C., I was introduced to the British Embassy Players by an Englishwoman who was already a member and a volunteer with the local radio reading service. She told me that the B.E.P. was auditioning readers for the Bible reading that would be the climax of their upcoming "Christmas with the Players" show. I had always been a good Braille reader, so I auditioned with a Braille copy of St. Luke's Gospel and got the job. By this time I was completely blind and could not see even the footlights, never mind my fellow actors, but that didn't seem to matter; I sat in one spot for the entire show, except when standing to sing alto in the carols and other chorus numbers.
Since then I have taken part in other "Christmas with the Players" shows and done some humorous monologues and sung the occasional solo, both of which required me to do more than just stand in one place. Sighted performers convey a lot with body language--hand gestures, head movements, and facial expressions--which we as blind people often don't acquire or think to use in daily life. On the stage, however, we want to be as interesting to look at as we are to listen to, so I have made a point of learning what gestures, movements, and expressions are most likely to enhance my performance. I have found that a same-sex relative (such as my daughter) can be most helpful in giving useful tips in this situation.
After my marriage ended in 1994, I checked the Auditions column in the Washington Post and found that the Washington Revels' Christmas show that year would be about Victorian London and that performers with British accents would be welcome. When I arrived, the stage manager helped me fill out the application form, and an assistant director took me into a side room, where he taught me some lines from the show so I could perform them like everyone else. I hammed it up shamelessly for the selection panel and made them laugh, so I guess I wasn't too surprised to get a part. In addition to acting, everyone had to audition for singing (solo and group) and dancing. I had learned ballroom and country dancing at school in England, and although I am not a great dancer, I don't have two left feet; in fact, I'm willing to bet that most blind guys can dance if they get the chance to learn.
In the late nineties I started attending classes to improve myself as a stage performer. I attended seminars on voice production and care of the voice, as well as one on how to prepare for an audition. This seminar was especially helpful since it was given by two directors who explained that you never can tell exactly what a director wants from you or sees in you. For instance, you may fail simply because your height or build is not considered right for the part, or you may succeed because you alone have that indefinable quality that the director is looking for. When you understand this, all you can do--and all you have to do--is prepare and audition as well as you can. That doesn't mean that all my auditions have been successful: I have bombed disastrously a few times, either because I was ill-prepared or because I let my own anxieties get in the way. Now I just get myself together, show up, and don't worry about trying to second-guess the director.
In 1997 I joined the Paradigm Players, an integrated group of performers, some of whom had physical or developmental disabilities. The atmosphere was very nurturing as we all learned from each other and accommodated each other wherever necessary. We staged Godspell in 1997 and Working in 1998, two musicals that call for a fairly large ensemble, in which most performers are in the chorus except when they have a featured solo. In Working, for example, I had a monologue and a solo song as the schoolteacher, and elsewhere in the show I could be seen with mop and bucket as one of a group of housewives or dining in a restaurant with my boyfriend.
At about this time I somehow got on to the mailing list of the Theatre Lab, a nonprofit school of the dramatic arts that provides theater education for diverse populations, including youth, seniors, and prisoners, and attracts both professional and volunteer performers. Twice I have taken their twelve-week class, Creating A Musical Role, which results in several public performances of a full-length Broadway musical. My first was Ragtime, in which I was a very active member of the chorus and had to take on such diverse roles as a male juror, a female Jewish immigrant, a male baseball spectator, and a female upper-class neighbor. I had only one spoken line--as a bureaucrat--but there was so much singing and dancing that I was busy almost the whole time.
The second Creating-a-Musical-Role class I took was this year's production of Fiddler on the Roof in which I played Yente, the matchmaker. Again I did not know the part when I auditioned, but the directors taught me some lines and laughed when I performed them. This led me to think that I was supposed to just play for laughs, but our directors taught us that our characters had hearts, minds, lives, and concerns which deserved to be portrayed accurately and respectfully. Thus I was able to create a role that had real depth and still get some laughs.
In other years my theatrical endeavors have left me feeling drained and anxious to get back to less strenuous pursuits such as choral singing, but my Fiddler experience left me wanting more, so I went back to the Washington Post and learned that the Foundry Players, a sixty-year-old community theater group based three blocks from where I live, was presenting The Crucible this November. As luck would have it, I was able to get a WebBraille copy embossed in time for the audition. Luck was also on my side when it turned out that the director had already seen me in Fiddler, so I did not have to worry that he wouldn't give me a fair shot. When I showed up with my Braille copy of the script, it turned out to be a different edition from the one that everyone else was using, so one of the younger actors sat down with me during a break and read the changes into my tape recorder.
Now we are in the tedious process of blocking, in which the director moves us around the stage like chessmen on a chessboard until he decides where we should stand, sit, or go at any given moment during the play. This is tedious because directors try one thing and then another and then another before they make up their minds, so there is no point in trying to memorize one's own stage directions right away. This used to bother me, but now I just go with the flow, knowing that things will work out fine in the end.
I have had my doubts about being totally blind on stage, but I don't have such doubts anymore. One reason is that my directors have always been ready and willing to make accommodations such as ensuring that a fellow actor is nearby when I have to enter or leave by the steps leading on and offstage. Also providing me with an escort for certain key movements around the stage isn't nearly as obtrusive as it sounds: it can prevent a nasty accident and an unintended spectacle! One time when I did fall over a piece of furniture during a fast-moving sequence in Ragtime, I felt bad because my family members were watching, but my daughter told me afterwards that several people had fallen, including the music director.
Another concern at times has been getting the script in an accessible format, and here again I have been quite lucky. As an employee of Services for the Visually Impaired, I have had access, not only to Braille-embossing equipment, but also to colleagues who know how to use it. In this regard I am especially grateful to Judy and Lloyd Rasmussen and to Patty Droppers, without whose help and expertise I would not have accomplished what I have so far.
Finally in writing this article, I have felt awkward about writing about myself as if I were special or outstanding when I know I'm not. If I can claim credit for anything, it is that I have been bold enough (or crazy enough) to take opportunities that presented themselves to me. So, when I am tempted to ask: Why me?, maybe I should simply say: Why not me? And, come to think of it, why not you?
by Steven Booth, Mike Tindell, and Anne Taylor
From the Editor: Anne Taylor is the manager of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Steve Booth and Mike Tindell are both access technology specialists on the IBTC staff. If you can't afford a Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader and you don't have a computer, reader software, and an optical character recognition scanner, one of the readers reviewed in the following article may be just what you are looking for. Read on.
How many times have you
been expecting a letter, but when a plausible envelope arrived, you wondered,
"Is this it or something else?" How many times has a new book been released
that you really want to read without waiting until it has been recorded? If
you do not use a computer with a scanner and software for reading print documents
aloud, one excellent tool for dealing with such tasks independently is a stand-alone
reading machine. In this article we will discuss four commonly used reading
machines: the Portset, the SARA, the ScannaR, and the Extreme Reader XR10. Each
unit has built-in internal speakers, a flatbed scanner, a hard drive for storing
data, and a control panel or small keyboard. Because no computer skills are
needed, many people find a stand-alone reading machine easy to use.
The Portset Reader
Reviewed by Steven Booth
The Portset Reader consists of one rectangular unit that sits on any flat surface and measures approximately 18.5 by 10.5 by 4.5 inches. It comes with an AC power cord, which plugs into the rear of the unit, and a set of headphones. These three pieces comprise the entire machine. Weighing just under twelve pounds, it is one of the lightest stand-alone reading systems. On the top of the reader is the scanning surface with the scanner cover hinged at the back. The scanner surface can handle paper which is 8.5 by 11 inches or the somewhat larger, A4 pages (which are not as large as legal-size paper and common in the United Kingdom). The Portset Reader has a built-in 3.5-inch disk drive for extra file storage.
The Portset will detect page orientation, so printed pages can be placed either upside down or right side up in relation to the user. Additionally, pages can be placed toward either the back or the front of the scanner and along either the right or left edge. To begin, lift the cover and place a page or a book flat on the scanner, reading-side down. If both pages of a book will fit, the top of the book must be toward the right side of the reader so that the pages will be read in the correct order.
The on/off power switch is at the back of the Reader. To operate the Portset, locate the keys on the panel on the front side of the rectangular unit. They are tilted slightly upward for easy navigation. The keys consist of the scan/read key, which is larger than the other keys and is at the left side of the panel. To the right of the scan/read key is an arrow pad with four keys arranged with one key on top and three keys on the bottom row, as on a computer keyboard. Each key has a raised line at the edge which helps define its function such as up, down, left, or right. These four keys are used for reading and selecting items. To the right of this group of keys is another group of six keys across a top row and one key below. The top row of six keys has three keys, then a space, then another three keys. From left to right they are called key 1 through key 6. In the first set of three keys, under keys 1 and 2, is the function key, which is larger than keys 1 through 6. It performs no action when pressed by itself. When pressed in combination with other keys, it provides additional functions for the other keys. On the right side of the front panel is a rotary dial volume control. The unit also has a headphone jack for private listening.
When first turned on, the system beeps to let the user know it is loading the program. After about thirty seconds you hear a brief set of tones and an introductory message, and status messages tell you what scanning selections are in effect and which voices are being used. (More on these later.) The system is ready to use after it says "Reader ready." To scan the page or book, place it face down on the scanner and press the scan/read key. You will hear the scanner move down the page and messages telling you that the reader is scanning and then conducting recognition. When finished, the ready-to-read message sounds, and the machine will begin reading the document automatically. While reading, you can pause reading by pressing key 6. You can use the arrow keys to move up or down the lines or sentence-by-sentence (automatically stopping at punctuation marks). The Reader provides extensive help messages at each stage, and its user guide is available both on the system and in print.
Functions can change both the voice and the speed of the voice. Nine voice speeds are available with three voices for American English and additional voices for British English. Consult your dealer to find out what other languages are available and can be installed when you order a Portset.
Files can be stored in the Reader for reading later. If a document contains multiple pages, all the pages may be appended while scanning and reading. This means that the saved file will read back as a continuous document without page breaks. If you prefer, each page may be saved or deleted.
The Portset Reader has several modes of operation. Settings can be modified to scan printed pages containing columns or to allow the user to scan across the page to assist in reading bills and memos. The scanner brightness and contrast may be changed, which is necessary when documents are of poor quality.
I found while testing a
Portset Reader on multiple documents that occasionally the Reader would not
respond to key pressing if I did not listen all the way to the end of a status
message. Once that message had finished speaking, however, the keys would again
Recognition is good when the settings match the documents. However, I found I frequently had to change scanner settings for contrast and brightness to accommodate different kinds of documents. Therefore some practice is needed to become familiar with the use of the function key and the modes of operation. With a bit of practice most people will be able to use this system for general reading. Its light weight and reasonably small size make it possible to move it around a home or office as necessary. Because it is housed in one unit, there are no cables other than the AC power cord to connect and disconnect.
If you want a relatively
easy reader with the ability to modify settings, the Portset may be for you.
Manufactured by Portset Systems in England, it is available in the United States
from Technologies for the Visually Impaired, 9 Nolan Court, Hauppauge, New York
11788; (631) 724-4479; toll-free (866) 689-5672; Web site <http://www.tvi-web.com>;
<[email protected]>. Current Sale Price: $2,595.
Reviewed by Mike Tindell
The SARA (which stands for Scanning And Reading Appliance) is a stand-alone reading machine. The dimensions of the rectangular SARA are 20 inches long by 12 inches wide by 3.5 inches deep. It weights about eighteen pounds. It has a 60 GB hard drive, a CD/DVD burner for storing files, and a slot for playing a CD. You can connect it to a television or to a computer to save and view scanned images in large type. The unit has front-mounted stereo speakers and a built-in microphone for recording file names of the materials you scan and save. Across the top is the flatbed scanner. On the front of the device is a jack for connecting headphones or stereo speakers. The SARA works well for scanning hardback and paperback books, saving the files, then reading them aloud on command. Forty public domain books are preloaded in SARA for your reading pleasure. The buttons, although numerous, are large and easy to find. All menu items and choices are spoken aloud. As software updates are available for the SARA, they are provided on DVD with instructions.
The front of the machine has two steps, first a small rise, then a large rise to the flatbed scanner across the top. The vertical front of the first step has seven buttons. The tread (if the machine were a staircase) is slightly tilted and has eleven buttons. The riser of the next step has speakers on the left and right with a slot for a CD between them and one button above the slot for ejecting the CD.
Rotate the machine so that the back faces you. On the far left is a power supply connector. Moving to the right, you find a TV Out connector for viewing scanned images on a television. To its right the VGA port connects a computer monitor.
Returning to the front side, the riser of the first stair (the one closest to the user) has seven buttons. From left to right these are power button, volume (rock left to decrease volume and right to increase volume), four user-assignable function keys, and a voice-rate rocker switch (to adjust the speed of the speech). At the right-hand end is a hole for the headset jack.
The slanted surface of the first tread has two buttons to the left and two to the right of a central group of seven buttons for navigation. The scan button is located on the far left and above the read/pause button. To the far right is the menu button above the help button. The navigation section has a select button in the middle of arrow keys for up, down, left, and right. A raised line on each button indicates its direction. To the left of the left arrow button is the rewind button. Similarly, to the right of the right arrow button is the fast-forward button. The rewind and fast-forward buttons have double raised lines showing their direction.
Press the scan button to start and stop scanning. Press the read button to start and stop reading. The menu key is used to enter and exit menus.
Here are some of the ways to use this reading machine. When pressed, the scan button, located on the top left of the unit, scans a page, processes the text, then reads it aloud. SARA has a mode called "scan in background" that allows the user to scan several pages while the unit is reading other pages. This is not the default mode when the scanner is unpacked. The double arrow keys, both left and right, can be disabled or can be set to take the user forward or backward by sentence, paragraph, or page. The up and down arrow keys move line by line, and the left and right arrows move word by word. The select button speaks a word when pressed once, spells a word when pressed twice, and spells the word phonetically when pressed three times. The help key is a key describer that announces the function of each key (press the help key then any other key to hear its function).
When you press the menu
key, you are at the file menu. Here you can open files, burn files to CD, save
or erase files from the hard drive, open and close documents, and create blank
documents. Press down arrow to locate the go to menu. This option allows the
user to go to the top and bottom of documents, next and previous page, next
and previous paragraph, and next and previous sentence.
SARA has a DAISY feature. It will play all three DAISY formats, audio CD, MP3, Wave, and CDA files. It can open files in the doc, xml, rtf, and txt formats. The voice settings menu allows a user to change the voice rate and choose from a selection of voices. Different settings can be chosen for the menu and reading voices. If the text is written in English, Spanish, French, or German, SARA can read the text in those languages. For others it is best to contact the dealer to check for availability.
In the scanning settings menu the user can choose among ignore or divide columns, scan-and-read mode, scan-in-background mode, or scan-and-replace mode. If the user makes a mistake and begins scanning a page which is not the next page in order in a book or multi-page document, the command to scan-and-replace will replace the last page scanned with the next page scanned, and the user can continue scanning correctly from that point.
SARA works well for those who use large print. You can attach the SARA to a computer monitor or television. In the visual settings menu you can choose any one of seven fonts and nine color combinations of letter and background and adjust the point size of the letters from 14 to 144. Text spacing can be set from one to six spaces between letters. SARA will highlight each word as it is spoken aloud.
Some have commented that the menu structure of the SARA is somewhat difficult to move around in. However, for most documents no scanner adjustments are necessary. For basic operation the user need only press the scan key and the read/pause key in order to hear page after page read aloud.
The SARA is manufactured and sold by Freedom Scientific, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, Florida 33716-1805; (727) 803-8000; toll-free (800) 444-4443; tech support (737) 803-8600; Web site <http://www.freedomscientific.com>; <[email protected]>. Current price: $2,795.
Reviewed by Mike Tindell
ScannaR (notice the capital R on the end of the word) is another stand-alone reading machine designed to scan a document, process the text, and read it aloud using synthetic speech. The ScannaR provides reliable scanning and text recognition, along with several voices to choose from for the reading and menu voices. The unit is rectangular, 19.3 inches long by 12.8 inches wide by 3.5 inches deep, and weighs fifteen pounds. The power cable is connected to the back of the unit, and all operations are done from the panel of buttons and knobs on the front. The ScannaR will speak the menu as buttons are pressed and tell the user which options the up and down buttons offer at different points in the menu.
Moving along the front of the unit from left to right, you find a power button, a headphone jack, the external speaker, then two knobs aligned one above the other. The top knob is for controlling volume, and the bottom is for controlling reading voice rate. Located to the right of the knobs is the start button, followed by the pause button. To the right of the pause button are two more buttons set one above the other for choosing up and down movement. The last button at the right end is the stop/menu button.
Place a printed page face down on the glass scanning plate. The only function of the power button is to power the ScannaR on and off. Press this button. Many of the other buttons have multiple functions, depending on which function is being performed. To scan and read the document, press the start button. The scanner will scan the text and, after it completes its scan, begin reading aloud. Press pause, and the reading will pause. To resume reading, press pause again. If no text is being read, the stop button serves as a menu button. Move through the menus with the up and down arrow buttons. Use the pause button to select a menu item.
The first option in the menu is new document. If the current document has not been saved, you will be asked if you wish to save the current document. Use the up and down buttons to choose yes, no, or cancel. The menu voice will present the options aurally and tell the user which button to press for each option.
Unlike other stand-alone readers, the ScannaR often requires the user to press two keys simultaneously to choose an action. In the menu, for example, open document is selected by pressing pause. This places the user in a list of files. To select a file as the names are spoken aloud, use the arrow keys. To delete a file, press and hold start while pressing pause. You will be asked if you wish to delete the document; the choices voiced are yes or no. Press pause to register the selected choice. Additionally, you can go to the top of the list, the bottom of the list, or move up or down by ten files at a time. This is done by simultaneously pressing different combinations of two keys on the unit. The ScannaR has only a few keys, but many possibilities in its menu.
Document info will tell you the number of pages in the open document as well as your position in the file. When reading a document, you can set up to eight flags to find your spot quickly. You can quickly move from flag to flag or delete flags. When a document is closed, a bookmark is automatically set at the last reading position. The next time this document is opened, the user is automatically taken to this spot in the text.
The feature called key description doesn't speak the function of each key as it is pressed but gives a list of all shortcut keys. Within the main menu the last function, settings, offers several possibilities. The first menu choice can change the function of the navigation keys in order to move through the document by line, sentence, paragraph, or page. The default choice is line. Other features in the settings menu concern the reading voice. They allow the user to change the voice, change the speed of the voice, and change the language used when reading. The next option is menu voice, which can change the voice and the rate at which the voice speaks menu items.
Another sub-menu under settings is called scanner. In this menu the user can read or ignore columns and change brightness and contrast settings. Values can be chosen between minus-1000 and 1000 for both brightness and contrast on the pages being scanned. The next item in the menu is image type. The user can choose between black on white or gray scale, which is recommended for colored documents. The next sub-menu under settings is language for text recognition. The default language is English, but the user can change to other languages.
The next item in the settings menu is general. All of the items in this sub-menu are check boxes that can be selected or unselected by pressing the start key. When the settings are set the way you want them, press pause to save the settings. One useful feature in this sub-menu will have ScannaR automatically give a signal when scanning is started or stopped.
On the positive side, the reading voices are varied and pleasant, and recognition of text is very fast and accurate. One problem I discovered in testing the ScannaR is that it would sometimes lock up when setting and deleting flags. This required a reboot before the unit would operate again. Also it seemed unnecessarily difficult that two of the most commonly needed commands were two levels down in the command structure and required two keys pressed simultaneously. I suggest the commands for delete a document and go to top and bottom of file should move to the main navigation menu in a future update. Another common feature of most machines designed for use by blind people is a key that, when pressed, names each key or its function when the second key is pressed. However, in order to use this feature in the ScannaR, you must already have a working knowledge of the machine in order to dig down through its help menu. Once at the key describer menu, commands are listed in separate groups, and you must use two keys together to get to the different groups. I suggest that most users would appreciate a key describer that can be more easily found and used.
ScannaR is sold by HumanWare, 175 Mason Circle, Concord, California 94520; (925) 680-7100; toll-free (800) 722-3393; Web site <http://www.humanware.com>; <[email protected]>. Current price: $2,995.
Extreme Reader XR10
Reviewed by Anne Taylor
The Extreme Reader XR10 reads printed text aloud and can read aloud books that are on CDs and floppy disks. It has one function for readers who need magnification. A cable connects an external keyboard that can be moved around to an advantageous position by the user. The Reader can access many file types, has two on-board storage drives, a hard drive, and a 3.5-inch floppy drive. The Extreme Reader XR10 is complete in five pieces: the machine (a computer CPU), a small-sized scanner attached to the top of the computer by Velcro strips, a power cord, an external keyboard, and an external MP3 player with buttons designed for use by blind people. This machine is the only stand-alone reading system that uses AT&T Natural Voices (one male and one female) as one of its two speech-synthesizer options. The alternate speech option is Microsoft Speech (one male, one female).
This reading machine can read aloud books or documents in the following commonly used file formats: text only format (txt), rich text format (rtf), Microsoft Word format (doc), and portable document format (pdf). These files must be located on a floppy disk. If the books or documents are on an audio CD, they must be in one of these file formats: DAISY version 2 audio files, Wave audio files, or CDA audio files. Currently the Extreme Reader XR10 cannot read MP3 files on CD.
No file can be saved to a CD at this time; instead, the user can export a scanned file to the MP3 player provided. Files can also be stored on the hard drive or the floppy drive. Currently the CD drive can be used only to read documents, not to save them. Note that a scanned file can be saved as only a txt-formatted file or as an MP3-formatted file. Since the stand-alone reading machine is generally designed for people who are not advanced computer users, the limited number of file types is not considered a serious disadvantage.
With the small external keyboard a user can control speech rate, select voice preferences, navigate between folders and files, move between sentences, or move from word to word within a specific file. The Extreme Reader XR10 has an excellent help feature. If a user forgets the keyboard layout, he or she can press the help key at the top left of the keyboard to hear the system announce the functions of every key, starting with the top row and moving from left to right. Note that the key describer runs through the entire set every time it is pressed. It does not describe one key only. However, since there are only fourteen buttons (a row of four, a second row of four, and a bottom row of two buttons, plus four navigation keys), this is not a great problem. To help a user with the layout of the external keyboard, each key contains tactile markings. For example, the help key has a print question mark on its face.
The Extreme Reader XR10 has several modes to accommodate different types of printed information. Currency mode is used for scanning banknotes, column mode scans books or magazines, and tabular mode scans across the page for reading one-column books or financial statements and invoices. To change from one mode to another, the change mode key cycles the user through all of the mode options. Once a desired mode is announced, the start/scan key must be pressed to start the scanning process. As with all scanners, each page must be fully processed before the reader begins reading the words aloud. However, after the first page is processed, that page will be read aloud while the scanner processes the next page, which allows for continuous reading.
The Extreme Reader XR10
features several modes used to control all of the storage drives and exporting
audio files from a CD to the external MP3 player. For example, to play a book
recorded on a CD, insert the CD, choose CD mode, then press the scan/start button.
Those who prefer magnification can connect the Extreme Reader XR10 to a computer monitor. By default the magnification is set to 28-point type, and the font is Arial. As the reader highlights each word, the unit reads it aloud. The user cannot now change the size of the print or the font, but I recommend that this limitation be changed in future upgrades.
I observed that the user interface of the Extreme Reader XR10 is quite logical. For instance, to move forward one word at a time, press shift and the forward key, and to move backward one word at a time, press shift with the backward key. By default the machine reads English only, but it supports other languages. Contact the manufacturer to learn what is available.
The Extreme Reader XR10 is manufactured and sold by Guerilla Technologies, 5029 SE Horseshoe Point Road, Stuart, Florida 34997; (772) 283-0500; Web site <http://www.guerillatechnologies.com>; email by online form. Current price: $3,495.
We hope that after reading these reviews of four popular flatbed stand-alone scanners, you have a better perspective on what is currently available for purchase. If you have further questions, call the National Federation of the Blind technology answer line at (410) 659-9314, option 5.
by Karl Smith
From the Editor: Increasing numbers of blind and disabled Americans reach the polls each election day to discover that they actually can vote independently for the first time in their lives or since they became disabled. For me the date was November 8, 2005, and I will never forget the experience and the unexpected pride and excitement that accompanied this simple act of citizenship that so many take for granted that millions actually stay home, choosing not to exercise their right to vote at all. Karl Smith, a leader of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, has just voted independently for the first time in this fall's election. He came home and wrote a letter about his experience to his local newspaper, the Deseret News. Whether or not the paper's editor thought it worth publishing, we think it expresses the sentiments of many of us who have recently participated independently in this right and responsibility of citizenship for the first time. This is what Karl wrote:
It is Halloween night, my fifty-first, but this year marks a special event in my life which has nothing to do with ghosts, goblins, or even trick-or-treat candy. After learning this afternoon of the opportunity to participate in early voting this week, I did something I've never done since I was first eligible to vote in 1976--cast a secret ballot in a U.S. election.
This was not because of apathy or lack of desire, but rather it was because until this year the mechanisms for casting ballots in Utah and other states in which I have lived were not accessible to me as a blind person. In past elections I had to have someone, my wife, a friend, or poll worker, read the ballot to me and punch my choices. Until today. Today, for the first time since I became eligible to vote, I was able to cast a completely secret ballot for myself--an experience even my children had before I did.
After a slight bit of clumsiness at the beginning on my part as well as that of the poll worker, who was still learning his way on the new electronic voting equipment and who had never had a blind person come in to use an accessible machine, which speaks all the pertinent information through headphones, I got the hang of it and made my choices.
For several years I have been heavily involved through the National Federation of the Blind in working for the passage of the Help America Vote Act to see that whatever equipment finally emerged would be accessible to blind voters. I have personally been present at product demonstrations and tested a number of different voting machines. But nothing prepared me for the overwhelming feeling of wonder and awe for my country and the rights all of us sometimes take for granted. This was no test, no demonstration; it was the first time this fifty-year-old American has fully and independently participated in the remarkable process which defines America and its truly extraordinary system of government.
I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to exercise your right to vote. It is your chance to make a difference and can only be taken away if you allow it to be.
From the Editor: From time to time Miss Whozit answers reader questions about etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Barbara Pierce, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <[email protected]>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. Here are the most recent letters Miss Whozit has received:
Dear Miss Whozit,
I wish to inquire about your comments in your July 2006 column in response to the question raised by Buffet Baffled. The question was how to maneuver through a restaurant or party buffet line with dignity and good manners.
You began by saying that asking for assistance in gathering food is "essential or prudent. We live in an interdependent society." Dr. Jernigan wrote in "The Nature of Independence" about the importance of accomplishing tasks efficiently rather than insisting on doing everything alone. Negotiating a buffet line, you said, is one of those situations in which hygiene and efficiency combine to make asking for information or even assistance from a sighted server or dinner companion advisable.
But then you reminded Baffled that, once through the line, "you are responsible for carrying your own plates, glasses, or bowls. You have requested assistance learning what items are on the line and perhaps placing the food on your plate, not providing service as a personal butler, carrying your selections from the line to the table." My question has to do with how one would carry plates and drinks to a table from the buffet line, especially if the plates are breakable. It seems to me that you are setting a double standard about when it is permissible to request assistance.
Miss Whozit, your expectation seems draconian. Nobody wants a personal butler just to make things simple. First you say that it is preferable to ask for assistance in the name of efficiency and cleanliness, and then you say that asking someone to carry china and liquids is inappropriate. While I would love to know how to carry plates and glasses independently, I also recall your stressing that we live in an interdependent society.
I have always admired the National Federation of the Blind for fighting the unrelenting discrimination that blind people face and for urging us all to demand training in the skills we need and to push ourselves to be independent so that we can live up to our full potential. But your conflicting advice here confuses me. Please explain.
and Breaking Rules
Dearie, dearie me, you have certainly caught Miss Whozit cutting corners. She assumed, gentle reader, that everyone would understand her implied distinctions, and your confusion demonstrates again how dangerous such assumptions can be.
Miss Whozit will try again to make a distinction which is important to understand but which does change from person to person and even situation to situation. As you say, the buffet line is not an appropriate place for tactile exploration, which means that most blind people must recruit sighted assistance to negotiate it quickly and neatly and without offending other diners, who do not appreciate watching someone handling the food they are about to eat. For some blind people, assistance carrying food and drink back to the table is every bit as necessary as help in the line. If the blind diner has only one hand, which will be needed for using the white cane, or must use a support cane or crutch as well as a mobility cane, or has problems with balance, carrying the dinner plate safely or at all is impossible, and requesting assistance is the only sensible course of action.
But you will note that all these extenuating circumstances imply an additional impairment. Miss Whozit was thinking and speaking about the diner with no additional complications to independent mobility. Blind people are told all of our lives that we cannot carry trays levelly or glasses without spilling the contents. Yet many blind people have worked out personal methods for doing so. Developing these techniques takes a bit of practice--precisely the experience that is hard to acquire if you never take the opportunity to carry a filled plate, a glass or cup of liquid, or a loaded tray. If you are serious about mastering this skill, it is pretty easy to gather a tray and plastic dishes and cups at home and balance the tray on your forearm while you walk around the house.
Late in his life Dr. Jernigan discovered that it is easy to carry a mug of hot coffee or a glass of liquid without spilling by grasping it from above with the thumb and index finger. In this way gravity helps one carry it level. He explains this method in the Kernel Book, Old Dogs and New Tricks.
When blind people are developing and practicing new skills either on their own or at a good training center, it is very important for them to push hard against their perceived limitations. Once you know to the center of your being that you can complete a task that people usually assume a blind person cannot do, you no longer have to prove to yourself that you can do it. Then you are free to do what seems most convenient in any given situation. But that is the reason I urged Baffled to carry her food herself. She seemed uncertain that she really could do it. She did not suggest that there were reasons why she was inherently unable to do the job, so I gently encouraged her to carry out the part of the task of gathering food from a buffet that would not compromise the cleanliness of other people's food.
Each of us is responsible
for conducting ourselves considerately, courteously, and as independently as
circumstances permit. Learning how to decide upon the appropriate behavior in
accordance with these standards takes a lifetime of thoughtful effort and the
support and advice of our Federation family.
Dear Miss Whozit,
As I sit down to write this letter, fall has come and the holiday season will not be far behind. For me this means that it is time to begin worrying again about how to dress for various functions.
In my office the dress code is what is known today as business casual. I think I have mastered this standard: slacks (not jeans) and nice sports shirts or sweaters for men and slacks (not jeans) or skirts and blouses or sweaters for women. T-shirts, tube tops, halters, cut-offs, and shorts are out. That's fine with me and clear enough to make compliance easy.
I begin feeling uncertain when it comes to receptions, holiday parties, and even my state convention. I can never decide how casual is too casual and how dressy is too formal. I may be making the right decisions, but I may not. So I always feel insecure and uncertain for fear I am conspicuous, and that's before we come to the white cane and people's uncertainty about what they should be doing to help me.
Please, Miss Whozit, I
need some guidance.
Stuck in my Closet
Miss Whozit pines for the days of yesteryear when gentlemen donned clean collars and ties with their suits each morning, ladies wore house dresses for cleaning, morning dresses for making calls, tea gowns for late afternoon, and evening gowns for dinner; and everyone wore hats and gloves as a matter of course. But that standard of dress was time-consuming and expensive, and those days will never come again. But at least people knew what was expected of them at any hour of the day and in any setting.
I believe that you are
correct in your statement of the requirements for meeting the business-casual
standard. Offices that require more formality demand suits and ties for men
and suits with pants or skirts or business-style dresses for women. For women
this means leaving one's contours to the imagination of others--not too tight
and not so much skin visible that your grandmother would be shocked.
These standards are fairly easy to establish and to understand, and they probably also hold for most receptions that are business-connected, particularly since they usually bump up against the workday. If the reception precedes or follows an arts performance, performance attire will govern dress for the reception. Remember that the performers will probably be dressed formally, and while audiences today are not required to follow suit, Miss Whozit prefers to appear only a step below them on the formality spectrum--a suit or dress jacket and tie or ascot for men and dressy to semi-formal attire for women.
Parties do not lend themselves to rigorous standards. Dress is dictated by the time of day, party activity, and preference of the host. It is always proper to enquire how formal or casual dress is to be. Unless one's dinner host says that dress is casual, Miss Whozit always pays him or her the compliment of dressing up at least a little. Appearing in black tie when everyone else is in shorts would naturally make one feel inappropriately dressed, but arriving a step or even two above the dress of the other guests is perfectly acceptable and indicates respect for the host and the occasion.
A decision to dress below the accepted standard for an event makes the opposite statement and will result in one's standing out even more painfully.
The discussion so far about what to wear has avoided the problem of making certain that one's clothing is clean, pressed, and free of stains and spots, which requires extra effort if you do not live with someone who can check for and treat problem areas before clothes are washed or dry cleaned. Making a good appearance requires not only that one be dressed appropriately, but also that one's clothing be in good repair and look and be clean. This means retiring the items that have seen better days.
In closing Miss Whozit wishes to make a few comments about convention attire. We try hard to make everyone at a convention feel welcome, no matter how casually or even grubbily dressed. We understand that many blind people have not had good advice about appropriate dress and many have little money to spend on clothes. But part of what we can do for each other is to raise our expectations of what is expected in the general social circles that we are coming to inhabit. Therefore, though etiquette demands that all attendees be graciously welcomed at conventions no matter how they are dressed, chapter, state, and national leaders and those who aspire to leadership should make a point of according respect to the convention by dressing with care and good taste. Those who present on the agenda should certainly be dressed for business. (Some of us are old enough to remember how insulted we felt when Larry King appeared on the NFB convention platform in a jogging suit and called attention to the fact by excusing himself on the grounds that he was addressing blind people.) Those seated in the audience can get away with business casual dress, but everyone should aim at a neat, well-groomed appearance.
The banquet is another matter. Miss Whozit regrets to report that many people no longer bother to dress for this event. Perhaps they do not realize that a number of the gentlemen at the national convention head table wear black tie and all of the ladies are dressed in cocktail- or evening-length gowns. Many in the audience as well dress appropriately (coats and ties for the men and very dressy dresses for the women). But, alas, many others cannot be bothered to part from their jeans and T-shirts, and some, Miss Whozit is pained to report, have not even bothered to put on clean T-shirts and jeans. State convention banquets need not aim for the level of formality of the national banquet, but everyone at the head table should most certainly wear a coat and tie or a very dressy dress or evening pants and top. Miss Whozit would hope that banquet guests would also demonstrate sufficient respect for the organization and the occasion to make an extra effort to dress as well as possible for the event.
I am aware that I have set the standard for personal appearance higher than some people might prefer. Unfortunately we are all judged by our appearance, and if poorly or slovenly dressed blind people are not dismissed as inappropriate, it is only because as a class we are not held to the same standard as the rest of the community. This is a sad commentary on how far we still have to travel to reach first-class status and be held to general community standards.
If your wallet does not stretch to purchasing a new wardrobe from department stores or even outlet malls, remember that every city or town has at least one thrift store, and every metropolitan area has resale stores in which very fine, almost new clothing is sold at a fraction of its actual value. Invite a friend or relative who likes to shop to go with you to such an establishment. It is possible to create a wardrobe for a very small outlay of cash and have fun in the process. Just check beforehand to be sure that your proposed shopping partner understands style, color, and clothing quality. A quiet conversation with a third person about his or her taste and fashion sense may put your mind at ease before you raise the question of a shopping spree. Anyone who shops with you should agree beforehand to be honest about what styles complement your coloring and body type. You may even find it useful to read up on this subject or watch the Learning Channel program, What Not to Wear, which will quickly convince you that blind people are not the only ones who need constructive advice about what to wear and what to avoid wearing.
Let us all make a New Year's resolution to build the self-confidence we have when we know that we are appropriately dressed. This does wonders for one's ability to face the world with poise.
by The NFB Jernigan Institute
From the Editor: In early October blind students from a handful of residential schools across the country gathered at the Jernigan Institute for an intensive four-day program that opened prospects and changed lives. Here is a report of what happened:
Here at the Jernigan Institute youth leadership and empowerment are central to our work. Recently we have been working to build relationships with educators across the nation, including strengthening ties to schools for the blind. As a result of this effort, we talked with a number of leaders in residential schools across the country to generate new ideas for empowering the current generation of blind youth. These discussions have produced a pilot program that we call the NFB Transition Leadership Academy.
The NFB Transition Leadership Academy made its debut during the first week of October 2006 as nine students, accompanied by chaperones, from schools for the blind in Washington, Texas, Arizona, Indiana, and Kansas visited the Institute for a week of leadership, mentoring, and learning activities designed to develop leadership skills, confidence, a positive view of blindness, and broader career awareness. In order to achieve these goals, the Academy focused on the importance of collective action and empowering blind youth to find their own voice in advocating for issues that touch their lives.
After arriving at the National Center for the Blind, the group was greeted by the core of blind mentors who would be working with them throughout their stay. The first item on the agenda was a discussion with NFB President Marc Maurer about what leadership is, how one becomes a leader, and what the necessary elements are to build successful endeavors. By the end of the discussion we were all prepared to imagine and build greater opportunities. Dr. Maurer challenged the students to create something so dynamic that the whole world would pay attention.
On the first full day the group headed to Washington, D.C., to visit many historic sites in order to consider how great endeavors are built. Two knowledgeable and entertaining tour guides showcased our nation's capital, emphasizing American history and the symbolism behind several of the monuments on the National Mall. These guides helped explain the purpose of the monuments and pointed out the concepts typically conveyed through the visual presentation of the structures. In addition NFB Director of Governmental Affairs James McCarthy and Government Program Specialist Jesse Hartle accompanied the students on this day-long outing, allowing them to place their tour in the perspective of the organized blind movement.
On day two successful blind people presented workshops on topics such as owning your blindness, the importance of mentoring, and overcoming barriers in careers. The students learned from leaders like Betsy Zaborowski, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, and Joanne Wilson, executive director of the NFB Department of Affiliate Action. Further, students learned about a variety of related topics through hands-on activities such as challenging each other to a game of Family Feud with a Federation twist. The students then engaged the NFB Governmental Affairs staff in discussions about laws and legislation and the development of policy. The group learned about the way the NFB develops organizational policy statements--resolutions adopted through the national convention--and about the choices that must be made in developing policy priorities.
In keeping with legislative style, the students participated in a debate, arguing the pros and cons of such issues as "Should there be a federal mandate for all forms of entertainment, including movies and television, to include descriptive services for the blind?" and "Should blind individuals accept discounts or special privileges offered at public facilities or events?" Students were challenged to argue positions regardless of their own opinions, and they worked with blind lawyers to prepare their cases. In the end winning teams were chosen by the audience based on how well organized and convincing their arguments had been, regardless of the position being held. This provided students with an opportunity to understand how to develop policy arguments and to think about the broader effect of policy decisions.
On day three the students were exposed to technology and careers in advanced science. A visit to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center provided a rare glimpse into the vast array of career opportunities in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and math. Additionally the students had the opportunity to observe blind employees at NASA doing groundbreaking work and to learn about internship opportunities. The students also spent time with the skilled staff of the NFB's International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC), where they learned about the newest developments in technology, how to evaluate the best technology for them, and how as consumers of technology they can influence technology development. This culminated in a demonstration and discussion about the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader led by James Gashel, NFB executive director for strategic initiatives.
On day four the group could be found keeping an aggressive schedule of visits in Washington, D.C., In contrast to their transport during their previous visit, the group used the Washington Metro system for all of its travel in the District. Through a visit to the Library of Congress, the students learned about preserving history and culture, and they enjoyed an informative lunch with Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The group also traveled to the Executive Building at the White House, where they received a warm welcome in the historic Indian Treaty Room. This visit culminated in a presentation by longtime blind Federationist Olegario D. Cantos VII, associate director for domestic policy at the White House. Finally the group received a rare tour of the Capitol by Stacy Cervenka, another successfully employed blind Federationist, who serves as staff assistant in the Office of Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.
As is customary during NFB programs, the students undertook a number of challenge activities in order to reinforce their self-confidence. Under the direction of skilled blind mentors, the students and their chaperones participated in activities such as grilling their own meals over an open flame and cutting down their fears by using a gas-powered chainsaw. These activities were done under blindfold to reinforce a phrase that came to be a theme throughout the Academy, "Vision is not a requirement for success." Of course the busy schedule, fast-paced travel on the Washington Metro, and a host of other incidental activities like lighting a fire in the fireplace for evening relaxation communicated clearly to the students the high expectations we all have for them and reinforced the message that vision is not a requirement for success.
The Transition Leadership Academy also issued a new challenge to its participants. As an outcome of their time at the NFB, students were expected to design a project that would allow them to make a contribution to their communities and would help educate people about blindness or serve blind people themselves. Their projects were to be based entirely on issues of deep concern to them, and they had total freedom to plan their projects in their own way. The students presented their preliminary project outlines at the closing dinner for the Academy. A number of NFB leaders, including Dr. Maurer and Dr. Zaborowski, heard the presentations and had an opportunity to ask questions. The students successfully articulated well-conceived projects and fielded all of the questions as if they were experienced veterans. The students are now back home planning to implement their ideas in their local communities with the support of the NFB as needed. The Jernigan Institute will be receiving reports from these students, and we are confident that the results will be worthy of report in future issues of the Braille Monitor.
The NFB Transition Leadership
Academy has raised expectations and taught these blind youth to exercise their
voices in everything that matters. The results of this effort are best seen
in the reports we have received since the students returned home. Here is an
excerpt from one of these reports:
On September 29th, 2006, I flew to Baltimore, Maryland, to attend a four-day conference hosted by the National Federation of the Blind. I had no idea what it would be like, and it certainly never crossed my mind that I would experience the best four days of my life and meet such influential people. I just thought it would be another great social event and that I'd be able to further my advocacy skills. Indeed I was able to do both of those things, but I came away with much more than I could have ever imagined!
One of the biggest moments for me was finally accepting my blindness. It never occurred to me that I had a negative attitude about it because, as far as I knew, my attitude was just fine. As I heard Betsy Zaborowski tell her story, though, it hit me. It was not until then that I truly accepted my blindness. I finally acknowledged that yes, I am blind, but it is nothing more than a characteristic. It does not define who I am or even stop me from doing what I love; it just is. I have the ability to make a difference in the world just like anyone else.
--Chelsea Munoz, Texas School
for the Blind
As a result of the successful completion of this pilot program, the NFB Jernigan Institute education team is planning to expand this effort in the future. Through building relationships with educators and administrators across the country, we will continue to raise expectations and build opportunities for this and future generations of blind students. We are in our own transition--a transition to a time when every blind young person in America believes in his or her heart that vision is not a requirement for success. Furthermore we are committed to working to create an environment in which every professional and parent accepts this proposition and implements practices that support this standard. While we have much more work to do in this transition, we can measure our progress in the lives of students and chaperones like those who participated in the NFB Transition Leadership Academy, who have gained or strengthened their beliefs about blindness and who will join us in our mission to carry this message forward to future generations.
This year's scholarship program will be the twenty-fourth since the organization decided to expand the number, variety, and value of the scholarships presented each year at our annual convention in July. Assisting the nation's most talented postsecondary students to fulfill their academic and professional dreams is one of the most effective ways for us to demonstrate our conviction that blind people deserve the chance to enter whatever field they demonstrate themselves equipped to succeed in.
Scholarships will be presented this year to thirty college, vocational-school, and graduate students. Again this year the NFB awards will range in value from $3,000 to $12,000. This top scholarship, named the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship, is presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. We will also bring the winners as our guests to the 2007 convention of the National Federation of the Blind to experience firsthand the excitement and stimulation of a gathering of the largest and most dynamic organization of blind people in the country today.
Again we plan to present at least three of the scholarships to students who won scholarship awards in a previous competition. The purpose of these special awards is to nurture in today's students an ongoing commitment to the philosophy and objectives of the Federation. The students so designated will be recognized and honored as the 2007 tenBroek Fellows. All current students who were scholarship winners in previous years should take particular note of this program and consider applying for the 2007 National Federation of the Blind scholarships.
Full-time employees interested in pursuing postsecondary degrees should take a close look at the scholarship form because one award may be given to a part-time student holding down a full-time job.
Every state affiliate and local chapter can help in spreading the word of this extraordinary opportunity for America's blind students. The scholarship application is now available for downloading from the NFB Web site, <www.nfb.org>, and forms have been or soon will be mailed to financial aid offices in educational institutions around the country. Many of these will be filed away and forgotten by the time students come to ask about financial assistance. It is very helpful to have local representatives deliver or mail forms to the actual college administrator who works with blind students. Being identified with such a valuable national scholarship program gives the local chapter and state affiliate prestige and respect, and the local touch insures that more blind students will actually have an opportunity to apply for these scholarships.
Anyone can order scholarship forms from Peggy Elliott, 805 5th Avenue, Grinnell, Iowa 50112-1653, phone, (641) 236-3366, or email <[email protected]>; or from the Independence Market, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230 or <[email protected]>. State presidents and members of the 2006 Scholarship Committee will also be sent scholarship forms. These may be copied as long as all sides of the form are reproduced. Please do what you can to spread the word about this program.
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2007.
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2007 convention next July. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $1,000, an appropriate plaque, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children early in the convention.
Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the national convention. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or friends. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.
The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher's experience by affording him or her the opportunity to take part in seminars and workshops on educational issues, to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this form and encouraging teachers to submit their credentials. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to applications from many well-qualified educators.
Please complete the application and attach the following:
· A letter of nomination
from someone (parent, coworker, supervisor, etc.) who knows your work;
· A letter of recommendation from someone who knows you professionally and knows your philosophy of teaching; and
· A letter from you discussing your beliefs and approach to teaching blind students. In your letter you may wish to discuss topics such as the following:
· What are your views about when and how students should use Braille, large print, tape recordings, readers, magnification devices, computers, electronic notetakers, and other technology?
· How do you decide whether a child should use print, Braille, or both?
· When do you recommend that your students begin instruction in the use of a slate and stylus, of a Braille writer?
· How do you determine which students should learn cane travel (and when) and which should not?
· When should keyboarding be introduced?
· When should a child be expected to hand in print assignments independently?
Federation of the Blind
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
Deadline: May 15, 2007
City, State, Zip:________________________________________________
City, State, Zip:_________________________________________________
Use a separate sheet of paper and answer the following:
Attach the three required letters to this application, and send all material by May 15, 2007, to Sharon Maneki, chairwoman, Teacher Award Committee, 9013 Nelson Way, Columbia, Maryland 21045 (410) 715-9596.
by David Ticchi
From the Editor: Dr. David Ticchi is first vice president of the NFB of Massachusetts and an experienced educator in his own right. He was named Blind Educator of the Year in 1998. David has been appointed to chair the 2007 Blind Educator of the Year Award Selection Committee. This is what he says:
A number of years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators (the educators' division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose exceptional classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the NFB merit national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became an honor bestowed by our entire movement. The change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching and the impact an outstanding blind teacher has on students, faculty, community, and all blind Americans.
This award is given in the spirit of the outstanding educators who founded and have continued to nurture the National Federation of the Blind and who, by example, have imparted knowledge of our strengths to us and raised our expectations. We have learned from Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and President Marc Maurer that a teacher not only provides a student with information but also provides guidance and advocacy. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must exhibit all of these traits and must advance the cause of blind people in the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees must be present to receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $1,000. Nominations should be sent to Dr. David A. Ticchi, Newton North High School, Adams House, 360 Lowell Avenue, Newtonville, Massachusetts 02460. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a copy of the nominee's current résumé and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairman by May 1, 2007, to be considered for this year's award. For further information contact David Ticchi (617) 559-6253.
by Denice F. Brown
From the Editor: Denice Brown is president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. She has developed a healthy attitude toward the gradual vision loss frequently associated with retinitis pigmentosa. In the following article she describes the process of her evolution. This is what she says:
Have you ever sat down to think about all of the reasons why you don't use a white cane? What excuses did you give? What tricks did you use to try to conceal the fact that you couldn't really see where you were going? How many times have you nearly harmed yourself--or someone else?
I have been thinking about these questions recently. I am a proud long white cane user now, but in the past it really took some soul-searching to get me to this point. It also took some eye-opening experiences to make me realize that I would be more independent and secure if I always used my cane.
What is it that really holds us back? I have asked many of my friends this question, especially if they are still not using a cane all of the time. Here are some of my thoughts.
My vision has slowly diminished over the years because of retinitis pigmentosa. This disease is a slow-moving degeneration of the retina. My central vision stayed intact for years, even though I had a great loss of peripheral vision and no night vision. I graduated from the public schools of Philadelphia, and I received bachelor's and master's degrees from Temple University. I was able to read all of my materials without any assistance or accommodations. The hardest thing I had to do visually was to find the subway steps when I was going to and from my home. I kept a fold-up cane in my briefcase, but I would always slide my foot forward in order to find the top step before going down a flight of stairs. A few times I missed that top step and tripped down the steps. I never tumbled or actually fell. I would always stumble down at an uncontrolled run and land on my feet. I understood how dangerous this could have been, but I still kept that cane hidden.
Riding public transportation can be challenging if you cannot see and are not confident enough to use your cane. Many times I was unable to see where the empty seats were. If someone said, "There's a seat, Miss," I would just ignore the advice or say, "I would rather stand." Sometimes, even though I was exhausted, I stood in order to avoid the embarrassment.
In navigating the city streets, I walked into walls, construction sites, signs, trash cans, traffic lights, people, information desks, doors, cars, and other things too numerous to mention. It is a wonder that I was never seriously injured. Despite all these warnings, I still never gave a thought to pulling out my cane.
In the spring of 1995 I encountered something that made me stop and think. One Saturday I was briskly walking in familiar surroundings in downtown Philadelphia. I was walking east and turned the corner to go north, trying to turn the corner widely enough so that I wouldn't clip the corner of the building with my shoulder. I proceeded north, and it suddenly seemed to me that I was somehow walking above the pavement. I was clearly stepping on something, but I didn't know what it was. I continued to walk forward, and all of a sudden I was walking on the ground again. For a moment I wondered what I had done. "Did I step into some kind of construction? Have I walked along a barrier? Was that a manhole cover?"
It seemed as though I stood there asking myself questions for quite a time, but it was only a few seconds. I turned around to try to see what I had stepped on. To my surprise I saw a homeless man lying on the ground. He was looking up, trying to figure out what had happened to him. He did not know what had happened, but I did. I had walked across his body. I had started at his ankles, and I came off at his shoulders. I did not step on his head because it was tucked into his chest. Yes, I had walked across him like a gymnast walks across a balance beam. I could have given myself a ten.
As the homeless man turned around, I thought, "What do you say when you have walked across a person? What is the proper etiquette?" Today I would ask myself, "What would Miss Whozit say?"
For the first time in my life I thought, "If I had used my cane, I would have felt that person. I might not have known what it was, but I would have known that I had to walk around it." I am grateful that that man did not know what had happened and also that he was not violent. That experience really made me think. I recognized that I would not change overnight, but I knew that I had to start thinking more positively about using a cane.
That was only part of my problem. I used to worry about what people were thinking about me. What would they think and say about my using a cane? Would people look at my big brown eyes and think that I was trying to deceive them? People often commented that I didn't look as if I couldn't see. Yet neighbors waved at me, and I did not wave back because I never saw them. I was confused. I did not want to be misunderstood, but I couldn't think of any way to make people I did not know well or know at all understand my situation. I felt a great weight of responsibility, and I wanted to lift it.
When I look back on those days, my worries seem foolish. Why should I have worried about what others thought? Why wasn't I thinking about my own safety and independence? Didn't I realize that the long white cane would take me to new heights? Didn't I understand that it was necessary that others know that I was blind?
It seems so simple now. If you want to be able to convince society that you are a first-class citizen, you have to show people how secure you are within yourself. Gaining security enables you to stand equal with other people.
So dust off those canes sitting in briefcases, behind doors, and under beds, some of which have never been taken out of their original packaging. Don't think about others first. Think about yourself. Think how much better off you would be if you used your cane. It will take you safely where you need to go. It will help you find obstacles with ease. Walk proudly into that job interview. Show the world that you are a force to be reckoned with. If you can do this, you too will be a role model for other members of the National Federation of the Blind.
From the Editor: Joe Lazzaro is the newly hired manager of a new accessibility group in the Information Technology Division of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He addressed the NFB in Computer Science meeting at the 2006 NFB convention. According to Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science, he and Joe have formed a positive and productive working relationship. In late July Curtis passed along his remarks when introducing Mr. Lazzaro at the division meeting along with an interesting article about Joe Lazzaro that appeared in the July 13 edition of the Newton, Massachusetts, Daily News Tribune. Here are Curtis's introductory remarks followed by the text of the article:
Last fall the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced plans to convert to something called the Open Document Format (ODF). According to the announcement, all executive branch agencies would be converted to this format no later than January of 2007. This announcement resulted in a hue and cry from the disability community because nowhere was there any mention of accessibility to ODF. While the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science has no objection to ODF per se, it has adopted the position that Massachusetts's initial approach to the ODF implementation effort did leave something to be desired in assuring continued access to documents and other data stored electronically and used by blind employees of the state. We expressed our concerns and called upon the commonwealth to maintain the status quo until accessibility to the Open Document Format could be assured.
I think it is fair to say that today you can buy no software that provides nonvisual access to documents coded in the Open Document Format. Microsoft certainly does not support ODF, and while IBM appears to be making strides allowing its Workplace software to be used by the blind, so far we have seen nothing on the market.
Enter Joe Lazzaro, the manager of a new assistive technology group that has been created in the Information Technology Division of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Mr. Lazzaro is blind. He was the director of the adaptive technology program at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind until late May, when he assumed his new position.
You may be interested to learn these things about Joe Lazzaro: He is a freelance fact and fiction writer. He has written three nonfiction computer-related books and hundreds of magazine articles. His latest book is entitled Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments, Second Edition. Joe has appeared in such notable publications as the New York Times, Time Life Access, Byte, Computer Shopper, MIT Technology Review, IEEE Spectrum, Windows Magazine, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction, and Analog.
Joe is committed to accessibility.
It is significant that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has chosen a blind
person of his caliber to lead its information technology accessibility efforts.
While I don't know for certain how all of this will turn out, I do feel much
better knowing that somebody like Joe Lazzaro is in charge, and I have pledged
our help as an organization.
The draft mission statement for Mr. Lazzaro's newly formed group reads as follows:
The ITD's Accessibility group mission is to assure all ITD information technology procurements and deployments are fully compliant with recognized accessibility standards; and usable by persons with sensory, physical, learning, cognitive, and other disabilities. This will be accomplished by building and maintaining links between ITD, assistive technology vendors, open source and COTS (commercial off the shelf) hardware and software vendors, standards bodies, and disability-related stakeholders and contractors. The program will have sign-off authority on RFRs in areas pertaining to accessibility standards and will monitor and test applications during the development cycle to assure they meet with state and federal accessibility requirements.
As I say, all of this is an encouraging beginning. Let me now introduce to you Joe Lazzaro.
Sight? No Problem for City Computer Whiz Joe Lazzaro
by Galen Moore
Sunglasses on, inside his office in downtown Boston, Joe Lazzaro is in his element. His left hand taps a keyboard, navigating a Web site in audio. His right hand holds a take-out coffee cup at an odd angle--listing badly, but not spilling. "I hate to admit it, but I was a geek long before I went blind," he says. Lazzaro, forty-nine, a resident of Waltham, began working for the state Information Technology Division this May, making government Web sites accessible for people with disabilities. The commonwealth is spending just under $1 million this year on his project.
Blind people can navigate the Web, he demonstrated, using software that recognizes Web site headings and links and reads them out loud. However, some sites won't work with the software.
"I'm going to show you a Web site--the Target.com Web site, or as I say, ‘Tar-jay,'" he told a reporter earlier this week. "It appears to be accessible, but if you go beneath the surface, you'll see it's not." As he scrolled through the headings on the page, a clipped mechanical voice read: "Target baby; wish list registry; club wed registry."
"So far, I'm doing good," Lazzaro said, but when his keyboard cursor moved on to catalog items listed for purchase, the voice read out an unintelligible string of numbers, letters, and symbols. "If you can tell me what that means, I'll pay you," he quipped.
Ensuring that won't happen on state Web sites is costly, and Massachusetts may be one of the few states undertaking the task.
According to Dennis Cannon, an accessibility specialist at the U.S. Access Board, states' efforts in this area vary greatly. "I'm afraid they're all over the place," he said. Meanwhile, federal standards have had to change rapidly with new technology. In some cases they remain unclear, he said.
For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires government buildings to be handicapped-accessible, but "Does the ADA apply to Web sites?" Cannon said. "It's kind of up in the air."
For Lazzaro the answer is clear. "We have a responsibility to make sure we get it right--that we don't disenfranchise citizens of the Commonwealth," he said.
Lazzaro lost his sight at age fifteen, when his retina became detached from his right eye. He was walking with a friend along Commonwealth Avenue. He stepped over a curb, and, "Suddenly it was as if someone pulled a [curtain] down over my eyes," he said. His left retina had become detached as a child. From age fifteen to twenty-five surgery allowed him to see things vaguely out of the corner of one eye, but gradually all went dark.
His most cherished memory of sight is one many can remember, but it could only top the list of a confessed high school nerd. "I thank God I got to watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon," Lazzaro said fondly. He was twelve on the day the astronauts landed, thirty-seven years ago, next Thursday. "It was a life-changing moment. I wanted to be there so bad."
by Jerry Whittle
From the Editor: Jerry Whittle has taught Braille at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for more than twenty years. He has an idea that might lead to work for skilled Braille readers. This is what he says:
As Braille instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for the past twenty-one years, I have had the pleasure of working with some outstanding Braille readers. I have personally timed more than sixty Braille readers at a rate of three hundred words per minute or more and three who were able to read over five hundred words per minute. Many of these students could have read professionally, having excellent expression, accurate pronunciation, and proper pacing without annoying habits. In fact, I have often encouraged good readers to audition to become professional readers for voice-overs for commercials or to record books for both sighted and blind markets.
With this idea in mind, I contacted the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and inquired how a person would go about seeking employment as a reader in the Talking Book Service. I was told that the readers are hired by private contractors, who audition and hire readers and produce Talking Books for the National Library Service.
Since blind people have an employment rate of about 30 percent, why not hire qualified Braille readers to record books for the blind? With today's ready access to Braille-ready files and with the cooperation of publishers who could provide the latest books in BRF format for rapid Braille embossing, it would be relatively easy for a qualified and talented Braille reader to enter a recording studio and produce a quality book for the NLS. When I enquired about the feasibility of this employment possibility, various NLS employees said they had no problem with Braille readers being hired by private contractors but that no blind person had ever auditioned for this type of work with the NLS. Reading for these contractors would probably not mean full-time employment, but it would be an excellent way to promote Braille literacy and serve blind people in an innovative endeavor.
The following organizations contract with the National Library Service and hire readers on a contractual basis: American Foundation for the Blind, (212) 502-7600, New York City; American Multi-Media, (603) 589-2560, Nashua, New Hampshire; Talking Book Publishers, (303) 778-8606, Denver, Colorado; and Potomac Talking Book, (301) 907-3822, Bethesda, Maryland. The American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky, a longtime contractor with the National Library Service, was recently out-bid and lost its contract for the coming year. Many of these contractors ask for a home demo before issuing an official audition. Anyone interested in auditioning for these contracts should contact one or all of these contractors for guidelines.
Another possibility might be doing voice-overs for radio and television commercials. Qualified Braille readers might contact local radio and television stations for contacts in auditioning for commercials and other ventures. We have the skills; we can compete with our sighted counterparts on terms of equality. All we need is the opportunity.
by James McCarthy
From the Editor: Jim McCarthy is director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind. Here is his annual Social Security summary:
One more year is over and another beginning. This preordained passage of time brings annual adjustments to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, SSDI and SSI cost?of?living increases, and alterations to deductible and coinsurance requirements under Medicare. Beginning January 2007, upper income Americans will face greater Medicare Part B premiums than the majority of us. Below are the updated facts for 2007.
FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: The FICA tax rate for employees and their employers remains at 7.65 percent. This rate includes payments to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund of 6.2 percent and an additional 1.45 percent payment to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, from which payments under Medicare are made. Self-employed persons continue to pay a Social Security tax of 15.3 percent, which includes 12.4 percent paid to the OASDI Trust Fund and 2.9 percent paid to the HI Trust Fund.
Ceiling on Earnings Subject to Tax: During 2006 the ceiling on taxable earnings for contributions to the OASDI Trust Fund was $94,200. The maximum amount of taxable earnings rises to $97,500 for 2007. All earnings are taxed for the HI Trust Fund.
Social Security Disability Insurance
Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for retirement, survivors, and disability insurance benefits is based in large part on the number of quarters of coverage earned by any individual during periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage during a single year. During 2006 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $970 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $3,880 for 2006 (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) was given four quarters of coverage. In 2007 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $1,000 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters can be earned with annual earnings of $4,000.
Trial Work Period limit: The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is subject to annual increases. In 2006 the amount was $620, and in 2007 it rises to $640. In cases of self-employment a trial work month can also be used if a person works more than eighty hours, and this limit remains the same each year unless expressly adjusted.
Exempt Earnings: The monthly earnings exemption for blind people who receive disability insurance benefits was $1,450 of gross earned income during 2006. In 2007 earnings of $1,500 or more per month, before taxes, for a blind SSDI beneficiary will indicate substantial gainful activity once any unearned (or subsidy) income is subtracted and all deductions for impairment-related work expenses are applied.
Social Security Benefit Amounts: All Social Security benefits are increased by a cost of living adjustment (COLA) of 3.3 percent beginning with checks received in January 2006. The precise increase will vary based upon the amount each individual now receives.
Supplemental Security Income
Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January 2007, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $623 per month; couples, $934 per month. These amounts are increased over the 2006 level of $603 per month for individuals and $904 per month for couples.
Student Earned Income Exclusion: the Student Earned Income Exclusion is adjusted each year. In 2006 the monthly amount was $1,460, and the maximum yearly amount was $5,910. For 2007 these amounts increase to $1,510 per month, and $6,100 per year. The SSI program applies strict asset (resource) limits of $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples that can only be adjusted through legislation.
Medicare Deductibles and Coinsurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The coinsurance payment is the charge that the hospital makes to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's coinsurance amount.
The Part A coinsurance amount charged for hospital services within a benefit period of not longer than sixty days was $952 during 2006 and is increased to $992 during 2007. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day the daily coinsurance amount of $248 per day is up from $238 in 2006. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty lifetime reserve days, which may be used after a ninety-day benefit period has ended. Once used, after any benefit period, these reserve days are no longer available. The coinsurance amount to be paid during each reserve day used in 2007 is $496, up from $476 in 2006.
Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days within a benefit period that follows a three-day in-hospital stay. From the twenty-first day through the one-hundredth day in a benefit period the Part A coinsurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility will be $124 per day, up from $119 per day in 2006.
For most beneficiaries there is no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for Social Security Disability Insurance cash benefits can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for ninety-three months, after the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2007 is $410 per month. This is reduced to $226 for individuals who have earned between thirty and thirty-nine quarters of coverage under Social-Security-covered employment.
In 2007 the Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductible rises to $131. The 2006 deductible amount was $124, and for 2005 it was $110. This is an annual deductible amount. The Medicare Part B monthly premium rate charged to each beneficiary for the year 2007 will increase by $5 to $93.50 from the $88.50 amount for 2006. This premium payment is deducted from Social Security benefit checks, so, while 2007 Social Security benefits will rise, a portion of the increase will go toward the higher Medicare Part B premiums, though the increase is less than for recent years. I should note that the law does not permit Medicare premiums to decrease a person's monthly Social Security Benefit amount. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare but are not receiving Social Security benefits because of working must pay the Part B premium directly on a quarterly basis--one payment every three months.
For the first time Americans with higher incomes will pay higher Part B premium amounts based on their income in 2007. For individuals, the income threshold for higher premium amounts is income that exceeds $80,000, and for couples filing jointly, the threshold is $160,000, and it is estimated that 4 percent of Americans will be affected by these higher premium amounts mandated by the Medicare Modernization Act. If you believe you may be affected, you should contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Programs Which Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums: Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for help with payments. Assistance is available through two programs--QMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program) and SLMB (Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program).
Under the QMB program states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program's income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium ($93.50 in 2007). Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.
Both programs are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in conjunction with the states. In order to qualify, the income of an individual or couple must be less than the poverty guidelines currently in effect. The guidelines are revised annually and were last announced early in 2006. New guidelines will be issued in February or March of 2007. The rules vary from state to state, but in general the following can be said:
A person may qualify for the QMB program if his or her income is less than $837 per month for an individual and $1,120 per month for a couple. These amounts apply for residents of forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income threshold used to define poverty is less than $1,041 per month for an individual and $1,395 per month for a couple. In Hawaii income must be less than $960 per month for an individual and $1,285 per month for a couple.
For the SLMB program income cannot exceed $1,000 per month for an individual or $1,340 for a couple in forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income amount is $1,245 for an individual and $1,670 for couples. An individual in Hawaii qualifies if income is less than $1,147 per month; for couples the amount is $1,538.
Resources--such as bank accounts or stocks--may not exceed $4,000 for one person or $6,000 for a family of two. (Resources generally are things you own. However, not everything is counted. The house you live in, for example, doesn't count, and in some circumstances your car may not count either.)
If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay:
If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will be responsible for the payment of all of the items listed above except for the $93.50 monthly Part B premium.
If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security's toll-free number, (800) 772-1213.
Remember, only your state can decide if you are eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program. So, if you are elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local Medicaid office (referred to in some states as the Public Aid Office or the Public Assistance Office) to apply. For more information about either program, call CMS's toll-free telephone number, (800) 633-4227.
From the Editor: As the calendar year draws to a close, the Imagination Fund team is shifting into high gear in preparation for the March for Independence next July on the opening day of the 2007 convention in Atlanta. Here is what they have to say:
The momentum is building as members of our movement prepare for the first ever National Federation of the Blind March for Independence. Each of us can find many ways to participate. First, join us for the march. Register now at <www.nfb.org> or call Kristi Bowman at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2406. Once you register, you will receive some helpful tools that you can use to reach out to friends, family members, and others in your community. These materials discuss our Jernigan Institute, the Imagination Fund, and our first ever March for Independence; they will help you raise your pledge and ensure your participation in the March. Use these materials to start a conversation with someone, tell your story--what your life was like before the NFB and how the NFB has helped to change what you understand it means to be blind. Raise awareness about the NFB and educate people you know and those you do not about blindness.
If you have already registered, you should have received or will soon receive the particularly attractive folding March cards. They are twice the size of a standard business card, but they are perforated, so they easily fold to fit in your pocket, wallet, or purse. As soon as you get your batch, simply fill in your name and state on the bottom of the top half. This will allow us easily to track those who are sponsoring your personal National Federation of the Blind March for Independence. The thank-you, or bottom half, of these cool cards contains the text "NFB.org" and our phone number "410-659-9314" in Braille. Use the Braille portion of the card as another public outreach tool to help you engage folks in conversation. You can talk about Braille and how it has helped you in your life. Ask your colleagues, family members, or friends to sponsor your March for Independence at whatever level they can afford and simply hand them one of these nifty March cards. Tell them to rip it in half and send in the portion with your name and state together with a check to sponsor you in this 5K walk. It really works.
Every single dollar contributed to sponsor a participating marcher like you and me will directly benefit the NFB Imagination Fund, so register now. Plan to march with us early the morning of July 3 in Atlanta. Remember that each year members, friends, and supporters of the NFB give and ask others to donate to the Imagination Fund. Many of you have contributed or sought donations to support our work in recent years. Thank you. You know that this important fund supports the innovative research and cutting-edge training of the NFB Jernigan Institute, our institute, the institute that we built, but you also know that the Imagination Fund provides financial support for the important work we all do in each of our fifty-two state affiliates.
Remember that everyone who has raised at least $100 for the Imagination Fund after June 30 and before the close of 2006 will be eligible for a drawing for $1,000 during the Washington Seminar. Each fundraiser's name will be entered into the drawing once for each hundred dollars raised.
As we approach five hundred
fundraising marchers, please register now. Agree to raise $250 or more in order
to march with us in Atlanta on July 3, 2007. Everyone at the $250-level will
be awarded an historic March for Independence T-shirt. We will have other fabulous
and fashionable awards for those who raise $500 or $1,000 or more. We can do
this. It is important that we reach outside of our movement to raise the awareness
and the money that are vital to continue our march toward complete equality.
Raising at least $250 will be easier than you think. When you are motivated
by the Federation spirit, you can ask three neighbors, a sibling, a member of
your church, two coworkers, and someone you will meet tomorrow on a bus or plane
to sponsor your March for Independence. It will be easier than you think to
raise $250 or more if you make it a daily priority, if you use the tools and
materials provided after you register.
Our committee, coordinated by Ron Gardner working with NFB of Georgia President Anil Lewis, is planning an historic route. This 5K march will take place early the morning of Tuesday, July 3, before the opening session of the Sixty-Seventh Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The momentum is building. Plan to be a part of the excitement, the spectacle, and the fun. Help us raise public awareness, and help us raise funds to continue the exciting work we do. Take ownership and feel good about your involvement.
This event and the public education and fundraising leading up to the march are of great significance to the ongoing work of the National Federation of the Blind. Imagine the blind of America marching toward a future filled with opportunity, and you can be a big part of it all. Remember that on July 3, 2007, we the members of the National Federation of the Blind and many of our friends and supporters will hold our first ever National Federation of the Blind March for Independence. Do not wait; act now. We need everyone's active support and involvement. The momentum is building.
Think of creative ways to get your fellow Federationists involved. Let's keep building the momentum, developing local activities such as March for Independence training walks to get folks excited and informed. At the recent Colorado state convention about 150 of us held a mini March for Independence. It followed our luncheon, so we needed the exercise. We videotaped our little mini march. It is on the Web site at <www.nfb.org>. What chapter and affiliate activities can you dream up?
The momentum is building. If you are unable to attend next summer's convention in Atlanta, please consider registering and raising your $250 or more anyway. Perhaps you could sponsor someone else. As we build momentum toward the big day, we will be rolling out more tools and materials to support your effort, so please keep reading these pages, keep listening to presidential releases, and keep checking our NFB Web site for more details and helpful support materials.
The National Federation of the Blind March for Independence--with your help it is another way we are changing what it means to be blind.
This month's recipes
have been contributed by members of the NFB of Louisiana. Here is the affiliate's
As we gather to celebrate the holiday season, we are reminded of the love within our Federation family. The NFB of Louisiana has been truly touched by the generosity and love from members around the country. Thank you for helping us to continue our rebuilding. We hope you'll enjoy these regional and holiday recipes--from our family to yours.
by Neita Ghrigsby
Neita Ghrigsby, known to most of us as "Ms. Neita," went to work for the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana, on December 1, 1985, about six weeks after the center opened, and has worked as office manager ever since.
She says, "My work
is very rewarding, something that I look forward to doing every day, and it
has given me many pleasant memories that I will always cherish. The NFB has
changed my life in tremendous ways by giving me strength to battle some of my
own weaknesses. It has provided me a bountiful host of lasting friendships with
some of the best people in the world. I enjoy cooking and sharing time with
my family, especially my three grandchildren, who are the light of my life."
1 small package flour tortillas
1 1/2 to 2 pounds ground meat, browned
1 large onion, chopped and browned with meat
2 cans ranch-style beans
2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup
1 can Ro-tel brand tomatoes with green peppers
1 8-ounce package grated American cheese
1 small jar Mexican Cheez-Whiz
Method: Brown meat and onions together and drain. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan ( I use a standard sheet-cake pan) with about half the tortillas torn into small pieces or just torn into smaller portions. Layer half the browned meat and onion mixture over the tortillas. Then add a layer of the beans and sprinkle half the grated cheese over the beans. Follow this with another layer of the torn tortillas, then the rest of the meat, the rest of the beans, and the rest of the cheese. Mix the undiluted soups together with the Ro-tel tomatoes with green peppers and the jar of Mexican Cheez Whiz. (I mix all of this together in a pan, which I then heat to allow the flavors to blend thoroughly.) Pour this mixture evenly over the contents of the pan. With knife or spatula cut into the casserole so that the soup mixture penetrates the casserole deeply. You may have to make several cuts to let as much as possible of the soup mixture mingle with the meat, bean, and tortilla mixture. If you like, you can top the casserole with extra grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for twenty to thirty minutes or until casserole is heated through and the tortillas have become soft. Serve with a salad for an enjoyable meal.
Molly's Potato Soup
by Kelly Womack
Kelly Womack is the academic skills instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Her patience, dedication, and creativity are prized by her students. Kelly is also responsible for coordinating the NFBL table at national convention.
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
2 cans chicken broth
2 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
3 cups milk
4 to 5 baked potatoes (skins removed), chopped very fine and mashed with masher, not mixer
Method: In a large, heavy pan melt the butter and slowly whisk in the flour. Continue stirring and heating till mixture is completely smooth. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Return to stove and heat through, continuing to stir as soup thickens so that lumps do not form.
Black Olive Dip
by Zena Pearcy
Zena Pearcy is
a longtime Federation leader. She currently serves as the treasurer of the North
Central Chapter of the NFB of Louisiana and as a member of the state Scholarship
Committee. She is the receptionist at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Zena
and Jeff Pearcy love to entertain. This is one of their most popular dips and
is great at holiday gatherings.
1 8-ounce block cream cheese
1 cup real mayonnaise
1 small can chopped black olives
green onions to taste
Method: Let cream cheese come to room temperature, or heat it for about forty-five seconds in the microwave. Mix in mayo and black olives. Chop green onions fine. Use as much as you like; I usually use about 3 stalks. Gently combine cream cheese and olive mixtures until homogeneous. Serve immediately with tortilla chips, or chill in the refrigerator a couple of hours to develop the flavor before serving.
by Sandra Merchant Taboada
Dr. Sandy Taboada serves as secretary of the NFB of Louisiana and president of the state Parents of Blind Children Division. Her son Michael has participated in the NFB Science Academy and is excited about the upcoming Youth Slam. Sandy's tireless dedication to our movement is deeply appreciated.
1 can yellow or white corn, drained
1 can baby corn, drained and cut into small pieces
1 can hominy, drained
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 green pepper, cut into small pieces
1 red pepper, cut into small pieces
1 orange pepper, cut into small pieces
1 yellow pepper, cut into small pieces
1 sweet onion, cut into small pieces
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 bottle Italian dressing
Method: Place all ingredients except dressing in a large bowl and mix well. Completely cover ingredients with Italian dressing. Let sit in refrigerator overnight. Drain excess dressing. Serve with tostada chips (ideally the scoopable ones).
Crock Pot Candy
by Arlene Hill
Arlene Hill has been a Federation leader for many years. She is a cane travel instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She has served in many capacities in the local chapter. She is enthusiastic about sharing our message with everyone she meets.
She says: "This
recipe is a great and easy candy for Christmas or any time. My children used
to love to help me make it, and we had fun giving it as gifts to friends. Be
sure to layer each item in the crock pot exactly the way the recipe lists it."
16-ounce jar unsalted dry roasted peanuts
16-ounce jar salted dry roasted peanuts
12-ounce package chocolate chips
4-ounce chocolate candy bar broken into pieces
3 pounds white bark broken into pieces and spread on top (This is 2 planks.)
Method: Place all ingredients in crock pot order listed, cover crock pot and cook on low for three hours, do not lift the lid. I have a pot that cooks a bit on the high side, so I cook on keep warm, and it is just perfect. After three hours, turn crock pot off, let cool slightly, then with long-handled spoon mix completely and drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper and let cool. Makes about seventy pieces.
Holiday Nut Bread
by Arlene Hill
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 eggs, beaten well
2 pounds English walnuts
2 pounds dates
1 pound Brazil nuts
18 ounces maraschino cherries, drained
Method: Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour batter into greased loaf pan and bake at 325 degrees for one hour. Cool slightly in pan before removing to cool completely on rack.
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
by Cathy Guillory
Cathy Guillory is the president of the Lake Area NFB of Louisiana. She was introduced to the Federation when she won a state NFB scholarship in the mid-1980's. She currently serves as president of the Lake Area Chapter. She is also an active leader in the Deaf-Blind Division. The Lake Area is home to some of Southern Louisiana's finest Cajun food. A rule of thumb for Cajun cooking is, "First you make a roux."
One chicken, cut up
Smoked link sausage, cut into bite-size pieces
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
Cajun seasoning to taste
1 bunch green onions, chopped
About 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Method: Fill a large soup pot half full of water and place over high heat. While the water is heating, make a roux by blending cooking oil and flour in a heavy skillet over low heat. The roux thickens the dish and gives it color. Use equal parts oil and flour. It's best to make more roux than you need because you can store any extra in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator to thicken gravy or soup later. You will probably need a cup or more of both oil and flour for the roux. Slowly add flour to the oil to make the roux the consistency of cake batter. Cook and stir constantly as the mixture becomes bubbly, being careful not to scorch the roux. Gradually the roux will darken and attain a nutty aroma. It will be the color of milk chocolate. At that point remove pan from heat and continue to stir because the oil is very hot and will continue to cook. Gradually spoon roux into the hot water, stirring briskly to dissolve each spoonful thoroughly. The liquid will thicken and darken in color. Then add chicken and sausage to the gumbo. If you brown the sausage and drain the fat before adding it to the pot, the gumbo will have less fat on top to skim later. After a few minutes add the onion and bell pepper. Add seasonings to taste. Simmer slowly until the chicken is cooked and falling off the bones and the onions and peppers have begun to disintegrate. Add green onions and parsley and remove from heat. Serve in soup bowls over rice with a pinch of gumbo filé on top of each serving. Potato salad is an ideal side dish.
Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip
by Pamela Allen
Pam Allen is president
of the NFB of Louisiana and treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind.
She is also the executive director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Originally
from Buffalo, New York, she says that this is one of her favorite recipes, a
definite hit for holiday parties.
1 12.5-ounce can of chicken or 3 cooked and shredded chicken breasts
1 cup hot sauce
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup bleu cheese dressing
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Method: Sauté chicken and hot sauce until tender. Add cream cheese; stir until melted. Stir in bleu cheese dressing. Pour into casserole dish; sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. Serve with celery sticks and tortilla chips.
by Daphne Mitchell
Daphne Mitchell is president of the Caddo-Bossier Chapter of the NFB of Louisiana. She also serves on the affiliate's board and is employed as the coordinator of the Louisiana Bridges program, a mentoring program for blind youth and adults.
Deep-dish 9-inch pastry shell, unbaked
1 16-ounce can salmon
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 onion, minced
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
6 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon season salt
Black pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped broccoli or spinach (optional)
Method: Prick pastry shell all over with a fork and bake in a 450-degree oven for five minutes. Drain salmon liquid into a cup. Place salmon in a bowl, discard bones and skin, and flake salmon. Arrange salmon in the pastry shell and sprinkle it with lemon juice. Cook onion and broccoli or spinach in the butter until soft. Transfer to the pie crust and sprinkle with parsley. Mix the salmon liquid with eggs, milk, season salt, and pepper; pour over salmon. Bake quiche at 350 degrees for forty-five to fifty minutes or until set. Serve hot.
Mom's Delicious Banana Pudding
by Tolita Mitchell
Tolita Mitchell is Daphne's mother and an active member of her chapter.
1 large box instant vanilla pudding
1 large box banana instant pudding
7 to 8 medium bananas, sliced
1 tub whipped topping
2 bags vanilla wafers
Method: Pour contents of both packages of pudding and milk into a medium bowl. Prepare pudding according to box instructions and set aside. Crush enough cookies to make a cup of cookie crumbs (approximately a quarter of a bag) and reserve for later. Cover the bottom of a large rectangular dish or container with whole vanilla wafers. Place a layer of bananas on top of the cookies. Then ladle a portion of the pudding mixture over the bananas. Repeat these layers until all of the pudding mixture has been used. Generously cover top of dessert with whipped topping. Finish by sprinkling reserved cookie crumbs over the top of banana pudding. Allow the dessert to chill in the refrigerator for at least three to four hours before serving.
by Kimberly Mitchell
Kim Mitchell is Daphne's sister and also a committed member of the NFB of Louisiana.
2 pounds ground beef or chuck
Package taco seasoning
1 large bag shredded cheddar cheese
1 large bag shredded lettuce
1 bottle green goddess salad dressing
1 can ranch beans
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 large bag Doritos, crushed
Green onion (optional)
Method: Season ground beef with taco seasoning and cumin. Cook in skillet until meat is browned. Remove from heat and drain. Set aside for a few minutes to cool. Reserve enough Dorito crumbs to sprinkle over top of salad. In a large bowl combine lettuce, ranch beans, cheese, diced tomatoes, meat, salad dressing, green onions, and Doritos. Mix together until well combined. Top with reserved crumbs. Let salad stand for five minutes before serving.
New Orleans Cuisine Beignets
by Jewel Ardoin
Jewel Ardoin is the adaptive technology instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She has served as treasurer of the North Central Chapter. A certified massage therapist, Jewel is known far and wide for her wonderful massages, a great fundraiser at Louisiana state conventions.
1 envelope active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup evaporated milk
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 cup shortening
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar in a shaker or sifter
Method: Combine the yeast, water, and sugar in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (You could also make this dough in a food processor or by hand with a bowl and wooden spoon). Let this mixture sit until frothy, about five minutes, then add the salt, egg, and evaporated milk. Mix on low speed, then add half the flour, until batter starts to come together. Add the shortening. When the shortening is incorporated, add the remaining flour, a little at a time, until most of it is incorporated. Turn the dough onto a floured board or counter to finish kneading by hand. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to make a smooth, elastic ball. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl. Loosely cover and let rise in a warm place or overnight in the refrigerator. After the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down and turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a rectangle about a half inch thick. With a very sharp knife held at a diagonal to the rectangle, cut dough into two-inch strips. Then cut dough into diamond shapes by making diagonal cuts perpendicular to the original cuts. Place the beignets on a floured baking sheet and allow to rise about forty minutes in a warm place (I place them in a barely warm oven). When the beignets have risen, heat two to three inches of vegetable oil in a large saucepan or electric frying pan to 350 to 360 degrees. Place two or three beignets in the hot oil at a time, being careful not to crush or deflate them. When they are golden brown, flip them over until golden brown on the other side. (They brown pretty quickly, so start checking them as soon as they go into the oil.) Remove to paper-towel-lined plates to drain. Serve warm topped with plenty of powdered sugar. Because the dough doesn't contain much sugar, you will want to sprinkle on a lot. Best served with café au lait. Enjoy! Makes about two dozen.
Mardi Gras King's Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
by Jewel Ardoin
1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated is best
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut in slices and softened
1 egg slightly beaten with a tablespoon of milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tiny plastic doll (not more than 1 inch tall)
Ingredients for cream cheese
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A few drops of milk
Method: Pour the warm water into a small, shallow bowl and sprinkle yeast and two teaspoons sugar onto the surface. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes, then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place for ten minutes, until yeast bubbles up. Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg, and salt and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks, and, using a wooden spoon, combine dry ingredients and yeast/milk mixture. When mixture is smooth, beat in eight tablespoons (one stick) butter, one tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat two minutes or until dough can be formed into a soft and somewhat sticky ball of dough. Place dough on floured surface and knead, gradually working in up to an additional cup of flour. When dough is no longer sticky, knead ten minutes more until shiny and elastic.
Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with one tablespoon softened butter. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and allow dough to rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours or until it doubles in volume. Grease a large baking sheet with one tablespoon of butter and set aside. After the first rising, place the dough on a floured surface and punch it down with a heavy blow. The object is to remove all the air pockets. The dough can be rolled out and spread to within an inch of its edges with cream cheese filling, made by beating all filling ingredients together until smooth. Roll the dough jelly-roll-fashion and seal edges. Sprinkle on cinnamon. If you are not filling the cake, pat and shape the dough into a long rope or cylinder. Form a twist by folding the cylinder in half and pinching the ends together to seal. Then twist the dough. Form a ring with the completed twist and pinch the ends together.
Place the completed ring on the buttered baking sheet, cover it with a towel, and allow it to rise for forty-five minutes or until it doubles in volume. After the second rising, brush the top and sides of the cake with the egg and milk wash. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for twenty-five to thirty-five minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and hide the plastic baby inside the cake (or just place the doll on top to avoid having someone's biting into it).
Icing Ingredients: (This
has two parts, so you can use either or both toppings.)
Green, purple, and yellow coloring paste (sold with cake decorating supplies)
12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) sugar
Method: Divide sugar into three portions (for green, yellow, and purple icings). Add a tiny amount of the coloring paste to each quarter cup of sugar. Mix the sugar and colored paste between your palms for best results. Set aside.
Poured Icing Ingredients:
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
36 tablespoons (2 1/4 cups) water
Combine ingredients until
smooth, adding more water if icing is too thick. Spoon icing over top of cake.
Immediately sprinkle on colored sugars, alternating between the three colors.
Serve in 2-to-3-inch slices.
News from the Federation
On Friday, October 6, Federationists across the country received an email message from Tai Schmittroth with the sad news we had been dreading to hear: Nick Schmittroth had died quietly that morning in his sleep at the age of thirty. He had been battling stage IV metastatic melanoma for eight months. After they learned the diagnosis, Nick and Tai moved their wedding forward to March 25 so that they could have more time together.
Nick was president of the Salt Lake City Chapter of the NFB and a member of the NFB of Utah board of directors. He earned a master's degree from Louisiana Tech University and was certified to teach cane travel. He was the Federationist who taught Nicole Rasmussen to travel with a long white cane on the NFB program, Three Wishes, last fall. He addressed the convention last summer during the agenda item about filming the program. NFB of Utah President Ron Gardner says:
Nick was unselfish, hard-working, energetic, and passionate about helping other blind people, especially helping children to have what he did not have as a child in the public school system. He was hired at our agency serving the blind under a hailstorm of criticism and controversy. The agency serving the blind in our state had an opening, and Nick was the only applicant. When he came for an interview, he was treated roughly. A majority of the interviewers wanted the position left vacant rather than hiring a blind or visually impaired person to teach O&M. Nick was subjected to a second interview (even though he was still the only applicant and obviously well trained, qualified, and certified and willing to take the job). The director of the training center said that, if Nick were hired, the director would refuse to supervise him because he believed it was dangerous to hire a blind or visually impaired O&M instructor.
Nick was eventually hired, and he of course faced negativity, criticism, and mistrust. He was assigned the most difficult clients, those with multiple disabilities (including cognitive disabilities). Nick did much to convince his supervisor and other staff members of his professional ability. He did even more to demonstrate understanding, and he maintained professional decorum throughout his tenure as an O&M instructor at our agency. He met criticism and questions with honesty, integrity, and a calm demeanor. Nick truly learned the lesson taught us by Dr. Jernigan that we must be comfortable enough with our blindness that we do not let the misunderstandings, misconceptions, and criticisms of others affect the way we feel about ourselves.
As a blind person with
some residual vision, he was quick to encourage parents and students fighting
for blindness services and instruction in Braille. He was kind and generous.
Our movement has lost a committed and dedicated brother. Our sympathy goes to
his wife, his family, and his many friends.
The Richmond Federation
of the Blind of Virginia elections were held in October, and the following officers
were elected: president, Maurice Peret; first vice president, Susan Roe; second
vice president, Valerie Luther; secretary/treasurer, Janice Nuckols; board members,
Roberta Shankle, Annette Williams, and Marshall Jordan; and alternate board
member, Cyndy Iskow.
The NFB of Rhode Island
conducted its annual election on October 21, 2006. Those elected were president,
Richard Gaffney; vice president, Angie Stabile; treasurer, Robert Pires; secretary,
Grace Pires; and board members, Barry Humphries, John Carvalho, and Mary Jane
Fry. Special thanks go to Mary Jane Fry, who has served thirty-four consecutive
years as affiliate secretary. The affiliate was established thirty-six years
National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam 2007
A STEM Leadership Academy:
Join us next summer for the most dynamic gathering of blind youth ever. From July 30 to August 4, two hundred blind and low vision high school students will gather at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, to be mentored by blind role models during fun-filled, challenging activities intended to build confidence and increase science literacy. Participants will also have the opportunity to attend various social events and workshops on topics such as leadership, career preparation, and blindness. The NFB Youth Slam will culminate in an inspiring rally at Baltimore's Inner Harbor and a celebration at the center of innovation in the field of blindness--the NFB Jernigan Institute.
Those interested in participating
as students or mentors should complete an application by April 1, 2007. We encourage
candidates to complete their applications early, because qualified participants
will be selected first-come-first-served. Students and mentors need not have
a strong interest in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) in order
to participate, enjoy, and benefit from this academy.
For more information or to obtain application materials, visit <www.blindscience.org>, send an email to <[email protected]>, or call the Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, extension 2293.
We are pleased to announce
the formation of a new chapter of the NFB of Michigan in Kalamazoo. The inaugural
meeting was held on September 21, 2006, and the following people were elected:
president, Jason Meddaugh; vice president, Leanne Merren; secretary, Corda Moss;
treasurer, Nathan Prater; and board members, Debbie Robinson, Faith Meadows,
and Matt McCubbin. More information on the chapter can be found at <http://www.nfbmi.org/chapters/kz.php>.
Congratulations to the new Kalamazoo Chapter.
The Weber/Davis Chapter
of the NFB of Utah just held elections, and the following officers were elected:
president, Chad Wilburn; vice president, Cheralyn Creer; secretary, Erin Wilburn;
treasurer, Jeff Smith; and board members, Richard Condie and Dave Mahlstrom.
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.
Taxpayer Advocate Service Offers Help with Tax Problems:
If you're having trouble resolving a federal tax problem with the IRS, you may be able to get help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an independent organization within the IRS whose employees assist taxpayers who are experiencing economic harm, who are seeking help in resolving tax problems that have not been resolved through normal channels, or who believe that an IRS system or procedure is not working as it should. You may be eligible for Taxpayer Advocate Service assistance if:
The service is free, confidential, tailored to meet your needs, and available for businesses as well as individuals. If you qualify, you will receive personalized service from a knowledgeable advocate who will listen to your situation, help you understand what needs to be done to resolve it, and stay with you every step of the way until your problem is resolved.
You can reach the Taxpayer Advocate Service by calling its toll-free case intake line at (877) 777-4778 or TTY/TTD (800) 829-4059. You can also call or write your local taxpayer advocate, whose phone number and address are listed in the government listings in your local telephone directory and in IRS publication 1546, The Taxpayer Advocate Service of the IRS - How to Get Help With Unresolved Tax Problems. To learn more about the Taxpayer Advocate Service, go to <www.irs.gov/advocate>.
Autobiography for Sale:
Lois Dingess Howard enjoyed an almost perfect childhood, that is, until she was in the fifth grade and was suddenly confronted with the shocking realization that she was gradually losing her vision. Nevertheless, her faith in God gave her the courage to forge ahead, and eventually her troubled journey took her to a straighter and much smoother stretch of pavement on her life's roadmap.
To order your copy of "Loving in the Dark, an Incredible Journey" (print only), send check or money order in the amount of $8 to Lois Howard at 61951 High Hill Road, Cambridge, Ohio 43725.
The Braille Library Service of Khulna, Bangladesh, needs used Braille books and magazines, slates and styluses, Braille writing paper, abacuses, Braille watches, talking watches, white canes, Perkins Braillers, and any other kind of Braille materials. The Bangladesh Society for the Disabled has been abolished, and the National Society of the Blind has now been established. One of the projects this new organization has initiated is the Braille Library Service. Contributions may be sent to Moin Chowdhury, Post Box: 42, G.P.O. 9000, Khulna, Bangladesh.
Fortune Cookies For Sale:
The world's only genuine
Braille fortune cookies can be yours for the holidays, birthdays, weddings,
special events, and meetings. Lucky Touch Braille Fortune Cookie Company is
a student-operated business at the California School for the Blind. We sell
individually-wrapped plain or chocolate-dipped Braille fortune cookies. We also
have giant fortune cookies that contain both Braille and large print. Customized
cookies are also available with advance notice. Mugs, fancy boxes, and gift
baskets can be filled to your specification.
To order or for more information, we can be reached at the California School for the Blind, 500 Walnut Avenue, Fremont, California 94536. Our phone number is (510) 794-3800; fax is (510) 794-3813; email is <[email protected]> or <[email protected]> or <[email protected]>. Be the first on your block to have a Braille fortune cookie.
New NASA Software:
We recently received the following press release that will be of interest to those working on math access for blind students:
NASA recently released
an innovative open source software suite that may forever change the way blind
and vision-impaired users view complex graphs. The Math Description Engine Software
Development Kit <http://prime.jsc.nasa.gov/> (MDE SDK) is a reusable software
library that generates text, sound, and visual representations of graphs in
both math and science applications. Visually-impaired computer users access
these alternative text-and-sound descriptions through the use of a screen reader
and standard computer speakers.
The MDE (Math Description Engine) distinguishes itself from other accessibility software by determining the key characteristics of a graph on the fly. Using this determination, it builds natural-language text descriptions that enable visually impaired users to view spatial relationships through sound alone.
Designed with flexibility and ease of use in mind, the SDK (Software Development Kit) allows Web and software developers to adapt the MDE's graph descriptions to a variety of applications. Key audiences who might benefit from the MDE SDK include:
The NASA software program MathTrax is one example of the way MDE technology serves as a powerful learning tool for sighted users as well. Acting as a virtual math and science assistant, MathTrax engages both the eyes and ears of these students to increase overall comprehension.
The MDE software library was created by NASA's Information Accessibility Lab (IAL), under the direction of Dr. Robert O. Shelton, a blind mathematician. The IAL's mission is to develop technologies that increase accessibility to NASA's vast library of outreach products and to release these technologies to the public for further application and development.
The MDE SDK is currently
available for download under an open source license at <http://prime.jsc.nasa.gov/mde>.
Visit the site today to learn more about the program and how you can play an
integral role in developing the future of accessible graphing technology. To
learn more about the MDE SDK or MathTrax, email Terry Hodgson at <[email protected]>.
Sleep Study Needs Volunteers:
Brigham and Women's Hospital
and Harvard Medical School are investigating sleep and the body clock in people
with no light perception. This research may help us understand how light and
stimuli other than light affect the body clock and may also help blind people
sleep better. If you volunteer and are accepted for this research, you will
be asked to collect information for eight weeks while at home. You will then
be asked to live at the laboratory in Boston on two separate occasions for up
to five weeks total.
You will receive up to $7,325 for taking part.
If you are interested, contact Joe at (617) 278-0857, or email Joe at <[email protected]>.
Seeking Applicants for Graduate Certificate Program in Vision:
The RRTC on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University is seeking applicants for the Vision Specialist in Vocational Rehabilitation graduate certificate program being held March 26 through May 25, 2007. The purpose of the program is to provide vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors and graduate students in VR programs with the expertise to address issues specific to vision impairments. Students receive a stipend which includes tuition and fees, per diem for university housing and meals, and a travel allowance.
The program consists of four courses for twelve graduate-level credit hours:
(1) Rehabilitation for
Persons who are Visually Impaired,
(2) Resources for Persons who are Visually Impaired,
(3) Computer Access Technology for Persons who are Visually Impaired, and
(4) Special Project in Rehabilitation of Persons who are Visually Impaired.
The registration deadline
is December 15, 2006. Interested applicants can obtain additional information
from our Web site: <http://www.blind.msstate.edu/Vspecialist1.html> or
by contacting BT Kimbrough, RRTC training director, at phone (662) 325-7824
or email <[email protected]>.
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.
I have a Braille 'n Speak
640 that has been updated to the last update available. Asking $400 for this
unit. I have the original cassette manual, some floppies with information, and
a data cable. The updates files are also on the unit. If interested, contact
Franklin E. Tompkins, 2708 Cherokee Road, Birmingham, Alabama 35216; phone (205)
879-0665; cell phone (205) 542-5688; email <[email protected]>.
I would like to sell a Juliette interpoint Braille embosser. It is under service warranty and is in good working condition. It comes with software and cables. I am asking $2,500 or best offer. Please email or call Dennis Shepard at <[email protected]>, phone (510) 594-9468.
Braille Note Classic with qwerty keyboard, speech only, Keysoft version 6.11. Comes in original box with all manuals and accessories and a free Wi-Fi card. Asking $750 + shipping. Contact Steve Brand at (443) 570-5285 or <[email protected]>.
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.