THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 43, No. 2 February, 2000
Barbara Pierce, Editor
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENTNational Office
Letters to the President, address
subscription requests, orders for NFB literature,
articles for the Monitor, and letters to the Editor
should be sent to the National Office.
Monitor subscriptions cost the
twenty-five dollars per year. Members are invited, and
non-members are requested, to cover the subscription
cost. Donations should be made payable to National
Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN
ORGANIZATIONSPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND
SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 43, No. 2, February, 2000
An Open Letter to Monitor Readers
by Marc Maurer
The Campaign to Change What it Means to Be Blind
A Word from the Georgia Affiliate
by Alfred Falligan
From Russia with Love
by Linda Goodspeed
The Blind Lead the Sighted
Technology for People With DisabilitiesFinds a Broader Market
by Eric A. Taub
Roommates From Hell
by Debbie Kent Stein and Anne Emerick
Talking Blood Glucose Monitoring Systems
by Ed Bryant
Reflecting Upon the Bamboo Tree
by Sheila M. Koenig
The Voice Mate An Aural Organizer that Really Works
by Curtis Chong
The Colonies, the Court, and the Kittens
by Marc Maurer
How Much High-Tech Does a Blind Person Need for Independent Travel?
by Tom Bickford
Fran Allison and Me
by Stephen O. Benson
A Roof with a View
by Michael Baillif
Why Customer Service?
Reasons, Plans, and What I Hope to Accomplish
by Kimberly Mitchell
New United States Citizens
by Doris M. Willoughby
NEWSLINE® Still Growing
by Peggy Chong
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: The architect's model of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind as it will look as part of the National Center for the Blind]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer]
An Open Letter to Monitor Readers
by Marc Maurer
As many of you know, during the final months of his life Dr. Jernigan devoted much of his creative energy and imagination to planning an exciting new facility to be built on our property at 1800 Johnson Street, which he named the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. A little more than twenty years ago, when we first began renovating the turn-of-the-century factory building that we intended to transform into the National Center for the Blind and the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind, many of us found it hard to imagine that we could ever use all the space available in the block-long building. We told each other that rent income from the unused areas would help us meet day-to-day operating expenses.
Through these past two decades our dreams have expanded to keep pace with our growing strength and experience as an organization. The Materials Center and all the publications, literature, and equipment it stores and ships; the International Braille and Technology Center; NEWSLINE® for the Blind; bedrooms for visiting groups; and the expanding staff to meet the demands of a growing organization: all these have been added and require significant space to operate.
Now the unimaginable has come to pass. We have just about run out of space for the programs we are already conducting. More to the point, our dreams of finding ways to use our experience and expertise to improve programs and increase opportunity for all blind people demand expanded space if we are to carry out the training and research that must be done.
Dr. Jernigan saw all this coming; that is why he conceived the plan to erect a new building. We have dedicated ourselves to bringing his dream and our own to fruition. We have embarked on an ambitious capital campaign to raise eighteen million dollars during the next two years. Never before have we taken on a program as demanding as this one, but we have now begun discussing our plans and hopes with foundations, corporations, and wealthy individuals as we make contacts with organizations and people that might be interested in helping us make our dreams reality.
Federationists have never been content to ask others to do all the work for us. We may not have millions ourselves, but we have always taken pride in doing whatever we can to bring our dreams to fruition. The entire Board of Directors have now made five-year personal pledges toward our campaign goal, and many other Federation leaders and rank-and-file members have begun planning their gifts.
The time has come for all Federation members and friends to learn more about our plans in order to determine what they can do to help. Perhaps you have friends or family members who would be interested in making a gift. Perhaps you have contacts that we should know about. I hope that each of you will plan to make a significant gift, and I know many of you will. What is significant? That depends on your personal resources and responsibilities. The Research and Training Institute will allow us to affect the lives of blind people in ways we have never before dared to attempt. A gift, no matter what its size, generous enough to cause strain on your personal budget will honor both Dr. Jernigan's memory and you.
I ask each of you to take some time to reflect on whom you know and what you might do to assist in this ambitious campaign. You can contact Vince Connelly, who is working on this project, if you have ideas or information. Call (410) 659-9314 and ask for Mr. Connelly. I hope you will use the pledge form printed at the end of the following article to make your personal gift and send it to NRTI Project, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
So that you have a complete picture of opportunities, here is a brief description of gift possibilities:
Contributors may choose to have their gifts recognized through dedication to one of the Institute's Initiatives or through naming opportunities associated with specific floors, wings, rooms, facilities, equipment, or furnishings of the National Research and Training Institute. Please contact the NFB Capital Campaign Office for more information on specific naming opportunities.
The Wall of Honor:
A permanent wall display listing individual donors above the $5,000 level will further recognize contributors.
All contributors, including those below $5,000, will be listed in the appropriate gift level on the Campaign Honor Roll to be announced and published during the campaign victory celebrations.
Gift Amount Title
$1,000,000+ Jernigan Circle, Master Builder
$ 500,000+ President's Circle, Program Builder
$ 250,000+ Director's Circle, Opportunity
$ 100,000+ Leader's Circle, Independence
$ 50,000+ Patrons
$ 25,000+ Partners
$ 10,000+ Benefactors
$ 5,000+ Fellows
$ 4,999- Friends
What follows is the text of a document that briefly describes the initiatives and programs we expect to undertake as the result of this capital campaign. I hope that the plans will kindle your imagination and fuel your dreams. Join us in making the future our own.
The Campaign to Change
What It Means to Be Blind
Vision for the Future
The spirit and passionate dedication of the over 50,000 members of the NFB are directed toward building a future for the blind in this country that includes opportunity for education, employment, and full participation in our society. Our message is one of hope and personal responsibility. We are determined to demonstrate that blind people can achieve and prosper if trained using a philosophy of blindness that emphasizes capacity and mutual support. We envision a new approach to helping blind people--an approach which transcends ancient images of darkness, ignorance, and isolation. We foresee a revolution in services for the blind which views blindness as a characteristic to be dealt with through the acquisition of pragmatic skills and self- acceptance. We are a people with abilities and dreams, a people of hope and tenacity, too long held down by our own and others' misconceptions and fears. We are working toward a time when all of us can achieve to our capacity and contribute fully to our society.
The next chapter of blind people's struggle for full integration into all aspects of our society will include the nation's first research and training institute inspired and operated by the organized blind. We have long known who we are; now it is time to demonstrate and implement model programs and services that will forever change what it means to be blind.
The National Research and Training Institute for the Blind
A new five-story, 170,000-square-foot building will be attached to the present national headquarters of the NFB, located in Baltimore, Maryland. The new facility will include a research library, technology training labs, classrooms, a distance learning center, an adaptive technology development center, and office and flexible meeting space. We have begun an eighteen-million-dollar capital campaign. Funds are being solicited from members and individual supporters of the NFB, corporations, foundations, and governmental sources. The goal is to raise the needed funds by summer 2001 and to complete the project in the summer of 2003.
At least 50 percent of this country's 1.1 million blind citizens will be directly affected by the programs, research, and technology developed during the first ten years of the Institute's operation:
*Through the use of newly developed distance learning technologies and training methods, we will work toward providing an opportunity for all of the 57,000 blind children in this country to learn Braille and other needed skills.
*The 788,000 blind seniors today, and the projected 1.6 million by 2015 and 2.4 million by 2030, will have access to improved services and resources stimulated by the senior initiatives of the Institute.
*Partnerships between private-sector employers and the NFB will result in lowering the 74 percent unemployment rate among working-age blind people in this country.
*Nonvisual speech and Braille technology will be developed, making it possible for the blind to access an ever-increasing number of services and resources delivered by computer technology.
The following initiatives will provide the structure for the programs, projects, and services of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind.
Technology Access and Training Initiative
Technology is a critical element in both education and employment opportunities today and will be even more so in the future, for the blind just as for the general public. Advances in speech, Braille, and large-print access technology lead some to assume that the blind now have or soon will have access to nearly all of what technology has to offer.
Unfortunately, due to the widespread obsession with visual design in technology, the shortage of good technology training, the cost of equipment, and the rapid advancements of technology applications, blind people now face the dismaying prospect of being left out if nonvisual access is not continually updated and improved. This means that advances in software and hardware must include design that allows nonvisual access.
The Institute will be the center of technological advancement for the blind. Along with development and promotion of adaptive technology, training will be provided to ensure that the blind move smoothly with their sighted peers into the emerging technological age and do not become casualties of what Bill Gates has called the digital divide.
Blind Children's Initiative
The 57,000 legally blind children in this country face unique educational and daily-living challenges. Today the majority of blind children have other disabilities, are educated in public schools rather than residential schools for the blind, and have other individualized needs.
Blind children are often discouraged from using alternative reading and travel methods because uninformed parents and teachers believe that as far as possible their children should avoid being labeled as blind. For too long these useful tools of independence have been associated with the negative stereotype of the hopeless, isolated blind. Unfortunately this has resulted in less than 10 percent of blind children being able to read Braille and many not being able to travel independently.
Because the NFB knows that alternative skills are basic to self-esteem among the blind and to successful employment (today 85 percent of blind people who use Braille are employed), we have already directed significant resources toward changing this alarming trend. By establishing a national Braille literacy campaign, promoting early mobility training for young blind children, and contributing to development of adaptive technology, the NFB has led the way in innovation and change. However, because many school districts are hiring only general special education teachers rather than specially trained teachers of the blind, families face a growing shortage of qualified educators and services for their blind children.
Braille Literacy Initiative
In 1968 40 percent of blind children in this country read Braille, 45 percent read large print, and only 9 percent read neither. However, today less than 10 percent of legally blind children read Braille, and more than 40 percent read neither Braille nor large print. This problem reflects a dangerous trend: the functional illiteracy of tens of thousands of blind children.
In the 1970's blind children began to be mainstreamed into regular classrooms. Most school systems did not know how to teach children Braille, so they tried to teach the children using any method available. For blind children this meant listening and memorizing; they never learned to read and write. For those with some sight, it meant the use of magnifiers. Imagine trying to learn how to read when you can see only one letter at a time. The result has been predictable: many blind children have fallen behind in school and as adults are now significantly limited.
For too long Braille has been associated with total blindness and many of the misconceptions associated with this disability. Parents of blind children are easily convinced that, if their child has some residual vision (even if that vision is minimal, unstable, or likely to deteriorate), reading print will somehow mean their child is not really blind. It takes people who are positive about Braille and familiar with the real benefits of this alternative technique to convince reluctant parents. Also much work is necessary to upgrade the Braille skills of teachers of the blind and to improve Braille-production and Braille-teaching technology.
The National Research and Training Institute will be the center of a growing Braille Literacy Initiative that will ensure that the progress led by the NFB continues and that Braille is recognized to be a communications tool as essential to the blind as American Sign Language is to the deaf.
Despite the tremendous outlay of public and private funds throughout most of the decades of this century, the objective situation of the blind as a group remains intractably bleak: 74 percent unemployment, functional illiteracy for tens of thousands of blind children, and exclusion from the mainstream of society. These facts make it starkly clear that the techniques and systems used to serve the blind in the United States are in dire need of overhaul.
The unsolved problems demand innovative solutions. Effective training programs that will teach the professors who will teach the teachers and other professionals who will teach the blind must be developed so that the age-old cycle of dependency and despair can be broken. The Research Initiative of the National Research and Training Institute will focus on identifying and solving the root causes of these endemic problems.
Blind Seniors Initiative
Less money is spent and fewer services are available to those over fifty-five losing vision than to younger blind people. Yet far more people lose vision after retirement age than before. New approaches must be developed and taught to state and local staff members in rehabilitation, older blind, and older Americans programs and in centers for independent living. The National Research and Training Institute will bring together knowledgeable professionals who will design materials and develop training programs to assist state and local agencies in helping blind and visually impaired seniors remain independent and continue to participate in the activities they hope for in their retirement years. Blindness can happen to anyone. Without training and opportunity it can be devastating. In short, seniors have huge needs. The Blind Seniors Initiative of the National Research and Training Institute will focus on finding ways to meet them.
Work is one of the fundamental ways in which individuals express their talents, make a contribution, and take responsibility for themselves. For too long many blind people have been told by their families, teachers, and even rehabilitation counselors that the world of competitive employment is most likely out of reach for them.
Since its founding in 1940, the NFB has been committed to the principle that otherwise-able blind people should be expected to work and should be given every opportunity to achieve. This means that the blind must believe in themselves and employers must learn that qualified blind people make productive, loyal employees.
With an unemployment rate of 74 percent, many working-age blind people are not enjoying the challenges and responsibilities of competitive employment. Although hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in job preparation programs around the country, this staggering number has not changed in recent years. The employment initiative of the National Research and Training Institute will provide focus, resources, and direction for a comprehensive evaluation of contemporary methods for helping the blind. From such an evaluation will come the necessary knowledge to develop, demonstrate, and replicate innovative training programs to replace existing efforts which have failed to bring the blind into the workforce.
The new National Research and Training Institute will be the center of research, demonstrations, and job-development partnerships with private industry. These partnerships in combination with successful employment preparation programs will create national momentum toward the full employment of the blind.
The Campaign To Change What It Means To Be Blind
Capital Campaign Pledge Intention
City, State, and Zip:
Home Phone: Work Phone:
City, State, Zip:
To support the priorities of the Campaign, I (we) pledge the sum of $___________.
My (our) pledge will be payable in installments of $ __________ over the next ____ years (we encourage pledges paid over 5 years), beginning _____________, on the following schedule (check one): __ annually, __ semi-annually, __ quarterly, __ monthly
I (we) have enclosed a down payment of $ ________________
___ Gift of stock: _____________________ shares of _____________
___ My employer will match my gift.
Please list (my) our names in all Campaign Reports and on the Campaign Wall of Honor in the appropriate Giving Circle as follows:
__ I (We) wish to remain anonymous.
Signed: ________________________________ Date: __________________
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Al Falligan]
A Word from the Georgia Affiliate
by Alfred Falligan
From the Editor: Al Falligan is the indefatigable chairman of convention arrangements for the Georgia affiliate. Here is his first communication to 2000 convention attendees:
Greetings, fellow Federationists. As you ring in the New Year, I am sure that memories of our last convention are still ringing in your mind. We, the Georgia affiliate, are doing our best to make sure that the 2000 convention will be even better than our effort in 1999, in fact, that it will be the most memorable convention the NFB has ever had.
If we had a theme for our hospitality suite, it would be "a taste of Georgia." Come and experience some of our local specialties such as sweet potato pie, fresh Georgia peaches, peach cobbler, Georgia goobers (peanuts), and our world-famous Coca-Cola. For you early birds, coffee and pastries will be available each morning.
This year additional volunteers will be available to assist conventioneers at the three hotels and at the Peachtree Center Food Court. We also plan to offer group orientation to the hotels. In addition, more Braille copies of the Marriott Marquis guide will be available this year.
Come and let us show you what true southern hospitality is all about.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Masha and Linda Goodspeed]
From Russia with Love
by Linda Goodspeed
From the Editor: Linda Goodspeed is a member of the Cambridge Chapter of the NFB of Massachusetts and a 1988 NFB scholarship winner. Like the rest of us she struggles in all kinds of ways to demonstrate to the world in general that blindness does not necessarily diminish one's ability to live a full and productive life. The following story of her fight to adopt her Russian daughter Masha first appeared in the June, 1999, issue of Vermont Magazine and the September, 1999, issue of Boston Phoenix.
When I told my fifteen-year-old nephew several years ago that I was going to adopt a baby, he replied, "That's so cool."
Yeah, it really is cool, I thought. I didn't know just how cool it would be until I landed in Moscow last March and was hit by minus-twenty-degree (centigrade) winds and blowing snow off the great central plains of Russia. It was bitter, bleak, and intimidating, but compared to what I'd been through already, it was practically a relief.
Russia was not my first choice for finding a child to love. I knew there were plenty of abandoned children right here in this country--in Boston for Pete's sake--in need of a home and a little love. What I didn't know was that adopting a child domestically is almost impossible. Foster care, not adoption, is promoted by the child welfare and court system in this country. I spent nine months looking through the registry of children in state custody finally eligible for adoption: page after page of twelve-, fourteen-, fifteen-year-old boys who had spent a decade or more bouncing from one foster family to another. There were girls, too. Thirteen, fourteen, sixteen. Sibling groups whom bureaucrats would not break up; minorities whom bureaucrats would not place in families of a different color--childhoods lost forever.
If state-sponsored adoption is difficult, trying to adopt a child independently is even worse. Too many nightly newscasts and based-on-a true-story TV movies of custody battles between adoptive and birth parents were more than enough to discourage me from this route. On television the courts always seem to side with the birth parents--fathers who didn't know they were fathers and never signed away their parental rights; mothers unaware or traumatized when they signed away theirs.
Going through a reputable private adoption agency is safer but hardly more accessible. For $30,000 I could write an autobiography and send a picture of myself to put in a book for pregnant women who have agreed to give away their babies. Actually, it wouldn't have cost me $30,000 because I knew I wouldn't be picked. I am single, and I have a disability. You don't get picked if you have even one strike against you.
So I am on a plane bound for Russia. It has taken me years and thousands of dollars and millions of emotions to wade through the bureaucratic quagmire of adoption to get here. I was two years into the adoption process before my daughter was born; by the time I finally got her, she was already two years old.
"Don't use the words `legally blind' to describe your handicap," my adoption case worker advised me. "The words don't translate well. Say `visually impaired.'"
"OK," I said.
Actually, even though I have only a very small amount of central vision remaining in one eye--less than ten degrees--it is highly usable vision, and I identify much more readily with the words "visually impaired" than the word "blind," which for most people conjures up images of total darkness. (Actually, this is one of the myths about blindness: Very few people are totally blind. Most blind people have some degree of light perception, visual acuity, or other residual sight.) I myself need to use a white cane to get around because the peripheral vision in my one seeing eye is so restricted. On the other hand, its central acuity is good enough that with proper lighting I can read a newspaper.
Reading children's books was my bigger concern. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, however, which must approve every overseas adoption applicant, was more interested in what kinds of gadgets and devices I was going to use to take care of a baby. The INS wanted bells and whistles.
I thought hard. "Well," I said. "I know a lot of blind parents have told me they put little bells on their children's shoes when they start walking." They loved it. "And, of course, it's very important to be extremely well-organized." They seemed disappointed. Too simple.
"It's hard to anticipate everything I'm going to need," I finally said. "But I have a lot of resources, both blind and sighted. As problems come up, you just solve them."
When I was getting Masha's clothes ready to take to Russia to pick her up, I realized I needed some sort of system to keep outfits together since I couldn't put the clothes together visually if they became separated. I talked to my mom, and we came up with plastic clothes pins and different drawers. As problems come up you solve them. That's life. Visually impaired. Unimpaired. It doesn't matter.
You know you can't save the world, but you can't help thinking about the baby the U.S. adoption agency searching Russian orphanages on your behalf was going to offer you but then didn't because her head measurements were too small to make her a candidate for adoption. An overly small head can be associated with fetal alcohol syndrome. You soon learn all about this condition: How to plot head measurements on a graph; to look for Cupid's bows, ears that stick out or are set too low. You learn how to convert grams into pounds and centimeters into inches. You learn to overlook a diagnosis of "perinatal encephalopathy" on a child's medical history unless it's missing.
"In this country we use the diagnosis to mean brain damage at the time of birth," the doctor doing my medical consult told me. "Obviously, Russian doctors mean something quite different by this diagnosis because it's on every medical record from Russia and eastern Europe.
You memorize medical histories, visit medical libraries, search Medline for explanations and prognoses of every word. And what's not there can make the decision as hard as what is there. Other than the ubiquitous perinatal encephalopathy, Masha's only other diagnosis was congenital myopia in her left eye. Is that all? Nearsighted in one eye? I read the report over and over.
"Well, it could just be that she's healthy," a friend pointed out.
You try to hold back a little, just in case. But your heart expands every time you look at the pictures, watch the videos. Wait for the medical consult, you tell yourself. Wait for the answers from the orphanage to your questions about her gestational age; her birth parents' histories, if known; her language and social skills; comprehension. Wait, wait, wait.
But you know this is the one. You begin to feel as if you might take off at any moment. And then it happens--the naysayer. "She's awfully cute," said a social worker involved in my adoption. She had been sent the same packet of information about Masha that I had. "But I have some real concerns about her Apgar scores. I think they could mean mental retardation."
Of all the words to say to a prospective parent! I was devastated when I got off the phone with her. Four years, I thought. I'll never be able to adopt. I felt sick. I had to talk to someone else. I called every neonatal care unit in Boston searching for a doctor, a resident, an intern, anyone to come to the phone right now to tell me a 6/7 Apgar score was normal, unremarkably normal, no problem, no predictor of anything whatsoever except an incredibly normal healthy infant, breathing on her own at birth.
Because of this woman and her label, I now have a drawer full of studies about the use and misuse of Apgar scores; of researchers who have tried unsuccessfully to correlate the scores with later neurological development; about the test's utter and complete lack of predictive value.
I became a walking encyclopedia on anything even remotely related to Apgar. I can tell you who developed the test (Dr. Virginia Apgar), when (1952), why (as a quick and easy measurement of an infant's condition at birth), what the test measures (heart rate, respiration, muscle tone, reflex, color), how the test is scored (0, 1 or 2 for each of the five measurements), at what intervals (one minute, five minutes, and longer, as necessary). Bottom line: The Apgar score is a quick, convenient shorthand for physicians to assess how a baby has come through the trauma of birth. Period. I can't understand how anyone, especially someone working in the child-welfare field, could say the words, "mental retardation" when she obviously knew absolutely nothing about what she was talking about.
Slowly my relief turned to anger at this worker's ignorance and insensitivity--for about six or seven minutes. You don't have time or room for anger. There are too many other things to do, too many other emotions.
There are so many hurdles. After each one you think the finish line is in sight. Then somebody moves it again, sets up another hurdle. Three years of finger printing, interviews, background checks, financial statements, references, home visits, paperwork, more paperwork, more interviews, faxes, FedExes, phone calls, notaries, apostilles.
I strongly urge anyone who wants to adopt a child overseas to have a personal notary public, someone you can call on to witness your signature at any hour, day or night. I'm not kidding. Russia is eight hours ahead of us. They work while we sleep and sleep while we work. You should also live no farther than a day's drive from the Statehouse. Not only does every signature on every scrap of paper have to be notarized, but every notary's signature has to be notarized. Only the Secretary of State can do this. It's called an "apostille": just one of many new words you will learn. Others include I-600-A, I-171H, I-864. You'll get used to speaking in numbers and in triplicate.
About two years ago we started overnighting everything. Hurry up, hurry up. Each hurdle has to be gotten over immediately because we're getting so close...to another hurdle. At one point we had to ask Senator Kennedy's office to try to locate my application at the INS. (He actually has a staff person designated for this job because so many international adoption applications get lost in that agency.) You think you've done everything, gotten every bit of paper, every reference, every notary, every apostille; and then there's a new request: a new power of attorney, another letter, another person to meet, a new document request, another hurdle.
The day the Russian judge was supposed to set my court date for the adoption, she instead asked me to furnish proof that I was not receiving a government pension. Never mind the financial statements, employer letters, tax returns I had already supplied. I couldn't decide if her request was because of my disability or my employer. Health Care For All, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, where I write and produce all of the agency's publications, does have a socialist ring to it. The judge probably thought I worked for some kind of government agency instead of a group trying to hold the government accountable. Having been so failed and betrayed by their own government, no wonder the Russians were suspicious.
A couple of weeks after I accepted Masha, I had the good timing and privilege of meeting in Boston the Minister of Education for Masha's region of Russia, a small republic named Mordovia. Vasily Vasilyovich was a very sad man, sad for his country, sad for the children who have so little future there. Mordovia is an autonomous republic about the size of Massachusetts located 650 kilometers southeast of Moscow. It has a population of one million people, including 2,000 orphaned children in sixteen orphanages. Another 2,000 children are in a kind of temporary foster care. Those are the lucky kids. There are an untold number of homeless street children. In Russian, through an interpreter, Vasily Vasilyovich spoke movingly of his native land, the people, the school system ("not so democratic as here; we have more strict discipline"), and, most movingly of all, about the children. Even children in intact families who make it all the way through the country's excellent school system and free universities have few opportunities or jobs when they finish.
"It is a very difficult situation," Vasily told us. "Very hard on the teachers who are no longer being paid." With so many Russians unable to feed their own children, let alone adopt an abandoned child, Vasily had finally, reluctantly agreed to allow Mordovian children to be adopted internationally. (Nations and independent republics establish their own procedures and requirements for adoption.) But first Vasily wanted to assure himself that Mordovian children adopted by U.S. families would be getting good homes. Last fall he traveled to Boston and Florida to visit schools, hospitals, museums, and Disney World and to meet American families who had already adopted Russian children and others waiting to adopt. I made a point of going up to him to show him pictures of Masha and to talk to him about my disability.
"I hope I can impress upon you," I told him through an interpreter, "that even with a handicap, if you have a strong family and friends, access to medical care and opportunity, you can live a very full and active and productive life." Little did I know those words would come back to haunt me.
Saransk, Russia, where Masha was born, is a tired, rundown, hopelessly depressed settlement of 300,000. Despite its size and stature as the capital of Mordovia, it's hard to call Saransk a city. There's no center, no downtown, no stores, no supermarkets, no theaters, no nothing, no there there--just three-, four-, and five-story cinder block apartment buildings, factories, and government office buildings strewn along a mishmash of crumbling, unplowed roads.
The morning my brother David and I arrived by overnight train from Moscow, Olga asked me what I was going to wear to court. I told her I had brought a pair of slacks and some winter boots. (No way was I going to bring a skirt and high heels to the Russian interior in the middle of March.) Olga was appalled.
"You must make a good appearance in court," she said. "Russians put a lot of emphasis on clothes. It's not like America. Haven't you noticed how many people wear fur coats?"
I nodded. We had.
Olga quickly went through my wardrobe.
"No, no, no," she said, shaking her head at everything I pulled out. "None of these will do. You must buy something."
"Are the stores open on Sunday?" I asked, having just arrived and not yet knowing there are no stores in Saransk.
"We'll go to the market. It's not far from here."
We shuffled over an icy, snow-covered path to an outdoor market. Olga went from stand to stand, stopping at the ones selling skirts and shoes. It was freezing. I tried on a couple of pairs of shoes, holding onto Olga as I stood on one foot on an icy incline in front of a small stand. Olga said I could try on the skirts too, but I was too cold to go behind the booth. I held one up to my waist. It was a long black silk skirt with a slit up the back and two long, hideous silk tie things in the front.
"I'll take it," I said.
""Don't you want to try it on?" Olga asked.
I shook my head. "It'll fit. How much?"
Olga bartered with the shopkeeper and then selected some rubles from my hand.
The skirt was so small I couldn't zip it up in the back. Luckily it had those tie things, and I wrapped them around my waist to cover up the zipper. With nylons on (Olga refused to let me wear knee socks) the shoes were so big they flapped when I walked.
"You look very elegant," Olga whispered in court the next day.
"Thank you," I said, hardly daring to breathe lest something slip.
Later in the week Olga took David souvenir shopping, and they visited more outdoor markets, including an open-air meat market. Fresh-slaughtered meats were spread across tables set up in the snow. No refrigeration, no ice, no packaging, no signs--just the butchered animal's head to advertise the table's contents.
Had we gone shopping earlier in the week, we might have eaten a little more cautiously. Russia is not noted for its cuisine, haute or cold. There were only two restaurants in Saransk, and every item on both menus contained cabbage. There was only one hotel (the Gulag, as David called it; we couldn't pronounce the Russian name). We were the only guests in the whole place. "I feel like I'm in a Steven King movie," David said as we checked in.
It was eerie. The hotel was a sort of nice (the nicest building in Saransk) thirty-year-old concrete structure surrounded by a high barbed wire fence with a linoleum tiled lobby, two walk-up floors of rooms, and a large empty bar and game room with a scruffed-up pool table. We had a two-room suite with a three-channel TV on the second floor. It had a balcony and thirty-year-old plumbing---modern by Russian standards--that smelled so bad of mold every time we turned on the water we gave up trying to shower. There wasn't a shower curtain anyway. Later we learned the hotel was a government hotel built to house visiting Soviet officials from Moscow.
With the government in chaos and the city's once bustling factories at about 10 percent capacity, no one comes to Saransk anymore: no one, that is, except American families wanting to adopt abandoned Russian children. There were eighteen American families, counting us, on the flight over to Russia to pick up children. There were at least ten babies, counting ours, on the flight back. It's even nicknamed the "baby flight."
Living in Saransk must be what living in the old American West was like--rough, free-wheeling, and incredibly bumpy. The orphanage where Masha spent the first two years of her life was located about sixty kilometers outside Saransk, accessible (barely) by a narrow two-lane washed-out road lined on both sides by six-foot snowbanks and vast expanses of empty snow-filled fields. The road is so bad it couldn't be traveled at night, so the first time we visited Masha--Russian law requires all adoptive parents to see their prospective children beforehand--we had to time our trip for after her nap and before the sun set.
The orphanage was a two-story, wood-frame building in a small hamlet. Entering it, I was struck by how quiet it was. Four staff members, all dressed in white coats, greeted Olga and me and led me upstairs to a large empty room. I recognized the room from the videos of Masha I had received. I sat on a low bench along one side of the room. The women sat unsmiling. I felt I had dressed all wrong again. I asked the director, a woman in her late thirties, how many children lived at the orphanage. She replied, "Fifty-five, all under the age of three."
I was stunned. After a few minutes of strained chitchat in which I described Masha's new family and her room at home, the director asked if I would like to see her. "Yes." I could hardly breathe.
My back was turned toward the door as I talked to one of the doctors at the orphanage (a woman, of course--the country has the most highly educated and professionally employed women in the world). Behind me, I could faintly hear a steady, slow, thump, thump coming up the stairs. The thump, thump drew nearer. I turned.
"Eta oo Mama," the orphanage director said. Holding the director's hand, Masha steadily made her way toward me. I knew she was small from the videos the adoption agency had sent me, but I caught my breath at just how tiny she really was. "Eta oo Mama," the director said again. From the thirty-word list of phonetic Russian I had memorized before leaving Boston, I knew the director was telling Masha, "This is your Mama."
Masha stopped in front of me and raised her arms. I gathered her into my lap. "Mama's here," I whispered, crying. "Mama's here."
Normally a Russian court hearing on a foreign adoption lasts from one to three hours. It's not a rubber stamp, but pretty close, thanks to the intense screening of adoptive parents done ahead of time. My court hearing in Saransk, the capital of Mordovia, lasted eight and a half hours.
At lunch the five of us sat subdued and depressed. Igor and Ilya, my two Russian adoption advocates, scowled as only Russian men can. "I cannot say what the judge will do," Ilya said, shaking his head.
Igor was equally pessimistic. "It did not go well this morning," he said.
Olga just sat limp, too tired from all of the testimony of the morning even to eat. My brother David put his arm around me and asked how I was holding up. Despite having had nothing to eat or drink since we got up that morning, not even a glass of water (can't drink the tap water), I had no appetite. I ordered a cup of black coffee and listened as the others critiqued the morning session.
"It's fine that you have an active and productive life," Igor told me. I winced, thinking about how hard I had tried to impress Vasily Vasilyovich back in Boston with my productive life. "But this isn't about you," Igor continued. "This is about how you're going to take care of a child. That's what the court wants to hear. They are not convinced this adoption is in the child's best interest."
"He's right," David said. "You have to tell them how you're going to take care of Masha."
Ilya nodded. "It's all up to you, Linda."
We had been in court since ten that morning. It was now 2:30, and we were due back in court at 3. The restaurant had stopped serving lunch, and all we could get was a half a slice of thick toasted bread topped with some orange-colored tomatoes, ham, and cheese. By the time it came, it was time to leave. But we had our strategy.
Yes, I was adopting Masha alone, but no way was I in this by myself. My brother's presence was testament to that. I had spent the morning talking about myself. In the afternoon I would tell the court about my family--all of them: biological, work, church, friends, neighbors, community.
We arrived back at the courthouse feeling considerably more confident and optimistic, only to be greeted by a surprise witness. When the man was introduced as an eye specialist, I thought he was there to talk about Masha's nearsightedness. A good part of the morning's testimony had focused on her health and my willingness to adopt a child with a defect, known and unknown.
God, these people are thorough, I thought.
But when the mystery witness was further identified as the chief of the glaucoma department at the local hospital, my heart sank. These people really are thorough, I thought. My underlying eye condition is glaucoma. This wasn't about Masha; this was about me.
For the next hour I described to the court the history and prognosis of my eye condition and what I can and can't see. The glaucoma specialist listened and then offered his opinions and impressions of everything I said. I felt it was not going well. How can you make ten glaucoma operations, one cataract surgery, three laser procedures, no sight in one eye, and tunnel vision in the other eye sound like no problem?
Forget the past, I wanted to shout. For thirteen years my eyes have been stable: no drugs, no surgery, no change. Nyet, nada, nothing.
Finally, the prosecutor in the case, who was there to represent Masha's interests, asked me to walk over and open the door to the courtroom without using my white cane. "When Linda opened the door, I knew everything was going to be all right," Igor said later.
Not quite. I had convinced the court my disability did not prevent me from opening and closing doors. I still had to convince a skeptical judge and hostile prosecutor that my disability would not prevent me from raising a two-year-old. After the glaucoma specialist left, I again stood up and, in two-sentence intervals so Olga could more easily translate, told the court about my family--Masha's family. I told about my work family, how my coworkers had raised more than $200 to give to Masha's orphanage. I described my friends, their generosity and interest, my neighbors, my plans to hire a Russian nanny to take care of Masha during the day when I was working so that she could keep her language and I could learn it. Finally I sat down. Ilya asked if my brother David could also address the court. The judge, a woman of about sixty, nodded, and David got up and told her that initially our family had had the same concerns as the court about my adopting a child. "But we talked about it, and we're behind her 100 percent," he said.
When the judge called for another recess, our side milled together, not quite high-fiving, but close. "We're a second half team," David said.
"More like ninth inning," Igor said.
"Fourth quarter in basketball," Ilya added.
Actually, overtime was more like it. When the judge at last ruled the adoption final at 6:30 p.m., it was dark and the courthouse long since deserted. We hugged each other and posed for pictures under the court seal. At dinner that night we celebrated with vodka, Russian-style: straight up.
The day after our marathon court hearing we again made the wild ride over the stage coach road to the orphanage to pick up Masha forever. About halfway there we narrowly averted a head-on collision with an oncoming double bus. Russians are notorious drivers. Fortunately our driver was also skillful, and we nearly squeaked past the bus. But we got caught in the ruts, and the second bus slid into our lane, smashing into the side of our car. By the time the military came to investigate and write up a report on the accident, we had held up traffic in both directions for more than two hours. The sun was low in the sky; reluctantly we turned around and headed back to Saransk. "Don't worry, Masha," I thought. "We're going to get you. It's just taking a little longer than usual."
Halfway back to Saransk we met another car sent by Igor and Ilya, who had heard about our accident over their cell phones. We clambered out of the first car and into the second and again took off for the orphanage. It was nearly 4 p.m. when we arrived. We had several documents that needed to be signed and exchanged, so David went to get Masha while I stayed with the director and Olga to complete the paperwork.
Masha had no clothes of her own in which to leave the orphanage. I had been warned this would likely be the case and had brought everything she needed. She couldn't even take her doll. With fifty-four other kids all under the age of three, many of them handicapped, the staff obviously did not want to part with anything.
We presented our gifts, clothes and toys, and treats for the kids, some personal items for the staff, and the $200 in cash my coworkers had donated to the orphanage; took down the address of the orphanage to send pictures and letters and all the other clothes for the kids we couldn't bring with us; and then posed for a quick picture. The three staff who were there came down to say good-bye to Masha, taking turns holding her and talking softly to her in Russian. She was quiet. The only tears were in the eyes of the adults. We then took her and left.
Our entire stay had lasted less than fifteen minutes. We got back into the car and headed home to America.
The Blind Lead the Sighted
Technology for People With Disabilities
Finds a Broader Market
by Eric A. Taub
From the Editor: The following article appeared in the New York Times, on Thursday, October 28, 1999. It provides a broader historic and social perspective on technology for blind people than does most writing on the subject. Here it is:
Gregg Vanderheiden regularly washes his own clothes, but unlike most people he never loses any socks. He is immune to that modern plague because he uses sock sorters, small plastic rings that keep each pair together in the laundry. "I haven't had a mismatched or incomplete pair in years," Vanderheiden said.
While this minor invention seems a perfect product for a Lillian Vernon catalogue, it was actually created for and originally marketed by organizations for the blind, to help those without sight keep their matching socks together in the dresser drawer.
Sock sorters are not the only invention that has migrated to the general population. Some of life's more mundane innovations, including cut-down curbs and large-handled can openers, have come about as solutions for the disabled.
But so have many more sophisticated, high-technology inventions, like computer scanners and optical character recognition software. And like many such innovations, their usefulness to the rest of society has usually been realized only over time.
When Thomas Edison filed his patent for the phonograph in 1877, he listed ten uses for the machine. "Phonograph books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part," was second; music was fourth.
Closed-captioned television, created to help the deaf, has become ubiquitous in the nation's health clubs, allowing people to watch soap operas or news shows while they work out. Descriptive audio tracks--secondary audio programs that provide summaries of a television show to help the blind follow the action--are popular with home workers who want to keep abreast of a show's developments but cannot always stare at the screen.
What type of person devises such solutions for what are for most people life's minor problems? "Football players don't invent jar openers because they have no trouble opening jars," said Vanderheiden, head of the University of Wisconsin's Trace Center, which researches ways to improve access for the disabled to information and telecommunications systems. "It takes somebody who can't live with the way the world currently is to create a new invention."
Or somebody in love with that type of person, like Pellegrino Turri. In Italy in 1808, Turri invented a machine to help his lover, the blind Countess Carolina Fantoni, write letters to him.
That typewriting device was not needed for the seeing population because upper-class, literate people had the time to write letters, using quill pens. Writing with a quill was a difficult task for the blind, who could not know if their writing was uniform or if the quill was running out of ink.
During the early 1900's, Turri in Italy and Ralph Wedgwood in England, working separately, each created carbon paper. Turri's paper worked with a typewriting machine. Wedgwood's invention, patented in 1806, allowed the blind to write without worrying about whether the pen had ink--a metal stylus could be used instead. By 1823 carbon paper was being marketed in the United States as a general business product.
Of all the disabilities it is blindness that has led to most of the technological innovations that have later migrated to the general population. "Blindness is often an absolute, in a way that deafness isn't," Vanderheiden said. "Changing from an acoustic to a visual world is not as hard as the opposite."
Raymond C. Kurzweil, developer of the first practical optical character recognition software, said: "Blind people are early adapters. They have a much more pressing need for new technology. Even if it's not perfected technology, it still provides a useful sensory aid."
Kurzweil said a blind person had once explained to him that the only real handicap for blind people was their complete lack of access to print. Kurzweil used his expertise to create the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the first device that gave the blind the ability to have printed material read to them by a machine, in 1976.
The machine combined the first charge-coupled device flat-bed scanner with optical character recognition software and a text-to-speech voice synthesizer. The scanner transfers the printed document into the machine, the OCR software translates the words into recognizable text, and the synthesizer translates that text into understandable spoken English.
The reading machine wasn't perfect; it couldn't recognize every word. But that was not a fatal flaw. "We didn't need 100 percent accuracy because a human can always detect errors and make corrections in the mind," Kurzweil said.
It was the strong demand from the blind that made this product successful, Kurzweil said. "We always knew that there were commercial applications for scanners (OCR) and text-to-speech software and that prices would eventually come down," he said. "But if we had pursued the commercial market initially, we might not have succeeded."
Today text-to-speech software lets the blind read text on Web sites and in e-mail. But while some functions are newly accessible, the popularity of graphically rich Web sites and operating systems like Windows and Mac OS has actually reduced the ability of blind people to use a personal computer.
Microsoft, for one, understands that, in its attempts to make the Windows operating system easier to use, it has actually made the system more difficult to use for a significant minority. To ease accessibility problems, the company has charged a staff of forty full-time employees with insuring that its products--from Windows to Office--can be mastered by people with physical disabilities.
Software and Web site developers are encouraged to embed hidden descriptive text in their programs so text-to-speech software can read the graphics to people with limited vision. "We're enforcing stricter requirements for those who want to use our Windows logo on software packaging," said Luanne LaLonde, the product manager for Microsoft in the accessibility and disabilities group. "People will need to follow our accessibility rules."
Thanks to those standards, Word and Excel users can magnify their screens and increase the size of their toolbars, both features first perfected for the visually impaired. Similarly, while the ability to create customized keyboard shortcuts as substitutes for various computer commands is now taken for granted, that concept was in fact originally developed to help those with physical disabilities find keys they could easily use.
The World Wide Web Consortium has developed a set of accessibility guidelines to help the visually impaired easily read Web sites; for example, every button on a Web page should have accurate and appropriately descriptive text tags. Otherwise, clicking on a button marked Search on a site might prompt text-to-speech software to say only "button."
Marti McCuller, a legally blind Web site developer, was frustrated by her difficulty in navigating through search engines. "My text-to-speech software let me read the various search sites," she said, "but they often put so many links on a page it became hard to use."
That is because the blind, even with text-reading software, cannot glance at a page. There is no way for them to get a quick visual overview of a site's contents and make mental notes about where it would be worthwhile clicking and exploring later. Rather the blind must laboriously click from line to line, determining by a process of elimination where they want to go.
As a solution Ms. McCuller created her own search engine (www.seti-search.com), an amalgam of other search sites that does not force the user to move slowly around the site and wade through advertisements to find the right place to enter a query.
Search words are entered at the top of the page, and appropriate links are displayed above all other material as well. Users do not need to tab through extraneous material.
The search engine has become popular with the sighted as well as the blind. "Those who can see like the fact that there are no ads getting in the way of their information," Ms. McCuller said.
Text-to-speech and speech-to-text technologies, staple tools of the blind, have become integral parts of a new generation of software that allows consumers to retrieve their e-mail by phone, program household devices, and speak to business colleagues around the world even though they speak different languages.
The Clarion Corporation uses speech-to-text software originally developed by Kurzweil and licensed from the Lernout and Hauspie Corporation for Auto PC, an in-car computer that responds to voice commands and reads e-mail and other information.
Jfax.com utilizes text-to-speech software to give consumers the ability to hear their phone messages, e-mail, and eventually their faxes over the telephone. The service is popular with business people and others who are often not near a computer, said the company's president, Gary Hickox. In the future a customer will be able to dictate a letter over the phone and have it sent as an e-mail text message.
Lernout and Hauspie has demonstrated its new simultaneous translation system, which with just a one-second delay allows the user to speak in English and have the words translated into another language in a grammatically correct manner with a natural-sounding voice.
Voice-to-text software translates the words into machine-readable text, which text-to-text software translates. Text-to-voice software simulates the sounds of the other language, using the company's RealSpeak speech-synthesis software.
"Fifteen to twenty years from now voice input and output for computers could be the norm," said Greg Lowney, Microsoft's director for accessibility.
A restaurant filled with diners talking into their voice-activated pocket-size devices may be the price for society's attempt to extend the fruits of the technological revolution to all.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Debbie Stein]
Roommates From Hell
by Debbie Kent Stein and Anne Emerick
From the Editor: Debbie Kent Stein is First Vice President of the NFB of Illinois. She is also a distinguished writer and reviewer. She became a student at Oberlin College while I was still an undergraduate. If I had bothered to get to know her, I might well have been able to help her and her roommate, but I had not yet met the National Federation of the Blind, so I worked hard to avoid other blind people because I didn't think I had much in common with them. It never occurred to me that I could learn from them and they from me.
All this is a healthy reminder to me of how much we all have to learn and how much pain we can inflict on others simply by refusing to reach out to each other in the spirit of friendship.
The following article is mostly the transcription of an agenda item at the student seminar that took place at the 1999 convention of the NFB of Illinois. It begins with an introduction by Debbie Kent Stein:.
In July, 1998, I received a brief and startling letter from my former college roommate. We had spent a difficult, painful freshman year together and had successfully avoided each other for the rest of our college careers. Now my roommate had written me a letter after thirty-two years of silence. At midlife she was looking back at the past. She wondered if we might reconnect and look from this distance at what had happened between us. That letter led to months of e-mail correspondence and finally to an exchange of visits. We unwound many tangled threads of the past, making amends to each other and trying to understand that crucial first year away from home. At the 1999 NFB of Illinois student seminar my former roommate and I had the opportunity to share some of our reflections with a new generation of college students.
NFB of Illinois Student Seminar Transcript
October 22, 1999
Moderator: Nicole Gleason, President, NFB-I Student Chapter:
Moving on to our next panel, Debbie Stein is going to touch on a topic that, as far as I know, has never been addressed at our student seminars before. This panel will be about the challenges of living with college roommates. So Debbie Stein.
Debbie Stein: Nicole and I have been kicking around the idea of this discussion for the last six months or so. A couple of things led me to suggest living with roommates as a possible seminar topic. One was a discussion I had recently with a blind friend who was reflecting on her college years. When she started college, my friend told the Dean of Students that she wanted a single room. She didn't want a roommate during her freshman year. She knew that she would be struggling to learn a lot of new things; she would have a lot of skills to master. If she had a roommate, everyone would expect that person to take care of her, to be her mother in absentia. Her roommate might have the same expectation and feel obligated to do a lot of caregiving. As a blind student on an unfamiliar campus, my friend knew she could fall into this trap and that it would be hard to fight her way out. Her solution was to avoid this whole messy dynamic by requesting a room to herself.
I was very impressed by the level of awareness my friend had shown at such a young age and by how well she had thought things through. I have to say that I went into college having given virtually no thought whatsoever to my living arrangements. I did make the concession to write to my assigned roommate ahead of time. At my college the entering freshmen were given the name and address of their future roommates during the summer.
I wrote to my roommate in August, and I decided that maybe it would be a good time to inform her that I'm blind. I was encouraged to reveal this by some blind students whom I had met. Otherwise I probably wouldn't even have thought of that. I figured that, since blindness wasn't a big deal for me, why should it be a big deal for anybody else?
So I wrote my letter and went blithely off to college to live for an entire year with a total stranger. When you think about it, this is a pretty unnatural thing to do. It's probably the only time in your life when you will ever do such a thing. The closest parallel I can think of would be an arranged marriage. But in an arranged marriage at least you have a whole house to rattle around in, hopefully. When you go off to live with a college roommate, you're going to be sharing a little two-by-four cubbyhole.
For the first couple of weeks my roommate and I seemed to get along just fine. Since neither of us knew anyone else, we did a lot of things together. But as time went on, I noticed that some tension seemed to be developing. My roommate was less friendly as time went by, a little more distant, a little more uncommunicative. I didn't know what was the matter, and I really didn't have the confidence and the social skills to ask what was wrong. I only sensed that a chill was deepening between us day by day.
In retrospect it's quite clear to me where our problems began. I was quite shy. I didn't know many people yet, and I didn't know my way around. My roommate would offer to help me. She would offer to run errands for me, and it was all too easy to accept that kind of help. If she said, "I'm walking over to the bookstore, do you want me to pick up your book for you?" I'd say, "Oh, sure, okay." It was easier to accept that kind of help than to figure out how to ask for help that would have made a real difference. I could have asked her to show me where the bookstore was. Then I could have gone ahead and gotten my own book, maybe even offered to pick one up for her sometime.
Instead a very negative syndrome developed. I found myself expecting help. My roommate found herself feeling that her help was expected and even required. In fact, the other people we knew in the dorm seemed to have the same sense of it. They acted as though I needed care and my roommate was supposed to provide it for me. Maybe they felt a little sorry for her, but there was nothing to be done about it; that was the situation she was in.
Actually I think the whole thing was almost a set-up from the beginning. I sometimes wondered why the powers that be selected the two of us to live together. Supposedly roommates were matched according to interests, majors, and other similarities. Well, my roommate and I had almost nothing in common, as far as interests and talents went. We were very different people. But she had been very involved in Girl Scouts all through elementary and high school. What could be a better match, right? (laughter). She could help me across the street! (laughter) Well, a very harmful pattern got established. If she did something for me once, we both seemed to assume she would keep doing it again and again. For instance, the first time she did her laundry, she offered to do mine too. I guess I was a fairly typical seventeen-year-old kid. Someone's offering to do my laundry for me? "Okay! If you want to do it, go right ahead!" Rather than getting somebody to show me how the washer and dryer worked, rather than labeling the gadgets on the machines, I was depending on my roommate to wash my clothes for me!
I finally got a major jolt when my roommate casually dropped the comment that she had five things to do for me that day. That really brought me up short! I realized I had to rethink the way I was doing things. I started to see what this whole dependency syndrome was. That wake-up call got me to begin mending my ways. But by then we were really in trouble. My roommate had weeks of built-up resentment and anger. Our communication had deteriorated.
What began as coolness grew into all-out silence. My roommate didn't speak to me, which therefore made it very hard for me to speak to her. After a while I didn't even try any more. The situation was intolerable and unlivable, but neither of us knew how to change it. Basically we just toughed it out for the rest of the year, in a complete communication vacuum, sharing our little two-by-four cubbyhole.
Looking back, I can certainly suggest some things to college students today, whether you're rooming with somebody straight out of the blue as a freshman or with someone you chose yourself later on. Any roommate situation can be difficult at times. For starters, be careful to avoid getting into a dependency situation. The familiar proverb about fishing comes to my mind: if you give someone a fish, you feed him one meal; if you teach someone to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime. You don't want people giving you a lot of fish. You want to learn how to catch your own. If somebody offers to walk you to class one day and you don't ask about landmarks and street names, the next day you'll need somebody to walk you to class again. You need to learn to fish right from the beginning. That can really help prevent dependency from the start.
Another crucial piece, I think, is to keep communication open. That is true in any human relationship, and one human relationship that can be really sticky is living with a roommate. When you sense a problem developing, try to open communication.
It might be very hard for the other person to talk, especially if the problem is in any way related to your blindness. Your roommate might be very uncomfortable bringing such a topic out in the open. The onus really falls on the blind student to try to break down the silence before it sets in. Once you slide into a situation in which neither of you is speaking, it is very, very hard to undo the damage.
You always have the option of doing as my blind friend did her freshman year. You can decide to room by yourself. I don't know that that is the best option, at least not for everyone. Living with a roommate is an experience like no other. It offers a unique opportunity for learning and growth. But it can certainly be a challenge.
Before I open up to questions, I'd like to introduce somebody who's here with me today. Anne Emerick is out in the audience, and she was my college freshman roommate. (applause) You're on, lady!
Anne Emerick: It is indeed an honor to be here.
I think back to thirty-three years ago when I was about to go off to college. I was filled with curiosity about what lay ahead of me and wondered what my life was going to be like. I don't think I expected a letter from my future roommate, but in fact I got one--the letter that Debbie just told you about.
I opened it with excitement. I am a sighted person, and when I read that she was blind, a clutch of panic came over me. I'd never known a blind person in my entire life. The very thought terrified me.
When I think back to the fear I experienced, I can touch it when I recall how I feel when I hear that a friend has been diagnosed with cancer. I don't know how long she's going to live, and I don't know how much pain she's going to suffer. When I opened that letter, I had the same fear of the unknown. I had no idea what blind people were about.
Debbie was the first blind person I had ever met. When we got to college, I asked and learned bits about her life and tried to understand what it was like to be blind. And yes, at first Debbie was my friend. I offered assistance to her liberally at the beginning. As time went by, our communication went awry over dependency issues. Soon I felt I was being taken for granted. I became angry, but I didn't talk about it. I moved into indirect communication. I would relay messages to Debbie through a friend in common, rather than speak to her myself. Of course this was totally absurd. Yet that's what I did.
I believe I took my discomfort with Debbie's dependency and blamed everything that was wrong between us totally on her blindness. My discomfort with blindness moved into fear. I made a very illogical leap. Somehow I took my fear of Debbie's blindness and put it upon myself. I was afraid of becoming blind. I've always been very athletic--I was then, and I am now. I thought I couldn't possibly be athletic if I were to become blind. Now I realize that's utter nonsense. But back then, as a college freshman, I was sure that, if I were blind, I would be completely worthless, without value because I couldn't do the athletic things that were such a major part of my life.
When I started college, independence was my god. I thought that to reach out for help meant you were a failure. I couldn't ask for help. It was simply not modeled in my family. It's hard enough to seek physical help at times, but it is even more difficult to ask for help in the emotional world.
I didn't reach out when my relationship with my roommate went awry. My fear of blindness made our communication even more impenetrable. It froze my tongue. I went silent. I pretended her existence away. I pretended her away for most of the school year. With small exceptions this amounted to at least six months of full out glacial silence. It was deeply wounding to both of us. Unspoken fears reverberate. They amplify.
If I have one word of advice for anybody heading off to college, about to room with an unknown person, it is to find your voice. It's not easy to find the confidence to speak up when you sense something is wrong. But you need to do that. You need to speak up and ask at the merest whiff of trouble. Ask, ask: how can I do things differently? Be proactive, and suggest options yourself. Riding into town today, I heard a lovely song that has a wonderful phrase in it. The phrase was "kindling of fear." Fear can act like kindling. It can rise up into a brushfire and obliterate communication. Speak up early, at the very first sign of fear. Waiting invites ugly patterns, invites problems to become entrenched.
The words "conflict resolution" mean a lot to me. When I went to college, I had zero concept of what they meant. I had never even heard that term. Thank the spirits, human beings can learn, can do things differently. Conflict resolution is really nothing other than common sense--to listen to each other's hard truths and work toward a solution. It is almost always easier to listen fairly when there is a referee, since this ensures that the conversation will be balanced. That gets dialog going. Dialog is the opposite of silence, and it can provide the solutions you need. So if you have a conflict and direct questions don't help, get a third party involved.
Ask for help immediately. Asking for help is not failure. For most of us the hardest part is to speak honestly about your own anger, your own discomfort. Our culture is laden with signals that one is not allowed to acknowledge, let alone talk about--negative feelings. No wonder Debbie and I got into such a mess. To prevent communication glitches, it is a requirement to be able to talk about and listen to negative feelings when they come up. I needed to say I was angry and to explain why. Then it would have been my turn to listen to Debbie. Speaking up is one hard part. The second hard part is really to listen, even when what is being said is critical of you. This is terribly difficult to do.
I know this is not necessarily a miracle cure. Speaking and listening might not work. You might not be able to straighten out a mess if communication has gone too far adrift. You might need to reach outside and seek help from an adult--from someone at your school, from your family, or from the NFB. And that might not help either. You might have to request a different roommate or even ask for a single room.
The point is that there are options. You don't need to be trapped. And asking for help, again, is not a sign of failure. It's a sign of maturity. Silence serves no one. It should not be tolerated. It is a weapon, and it is a form of abuse.
Well, I can give you all the advice in the world to speak up; it took me thirty-two years to do it myself!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ed Bryant]
Talking Blood Glucose Monitoring Systems
by Ed Bryant
From the Editor: Ed Bryant is President of the Diabetes Action Network and editor of its quarterly publication, Voice of the Diabetic.
The following article first appeared in Voice of the Diabetic, Volume 14, No. 2, Spring, 1999, and was updated in July, 1999, and January, 2000. Because diabetes management is an important topic to all those interested in increasing the independence of blind people, we reprint it here. This is what Ed Bryant says:
As editor of the Voice of the Diabetic, I am often asked about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various voice-enunciation-equipped home blood glucose monitors available today. Although individuals have their preferences, there is no best talking glucose meter; no one monitoring system is ideal for everyone. Features, prices, convenience, and clarity of instructions vary, and new equipment periodically appears.
Although many companies make blood glucose monitors and some of these display their results in large print, only four currently available meters allow voice enunciation, in which the device's voice synthesizer actually speaks the meter's instructions and test results.
My personal favorite is the Accu-Chek Voicemate. This talking meter, which incorporates the proven Accu-Chek Advantage into a system designed and built by Roche Diagnostics, is the most advanced on the market today and the easiest for a blind person to use. Its new Comfort Curve test strip allows quick and reliable nonsighted placement of the blood sample. No more hanging drop of blood--just smear or dab it on; the strip sticks well out of the meter, and you just find the tactile cutout on the side. Even if you have fairly severe neuropathy in your hands, this feature should make it easy to find the blood placement spot. And blood never drips onto the meter--so there is far less need to clean it. Its voice is clear and understandable. The Voicemate includes two completely new features: 1) code-key system for calibrating the meter to a new set of strips (no more numbers to punch in), making this the only talking meter a blind person can calibrate without any sighted aid at all; and 2) an insulin-vial identifier. If you use Eli Lilly insulins new enough to be bar-coded (1/2001 expiration date or later), insert them into the special opening, follow the spoken directions, and the machine will identify the type of Humulin insulin you are testing. (If your insulins are not bar-coded or not from Eli Lilly, the Voicemate's other features will still function properly.
Past Boehringer-Mannheim meters (Roche has purchased B-M) were available only through company representatives. The new Voicemate can be ordered through any pharmacist. Have your pharmacist contact Roche Diagnostics, telephone (800) 428-5076, and ask for catalog #2030802.
The LifeScan One Touch meters--the Profile, and the now-discontinued One Touch II--are often adapted to voice synthesis. These two meters use the same procedures and test strips and feature the same detachable test-strip holder. Both require a hanging drop of blood. Both meters are accurate, but their operating drill makes them difficult for some users. Both accept talk boxes, but voice synthesizers designed for the One Touch II will not operate with the Profile and vice versa.
The voice boxes, speech synthesizer modules that plug into the meter's data port and provide its voice, are not made by LifeScan, but by several competing firms, described below. These manufacturers have been producing voice units for the old One Touch II and updated versions for use with the Profile. If you already have a LifeScan One Touch II or Profile, no modifications are needed to allow use of one of the speech synthesizers. If you do not yet own a LifeScan monitor, shop around, because some pharmacies and major discount stores sell glucose monitors substantially below list price.
Talking Glucose Monitors and Voice Boxes
1) The Accu-Chek Voicemate talking glucose monitor: Roche Diagnostics Corporation, 9115 Hague Road, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250-0100, telephone (800) 428-5076.
The Accu-Chek Voicemate, developed in cooperation with Eli Lilly and Company, incorporates the Accu-Chek Advantage glucose monitor. The Voicemate is small, portable, and weighs only twelve-and-a-half ounces. It contains a bar-code reader to describe insulin type (Lilly insulins only). First offered for sale in 1998, the Voicemate is supplied with a new test strip, the Comfort Curve, which vastly simplifies the problem of blood-sample placement. Very good audiocassette and large-print instructions are supplied (in English). Suggested retail $495-$525, available through your pharmacist. Spanish-language customer service is available. Purchase price includes a carrying bag with adjustable strap.
Note: The National Federation of the Blind Materials Center now sells the Accu-Chek Voicemate for $475, the lowest price on record. Contact Materials Center, National Center for the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, telephone (410) 659-9314.
2) The Voice-Touch speech synthesizers, for the LifeScan One Touch II or LifeScan Profile: Myna Corporation, 239 Western Avenue, Essex, Massachusetts 01929, telephone (978) 768-9000.
Myna makes a pair of light, compact, convenient, and reliable glucose meter speech modules. The two models are not interchangeable. The Voice-Touch modules attach firmly to the meter, adding little bulk and forming a single, reliable unit. There are no separate switches to remember; the modules operate off the controls of the LifeScan monitor. The user may choose male or female voice. A Spanish-speaking Voice-Touch is now available.
The Myna Corporation offers the Voice-Touch speech synthesizers for $225 for One Touch II or Profile, the LifeScan meters alone for $135 (One Touch II) or $109 (Profile). An optional AC adapter is offered, as is a carrying case, $15 each. Myna's instructional cassettes and large-print instructions clearly explain the speech modules but do not describe operation of the LifeScan glucose monitors.
The LifeScan One Touch meters and Voice-Touch speech synthesizers are also offered by the National Federation of the Blind, Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, telephone (410) 659-9314.
Note: The Materials Center is open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., weekdays, Eastern Time. The NFB offers the combination (One Touch II meter plus voice module) for $309, the lowest price for a talking glucose monitor in the U.S.; the voice module alone for $189 (specify whether for One Touch II or Profile), or the glucose meter alone for $120 (one Touch II) or $135 (Profile). An optional AC adapter costs $12.
3) The Digi-Voice modules: Science Products, Box 888, Southeastern, Pennsylvania 19399, telephone (800) 888-7400.
Science Products makes several versions of its robust and reliable Digi-Voice speech module: The Digi-Voice Deluxe, and the smaller Mini Digi-Voice. Voice boxes designed for the One Touch II will not operate with the Profile and vice versa. The Digi-Voice modules connect to the meter by a twenty-two-inch patch cord, providing audio output for its readings. Controls are simple; on the Deluxe a volume control knob and a toggle switch run the voice synthesizer, separate from the monitor's controls. The Mini's single button both turns on the voice box and adjusts the volume control, again, separate from the meter's controls. Readings are announced in a clear, somewhat military, male voice. Thorough cassette instructions explain the voice box and briefly cover the Profile meter (Science Products' instructional cassettes do not cover operation of the One Touch II glucose monitor). No large-print instructions are supplied. Science Products sells the Digi-Voice Deluxe module alone for $275 and the Mini Digi-Voice modules alone for $199 (9-volt battery) or $219 (with AC adapter). They offer the LifeScan Profile glucose monitor for $120. The One Touch II meter is no longer available.
Science Products also now offers Digi-Voice modules for the later version of the LifeScan SureStep blood glucose monitor. The later version features a data-port for downloading to a home computer. The Digi-Voice talk boxes access to the same port. The Digi-Voice module for the SureStep is not interchangeable with the similarly-named modules for the One Touch meters. Be sure to specify which.
4) The LHS7 Module, a voice box for the LifeScan Profile: LS&S Group, P.O. Box 673, Northbrook, Illinois 60065, telephone (800) 468-4789.
The small and light LHS7 attaches to the bottom of the Profile glucose meter by means of a Velcro patch and operates through the meter's controls. Two-position volume control (loud and soft); AC adapter included in purchase price. English-language voice only; no audiocassette or large-print instructions are provided. Cost $199, or $313 with a new Profile meter.
5) Connecting Cables for Adaptive Computers: Blazie Engineering, 105 E. Jarrettsville Road, Forest Hill, Maryland 21050, telephone: (410) 893-9333
Users of Blazie's adaptive computers can connect these machines to the LifeScan One Touch II or Profile by plugging into the meter's data port with the appropriate adaptive cable (such as the Blazie BNS-6). With the appropriate software (available free from Blazie; One Touch II users need no software), their notetakers will speak the LifeScan meter's commands and results.
6) The Diascan Partner talking glucose monitor: Formerly made by Home Diagnostics, Inc., it is out of production and unavailable.
Medicare recognizes home blood glucose monitors as Durable Medical Equipment, and coverage is provided for diabetics under Medicare Part B. Glucose meters without audio output have one specification on the Fee Schedule (EO607), and glucose meters with voice synthesis or add-on voice boxes for home blood glucose monitors have another (EO609) available to diabetics who are at least legally blind. Be sure to follow all guidelines for reimbursement.
An Invitation to Manufacturers
Currently available talk boxes (speech synthesizers) make use of the same data port installed in the meter to allow interfacing with and downloading to a computer. For many monitors the hardware is already in place, and adding speech compatibility should be a simple process. The National Federation of the Blind urges manufacturers to go the rest of the distance and make talking versions of their monitors available to those diabetics who need and want them. NFB Resolution 97-12 (adopted at the 1997 annual convention in New Orleans, Louisiana) calls on monitor manufacturers to make their meters speech-compatible.
Hints and Tips
A. If an insufficient amount of blood is placed on the test strip, most meters will indicate "not enough blood." You may even have to prick your finger again. There are several possible explanations for this frustrating occurrence.
The initial drop of blood may have been too small; some folks don't bleed enough. They can get more blood by holding hands below waist level for about fifteen seconds, shaking them, or soaking them in warm water for a few minutes before the test. Warm water stimulates the flow of blood to the fingers. A slightly longer lancet with deeper penetration may help some. Milking the finger (squeezing it gently) can also help, as can wrapping a doubled rubber band between the first and second joints of the finger to be lanced. This will help cause the finger to become engorged with blood. Hold the rubber band down with the thumb while lancing. Remove the band as soon as you lance.
Doctors and diabetes educators who treat heart patients have noted that prophylactic aspirin therapy, an enteric-coated aspirin a day to thin the blood and reduce risk of a heart attack, makes it easier for their diabetic patients to obtain a blood sample. If you are a difficult bleeder, the same therapy with enteric-coated aspirin might help you too. Be sure to talk to your primary-care doctor about aspirin and to your eye doctor as well because blood thinners like enteric aspirin can increase the risk of retinopathy.
B. There may have been enough blood, but it was placed on the wrong part of the test strip: Some folks bleed fast and may lose the blood drop from the finger before they are ready. By the time they get the finger to the test strip, the blood has fallen in the wrong place. A fast bleeder needs to work closer to the test strip and perhaps to employ one of the blood placement aids discussed in this article. Users of the Diascan Partner should try bending up the tail of the test strip as an aid to location and placement. If you are new to your meter, I suggest you test in front of your diabetes educator or someone else familiar with your meter--perhaps there is some part of the drill you could do better.
C. Some enthusiastic people press down too hard when placing the blood on the strip and push the blood out of its correct position, shoving it onto the wrong part of the strip. If you use the LifeScan One Touch II or Profile, it is best to deposit a hanging drop of blood onto the test strip very gently. Marla Bernbaum, Maryland, writing in The ADEVIP Monitor, offered the following suggestion pertinent to diabetics with severe neuropathy (who wouldn't feel the otherwise painful fingertip stick she discusses here):
I have discovered another way to apply blood to the LifeScan test strip, which has been useful for several of our patients. This method allows them to stick the tip rather than the side of the finger. We use the same platform modification [described below], with a dot of Hi-Marks or T-shirt paint on each side of the strip guide near the depression where the blood is to be applied. For this approach the meter should be turned sideways. The patient can then place the pad of the finger on the raised dot perpendicular to the length of the strip and rock the finger forward so that the tip of the finger lines up with the depression on the strip and deposits the blood droplet in the appropriate place. This method increases the portion of the fingertip that can be used and is preferable for some patients, particularly for those who bleed slowly and therefore must place the blood drop in precisely the right location.
If you use any of the LifeScan One-Touch series glucose meters, some blood placement problems can be solved by modification of the test strip holder (LifeScan Part #043-123: this same part fits all LifeScan One-Touch meters). The idea is simply to provide tactile locating aids for finger location and placement of the blood sample on the test strip. A raised dot on either side of the test strip will work for some, but diabetics with limited sensation in the fingertips may find a U-shaped guide more useful. Most diabetics puncture the side of a fingertip, but those with severe neuropathy, who can't feel the lancet and who prick the center of the fingertip, may be helped by the U-shaped guide. With practice and the use of such tactile cues, blind diabetics can correctly place blood samples on the test strip.
(Editor's Note: Thanks to Ann S. Williams, RN, MSN, CDE, for providing the modified LifeScan Test Strip Holders shown here.)
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Modified LifeScan test strip guides]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: (left to right): Sure Drop (on Profile meter), Waco-U-Finger Guide, Smart Dot (on One Touch II meter)]
The test strip holder is detachable, and modifications as described will in no way interfere with the operation, accuracy, or cleaning of the LifeScan meter. LifeScan's Technical Services Department (phone: (800) 227-8862) will provide a spare test strip holder upon request without charge. We recommend that the modifications be made to this spare.
The dots and U-shaped ridge were created with T-shirt paint, of the type that stands up sharply from a fabric surface. Upon application, the paint spreads a little, so apply sparingly. Best results come from tack-painting, applying a small amount, then letting it dry (minimum twelve hours), with subsequent applications to build up the height. Practice first on some other material (posterboard or paper plate), since the paint can extrude quickly. Be sure to have the test strip holder off the meter when applying the T-shirt paint. For best results insert a test strip in the holder as an aid to placement of the dots or U-shaped ridge. T-shirt paint is inexpensive and is available at most craft and fabric stores. Although a full spectrum of colors is available, bright, contrasting colors like orange may aid those with low vision. Brands and types vary; find one that gives you a hard, tactile ridge. Some paints feel too rubbery. Puff paint flakes off too easily. You may have to experiment.
Several vendors offer commercial alternatives to modifying the test strip holder. One slips over the LifeScan meter, and the other attaches directly to the test strip holder. Both devices aid in proper finger placement and serve to guide the drop of blood more precisely to the test strip. Science Products (address above, telephone (800) 888-7400), makes the Sure Drop, which slips over the body of the meter. The special Teflon-like coating on the surface of the device helps direct the blood but can be damaged by bleach or a hard brushing--clean with mild soap and warm water. A Sure Drop made for the One Touch II will not fit the Profile, and vice versa. The unit for the Profile appears well-made and easy to use. The units are priced at $24.95 each.
Smart Dot, 2655 West Central Avenue, Toledo, Ohio 43606, telephone (800) 984-1137. The Smart Dot clips directly to the test strip holder of the LifeScan One Touch II meter. This plastic platform is easy to clean and convenient to use, but there have been cases of its detaching from the meter in mid-test. Cost $19.45.
Don Kramolis and Gary Allman, Blind Rehab Specialists (Manual Skills), at Waco VA Medical Center, Blind Rehab Clinic, Bldg. 7, BRU, 4800 Memorial Drive, Waco, Texas 76711, telephone (817) 752-6581 ext. 7489, have developed the Waco-U-Finger Guide, which, like the Smart Dot, fits any LifeScan Meter. Much like the T-shirt paint described above, the Waco Guide assists with finger orientation. The guide's other features help tactile strip insertion. Its designers do not sell finished guides but offer plans and advice to interested individuals.
I have discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the blood glucose monitoring systems with voice enunciation currently manufactured. This evaluation should help blind diabetics and those losing vision, who are just as capable as the sighted of independently testing their blood sugar levels and performing all the other tasks of daily diabetes self-management. Both blind and sighted diabetics are encouraged to consult their health care teams and individuals experienced in use of glucose monitoring equipment.
Choosing the most appropriate home blood glucose monitor is an important step in diabetes self-management. As blind diabetics increase their participation in the mainstream, efficient glycemic control is needed to maintain good quality of life. The Diabetes Action Network of the National Federation of the Blind, a support and information network, welcomes your views on blood-glucose testing.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sheila Koenig]
Reflecting Upon the Bamboo Tree
by Sheila M. Koenig
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Summer, 1999, issue of the Blind Missourian, the publication of the NFB of Missouri. Sheila was a 1995 NFB scholarship winner. She now teaches English and Spanish in a Springfield, Missouri, middle school.
Thoughtful leaders in any organization recognize the importance of encouraging the involvement and growth of young members. Organizations stultify and eventually die if those in control discourage the introduction of new blood. But it is one thing to pay lip service to this truism and quite another to conduct the business of the group in such a way that new members feel that they and their ideas are welcome. Sheila's little meditation reminds us all that in the NFB part of the job of experienced leaders is to nurture and guide new, young members; and the duty of young leaders is to learn and work and grow. This process is always a balancing act; but, when it is done successfully, we all benefit and the organization becomes stronger and more effective. Here is what Sheila Koenig has to say:
One day a man planted a bamboo seedling. He cared deeply for it, so each day he watered it and tended to it, always making sure it had the proper sunlight to grow. After a year's time, the man saw that the plant had not grown at all, but he continued to water it, tend to it, and make sure it was nourished by proper sunlight. Again, after the second year the plant had not grown. He watered and tended it through the third year and the fourth. Suddenly, as if by magic, in the fifth it began growing. In fact, it grew two and a half feet a day until in six weeks it was ninety feet tall.
The bamboo tree's growth involves no magic. During its first five years it develops miles and miles of roots beneath the ground. Though no growth is visible, the foundation is being established and strengthened.
I thought about this story after returning from last summer's National Convention. Transition describes for me the tone and feeling of our convention in Atlanta. While we breathed our history by reflecting upon the life, teaching, and wisdom of Dr. Jernigan, we also began to dream about the future. Many new people participated in this year's resolutions process, and a steady shift was evident in division officers. Strength radiated in all directions. These new leaders clearly embody the spirit of our past, and they are skillfully guided by our present leaders.
I recognize that the most important thing for me as a young Federationist is to develop and strengthen my skills as a future leader. I must study the teachings of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer. I can observe how Gary Wunder guides the Board of Directors through a meeting. These things are essential, but this is not enough. At times it seems to me that some established leaders are skeptical of young Federationists who are eager to serve. Perhaps they fear that we do not fully understand the philosophy or the policies of our organization. Perhaps the idea of change itself creates fear and doubt. At such times I am deeply saddened and afraid. I am afraid for the future of our organization.
The bamboo tree cannot grow on its own. It needs to be nourished by the sunlight, watered, and tended. Young leaders need the same. We need to be nourished by the wisdom and experience of those who possess them. We need time to develop the fundamental system of roots which will hold us all together. We need opportunity to explore our strengths and, for that matter, to make our own mistakes. We must learn from those mistakes. Only then can we grow to our full potential and stretch our possibilities. The future does not belong to me and my generation alone, nor does it rest only on the shoulders of our present leaders. It is ours. All of our voices--past, present, and future--must blend in harmony as we continue along the path of security, equality, and opportunity.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Curtis Chong]
The Voice Mate
An Aural Organizer that Really Works
by Curtis Chong
From the Editor: Curtis Chong directs the NFB's Technology Department at the National Center for the Blind. This is what he has to say about a new pocket organizer that the NFB is now selling.
A couple of years ago the Parrot Company in Paris, France, released the Parrot Plus voice recognition organizer. Although the Parrot Plus was not originally designed for use by the blind, it proved to have a unique appeal, which resulted in newer versions containing improvements suggested by a growing number of blind users.
Perhaps the most significant problem with the Parrot Plus was its small storage capacity. In its normal recording mode the Parrot Plus held up to six-and-a-half minutes of recorded information; in its compressed mode (the results of which are extremely difficult to understand), it held up to thirteen minutes of recorded information. For any active user this was simply not enough.
The Voice Mate, announced by the Parrot Company in November, 1999, is the next generation of the Parrot Plus. Physically it very much resembles the Parrot Plus in that it is about the size of a television remote control. It fits comfortably into a suit pocket, and you can get a leather carrying case for it. It is powered by four standard AAA batteries which, according to previous experience with the Parrot Plus, should last for a few months. Two major improvements over the Parrot Plus are forty minutes of recording time and non-volatile flash memory, which allows the batteries to be replaced without losing data. Earphones are supplied for private listening.
The Voice Mate has five major utilities: a talking phone book, a voice note pad, an appointment book, a talking alarm clock, and a talking calculator. Every one of these utilities is completely accessible nonvisually--in other words, the Voice Mate talks to you right out of the box.
The Talking Phone Book
This utility is used to store information about people with whom you communicate. In its basic form the talking phone book stores a person's name (as spoken by you) and telephone number, which you enter through the Voice Mate keypad. You can locate individual entries in the phone book by either speaking the name of the person you are looking for or moving quickly through the entries with arrow keys supplied for the purpose. Once you have found the desired name, you can instruct the Voice Mate to generate the tones that allow the number to be dialed using a touch-tone telephone. Alternatively, the Voice Mate will speak the digits of the person's phone number. If you like, you can save up to five phone numbers for any given person and also aurally record the address.
We found that the voice-recognition technology in the talking phone book worked quite well. We experienced a success rate very close to 100% when trying to locate entries using voice identifiers. Moreover, we were pleased to note that, once a given entry had been recorded, it was possible to add or modify any part of the information.
The Voice Note Pad
With this utility you can record aural messages in the Voice Mate. Each message is numbered and stored with the time and date it was recorded. When replaying messages, you can choose whether or not to hear this information. The Voice Mate provides a rich set of editing functions for individual messages; you can insert more information, remove some information, or overlay the remainder of the message with new information.
The Appointment Book
This utility lets you record a message about an event which you know will take place at a specific date and time. The Voice Mate can then be instructed to trigger a notification beep at the date and time of the event. If the event is likely to occur more than once--as in a birthday or weekly meeting--the Voice Mate can be set to trigger a reminder beep. For example, you can instruct the Voice Mate to trigger a notification beep at 10:00 a.m. on July 5 of the year 2000 to tell you that the first general session of the convention of the National Federation of the Blind is about to start. You can instruct the Voice Mate to trigger an alarm at 7:30 a.m. every day to remind you that you'd better be in your office. Or you can set up a reminder that will go off on April 1 of every year to tell you that "Today is April Fool's Day." Whether a notification beep or a reminder, the Voice Mate will trigger the alarm even if you have turned it completely off.
Another handy feature is the ability to associate aural key words with an event. You can enter a birthday, for example, and record a key word like "Mom's birthday." Then to locate Mom's birthday, you press a key and say "Mom's birthday." The Voice Mate finds the appropriate entry in the appointment book.
Last but not least, there is the ability to look at your appointment schedule for a specific date. This is handy if you want to avoid double-booking meetings.
The Talking Alarm Clock
The Voice Mate's talking alarm clock is fairly straightforward. This is where you set the current date and time. The alarm has its own independent volume control. You can set the clock to run using standard a.m.-p.m. notification or a twenty-four-hour mode (military time). The date can be entered in either European or American format.
The Talking Calculator
This is a calculator which can perform the four basic arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Up to twelve digits can be displayed. In addition to the four basic functions, the Voice Mate also has a percent feature, the ability to store and retrieve a single number from memory, and a European currency conversion function. You can set the calculator to display from 2 to 8 decimal places. When the display is read, numbers are pronounced in full words (e.g., 123 would be pronounced "one hundred and twenty-three").
The Voice Mate comes with a printed manual and a tutorial on audiocassette. The tutorial is enough to get you started, but its description of some of the calculator functions leaves a lot to the user's imagination. If you are familiar with the operation of the Parrot Plus, be advised that the Voice Mate is sufficiently different that you will feel the need to listen to the taped tutorial at least once. Large print and Braille manuals are said to be available, but we have not had an opportunity to examine them.
Areas for Improvement
In some of the utilities (e.g., the talking alarm clock and the phone book), there is no way to correct an error you have entered on the keypad. It is necessary to enter the data incorrectly first and then take steps to correct the information. It would be nice to have a "clear current entry" or a "backspace" function which works the same way for all of the utilities.
It is cumbersome to use the Voice Mate as a talking clock. You have to enter multiple commands to learn what time it is. Also, when you ask the Voice Mate to speak the time, you hear the current date and, if it is on, the time of the alarm. It would be nice to have a simple-to-activate function which would speak only the time.
The setting in the talking calculator which controls how many decimal positions are displayed is referred to as "digits after comma." This is confusing to someone who hasn't listened to the tutorial tape or read the manual. This should be corrected to say "digits after decimal point."
Finally, in the voice note pad, while you can insert new information into a message that you have already recorded, you cannot pause the recording of a message that you are composing for the first time. There should be a pause function in the recording mode similar to the pause function available when playing back messages in the note pad.
The Voice Mate is truly an aural organizer that a blind person can use. Its compact design, long battery life, and diverse functionality make it extremely useful for the person on the go who needs to do a lot of things out of the office, while at the same time keeping track of the many meetings and events which are an inevitable part of one's working life.
The Voice Mate is now available through the Materials Center of the National Federation of the Blind. It is priced at $300. Telephone (410) 659-9314. Calls to the Materials Center are accepted from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., eastern time.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer]
The Colonies, the Court, and the Kittens
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: The following story first appeared in Remember to Feed the Kittens, the sixteenth in our Kernel Book series of small paperbacks.
There are oddities in the lives of blind people which are hard to explain, but we try to explain them anyway. One of these oddities happened to me in Williamsburg, Virginia.
When I was a boy, our family had very few vacations, as these are sometimes understood today. "Vacation" had two meanings for us in those days, and maybe it still does. "Vacation" meant the time school was not in session, but it also meant taking a trip for the purpose of enjoying the company of family members in unfamiliar places and circumstances.
Our family had plenty of the not-going-to-school kind of vacations, but we were short on the other kind. We enjoyed being with each other just fine, but we almost never "went" on a vacation. Because this is the way I grew up, I have very few firmly established notions about what a vacation trip is supposed to offer. I am quite certain that vacation trips are supposed to be fun, but that is all.
Christmas is (for my family and me) the most important and joyous holiday of the year. I love the giving of presents and all of the planning that is a part of the preparation for the day. I also love the wonderful Christmas smells, the good food, and the togetherness. Christmas is important because it is a time for the expression of love for others and for the performance of small miracles. Bringing delight to the hearts of others is one of the fundamental purposes for this most joyous holiday.
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan served as President of the National Federation of the Blind for almost twenty years. He and his wife became a part of the Maurer family, sharing the Christmas holidays with all of the warmth and joy that they possess.
Dr. Jernigan loved Christmas and the Christmas season as much as the rest of us. However, he had died in October after a yearlong fight with cancer. I wondered how we could spend Christmas without him; I also wondered how Dr. Jernigan's wife Mary Ellen would face this first Christmas alone.
Although we would not want to change any of the Christmas traditions--a big Christmas dinner together, prayers, attendance at church, the exchanging of presents, and all that is a part of the holiday--I wondered if a change of setting for at least part of the Christmas season wouldn't be worthwhile.
Consequently we decided--the Maurers and Mrs. Jernigan--to take a vacation between Christmas and New Years. We planned a visit to Williamsburg, Virginia, a place noted as the provincial capital of Virginia prior to the American Revolution.
Because the adult Maurers, my wife Patricia and I, are both blind and because the children, David and Dianna, are not old enough for driver's licenses, Mrs. Jernigan would drive. Two days after Christmas we packed the essentials for the trip--hand-held computer games designed for entertaining children riding in a car, a portable CD player with headphones for private music listening, several different kinds of Christmas candy, and (almost as an afterthought) a few clothes.
The Jernigan house is less than a block from our front door, and, as we carried our bags toward the departure point, we met two of Dr. Jernigan's kittens coming through the front gate into our yard. Some years ago Dr. Jernigan adopted a family of stray kittens who had shown up in his yard. After that he always made a home for others who appeared from time to time.
I thought of him then, and seeing his kittens reminded me how he had always taught us to share whatever we had with others. I remembered what he had done for me and my family and for many other blind people who had had no place to be until he showed us how to hope and believe.
Blinking back the tears, I stopped for a moment to ask the kittens if they had had their breakfast, but they seemed in a hurry. When we reached the Jernigan house, we spoke to Mrs. Jernigan, wondering if the kittens would be O.K. She told us she had made provision for them to be fed while we were away.
There had been an ice storm, and a number of trees had fallen. These trees blocked the roadway and slowed our progress. Furthermore, the reports on the radio told us that Williamsburg and the surrounding area were without electricity. Fortunately, when we arrived, our hotel had power. We would not have to use candles, and there would be hot water, operating elevators, and coffee.
Mrs. Jernigan and I stepped to the hotel check-in desk to fill out our room registration papers. Although I was standing before the desk, the clerk asked Mrs. Jernigan what kind of room I needed. Then she asked Mrs. Jernigan if I had any special requirements.
I myself responded to each question. However, the desk clerk seemed almost unaware of me. She asked Mrs. Jernigan if she would sign the registration for me. Then she questioned Mrs. Jernigan about how I would pay my bill. Again I responded myself.
The peculiar nature of the conversation created some awkwardness. There are those who find blindness so threatening that they want to ignore it. Others believe that the blind are incapable of the most rudimentary activities, and they automatically assume that any sighted person in the company of a blind person is in charge.
We tried gently to persuade the desk clerk to understand that I myself am capable and responsible for my own family. I answered the questions put to Mrs. Jernigan as if they had been addressed to me. However, I was completely unprepared for the last of the questions. The desk clerk handed Mrs. Jernigan a parking pass to be placed on the dashboard of her car. Then she asked Mrs. Jernigan if I had also driven to the hotel and if I would like a parking pass for my car.
I spent some time wondering how to account for this question. The desk clerk knew quite clearly that I was blind, yet she refused to speak to me. Nevertheless, she offered Mrs. Jernigan a parking pass for the car she thought I might have driven to the hotel. It reminded me that, although we have made much progress, we still have a way to go in helping blind people achieve opportunity in America.
During our visit to Colonial Williamsburg we participated in a reenactment of courtroom proceedings which had occurred more than 200 years earlier. As we stepped into the courtroom, the bailiff said to us that jurors must be selected for the trial. The members of the jury were required to be adult, white, Protestant, able-bodied males. All others were prohibited from serving.
As I sat in the body of the court, I reflected that, although I am a lawyer, I could not have served on the colonial jury of those days. The bailiff did not tell us whether my blindness would have prohibited me from representing clients in the court.
One of the cases that afternoon was brought against a man who had failed to go to church. The laws of Virginia in the 1770's required citizens of the state to attend the officially recognized Protestant church service at least one Sunday each month. The defendant in the case said he was a member of the Catholic faith and that his religion prohibited him from participation in Protestant worship.
During the course of the trial it was argued that his attendance at the Protestant service would be a mortal sin, which would subject him to eternal damnation. As I listened to the presentation of each of the parties involved, I thought about how I would defend this Catholic if I had been his lawyer, and I wondered whether I would have been permitted to plead the case.
The King's representative in court pointed out to the jurors that church service was not merely a religious matter but a secular one as well. Edicts from the Crown, from the House of Burgesses, or from the local city fathers would be read at church. Consequently, it was the civic duty of every citizen to be in attendance.
Although the position of the parties seemed irreconcilable, I could imagine myself attempting to touch the hearts of the jurors. The very arguments of the King's counsel, it seemed to me, suggested that if the civic duty could be met, there would be no need for the Catholic to participate in the Protestant worship service.
The argument that the civic duty was important implied that the law had been established to serve the government rather than God. If God were being served in some other way, this should satisfy the court.
As we left Williamsburg on our way back to Baltimore, I thought about how far we as blind people have come and how far we must still travel to become self-sufficient. I am a practicing lawyer today, and I have been summoned for jury service. In Colonial Williamsburg I might have been a minstrel, a storyteller, or a beggar; but I would probably not have had the opportunity for other employment.
Nevertheless, despite my learning and ability, sometimes I find that the desk clerk refuses to speak to me because I am blind. We must help people come to be at ease with those of us who are blind. In the National Federation of the Blind we are making an effort to bring this change into being. We appreciate our friends, and we hope to find more of them. We are willing to work and to learn, and sometimes we will take a vacation. We will do it for ourselves and our friends, but as we do it, we will remember to feed the kittens too.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Tom Bickford]
How Much High-Tech Does a Blind Person
Need for Independent Travel?
by Tom Bickford
From the Editor: Tom Bickford is the author of Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane, the NFB's little book of instruction on effective use of the long cane. He is also a long-time Federationist. We all have to think carefully about the issues surrounding audible and vibrating traffic signals. Recently Tom has been thinking about the matter. Here are some of his thoughts:
The best short description I ever heard for a cane used as a travel aid by a blind person was "a bumper and a probe." I am sorry that I have forgotten who said it. Please note: the cane is very low-tech and still very useful. How about a guide dog? A complicated, interdependent relationship exists between master and dog, but there are still no electronics. How about the human brain alone? It is our basic travel tool and is often considered the most complicated work of nature--but still no electronics.
Along with other blind travelers, I recently participated in workshops and discussions with sighted traffic planners, researchers, and O & M teachers. The part that seemed strange to me was that, after the studies were presented and the videos shown, no one talked about how to teach blind travelers to walk straight or work out requirements to cross a complicated intersection. We, the blind, need much more to be taught than to be studied.
Once, when I brought up a point in a discussion, the only solution offered to me was two more electronic devices. Another time, when I described the technique of timing the sequence of lights in order to determine when my light was green, the first response from the travel teachers was, "I wouldn't do that," and the second response was a long list of why timing signals would not work. When I am a student, I do not want to work with a teacher who tells me that I don't have the ability to count seconds in order to cross a particular intersection successfully. I want a teacher who will help me develop and use my abilities in order to make things possible. During one meeting I attended and after another, guess what was on display: audible, vibro-tactile, and talking signs for street-crossing aids.
Please indulge me while I get one of my pet peeves out of the way. Why does the A in APS (accessible pedestrian signal) have to stand for accessible? Does that mean that an intersection without one of these devices is inaccessible? If the inventor had called them alternative, blind people might not have offered so much opposition.
It may surprise some people to hear me say that I am not totally opposed to audible or vibro-tactile traffic signals. I believe that at some intersections there is no other reliable way to know when a light changes. I have used other intersections at which the audible signal was totally superfluous. High-tech equipment is expensive to install and complicated to maintain. If traffic engineers begin installing equipment where it is not necessary or, worse yet, not used, blind people will come to be resented and considered unworthy, and we will lose opportunities to receive the access we really need.
I interrupt myself to say that I know how to play word games. You can play "What If" with me until the cows come home, and I can do the same with you. First, let us learn to live in the world in which we find ourselves. There is just no substitute for thoroughly learning and carefully using the basic techniques of travel with the cane or dog. Just because high-tech has not caught up with all the places I need to go, I refuse to wait at home until it arrives. I was recently telling a bus driver that it might be nice when all the busses were equipped with announcing systems, but in the meantime I had to go to work every day. Neither of us thought to mention that at that very moment I was using the low-tech method of asking the driver if my stop was coming up.
Nowhere do these devices give us more than information. It is still our own responsibility to use that information wisely. I once read an account of a blind man who heard his electronic device tell him that the light was green, so he started right across the street. I do not consider that a wise use of information. We have all had the experience of being kept on the curb during our green light by a line of cars turning the corner in front of us. We still have to use our own brains and exercise judgment.
To my knowledge there are still no standards for identifying either appropriate locations for audible signals or the best sounds to be used and for determining the location of the signal emitters. There is already a controversy over which intersections are appropriate. Sounds range from music to bird calls to mechanical noises to human voices. The location of the sound emitters and demand buttons when they are in use is also open for discussion. As for sounds, I suggest the principle the quieter, the better. I am glad to note that the current crop of sound generators is on the quiet side and can alter their volume according to ambient noise. As for the location of sound emitters and demand buttons, I suggest that they be right at the curb, at the line for the crosswalk and away from the corner. Twenty feet back from the crosswalk and behind a bush are not good places--if the button is going to be at the intersection, put it right where I can use it.
As for locator devices, I might have been glad to have them at two locations during some of our recent national NFB conventions. I refer to locating the right elevator bank and the right rest room. Let us be frank with ourselves. They may be low tech, but we put marshals at meeting room doors for purposes of identification. Can you think of anything that was first scorned, later was considered a convenience, and eventually became a necessity? What about the telephone?
We face one real danger as these devices are installed around the country and the world. The tendency will be to require blind people to use only the places these devices have been installed and prohibit us from using the places they have not. Every time that happens, my mobility is restricted, not enhanced. If it hasn't happened to you yet, it will. You may not recognize the restriction at first because it will come in the form of a kindness. When riding the Washington, D.C., Metro, I have been guided to the handicapped fare gate when it was totally irrelevant.
I want equal opportunity, but I know that the other side of that coin is equal responsibility. It is hard to get out there and pull my own share of the weight, but that is what I must do if I want my equal place in the world. Please forgive me for mixing two wonderfully expressive phrases in the coming sentence. The most important thing that the Federation has taught me is to get up on my hind legs and be a mensch.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Steve Benson]
Fran Allison and Me
by Stephen O. Benson
From the Editor: Steve Benson serves as President of the NFB of Illinois and as a Member of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors. The following recollection of a childhood meeting with television personality Fran Allison (creator of puppet boy Kukla and dragon Ollie) reminds us how far we have come and, in the light of recent advertisements making fun of blind people, how far we still have to go on our journey to freedom. Here is what he says:
My mother's formal education extended through part of seventh grade, despite which she became a very clever artist who could create the most wonderful pieces out of buttons, feathers, copper wire, colored tissue paper, and more. She also did still lifes and landscapes in several media. Her silver point and Japanese brush paintings were excellent. I watched her bring animals to life on canvas with oils, but her favorite medium was watercolor. Her paintings and other work still grace homes from coast to coast and border to border.
When I was a year and a half old, she and I moved from a small western Illinois town to Chicago. Shortly after that doctors determined that retinitis pigmentosa would severely limit my vision and would result in at least legal blindness. I have no doubt that she was sorry to learn that my eye condition would result in blindness; that is the usual reaction to such news. But my mother was not destroyed by the fact that her only child would never have normal vision. Instead she proceeded to plot a course that would expose her young son to a rich variety of life-preparing experiences.
Concerned that I might be reluctant to socialize, my mother steered me to involvement in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, to Saturday Red Cross swimming classes, and to roles in school plays even when I was in first grade.
In the late forties she took puppetry classes at Hull House under the direction of a nationally known puppeteer, Hans Schmitt. She learned to make hand puppets and costumes; build stages, sets, and props; and design lighting. She taught me to do the same, but I was more interested in the performance end of puppetry. I became a part-time professional puppeteer, performing for seventeen years.
My interest in puppetry began to blossom in the late forties and early fifties when my mother took me to see "Kukla, Fran, and Ollie," one of the classic children's programs on early television. I was captivated by the puppet characters and charmed by Fran Allison. My mother and I were frequent members of the live audience, and Fran became friendly with us.
By 1953 I was immersed in Braille at Alexander Graham Bell School, one of Chicago's model schools. Celebrities and political dignitaries frequently visited our classroom. During such visits the Braille-resource-room students were required to stand at the right side of our desks and greet the principal, who ordinarily ushered guests around the school.
One day a small group entered our classroom, and the prescribed ritual ensued. One of the visitors stepped away from the rest, walked up to me, put her arms around me, and greeted me warmly. It was Fran Allison. We were equally happy and surprised to see each other. She spent a few extra minutes talking with each student in the room. She was genuinely warm and gracious, and all of my classmates enjoyed meeting a real television personality.
Our resource-room teacher (I'll call her Mrs. Q) had a different reaction. After the visitors had moved on to another classroom, Mrs. Q approached my desk and said, "What right do you have to know somebody like Miss Allison?" I was shocked. But I understood what she meant, for, you see, Mrs. Q was rich. She and her husband owned a string of race horses, and she drove to school in a luxury car. I was a poor blind kid from a single-parent home. Mrs. Q's message was clear: poor blind kids should stay in their place.
Mrs. Q's behavior was unacceptable. It could have been devastating to me, except that my classmates and I viewed her with healthy measures of disdain and ridicule. This was not her only display of contempt for blind kids. I don't believe any of us told our parents of incidents such as this one; it just wasn't done in those days. But in a strange way Mrs. Q's behavior helped to prepare my classmates and me for the condescension we would encounter as adults from many agencies for the blind and from some members of the public.
During the last half century, through its Kernel Books and other publications, the National Federation of the Blind has had measurable, positive influence on public attitudes toward blindness and blind people. The general public has come to be much more accepting of the idea that blind people can compete equally, and in recent years more and more agency staff members have begun helping us acquire the skills we need. Still, much work remains to be done. Blind people and right-thinking sighted people must get on with the tasks of improving education and training for blind people and of continuing to educate the public about the competence and normality of the blind.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Michael Baillif]
A Roof with a View
by Michael Baillif
From the Editor: The following story appeared in Remember to Feed the Kittens, the sixteenth in our paperback series called the Kernel Books. It begins with President Maurer's introduction:
Michael Baillif is a past president of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind. In his college years he received help through our scholarship program. Today he is a successful lawyer specializing in corporate taxes. He is employed by a major New York City law firm--which, by the way, sought out Michael's services because of his growing professional reputation in his specialty.
In his story, "A Roof With A View," Michael, who is still a young man, looks back to a time when he was an even younger man--fifteen to be exact. Fifteen and in love. At one level it is a delightful, lighthearted story. At another it expresses the poignant yearning of a young man who is blind for physical independence and spiritual self-sufficiency. Here is what he has to say:
I was fifteen years old when I fell in love for the first time. The condition of being fifteen years old and in love presents a variety of imperatives that cannot be ignored. Deep, heartfelt sighs, long solitary walks, and interminable conversations with friends all about "her" are among the rituals that must be observed.
I had become blind the year before and had not yet received meaningful training in the alternative skills needed to succeed as a blind person. Indeed I had never even met another blind person to whom I could look as a role model. Nevertheless, I was functioning reasonably well as a teenager in love.
One balmy summer evening I took it into my head that I should write some poetry and that the only place suitable for such a solemn and spiritual undertaking was on the roof of my house. This determination presented a challenge that was both frightening and exhilarating. The problem was straightforward: how to get onto the roof in the first instance and then, once there, how to get down again without suffering bodily harm.
Other issues presented themselves as well. I could not ask for help or advice in reaching my goal. In addition, my ascent to the roof had to be done in secret, thus avoiding the need for bothersome explanations. That's how it is when you're fifteen years old and in love.
As a result the simple expedient of dragging a ladder up to one end of the house and leaning it against the roof was out of the question. Instead more creativity was required. After much thought and exploration, I hit on the solution.
A trellis reaching to within a few feet of the roof ran along one corner of the house. I formulated a scheme whereby I would sneak a chair out of the kitchen and position it behind the trellis. I could stand on the chair and then jump up to catch the top of the trellis, on which there was a six-inch platform. From that precarious perch I could turn and pull myself up onto the roof.
I was satisfied that this approach allowed reasonable odds of achieving the rooftop. Nevertheless, still more logistical issues needed to be considered. First, the roof was a shingled A-frame roof that rose sharply from the eaves to the apex. The footing was uncertain, and there were a number of obstacles such as vents, antennae wires, and a chimney, all presenting hazards to the unwary.
Moreover, there was the question of how to get back down in some way other than a headlong crash. The trellis was only a few feet long; and, if I veered only slightly in either the ascent or descent from the pinnacle of the roof, I could miss it altogether and end up stranded.
I decided that these problems could best be solved through the use of a telescoping cane. It could be carried in my backpack as I climbed up the trellis and then taken out for use once I reached the roof. The cane would help me locate obstacles on the roof; and, when it came time for my return to terra firma, I could swing the cane over the edge of the roof until it located the trellis.
Generally I incorporated the cane into my day-to-day life as little as possible because it was a symbol of blindness with which I was not yet comfortable. Nevertheless, in this case I had a goal, and the cane was the tool that would allow me to achieve it.
After formulating my plans and drawing inspiration from one last thought of my beloved, I put the scheme into action. I sneaked the chair out of the kitchen without detection, and, but for a few perilous moments when I nearly tumbled helter-skelter over the opposite end of the trellis, I attained the roof.
Then, according to plan, I pulled out my cane and climbed cautiously to the roof's apex. There, taking care not to roll backwards down the other side of the roof, I found a comfortable and reasonably secure place from which to enjoy the evening and compose my poetry.
From the height of the rooftop and from my perspective as a fifteen-year-old, I surveyed the world and liked what I saw. I was in love; and, feeling the urge to climb the roof and write poetry, I had done so despite the fear and uncertainty that had been ever-present throughout the adventure.
Later I would need the guidance and support of my friends in the National Federation of the Blind to develop and mold this inherent desire for physical independence and spiritual self-sufficiency that yearned to come forth. But climbing the roof represented the first tentative steps along the path that would bring me into contact with these friends who I did not even know existed but whom I so desperately needed.
I wrote poetry late into that summer evening and would have labored longer except that the batteries in the tape recorder into which I was dictating my verses began to run low. Had I known then how to use a slate and stylus to write Braille, I might have stayed on the rooftop until sunrise.
After dictating some final lines into the dying tape recorder, I pulled out my cane and started the painstaking descent down the roof toward the trellis. Upon reaching the edge of the roof, I swung my cane over the side and held my breath; it touched nothing but air. I moved a few feet in one direction along the edge of the roof--still nothing! I then went back in the other direction and, to my vast relief, located the trellis with my cane. From there I completed my return to earth without incident.
At the time I was convinced that I carried off my entire adventure without my parents' notice. Although this may have been the case, as I now better understand the extent of my parents' wisdom, I suspect that they knew all along but simply kept their own counsel.
The last I heard, the object of my romantic attentions was somewhere in Australia, married to a fellow named "Mr. Wright." To this day, however, I can feel the touch of the warm evening breeze and hear the far-off sound of crickets and feel again the surge of triumph and satisfaction that I experienced that long ago summer night when I sat atop a roof composing poetry just like any other fifteen-year-old in love.
Did you know that you can make a gift to the National Federation of the Blind and save taxes three ways? Well, you can! With a gift of appreciated stocks, bonds, or mutual funds. For more information, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
Why Customer Service?
Reasons, Plans, and What I Hope to Accomplish
by Kimberly Mitchell
From the Editor: The Louisiana Center for the Blind has recently established a customer-service training program similar to the one that has been so effective at the Colorado Center for the Blind. The first student enrolled in the program is Kim Mitchell. She recently wrote about herself and her growing expectations for herself as a result of the training she is receiving. Kim demonstrates again what good training and high expectations can do for people. We thought her words might encourage other people. This is what she says:
I have many reasons for wanting to be in the customer service program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. First, I love to work with and be around other people. Second, I want to better myself. My current plans are to find a customer-service job in the Shreveport area for about two years and then relocate to Detroit, Michigan. I hope to find a job that I love and that I am really good at. Beyond these things, I have a one-year-old little girl, and I don't plan to live with my mother for the rest of my life. I am in this program to gain independence, self-confidence, and freedom. Although I have successfully completed my O & M training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, my road to freedom and independence is not yet finished. I will be fully independent when I am in my own home, making my own money, and paying my own bills.
One of the hardest things for me right now is missing my little girl. For the last year I have been home with her every day. Now the closest I can get to her is a phone call. Hearing her cry and being unable to do anything about it hurts so much! However, I hang on to the idea that, once I complete my training, life will be much better for both of us.
While I am in the program, I will also learn some other important things that I really need to know. These include computer skills, dealing with different types of people, conducting myself in a successful interview, and working confidently with others in a business setting. I believe that the relationship between coworkers is just as important as job performance.
I have often wondered what it would be like to be one of the people assisting me on the phone. Now I will find out. I will also learn the patience, accuracy, and dedication needed to fulfill the duties required in this line of work.
I know I still have a long way to go on my life's journey, but this step is the first I will take. My outlook on the entire situation is, "A little preparation now will lead to a lot of success." At my weakest moments, when I am second-guessing my decision, if I just keep that thought in mind, I believe I will be able to complete my training successfully.
When I learned that I would be the first and for a while the only student in this program, I started wondering if coming would still be a good idea. As I sat and thought about it, I decided that being the only student had its advantages. Not only would I be the first student and graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind Career Center, but I would also have all the attention of the staff, which is a very good thing. After all, being a pioneer can be exciting. We live in a country full of job opportunities, and I am fully prepared, ready, and willing to do whatever it takes to snatch one of them for myself.
Another reason why I am in the customer service program is that I do not intend to receive Social Security for the rest of my life. I want my daughter and me to have the best we can in life, and Social Security does not offer that. It might satisfy some people, but I say, "Why settle for less when you can have more?" When I consider how little money Social Security really provides, I know I want more for myself. When I think about the skills and abilities I am developing and about how much money there is out there in the business world just waiting to be made, I can't help wanting to be successful.
Many people have asked why I chose customer service. My response would have to be that I love working with and being around other people. This makes customer service the right line of work for me.
I strongly encourage anyone interested in customer service to consider a program like the one at the Louisiana Center for the Blind Career Center. You will find that it will be time well spent, and you will know that you are doing your part to become a member of America's working class. I know that for a blind person some things do not come easily. However, my view is that my struggles make my accomplishments just that much more special. One of the greatest feelings for me is going to be when I successfully hold down a job and receive my first paycheck. That is when I am going to be able to stand proudly and say I am free, independent, and self-confident.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Doris Willoughby]
New United States Citizens
by Doris M. Willoughby
From the Editor: Doris Willoughby is a long-time Federationist and a distinguished teacher and author in the blindness field. During the month when we celebrate the birthdays of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it is fitting for us all to pause for a moment to reflect on the blessings of U.S. citizenship. Here is Doris's brief report:
The National Federation of the Blind has helped two blind people to become citizens of the United States. Abraham Munguia-Cordova came from Mexico to Arizona with his parents when he was about ten years old. His parents did not become citizens, and Abe did not seriously consider going through naturalization himself.
When he came to the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) for independence training, Abe's teachers mentioned the benefits of becoming a citizen. Soon after graduating from the Center, he decided to go ahead. The NFB of Denver, together with the CCB, stood behind him in his effort.
The procedure for naturalization includes filling out lengthy forms, being fingerprinted, etc. It also includes a personal interview with an official to assess knowledge of U.S. history and government and facility in the English language.
Doris Willoughby, academic skills teacher and learning specialist, offered to help as a volunteer. We obtained the list of 100 questions--the examiner would ask any ten of them, and the candidate would have to answer at least eight correctly. Whenever someone who was already a citizen looked at the list, the comment was the same: "Oh, dear, I should know this, but that list is hard!"
Here are a few of the questions:
1. How many changes or amendments are there to the Constitution? [twenty-six]
2. For how long do we elect each senator? [six years]
3. Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence? [Thomas Jefferson]
4. What is the introduction to the Constitution called? [The Preamble]
5. What do the stripes on the flag mean? [They represent the original thirteen states.]
Abe did indeed pass the test (given orally by the official examiner). But unfortunately the date for the swearing-in ceremony was at a most inconvenient time--the beginning of a holiday weekend. Many of his supporters wanted to attend but could not because of travel and other obligations. Relatives were in Arizona and unable to come.
Ruth Stewart, a loyal NFB member, came through. She was there to admire Abe's accomplishment, despite complicated transportation arrangements and personal inconvenience. She reports that the ceremony was most uplifting and impressive.
Kostas Manthos from Greece is also a new citizen. He too is from Arizona and a recent graduate of the CCB. Most of his instruction, as well as the examination and ceremony, took place in Arizona with family and friends; but he tells us that the support and encouragement in Colorado also helped him a great deal.
The NFB of Arizona presented him with a U.S. flag.
The entire Federation family joins in extending hearty congratulations and welcome to these new citizens.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Chong]
NEWSLINE Still Growing
by Peggy Chong
From the Editor: Peggy Chong is working full-time with the NEWSLINE® program at the National Center. Here is her progress report:
Of all the many projects of the National Federation of the Blind, NEWSLINE® for the Blind is one of the fastest growing. We are pleased to welcome three new NEWSLINE sites to the state of Arizona. They are located in the cities of Phoenix, Prescott, and Tucson and are sponsored by the Arizona Department of Library, Archives, and Public Records. Blind people in these communities were able to begin reading several national newspapers by the end of January, 2000. Plans are evolving to have two local papers available soon as well to readers in Arizona.
An additional site in Connecticut has been established in Stamford, funded in part by generous contributions from the newspapers that serve the state. New sites in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield, Missouri, will also soon be online.
This brings the number of local service centers now serving blind readers to sixty-nine, about to become seventy-two. Through these centers blind people in hundreds of communities now have more flexibility and options when reading the newspaper.
Many subscribers call to tell us how much they use and rely on NEWSLINE. A sports reporter from Minnesota tells me that having NEWSLINE saves him time on the job. He no longer needs to employ a reader to sift through the newspaper to find tidbits of information about baseball. He can do it from home early each morning or even from his hotel room while on the road. NEWSLINE has kept him better informed and prepared for his job.
Many seniors who have lost the ability to read the newspaper are overjoyed to be able to read it again each day. Job seekers are also glad that they can finally use newspapers to gather important information and background to help them make a favorable impression during an interview and land the job.
More and more states are finding ways to bring NEWSLINE to their home communities, providing immediate access to today's news today. The map in the print edition shows the thirty-two states, the District of Columbia, and Toronto, Canada, that now have access to at least one NEWSLINE Service Center. But many communities are still without access to daily newspapers that blind people can read for themselves.
This easy-to-use service provides at least three national newspapers to each local service center. In many cases additional papers, including local ones, are added to the site. Through the local access channel smaller items of interest are added to serve the local community better. Items such as voting information, bus schedule changes, newsletters for seniors, and Library-for-the-Blind publications are just a small sample of the items placed on local channels on the NEWSLINE system.
Each day's edition of the papers provided is made available through NEWSLINE. Each daily paper remains on the system the day it is published and the following day. The Sunday edition, if one is published, will remain on the system for the entire week.
NEWSLINE delivers the entire text of the paper. Because we use electronic files received directly from the newspapers themselves, using text-to-speech software, we can translate each paper quickly and make it available to blind and print-impaired subscribers in a timely fashion. You will not find month-old newspapers on this system.
The NEWSLINE ID number and security code you use in your local area will also work when you visit any of the other NEWSLINE service areas. To learn the local telephone number for any NEWSLINE site, read "NEWSLINE Network News," available on your Local Service Center. If you do not have an ID number and would like to sign up for NEWSLINE, contact your local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind or the national office in Baltimore, Maryland.
If you would like more information on how to establish a NEWSLINE site in your area, call our national office at (410) 659-9314. We will be glad to give you the information you need to help provide national newspapers to the blind and print-impaired of your community.
[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: The map pictured here depicts the fifty United States, as well as Toronto, Canada. States having more than one local service center are black, those with one local service center only have a striped fill, and those still waiting for their first NEWSLINE site are white. The fourteen black states are AZ, CA, CT, IL, IA, MD, MI, MO, NJ, OH, OK, TN, TX, and WI. The eighteen states and one Canadian province with one NEWSLINE site are CO, DE, DC, HI, ID, KY, LA, MA, MN, MS, NE, NY, NC, SC, Toronto, UT, VA, WA, and WV. The nineteen states still waiting for NEWSLINE are AL, AK, AR, FL, GA, IN, KS, ME, MT, NV, NH, NM, ND, OR, PA, RI, SD, VT, and WY.] [CAPTION: NEWSLINE for the Blind Service Areas]
From the Editor: This month's recipes were submitted by members of the Deaf-Blind Division.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Kimberly Johnson]
by Kimberly Johnson
Kimberly Johnson is an instructor at the Colorado Center for the Blind and serves as Treasurer of the Deaf-Blind Division. Several Deaf-Blind Division Board members are graduates of the CCB and now live in Denver. Kimberly has taught and worked with a number of members of the division.
3/4 cup butter
3 cups graham cracker crumbs
14 ounces flaked coconut
12 ounces butterscotch chips
12 ounces chocolate chips
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
Method: Melt butter in 9-by-13 baking pan. Layer ingredients in pan in the order listed. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. Cut into bars while still warm.
by Kimberly Johnson
Here is a yummy shortbread recipe that can be cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters for any holiday.
2 sticks butter
2-1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
Method: Mix all ingredients using an electric mixer or hands. Roll out dough using a rolling pin to a thickness of 1/4-inch. Cut into triangles or other shapes with a knife, or use cookie cutters, rolling scraps together to use again. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for thirty to forty minutes. If you have transferred the rolled dough to the sheet for baking in one large piece, now cut it into shapes while it is still hot. Let cool and remove from pan. If you have individual cookies, remove them to a rack to cool completely.
by Kimberly Johnson
This is a great cake that I learned about from a student when I taught home management at the Colorado Center for the Blind.
1 yellow cake mix with pudding
1 small package of instant vanilla pudding
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup rum
1/2 cup pecan pieces
Method: Blend all ingredients except pecans, and beat well. Grease bundt cake pan. Sprinkle pecans into the bottom of cake pan. Pour batter over pecans and bake at 350 degrees for fifty minutes. Leave cake in pan to cool.
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup rum
Method: Cook butter, sugar, and water for a short time to blend. Remove from heat. Pierce cake surface with fork while it is still in the pan. Add rum to cooled glaze and pour over surface of cake while still in the pan. Let sit for a while before removing from the pan. Enjoy!
Russian Tea Cakes
by Kimberly Johnson
2 sticks butter
1 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Method: Mix butter and sugar, then beat in the rest of the ingredients. Chill dough. Roll into balls and bake at 325 degrees for fifteen to twenty minutes. Roll cookies in additional powdered sugar while still warm.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Maurice Mines]
by Maurice Mines
Maurice Mines is First Vice President of the Deaf-Blind Division.
4 large Granny Smith apples
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, cut or broken into small pieces
fresh or frozen pastry for a double-crust pie
Method: Peel, core, and slice apples. Mix with remaining filling ingredients except butter in a mixing bowl. Roll bottom crust and place in pie plate. Arrange filling in bottom crust of pie shell. Top filling with the pieces of butter, then place rolled top crust over filling and tuck edges under bottom crust. Seal with fingers or the tines of a fork. Slash top crust with a sharp knife. Place pie on cookie sheet in 350-degree oven. Bake for twenty-five minutes or until apples are tender when you insert a knife into the pie through a vent. Cool and serve.
Reminder to Those Submitting Monitor Miniatures:
It's always a good idea to proofread Monitor Miniature submissions carefully. Several times recently we have been asked to run corrections because the contact information provided to us included typographical errors.
The December, 1999, issue included our periodic report of how much further the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) has declined in recent years. The map demonstrating how few states still have either one or more than one NAC-accredited agency contains an error. Maryland was shown as a NAC-free environment; unfortunately, the Maryland School for the Blind is still NAC-accredited. Therefore, Maryland should have been depicted as shaded.
On the other hand, the recorded, Braille, and e-mail editions failed to list California among the states having rid themselves entirely of NAC. We apologize, particularly to California, for the errors.
At its October 23, 1999, state convention, the NFB of Maine elected new officers. They are Connie Leblond, President; Michael Jucubouis, First Vice President; John Batron, Second Vice President; Robbie McIninch, Secretary; Robert Leblond, Treasurer; and Diana Knox and Rob Whitney, Board Members.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Voyager CCTV Model VR2A, in excellent condition, asking $1,000 plus shipping or best offer. Contact Barry DeGardner, (612) 786-1372, e-mail: <[email protected]>.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Moinuddin Chowdhury of the Bangladesh Society for Disabled writes to request that items be donated to this nonprofit organization, which is registered by the Social Services Department and Affairs Bureau under the Prime Minister's Office, Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.
Donations are needed of Braille books, magazines, papers, and other materials in good condition in English; Perkins Braillers, slates and styluses; cassette recorders; Braille and talking watches; talking calculators; white canes; and Braille paper. The receipt of your gift will be acknowledged. Send items marked "Non-commercial, Free Matter for the Blind" to Bangladesh Society for Disabled, 25, Central Road, Dhanmondi, Dhaka-1205; phone: 506059, 864427, fax: 88-02-865189.
Ed and Toni Eames recently sent us a tribute to Stanley Doran:
Stan Doran made a difference. Born in 1921 and raised on a farm in Ohio, Stan grew up with a love of and respect for animals. His dream of joining the Army Air Corps during World War II was thwarted by his limited vision. But in honor of that dream, when he established a guide dog school in Columbus, Ohio, in 1947, he called it Pilot Dogs. Recognizing the advantage of working in a city, Stan located his facility in the heart of Columbus. Pilot is the only guide dog school in which students can walk out of the training center and be exposed immediately to sidewalks, pedestrians, and traffic.
During his stewardship Stan developed many innovative programs. When a breeder donated a litter of collie puppies, he placed them in the homes of blind youngsters. After a year of puppy raising and socialization, the dogs were returned to Pilot for professional guide dog training. Subsequently the youngsters were trained with the dogs they had raised.
Realizing that blind people need to use escalators in public areas, Stan initiated a safe method of escalator training. His concept has been adopted by the other guide dog schools in the United States.
After leaving Pilot Dogs, Stan initiated the first radio reading service in Ohio. Blind Columbus residents obtained access to newspapers, magazines, and special programs devoted to blindness issues.
Having firmly established the Central Ohio Radio Reading Service, Stan moved on to his next major venture. Although the Newsreel, a cassette magazine, was started in 1957 to provide a vehicle for Stan to stay in touch with Pilot Dog graduates, it evolved into a national and international mechanism for blind people to share ideas and experiences with each other. Stan shepherded this organization from a Pilot Dog alumni group to its current status as an international, membership-driven, consumer support group. Newly blind individuals can learn from those who have been living with blindness for years and have developed a whole range of coping mechanisms. This monthly tape newsletter with three hours of listening per issue covers a wide range of topics including cooking, recipes, new technology, parenting skills, adaptive techniques, and of course guide dog issues. Since contributions are submitted on cassette by subscriber members, readers get to know the voices of their fellow Newsreelers.
Although Stan retired from his Newsreel position a couple of years before his death, he remained an active member of the board and still spent many hours in the Newsreel office. He received recognition from numerous local, state, and national organizations: the J. C. Penney Golden Rule Award, Dialogue Magazine Founders Award, Columbus Area Leadership Award, and the American Institute for Public Service's Jefferson Award. In 1957 the state of Kentucky named him a Kentucky Colonel. In 1992 he was inducted into the National Hall of Fame for Persons with Disabilities.
Research Assistance Needed:
We have been asked to carry the following request:
I am a Ph.D. student with a visual impairment. For my dissertation I want to interview adults with visual impairments concerning their requests, successful or not, for any kind of print-access accommodation made over the past few years. This includes requests for Braille, large print, audio, or digital formatting; readers; or barrier removal for access to printed material. These requests can have been made to employers, schools, banks, stores, restaurants, libraries, utility or phone companies, or any government agency. I especially want to learn about additional efforts made if a request was not fulfilled, such as additional discussions or negotiation or an appeal to another source.
To tell your stories, contact me by phone, e-mail, or U.S. mail. Give a phone number and the best time to reach you. I will call you back for the interview. Only U.S. residents over eighteen, please. You may end the interview at any time or decline to answer any questions you do not want to answer. Your name will not be published. Please contact John Frank, Rehabilitation Counseling Department, Syracuse University, 259 Huntington Hall, Syracuse, New York 13244-2340, (315) 476-1142, e-mail: <[email protected]>.
Attention Those Interested in Issues of Religious Faith:
The National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith, an NFB division, is updating its membership list. If you are a current member or if you wish to become a member, please send your name, address, phone number, religious faith or denomination, and preferred reading format to Maureen Pranghofer, 4910 Dawnview Terrace, Golden Valley, Minnesota 55422, or e-mail <[email protected]>.
The Southwest Georgia Chapter of the NFB of Georgia elected new officers. They are Max Parker, President; Sandra Ausburn, Vice President; Sheila Gear, Secretary; Blanche Griffin, Treasurer; and Dorothy Goodley and Agnes Wise, Board Members.
E-mail by Telephone:
We are reprinting the following announcement since part of a phone number was incorrect in the original notice:
Send and receive e-mail by telephone with Mail-Call. This service provides a simple way for anyone to send and receive e-mail messages without using a computer. All you need is an e-mail address and access to a telephone. If you don't have an e-mail address, Mail-Call will provide one for you free. It gives access to the system all day, every day.
Mail-Call delivers a user's e-mail in an easy-to-understand computer voice with user control of voice and rate of speech. You can reply to any message just by speaking your reply message into the phone. You can also send your message to a fax machine. A free demonstration of Mail-Call service is available by calling (888) 462-4348. When the system answers and asks for an account number, just press the pound key on your telephone to hear the system demo.
Mail-Call service is available anywhere in the United States for $.30 a minute. Mail-Call does not require a contract or monthly minimums. You pay only for the actual minutes you use. Service is billed monthly to the user's credit card. To set up a user account, call (800) 299-4722 or visit the Web site: <www.mail-call.com>.
Seeking Coworkers and Friends:
President Maurer writes the following:
Edgar Sammons, who worked in a shop in Asheville, North Carolina, during World War II, would like to find co-workers who were there when he was. He would also like to have pen pals who could write in Braille or communicate on a standard two-track cassette tape. I have never met Edgar Sammons, but I have read enough of his letters to know that he is a man of spirit and that he would be a good friend. His address is 2365 Cold Springs Road, Mountain City, Tennessee 37683.
At its state convention in November the NFB of Pennsylvania elected new officers. They are Jim Antonacci, President; Judy Jobes, First Vice President; Earl Jackson, Second Vice President; Connie Johnson, Secretary; Chuck Morgenstern, Treasurer; and Gus Jasper, Rod Powell, Mike Wolk, Lisa Mattioli, Ted Young, and Lois Holmes, Board Members.
Subscription E-mail List Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Do you want to keep abreast of the latest developments in access technology but lack the time or inclination to sift through hundreds of messages on e-mail lists? Do you sometimes delete messages because you are unwilling to read through extraneous headers and advertisements? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, this list is for you.
I monitor over a dozen e-mail lists and also subscribe to several newsletters and magazines which focus on adaptive technology. For an annual fee of $20, you can receive timely information about new products and resources, updates to your adaptive equipment, and speech-friendly programs. You will also be alerted to changes in vendor contact information and publications and will be informed when new lists of interest become available. You will receive tips about how to improve the performance of your computer and will be alerted to the existence of new viruses which may infect it. Articles which focus on accessibility issues will also be forwarded or referenced. To subscribe, please send a $20 check payable to Amy Ruell and mail to Amy Ruell, 9 Quail Run, Hingham, Massachusetts 02043. If you have questions, e-mail: <[email protected]>.
The NFB of Puerto Rico recently elected the following affiliate officers: Alpidio Rolon, President; José Rodriguez, Secretary; and Luz Repullo, Board Member.
Attention Those with Access Problems to Shaklee:
Attention: independent Shaklee sales leaders and others in the business. We have encountered access problems with the Shaklee Corporation. We have mentioned to them that the catalog and price list are only in print and have suggested ways of accessing these items using a computer. Our intent is to provide this information in Braille or large print or electronically to people as needed. So far the Shaklee Company has been unresponsive. Of course we want other blind people to be successful in this business and also wish to provide blind customers with the same ease of information access as sighted customers. There are other access issues with the Shaklee Company, but we thought we would start here.
The greater the number of people working on this, the more impact we will have in making a change. If you want to work with us on getting Shaklee moving on this issue, please contact Jean and Franklin Shiner, 27 North Franklin Street, Montpelier, Vermont 05602; (802) 223-7067; e-mail <[email protected]>.
Spanish Cassette Magazine Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
El Club Latino International is a new, bi-monthly, interactive cassette magazine in Spanish. Its purpose is to establish a network of friendship within the blind Hispanic community as well as to offer an outlet for persons of any background with an interest in and knowledge of Spanish. If you have musical talent, wish to discuss technology or problems of blindness, or are searching for love or friendship, send us your recorded message. Each member should try to keep his or her participation under ten minutes so that many people can get in on each tape. Braille letters in Spanish or English are acceptable; however, I prefer recorded messages for inclusion on the club tape.
This project is born out of our love of the Hispanic culture and language; therefore membership is free. However, contributions are welcome. Send all correspondence to Elena Taylor, 111 Belle Vista Court, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27106, phone (336) 725-6333, or e-mail Eduardo Ramirez at <[email protected]>.
Toy Guide for Children Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The American Foundation for the Blind and the American Toy Institute have released the latest edition of Guide to Toys for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired. The guide is a one-of-a-kind resource containing information about commercially available toys and games. It is useful for adults with visual impairments who wish to participate in play with sighted children. It features 100 new toys with an emphasis on multimedia and interactive toys in a wide price range. An introductory section makes it easier for adults choosing toys to understand the selection criteria used and shows readers how to apply these criteria beyond the products appearing in the guide.
The guide is available free of charge in full-color print or on audio cassette by contacting the American Foundation for the Blind, 11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300, New York, New York 10001, (800) 232-5463 or the American Toy Institute, 1115 Broadway, Suite 400, New York, New York 10010, fax: (212) 633-1429. The guide is also posted on AFB's Web site: <www.afb.org> and ATI's Web site: <www.toy-tma.org>.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Complete Stories of the Great Operas by Milton Cross, copyright 1947, eleven Braille volumes, good condition. It includes detailed synopses of seventy-two operas with arias, asking $150 or best offer. Please call (816) 254-9670 or write to Norman Yale, 2600 North Hub Drive, Apartment 314A, Independence, Missouri 64055.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Are you looking for affordable Internet education? Would you like to make money while learning your computer? Call Nikki Bakkal any time at (877) 689-5486, extension 8130.
The Clark County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington elected the following officers for the coming year during its December 18, 1999, meeting: Don Mitchell, President; Bob Sellers, Vice President; Mike Freeman, Secretary; and Nancy Martin, Treasurer.
Notice for Those Making Convention Reservations:
Several people attempting to make convention reservations without a credit card have been told by hotel personnel that it cannot be done. Reservations clerks making such statements are in error. We recommend that you courteously suggest they look a bit further in their instructions to read the arrangements for paying by check. Convention reservations information this year is as follows:
Hotel rates for the 2000 convention are singles, $57; doubles and twins, $59; triples, $61; and quads, $63. Prepare to add tax of 14 percent to the cost of each room. There will be no charge for children in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested.
Write directly to Atlanta Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, or call (404) 521-0000. Marriott has a national toll-free number, but do not use it. Reservations made through this national number will not be valid. They must be made directly with the hotel. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If a credit card is used, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 4, 2000, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
New Smithsonian Institution Access Brochure Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Smithsonian's Office of Public Affairs has published "Smithsonian Access," a free guide for visitors with disabilities. It provides an overview of accessibility features at the Smithsonian's museums and other public facilities.
"Smithsonian Access" includes information about designated parking, Metro, facility entrances, and visitor services and publications and tells how to arrange for interpreters and special tours for people with disabilities. The sixty-page brochure is illustrated with line drawings of the museums and several maps.
The text of "Smithsonian Access" is also available in alternative formats--large print, computer disk, audio cassette, and Braille.
For copies of the "Smithsonian Access" brochure or to request one of its alternative formats, write to Smithsonian Information, Smithsonian Institution, Room 153, Washington, D.C. 20560-0010; call (202) 357-2700 (voice) or (202) 357-1729 (TTY), Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or on weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; or send an e-mail request to <[email protected]>.
In addition, the contents of the brochure are available on the Smithsonian Institution Web site: <www.si.edu/opa/accessibility/>.
Attention Those Interested in Acting:
In the November, 1999, "Monitor Miniatures" we carried the following announcement, but the telephone number was incorrect. Here, once again, is the notice, this time with the correct contact information.
At our 2000 convention in Atlanta we will conduct a meeting for all those interested in forming an actors division. You are encouraged to memorize a monologue to be performed at the meeting, and information will be provided about acting companies looking for blind actors. Bring your ideas and be ready to make your premiere. Please contact Angela Sasser, 2610 Whitis Avenue, No. 1, Austin, Texas 78705 or (512) 495-4010.
In September, 1999, the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs (N.A.B.E.) launched its Web site. The division can be found at <www.nabentre.org>. In January, 2000, the N.A.B.E. launched a new interactive voice conference located on this Web site. To participate, all you need is a computer equipped with a microphone and speakers. To connect to the web site, go to the voice chat link and allow the necessary software to be downloaded. Your voice software will not interfere with your ability to communicate. Those in a voice conference just press and hold the F-9 function key to speak. While only one person can speak at a time, others can hear all comments. We plan to conduct monthly meetings; consult the Web site for times.
Our hope is that in the future we can invite guest speakers from the Small Business Administration, banking institutions, and the NFB staff. Business owners can communicate with one another at no cost in order to develop strategies for success. The voice conference is a great tool which will allow this division to stay on the cutting edge of communication.
Any member in the member directory may request a voice conference with any board member. We encourage participation in both the conference and message areas. See you all on the N.A.B.E. Web site.
I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.