THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 43, No. 5 May, 2000
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 43, No. 5 May, 2000
Correction of Error, Retraction, and Admonition
by Marc Maurer
Merger in the Blindness Field
Attorney General Confirms Scandal
at Connecticut State Agency for the Blind
Fueling the Fire
by Barbara Walker
A Visit to the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel
by Barbara Pierce
Convention Transit Information:
MARTA to the Marriott Marquis
Nell Carney Appointed
to Direct South Carolina Commission for the Blind
by Donald C. Capps
And a Child Shall Lead Them
by Norman Gardner
Overcoming Employers' Doubts about the
Capabilities of People with Disabilities
by Charles E. Young
Of Mice and Refrigerators
by Tonia Trapp
It's a Cat's Life
by Peggy Elliott
Finding Best Ways for Blind in Computer World
by Kevin Washington
First You Have to Ask . . .
by Donald J. Morris
Copyright (c) 2000 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO DESCRIPTION: The lead photograph shows the skyline of Atlanta.
CAPTION: The Atlanta Skyline beckons us back to enjoy the hospitality of the Southland July 2 to 8. If you are not already holding travel and hotel reservations, make them today.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: NFB President Marc Maurer]
Correction of Error, Retraction, and Admonition
by Marc Maurer
For about the past two years rumors have come to the attention of the National Federation of the Blind that Western Michigan University through its program of Blind Rehabilitation was planning to put together a standards and certification program for independent travel. Because independent travel is of primary importance to the blind, because organizations of blind consumers were not asked to participate in the creation of such standards, and because previous efforts to establish certification and standards for the blind were a thinly veiled effort to control blind people and programs for the blind by unscrupulous individuals, the National Federation of the Blind was deeply concerned. A document came to hand in June of 1999 which appeared to confirm these rumors. It said:
Western Michigan University in conjunction with a number of disability service agencies will establish standards, create a curriculum for the preparation of independent travel instructors, and develop a national examination that will lead to certification of those instructors. The standards for preparation will be developed by conducting a job analysis of various instructors who work at four facilities that are regarded by the steering committee as providing quality travel instruction. The job analysis will include observations, task analyses, questionnaires, interviews, and examination of manuals. From this information, job responsibilities will be identified as well as knowledge and skill competencies that are required to carry out those responsibilities. A national validation survey will also be conducted to weigh the importance of each of the identified competencies. The model curriculum can be offered at the college level and will consist of didactic courses and clinical experiences that will prepare instructors for the essential functions of the job.
In response to this plan the National Federation of the Blind considered a resolution during the 1999 convention, resolution 99-13. The resolution, which was printed in the August/September issue of the Braille Monitor asserted that "the latest effort to create a standards and certification program for professionals in the field of blindness has been announced at Western Michigan University, proposing to establish standards and a curriculum for instructors in independent travel. . . ." The convention condemned and deplored the actions of Western Michigan University. It also set out the intention of the organization to notify funding sources that Western Michigan University had not sought participation by blind consumers. The full text of the resolution reads:
WHEREAS, efforts to develop certification criteria and procedures in the field of services for the blind have largely failed in the United States because those involved in designing and implementing the programs have not involved elected representatives of the blind in their efforts, the most notable of these failures being NAC--the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped; and
WHEREAS, the latest effort to create a standards and certification program for professionals in the field of blindness has been announced by Western Michigan University, proposing to establish standards and a curriculum for instructors in independent travel; and
WHEREAS, the Western Michigan announcement also indicates that the standards and curriculum will be developed in conjunction with a number of disability service agencies, but says nothing about the involvement of consumer organizations of blind people and their elected representatives; and
WHEREAS, the choice of an alliance with disability service agencies rather than consumers is inexcusable and cannot be attributed to an oversight, since the architects of this latest certification scheme are well informed about the blind consumer movement and have therefore chosen to ignore it; and
WHEREAS, this latest attempt to promote standards and certification in the name of quality service is essentially a self-serving plan to promote the vision of travel instruction according to Western Michigan University and to perpetuate that vision without regard to benefits for blind people; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization condemn and deplore the Western Michigan standards and certification initiative, while recognizing that the plan itself is an acknowledgement of the other failed efforts in this area; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we advise authorities of Western Michigan University and any other potential sources of financial support for this effort that a project such as independent travel standards for the blind must first pass muster with the blind themselves before funds are approved to underwrite the effort.
Additional documents later supplied by Western Michigan University appeared to indicate that the training program for independent travel is not intended for the blind but for people with other disabilities. Consequently, the facts presented in the resolution regarding a standards and certification program to be applied to independent travel for the blind were incorrect. However, one of the advisory sources for information for the program at Western Michigan University is the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). The curriculum is, according to the Western Michigan documents, being created by the Blind Rehabilitation Program of Western Michigan University. It is worth wondering whether the certification system being created by Western Michigan (though apparently today not applicable to programming for the blind) is intended in years ahead to encompass independent travel for the blind. Nevertheless, the facts stated in the resolution, it must be emphasized, are incorrect.
We hereby retract the assertion contained in the Braille Monitor for August/September 1999 with respect to independent travel. However, we also urge Western Michigan University to distribute information that is accurate. The assumptions contained in Resolution 99-13 are completely reasonable given the information Western Michigan itself distributed about the program. If Western Michigan University does not wish to be misunderstood in future, it should supply adequate information to prevent misunderstanding.
Merger in the Blindness Field
From the Editor: As we were going to press, the following press release arrived at the National Center for the Blind. It demonstrates that the blindness field has now achieved a maturity and significance never before seen. We reprint the release in its entirety and leave our readers to draw their own conclusions about its importance. Here it is:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 11, 2000
Henter-Joyce and Blazie Engineering Merge
to Form Freedom Scientific, Inc.
St. Petersburg, Florida--Henter-Joyce, the leading U.S. software company specializing in products for blind people, has merged with Blazie Engineering, the leading U.S. manufacturer of Braille hardware devices, to form Freedom Scientific, Inc., a new company dedicated to offering a broad line of assistive technology products for people with sensory impairments and learning disabilities.
Henter-Joyce, founded in 1987 by Ted Henter, who learned to program computers after losing his sight in a car accident, is known for having developed the world's best-selling screen reader software, called JAWS (Job Access with Speech) for Windows. By allowing blind people to achieve the same or higher productivity in computer-based jobs as sighted people, JAWS has increased employment opportunities for people who are blind while helping employers and universities meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Located in St. Petersburg, Florida, Henter-Joyce employs seventy-one people, of whom thirty-one are blind or visually impaired--the majority working in software engineering, computer programming, sales, or technical support. Ted Henter will stay on with Freedom Scientific as vice president of advanced development for software products.
Blazie Engineering, founded in 1986 by Deane Blazie, an electrical engineer with an advanced degree in computer science, manufactures a broad line of hardware products for blind people, including note takers, Braille printers, and Braille displays. Blazie developed the Braille 'n Speak, the world's first note taker - a personal digital assistant (PDA) with Braille input and voice or data output that allows blind users to take notes, keep their address books, and update their personal calendars without reliance on pencil and paper. Blazie now offers five different models of note takers and holds a leading global market share. Blazie employs seventy-five people at its facilities in Forest Hill, Maryland, and Stuart, Florida. Deane Blazie will stay on with the combined companies as vice president for advanced development of hardware products.
Freedom Scientific is headed by Richard H. Chandler, founder and former C.E.O. of Sunrise Medical, one of the world's major manufacturers of rehabilitation products for the elderly and disabled. Chandler resigned from his post at Sunrise in October, 1999, after sixteen years, in order to form a new company focusing on technology-based products for people with disabilities. Freedom Scientific has been funded with an equity commitment from two leading private equity firms, Patricof & Co. Ventures, and Summit Partners, each of which has successfully invested in the past in businesses focused on disability products. Credit lines and additional equity investments have been arranged with two major banks, further contributing to Freedom Scientific's capital pool dedicated to the new venture in assistive technology.
Henter-Joyce and Blazie Engineering will continue to design, develop, and manufacture their respective product lines in separate business development units, but their sales, marketing, order-entry, and administrative functions will be combined at the Freedom Scientific Blind/Low Vision Group, to be located in St. Petersburg, Florida. Freedom Scientific's corporate headquarters will be in Carlsbad, California.
Commenting on his decision to merge with Blazie and form Freedom Scientific, Ted Henter said, "Deane Blazie gave me my start in business over fifteen years ago, and we have been close friends ever since. Our teams have worked well together on numerous joint efforts over the past several years. We've often thought it would be a natural alliance to put our two companies together, but each of us lacked the necessary capital to make it work. When Dick Chandler came along with access to venture capital sources, the pieces just fell into place."
Deane Blazie said this about the merger: "Ted and I are similar in that we both have a love of product and fascination with technical challenges in the blindness field, but we found ourselves increasingly bogged down in administrative chores as our companies grew. The new company's structure will allow us each to concentrate on what we do best. Dick Chandler brings a background in professional management and a track record of building enterprises through acquisitions and expanding those businesses internationally. Our new company will benefit from numerous synergies, creating the same kind of potential."
Chandler observed, "Ted Henter and Deane Blazie have both built highly successful companies committed to delivering technology-based products that open the doors of employment and education for blind and visually impaired individuals. In aggregate their businesses grew by more than 25 percent last year. This growth should be further invigorated by this merger, with its opportunity for offering customers a broad line of hardware and software products, along with improved levels of customer service and support. Ted and Deane will continue to provide strong leadership voices in the blind/low vision industry. Freedom Scientific, meanwhile, will seek additional acquisition opportunities in related assistive technology markets, such as products for the learning disabled and speech or hearing impaired."
Freedom Scientific's mission is to change the world for people with sensory and learning disabilities by creating innovative, technology-based products and solutions.
Attorney General Confirms Scandal
at Connecticut State Agency for the Blind
From the Editor: Over the years we have reported a number of dismaying lapses in services to blind people delivered by state agencies charged with conducting rehabilitation programs in their states. For many months grumblings and even outright complaints about the agency director in Connecticut have been making their way to our attention. Finally, last year, the allegations reached such a pitch that Connecticut Governor John Rowland moved his pal, Kenneth Tripp, from his job as director of the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) to another position in state government that was less public, though it did carry a larger salary.
But in January the Connecticut Attorney General completed an exhaustive investigation into the allegations against Tripp and his friends and made a report so damning that Tripp was forced to resign altogether from state government. In late December Betty Woodward, President of the NFB of Connecticut, urged the governor to consult with consumers before making his replacement appointment to BESB, but Rowland chose to ignore the request.
He did, however, urge his new appointee, Lawrence Alibozek, to meet with consumers early and often to do what he could to reestablish confidence in BESB among members of Connecticut's blindness community. The new director specializes in improving problem situations, and to give him his due, he has been trying to establish good communications with the blindness organizations in the state. To his credit he is meeting regularly with representatives of the groups and seems to be listening to what consumers are saying. In short, things may finally be improving in Connecticut. On the other hand, they had a long way to go after the shenanigans of Kenneth Tripp and his crowd. Here is much of the Attorney General's report. We have omitted all deposition page citations and several passages devoted to malfeasance that had little to do with the director or with his insulting behavior to blind people. Here is the report:
Connecticut Attorney General's Office
Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) Investigation Summary
January 24, 2000
This report by the Office of the Attorney General summarizes an intensive investigation of numerous whistle-blower complaints regarding the management of the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) by Kenneth Tripp, the Executive Director.
1. Our investigation essentially found these complaints to be supported by overwhelming evidence of gross mismanagement and an environment of sexual harassment and intimidation, favoritism in hiring and promotions based on a romantic relationship, fear of retaliation, and insensitivity toward blind individuals. As part of our investigation into the allegations, employees were subpoenaed from all levels of the BESB including the Executive Director, Director of Operations, Principal Personnel Officer, Business Manager, Managers of BESB divisions, transitional managers, supervisors, rehabilitation teachers and counselors, administrative/clerical staff, and industries employees. Both current and former employees were deposed, including some blind and visually impaired employees.
Our investigation, finding merit in many of the whistleblowers' allegations, specifically concluded that Executive Director Kenneth Tripp improperly and unlawfully promoted a BESB employee, Karen Urciuoli, with whom he was having an ongoing affair, and manipulated the BESB personnel system to hire and promote Ms. Urciuoli's cousin, Susan Mannix. Mr. Tripp also created and fostered a general climate of sexual harassment and intimidation at BESB. He frequently engaged in physical touching of female employees and directed sexual comments, sexual innuendo, and profanity toward BESB staff. His ongoing affair and actions involving Ms. Urciuoli while in the office also contributed to this environment, and her rapid and unjustified promotions gravely undermined the trust of BESB employees in the integrity and fairness of the office.
Indeed this pattern of favoritism and misconduct created the impression that sexual and personal ties mattered more than ability and job performance to success and advancement at BESB. In addition to unprofessional management of BESB, our investigation found that Mr. Tripp displayed insensitivity to the blind and visually impaired citizens of Connecticut that BESB is mandated to serve. Numerous individuals testified about Mr. Tripp's rude conduct, jokes concerning the blind, and a questionable record of hiring the blind and visually impaired.
This office makes the following recommendations:
1. The Governor should consider appropriate disciplinary action against Mr. Tripp as well as Steven Shapiro, the principal personnel officer, and John Whitham, Director of Operations.
2. A thorough review of BESB's management and operations should be conducted to ensure that the agency is able to create an appropriate professional environment for its employees to enable them to properly fulfill their responsibilities to the blind and visually impaired citizens of Connecticut.
3. The Department of Administrative Services should consider appropriate personnel action with respect to Ms. Urciuoli's and Ms. Mannix's promotions.
Summary of Allegations
The following allegations were made:
1. The Executive Director improperly favored for promotion another BESB employee as a result of his intimate relationship with her. The employee was promoted three times in a fifteen-month period in violation of Connecticut Personnel statutes and regulations.
Discussion: Many of the complaints received in this office allege that the affair between Kenneth Tripp, the Executive Director, and another BESB employee, Karen Urciuoli, in the office led to Ms. Urciuoli's rapid and unfair promotions. In depositions Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli both stated that they became romantically involved in 1998 after Ms. Urciuoli had been promoted three times by Mr. Tripp, but the evidence gathered in our investigation clearly indicates that their intimate relationship began at a much earlier date. The evidence demonstrates that Ms. Urciuoli unfairly, and in violation of state personnel policy and regulations, received promotions because of her affair with Mr. Tripp.
A review of BESB's personnel history indicates that prior to Mr. Tripp's appointment to the position of Executive Director Ms. Urciuoli had been promoted three times in ten years as a BESB employee. After Mr. Tripp's appointment Ms. Urciuoli was promoted three times in fifteen months. Ms. Urciuoli was promoted from a secretary I to a secretary II, and a secretary II to an administrative assistant, and from an administrative assistant to an office supervisor between February, 1997, and May, 1998. Personnel records reviewed and officials deposed make clear that Ms. Urciuoli did not meet the minimum qualifications for the last two promotions because she lacked the required experience and training.
2. The Executive Director hired Ms. Urciuoli's cousin as a clerk typist and within six months promoted her to Executive Secretary.
Discussion: Allegations have also been made regarding favoritism in hiring Susan Mannix, Ms. Urciuoli's cousin. Ms. Mannix testified that in early 1998 Ms. Urciuoli told her of clerical openings at BESB and sent her a job application. Ms. Mannix further testified that she applied for the job and was hired in May, 1998, to work as clerk typist in Mr. Tripp's office. Ms. Mannix worked as a clerk typist for six months until November 20, 1998, when she was reclassified and promoted to a secretary I. Two weeks later on December 4, 1998, Ms. Mannix was promoted to executive secretary for Mr. Tripp.
Even crediting the account given by Ms. Urciuoli and Mr. Tripp, their intimate relationship had begun by the time Ms. Mannix was hired. Ms. Mannix testified that three months after she was hired in May, 1998, Mr. Tripp approached her and told her that he was going to promote her to become his executive secretary. Mr. Tripp also manipulated the personnel system in order to appoint and promote Ms. Mannix. Specifically, Mr. Tripp reclassified a secretary I position to the lower position of clerk typist in the spring of 1998, shortly before Ms. Mannix applied for the position in May, 1998, making that position available for her. There also were other irregularities with Ms. Mannix's hiring in regard to BESB's affirmative actions goals.
3. The Executive Director engaged in unwelcome and offensive touching of women and sexually offensive statements.
Discussion: Our investigation found a pattern of inappropriate physical touching of women employees by Mr. Tripp. One BESB female employee testified that Mr. Tripp grabbed her buttocks with both hands during a volleyball game at a BESB agency picnic. In another incident a former BESB employee testified that Mr. Tripp touched her buttocks during a work conference. Both of these incidents were corroborated by witnesses. In addition, at least four female employees have indicated that Mr. Tripp massaged their necks and shoulders without their permission. Another employee testified that she observed Mr. Tripp, in his office, massaging the neck of a female BESB employee. She testified that he jokingly said to her, "I can get in trouble for sexual harassment about this [massaging necks] because of the way I touch people and I have to be careful who I do this to."
When these women were asked why they did not tell Mr. Tripp that they were uncomfortable about this conduct, they all indicated that they were afraid that their jobs would be made unnecessarily difficult because of disfavor and retaliation from management and specifically from Mr. Tripp, "their boss," the Executive Director. These employees were also reluctant to tell Mr. Tripp of their concerns because of intimidation and possible retribution.
In addition to the physical contact, many female BESB employees testified that Mr. Tripp made sexual and offensive statements to them or in their presence. One female employee testified that Mr. Tripp stated to her, while she was standing at her desk, in the presence of other employees, that she needed to wear "panties" to a BESB event that was held in the evening. Mr. Tripp's remark was heard and corroborated, in sworn testimony, by another employee, who said she was outraged that a manager would make such an offensive remark. One of the employees testified that she feared retaliation if she confronted Mr. Tripp about his comment.
Female employees alleged that Mr. Tripp has made numerous incredibly sexually offensive remarks, such as, "She's so hot, she will make you come in your pants"; "I wonder what it would be like to do her?"; comments about reading Braille with his tongue and indicating that the women must love him; "I can say nice tie, but not nice thigh"; and describing a female employee as a "fat ass."
4. The Executive Director's use of loud, profane, and abusive language, coupled with inappropriate behavior by some of his managers and Ms. Urciuoli, intimidated employees and created a hostile work environment.
Discussion: Many of the female employees and some male employees testified that Mr. Tripp spoke in loud, profane, abrasive, and abusive tones, thereby creating an atmosphere of harassment and intimidation. In individual depositions a large number of the employees collectively indicated that there is a pervasive pattern and environment of unprofessionalism, which was the accepted modus operandi of, not only Mr. Tripp, but also some of his managers. This unprofessionalism was marked by unwelcome touching by Mr. Tripp, sexual jokes, offensive remarks, harassing, and intimidating behavior. The collective testimony of employees that the managers were present when many of the statements were made indicates that some of the managers accepted this behavior. The managers collectively were not seen as buffers between Mr. Tripp's unprofessional behavior and the employees, but as facilitators of Mr. Tripp's offensive management practices.
5. The Executive Director was insensitive to the blind BESB employees and the blind client base served by BESB.
Discussion: Our investigation substantiated allegations that Mr. Tripp was insensitive to blind and visually impaired BESB employees and the blind and visually impaired clientele served by BESB. Specifically Mr. Tripp has been accused of being engaged in a conversation with a blind person, then walking away from that blind individual without acknowledging his departure.
In another instance Mr. Tripp was alleged to have removed a blind person from the front receptionist desk for BESB because he thought that she was unattractive. Specifically, a BESB employee gave sworn testimony that Mr. Tripp said of blind people that, "they don't look well; they are ugly." The witness testified that shortly thereafter, the blind receptionist was transferred to another department within BESB.
Mr. Tripp has also been accused of making jokes about blind people. One former blind BESB employee testified that she was at a conference in September, 1997, where Mr. Tripp was also in attendance. She testified that during the coffee break she was standing talking with Mr. Tripp and another BESB employee. She stated that she was drinking coffee and eating coffee cake when Mr. Tripp stated that the employee had crumbs on the top of her blouse and asked her how she would get them off. She indicated that she attempted to brush the crumbs off of her blouse, only to be told by another BESB employee, who was standing beside the blind employee, that there were no crumbs on her blouse. The blind employee stated that the joke or prank made her feel embarrassed.
Mr. Tripp has also been accused of not being receptive to blind employees, clients, and advocacy groups. Specifically, one BESB board member and several former employees testified that Mr. Tripp has missed several Agency Consumer Advocacy Committee (ACAC) meetings and has not been overly responsive to the Connecticut Council for the Blind. One employee further stated that when members of the Connecticut Council for the Blind attempted to contact Mr. Tripp about meetings, he either did not respond or had his secretary call with an unsatisfactory response.
Both blind and sighted employees testified the BESB Windsor facility is designed in such a way that makes it very difficult for the blind to navigate. Both blind and sighted employees have alleged that Mr. Tripp replaced positions that had been traditionally held by blind employees with sighted employees. One employee testified that, when blind employees left, they were replaced with not only sighted people, but sighted people without experience dealing with blindness. A large number of the employees deposed--sighted, visually impaired, blind, both current and former employees--testified that Mr. Tripp was not an advocate for the blind community. The employees based this on his lack of interaction with the blind community and insensitivity to the blind.
6. The Executive Director permitted the Director of Operations to give state property to a BESB employee for her personal use in violation of Title VII, .005 of the State's Property Manual.
Discussion: Ms. Urciuoli was asked about allegations that she had taken State property belonging to BESB for her personal use; she indicated that she had obtained a chair from BESB, but did not recall who gave her permission to get the chair or who delivered the chair to her house. Mr. Jack Whitham, the Director of Operations, testified that, when BESB was relocating from its Ridge Road facility in Wethersfield to Windsor, he had given Ms. Urciuoli permission to take the chair and that he had personally delivered it to her home. Mr. Tripp and Mr. Whitham both testified that the chair had not been retrieved from Ms. Urciuoli as of November, 1999. Under chapter 7 of the State Property Manual, section .004 and section .005 of the chapter entitled "Disposal of Items Deemed Scrapped," a State employee cannot, under any circumstances, receive state property, even if it has been designated "surplus" or "scrapped." Mr. Whitham was asked if his giving Ms. Urciuoli a BESB chair, whether designated surplus or scrap, was a violation of the State's property regulations. He indicated that BESB had violated this provision.
The Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) is a Connecticut State agency which was first established in 1893 and is responsible for providing services to blind and visually impaired persons. BESB implements education and training for the blind citizens of Connecticut through the initiation and coordination of specialized programming. BESB serves blind or visually impaired children as well as adults. BESB also provides vocational training and living skills to its client base.
Kenneth Tripp, the Executive Director of BESB, was first hired in October, 1996, by Governor John G. Rowland. As Executive Director Mr. Tripp reports directly to the governor and is responsible for the overall management and daily operations of BESB. In overseeing the operations of BESB, Mr. Tripp has hired managers to supervise the various divisions of BESB. Those managers include John Whitham, Director of Operations and Chief of Adult Services; Albert Acayan, Fiscal Administrative Manager 2; Barbara Williams, Chief of Children's Services; Brian Sigman, Chief of Vocational Rehabilitation; John O'Connell, Acting Chief of Business Enterprise Program; and Steven Shapiro, Principal Personnel Officer.
BESB employs approximately 115 state employees in the administering of the BESB mission. Also several hundred non-state employees work in the BESB industries producing services and goods.
Based on the information which we obtained in our investigation, we have made the following findings:
1. The Executive Director is involved in a romantic relationship with another BESB employee and as a result of that relationship the employee was promoted three (3) times in a fifteen-month period in violation of Connecticut Personnel statutes and regulations.
Many of the complaints received in this office allege a romantic relationship between Kenneth Tripp, the Executive Director, and another BESB employee, Karen Urciuoli. The complaints further allege that, because of Ms. Urciuoli's romantic involvement with Mr. Tripp, she was unfairly promoted. It is critical to determine the time frame for Mr. Tripp's interaction with Ms. Urciuoli because both allege that the romantic relationship did not begin until May, 1998. However, as will be discussed infra, the trips to the casinos, the trip to Washington, D.C., the telephone calls after work hours, the jewelry, the flowers, the candy, and the gift of the CD occurred much earlier than May, 1998. If Mr. Tripp's relationship with Ms. Urciuoli began earlier than the May, 1998 time frame, then her promotions, from the beginning of Mr. Tripp's tenure with BESB to May, 1998, are suspect. This is particularly valid if Mr. Tripp gave Ms. Urciuoli gifts and attended social outings and did not do the same with other BESB employees.
Specific allegations have been made that Ms. Urciuoli received promotions because of her relationship with Mr. Tripp. A review of BESB's personnel history indicates that Ms. Urciuoli was promoted from a secretary I to a secretary II, and a secretary II to an administrative assistant, and from an administrative assistant to an office supervisor, between February, 1997, and May, 1998. Prior to these promotions she had been a senior clerk from 1986 to 1992; thereafter she was an office assistant from 1992 to 1995. In 1995 she was promoted to secretary I. Specifically, in February, 1997, Ms. Urciuoli was promoted from a secretary I to a secretary II and was transferred from Children's Services to Adult Services. Three months later Ms. Urciuoli was recommended for a promotion from a secretary II to an administrative assistant and subsequently promoted in August 1997. Thereafter, in May, 1998, Ms. Urciuoli was promoted from an administrative assistant to an office supervisor.
In a sworn deposition Ms. Urciuoli testified that she began a romantic relationship with Mr. Tripp somewhere between May, 1998, and the fall of 1998. Mr. Tripp, in his deposition, testified that he first began a relationship other than platonic with Ms. Urciuoli in May or June of 1998. However, during Mr. Tripp's deposition he was questioned when he would have had his first social interaction with Ms. Urciuoli, either platonically or romantically, and he stated that they drove to a wedding together in the spring of 1997. Specifically, Mr. Tripp testified that he asked Ms. Urciuoli if she would like to ride with him to Mr. Tom Grossi's wedding, another BESB employee. She accepted his invitation and drove to the wedding with Mr. Tripp. Mr. Tripp testified that no one else rode with them to the wedding. During his deposition Mr. Tripp was asked why he would invite a BESB employee who was a secretary II to ride with him to another employee's wedding. He replied that, "I enjoyed her company and thought it would be appropriate to share the day." Mr. Tripp also indicated that he did not invite any other BESB employees to ride with him to the wedding.
Many of the BESB employees in their depositions testified that Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli went to lunch together on numerous occasions and that those lunches normally were in excess of one hour. Mr. Tripp testified that he and Ms. Urciuoli went to lunch together alone on two occasions between January and May, 1997. Mr. Tripp did not recall going to lunch with Ms. Urciuoli frequently. However, several employees under oath testified that they observed Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli have lunch together three or four times a week during a two-year period, beginning early in 1997. The employees further indicated that the lunches often exceeded one hour and sometimes even two hours. Ms. Urciuoli's current supervisor indicated to Mr. Tripp, "if Karen is going to spend time away, we've got to make sure we have coverage down there."
When questioned whether he went out to lunch with any other clerical staff, he indicated that he had gone to lunch with Ms. Lisa Tanquay, his Executive Secretary at that time; he did not recall, however, if there were other people. When questioned if he had eaten lunch with Ms. Urciuoli in her office, Mr. Tripp indicated that he had. He further elaborated that Ms. Urciuoli often picked up take out and that he would simply eat it in her office. When questioned whether it was just he and Ms. Urciuoli having lunch in her office, he indicated, "yes". When questioned whether he had eaten in any other female clerical staff's office, he replied, "no." Mr. Tripp indicated that he had eaten lunch with Ms. Tanquay and other clerical staff, but the lunch was in a conference room and not in their offices.
Allegations were made that Mr. Tripp spent an inordinate amount of time frequenting Ms. Urciuoli's office. Mr. Tripp denied being in Ms. Urciuoli's office frequently. Numerous BESB employees under oath who worked in the Executive Director's Office, Children and Adult Services Divisions testified that over a two-year period, roughly from late 1996 through 1998, Mr. Tripp was at Ms. Urciuoli's desk or she was in his office daily for numerous hours laughing and socializing.
Several employees made allegations that Mr. Tripp would visit Ms. Urciuoli's office with the office door locked. Allegations were also made that the glass partition in the door would be covered with paper so as to obstruct the view. Mr. Tripp denied ever intentionally being in Ms. Urciuoli's office with the door locked. He admitted that he could have been in Ms. Urciuoli's office with the door locked and not known it. Mr. Tripp did not recall if he had been in Ms. Urciuoli's office with the glass partition in the door covered with paper. The glass partition could have been covered, and he was unaware of it. Numerous employees testified that Mr. Tripp was in Ms. Urciuoli's office in many instances with the door closed.
When questioned whether he had ever touched Ms. Urciuoli at work, Mr. Tripp responded negatively. Mr. Tripp was further questioned if he had massaged Ms. Urciuoli's neck during working hours, and he further denied any touching of her neck. BESB employees testified that they had seen Mr. Tripp touch Ms. Urciuoli during the work hours at BESB. Specifically, employees said it was quite common to observe Mr. Tripp in Ms. Urciuoli's office, standing behind her and massaging her neck. Another employee testified that she had observed Mr. Tripp put his arms around Ms. Urciuoli's waist on several occasions and touch her buttocks, in one instance during business hours. The time frame the employees gave for the touching instances was as early as the winter of 1997. Furthermore, one of Mr. Tripp's managers testified that roughly in July, 1997, he observed Mr. Tripp holding Ms. Urciuoli's hand and also observed Mr. Tripp touching her shoulders at work.
Mr. Tripp was asked if he had ever called Ms. Urciuoli at her private residence. He indicated that he had. He was given a copy of his state cellular telephone log record with two entries specifically highlighted. He examined the log and indicated that it was, in fact, his telephone log, and that the two calls in question were made by him to Ms. Urciuoli. Mr. Tripp was also asked to identify the date and time that the calls were made. The telephone log indicated that Mr. Tripp called Ms. Urciuoli at her private residence on May 23 and May 24, 1997. The first call was at 7:46 p.m., on a Friday evening, for six minutes and the second call was at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening for fifty minutes.
Mr. Tripp was asked why he, as the Executive Director, would call a clerical staff, who was a Secretary II and not working directly with him, at home in the evening on a weekend. He replied that his relationship with Ms. Urciuoli was platonic and that they shared a commonality of experiences, mainly their children. Mr. Tripp was asked if he telephoned any other female BESB staff at home after work hours between May, 1997, and December, 1997, and he indicated that he did not. Mr. Tripp also added that he had called his former Executive Secretary at home and that, although the call was for business purposes, some personal items were discussed.
When questioned, Mr. Tripp acknowledged that he had attended several social functions with Ms. Urciuoli away from the office. Specifically, he testified that he and Mrs. Urciuoli, along with another BESB employee, went to Foxwood casino. Another BESB employee indicated that she attended the Foxwood casino with Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli in March of 1997. Mr. Tripp also acknowledged going to another gambling casino after May, 1998, with Ms. Urciuoli and her cousin, Susan Mannix, who later became Mr. Tripp's Executive Secretary. Mr. Tripp testified that he had gone to a baseball game with Ms. Urciuoli and her family which included her own children, her sister and brother-in-law, and their children. Mr. Tripp indicated that this would have been in 1998, during the baseball season.
Allegations were made that Mr. Tripp gave Ms. Urciuoli gifts of candy, flowers, and jewelry. When Mr. Tripp was questioned concerning gifts that he had given to Ms. Urciuoli, he acknowledged that he had given her gifts. He was specifically asked if he had given Ms. Urciuoli a pair of diamond earrings, a ruby and diamond ring, and ruby and diamond earrings. He testified that he had given her all three jewelry items. Mr. Tripp was asked if these items were given before May of 1998, when he had indicated that a romantic relationship began between him and Ms. Urciuoli. He responded that he gave the gifts of jewelry to Ms. Urciuoli when the relationship was still platonic.
When questioned why he would give such expensive gifts in a platonic relationship, Mr. Tripp responded that, "I am generous to a fault when I give gifts." Mr. Tripp was asked if he had given jewelry to any other employee at BESB since his tenure, and he replied that he had not. Mr. Tripp further indicated that he had given flowers, a musical CD, and candy to Ms. Urciuoli on various occasions. Specifically, Mr. Tripp testified that he gave Ms. Urciuoli a box of candy, a musical CD, and poinsettia for Christmas, 1997. He also stated that he gave Ms. Urciuoli flowers in the spring of 1998 and that he sent them to her in the capacity of a romantic relationship.
Mr. Tripp was asked if he had given flowers to any other clerical staff, he indicated that he had given flowers for Christmas and other notable holidays to the clerical staff that worked for him in his own office. He was asked if he had ever bought a musical CD for any other clerical staff and indicated that he had not. . . .
[Allegations concerning delivery of a computer to a rehabilitation client were found to be groundless.] Mr. Tripp indicated that the timing of the delivery of the computer coincided with a trip to Washington, D.C. that he had planned with Ms. Urciuoli and her sisters. Mr. Tripp stated that, in February, 1998, they traveled to Washington, D.C., and spent three days and two nights before traveling to Delaware to deliver the computer to [the agency client]. Mr. Tripp indicated that he stayed in the same hotel room overnight with Ms. Urciuoli and her sisters. When questioned whether the relationship was platonic, Mr. Tripp indicated that it was. Mr. Tripp was asked if he had ever delivered any other BESB property outside the state, and he responded that he had not. He was asked if he had ever gone on a trip out of state with another female BESB employee and stayed overnight in the same hotel room, and he replied that he had not.
Ms. Urciuoli's immediate supervisors, Mr. Tom Grossi, former Chief of Adult Services, and Mr. John Whitham, Director of Operations and Acting Chief of Adult Services, were questioned regarding her promotion to administrative assistant. Mr. Whitham indicated that Ms. Urciuoli was promoted because she was the most qualified person to take the job. He further stated that Ms. Urciuoli had an extensive knowledge of the computer client databases, as well as an understanding of the operation of Adult Services and that this set her apart from other clerical staff.
A review of BESB's organizational chart for the spring of 1997 indicates that there were numerous clerical staff that would have been qualified for a promotion or lateral move to the position of administrative assistant. Many of the clerical staff deposed indicated that, given the opportunity, they would have applied for the promotion that Ms. Urciuoli received. They were, however, not given an opportunity to compete for this position because Ms. Urciuoli was promoted by reclassification.
Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 5-227a, an employee may be promoted by reclassification when the following items are met: (1) The employee meets the minimum qualifications established by the Commissioner of Administrative Services for the career progression level of the reclassified position; (2) the employee has maintained an adequate performance record and received a satisfactory appraisal on his two most recent consecutive performance evaluations; (3) the employee has worked at his existing level in his current position for a minimum period of six months; and (4) the reclassified position is approved by the Commissioner of Administrative Services. . . .
[Quite a long passage follows providing the details of Ms. Urciuoli's several promotions without having met the specified time working at each level. Mr. Shapiro, director of personnel, even audited her job and gave her his notes to incorporate into her application.] It would appear that Mr. Shapiro's actions were not inadvertent but intentional. Mr. Shapiro was asked if he was aware of Mr. Tripp's romantic relationship with Ms. Urciuoli when he processed her promotion for office supervisor. Mr. Shapiro testified that he was aware of rumors of Mr. Tripp's involvement with Ms. Urciuoli when she was promoted to office supervisor in May, 1998. He also testified that he was not concerned with Ms. Urciuoli's promotion to office supervisor at Mr. Tripp's request, even with the rumors of a romantic relationship occurring.
As indicated earlier, both Ms. Lawson and Mr. Shapiro determined that Ms. Urciuoli did not possess the requisite requirements for promotions to administrative assistant and office supervisor. Ms. Lawson was asked what measures the State could take when such improper promotions had been made. Ms. Lawson indicated that in the absence of additional information indicating that Ms. Urciuoli was qualified for the administrative assistant and office supervisor positions, Ms. Urciuoli should be reclassified back to a secretary II and required to repay the state for all monies that were paid to her in error. Based on Mr. Tripp's involvement with Ms. Urciuoli and her promotions, it may appear to other female employees that, in order to get some job opportunities, you need to be involved in a personal relationship with the boss or connected with the girlfriend of the boss. This can be viewed as a form of sexual harassment because the message is, "promotions are given because of sex." . . . [The following passage describes the qualifications of another employee who had passed the examination for office supervisor six months before but who was not considered for the job when it was clear that Ms. Urciuoli was on the fast track.]
When questioned about Ms. Urciuoli's reclassification to administrative assistant, Mr. Whitham and Mr. Shapiro indicated that Ms. Urciuoli was promoted by reclassification because she was already performing the duties at the higher level. Their rationale is questionable given the reasoning that Ms. Urciuoli, as a secretary I, worked in Children Services and was promoted to a secretary II in Adult Services. These are different units serving a different population. If BESB management did not consider that working experience in Adult Services was a necessary factor for a secretary II in the Adult Services Division, then it would follow that the clerical staff in other divisions should have been considered, either for the reclassification, or the position should have been posted for a competitive process.
In August, 1997, Ms. Urciuoli was promoted by reclassification from a secretary II in Adult Services to an administrative assistant in Adult Services. A historical review of the administrative-assistant position in Adult Services indicates that Sally Ross, a state employee for approximately twenty-seven years, served as the administrative assistant in Adult Services until June, 1995, when she retired. From June, 1995, until February, 1996, Diane Dawson, an employee from the SEBAC 2 list, was hired as an administrative assistant to replace Ms. Ross. Approximately one year later it was determined that Ms. Dawson had not worked long enough as a secretary II to meet the qualifications of her current administrative-assistant position. Subsequently Ms. Dawson was transferred to BESB's personnel office.
The administrative-assistant position remained in Adult Services and unfilled, and Ms. Urciuoli was promoted by reclassification from a secretary I to a secretary II and transferred to Adult Services. Despite the fact that Ms. Dawson was a secretary II with extensive experience in Adult Services, Ms. Dawson was transferred out of Adult Services, and Ms. Urciuoli was promoted and reclassified into a secretary II position in Adult Services. Both Mr. Grossi and Mr. Whitham were asked why Ms. Dawson was transferred out of Adult Services. Mr. Grossi responded that Ms. Dawson did not meet the qualifications for the administrative-assistant position. On the same point Mr. Whitham responded that Ms. Dawson was incapable of performing the responsibilities of an administrative assistant and was insensitive to blind people and their issues.
Mr. Whitham's explanation as to why Ms. Dawson was transferred is inconsistent with Mr. Grossi's explanation. These diverse opinions are particularly interesting because Mr. Grossi, who is legally blind, was Ms. Dawson's immediate supervisor and had the opportunity to interact with her on a daily basis and never testified that she was incompetent or insensitive to blind people. Mr. Grossi's testimony that the personnel manager at that time, John McMahon, and Mr. Tripp made the decision to transfer Ms. Dawson would further indicate that he was not displeased with her level of performance.
A review of all the testimony and a review of Ms. Urciuoli's personnel records would indicate that Ms. Dawson, having served in the position of an administrative assistant, would be more knowledgeable of the workings of Adult Services than Ms. Urciuoli, who transferred from a different unit at two levels lower, that of secretary I. Given that they were aware that Ms. Dawson did not meet the qualifications for administrative assistant, it appears that Mr. Grossi, Mr. Whitham, and Mr. Tripp should have been aware that Ms. Urciuoli also lacked the qualifications for the subsequent promotion to administrative assistant.
At the time that Ms. Urciuoli received the administrative-assistant promotion, there were two secretary II's and three administrative assistants in other divisions that were not given the opportunity to compete for that position. Many of them testified that, if given the opportunity, they would have applied for the position. It should also be noted that other office positions were manipulated to allow Ms. Urciuoli to be promoted to administrative assistant by reclassification rather than by competitive exam. The administrative-assistant vacancy in Adult Services was transferred to the Business Office shortly before Ms. Urciuoli was reclassified to the administrative-assistant position. Without the transfer of the actual administrative-assistant position in Adult Services, Ms. Urciuoli's secretary II position could not have been reclassified to an administrative-assistant position. Instead, Ms. Urciuoli would have been required to take a test and compete for the existing position. It appears that the administrative-assistant position was intentionally transferred to another division to accommodate Ms. Urciuoli's reclassification from a secretary II to an administrative-assistant position.
Finding: Because of Mr. Tripp's romantic involvement with Ms. Urciuoli, she was improperly promoted to the positions of administrative assistant and subsequently to office supervisor. Mr. Tripp was assisted by Mr. Whitham, Mr. Grossi, and Mr. Shapiro in violating the Connecticut Personnel statutes and regulations in the promotions of Ms. Urciuoli. Based upon the testimony of DAS personnel, she should be reclassified back to a secretary II and be required to pay back the additional money that she was paid in error.
2. The Executive Director hired Susan Mannix, who is the cousin of Ms. Urciuoli, the employee that he is romantically involved with, as a clerk typist and within six months promoted her to Executive Secretary.
Allegations have also been made regarding favoritism in the hiring process of Susan Mannix. Ms. Mannix and Ms. Urciuoli are cousins. Ms. Mannix testified that in early 1998 Ms. Urciuoli, her cousin, told her of clerical openings at BESB and sent her a job application. Ms. Mannix further testified that she applied for the job and was hired in May, 1998, to work as clerk typist in Mr. Tripp's office. Mannix worked as a clerk typist for six months until November 20, 1998, when she was reclassified and promoted to a secretary I.
Two weeks later on December 4, 1998, Ms. Mannix was promoted to executive secretary for Mr. Tripp. The allegations of favoritism in the hiring and promotion process go to Ms. Mannix's relationship to Ms. Urciuoli and following therefrom, Ms. Urciuoli's romantic involvement with Mr. Tripp. It should be noted that Ms. Mannix was hired in the same month that Ms. Urciuoli and Mr. Tripp acknowledged the beginning of a romantic relationship between them. Ms. Mannix was deposed and testified that three months after she was hired in May, 1998, Mr. Tripp approached her and told her that he was going to promote her to become his executive secretary. As indicated, Ms. Mannix was promoted to a secretary I and, shortly thereafter, promoted to Executive Secretary.
We asked Ms. Mannix why she was in a secretary I position for two weeks. She could not explain the reasoning and referred those questions to Mr. Shapiro, the Principal Personnel Officer. . . . [The following text explains that Ms. Mannix's promotions were opposed by the Affirmative Action office, and there was no good explanation for their speed.] Under questioning, Mr. Shapiro testified that the decision was Mr. Tripp's. Mr. Shapiro further testified that he thought that the promotion process for Ms. Mannix's tenure as a secretary I for two weeks was unusual. Mr. Shapiro was asked whether he thought that Ms. Mannix's promotion to executive secretary was appropriate in light of her relationship to Ms. Urciuoli, and he replied that it was not appropriate.
As with Ms. Urciuoli's promotions, significant manipulation of the personnel system within BESB was necessary to enable Mr. Tripp to hire and rapidly promote Ms. Urciuoli's cousin, Ms. Mannix. Specifically, Mr. Tripp reclassified an open secretary I position in his office to a clerk-typist position, a lower position, in the spring of 1998, shortly before Ms. Mannix applied for the position in May, 1998. The clerk typist was a non-competitive position which allowed Ms. Mannix to be hired. The secretary I position was made available when Uma Arun, who had been functioning in Mr. Tripp's office as a secretary I, was reclassified and promoted to a secretary II and transferred to BESB Industries.
Mr. Tripp was asked about the specific downgrading of the open secretary I position to clerk typist. He responded that the decision to proceed in this manner was a management tool used to save dollars and to assess the candidate's abilities and qualifications. A recitation of the facts indicates that Ms. Mannix was hired in May, 1998; she was promoted to secretary I on November 20, 1998, and two weeks later was promoted to Mr. Tripp's executive secretary.
As a clerk typist Ms. Mannix would have worked for the then executive secretary, at that time Lisa Tanquay. Ms. Mannix would have had very little interaction with Mr. Tripp as a clerk typist. Therefore, it is questionable about Mr. Tripp's opportunity to assess Ms. Mannix's skills for a reclassification to secretary I. Mr. Tripp's former executive secretary, Ms. Tanquay, testified that, when Ms. Mannix was hired, Mr. Tripp instructed Ms. Tanquay to train Ms. Mannix to be the executive secretary.
Mr. Whitham, Director of Operations, testified that he told Mr. Tripp that Ms. Mannix was not qualified for the position because she lacked the demeanor needed to competently function in such a position. He further testified that Mr. Tripp promoted Ms. Mannix despite his objection. Ms. Mannix, as a clerk typist and a secretary I, also was not required to participate in the telephone rotation. . . . [All clerical employees in these jobs were supposed to take turns doing these tasks, but Tripp kept Ms. Mannix out of the rotation.]
Finding: Mr. Tripp manipulated the personnel process to hire and promote Ms. Mannix because she is the cousin of Ms. Urciuoli.
3. The Executive Director touched female BESB employees in an unwelcome and offensive manner, and the Executive Director made unwelcome and sexually offensive remarks to female BESB employees.
A BESB female employee testified that Mr. Tripp grabbed her buttocks with both hands during a volleyball game at a BESB agency picnic. The employee further stated that, based on the grip of his hands on her buttocks, it did not appear to be accidental. Another BESB employee, through sworn testimony, corroborated the incident. Mr. Tripp acknowledged that he may have touched the employee during the volleyball game but testified that he did not grab her buttocks; he said he merely touched her buttocks and that it was purely accidental.
In another incident a blind former BESB employee testified that Mr. Tripp touched her buttocks at a work conference. The blind employee stated that she asked her sighted guide, another BESB employee, to assist her in identifying who touched her and was told that it was Mr. Tripp. The BESB employee, who witnessed the alleged touching, testified that Mr. Tripp was the only person who had passed the blind employee at the time of the touching and that she assumed that it was him.
In addition, at least four female employees have indicated that Mr. Tripp massaged their necks and shoulders without their permission. Another employee testified that she observed Mr. Tripp, in his office, massaging the neck of a female BESB employee. She testified that he jokingly said to her, "I can get in trouble for sexual harassment about this [massaging necks] because of the way I touch people, and I have to be careful who I do this to."
When these women were asked why they did not tell Mr. Tripp that they were uncomfortable with him touching them, they all indicated that they were afraid that their jobs would be made unnecessarily difficult, that they would fall in disfavor and receive retaliation from management and after all Mr. Tripp was "their boss," the Executive Director. It should be noted that many of the female employees cried and became very emotional when they testified about Mr. Tripp's touching of them and offensive remarks made to them or in their presence. Other employees viewed Mr. Tripp's touching as unwelcome but did not find it offensive. These employees were still reluctant to tell Mr. Tripp because of intimidation and possible retaliation.
Mr. Tripp was asked if he ever touched his female employees or gave them neck massages. He responded that he did not give them neck massages. He would manipulate a point on their necks with his index finger, if he thought that they were experiencing some neck pain or tension.
In addition to the physical contact, many female BESB employees testified that Mr. Tripp made sexual and offensive statements to them or in their presence. One female employee testified that Mr. Tripp stated to her, while she was standing at her desk, in the presence of other employees, that she needed to wear panties to a BESB event that was held in the evening. Mr. Tripp's panties remark was heard and corroborated, in sworn testimony, by another employee. The corroborating employee stated that, when she heard Mr. Tripp make the remark, she was outraged that anyone, particularly a manager, would make such an offensive remark. Both employees were asked why they did not tell Mr. Tripp that his comment was inappropriate. One responded that she was afraid of retaliation. The other employee responded that she thought that it was very disrespectful but did not say anything to him. Mr. Tripp was specifically asked if he made a statement about a female employee's panties, and he replied that he did not.
In another instance a female employee testified that she was walking past Mr. Tripp and two or three of the male managers (Mr. O'Connell, Mr. Acayan, and Mr. Whitham) and that Mr. Tripp yelled to her down the hallway, "Is that the way you walk on your part-time job at night?" The employee stated she thought Mr. Tripp was implying that she looked like a prostitute. She further testified that she felt humiliated and embarrassed and went home after the incident and cried. She stated that she felt dirty and wondered if the other gentlemen thought of her like a prostitute too. The employee further stated that she felt harassed. Mr. Tripp was asked if he made the statement regarding a part-time evening job, and he replied that he did not.
Female employees alleged that Mr. Tripp has made a myriad of sexually offensive remarks, such as, but not limited to, "She's so hot, she will make you come in your pants"; "I wonder what it would be like to do her?"; comments about a blind, double amputee man, reading Braille with his tongue and indicating that the women must love him; "I can say nice tie, but not nice thigh"; called a female employee a "fat ass." Mr. Tripp was asked specifically about each of the above statements and denied making them. He did, however, indicate that there is a blind, double amputee man on the BESB board, but he had never made any derogatory remarks about him.
Mr. Tripp was asked specifically if BESB had a sexual harassment policy. He responded yes. Mr. Tripp was also asked if he had attended sexual harassment training during his tenure at BESB. He indicated that he had attended sexual harassment training on March 11, 1998. Mr. Tripp was also asked if he had any sexual harassment training prior to his employment at BESB; he responded that he had sexual harassment training when working for a nonprofit organization in Fairfield, as well as with the telephone company. Mr. Shapiro, the Principal Personnel Officer responsible for administering BESB's sexual harassment policy, testified that BESB does have a sexual harassment policy and that it is updated annually on October 15. Mr. Shapiro was asked if BESB's sexual harassment policy was posted in any location in the agency. He indicated that the policy was posted on BESB's main bulletin board in the agency. Mr. Shapiro testified that he was aware of rumors of a romantic relationship between Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli. Mr. Tripp requested Mr. Shapiro to perform an audit for a promotion for Ms. Urciuoli to an office supervisor. Mr. Shapiro should have known that she did not qualify. Therefore Mr. Shapiro should have known that he was contributing to an atmosphere of sexual discrimination due to favoritism. Both Mr. Tripp and Mr. Shapiro testified that no employee had told them that they were being sexually harassed. Based on the testimony of Mr. Tripp and Mr. Shapiro, BESB had an annually updated sexual harassment policy. The policy was posted at BESB. A review of the policy indicates that all of the behavior alleged to have been made by Mr. Tripp would be considered violations of the policy.
Finding: A review of the sworn testimony of numerous female BESB employees indicates that Mr. Tripp engaged in unwelcome and offensive touching of these employees during the performance of their jobs. This office further concludes that Mr. Tripp did make unwelcome and sexually offensive statements to BESB female employees.
4. The Executive Director's use of loud, profane, and abusive language, coupled with inappropriate behavior of some of his managers and Ms. Urciuoli, intimidated employees and created a hostile work environment.
Many of the female employees and some male employees testified that Mr. Tripp speaks in loud, profane, abrasive, and abusive tones, creating an atmosphere of harassment and intimidation. One employee testified that Mr. Tripp stood very close to, nearly on top of her, pointed his finger in her face, and ordered her to "shut up." The employee testified that she felt afraid and threatened. Another employee testified that many of the female clerical staff in particular were singled out for jokes and teased. The employee testified that, in many instances, she felt harassed and humiliated. She further testified that Mr. Tripp and his managers were often together and that they made insensitive jokes directed to the clerical staff about their clerical abilities.
Many of the BESB employees in their sworn testimony indicated that Mr. Tripp spoke in loud tones that they found threatening. Mr. Tripp was asked if he raised his voice or spoke to employees in loud or yelling tones, and he responded that he did not. In individual depositions a large number of the employees indicated that there is a pervasive atmosphere of unprofessionalism, which is the accepted modus operandi of not only Mr. Tripp but also some of his managers. This unprofessionalism is marked by unwelcome touching by Mr. Tripp, sexual jokes, offensive remarks, harassing and intimidating behavior. Based on the collective testimony of employees that the managers were present when many of the statements were made indicates that the acceptance of this behavior has permeated the management staff. The managers collectively were not seen as buffers between Mr. Tripp's unprofessional behavior and the employees, but rather were facilitators.
Many of the employees testified that Ms. Urciuoli walked around BESB and gave orders and directions to the other employees as if she were the executive director or a manager. One employee who managed a BESB project testified that Ms. Urciuoli spoke to her in a manner as if Ms. Urciuoli was her supervisor, when she clearly was not. The employee testified that she told Ms. Urciuoli that her tones were inappropriate, and, even if Ms. Urciuoli was involved with Mr. Tripp, she still could not speak to her in those tones. Other employees indicated that Ms. Urciuoli was always using Mr. Tripp's name and indicating that she would have to report certain incidents to him. Many employees testified that they feared saying anything unfavorable to Ms. Urciuoli for fear of retribution by Mr. Tripp. Ms. Urciuoli's behavior of acting like a manager, when she was not, only fueled an already hostile work environment.
Finding: Based on the sworn testimony of some BESB employees, including some BESB managers, we find that Mr. Tripp's use of profane and abusive language, coupled with inappropriate behavior by some managers and Ms. Urciuoli, has intimidated BESB employees and created a hostile work environment.
5. The Director permitted the Director of Operations to give state property to a BESB employee for her personal use in violation of Title VII, .005 of the State's Property Manual. . . . . [Ms. Urciuoli was inappropriately given permission to take home a chair which was state property.]
6. The Executive Director is insensitive to blind BESB employees and the client base served by BESB.
Mr. Tripp has been alleged to be insensitive to blind BESB employees and the blind clientele served by BESB. Specifically, Mr. Tripp has been accused of being engaged in a conversation with a blind person, then walking away from that blind individual without acknowledging his departure. Two employees testified that, on different occasions, they saw Mr. Tripp walk away from a blind person in such a manner.
One employee testified that she had observed Mr. Tripp do this on at least five occasions. She also testified that, in one instance, she walked over to the blind person to inform her that Mr. Tripp had departed. The employee went on to say that the blind individual that had been in conversation with Mr. Tripp was very upset to learn that he had walked off from her without acknowledging his departure. After witnessing Mr. Tripp walk away on numerous occasions, she informed Mr. Tripp that a blind person does not know when you are walking away, and you should tell them or excuse yourself so that they are aware that you are leaving. The employee said Mr. Tripp thanked her and that she did not observe him repeat that type of behavior thereafter. Mr. Tripp denied walking away from a blind person and not acknowledging his departure. In another instance Mr. Tripp was alleged to have removed a blind person from the front receptionist desk for BESB because he thought that she was unattractive. Specifically, a BESB employee gave sworn testimony that Mr. Tripp stated that "they don't look well; they are ugly." The witness testified that shortly thereafter the blind receptionist was transferred to another department within BESB. Mr. Tripp was asked whether he made a statement concerning the appearance of a blind receptionist at BESB. He denied making any such comments and further testified that a blind receptionist was removed from the front desk because of security reasons. Specifically, he stated that the BESB receptionist needed to be sighted in order to make a security assessment for entry into the BESB agency; a blind person is not capable of making that assessment.
Mr. Tripp was accused of referring to a blind BESB board member as a "blind bitch." Mr. Tripp denied making any such statement. Mr. Tripp has also been accused of making jokes about blind people. When asked specifically about this, Mr. Tripp denied that he had ever made jokes about blind people. One former BESB employee who is blind testified that she was at a conference in September, 1997, where Mr. Tripp was also in attendance. She testified that during the coffee break she was standing talking with Mr. Tripp and another BESB employee. She stated that she was drinking coffee and eating coffee cake when Mr. Tripp stated that the employee had crumbs on the top of her blouse and asked her how she would get them off. She indicated that she attempted to brush the crumbs off of her blouse, only to be told by another BESB employee who was standing next to her that there were no crumbs on her blouse. The blind employee stated that the joke or prank made her feel embarrassed.
The employee further testified that, if a blind person spills something on their clothes, they would like to be told discreetly about the spill and not be embarrassed about it.
Mr. Tripp also has been accused of not being receptive to the blind employees, clients, and advocacy groups. Specifically, one BESB board member and several former blind employees testified that Mr. Tripp has missed several Agency Consumer Advocacy Committee (ACAC) meetings and has not been overly responsive to the Connecticut Council for the Blind. One employee went further to state that when members of the Connecticut Council for the Blind attempted to contact Mr. Tripp about meetings, he either did not respond or had his secretary call with an unsatisfactory response.
Both blind and sighted employees testified that the BESB Windsor facility is designed in such a way that makes it very difficult for blind employees and visitors to navigate.
Specifically, one blind employee testified that there are no Braille signs for direction; there is no color differential in the carpet, which would assist visually impaired people; there was a lack of mobility training for blind employees. This employee also stated that a mobility instructor did a report on the building and safety and determined that the building was on a street with the most unsafe crossing to get on a bus that he had seen. When asked about the floor plan and mobility concerns for the blind in the BESB Windsor facility, Mr. Tripp replied that a comprehensive review of both the physical site externally and internally was done by his trained staff to make sure that the building was in compliance with both building, fire, life safety codes and the ADA.
Both blind and sighted employees have alleged that Mr. Tripp replaced positions that had been traditionally held by blind employees with sighted employees. One employee testified that, when blind employees left, they were replaced with not only sighted people, but sighted people without experience dealing with blindness. This employee went on to say that the management was insensitive to blind or visually impaired employees in other ways; specifically, managers would edit a visually impaired person's document in illegible markings. The visually impaired person would be unable to read the edits.
The employee further stated that in another instance management made the decisions that employees could not call information or 411 for telephone listings. Employees were asked to look up telephone numbers in the telephone book. The employee thought that this was insensitive to the blind employees because they could not see listings in a telephone book and there were no Braille telephone books.
A large number of the employees deposed--sighted, visually impaired, blind, both current and former employees--testified that Mr. Tripp was not an advocate for the blind community. The employees based this on his lack of interaction with the blind community and insensitivity to the blind, as discussed above. Mr. Tripp was asked, specifically, if he had ever made the statement that BESB is not an employment agency for the blind. Mr. Tripp responded that he did make that statement. Mr. Tripp went on to testify that he has also said that BESB is not a welfare agency. He commented further that BESB is about empowerment of its client base. When asked specifically about a practice of hiring sighted people in positions that were held in the past by blind employees, Mr. Tripp responded that he hires the most qualified person for the job. He concluded that his preference between a blind and sighted candidate is the blind candidate, if the candidates are equally qualified.
Finding: This office has found that Mr. Tripp has shown a lack of sensitivity to BESB's blind employees. This finding is based on the numerous incidents as observed and testified to by both blind and sighted BESB employees.
. . . [The final three allegations were not corroborated.]
The Office of the Attorney General's findings are based on a thorough investigation into the allegations that were raised in whistleblower complaints sent to this office. The depositions that were taken by this office, coupled with the review of hundreds of documents, allowed this office to conclude that many of the allegations raised were found to have occurred. Our findings indicate that Mr. Tripp has engaged in numerous acts of mismanagement at BESB.
Specifically, he has taken personnel actions that were in violation of Connecticut Personnel statutes and regulations and as a result has undermined the very integrity of the personnel process. Mr. Tripp's actions, which require immediate redress, are the promotions of Ms. Urciuoli and the recovery of the state property converted for personal use. The Department of Administrative Services should make a determination if any remedial personnel actions are warranted as regards Ms. Urciuoli's current position and whether Ms. Urciuoli should be made to repay all monies to the state which she received from her inappropriate promotions. This Office has determined that Ms. Urciuoli's promotions go to the heart of many of the personnel actions that were made in violation of the statutes.
Mr. Tripp has engaged in abusive conduct by inappropriately touching and making unwelcome and offensive comments to female employees at BESB. This abusive conduct created a hostile work environment for BESB employees. BESB had a sexual harassment policy in effect during Mr. Tripp's tenure; Mr. Tripp and his managers received sexual harassment training; Mr. Tripp commented on at least one occasion that he thought his touching of female employees may be considered a form of sexual harassment. Based on the posting of BESB's sexual harassment policy and Mr. Tripp's sexual harassment trainings, both at BESB and in the course of previous employment, he should have known that his behavior was not appropriate.
This Office is particularly concerned with Mr. Tripp's mismanagement of an important state agency. As indicated earlier, BESB has been established since 1893 and is one of the oldest state agencies. The very core of its mission is to serve the blind and visually impaired citizens of Connecticut. When that mission becomes difficult to accomplish because of poor management and violations of state law, then a sector of the population that is in great need of BESB's services--the blind and visually impaired--goes unmet. The employees, both sighted and blind, were found to be very committed to BESB's mission. However, because of the offensive and harassing behavior of the Executive Director and some managers, their productivity in meeting BESB's mission was challenged. BESB is an agency that is in need of professional leadership. With such leadership, BESB can continue to serve some of our most vulnerable citizens.
This Office also determined that violations of the Connecticut State Property Manual occurred when Ms. Urciuoli was allowed to convert State property, belonging to BESB, for her personal use. At the conclusion of Mr. Tripp's deposition in November 1999, the property had not yet been retrieved from Ms. Urciuoli and returned to the state. BESB should retrieve this property.
There you have the report, and it reminds us that even in these enlightened times, public officials can behave with a shocking lack of propriety and incredible arrogance. We conclude this article with an editorial which appeared in the February 16, 2000, edition of the Hartford Courant. It expresses the outrage that has characterized public comment about this scandal across Connecticut.
The Blind Deserve Better
Governors, like most other top elected officials, are known to provide loyal political associates with government jobs. But the time-honored tradition gets a bad name when appointees are unqualified and their performance turns out to be disappointing or worse.
Examples of poor choices are Governor John G. Rowland's selections for executive directors at the Board of Education and Services for the Blind. Mr. Rowland has twice named political associates with no expertise to head the agency, which has a $25 million budget and employs 100 people.
The governor's first appointee, Kenneth R. Tripp, resigned under pressure last month after a report by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal accused him of, among other things, belittling and poking fun at blind people. Mr. Tripp was also accused of sexual misconduct with subordinates and having an affair with a female staff member whom he promoted three times in fifteen months.
Mr. Tripp's qualifications for the job: he was Mr. Rowland's political ally and had directed a Food Share program in Fairfield County.
To make matters worse, Mr. Rowland's staff knew of the allegations as far back as December, 1998, but that didn't prevent him from reappointing Mr. Tripp to a new term in early 1999. Moreover, upon learning that Mr. Blumenthal had corroborated the charges, the governor transferred Mr. Tripp to a higher-paying job in another agency. Mr. Tripp didn't resign until the attorney general's investigation was made public.
Mr. Rowland's continued loyalty to Mr. Tripp as he remained accused of mistreating the people he was supposed to be serving was inexcusable. Typically an employee so charged would have at least been transferred to a position where he was less likely to cause harm and referred for counseling. As a political appointee he could have been fired on the spot. Mr. Rowland did neither.
One would think that the governor would be extra careful in appointing a successor to Mr. Tripp. Apparently not. Mr. Rowland quickly chose another political ally with no experience, Lawrence Alibozek, to head the agency.
Advocates for the blind advised the governor to take time to find a director who is familiar with issues affecting blind people.
Mr. Alibozek, who has a business background, seems to be trying to understand the agency and the services it provides. But it's hard to believe there was no one else in the state with the expert credentials to run the agency.
Incredibly, Mr. Rowland, through a spokesman, declined to accept responsibility for the consequences of having named Mr. Tripp. Of course the governor is accountable. His appointees can make him look good or bad. More important, taxpayers deserve better than they were getting from the executive director of a $25 million state agency that performs a valuable service.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Barbara Walker]
Fueling the Fire
by Barbara Walker
From the Editor: The following moving article appeared in issue 4, 1999, of News and Views of Blind Nebraskans, the publication of the NFB of Nebraska. It was originally a speech delivered at the meeting of the Nebraska student division during the 1999 state convention. Barbara Walker is a long-time leader of the National Federation of the Blind and a Federationist whose words often inspire us all. This is what she said:
When President Clark called me a couple of weeks ago to ask if I would speak at the Student Division Luncheon today, I hesitated, as I nearly always do when asked to do something conspicuous. But when I suddenly realized she was handing me a chance to fulfill a pledge I had made to myself at our National Convention this past summer, the only viable answer I could give was, "Yes. And thank you for the opportunity."
I hope each of you--for we are all sometimes students, whether or not we're currently attending a school of formal education; and we are all sometimes teachers, whether or not we hold an academic degree--will be willing to help me keep my promise.
As I made sure my ticket was in my purse in preparation for the banquet of the National Federation of the Blind in Atlanta, I wondered if it would be the high point of the convention for me this year. Since the time I began attending National Conventions in 1975, I had thrilled many times to the magical spirit of the banquet. But this one, my twenty-fourth (I missed the convention in 1981 due to the birth of my daughter, Marsha), wouldn't be the same. Dr. Jernigan, who had been the catalyst of the vibrant Federation spirit for more years than I have attended conventions, wouldn't be making sure his ticket was on his person tonight. And he never would again. He was dead.
I sat down on my bed and let myself cry. Then I remembered how, ten years ago at banquet time in Denver, less than three weeks after my beloved husband Jim had died, I couldn't imagine walking into the banquet without him. But I did. And I was glad I had. I would go this time too, beginning by summoning the advice our first First Lady, Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, widow of our Founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, had passed along to me nine years ago when I was struggling to keep my composure.
I had been on my way back to my room after the 1990 Fiftieth Anniversary Banquet in Dallas. A close friend had just said to me, "I thought this banquet was just perfect. Didn't you?"
"It was great," I sincerely replied, fighting back tears. "But perfect?" my inner self said, "Certainly not."
One of the living ingredients of anything approaching perfection for me was tangibly missing. True, it had been a year since Jim had died. And my friend, who had also known Jim well, had learned to experience life without feeling the constant void of his physical absence. I, at that time, still hadn't.
As my friend and I parted and I reached the hall outside the ballroom, Mrs. tenBroek, who had undoubtedly heard our conversation and empathized with me, said that her husband, who had been dead for over twenty years by then, had shared with her something she continued to find useful when dealing with hard times: "Sometimes, the only thing to do is to keep putting one foot in front of the other."
It got me to my room that night and to many places since then. It would also get me to the 1999 banquet hall.
Soon I was there--one of the over two thousand present at our largest banquet ever. As I sat down, those on either side of me urged me to look inside my mug. (Since 1974 everyone attending our banquets has received a complimentary mug with the Federation logo and something specific to the Convention site on it.) Usually there is nothing inside. This year was different. Della Johnston handed me one item--a replica of the bust of Dr. Jernigan, which had been unveiled at the Memorial Service the previous day. I was interrupted from my exploration of this treasure by another of my tablemates. "Keep looking. There's more."
I knew there was. I had already found something that disturbed me--a book of matches.
"I noticed," I said, trying not to sound upset. But I was remembering the time, at the school for the blind, when we were all asked to light a match and, from that, a candle, in order to pass some class. To my relief, we had used wooden matches. When my turn came, I braced myself, stuffed down my fear, and performed the task flawlessly. I hadn't willingly done it since.
And book matches? Those were too dangerous for blind people. That's what I had been told until I met the National Federation of the Blind. And then, although I learned that it wasn't really unsafe for blind people to use them, I, well, I just preferred not to. I mean, why do that when there are obviously superior ways of getting the job done?
"Did you find the candle?" someone asked.
"Yes," I said, too quickly, and with an edge in my voice which I hoped hadn't revealed the emotion I was trying to conceal.
"Are you concerned about lighting a match?" Jeff Altman asked. "If so, I can show you this nifty way I learned where you can't burn yourself."
"Concerned," he had said. Afraid was more like it. He probably knew that, "but concerned" did sound kinder and less confrontational. Of course he knew. He hadn't even paused between the initial question and the offered assistance. Figuring that whatever we were going to do with the candles would be a tribute to Dr. Jernigan and knowing that I wouldn't want to look back on the event not having tried to participate, I accepted his offer.
Inviting me to put my hands on his if I wanted to, he explained that you fold the cover of the matchbook back so that the front cover touches the striking bar. After taking a match out, you place the head between the covers, far enough in that it will rub across the bar, but not in so far that you can't hold onto its other end. Holding the covers firmly together with your thumb and forefinger anchoring the head, you grasp the protruding end of the match between the thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand and pull the match out. He mentioned in passing that it's important to keep track of where things are so that you don't bring the lit match into contact with the exposed heads of those remaining in the open book.
On my first attempt I was gripping the match head so tightly that my other hand slipped off of the stick. My second try released the smell of sulphur, but no spark. I had loosened my hold too much. With Jeff's calm encouragement, I tried again. The match sizzled victoriously. Before my fear could cry "exception," I lit another and another. And there it was--the magical Federation spirit--mentor and student sparking a flame, putting out fear.
Although Dr. Jernigan hadn't directly taught me this technique, nor did he teach it to Jeff, he had nurtured our Federation family in such a way that we knew that, when it's done with love and respect, as one who knows teaches one who doesn't, both become stronger.
As I was thanking Jeff for helping me, President Floyd informed me that I was supposed to be at a different table. Flushed and apologetic, but also excited about the prospect of sharing my newest joy in learning, I went as directed. Sitting now between Aloma Bouma and Ardyce Earl, I proudly demonstrated the new skill Jeff had taught me.
Shortly thereafter we honored Dr. Jernigan by lighting our candles. When mine almost immediately went out, I triumphantly lit it again, reveling in the spirit of all who had made this fearlessly exuberant moment possible for me.
And later, as President Maurer was reaching the crescendo of another stellar banquet address, he put into words the glow I continued to feel from the candle-lighting tribute we had paid to Dr. Jernigan and, in my mind, to all of those, especially Jim, who had physically gone from our midst, but whose spirit and love were among us still: "The spirit they kindled," Dr. Maurer said, "can never be extinguished, because we will fan the flame. We will add fuel to the fire. And we, the members of the movement, will cause a great conflagration."
Those weren't just fancy words to me. They were the expression of a very intimate moment we in that room had shared. I made a personal vow to take both the spirit and the experience with me and to pass them on to others.
I intend, very soon, to make good on that promise. But first, I want to give you, again in Dr. Maurer's words, the reason I hope you'll accept not only the spirit of my offer but also the physical act of carrying it out, whatever your current level of confidence may be.
Dr. Maurer said: "We are the blind of more than a single generation and of every segment of society and of every part of the nation. We have the capacity to think and the mental discipline to reach conclusions that will alter the future for us all. We possess the confidence to bring those conclusions to reality. Nobody else can do it for us. We must do this for ourselves, and we will. Our future is bright with promise, because it belongs to us. And there is no force on earth that can stop us."
I said earlier that I had not willingly lit matches, even wooden ones, since that time in Nebraska City when I did what it took to get out of that class. How had I managed that, especially having directed an Orientation Center for the Blind for a number of years and having also been a parent?
A few times, when duty called, I made myself do it. But mostly I gave others the privilege. Between the time when Jim was alive to light candles for such things as birthdays and Advent and the time when I thought the children were old enough to do it themselves, we pretended the little lights in the chandelier above the dining room table were candles. (Both Marsha and John had said they looked like candles when they were dimmed.) I also discovered the existence of the torch lighter, something I continue to find useful.
In all of these instances I don't think my choices were necessarily bad or even detrimental to others. But inside I always knew I was hedging. And it was, as so often it is for me, the National Federation of the Blind that not only called my bluff but also gave me the chance to grow beyond my fear.
Please don't get me wrong. I haven't become a book match lover. I still would choose, when given options, another method of lighting a candle. But I no longer feel like fleeing the premises if something needs to be lit and book matches are the ready source of a spark.
I encourage you to participate in lighting a match and a candle today whether or not it frightens you. If it doesn't, you may be the one, like Jeff was for me, who releases someone else from fear. If it does, I hope you'll have the courage to let someone help you.
Please join me now in doing the kind of thing I believe Dr. Maurer meant when he talked in Atlanta about fueling the fire and fanning the flame. Let's add some sparks to that great conflagration!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The spectacular fifty-story atrium of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel, headquarters for the 2000 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind]
A Visit to the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel
by Barbara Pierce
From the Editor: Last year, in the June issue of the Braille Monitor, we published an article discussing the layout of the Marriott Marquis Hotel. When I sat down to write the piece, I had never entered the hotel and was working from small, rather imprecise maps, so the article contained a few errors. But by and large those who studied the text reported that it had helped them understand where things were and how to navigate a fairly complex set of public areas. To the best of my knowledge I have now corrected the mistakes in the original article, so here it is again this year for your consideration and for whatever assistance it may be to you.
I don't know about you, but I always find it helpful to know something about a convention hotel before walking into it for the first time. Several people who have already visited this year's convention headquarters hotel have pooled their information to give you a preview of the beautiful Atlanta Marriott Marquis, and I have tried to shape the material in a way you will find useful. I am grateful to them for their help, and I take full responsibility for any errors or confusion that may have crept in.
The main entrance of the Marriott faces Peachtree Center Avenue, which is west of the hotel. To reach the Marriott from the street, you walk east through a covered courtyard formed by the Marquis One Office Tower on the south and the Marquis Two Office Tower on the north. At the east end of the courtyard are the main entrance doors.
The hotel lobby is long and narrow along its east-west axis. The bell stand and hotel registration desk are on the north side of the lobby at the west end, and the concierge desk is between the main entrance doors on the west end. On the south side at that end is access to the Executive Center, a complex of meeting rooms named for wines and wine-growing regions--Bordeaux, Rhine, Chardonnay, etc. To the east of this area are the health center (free to hotel guests and open from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.) and a locker area. At the east end of the building on the south side of the lobby are more meeting rooms, this time named for rivers--Tigris, Danube, Thames, etc. Along the north wall of the lobby are hotel offices. Two elevators connecting the lobby level with the Convention and Exhibit Levels and the parking garage are located at the east end. Stairs and escalators leading down to the Convention Level and up to the Garden Level can be found in the west end of the lobby (south of the hotel registration desk).
The elaborate set of glass elevators in the spectacular fifty-story atrium pictured in the accompanying photograph occupies the center of the lobby and can be reached on every floor by crossing any of up to four balustraded bridges. A word should be said about the elevators. All fifteen are located in the center of the atrium and stop at the Convention, Lobby, Garden, and Skyline Levels, but it is important to board the one traveling to the guest-room floor you are hoping to reach. They divide like this: floors 1 to 17, 18 to 30, 31 to 41, and 42 to 47. If you should find yourself heading to the wrong part of the hotel, press the button for the Skyline Level, which is the tenth floor. Stairs connect the Skyline Level with both the ninth and eleventh floors.
The Garden Level is immediately above the lobby. Several restaurants are located on this floor. The west portion of the Garden Level is connected to the larger east side by walkways on both sides of the escalators and stairs that lead down to the main entrance. The courtyard in front of the hotel is beneath this west end. Access to the two office towers is from the south and north sides of this central space. Several retail shops, including a gift shop, are located in the center of this west end, and a group of four meeting rooms occupies the far west end and northwest corner of the space. These rooms are named for glamorous get-away spots--Shangri La, Riviera, South Hampton, and Monte Carlo.
The entrance to the Peachtree Center Mall is on the south side of the west section. Access to the food court, a number of shops, and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system is from this point on the Garden Level.
If you walk east a bit you will come to the two curving staircases leading to the Grandstand Lounge, which is partially suspended over the west end of the atrium. You can enjoy a casual drink while viewing the fifty-story atrium from this comfortable lounge. Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 12:00 midnight.
On the south wall of the Garden Level at about this point is Champions, the American Sports Bar. Choose from a wide assortment of appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Champions is open for lunch, dinner, and late-night entertainment. It also offers wine, cocktails, and beers from sixteen countries. Entertainment includes twenty-six televisions with satellite technology, two big screens, basketball, football, and eighteen-hole putting games, pool tables, and more. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
At the north side of the Garden Level at the west end of the atrium is the entrance to the Marquis Steakhouse: great steaks with a southern flair. Dinner is served nightly from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and features traditional steakhouse fare with southern culinary accents complemented by an outstanding wine list.
One of the most attractive features of the Marriott Marquis is the Atrium Express, located southeast of the Steakhouse. Quick fare includes specialty coffee drinks, breakfast pastries, juices, fresh fruit, sandwiches, and sweets. Hours vary. You can order quick-to-prepare items and carry them to nearby tables.
Almost in the northeast corner of the Garden Level is Allie's American Grille: traditional American cuisine, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It features a hearty breakfast buffet every morning. The hours are breakfast: 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.; Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; dinner 5:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight. In the southeast corner of the Garden Level is the indoor/outdoor swimming pool, but please note that access to it is from the health club on the Lobby Level.
The Convention Level is one floor below the lobby. The west end contains several meeting rooms named for world cities--Sidney, Bonn, London, and Zurich. The State and Cabinet Rooms are also in this area. The Marquis Ballroom occupies the north wall of the Convention Level across most of its west-to-east length. The smaller Imperial Ballroom, which divides into Ballrooms A and B, occupies the south wall across from Marquis Ballroom 2. Two smaller meeting rooms (the Consulate and Summit Rooms) extend a bit to the north at the east end of Imperial Ballroom B, forming a shallow alcove at this entrance.
The southeast area of the Convention Level contains a number of meeting rooms named mostly for Canadian and European cities. An escalator connecting the Convention level with the lobby of the Exhibit Level is at this east end of the hotel along with the two elevators already mentioned.
The Exhibition Level is immediately below the Convention Level, on the hotel's east and south sides. The Courtland Street entrance is also in the Exhibit Level lobby.
If you are among those who made your room reservations early, you will be glad to know that guest rooms at the Marriott are equipped with irons and ironing boards, coffee makers, and hair dryers. If all the information about this year's convention opportunities has convinced you to join us in Atlanta but you haven't yet made your reservation, there may still be space at the Marriott by the time you read this, but there is certainly room at our overflow hotels, the Hilton Atlanta and Towers, just across Courtland Street, and the Atlanta Hyatt, across Peachtree Center Avenue. The rooms at the Hilton and Hyatt are beautifully appointed. They are also equipped with hair dryers, coffee makers, and irons. These hotels, too, have wonderful restaurants (five of them, including Trader Vick's, at the Hilton and three at the Hyatt), and their elevators are likely to be less crowded.
To make your room reservation at any of our hotels, call their direct numbers: for the Marriott, (404) 521-0000, for the Hilton Atlanta and Towers, (404) 659-2000, and for the Hyatt, (404) 577-1234. Like those at the Marriott, NFB convention room rates at the Hilton and Hyatt are singles, $57; doubles and twins, $59; triples, $61; and quads, $63, plus tax of 14 percent. All three hotels will want a $60 deposit, for which you can use a credit card, and the charge will be made against your card immediately and then applied to your hotel bill. Please note that all three hotels have designated guest rooms for smokers and a lounge in which smoking is permitted, but otherwise they are smoke-free facilities.
The 2000 convention will be like no other we have ever conducted. You won't want to miss the event, and it won't be the same without you. So call Glyndon Square Travel, (800) 875-9685, to make your travel arrangements and the hotel of your choice for your room reservation, and join us July 2 to 8 for the most exciting and informative gathering of the blind to take place in 2000. See you in Atlanta.
Convention Transit Information:
MARTA to the Marriott Marquis
If you are planning to fly to Atlanta to attend the 2000 Convention and you have a manageable amount of baggage, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) offers convenient door-to-door service between Hartsfield International Airport and the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Enter MARTA'S Airport Rail Station on its North-South rail line, which is located immediately outside airport baggage claim, purchase a fare card, go up one level to the platform, and take any northbound train to Peachtree Center. At the top of the stairs the northbound platform is to the right. Because this station is the south end of the line, the train sometimes pulls up to the southbound platform to unload, sits and waits, then proceeds north from the southbound side. If a train is sitting on the airport platform, get on. It will head north. If you need further directions or help purchasing a fare card, the station attendant will be glad to assist you.
The Airport and Peachtree Center stations both have escalators, elevators, and stairs. Both stations have center platforms between the northbound and southbound tracks. The ride from the Airport to Peachtree Center takes seventeen minutes.
Peachtree Center is the first station north of Five Points, the downtown subway station at which the north-south line crosses under the east-west line. Five Points is easy to recognize because, when the train stops, the doors open on both sides of the car. When you get off the train, turn left (south). The first pillar you come to houses the elevator, which opens on the pillar's south side. The second pillar houses the stairs and an escalator coming down. The third pillar houses two escalators, one going up and one going down. Go up one level to the mezzanine. At the top of either the stairs or escalator, walk straight ahead, angling slightly to the right to locate the fare gates. After passing through the turnstile, turn right (east), walk to the end of the hall, then turn left (south). Walk straight ahead to the escalators at the end of this hall and go up. At the top of the escalator turn right, walk to the end of the hall, and turn right again. Begin looking for the mall doors on the left.
Enter the mall and go up two short flights of stairs to enter the mall food court. If you come into contact with the tables, go around them to the right. At the second major hallway, turn left and walk to the end of the hall. There you will find an enclosed bridge turning forty-five degrees to the left. This bridge goes over the intersection of Peachtree Center Avenue and Harris Street. At the end of the bridge is a small down ramp. At the bottom turn left and walk to the end of the hall. Turn right and look for recessed double doors on the left. Through the double doors is another hallway. At the end of this hallway turn right. You will pass several shops on your right. The first hallway to the right beyond the shops leads to the hotel.
Go straight down that hallway and under an overhang until you reach a railing from which you can look down into the lobby. Follow this railing to the right (south) and around a turn to the left. Work your way around three large planters and contact the railing again. If you continue walking east, you will pass the Grandstand Lounge suspended from above and can reach the elevator bank in the atrium. If instead you follow the railing around another turn to the left, begin looking and listening for the escalators connecting this Garden Level with the Lobby Level. The down escalator will be the first opening in the railing.
To reach the hotel registration desk, descend to the lobby and turn right at the bottom of the escalator. Walk to the north wall of the lobby. Turn right again and walk east to the registration desk, which is on the north wall.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Don Capps]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. Nell Carney]
Nell Carney Appointed
to Direct South Carolina Commission for the Blind
by Donald C. Capps
From the Editor: For several years now the South Carolina Commission for the Blind has been in turmoil. The board was divided, and the director was pretty clearly engaged in some fairly unsavory activities. Eventually the governor stepped in and replaced the entire board and told them to go find an effective person to administer the Commission for the Blind. That is what they have now done. Here is the report of their action as Don Capps explained it in the Winter, 2000, issue of the Palmetto Blind, the magazine of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina:
Monday, January 31, 2000, the Board of Commissioners of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind offered the agency's top post to Dr. Nell Carney, and she accepted. Her appointment was the culmination of a seven-month national search, which attracted some forty-three applicants. We commend the board for their outstanding work and selection of Dr. Carney. Because the NFB of South Carolina has an abiding interest in the affairs of the Commission, including the credentials of the individual who heads the agency, we applaud the Commission Board. It could not have chosen a more qualified person than Dr. Carney. Because of the Federation's great respect for and confidence in the current Commission Board, we did not seek to take part in its effort to select a Commissioner. Unlike the previous Board, which performed poorly, making unwise and irresponsible decisions which hurt the agency, the present Board has demonstrated its capacity carefully to think through serious matters affecting the Commission.
Dr. Carney has a lifetime of dedication and commitment to her fellow blind. She has a distinguished track record both as a highly competent blind person and as a professional recognized nationally. A native Tennessean, Dr. Carney attended the Tennessee School for the Blind. It was there that she first met the late Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was a young teacher at the school at the time. Thus Dr. Carney was Dr. Jernigan's student. Dr. Carney, whose life was greatly enriched by Dr. Jernigan, whom she greatly admired, attributes her philosophy and faith in the blind to Dr. Jernigan's influence.
At an early age Dr. Carney determined that she would get the very best education she could and use it and her training to improve the quality of life of blind Americans. In 1989 Dr. Carney achieved the nation's highest office in the field of rehabilitation, being appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate as Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Education. In this high office Dr. Carney had the responsibility of working with state agencies for the blind and with all state programs of vocational rehabilitation, which included supervision of numerous federal employees and oversight of millions of dollars appropriated by Congress for vocational rehabilitation programs.
Then, at a time when the New Mexico School for the Blind was in turmoil, Dr. Carney was chosen by its Board to serve as superintendent of the School and restore order. She accomplished this goal successfully and was head of the school when offered the Commissioner's position at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. A Monday, January 31, 2000, article in the State newspaper reported that some people in the blind community, not named in the article, were not pleased with Dr. Carney's appointment. These are probably the same small number, including Willie Driggers, Solomon Bradford, and John Warren, who participated in last June's Senate Committee hearing attacking the current Commission Board as well as the NFB of South Carolina. They are continuing their attacks, including attacks against Dr. Carney.
While Dr. Carney's prime objective will be to restore order to the Commission, improve services to the blind, and exercise fairness and consideration for all, she is a strong leader and will not be a doormat for anyone. I know this absolutely because I have known Dr. Carney for more than thirty years, closely following her career during that time. I also served on the Board of Directors of the NFB with Dr. Carney in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Again we salute the Commission's Board in acquiring the services of Dr. Carney, whose credentials are not surpassed by anyone in this big program of serving the blind. Here is the article that appeared in the State on January 31:
State Agency for Blind Selects New Director
by Kenneth A. Harris
A New Mexico woman with an extensive background in assisting the visually impaired was tapped Monday to become the Director of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind and restore public confidence in the troubled state agency.
Nell Carney, superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped, accepted the post, which will pay her $84,000 a year, during an afternoon conference call with board members. Carney, selected from a nationwide field of forty-three candidates, is tentatively expected to begin March 6.
"Dr. Carney has experience in dealing with diverse groups and situations," said Jacqueline Brown, board chairwoman. "We think she'll bring that to the agency and help us to continue to strive to serve the needs of the blind in the state of South Carolina."
However, not all are delighted with the board's decision. Privately some within the blind community have lobbied against Carney, raising concerns that stem from her stint as executive director of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services.
"Mrs. Carney had a very rocky experience here," said Mississippi state Rep. Daniel "Steve" Holland, a Democrat who was one of Carney's biggest detractors. "It was not very positive."
In a 1996 published report Holland called Carney "an incompetent idiot." That same year Mississippi lawmakers voted to slash her salary by nearly $20,000, but the governor vetoed the pay change. Carney's legislative woes emanated from grant actions she took against a nonprofit agency of which Holland was a board member. Carney's actions came amid a federal audit of the government funds.
Carney, citing health reasons, resigned at the end of 1996.
Donald Capps, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, said Carney was a "political casualty" while in Mississippi.
"I think she will be a good commissioner," Capps said of Carney. "This lady will have the overwhelming support of the state's blind. But she won't please everybody."
"Things were checked out, and we feel comfortable, quite comfortable with Dr. Carney coming on board," Brown said.
Patsy Jones, President of the American Council for the Blind of South Carolina, said she believes the board is trying to do what's best for the agency.
"It is extremely important that the agency get back on track and provide quality services to the people it serves," Jones said.
Carney will be the agency's first permanent director since Donald Gist, who was fired in the spring of 1998. In a dramatic turn of events, Gist was rehired in June, 1999. Less than a month after being reinstated, Gist resigned.
A deferred charitable gift annuity is a way for donors to save taxes and make significant donations to the National Federation of the Blind. (The amounts here are illustrative, not precise.) It works like this:
James Johnson, age fifty, has decided to set up a deferred charitable gift annuity. He transfers $10,000 to the NFB. In return, when he reaches sixty-five, the NFB will pay James a lifetime annuity of $1,710 per year, of which $179 is tax free. In addition, James can claim a charitable tax deduction of $6,387 of the $10,000 gift in the year the donation is made.
For more information about deferred gift annuities, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Norm Gardner]
And A Child Shall Lead Them
by Norman Gardner
From the Editor: Norm Gardner is the Treasurer of the NFB of Utah and a long-time leader of the Federation. He reminds us here how important it is to take the time to educate children about the truths of blindness. This is what he says:
The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind is simple and straightforward. Even a child can understand its logic and reason. We know that the blind are simply normal people with all the abilities and capacities of normal people. We know that, through the use of appropriate alternative techniques, the blind can accomplish the important tasks of daily living as efficiently as their sighted peers. We know that with proper training blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance. Even though the public at large usually assumes that the blind are incapable of doing almost everything, we have shown this to be false. We have shown the truth about blindness in the lives of thousands of our members across the country. If they keep an open mind, members of the public can come to understand our philosophy and the truth about blindness. Even a child can come to understand this truth.
Recently a neighbor asked if I would come to her first grade class and talk to her students about Braille and blindness. I had visited several times in her home, and we were well acquainted. I had made it a point, when my wife and I visited in their home, to show her children Braille, the long white cane, the Braille 'n Speak, and other alternative techniques which the blind use to accomplish various tasks of daily living. I thought she understood the points I was trying to make about blind people's being truly independent through the use of such alternative techniques. As I found out later, I had apparently not been very effective in helping her understand the truth about blindness.
On the appointed day my wife and I drove to the school. We were met at the door by two darling little first-grade girls who took turns speaking lines which they had obviously memorized. They welcomed us and introduced themselves. A few feet away sat a lady whom I presumed to be a teacher. Periodically she prompted the girls on their lines.
After a moment or so one of the girls asked if I would like to place my hands on their shoulders so that they could lead me to their classroom. When I said that I could simply walk along beside them to the classroom, they seemed confused. Their prompter reassured them, so we began walking down the hall. They clearly had not anticipated that I might be able to walk down the hall without being led.
After we had gone only a short distance, the prompter, who was following a few steps behind, said in a clear, controlling tone, "Now we are passing the trophy case." This was apparently a prearranged signal for the 2 little girls immediately said in unison, "Please turn left at the next door." Soon after we turned left and went through the door, the prompter said, "Now what do we say?"
The little girls said, "Now you will turn right and go down twelve steps."
I was to speak in an auditorium arranged like a pit with concentric semicircles of seats leading down to a smaller area, where the speaker could stand to address the class. I had been told that about 100 students would be attending my lecture. As I descended the stairs, my friend, who was already standing at the speaker's position, spotted me and came to meet me. She said in a loud, clear voice, "Hello, Dr. Gardner, you are now on the next to the last step. You have two steps left to go."
I was somewhat taken aback. I paused for just a moment, returned her greeting, and stepped down one step. To my amazement she then said in an even louder voice, as though she wanted to make certain that all in the room could hear, "Now you are on the last step. You have only one step left to go." I began to feel like a public spectacle, like a rat that was being used to demonstrate the correctness of a certain procedure.
When I was seated, my friend turned and introduced me to the class. She said, "Dr. Gardner has come to speak to us about Braille and about how we can help blind people." The picture was now very clear to me. I had visions of what my friend and her fellow teachers must have said to prepare the students for my visit. The emphasis had clearly been on how much help blind people need. They had been taught that a blind person could put his hands on their shoulders so they could lead him around. They had been taught that they should tell the blind person about everything around him like how many steps there were and which step they were on and how many steps were left. Perhaps they also wanted to learn something about Braille, but mostly it seemed they wanted to practice helping a blind person. I modified my lecture to emphasize the abilities of the blind. I talked about how a blind person gets across the street by just using his cane and listening to what is around him. I then asked the class, "So if you see a blind person standing on the street corner, does he need help?" They all shouted in unison, "Yes!"
I then told about an experience that happened to me when I lived in Boise, Idaho. I was standing on a corner in the downtown area when I heard someone jump out of a car on the opposite side of the street. The person slammed the car door and began running toward the corner opposite me. He was shouting something as he ran. I did not pay much attention to him. When he reached the corner, he turned and came running across the street toward me, still shouting as he came. I then realized, to my horror, that he was shouting at me. He was shouting, "Hang on! I'll be there in a second! Just hold on!" He reached me, grabbed my arm, and began hauling me across the street.
I said to him, "Mister, I don't know where you're going, but I'm waiting for a bus on that corner."
After relating this story and several other examples of the way the blind travel efficiently with the long white cane, the students in the class seemed to be getting the picture. Then I asked again, "So, if you see a blind person standing on the street corner, does he need help?"
Most of the students shouted, "No!" A few said "Maybe." I asked how they might determine whether the blind person needed help or not. With only a moment's hesitation, most of the children in the class shouted, "Just ask him!" Even a child can understand the simple truth about the normality and the abilities of the blind.
During my lecture I was vaguely aware that my friend the teacher was acting somewhat uneasy and uncomfortable. At some point she left the front of the class, and that was the last I saw of her that day.
As I was about to end my lecture, one little boy, apparently now quite convinced that blind people could do about anything, asked "So how do you drive a car?" The whole class got quiet as I prepared to give my answer. I said this was a good question, and I thanked him for asking it. I told him that blind people cannot drive cars. The room was very quiet. I told them that my wife, whom I had introduced earlier, had driven me to the school that day. Then, in order to test their reaction, I said, "I am very lucky that I have a wife who can drive me around because otherwise I would not have been able to come to the school today, right?"
A few of the students said, "Right!" but then some began to think and to suggest alternatives. One said I might have taken a bus. Another said I might have found a friend to drive me. Still another suggested that I might just have walked if I did not live too far away. It was clear that the students had listened to what I had been saying. Just as I was about to wrap it all up, another little boy shouted, "What about a taxi? You could have taken a taxi!" I congratulated them all on their good responses and ended my lecture.
There seemed to be no teachers around as I climbed the stairs to leave. I was relieved that no one shouted directions or information about how many steps were left. As I reached the top of the stairs, I was met by two more little girls who seemed a bit uncertain about what they should do. Finally one of them asked, "Do you need any help to find the front door of the school?" I thanked her for asking and said that I would be pleased if she wanted to walk with me to the door. She happily skipped along beside me to the door. It was clear that the children had little trouble accepting the simple, straightforward logic that the blind are capable, normal people who rely on simple alternative techniques to accomplish most tasks which sighted people accomplish through the use of sight. Our philosophy is sound. It is based on pure and simple logic which even a child can understand.
Unfortunately somewhere along the way logic and reason are often set aside in favor of myth and superstition about what a blind person is capable of doing. Perhaps it comes about as a result of that age-old experiment which is all too often encouraged by teachers and workers with the blind. Students are blindfolded and invited to perform some simple tasks. Within a few minutes most people who try this experiment will come to the conclusion that, if they were blind, they would be unable to accomplish almost anything. This can be a powerful message which can linger at the emotional level for many years. Whenever they meet a blind person after that, they treat him or her as incompetent because they remember their experience with the blindfold and recall how helpless and incompetent they felt when they were deprived of their sight.
If we keep doing our work as a Federation and keep educating the public and keep talking to those students across America, little by little we will change what it means to be blind.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Chuck Young]
Overcoming Employers' Doubts About the
Capabilities of People With Disabilities
by Charles E. Young
From the Editor: Charles Young has served as Director of the Oregon Commission for the Blind since 1979. He reports that one of the most satisfying parts of his job is working with consumers to enhance their abilities to find satisfying jobs. Here is a short article that summarizes some of the most important matters for job seekers to keep in mind:
Research indicates the greatest barrier to employment of people with significant and observable disabilities is the employer's doubts regarding the capabilities of such an employee. Employers usually have limited experience with job applicants who have significant disabilities. Therefore employers are often ignorant of the capabilities of this population. Take a moment to imagine from the employers' perspective the concerns or barriers they might perceive regarding hiring someone who has such a disability. If you imagine the concerns of employers, you can learn how to bring up and address these concerns in a job interview. Otherwise these concerns will become barriers to employment.
In order to identify the most common stereotypes and concerns that employers have, you may want to brainstorm with vocational rehabilitation professionals, employers, and employed friends. Consumer groups of persons with disabilities, the library, and the Internet might also offer additional information about employers' concerns. Here are examples of some common employer concerns:
* How would a disabled person get to work?
* Will insurance rates increase?
* Will a disabled person get along with co-workers?
Once you have identified possible employer concerns, you then need to develop a strategy for dealing with them in a job interview. The key is to extinguish or resolve these concerns by using positive means to bring up and answer the hidden questions that employers don't know how or are afraid to ask.
Describe to the interviewer the ways a disability has provided many opportunities to develop alternative effective ways of dealing with situations or people. Always close with a sentence that will refocus the discussion on your job qualifications.
Practice these strategies with friends or employment mentors to determine how successfully you resolved perceived concerns. The use of humor often helps. The following are two examples of how to address common (blindness and low vision) disabilities in positive ways to overcome employer concerns:
Blindness--"Growing up as a blind person has enabled me to perfect great organization and communications skills such as using the public transit system to be punctual, coordinating class schedules, and supervising readers to ensure that I could access and use materials to become a top student; but most of all I've honed my listening skills to be sensitive to the needs of others. This has enabled me to develop great friendships. Combined with my knowledge of computers, these skills make me exceptionally qualified for this job."
Low vision--"My visual condition has enabled me to problem solve ways of enlarging print using inexpensive and simple magnification devices: I've mastered our city's transit system to be prompt. Most important, I'm always aware of details which help me avoid mistakes. I'm continuously anticipating problems, devising solutions so I can get the job done. This, coupled with the work experience I received from volunteering and my love of working with people, makes me exceptionally qualified for this position."
Here are some points to keep in mind when developing a response or turning perceived weaknesses into strengths:
1. The statement must be true.
2. The statement must sound natural and be in the person's own words.
3. In our culture you need to look the employer in the eye (even if you can't see him or her) when addressing difficult issues. Looking away or down sends a message that the statement is not entirely true.
4. Demonstrate or explain disability-related accommodations in a way that uninformed employers can understand.
If you put yourself in the employer's position and understand his or her concerns, you'll understand how difficult it might be for someone to risk hiring you if these questions remain unanswered. The best way to resolve these issues and to reduce the employer's perceived risks is to take control of the situation by dealing with these hidden questions. Take the initiative to explain your disability in the most positive terms. When you anticipate employer fears, concerns, or unanswered questions by providing relevant information, you establish your credibility and increase your chances of being hired.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Tonia Trapp]
Of Mice and Refrigerators
by Tonia Trapp
From the Editor: The following story first appeared in Remember to Feed the Kittens, the sixteenth in our Kernel Book series. It begins with President Maurer's introduction:
Regular readers of the Kernel Book series will find the following story to be a marked change of pace. It contains no special insights about blindness, exposes no wrongs to be righted, seeks to teach no lessons. Why then do I include it? I do so merely because I thought you might enjoy this young woman's fanciful account of cleaning out the refrigerator as much as I did. Here it is:
Two days ago, at about 12:30 p.m., I bounded up the basement stairs from my bedroom and into the kitchen. It was lunchtime--time to scrounge something up from amongst the dizzying array of containers cooling in our refrigerator. Mom was not home, so I was on my own. Sighing, I attempted to prepare myself mentally for the task ahead of me.
Flinging open the refrigerator door, I began to examine the contents of the shelves, opening one container after another. Since I cannot see, I conducted my examination in two ways: first I would sniff. If that did not clearly indicate to me what was inside, then it was time to reach into the container, poking and prodding--at clear risk to myself--to find out what was there.
For a while things were going well. I discovered that we had one piece of lasagna left, just enough for me. How grand! This was just what I had been looking for. I also found some pickles and a leftover fish mixture that might be a fine complement to my lasagna.
Satisfied and happy, I surveyed the containers sitting on the counter that held my soon-to-be-eaten lunch. And then it occurred to me. Mom had not cleaned out the refrigerator in weeks. It was time for me to help her out. I am the only one who is usually brave enough to do this. Perhaps that is because I cannot see what lurks stealthily behind closed lids and therefore have no conception of the risks that I take when I decide to fulfill my self-inflicted duties of Kitchen Executor.
Now why I didn't just stop there, zap my lunch in the microwave, and leave the refrigerator clean-up chore for someone else, I have no idea. But something within me compelled me to continue to probe the depths of what I instinctively knew would disgust me. So I plunged in.
I started with the bottom shelf. Aha! That plastic bag with two rolls in it was still tucked cozily into the back corner. Last time I had pulled these out, three weeks ago, my mother had insisted that we were definitely going to eat those. Didn't happen. "These must be moldy by now," I thought. So out they came.
Then I moved to the next shelf above that. I found the same cylindrical, screw-top contraption that had been there a month and a half ago. Then its contents had smelled like liver--something I absolutely despise. Now, I pulled out the container and sniffed it again. Hmm . . . doesn't smell like anything. Oh no! No smell, no clue--that means I'll have actually to touch what's in there.
"OK, Tonia," I pep-talked myself, "you must be brave, now. Think of the good you are doing, the lives you are saving." I reached in and found a hardened mass of what felt like hamburger meat but which, surely, was not. "Interesting," I mused, "that fascinating mass of inedible glop seems to have shrunk over the past six weeks." And so it had.
I continued my painstaking work, which soon led me to extract a dozen or so tiny plastic vessels that could each hold only enough to feed a mouse family of four. When I stuck my hand into one of these, I found, to my utmost horror, a solidified, slime-ified substance at the bottom that repulsed me so much that I threw down the vessel and cried out in agony, "No, no, no! Yuck! That's nasty. Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?" I marched to the garbage pail with container in hand and shook out the slime creature inside. But wait, part of it hadn't quite made it into the bag but was hanging over the edge! I had to slide it all the way into the bag, and as I did so, I lamented loudly that now part of the bag was covered with the slime that I wished so much to escape. "Please," I whispered to the uncomprehending slop in the pail, "don't hurt me."
As I opened more of these mouse-feast-sized containers, I came to the conclusion that over time their contents do indeed solidify and, in some cases, slime-ify. I realized something else, too. The smaller containers are the ones that tend to get emptied last in my house, so they stay in our refrigerator longer than anything else.
It must be, I thought to myself, that my mother, poor dear soul, is under the delusion that the smaller the container, the longer its contents will last. Because of this we own a bewildering profusion of tiny vessels of all shapes and sizes--and these, needless to say, are constantly crowding and filling our refrigerator.
I wonder, now that I think about it, if there isn't some kind of conspiracy going on. Perhaps several thousand mouse families living in our house periodically tuck snacks away for themselves in our conveniently sized mouse-feast containers. This would explain why these receptacles fill our fridge, and it would also explain why their contents shrink and slime-ify so quickly. Everyone knows that mice are slimy little slicks, isn't that right?
So what if my theory is true. What then? Well I was just going to go shopping soon, so while I'm at the grocery store, I'll just pick up some more cold cuts. Oh, and we're running out of small containers. They're all filled up at the moment. Better get some more.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott plays with Sheriff]
It's A Cat's Life
by Peggy Elliott
From the Editor: Having just enjoyed a little story that talks about mice, you now have an opportunity to consider cats. The following story is reprinted from Remember to Feed the Kittens, the sixteenth in the NFB's Kernel Book series of paperbacks intended to educate the public about blindness. Peggy Elliott tackles the job from a slightly different perspective. The article begins with President Maurer's introduction.
Doug and Peggy Elliott are both blind and live in Grinnell, Iowa. When they invited a tiny blind kitten to join them and their two sighted older cats awhile ago, they told Kernel Book readers about little Sheriff and her insistence on being left alone to explore and do for herself. Now Peggy, who also serves as Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind, brings us up to date on the growing blind cat, Sheriff.
Although it's hard to say for sure what Sheriff's adventures tell us about blindness, there is no question what they tell us about the Elliott household: it's a great place to be a cat! And perhaps it only stands to reason that a blind cat would try to make the same adaptations to cat life as a blind human does to human living. In any case, for cat lovers it is a delightful story. Here is what Peggy has to say:
Our little blind kitten has grown into a nine-pound teenager, tomboy, and endless source of amusement and pleasure. When we last reported about Sheriff, she was a newcomer to our house, recently retrieved from the vet who had cured all her outside-kitty parasites and given us soothing ointment for her infected eyes. Soothing is all we could do; Sheriff cannot see.
This has never bothered Sheriff. She's constantly busy. Most cats play with an object for a while and then lose it. Sheriff picks favorite toys and keeps them around for weeks. The most recent one is a mouse with a bell on its tail. She'll smack it, chase it down, capture it, and smack again. When the game is over for a time, she'll leave it.
The thing about her, though, is that she remembers where. Later you'll see her carrying it in her mouth to a new hockey area or hear the bell jingling in another room. Now we think one of the older cats has finally stolen and hidden the mouse. But Sheriff always finds another toy.
Cellophane packages are another favorite, and Wednesday grocery day with all the fresh sacks on the floor is a highlight of the week for Sheriff. She hasn't done this for awhile, but she used to find a sack, put her front paws and shoulders in, lie down, and push herself and the sack forward while making a prrt prrt prrt sound for all the world like a little feline motorboat. When the sack would hit the cabinets and stop, she would go to find another and repeat the process.
Toys are an important part of Sheriff's day. Of course anything she plays with has to make or create sound. I think it's fair to say her very favorite toys are Doug and me.
When she was tiny, Sheriff spent hours climbing up and down the ladders on our ladderbacked kitchen chairs. When she would reach the top, she would balance there, all four feet on the top rung, very pleased with herself and sometimes bold enough to bat at a passing human toy.
She's too big now to do this climbing act; she'd just knock the chair over if she tried. So she's modified the game. Now she puts her back feet on the seat of an empty chair and her front paws on the top rung. She positions herself there when a human toy is going to pass and then bats out at you, swatting accurately at Doug or me as we pass.
It's amazing what Sheriff can find that fits the sound-making toy bill. One of us got a small electrical appliance, a tape recorder or something, that came packed in Styrofoam peanuts. We already knew about Sheriff's love of peanuts. They make nice scratching sounds as they move across a surface.
This particular box with the peanuts got set under the bed in our bedroom and forgotten. Little Sheriff is always looking at her world and the details of her world with her paws. She goes places and finds stuff the two older cats never do. One day she found the box.
The first we knew about Sheriff's discovery was when she arrived on the bed with a peanut and began hitting it around, chasing it, pouncing, hitting, all while two humans were trying to get a little sleep.
One of us took the peanut away and put it under a pillow as a temporary fix. Sheriff followed the sound of the peanut and looked with her paws on and then around and then under the pillow. The peanut was too far under for her to find.
A little dejected (we thought) Sheriff hopped off the bed and, after a little time had passed, began batting another Styrofoam peanut around the floor. I can't even begin to tell you how annoying the sound of a Styrofoam peanut and a joyful cat can be in the middle of the night. This went on for days.
I don't know how many times she kept us awake playing on the floor and how many times we got bounced by her frisking on the bed and how many Styrofoam peanuts we confiscated before we found the forgotten box.
And the little creep was clever enough to get the next one only after a pause so that we weren't sure what the distance was from her supply to the torture chamber that the bedroom had become while she had access to the endless supply. It's gone now, and we're careful to throw all peanuts away the minute they come in the house. She loves them as toys, but we like our sleep more.
It is constantly interesting to watch Sheriff exploring her environment. We got a new couch and love seat a few weeks ago, and Sheriff was immediately there, feeling, jumping, using her paws to see the outlines.
She's the first cat of our three that found that the backs are wide and padded enough to accommodate a sprawled, sleeping cat comfortably. She's appropriated the love seat as hers, and I've never seen either older cat up there.
When she was still a kitten, Sheriff showed us that she has a clear map of the world around her in her mind. We had a recliner set at right angles to a couch, with a coffee table in front of the couch. Sheriff would get on Doug's knee in the recliner, reach out with her paw to find the edge of the coffee table, hop to the table, and then hop to the couch.
After a while, we decided the coffee table was too much in that setting and removed it. For weeks thereafter Sheriff would get on Doug's knee, reach for the edge of the coffee table, reach farther, lean way out, wave around with her paw. She was convinced for a long time that she just wasn't reaching far enough since she knew there was a surface there. She's stopped doing it now, but she did it so many times we had to conclude that she really remembered the table.
Sheriff is not afraid to try new routes. In an area she is not sure about, she checks with a paw before stepping. But then she remembers the pattern for later. Our front stairs turn twice, and our back stairs turn once. At the top and bottom of both, one must pick angles to arrive at different locations.
Sheriff has taken to racing people up and down the stairs and winning. In the morning she waits at the top of the front stairs, usually used by the first person up. When one of us starts down, she leaps into motion, races ahead, and invariably beats us to the kitchen. She's running all the way.
We tied a string on a knob of my dresser as a cat toy. Neither older cat has to my knowledge so much as looked at the string. For about nine months the string formed part of Sheriff's morning ritual. She would flop down on the floor under the string and commence to swat, bite, kick, and roll in reaction to and activation of the string.
The game would last for ten to fifteen minutes a day, and she kept this up for about nine months. She's tired of that game now and doesn't do it anymore. But it's clear that she intentionally went to the string each morning, knowing where it was and how to play the game.
Once Sheriff got caught in a little dead-end hallway off the main upstairs hall. GirlKitty (one of the older cats) was standing at the mouth of the dead-end, growling at her. I stepped over GirlKitty and started downstairs.
Then it occurred to me that there was a reason why GirlKitty, the only Sheriff hater I know, was growling. She was penning Sheriff in the dead-end. I stopped about three steps down and reached through the widely-spaced rails into the dead-end. Sheriff was sitting right on the edge. I petted her and went on down a few more stairs. Then I heard Sheriff flop onto the stairs. She had figured out that, if I was there, she could be there too.
She didn't quite know the distances, but she did know that she had been trapped and that I had showed her, she thought, a way out. She hasn't taken that route since, but she was braver at trying than I probably would have been with the same information she had.
Speaking of how Sheriff thinks reminds me of the shrimp. We were having boiled shrimp one night, and we decided to put an empty bowl over the tails in the tail bowl as a protection against marauding cats. All three know they are not supposed to be on the table and steal food, but, well, you know cats.
If you leave an unusually juicy morsel unguarded, you have to take your chances. So we devised the tail bowl protector to save ourselves the trouble. First we heard the bowl being investigated and moved a bit, followed by a disappointed Bobby (the other older cat) leaving the table with his trademark "prrrt" as he jumps. Then the sounds were repeated followed by the more clumsy and non-verbal exit of GirlKitty. Then no sound for awhile.
Doug reached over to put a tail in the bowl and discovered little Sheriff industriously working on uncracking the puzzle. She had examined the container with the good smells very carefully with her front paws and had gotten one paw in between the lips of the two bowls. When Doug happened to reach over, Sheriff had the two bowls separated and was working her nose into the widening gap.
She had unlocked the puzzle neither older, sighted cat had had the patience or persistence to deconstruct and was about to graze upon the ambrosia easily withheld from both older cats. Though I don't specifically remember, I can guess that either Doug or I rewarded her persistence after we removed her from the table.
Then there are the dropped things in the kitchen. When a human is in the kitchen, Sheriff is usually there too, just in case. She wouldn't want to withhold an opportunity from a human to give her treats. To be fair, she usually hangs around one of us wherever we are. But back to the kitchen.
Anything you drop, from an ice cube to a spoon to a few kernels of frozen corn escaped from the bag, anything--if Sheriff is in the kitchen, she will probably find it more quickly than we do. The minute something hits the floor, she leaps into action, using her ears and her knowledge of the kitchen to run right to the dropped thing and kill it.
She seems to understand that these things are not usually subject to the game of cat hockey. It's just a mere matter of finding. And she likes to race to the dropped object, being the first to find it. She's even come tearing in from the dining room, around the refrigerator and into the end of the kitchen to find something.
Now that we know the game, it's a matter of pride to find the dropped thing before the cat does. But I would say that the score is about fifty-fifty, even though the human doing the dropping is usually closer when the drop occurs. Sheriff's good.
The most fun thing of all about Sheriff, though, is her intense conviction that she can communicate. Some of the communication, of course, deals with food. We recycle cans after washing them in the dishwasher and store them in the back hallway for the weekly city pick-up. When Sheriff was quite little, she dug an empty, dishwashed tuna can out of the recycling bin and carried it over to Doug's feet, dropping it there as a statement of desire.
Sheriff has never repeated that ploy since it didn't work. But when someone opens the refrigerator, you may find Sheriff there, standing on her back legs and touching the tuna can sitting on the second shelf at the left. She is always ready to let us know just where it is.
Sheriff also knows that her bell gives her away. Most of the time you can hear the bell merrily ringing as Sheriff trots along or rolls over during a nap. Sometimes you'd swear she's intentionally ringing the bell louder when she's happy and running around. But there are other times when the bell goes silent. Then you find a little cat nose or paw where it's not supposed to be.
As I say, Sheriff is certain she can communicate her wishes. She likes to snuggle down in bed against one of us for the night. She has a favorite place next to Doug, and she's sometimes ready for sleep before we are. Every now and then we'll be talking, and a sleepy paw will appear very gently on Doug's mouth. The message is clear.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Richard Ring demonstrates Humanware's Braille Companion to a group from the Overbrook School. They are standing at a station in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind.]
Finding Best Ways for Blind in Computer World
by Kevin Washington,
From the Editor: the following story appeared in the Plugged-In Section of the Baltimore Sun on Monday, February 28, 2000.
People with sight seem fixated on the mouse as an aid to blind computer users. But Richard Ring and Curtis Chong say those who can see are looking in the wrong direction.
"We get a lot farther with the keyboard," says Ring, who tests hardware and software at the National Federation of the Blind's technology center.
Chong, the NFB's technology director, and Ring, supervisor of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, are both blind and spend their days making side-by-side comparisons of devices and programs designed to help others who can't see.
On the second floor of a warehouse on Johnson Street in South Baltimore they rate the voices of screen-readers that translate written text displayed on a monitor, measure the speed of Braille printers (called embossers) that print on both sides of paper, and find out what programs work best with Windows 98 and NT.
"We're not as extensive as Consumer Reports," says Chong, "but we will find out the good things about something and the bad things about it."
The center has samples of about 200 devices worth $2 million and publishes a thirty-two-page catalog of hardware and software, augmented by advice that Chong and Ring dispense on the phone to anyone who calls.
Some of the gadgets are fairly common, such as voice- and keyboard-based note takers, while others are rare and expensive. For example, there's a Belgian-made Interpoint 55 embosser, which can output up to 800 Braille characters per second and costs about $77,000. NFB has one of three in the country: the others are owned by the Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in New York.
Chong and Ring decline offers of free devices from vendors to maintain the integrity of the testing process. While they say most vendors are doing a good job, occasionally they get strange offerings from inventors.
"Someone came up with the crazy idea of a cane with a wheel on the end that would have a detector to tell people when they were coming to a puddle," Chong says. "It was a dumb idea."
While he frequently gets suggestions for Braille keyboards and voice-recognition systems, Ring said a standard computer keyboard, properly designed with nibs on the "F" and "J" keys to guide the fingers, works just fine.
"We can input to our heart's content," Chong says. "It's getting the information out of the computer that's the problem."
Chong said the center's most important work revolves around Microsoft Windows because so many blind people use computers at work. While the operating system is friendly in some respects, he said, it needs auxiliary programs to unlock its potential for the blind. For example, the testers say the best of the half-dozen screen readers they've tested is JAWS for Windows, which costs about $800 and tells the user what selections he has made on the Windows desktop, opens an application, or gets on the World Wide Web.
JAWS depends upon the same keyboard shortcuts that any sighted user would turn to if he didn't want to use the mouse, and its synthesized speech can be adjusted for pitch and speed.
Screen readers can also translate Web pages, which many advocates see as a great equalizer for the blind because the underlying HyperText Markup Language can be deciphered easily.
Another important computer tool is the Braille display machine, a flat box that sits under a keyboard and duplicates the screen text in Braille characters produced by plastic pegs that poke up through tiny holes. The machine can even display a flashing cursor by popping the proper pegs up and down.
Chong and Ring also preach to agencies that serve the blind: This year they'll teach three classes to show rehabilitation counselors what's available for their clients.
"It's surprising how limited knowledge of technology is" among those who work at agencies to help the blind, Ring said.
Still Chong worries that prospective employers focus so heavily on the technology a blind person needs that they don't consider what's really important--the qualities the person can bring to a company regardless of his vision.
When they're not dealing with computers, the two often discover that other gee-whiz consumer technologies aren't friendly to the blind.
Chong went shopping for a stove recently and discovered to his horror that the latest fashion in expensive equipment is a smooth glass top with embedded burners and no protrusions to tell a blind person the location of the stove's eyes. He's also found that his satellite TV receiver has a program guide and instructions on-screen, processes he can't use. Nor, he said, are touch screens on computers, televisions, and bank machines an advancement for the blind.
"Everything is digital now," Chong says. "With the old analog television, you could feel the dial changing the channels. Now you can't feel the channel change.... "What we're trying to get people to think about is nonvisual technology when they're designing."
For information call the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind at (410) 659-9314. The National Federation of the Blind's Web address is <www.nfb.org>.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Don Morris]
First You Have to Ask . . .
by Donald J. Morris
From the Editor: Don Morris serves as President of the NFB's Merchants Division. He is a longtime leader of the Federation and a businessman with a flare for selling. In recent months he has been helping with our capital campaign. His experience is instructive and should encourage us all as we invite others to help change what it means to be blind.
If the program was "Jeopardy," "First you have to ask" would be the answer. The appropriate question with which to respond is, "What is required to achieve a successful Capital Campaign request?"
One of the challenges Dr. Jernigan left us is acquiring the funding to build the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, which he designed before his death. To accomplish this goal, we will need to raise eighteen million dollars. In one bite that goal seems almost unattainable; however, we don't have to do it all in one bite.
Many corporate givers plan their charitable gifts over a number of years. By this means they can give very substantial gifts. We have learned that even those of us whose means are more modest can make significant gifts by spreading them over a period of five years. We are asking our members and friends to join us in a five-year pledge to help achieve this objective.
As a Capital Campaign volunteer and as the president of the NFB Merchants Division, I have had the chance to work with several blind vendors in arranging for their participation in the Capital Campaign. We achieved the first goal set for blind vendors fairly early on with participation by only a limited number of vendors. Therefore the Vendor Goal has now been doubled, and I believe we will meet and perhaps exceed that target.
To begin with, it is important to know the essentials of our project: a five-story building (170,000 square feet) attached to the National Center for the Blind. It includes a research library, technology training labs, classrooms, a distance-learning center, an adaptive-technology development center, and office and flexible meeting space. The goal is to raise the needed funds by summer 2001 and to complete the project in 2003.
Through the facilities of the NRTIB, modern technology will provide learning opportunities to blind children, adults, and seniors. We estimate that more than a half-million blind people will be influenced by this new learning technology within the first ten years of the Institute's operation. The NRTIB will not provide larger and fancier offices for existing programs. All of these programs will be an extension into new areas of research and training.
But first you have to ask. . .
I saw our current building before it became the National Center for the Blind. My imagination was not adequate to foresee the day when the NFB could possibly use that much space. Fortunately Dr. Jernigan had the vision to know that opportunities were abundant if we only had the ability to seize them. He declared that the day would come when, even though we used our space at 1800 Johnson Street prudently, we would need still more. I personally was content to accept the idea that we would need the new space simply because Dr. Jernigan had said we would, and in fact our existing building is now full to the brim. However, as I have heard more details about the plans for the NFB's future growth and expanded services to blind people, I am becoming really excited about the potential and possibilities that lie ahead of us.
If you are a Capital Campaign volunteer, I invite you to adapt the letter I wrote to a number of vendors and send it to your colleagues and friends. Ron Gardner wrote a letter to members of the lawyers division which gave me an idea for the following letter. Vendor response has been very encouraging. Five-year gifts from blind vendors range from $1,000 to $100,000. The task of gathering the gifts we need is not difficult, but first you have to ask.
City, State Zip
Dr. Maurer has asked me to assist him and other National Federation of the Blind leaders in the important work of raising funds for our capital campaign. We are now in the midst of raising $18,000,000 for our new National Research and Training Institute for the Blind (NRTIB). I have been asked to contact blind business people like you who are affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. The goal of blind vendors toward this $18,000,000 project is $200,000 payable over a five year period.
As blind vendors you and I have been extraordinary beneficiaries of the work of the National Federation of the Blind. The rights and opportunities in the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Program, which we enjoy, are the result of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind. Like you I have received far more benefit than I can possibly repay. However, I have made my pledge and contribution toward the building fund and I am asking that you do the same.
Since its founding in 1940 the NFB has worked zealously to achieve the objectives set by Dr. tenBroek and other founders--to promote the economic and social welfare of the blind. Nowhere more than in the vending program has this goal been achieved.
For more than half a century NFB members and supporters have sought to integrate the blind into American society on the basis of equal rights and equal responsibilities. The NFB is built on a philosophy of self-help, self-respect, productive employment, and independence of spirit.
The National Research and Training Institute for the Blind will be connected to the National Center for the Blind, which houses NFB's national headquarters, located at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore. The new building will not replace our national office. The new building and the NRTIB, which it houses, will be dedicated to five related areas:
*Developing model programs enabling blind and visually impaired people to find jobs.
*Undertaking research and developing products that allow the blind access to information technology.
*Seeking to change the public's perception of the nature of blindness through information and resources.
*Improving education for blind children, especially increasing Braille literacy.
*Creating special programs for those who become blind as they age.
As of this writing, we have received pledges totaling about 20 percent of our goal. It's a great start, but we have a long way to go.
Please do two things. First, commit to make a pledge toward this very important project. Second, make your pledge in an amount that lets your conscience say, "This is my best effort." Remember that your pledge can be paid over a five-year period. That is to say your $10,000 commitment can be paid at the rate of $2,000 per year or $500 per quarter, if that is easier. You can do the math. Larger gifts will result in larger annual payments, smaller gifts in smaller payments.
While making our pledge, Shirley and I learned that we could give securities which have increased in value since we bought them. Doing this enabled the building fund to receive the full value of our annual pledge, and we did not have to pay capital gains tax on the appreciated stocks we gave. You might want to consider a similar strategy.
Doubtless you will have questions. Please feel free to call me, (301) 447-6380, home, (301) 447-2795, work, or Vince Connelly (410) 659-9314 or cell phone, (443) 413-6033.
I will be contacting you personally in the near future to help you with the details of making your pledge. In the meantime please think back and add up the benefits you have received by virtue of the work of Dr. Maurer, Dr. Jernigan, Jim Gashel, and others who have vigorously defended the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Program and your rights and mine to work and earn and be responsible.
Have you made your campaign pledge yet? We need everyone's help. The construction cost of our projected National Research and Training Institute for the Blind is eighteen million dollars. Please take this opportunity to complete your pledge form. Without you our job will be just that much harder.
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 five 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: __________________
This month's recipes have been provided by members of the NFB of Alaska.
Indian Fry Bread
by Carolyn Peter
Carolyn Peter is the Director of the Alaska Center for the Blind. She has lived in Alaska since 1966 and has been a member of the NFB since 1992. She learned this recipe from her Athabaskan mother-in-law.
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
a pinch salt
Method: Combine first three ingredients, and stir in enough water to make a batter the consistency of pancake batter. Pour 1/2-inch cooking oil into a black cast-iron skillet. Heat skillet and drop a spoonful of batter into it. Flatten batter with the back of the spoon and fry until it's browned and stops bubbling. Turn and fry on the other side until that side too is brown and stops bubbling.
Additions: For a different taste, you can add raisins, blueberries, corn, or cooked salmon leftovers--anything that sounds good to you. Eat and enjoy.
by Cindi Martin
Cindi Martin has been a member of the NFB since 1977. She currently serves on the board of the Alaska affiliate.
Chocolate or chocolate fudge cupcakes
Rocky road or other flavor ice cream
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar
Method: Freeze cupcakes. When ready to serve dessert, preheat oven to 475 degrees. In a large, very clean bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar till the mixture is frothy. Gradually beat in sugar and vanilla until the meringue forms soft peaks. Set aside. Remove cupcakes from freezer, and slip off paper cups, if any. Arrange cakes on a cookie sheet. Place a scoop of your favorite ice cream on each cupcake. Working quickly, spread meringue completely over each cupcake and ice cream, being sure to seal every serving by spreading meringue down to the cookie sheet. Do not allow any holes in the meringue to remain.
Bake for three to four minutes (until meringue browns slightly). Serve baked Alaska immediately, or you will have a mess of melted ice cream to clean up.
by Laura Smith
Laura Smith is a student at the Alaska Center for the Blind. She enjoys cooking and prepares wonderful dishes.
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
Method: Mix all ingredients, using a fork or whisk to beat well. Add two tablespoons of butter to a cast-iron skillet and heat in a 375-degree oven. When pan is hot, pour the batter in. Return pan to oven and bake four to eight minutes. Pancake is done when it is lightly browned and puffed up and over the sides of the pan. Serve with powdered sugar and fresh lemon juice. Enjoy.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Larry Meader]
Irish Potato Bake
by Larry Meader
Larry Meader currently serves as Second Vice President of the NFB of Alaska and has served as President.
4 cups corn chex cereal, crushed to two cups
4 tablespoons melted butter
3 cups stiff, hot, seasoned mashed potatoes
1/2 cup dairy sour cream
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
dash white pepper
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli, cooked and drained
1 cup shredded, processed American cheese
Method: Butter a 1-1/2-quart, shallow baking dish. In a bowl thoroughly mix corn chex crumbs and melted butter and set aside. Combine potatoes, sour cream, seasonings, and broccoli. Stir gently until well-mixed. Spread half this mixture into the baking dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese and half the crumb mixture. Repeat the process. Bake in a 350-degree oven for twenty to twenty-five minutes, until crumbs are golden. This recipe serves eight.
Baked Halibut with Sauce
by Al Waldron
Al Waldron is currently a member of the Board of the Alaska affiliate. He is an active member of the NFB and enjoys cooking. In fact, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.
4 6-ounce halibut steaks or fillets
1 large white, yellow, or red onion
1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon dill weed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Method: Peel onion and cut in half. Slice thinly and arrange slices on baking sheet. Place halibut steaks or fillets on top of the onions. In a bowl mix the remaining ingredients together well. Spread evenly over halibut and bake at 350 degrees for twenty-five minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Enjoy.
by Anne Conn
Ann Conn teaches home management at the Alaska Center for the Blind.
1 can Pillsbury crescent rolls
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 pound imitation crab
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Separate the dough into preformed triangles. Divide the cream cheese into ten equal parts, and place one pat of cream cheese on each triangle. Place one tablespoon of the imitation crab on top of the cream cheese, then roll the dough from the wide to the pointed end, and seal edges of each roll as well as possible. Shape each into a crescent. Place all ten rolls on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake ten to thirteen minutes at 375 degrees or until golden brown. You can substitute a teaspoon of chopped green chilies or jalapenos for the imitation crab.
Healthcare Professionals Meeting:
The convention meeting of the Healthcare Professionals group will be held on Tuesday, July 4, from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Topics for discussion will be establishing a new division and nominating officers. For further information please contact Donna Balaski, phone: (203) 753-7174 or email at <firstname.lastname@example.org.
President Maurer reminds us that any member may introduce a resolution for consideration at this year's convention. Resolutions must be in the hands of President Maurer or of Sharon Maneki, the Resolutions Committee Chairwoman, no later than June 19, 2000, two weeks before the meeting of the committee on July 3. Resolutions may still be brought to the committee for consideration as late as noon of July 3 if three members of the committee agree to sponsor it. No resolution will be considered by the committee, even when it has met these deadlines, if no sponsor is in the room and prepared to speak in support of the resolution at the time it is to be considered. The committee may make minor and uncomplicated changes to a resolution it is considering, but it will not engage in significant rewriting.
Resolutions are brought to the floor of the convention for discussion and a vote if the Resolutions Committee votes recommend do pass; it is not brought to the floor for consideration if the committee recommends against consideration, unless five official Convention delegates agree to sponsor it.
Send resolutions in final form to Sharon Maneki, 5843 Blue Sky, Elkridge, Maryland 21075-5979, fax, (410) 379-6606. Sharon's e-mail address is <email@example.com>. If possible, please attach resolution files to simplify clear reproduction.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Galileo Reading Machine, two years old, asking $1,500. Also Braille Companion with floppy drive, one year old, asking $1,500. Call (203) 753-7174.
Free Cookbook Available:
Those interested in receiving print or Braille editions of the NFB's Fiftieth Anniversary Cookbook free of charge should contact the Materials Center (410) 659-9314, extension 216, fax, (410) 685-5653. This book includes all the recipes published in the Braille Monitor until 1990. This offer is good for four weeks. Written requests may be sent to the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
Cassette Albums for Sale:
There is no better testament to the value of a thing than the comments of a satisfied customer: "When tapes are organized, finding the one I want is much easier than groping around for them in a box of mixed tapes, rattling around willy-nilly."
Once again the NFB of Illinois has the perfect solution to groping "willy nilly" in stacks or boxes of mixed tapes. For a mere $3 each you can have your very own attractive, compact, white vinyl albums that accommodate a dozen cassettes. Our cassette albums come complete with clear sleeves front and back for print labels and ample space on the spine for Braille labels. Find the Illinois table in the exhibit hall at this year's National Convention, and take advantage of an opportunity to free yourself from toppling tapes. If you are unable to attend this Convention, you may still avoid the dreaded cassette avalanche by sending a check or money order, made payable to the NFB of Illinois, in the amount of $3 for each cassette album, to Stephen O. Benson, NFB of Illinois, 7020 N. Tahoma, Chicago, Illinois 60646.
Braille Code Charts Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The idea for producing this unique chart for Grade II Braille came from a Braille student. The items in this chart are not necessarily in alphabetical order but occur in dot-logic order, grouped by dot formation. Also the contracted-word form appears first. This helps the student quickly reference that mysterious dot formation never seen before while reading a book or writing a paper. The sections are arranged in the following order: single-letter words, letter combos, dots and dot combos, lower case formations, mirror images, and final touches. It is not necessary to memorize this chart before reading a good Braille book or magazine of your choice. Talk to your Braille instructor or another Braille user about getting a Braille book, preferably one you've been itching to get your hands on. Also check with your state's agency for the blind or state library serving the blind. NFB members in your area will be happy to help and advise you.
These booklets are approximately five-by-seven inches, thirty-three pages, printed on durable cardstock, and bound on the side. Convenient to carry when you want to study or read while traveling. Final Touch can be purchased for $5 each from Infinidot Access Services, 4303 South M Street, Tacoma, Washington 98408, (253) 471-9248, e-mail <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>.
New Shaklee Web Site:
Federationists Loren and Teresa Wakefield have asked us to carry the following announcement:
TLC Distribution invites everyone to check out its new Web site at <www.shaklee.net/wakefieldtlc>.The site offers a wealth of health information and the opportunity to purchase Shaklee products, which include nutrition, herbs, skin care, environmentally safe cleansers, and water-purification systems. We also have a convention special in which we will donate a percentage of your order to the NFB if you tell us to do so. We look forward to helping people achieve better health and improved lives.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I have a Voyager CCTV Electronic Visual Aid for sale. It is Model VR2A with a black-and-white ten-inch screen and is in excellent condition. Asking $750. Price negotiable. If interested, contact Barry DeGardner at (763) 786-1372 or e-mail him at <email@example.com>.
Introducing I.D. Mate:
We have been asked to carry the following Announcement:
I.D. Mate is a portable electronic device that allows you to associate a recorded voice message with a bar code number that you scan. Bar codes (or UPC symbols) are already placed on virtually every product sold in stores today. But if a bar code does not exist on a particular item, you can simply attach one, using bar code labels supplied with the I.D. Mate. You don't need to locate the bar code label. You simply rotate the I.D. Mate's built-in scanner around the product to get a read. The scanner can read the bar code in any direction.
The I.D. Mate can be used to identify cans, jars, boxes, bottles, clothing, prescription drugs, compact discs, albums, cassette tapes, diskettes, important papers, file folders, and anything else to which a bar code label can be attached. The entire unit weighs only two-and-one-half pounds and is stored in a convenient carrying case that can be worn on a belt or over the shoulder. Using the carrying case protects the I.D. Mate and the scanner from accidental drops or mishandling. Each removable flash memory card (used to store verbally-recorded information) is about the size of a credit card. The cards come in sizes ranging from four to sixteen megabytes (for reference, a four-megabyte card has about thirty-four minutes of recording time). The cards are removable and can be upgraded to add additional memory as required.
For more information, contact En-Vision America at 1013 Porter Lane, Normal, Illinois 61761, telephone: (800) 890-1180.
New Magazine by Phone:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
You can now pick up the phone and dial direct an audio magazine created and produced specifically for the blind and visually impaired. The USA Connection for the Blind has news, helpful information, interviews, and recorded voices of other blind individuals from across the USA. It offers many other features such as audiobook reviews, described-movie reviews, hiking and biking, guide dogs, inspiration and religion, your poems and short stories.
All that is necessary to access this magazine is an ordinary touch tone telephone. Just dial and listen. You may dial, listen, and then leave your comments and suggestions. To participate in this interaction, dial (918) 365-5655, listen for the table of contents, and press your selection. Listen or press the star button and leave your suggestions and comments. If you prefer, you may send your comments or submissions by e-mail to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. You can fax messages to (918) 627-8867. You may contact the editor, Chuck Ayers, at 5343 South Joplin Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74135, or e-mail <email@example.com>.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
One Alva Braille terminal model ABT-380, 85-cell refreshable Braille display. This unit has been used very little. It can connect by either serial or parallel interface and comes with carrying case and Braille documentation. Asking $7,000 or best offer. The list price from HumanWare is $10,595 without carrying case. If interested, please contact Loren Mikola, (425) 705-3394 (day), (425) 558-0131 (evening), or e-mail <lorenm@Microsoft.com>.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sharon Maneki makes her acceptance remarks during the awards banquet.]
The Soroptimist International of Arbutus, Maryland, the Baltimore area chapter of a service organization active in communities across the nation, honored Sharon Maneki, President of the NFB of Maryland, as its Woman of Distinction for 2000 at a ceremony on April 13, 2000. The nominating letter for Mrs. Maneki said in part:
Sharon Maneki is a professional writer with a published book. She has successfully served as President of a statewide organization. She and her husband (a Doctor of Mathematics with his own professional career) always present a united front and in other ways illustrate to the observer a well-kept marriage. She is pleasant and civil, even when confronted by ignorant people who are trampling on the rights of blind persons she is helping. She is logical, humorous, unselfish, and deeply sincere in her wish to assist those who have need of her skills (both blind and sighted). Mrs. Sharon Maneki is a wonderful role model for any woman who wants an example of a fulfilling life in service to one's family and community. As a woman who is totally blind, Sharon is also a wonderful role model for young girls and adult women who need to know blindness will not prevent them from living a full life.
The nominating materials went on for pages citing examples of Mrs. Maneki's work through the years to assist and protect the rights of blind people. We congratulate Sharon Maneki on this honor and wish her luck as her nomination moves upward in the Soroptimist competition.
Music Courses for the Visually Impaired:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Don't let a visual impairment keep you from learning to play the guitar or piano. Intro to the Guitar for the Visually Impaired is a beginning guitar course that talks the student through the basics of guitar playing using no written materials or visual references. The course comes in an attractive bookshelf-quality four-cassette album that is fully Brailled (tapes and album spine) and includes a free "Guitar by Ear" instructional cassette tape. The Library of Congress has at least eighty copies of Intro to the Guitar for the Visually Impaired.
Also available is Introduction to the Piano for the Visually Impaired. It is a beginner-level course similar to the guitar course. It too is a four-cassette album, including a free Piano-by-Ear instructional cassette tape."
Each course is $37, including access to a toll-free number that you can call during business hours if you have questions or tuning problems. To purchase a course with a credit card or for more information, call (912) 249-0628. You may contact Bill Brown, Music V.I., Valdosta Music and Publishing, 704 Habersham Road, Valdosta, Georgia 31602, <Bilbrown@mciworld.com>.
Deaf-Blind Singles Group:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I am starting a deaf-blind singles connection. Membership is free. Cassettes are needed. All participants provide is material in either Braille, large dark print, or tapes. Please send some basic information: full name, address, phone (if it is voice, TDD, or TTY), birth date, hobbies, and interests. Do you wish to be listed as a Christian? Which format do you prefer? Please send your information to Donna Jean Webb, 9205 Collinfield Drive, Austin, Texas 78758. If you have questions, you may call (not collect) between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Central Daylight Time, (512) 491-8701.
New Family Member:
We recently received the following joyful news:
Keri Stockton, Past President of the West Virginia Parents of Blind Children Division, writes to announce the adoption of their newest family member. Lavender Rose FuDong Stockton was born in July of 1999, and adopted on January 16, 2000. Keri was told her birthday was November 27, 1998, but that turns out to have been according to the Chinese way of counting from conception. Since the family got to choose Rose's birthday celebration day, they decided on July 4. Rose was twenty-three inches tall and weighed seventeen pounds when she met her new mom. She is now several inches taller and weighs about twenty-eight pounds. She has learned to sit, crawl, and walk around furniture. Rose is from Mi Luo, Hunan, China, and has already charmed every American she has met. We all welcome her into the Federation family.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Juliet Classic interpoint Braille embosser, recently serviced, with the latest features, including enhanced Braille graphics and dynamic Braille scaling (prints micro to jumbo size). Selling at half price or $2,000 plus buyer's choice of shipping. Inquiries preferred from experienced equipment users or serious buyers. Send Braille or typed letters to Constance Griesmer, 836 Santa Barbara Street, Apt. C, Pasadena, California 91101-1233, phone, Pacific Time, weekends or 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. weekdays (626) 793-9684.
First Volume of Art History Through Touch and Sound Now Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Art Education for the Blind has released European Modernism 1900-1940, the first in a ground-breaking multi-volume art history series for the blind and visually impaired. Developed by Art Education for the Blind, Inc., Art History Through Touch and Sound: A Multisensory Guide for the Blind and Visually Impaired is the result of nine years of research, development, and testing. Each volume comprises a bound book of tactile diagrams and a companion audio narrative. The diagrams use a lexicon of seven standardized patterns, enabling the reader to acquire familiarity with the tactile vocabulary. The narrative guides the reader through the diagrams, providing art-historical information and detailed descriptions of the works. The success of this two-part system depends on these complementary components.
Color and black-and-white photographs of the works accompany the tactile illustrations. Image captions--which include attribution, date, media, dimensions, and location or custodian of the work--are provided in both large print and Braille. Additionally, interpretive sound-compositions offer alternative ways of understanding a work of visual art's thematic essence or compositional dynamic. Each volume includes art-appreciation activities and a short bibliography. This first volume explores works by fourteen major artists and seven art movements in twentieth-century Europe.
Early versions of Art History Through Touch and Sound have been used in courses at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Drew University, New Jersey. Authors for this volume are Art Education for the Blind and Paula L. Gerson with Virginia Hooper. Illustrator is Teresa Kardoulias. Trim size of package is 10-1/2-by-13 inches. It includes spiral-bound soft-cover book and audio-cassettes. The type is eighteen-point Helvetica and transparent Braille. There are thirty-four tactile diagrams and nineteen color and black-and-white photographs. The audio running time is approximately nine hours. The price for this volume is $99. ISBN: 1-890116-07-6.
The innovative methodology developed by the AEB is documented in the brochure, Making Visual Art Accessible to the People Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired. It is available for $25. The brochure must be pre-paid.
The book must also be prepaid. To order, send a check to Art Education for the Blind, Inc., 160 Mercer Street, New York, New York 10012. For more information, please contact AEB staff at (212) 334-3700, (212) 334-8721, or (212) 334-8723. The e-mail address is <TOKU@idt.net>, and the Web site is <www.arteducation.org>.
A Gift That Says Something:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Give the gift that says something. The new Speak to Me Spring/Summer Catalog features a large variety of best sellers. Featured items include talking VCR's, voice-recognition cordless phones, talking pedometers, talking tape measures, talking calendar/clocks, and a variety of digital recorders. An assortment of talking and musical novelty key chains, magnets, plush animals, and fun novelty gift ideas are also included. Also available is a large assortment of wall and desk clocks from funny talking Loony Tunes wall clocks to more serene talking and musical prayer clocks with hymns, plus plenty of fun games, toys, and children's products. Call (800) 248-9965 to receive your free spring/summer Speak to Me Catalog. Request print, cassette, or IBM floppy disk. To receive an e-mail copy, send your request by e-mail to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Old Optacons for Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Several older Optacons, models R1C and R1D, are available. Accessories also available include Visual Display, lens module, typewrite accessory, and tracking aids. For more information please respond by e-mail to <email@example.com>, or write to Technology Center, NDSB, 500 Stanford Road, Grand Forks, North Dakota 58203-2799, phone, (701) 795-2720.
Arkansas School for the Blind Alumni Reunion:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Arkansas School for the Blind Alumni Association will hold its annual convention/reunion at the school during the weekend of June 2 to 4, 2000. All graduates, former students, and friends of the school are invited to attend. For more information contact Travis or Margaret Johnson, 302 Woodford Place, Paragould, Arkansas 72450, (870)236-8498. If you know you will not be able to attend this year but would like to be added to our mailing list, please contact us.
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.