by Barbara Pierce
The 2000 convention was a time of new beginningsnew divisions, a Job Fair, a new structure for family activities, and most of all a new approach to the creation of our new Research and Training Institute for the Blind. Offsetting the unfamiliar was the familiarity of the Marriott Marquis, which we knew to be a marvelous site for convention meetings. If anything, the staff was even more friendly and constructive this year, giving information and good directions when requested and happy to let us figure out the layout when that was more helpful. The Hilton and the Hyatt, our overflow hotels, were also excellent facilities. A raft of UPS volunteers were on hand as well to provide information about hotels and the City of Atlanta.
Robert Parrish, President of the National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith, saw an example of the genuine helpfulness of the Marriott staff on the final day of the convention. Leaving the exhibit hall for the last time, he met a Federationist whose cane had just broken. The tip needed to be glued. She was upset because she had a plane to catch and no idea of how to get herself a working cane for the trip home in the time she had left. Together they went to the front desk, where a member of the security staff found them and listened to the problem. He then excused himself and made a phone call. He came back to report that he had located glue and would repair the cane for the woman in a few minutes.
The campaign wall of honor and the model of the National Research and Training Institute as displayed in the Jernigan suite.
That was not an isolated example of staff helpfulness and efficiency. Mr. Cobb, who deals with reservations difficulties, reports that check-in and out were the easiest he can ever remember. All three hotels handled our members by and large with speed and courtesy. All in all, the consensus seemed to be that we would be pleased to return to Atlanta for a National Convention.
The Presidential suite and the Georgia hospitality suite were delightful places to visit and meet people. But Mary Ellen Jernigan's suite was the headquarters for the capital campaign, and people flocked there to examine the nearly indestructible model of the proposed National Research and Training Institute for the Blind and to make their campaign pledges. One of the most interesting displays in the suite was mounted behind the model. It was a temporary version, in print and Braille, of the wall of honor, on which the names of those who have already made contributions of $5,000 or more are inscribed. Ultimately the wall will be a permanent part of the Institute, but volunteers made changes to the paper version in Mrs. Jernigan's suite as the week went along.
John Cheadle gives directions
about exhibit hall set up as
Bob Braswell (right) and Harry
Gawaith and Ben Hodgkiss (left) listen.
Convention registration this year opened on Monday, July 3. By any reasonable measure Sunday, the second, should have felt like a preparation day, and certainly scores of people were busy unloading the trucks that had arrived the day before from the National Center and setting up all kinds of tables in the exhibit hall. But the remainder of the headquarters hotel was also filled with activity. The Writers, Guide Dog Users, Secretaries and Transcribers, and Deaf-Blind divisions all scheduled meetings or seminars that day. Those interested in ham radio, the NFB computer bulletin board, or using the Internet could find meetings or workshops. People hoping to learn about Blazie or Myna products also found workshops to assist them. And people wanting NEWSLINE(r) demonstrations or training for the NFB's capital campaign could get training.
Peggy Chong spreads a cloth over
a table in the exhibit hall.
The Job Opportunities for the Blind National Seminar provided hundreds of participants a fascinating mix of solid advice about jobs and job searching, information about effective training in job skills and the necessary skills of blindness, and inspiration for the hard work of job-hunting. The emphasis this year was on short, information-filled presentations, so the audience had to stay on its toes in order not to miss a thing.
Kris Cox unpacks American
Action Fund Braille calendars
In addition to all these activities, July 2 was the occasion of an entire day filled with family activities sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The morning began with registration and continental breakfast. Several interest-group tables were located around the room: general information, multiply impaired children, home schooling, gifted students, residential schools, etc. Particularly inspiring among the historical blind figures being impersonated at the gathering was Dr. Jacobus tenBroek as recreated by Jerry Whittle.
One of the new things this year was a pilot mentoring program staffed by college-student members of the National Association of Blind Students. They were available to spend time with young teens. The program seems to have been a great success and will be expanded next year.
The NOPBC activities registration line.
From 10:00 a.m. till 2:00 p.m. blind and sighted youngsters were welcome to attend the Braille Carnival. Carnival Buddies were available to escort the kids through the many activities available for them. I looked in on the fun at one point, and the booths were so crowded that there was no way to count the kids engaged in Braille activities. Easily sixty or seventy kids and their buddies were at work on the activities.
The parents seminar took place from 10:00 a.m. to noon, and the afternoon consisted of workshops that were repeated often enough for people to get to at least three. The workshops were "Got a Hammer? Blind Kids Can Take Shop Class"; "Teaching Self-Advocacy Skills; Tactile, Auditory, and Visual Techniques for Low-Vision Children"; "Modeling Social Skills for Blind Kids: Discussion Group"; "The Braille Lite in the Classroom"; and "Beginning Braille for Parents."
Carla McQuillan talks to an attentive
The afternoon also presented several choices for teens. Again this year we conducted separate discussion groups for young men and young women to give teens an opportunity to talk about issues of concern to them as blind people reaching adulthood. At the same time Carla McQuillan taught a baby-sitting class for those interested in earning a bit of extra cash during the week and beyond.
An adult volunteer hands out
That evening families had a chance to get to know each other over pizza. At the same time teens in one group and older pre-teens in another enjoyed scavenger hunts that took teams of kids practicing their cane skills all over the hotel to collect a specified list of items that could prove where they had been. Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) sponsored a drop-in room for teens Monday, and NOPBC had a supervised hang-out room during the rest of the week, where teens could meet and get to know other kids.
President Maurer sings at Karaoke Night.
But back to the peaceful day of pre-convention activities. The Georgia affiliate sponsored a dance--"Welcome to Georgia, Kick up Your Heels!" with live music provided by the Blend. Those who were interested in doing more than dancing could show everyone how it's done at the Karaoke Night sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Blind Students and BLIND, Inc. Among those who sang was President Maurer , who performed all the verses of "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," including the introduction. (It is entirely possible that he is the only person alive who knows the whole introduction.)
Monday morning began with the traditional pre-opening long line outside the ballroom designated for convention registration. As always, the moment the doors opened, the lines began to melt, and by late morning people were walking through the process with no wait at all. It is always an amazing experience to watch this process work. It is impeccably planned and managed, but it also depends for its success on the scores of volunteers who staff the operation from beginning to end.
Kyra Sweeny of California
At 9:00 a.m. the 2000 Sensory Safari opened for two days of exploration and discovery of wild animals under the guidance of the Georgia chapter of Safari Clubs International, which supplied the mounts and the guides. Adults and children alike enjoyed their exploration.
Kyle Conley of Ohio meets a lioness.
As soon as convention registration opened, the exhibit hall also opened for business. As usual both print and Braille lists of exhibitors and their locations in the huge hall were available to visitors at the door. This helped, but people also enjoyed wandering the aisles and discovering what was to be found. Fifty-seven vendors from beyond the NFB had displays, and thirty-one Federation-connected groups had tables.
Bob Bracket (left) listens while
One very special event at the convention seems to grow more popular each year. This is the cane walk. On registration morning volunteer cane instructors work with youngsters and their parents, helping them find the right cane and learn to use it effectively. Many kids discover for the first time that it can be cool to use a cane when you know what you are doing. All morning long this year children and their parents got a taste of cane travel, Federation style.
Monday afternoon found the Resolutions Committee assembled to consider thirty-six resolutions, thirty-four of which made their way to the Convention floor for consideration Saturday afternoon. This was certainly one of the largest collections ever of resolutions considered by a National Convention. A discussion of the various resolutions and their complete texts appear elsewhere in this issue. In two respects the Resolutions Committee was a bit different this year. Sheryl Pickering, who has served as secretary to the Committee for twenty years, was unable to attend the convention this year. Sharon Omvig stepped in at the last minute and did a wonderful job in this important task. Also Second Vice President Peggy Elliott, who is always an active participant in the resolutions process, was absent from the meeting because her husband Doug had been hospitalized earlier that day. Though Doug remained several days in the hospital for observation, he was back on the Convention floor by the end of the week and has now returned to full health.
Following the Resolutions Committee meeting, the mock trial, sponsored by the National Association of Blind Lawyers, was gaveled to order by Judge Charles Brown. This was the third such event, and again the presenters contrived both to educate and to amuse the audience/jury with their antics. This time we did not see a reenactment of a trial that had actually taken place. In the case under consideration, the City of Monroe, Louisiana, dropped the charges of trespassing and aiding and abetting trespass against the blind defendants before they could be tried. So we were treated to the trial that might have taken place.
The prosecution team of Bennett (Prows E. Cuter) Prows of Washington and Ray Wayne of New York were faced by the valiant defense team of Scott LaBarre of Colorado and Anthony Thomas of Illinois. The case before us arose when students and staff from the Louisiana Center for the Blind were arrested outside a bar after they refused to allow themselves to be escorted everywhere they wished to go inside the establishment. Memorable performances were turned in by Carla McQuillan as the bar owner, Kevan Worley as the arresting officer, and Noel Nightingale as a helpless blind singer who testified that blind people had to be led around because customers refused to stay in one place or leave the furniture where it belonged. Melody Lindsey was an LCB student who did not choose to be arrested, Jim Marks played her sighted boyfriend, and Harold Wilson played himself. Along with Larry Povinelli, who substituted for Peggy Elliott as the bailiff, they provided great fun and a sobering reminder of just how helpless many blind and sighted people think we are.
Nani Fife teaches a room full
Monday evening was filled with ten committee and division meetings and seminars. The Diabetes Action Network and the National Association of Blind Students conducted information-packed seminars that attracted hundreds of people. One of the most unusual events, however, was instruction in how to do the hula. The class was taught by Nani Fife, President of the NFB of Hawaii.
The annual meeting of the NFB Board of Directors began promptly at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, July 4. President Maurer began proceedings by dedicating the convention to our campaign to create the National Research and Training Institute. The phrase adopted to express our intention was "Let's build it now!" Everyone then stood for a moment of silent recollection of those of our Federation family who are no longer among us, followed by the pledge to the American flag and recital of the NFB pledge. Among the announcements made at the start of the meeting was that Spanish translation of Convention proceedings would be available this year.
Dr. Maurer announced that convention rates at the Renaissance Center in Detroit next year will be $55 for singles and $65 for doubles, twins, triples, and quads. The banquet will take place on Thursday, July 5, so we are back on the standard convention schedule. Almost $100,000,000 has been spent renovating the facility since the last time we were there in 1994, and it is now a Marriott property, so we are all looking forward to the same kind of service and facility we have enjoyed in Atlanta. Dr. Maurer also announced that the 2002, 2003, and 2005 conventions will be at the Galt House in Louisville, and they will all take place during the first part of July with banquets on Thursday evening. This news was greeted by loud cheers. Where the 2004 convention will be held is still uncertain.
The eighteenth Kernel Book was released at the convention, and President Maurer read the introduction and part of the first story, which he had written. He then urged people to write Kernel Book stories and send them to Mrs. Jernigan. He also reviewed prices for various publications and called attention to several new items available at the NFB store in the exhibit hall and later from the Materials Center at the National Center. Among these were a talking pedometer and a talking measuring tape.
Steve Benson, Chairman of the Blind Educator of the Year Selection Committee, presented the 2000 award to Priscilla McKinley of Iowa. A full report of the presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Barbara Walker and Carlos Serván.
One of the most delightful moments of the Board meeting was the brief presentation made by Barbara Walker and Carlos Serván of Nebraska. They came forward to announce that as of July 1 Nebraska was the proud possessor of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind. This is what Barbara Walker said:
I am pleased, on this the two hundred twenty-fourth anniversary of our country's freedom, to bring you news of another declaration of independence. On April 10 of this year Governor Mike Johanns signed into law the existence of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. On May 8 we held a ceremony at which Governor Johanns; Senator LaVon Crosby, sponsor of the bill; Michael Floyd, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska; Pearl Van Zandt, Director of the agency; and I as the Federation's recommended designee for the Commission Board made remarks. I would like to share an altered version of what I said there with you here.
In his 1999 banquet address entitled "The Mental Discipline of the Movement," Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "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. "Our future is bright with promise, because it belongs to us. And there is no force on earth that can stop us."
In Nebraska we put this to the test in our quest to create a Commission for the Blind. In 1943 an agency called Rehabilitation Services for the Visually Impaired was established under the Board of Control. Two years later the Nebraska Services for the Blind became a separate department. In 1962 this agency, now called Nebraska Rehabilitation Services for the Visually Impaired, was transferred to the Department of Public Institutions, and in 1996 to the Department of Health and Human Services under the Partnership Act.
When our efforts not to have this agency included in the Partnership Act failed and it was once again buried in a department where it didn't belong, we turned to concerted action and began in earnest the process of creating a Commission for the Blind. Earlier this year, when the Lincoln Journal/Star carried an editorial in opposition and several of us received a letter from Governor Johanns stating he hadn't yet decided what to do, our multi-year roller coaster ride took another dive, and seeds of doubt once again churned in our stomachs.
Around that time I read an article in the April Reader's Digest in which Judy Sheindlin, commonly known as Judge Judy, said, "If I had to boil my message down to one sentence, it would be that people create their own opportunities." She went on to explain that it happens through "self-discipline, individual accountability, and responsible conduct." That, of course, is how we've done this.
We showed self-discipline when we made calls, wrote letters, responded to the negative newspaper article, and educated legislators (including the one who said he knew about blindness from having lived for years across from the school for the blind in Omaha--meaning, by the way, the school for the deaf; the school for the blind is in Nebraska City). We showed individual accountability when we sat quietly in the chamber while our bill was debated, even when the previously mentioned Senator said that a vote for our bill would be a vote against the blind. And we showed responsible conduct when we remained respectfully silent when other legislators movingly supported our efforts and resoundingly passed the bill, causing the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired officially to come into being on July 1, 2000.
On June 12 Bob Burns, Bill Orester, Maya Samms, Dorothy Westin-Yockey, and I received calls from the Governor's office with news of our appointments to the Commission Board. All of us are blind. Four of us are, among other things, members of the National Federation of the Blind. There are three lawyers, a therapist, and I. As a single parent of teenagers, I've dealt with, and sometimes felt like, both a lawyer and a therapist. My term, according to the certificate I received, is from June 7, 2000, through December 31, 2003.
I have, in preparation for this responsibility, been studying the intricacies of our new law. I can't help mentioning one of them that particularly struck me. Section 8 (2) (b) says that the Commission may "facilitate small business incubation." Can't you just imagine a bunch of people in chicken suits perched on nests around a table waiting for eggs under them to hatch? I know. The word incubate can also mean "to cause to develop or take form, as by thought or planning." But that's so mundane.
Be all of that as it may, we in Nebraska have created the opportunity to take ourselves into that bright future which Dr. Maurer spoke of last year. We shall meet it with confidence and claim it with dignity; we shall shape it with love and live it with respect. For we know from where we've come, and neither we nor future generations must ever go back there. It's still up to us, and we're ready to go!
Carlos Servan in his beautiful, strongly accented English, then said:
I don't intend to compete against Barbara's speech.
"If an organization of the blind is not strong enough and independent enough to cause agencies for the blind trouble and do them damage (that is, jeopardize their budget, create political problems for them, and hurt their public image), it is probably not strong enough and independent enough to do them any good either. Likewise, if agencies for the blind don't have enough authority to damage the lives of the blind they are hired to help, they almost certainly don't have enough authority to give them much assistance." This is what Dr. Jernigan most eloquently told professionals in work with the blind in 1994, and the impact of his words still rings today. State agencies for the blind are seriously threatened today unless they work in true partnership with consumers. Several years ago most state agencies for the blind were custodial in nature, concerned about what they called professionalism, and involved with administrative complexity and prestige rather than common sense and what was good for the blind.
Our role as blind people today is to shape our own future and determine our own destiny. This is because sixty years ago the National Federation of the Blind tasted collective freedom. Blind people must be respected and be exposed to good training so that they can use their talents and abilities.
When I, a newly blind person, entered the rehabilitation program in Nebraska--I'm sorry, New Mexico, I feel like a Nebraskan; I am a Nebraskan, by the way. (You might have noticed my midwestern accent. [laughter and applause]) Eleven years ago I didn't speak English, didn't have a college education, didn't have high expectations about myself, and doubted that I could be successful.
The New Mexico Commission for the Blind under the leadership of Dr. Schroeder elevated my self-esteem and my expectations and supported me. The support was by investing a lot of education in me. They spent money--a good bit of money, by the way. And now I hold a master's in public administration and a juris doctor degree, and I am a deputy director of the newly created Nebraska Commission for the Blind.
This would not have been possible if the New Mexico Commission for the Blind had not been a consumer-driven agency with primary input from the National Federation of the Blind. Considering the intricacies, technicalities, and divided responsibilities under a huge umbrella agency, neither legislator nor governor can track everything down. On the other hand, if you have a board appointed by the governor, the commissioners can inspire and provide the Commission for the Blind much better direction.
When in 1996 the Nebraska Rehabilitation Services for the Visually Impaired was moved into the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services system, both agency personnel and consumers were told there would be no negative impact. Almost immediately, however, both the business manager and the public relations specialist were removed to the state office building and buried under the demands of a 6000-employee entity. Today, however, with the new Nebraska Commission for the Blind and the five Commissioners who are blind under the direction of Barbara Walker, the agency has the hope and willingness to work in partnership with consumers to provide the best services, the type of services they now get.
Dr. Jernigan trained several of our leaders. He gave good education. He believed in investment, and as Dr. Schroeder mentioned at several conventions he attended in Nebraska, successful rehabilitation is the way to get jobs for blind people, not just jobs, but quality jobs, jobs that will allow blind people to use their full talent and capabilities. I have no doubt that this will happen in Nebraska under the new structure. [applause]
President Maurer commented following these remarks:
There is a notion that the existence of separate, identifiable programs for the blind is likely not to continue in the structure of government, that the trends are all against it, that nothing can be done. Look at Nebraska! [cheers] It is not a matter of prediction; it is a matter of decision and work. If we put it together, it will happen; we can make it occur. We've done it in Nebraska.
The Leonard Euler Award
John Miller, President of the Science and Engineering Division, then came forward to present the first-ever Leonard Euler Award to Chris Weaver of the MAVIS Program at the University of New Mexico for the extraordinary contribution the program has made in helping blind people achieve in science and mathematics. A full report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Sharon Maneki next presented the 2000 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to Marlene Culpepper of Georgia. The text of this entire presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Even though Peggy Elliott was unable to be present at the Board meeting, the members of the 2000 scholarship class were introduced to the Convention and given a moment to tell the group something about themselves. This was the largest scholarship class we have ever had. The program was expanded this year, and the value of a number of the scholarships was increased. A full report of this year's scholarship program appears elsewhere in this issue.
The executive vice president for business development of CrossMedia Network Corporation, Michael Pratt, then made a brief presentation of the company's e-mail-by-phone product, which was on display at the convention. CrossMedia has sought out the NFB for advice and assistance in developing a product that is truly useful to and useable by blind people.
Tom Stevens, who chairs the Associates Committee, announced that Mary Ellen Jernigan earned the right to wear the gold associates ribbon for raising $9,387. Art Schreiber won the gold for recruiting 414 members-at-large and associates, which was a record. The Associates Program is an important way of inviting friends, family members, and acquaintances to join us in the important work we are doing in the NFB. Associate forms are available from the National Office. Following the discussion of the Associates Program, President Maurer adjourned the meeting of the Board of Directors.
The remainder of the day was crowded with division and committee meetings and gatherings of interest groups. Among these, those interested in the performing arts actually took the necessary steps to become a division by the close of convention. The tenBroek Fund auction, with Bennett Prows serving as auctioneer, drew a number of interested bidders. The item of chief interest on the block was Dr. Jernigan's NFB jacket.
The Eloquence of Courage was the name of Jerry Whittle's newest play, staged by the Louisiana Center for the Blind Players. In this short drama Louis Braille must overcome the cruelty and cunning of his associates to keep his reading and writing code alive. Two performances took place Tuesday evening.
President Maurer prepares to
open the first general session
of the 2000 Convention.
With an enthusiastic roar from the delegates and President Maurer's shouted announcement, the first general session of the 2000 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind opened precisely at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday, July 5. Following the opening door prize and the invocation, McArthur Jarrett, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia, and Al Falligan, Georgia Chairman of Convention Arrangements, welcomed the delegates. Members of the Georgia affiliate were busy passing out fans in the shape of a Georgia peach on a stick. The inscription read: "We are fans of NFB of Georgia, National Federation of the Blind Convention 2000, Atlanta, Georgia" Then to the strains of "Sweet Georgia Brown" the audience clapped and fanned up a breeze to keep cool.
McArthur Jarrett, President
of the NFB of Georgia.
Irvin Mitchell, the representative of Georgia Governor Roy Barns, then welcomed the convention to Atlanta. Longtime Federationist Ruth Falligan next brought greetings from the office of the Mayor of Atlanta, Bill Campbell. Mr. Jarrett then gave his own rousing greeting to Convention delegates.
President Maurer called attention to the corporate banners displayed below the front edge of the platform. They were present throughout the convention and belonged to Freedom Scientific and CNN, both gold sponsors, and UPS, a silver sponsor of the convention. Dr. Maurer then pointed out that this convention was dedicated to our promise to ourselves, to one another, and to the blind people who come after us to build it now. We have conceived of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, and now we are engaged in raising the funds that will build it and make it possible for the blind to change the nature of blindness in the years ahead.
Al Falligan, Georgia Chairman
of Convention Arrangements.
At this point it became clear that even more than usual this would be a working convention. Post cards picturing the Institute as we have conceived it were available by the hundreds. They were addressed to the governor of Maryland. President Maurer asked us all to write a brief message to the governor asking him to allocate state funds to assist with this building campaign. The message was that the Institute would have national status and be important to the lives of the blind of the nation. Dr. Maurer also urged the audience to take post cards home to those waiting to fill them out and send them in following the convention.
Continuing the theme of a working convention, Jim Gashel next urged state delegations to assist members to write letters to RSA Commissioner Fred Schroeder in support of his proposed rulemaking of June 26 requiring that employment in sheltered workshops no longer count as competitive-outcome closures. Sheltered-shop employees would then be eligible for continued VR services. The final rule will be influenced by the comments received during this comment period, so we must communicate our view that closure must mean real jobs with living wages, and those who have not yet achieved that goal must continue to be eligible for VR services to assist them to reach that dream.
One other project required delegate effort during the convention. We circulated petitions urging Congress not to permit the Librarian of Congress to redirect National Library Service funds to other purposes. This effort was successful. Shortly after the convention the appropriations bill passed with this protection in place. At this writing, the post card and letter-writing campaigns have not yet borne fruit, but we are still working.
The roll call of states is the primary order of business during the opening general session of the NFB Convention. Each state delegation is asked to announce the names of the official delegate and alternate delegate to the Convention and the name of the state's member of the Nominating Committee. President Maurer also asks for the date and place of the next state convention and the name of the national representative if one has already been assigned. Once the delegate gets the floor, however, a good bit of additional information is also announced. Here is a small sample of the information delegates offered.
Braille bills became law during the past year in Michigan and New York. When Nebraska got busy orchestrating its bill creating a commission for the blind, they added on language to obtain ongoing funding for NEWSLINE(r) for the Blind and to insure that all technology purchased by state government be compatible with access technology. A number of state agency for the blind directors were or soon would be in attendance at the convention. These included newly appointed directors in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota; and directors in New Jersey, New York, Utah, and Washington State. In addition past-director Dick Davis of Minnesota, who Joyce Scanlan said cared more about services for blind people than developing one-stop job centers and who therefore was no longer the state agency director, was part of the Minnesota delegation.
A number of states announced that they now have or are almost immediately going to have Jobline, our phone-access-technology connection to the Department of Labor's America's Job Bank. These states are Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia. The states that have acquired one or more NEWSLINE sites in the past year are Arizona (3), Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Missouri (3), Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas.
The afternoon session began as always on the first day with the Presidential Report. It appears elsewhere in this issue in its entirety, but this is the way it began:
During the past twelve months the National Federation of the Blind has been as vigorous and as active as it has ever been. Our programs to assist blind children and adults have continued at an accelerating rate, and we have undertaken new initiatives as well. Although the Federation is expanding in size and diversity, we remain committed to the principles that brought our organization into being sixty years ago.
We are the blind--from every economic segment of society and every geographic area of our nation--blind workers in the sheltered shops, blind vendors, blind employees in industry or the professions, blind people seeking employment, blind college students, parents of blind children, those who are newly blinded, and blind people who have not yet discovered what the future can hold for them. Our movement is made up of all blind people who possess the faith to believe that working together we can build a future that is brighter than has ever existed for the blind. This is our dream; this is our purpose; this is the essence of the organized blind movement; this is the National Federation of the Blind.
Ever Lee Hairston
The audience response to this report was tumultuous, and the next agenda item kept delegates on the same exulted plane. "Black, Blind, and Successful: the Story of a Fighter" was the title of a powerful address by Ever Lee Hairston, First Vice President of the NFB of New Jersey. She described her journey from a sharecropper's cabin in the deep South to her life, work, and volunteer activity today in New Jersey.
Congressman Bob Barr
The next agenda item was titled "America's Labor Shortage: Recognizing the Contributions Blind Americans Offer the Marketplace" by the Honorable Bob Barr, Assistant Deputy Whip and Member of Congress from Georgia. He delivered a strong endorsement of our conviction that blind and disabled workers deserve to have artificial barriers removed from their path so that we can work and earn competitively. Congressman Barr is a cosponsor of H.R. 3540, which would remove the sub-minimum-wage exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act for blind sheltered-shop employees. He urged the audience to keep working with Congress to express our views.
In some ways one of the most interesting and revealing presentations of the entire convention was the "Report from the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled" delivered by Air Force Brigadier General, Retired, Leon Wilson, newly appointed Executive Director of the Committee. The General delivered a speech urging people across the entire disability community to unite to see that twenty-three million jobs are created for disabled people. He explained that not everybody wants a white-collar job, that working with your hands is respectable. Nothing that he said opposed our views, except that it became clear in the discussion after his remarks that he believed that workers whose only disability is blindness, but not all blind workers, may perhaps deserve to earn a living wage--a term that seems to mean to him something more than the minimum wage.
David Pillischer, President of Sighted Electronics, then delivered a fascinating compilation of good advice for blind technology users titled "Engineering New Products for the Blind." He pointed out that competition is the only truly successful force leading to effective technology product development. But he warned that users must not be satisfied to accept negative reports about new technology. Very often competitors spread bad news or highly inflated stories about competitors' product problems.
"Just When We Thought We Knew it All" was the title of an address by Gerald Kass, Executive Vice President of the Jewish Braille Institute of America. Mr. Kass is about to retire after thirty-three years of service at JBI. He pointed out that questions have a way of changing just when we thought we knew the answers. He drew parallels between the solutions being offered by JBI and the NFB and thanked the organized blind for our determination to raise expectations and answer emerging questions.
Following announcements and a final door prize, Dr. Maurer recessed the Convention, and people left the room with as much expediency as possible since the room had to be cleared for the dance that evening with music by the Kid Brothers.
The dance floor was crowded with
fun-loving people as everything
else at the 2000 convention.
In addition more division seminars and workshops were scheduled as well as the Music Division's Showcase of Talent.
At both the meeting of the Board of Directors and the first general session of the Convention, Dr. Maurer had admonished delegates to wear their campaign T-shirts to the Thursday morning session. An effort had been made this spring to send everyone who registered at the 1999 convention a new capital campaign T-shirt. So those who had received shirts in the mail this spring and who had remembered to bring them to the convention came to the session properly attired. When the rest of us arrived, we found volunteers posted outside the ballroom doors ready to equip us with shirts as well, at least as long as the supply lasted. The result was that the vast majority of those attending the session that morning were wearing brightly colored shirts depicting the National Research and Training Institute with fireworks exploding above it. The legend read "Let's Build it Now."
Left to right, Theron Bucy, Mary
The first order of business Thursday morning was the election. It being an even-numbered year, all of the officers and six at-large members of the Board were up for election. The six whose terms had not expired were Don Capps, South Carolina; Wayne Davis, Florida: Priscilla Ferris, Massachusetts; Bruce Gardner, Arizona; Noel Nightingale, Washington; and Joanne Wilson, Louisiana. Those nominated by the committee to serve another term and elected by the Convention by acclamation were Marc Maurer, Maryland, President; Joyce Scanlan, Minnesota, First Vice President; Peggy Elliott, Iowa, Second Vice President; Ramona Walhof, Idaho, Secretary; Allen Harris, New York, Treasurer; and Board Members: Steve Benson, Illinois; Charles Brown, Virginia; Sam Gleese, Mississippi; Diane McGeorge, Colorado; Carla McQuillan, Oregon; and Gary Wunder, Missouri.
As soon as the election was complete, President Maurer gaveled the delegates to as much order as that many people in one very large room can ever achieve. He explained that never before during his presidency had he turned over the gavel to the First Vice President but that he was required to go deal with a piece of convention business. With that Joyce Scanlan assumed the chair. After commenting that this was a first for her at the National Convention, she presided over a couple of door prizes and introduced Sharon Maneki for a report from the Resolutions Committee. Sharon had just begun to speak when a loud noise began at the back of the convention hall.
Dr. Maurer, wearing his capital campaign T-shirt and a hard hat, was slowly driving a miniature crane down the center aisle. John Cheadle, also in a hard hat, was walking on one side and Wayne Wilhelm on the other. Mrs. Jernigan was walking behind. Mr. Wilhelm was responsible for creating the crane. He used an ambulatory assistance scooter as the base and constructed it of plywood. It measures three feet wide and about five feet long, with silver painted caterpillar-type treads extending in front and behind. The crane itself is painted construction yellow and has a door on the left side and windows. A six-foot boom extends at a forty-degree or so angle in front with a pulley and hook dangling down and held back with ropes.
The existence of the crane was a closely held secret in the weeks preceding the convention. Mr. Cheadle and Dr. Maurer practiced having Dr. Maurer guide it in response to Mr. Cheadle's spoken commands. This worked beautifully and would have done so in the convention hall except that Craig Gildner, who runs the NFB recording studio, had prepared a digital tape of construction noise, which was broadcasting over a very powerful speaker on a shelf located behind Dr. Maurer. The result was that he could hear none of Mr. Cheadle's commands. Inspired by the necessity of the moment, they discovered that, if Mr. Cheadle reached through the window and tweaked the carry basket in front of the handle bars with which Dr. Maurer was steering, he could understand what Mr. Cheadle wanted him to do and execute the instruction. Using this system, they drove down one aisle, and across the front of the hall, going back up an aisle on the other side of the room. Then they came down the center and stopped just behind the video platform.
Meanwhile the audience had exploded into cheers, clapping, and laughter. Periodically the chant, "Let's Build it Now!" would burst out spontaneously. Needless to say, convention activity came to a complete stop for many minutes together.
|Mr. Cheadle stands beside the crane.|
When order was at last restored, President Maurer said:
Many, many things I have done for and in this organization. Never have I done such as this, but never have I anticipated as much need for us to think and act in a way that will change what we are and what the rest of the world thinks about us.
Almost nobody has ever seen me in a T-shirt, but, as you observe, here at the podium of the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, I am wearing one. [cheers and applause]
In a sense I do it for the same reason Dr. Jernigan wore, for the first time ever, a tuxedo at the 1971 convention banquet. The speech was "To Man the Barricades," as dramatic a statement of our intentions and philosophy as the name implies. We were at the height of the NAC battle. We intended to put an end to custodialism. It would no longer be business as usual. We would no longer tolerate exclusion from the boardrooms of power. We would make the decisions and control our own lives. The tuxedo symbolized all of that and more.
We left that convention knowing that the time was now to do what we had never done before and to do it in a different way. We had an assignment to change what it means to be blind, and we have done so in ways beyond our wildest expectations.
So why the T-shirt? Because we are not done yet. We are not done until every man, woman, and child in this country and beyond comes to know, understand, and believe as we do about blindness. Just as the exclusivity of the tuxedo came to symbolize our assault on the then existing, self-proclaimed elite of the blindness power structure, so the universality of the T-shirt will come to symbolize our final assault on the hearts and minds of all who have not yet come fully to share our understanding of blindness.
Today we begin that. Or today we begin the behavior that will change forever what has been to what can be. Today we commit ourselves to build it, and to build it now.
With that as introduction, we then turned to "Creating our Own Future: Building the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind." A panel of Federationists and friends spoke about the campaign and their part in it. A more complete report on this important agenda item appears elsewhere in this issue.
Congressman Johnny Isakson
"Pay Equity for Blind Americans: the Future of the Subminimum Wage Policy Affecting Blind Workers" was the topic addressed by the Honorable Johnny Isakson, Member of Congress from Georgia. Congressman Isakson had been on the platform during the preceding agenda item and was so moved by what he heard that he began by making his own campaign pledge. He then went on to tell the audience why he introduced H.R. 3540 to remove the sub-minimum wage exemption for blind workers. It was a rousing speech, and it is clear that here is one Member of Congress who understands the importance of removing the barriers that prevent people from demonstrating their potential.
Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, next discussed "The Digital World." This was a summary of the exhaustive process the NLS is engaged in to determine exactly what every element of the current recorded book program costs. They have identified ninety-eight component parts and now have the cost for each. Next they will be able to consider the costs of various alternative digital systems for providing the same level of service in this upgraded mode. They calculate that switching to a different system will cost in the neighborhood of 150 million dollars, so they need to demonstrate that they can spend the money wisely and efficiently.
Following Mr. Cylke on the agenda was Glen Cavanaugh, President of Multimedia/Audio Communications of Telex Communications, Inc. His title was "Producing Machines for the Talking Book Program: Twenty-Five Years of Development and Plans for Tomorrow." He sketched the history of Telex and the role of the cassette playback machines made by Telex in the Talking Book Program and assured the audience that Telex will continue to bring its expertise and high standards to future NLS production contracts.
With that the general session ended, and delegates scattered to enjoy an afternoon and evening on the town. A number of tours were available, but many activities were also to be found at the hotel. The first National Job Fair to be held at a national convention drew more than 150 Federationists to displays and discussions conducted by a number of major employers. It is not yet clear how many job offers actually came out of this event, but participants on both sides of the tables were very excited about the experience. This is an event that will definitely happen again.
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children sponsored three different drop-in discussions for families facing various kinds of challenges. These are always popular and extremely valuable since detailed personal help with specific problems is available.
In addition, the Social Security workshop drew people struggling with SSDI and SSI problems. Committees met, and various groups hosted receptions, information sessions, and video-described films.
The National Association of Blind Students sponsored its traditional Monte Carlo night. This year chances were drawn for an opportunity to sit down and enjoy ice cream and talk with President Maurer. He actually came down and spent the evening with students and did, indeed, have ice cream with the winners.
Friday morning the general session began fifteen minutes earlier than announced in the agenda because of the press of business. The first speaker was our own Erik Weihenmayer, who recently returned from Nepal, where he and his team trained for their attempt to ascend Mt. Everest next spring by climbing her next-door neighbor, Ama Dablam, the Mother's Charm Box, as the Sherpa people call it. Though the team did not reach the summit because of bad weather, the experience they shared has prepared them for Everest more completely than a climb to the summit in good weather could ever have done. Erik's remarks were inspiring, and we are all eager for the next installment of his adventure.
The next agenda item was a series of presentations titled "The NFB in the World." The first speaker was Dr. Euclid Herie, President of the World Blind Union and President of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Dr. Herie was making his thirteenth consecutive address to the NFB. He described the efforts the WBU is making to preserve the international Free-Matter mailing privilege. He reminded his audience that 90 percent of the world's blind population has little access to education and no access to technology or even slates and styluses. He ended by saying that the new Research and Training Institute we are planning is precisely the sort of thing necessary to make the breakthrough needed in dealing with blindness around the world. So the CNIB has determined to make a $10,000 contribution to the capital campaign.
Kicki Nordstrom, First Vice President of the World Blind Union and First Vice President of Synskadaes Riksforbund (the Swedish National Association of the Visually Impaired), reviewed the history of her organization going back to the formation of a self-help organization of blind brush-makers in 1889. The SRF today is comprised of blind and visually impaired people who are committed to self-expression and who work to achieve equality for the blind of Sweden.
As Kicki Nordstrom was leaving the platform, Dr. Maurer mentioned that she is a candidate for President of the World Blind Union this November. Harold Snider, too, is running for office. He is seeking to become Secretary General of the WBU with the backing of the NFB. Dr. Maurer said that he was pretty confident that Kicki will win her contest. ONCE, the Spanish National Organization of the Blind, is backing its own candidate for Secretary General, so it is far from clear who will win that election.
The next speaker was Dr. Michael Tobin from the United Kingdom. He gave an interesting report on his research on Braille at the University of Birmingham over the past thirty or so years. He characterized himself, though sighted, as addicted to Braille. Certainly the breadth and depth of his research makes that clear.
Coreen Bradbury, who was attending her fourth convention and is a leader of the NFB of the United Kingdom, then spoke briefly. She brought greetings from the President of the European Blind Union and Chairman of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, Sir John Wall. Sir John was scheduled to address the Convention, but ill health prevented his making the trip. But Coreen was pleased to tell the audience that he had recently been knighted by the Queen in her birthday list.
"Accessibility to Electronic Information for the Blind" was the title of the next portion of the agenda. In introducing the first speaker, Dr. Maurer said that we have often been frustrated in trying to deal with Microsoft to solve access problems with the company's programs. But as we have gotten to know Janis Hertz, Director of Products and Technology, Accessibility and Disabilities Group at Microsoft, we have gradually come to understand that she is willing to listen and eager to find solutions to the problems together. Ms. Hertz reviewed the progress Microsoft is making at present and described some of the future projects the company hopes to bring to fruition.
Chuck King, Product Manager at the IBM Accessibility Center, then spoke about IBM's commitment to access for disabled users. He pointed out that fifty-eight years before the first disability legislation, in 1914, IBM hired its first disabled employee. The company has been demonstrating its commitment to developing products that are accessible ever since. IBM now requires that all the software it purchases for internal use or resale be accessible, and the company is putting pressure on the independent programmers doing work for it to insure that their programs are accessible. Mr. King also briefly touched on IBM's plans for the future in accessibility.
The next speaker turned out to be three. Deane Blazie, then president of Blazie Engineering, and Ted Henter, then president of Henter Joyce, joined forces with Dick Chandler, a management expert with access to venture capital, to bring the company Freedom Scientific into being. Jim Fruchterman and his company, Arkenstone, have now also joined Freedom Scientific. Deane and Ted, both longtime Federationists, shared the microphone to tell the story of their decision and what it has meant to them personally and to blind people all over the world. Both men were tired of running businesses and yearned to get back to the hands-on work they love. Now that they are both vice presidents for development, they can do just that. They believe that they will be able to integrate products more effectively and make development dollars go further. They introduced Dick Chandler, who said that he, too, was committed to changing the world for people with sensory and learning disabilities. He is confident that in two or three years all of us will share his conviction that this merger has been a good thing for the field.
Dr. Maurer announced that the following week the Canadian National Institute for the Blind would present its 2000 Winston Gordon Award for contributions in technology or access to information for the blind to Ted Henter. The award consists of a gold medal and $10,000.
Bill Long, President of Clever Devices, was the next speaker. His title was "Smart Buses: Solving the Problem of Calling Bus Stops." His company's research indicates that bus drivers are frequently afraid of the microphones necessary to make the stop announcements required by the ADA. If transit companies are to comply with the law, technological solutions must be found. The resulting announcements must be accurate, clear, and friendly. That's what his company has done for a number of transit systems with the advice and assistance of the NFB.
"Using the Internet Without a Computer" was the final agenda item of the morning. The presenter was Jack Gorman, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Speak Link, Inc. His company's work is to voice-enable Web sites on the Internet. It also provides a voice portal for reaching the sites that can be investigated using voice commands over the telephone. Early on they realized that blind people would be a significant part of the market for their services, so they contacted the Washington affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. They discovered that they had not anticipated many things that would prove to be problems to blind users. They quickly learned that, while a service may be good for the general population, it may not adequately serve the blind. But the reverse is not true. If a technology is good for the blind, it greatly increases the usability for the general population. He urged the audience not to tell the competition this truth, at least not for a while.
As a result of the close working relationship that has been formed with the NFB, all the beta testers for the Speaklink system are members or friends of the NFB. Curtis Chong now sits on the company's advisory board, and the NFB's Web site will soon be voice-enabled. Mr. Gorman said in response to a question that a number of exhibitors at the convention had expressed interest in having their Web sites voice-enabled. He said he hoped that very soon the company's portal would include a blind channel that surfers could use to reach sites of particular interest to blind consumers.
The afternoon session opened with a stirring address by Victor Siaulys, Founder of Ache Laboratorios Pharmaceuticals and Co-founder of Laramara, the National Association for Assistance to Visually Impaired Children in Brazil. His title was "Building the Future for the Blind in Brazil." Mr. Siaulys is a self-made businessman and philanthropist. He and his wife Mara had a blind daughter, Laura, twenty-two years ago. They set out to learn what they could about blindness and how to enable their daughter to live a full and productive life. The couple has established the nonprofit organization Laramara to provide what they have learned in a multi-disciplinary setting to blind children and their families in Brazil. Mr. Siaulys became friends with Dr. Jernigan when Laramara sponsored an international conference at which Dr. Jernigan was the keynote speaker. The friendship has clearly shaped his dreams and dedication to serve blind children and their families.
"A Coordinated Effort of Business to Employ the Disadvantaged Including the Blind" was the title of remarks given by Rodney Carroll, Chief Operating Officer of the Welfare to Work Partnership and an Executive on loan from UPS. His job is to contact members of the business community and bring them to the understanding that they are not facing a shortage of workers but the necessity to look for them in different places from the traditional sources of potential employees. He assured the audience that more and more companies are coming to understand that blind people have skills to offer.
The next speaker was an old friend and colleague of the organized blind, Dr. Fredric Schroeder, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. The text of his address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Congressman Robert Ehrlich
shakes hands with President
Maurer at the podium.
Robert Ehrlich, Congressman from Maryland and sponsor of the Blind Empowerment Act, then addressed the delegates. He reviewed his philosophy of employment opportunity, which sounds very much like that of the National Federation of the Blind. He then said that the probable next chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has pledged to him that he will help get this measure to the floor of the House during the 107th Congress. He urged us all to go home and bother every Member of the House who is not yet a co-sponsor of H.R. 1601. He assured the group that constituents are the very best tool he has for getting this bill enacted into law.
Congressman John Shimkus
The Honorable John Shimkus of Illinois next addressed the Convention on the subject of "The Minimum Wage: Extending the Benefits of the Minimum Wage to All Americans Including the Blind." Congressman Shimkus is one of the most enthusiastic cosponsors of H.R. 3540, which would assure that blind sheltered shop workers get at least the minimum wage. Mr. Shimkus described the dear colleague letter which was circulated on May 15 of this year. It asked for Congressional support for this measure, and it did so in Braille. The letter caused quite a stir, but he too urged Federationists to raise Cain with our Representatives in order to gather cosponsors and general support for the measure.
"Plextalk, the Digital Book Player" was the title of brief remarks made by Motoaki Kaneko, President of Plextor Company of Japan. Mr. Kaneko reviewed the history of his company and of the digital book. RNIB in the United Kingdom has bought 10,000 of the Plextor machines, which play audio books on CD's. The RNIB will be producing books in this format, and the NFB is looking into producing a couple of NFB publications on CD. Walking Alone and Marching Together, including all the original recordings of the speeches, will fit on one CD. Mr. Kaneko invited Gilles Ppin to use a little of the time allotted to Plextor to talk about the Victor portable digital book player, a competitor product manufactured in Canada. Both machines were available for inspection and demonstration in the convention exhibit hall.
Marvin Sandler demonstrates
the Odyssey Talking Tactile
Globe to Tim Cranmer and
The next speaker was Marvin Sandler, President of Independent Living Aids. His topic was "Talk is Cheap and Becoming Cheaper: A History of Talking Devices for the Blind." He pointed out that his is the oldest private company selling retail aids for disabled people, having opened in 1977. He reminded the audience of some of the early talking equipment and its great expense. He demonstrated several clocks, watches, and calculators for sale today at a fraction of early prices. He ended by mentioning that in a matter of weeks now we will have a talking remote TV control and a Braille watch with up to five reminder alarms.
Dr. Ruby Ryles, a longtime Federationist and coordinator of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness and Masters Program for Orientation and Mobility at Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind, delivered a moving and exciting address titled "Teaching the Professionals That Teach the Blind: The Innovative Program at Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind." She reviewed the reason for and the history of the wonderful program she directs. Of the twenty-three mobility teachers trained so far in her program, eighteen have been blind. Funding has just arrived to establish the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness, which she also coordinates. Two more master's degree programs are underway, one for teachers of blind children and the other for rehabilitation counselors of the blind. Wonderful research can be expected from all of these programs in the future, and we were delighted to hear firsthand about what is happening.
The final speaker of the afternoon was Dr. Tuck Tinsley, President of the American Printing House for the Blind. His title was "Employing the Techniques of Modern Business in the Production of Materials for the Blind." Recently Toyota Motors adopted APH to help it become more productive using Toyota's four philosophies, which APH has now made its own: the customer comes first, people (employees) are the most valuable resource, continuous improvement, and shop floor focus. Dr. Tinsley spoke briefly and persuasively about each of these commitments and pointed out how APH's services and production have improved because of this new way of doing business. Among other things he mentioned that from developing ten new products a year several years ago, APH has improved to the point of developing seventy-two new ones this year with thirty more that no one has yet had time to develop despite their having been approved.
The most touching moment of Dr. Tinsley's presentation was his unveiling of the prototype of the "Kenneth Jernigan Map of the United States." This is a relief map of all fifty states with incised outlines of the states in the frame and Braille state names in each. At the Kentucky convention in 1997 Dr. Jernigan told Dr. Tinsley that APH should produce such a map to replace the old APH map of the continental forty-eight states. The title of the map appears in print at the top of the map and in Braille across the bottom. The rest of the inscription is "Master Educator of the Blind of the Twentieth Century, President and Leader of the National Federation of the Blind."
On that high note the Convention recessed so that everyone could prepare for the annual banquet.
Allen Harris stands with his hand
on President Maurer's shoulder
at the banquet.
It is safe to say that the NFB has never experienced a banquet like the one in 2000. A number of things were familiar. Allen Harris performed as the master-of-ceremonies with his usual skill and assurance. Three awards were presented: The Newel Perry Award went to Congressman Robert Ehrlich. The International Braille Research Center's Louis Braille Award was presented to Dr. Michael Tobin of the United Kingdom. And our own Dr. Tim Cranmer received the Jacobus tenBroek Award. All three presentations appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
Allen drew a great number of door prizes, and a number of division drawings took place. We did some singing, and Dr. Ray Kurzweil briefly addressed the banquet audience. He recollected his twenty-five-year relationship with the organization and what he has learned about blindness and from blind people.
The really astonishing part of the banquet was upon us almost before anyone knew what was happening. By this next-to-the-last evening of the convention, our capital campaign was within $100,000 of the $5,000,000 mark. An anonymous donor in the audience made it known that a matching gift of up to $50,000 was available to get us to the five million mark. That was the beginning. Gifts and five-year pledges began coming to the podium. When the dust settled that evening, about $600,000 had been raised at the banquet alone. The total amount of contributions and pledges raised during the convention was $1,100,000, making the total raised to date $5,600,000. Being a part of such an outpouring of love and hope for the future stirred us all profoundly.
President Maurer delivered a truly remarkable banquet address titled "The Personality of Freedom." When told that NFB banquet addresses are a never-to-be-forgotten experience, those who have never attended an NFB banquet or read one of the speeches might be tempted to dismiss descriptions of the long series of moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking speeches we have listened to through the years as no more than the usual after-dinner fare churned out by hundreds of speakers on the rubber-chicken circuit. They could not be more wrong. The entire text of the banquet address appears elsewhere in this issue, but here is a taste of the speech as well over two thousand people heard it in person on the evening of Friday, July 7, and others around the world heard it from our Web site on real audio:
The mechanisms of our movement change, but the fundamental purpose remains the same. Sometimes we achieve our objectives through letter-writing campaigns, sometimes by marching in the streets, sometimes by confrontations, sometimes by educational symposia, sometimes by creating a literature of hope and belief, sometimes through actions in the courts, and sometimes by designing our own research facility. However, though the method may shift, the objective does not--it is the complete, unhampered, total independence of the blind. In this year of new beginnings, as the 1900's cease to be, we look to the future and wonder what the decades ahead will bring. The specific details may be obscure, but the direction is abundantly clear. The future belongs to us.
The doctors can tell us that we cannot live independently; the computer specialists can deny us access to information; the inventors can assert that we are unable to find the toilet paper; and the newspapers can print that some of us think it would be better for us to jump in front of a bus. In the long run such arguments are of no significance. They cannot stop us, for we will not let them.
We will form our personality to fit our own image, and we will keep on marching--never quitting, keep on battling--never stopping, keep on living our independence--never altering our irrepressible spirit. Whatever the challenges, we will meet them. Whatever the obstacles, we will surmount them. Whatever the costs, we will pay them. We will not be ignored or stifled or intimidated--and we will prevail. This is our determination; this is our personality; this is the National Federation of the Blind! Come: join me, and we will make it come true!
The final event of this extraordinary evening was the presentation of scholarship awards. A full account of this ceremony appears elsewhere in this issue. Angela Sasser of Texas was the winner of the $21,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship.
Sharon Maneki and Harry Bond
of Maryland display the
attendance banner that
Frank Coppel from South
Carolina has just presented to them.
The partying went on into the small hours of the morning, but precisely at 9:00 Saturday morning the gavel fell, marking the beginning of the final day of the convention. The invocation for the day was sung by Federation leader David Stayer. President Maurer told the delegates that David had postponed some necessary surgery until the following week in order to be present at the convention. Everyone certainly wished David well as he traveled home.
The first item of business on the morning's agenda was the financial report, which President Maurer made. Then final reports were given on PAC, SUN, Associates, the Jernigan Fund, and the capital campaign. Barbara Pierce announced that Macy McClain of Ohio, age nine, had just returned from the CNN studios, where she was interviewed and invited to read a bit of a Harry Potter book aloud. July 8, you will remember, was the day of the release of the fourth of these books. Macy not only read Braille on network television but informed the interviewer that Braille was easy and that she didn't have time to sit around and read all day long because she has chores to do and 4H projects to complete.
Following the contribution announcements made by affiliates and divisions during the Honor Roll Call of States, Jim Gashel and Kristen Cox delivered the Washington report. Mr. Gashel reviewed our continuing struggle to eliminate work disincentives for blind Social Security Disability Insurance recipients. We made progress this session, which is good, but we must be prepared to go back and do it all over again in the 107th Congress.
Exciting progress has been made in our efforts to legislate access to electronic texts for blind students. We have reached an agreement with the Association of American Publishers to go to Congress together to develop language we all can live with to accomplish this goal. The last time we had to find a legislative solution to a publishing problem, reaching an agreement with the publishers was the necessary first step, and we are optimistic that we can now achieve the access to electronic texts we need.
Nine states have already passed technology bills: Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia. The rest of us must redouble our efforts to pass state laws to make sure that all technology purchased with state funds has the capacity to be made accessible to disabled users if needed.
During the past year we won a lawsuit giving the Randolph-Sheppard Program priority over military mess halls. That decision is now being appealed, but we intend to win at the appeal level. After all, the RSA Commissioner and the General Council's Office of the Department of Defense agree with our position. We should go home and urge state Business Enterprise Programs to begin trying to get these sites for blind vendors.
Mrs. Cox commended Convention delegates for generating more than a thousand letters to Dr. Schroeder in support of the RSA proposed rulemaking to stop accepting sheltered-shop placements as competitive closures. In the months immediately ahead we must clearly tell our Senators and Representatives that we do not want language in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor HHS) Appropriations bill conference report which would prevent the Commissioner of Vocational Rehabilitation from redefining an employment outcome. Such language is now in the Senate version, and even though it is not binding, we do not want it making its way into the conference report. Calls should still be made on this matter in September and October.
The work of the NFB Office of Governmental Affairs never stops, and we are always facing a crisis or deadline somewhere in the legislative arena. Mrs. Cox and Mr. Gashel do a wonderful job for us on the Hill, but we are the ones who have to make what they say stick. The 2001 Washington Seminar will be February 4 through 7, and Mr. Gashel charged us with the challenge of having all fifty states represented in Washington.
The entire afternoon session was devoted to reading, debating, and passing thirty-four resolutions. By the time 5:00 arrived, everyone was tired but satisfied. We had completed a marvelous convention. We had experienced the wonderful hospitality of the Georgians and the City of Atlanta.
The time had come to turn our thoughts toward the demands and opportunities of the year ahead. Old friendships renewed, new friendships made, batteries recharged--we packed our bags and returned home to get back to the unremitting work of changing what it means to be blind. Ringing in our ears was the invitation of Fred Wurtzel and the members of the Michigan affiliate to come to Detroit and have some fun in two thousand one!