Braille Monitor - August/September 2000 Edition
July 5, 2000
by Marc Maurer
Marc Maurer delivers the
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.
The Smithsonian Institution serves as the national museum of the United States. It has recently decided to establish an exhibit showing the development of the disabilities rights movement. One significant part of this movement is the story of the National Federation of the Blind. Starting in 1940, the National Federation of the Blind was the pioneer of self-organization among the members of any disability group. We showed the way for other organizations of the disabled, which did not emerge until decades later. The Smithsonian Institution has asked us to supply a number of artifacts of the Federation. These artifacts, which are now part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian, came from the hands of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first president of the Federation, and Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our second great president. The exhibit will be placed on display for the public later this year. The names of our presidents and of the National Federation of the Blind are listed as part of American history at the Smithsonian.
In 1990, on the fiftieth birthday of the National Federation of the Blind, we established the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, which contains at least one of each computer-driven device or program, of which we are aware, to provide information to the blind in Braille, in refreshable Braille, or in speech. At the time this center was founded we promised ourselves that we would keep it up to date, acquiring all new products for the blind that became available.
This year we have added twelve Pentium III computers configured as Internet workstations with T-1 capability, one Braille music-translation program and digital music keyboard, two kinds of Braille note-takers with speech output, three types of Braille note-takers with refreshable Braille displays, one talking Web browser called the IBM Home Page Reader, four different software speech synthesizers for the Windows operating system, a Braille embosser for Windows, a Braille embosser able to generate graphics using programs running under Windows, one tactile image enhancer capable of generating raised-line drawings, three refreshable Braille displays, one book-reading device called the Bookworm which features an eight-cell refreshable Braille display, two stand-alone reading machines--the Portset and the Pronto, four screen reading programs for Windows, one Scan-A-Can program to read and interpret bar codes, a Kurzweil 1000 Version 5 reading system, a laptop with a built-in refreshable Braille display--the SuperBraille, one scientific calculator with a built-in Braille display, and the software packages necessary to run all of these products.
Not only do we acquire technology built by others, but we continue to upgrade our own. The NEWSLINE(r) for the Blind Network, which first came into being in 1994, has continued to expand, from fifty-nine local service centers to seventy-two currently in operation. We have added sites in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas. NEWSLINE is available in thirty-two states, the District of Columbia, and Toronto, Canada. The number of papers provided on NEWSLINE has also expanded from twenty-eight a year ago to forty-three. Thirty-six of these papers are of local interest, and seven of them are national in scope. More than seven thousand subscribers have been added to the NEWSLINE network since last year, and the patterns indicate that the pace of growth is accelerating.
The America's Jobline Network, a technology created by the National Federation of the Blind, has continued to expand. Fourteen states currently have Jobline sites, and we believe that sites in nine others will soon be in operation. Because over thirty thousand job orders per day are transmitted to each Jobline site, we have upgraded the transmission system to employ a digital modem pool connected to T-1 lines capable of handling twenty-three simultaneous transmissions.
We have increased our efforts to improve access to information on the Internet. During the past year we have received many requests for assistance regarding technology from private companies and governmental institutions such as IBM, Microsoft, H&R Block, CNN, the Health Care Financing Administration, and Citibank. Nonvisual access solutions must be incorporated in the design of Web pages. Retrofitting Web sites is clumsy, expensive, and often ineffective. Providing equal access to information is not merely good corporate strategy--it is required by law.
In 1991 guidelines were adopted under the authority of the Americans with Disabilities Act that require automatic teller machines to be independently usable by people who are blind. These guidelines have now been in place for nine years, and the technology has been developed to comply with the requirements. However, compliance is almost nonexistent.
Last year the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, along with several individual blind people, filed suit against Mellon Bank to require it to install accessible ATMs. In May of this year the National Federation of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind of the District of Columbia along with several blind individuals commenced litigation in the District of Columbia to demand that Chevy Chase Bank, Rite Aid Corporation (a drugstore chain), and the Diebold Corporation (a manufacturer of ATMs) install accessible machines. Some of the ATMs manufactured by Diebold can be programmed to provide information to the customers verbally. However, although Diebold has agreed with Rite Aid that it will install and operate ATMs in Rite Aid stores, the machines it has installed are not independently usable by the blind.
ATMs currently provide cash, financial transaction information, and the opportunity to transfer funds from one place to another to customers. However, manufacturers of these products anticipate that the number of services which will be provided through these machines will increase. Tickets to the theater, to a ball game, or to ride on the train will be (we are told) issued by the ATM. Information about restaurants and directions to reach such establishments will be found at the ATM. Payroll checks will be accepted and cashed at the ATM. SmartCards will be purchasable at the ATM.
If these machines are not usable with nonvisual mechanisms, the entire class of people who are unable to read the screen will be shut out of an increasing percentage of business transactions as well as opportunities for entertainment and leisure. We have been told repeatedly that equal access to information is the policy of our nation, and we insist that this policy be enforced. Blind people have historically been systematically prevented from full participation in the economic sector of our society. This must change. We will avoid confrontation if we can. We will cooperate with our neighbors if they will cooperate with us. However, if we can find no way to achieve our ends peacefully, we will fight. We are simply not prepared to be ignored or intimidated or forgotten. It is not only good business; it is required by law.
Then there is the Internal Revenue Service--the arm of the Department of the Treasury that seems always to be outstretched to seek yet further sums of money from the taxpayers. The Internal Revenue Service has decided to place considerable emphasis on having taxpayers file documents and make payments electronically. To assist in this process, the IRS contracted with a number of financial software-development companies to build tax-filing software programs on the Internet. These companies (H&R Block, Intuit, H.D. Vest, and Gilman & Ciocia) created their tax-filing programs without making them accessible to the blind.
Perhaps it should be said that the blind have no more interest in paying taxes than the rest of the citizenry, but we have no less interest in paying our fair share. However, when we have made our payments and met our obligations, we expect to have as much access to information and as much ease in using it as others do. The creation of the Financial Management Systems sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service will inevitably alter mechanisms for dealing with commerce, and the blind will not be shut out.
We joined forces with the Attorney General of the State of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal. We sent letters of demand to the contractors hired by the Internal Revenue Service. In these letters we informed the contractors that we had examined the Web-based tax-filing programs, that we had found them to be unusable by the blind, and that this was a violation of the law. Within two weeks from the time that our letters were dispatched, we had received responses from all concerned. Tax programs to be used for filing returns in the spring of 2001 will be usable by the blind. H&R Block has already visited with us to discuss methods of making their tax programs usable by blind taxpayers, and the other companies have promised to work with us in the months to come.
This is only the beginning. It is essential that programs accessible on the Web can be used by the blind. It is especially important that this be true when such programs are created by our own tax dollars. We do not intend for the money that we pay to be used to create a system that shuts us out. It is not only good business; it is the law.
Another part of the computer world in which we expect to be included is America Online (AOL). Blind people have complained about the inaccessibility of AOL for years. In many instances computer-based information is offered in a fashion that permits access technology to present the material in Braille or speech. However, AOL offers its information only in pictographs without identifying text labels. Consequently, it is virtually impossible for blind people independently to use the AOL system.
We sought the opportunity to discuss the importance of making AOL information accessible to the blind, but officials at the company seemed uninterested. When we insisted, they told us that they would get back to us. However, we are not prepared to wait indefinitely. On November 4, 1999, we brought suit in Federal District Court against America Online, asking that the company be ordered to make its Internet computer system accessible to the blind.
AOL has something in the neighborhood of twenty million subscribers. It has decided to become the company that will create the standard for providing information to the public. That standard excludes the blind. We have repeatedly asked in the past that this standard be modified to include blind participants. Sympathetic responses have been made, but modifications have not come. How long should we wait? How much patience should we have? How much tolerance should the blind be expected to possess? Why should other people have what the blind can never get? We are not prepared to be shut out or ignored or intimidated or forgotten. If the information age is important (and we are repeatedly told that it is), we who are blind intend to be as much a part of it as anybody else. This is the message we sent through the filing of the lawsuit.
The AOL lawsuit was filed in November, and it generated substantial interest in the applicability of nondiscrimination law to the Internet. Commerce, education, entertainment, and communications are increasingly dependent on Internet providers. On February 9, 2000, members of Congress held a hearing dedicated to considering the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act to the Internet. A number of people in the business community argued at the hearing that the Act does not apply and that there is no obligation to make the Internet accessible to blind consumers. However, we the National Federation of the Blind vehemently opposed this position, and we were able to place a member of our own board of directors, Gary Wunder, on the list of witnesses to provide testimony. The cogent and incisive report he gave to the members of the committee was compelling. Blind people need access to the Internet at least as much as other people do.
Although there were those who had predicted that the hearing would be used as a method for attacking and defeating our lawsuit against AOL, the outcome has been more in support of our position than against it. Sometimes our success on Capitol Hill is measured not by what happens but by what does not happen. In this case the proposal to galvanize public opinion against our position failed. The arguments we made were strong enough to prevent actions from being taken against us.
The Randolph-Sheppard Act provides a priority for blind persons operating cafeterias on federal property. However, this priority has been under attack by the Department of the Army and by agencies that run workshops for people with severe disabilities. NISH, formerly known as National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, is a non-profit organization which distributes federal contracts to such workshops. NISH asserts that the priority under the Randolph-Sheppard Act does not apply to government dining facilities such as military mess halls because the government (not individual employees of the government) is buying the meals.
NISH filed a lawsuit late in 1999 claiming that the Randolph-Sheppard Act does not apply to military dining facilities at Fort Lee, Virginia. We intervened on behalf of all blind vendors. Although the case is less than a year old, a decision has now been reached. The Federal Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has a reputation for speed. Lawyers sometimes call it the rocket-docket. The opinion of the court, which was issued on April 25, 2000, held that mess halls are cafeterias as defined by the Randolph-Sheppard Act, that blind people have a priority to operate them, and that other government procurement regulations do not supersede the Randolph-Sheppard Act. You will not be astonished to learn that NISH has filed an appeal. However, we intend to pursue the case as far as is necessary to preserve the rights of blind vendors, and we intend to win.
During the past year Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I have continued to serve as delegates to the World Blind Union from the National Federation of the Blind. I am also President of the North America/Caribbean Region and a member of the World Fund-raising Committee. To conduct the business of the organization and to represent the members of the National Federation of the Blind, Mrs. Jernigan and I traveled to Lewes, England; Stockholm, Sweden; and Beijing, China.
At the Fund-raising Committee meeting, which occurred in Lewes, England, we discussed the urgent need for additional participation by blind individuals and organizations. In one sense the World Blind Union has not lacked funding. Tens of thousands of dollars are channeled through the organization each year to support this or that favored project or priority established by the funding organization. However, virtually no money exists to be spent on needs identified through democratic policy determinations made by the organization itself. We believe this is wrong and perpetuates an unwholesome and undemocratic class system among the members of the world organization.
The National Federation of the Blind has taken the lead in trying to open the WBU to full participation for all of its members by making an unearmarked challenge grant in the amount of twenty-five thousand dollars on the condition that a number of other organizations do likewise. The World Blind Union can become the voice of the blind of the world only when it can determine its own priorities and policies, and it can do this only when it controls its own treasury. We will continue our participation because we need a world organization to change opportunities for the blind in our own country and throughout the world.
The work of the National Federation of the Blind continues to receive recognition in our own country and in other lands as well. In February of 2000 I was invited to give lectures on civil rights for the blind at Oxford University and Birmingham University, England. Fundamental within these lectures was the attitude of independence and self-reliance of the blind that is at the heart of Federation philosophy. The Oxford lecture was videotaped and is available for all students on campus.
While I was in England, I spoke with members of the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom. The great joy that we feel in attaining self-sufficiency is reflected in our colleagues in that country, and it is a pleasure to know that we can join hands with others in different parts of the world. In fact, we have considered conducting seminars on leadership for the blind in different nations. How can we gain independence for the blind in other countries and in our own? Create a movement of the blind; find friends who will share our burdens and join with us to accomplish what we had formerly thought could only be a dream.
Shortly before last year's convention, I asked Dr. Norman Gardner, a long-time leader of the National Federation of the Blind, to travel to Mexico to speak on behalf of the Federation at a congress of individuals that had been brought together to consider programs for the disabled. An increasing quantity of our Federation literature has been translated into Spanish. Several members of our organization contribute to this effort: Michael Marucci, husband of Marie Marucci, who is a staff member at the National Center for the Blind; Angela Ugarte, mother of Ana Ugarte, a scholarship winner of the National Federation of the Blind; and Alpidio Roln, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico. Norman Gardner informed me that the Spanish literature he took with him to Mexico was collected with astonishing speed. It was as valuable, he said, as water in the desert.
We will continue to produce more literature in Spanish. I have asked Dr. Gardner to coordinate and expand this effort. Those who make the translations are volunteers, but their contributions are changing lives for people not only in the United States but also throughout much of the rest of the world.
One of our translators, Angela Ugarte, has personal experience with this kind of change. She tells us why she is committed. Her letter says: "When my daughter Ana Marie lost her vision, I became her eyes in many ways. However, my constant concern was, `What will she do when I die?' Then the National Federation of the Blind offered the opportunity to go to Denver to become an independent person. After she finished the training and I saw the different person she had become, I thought, `I can now die in peace because the National Federation of the Blind is behind her.' I offered Dr. Jernigan to do translations because I felt from the bottom of my heart I had to give something back to the NFB."
This mother of a blind daughter discovered a solution to what she had thought was an insurmountable problem. Her daughter also gained immeasurably. She found freedom.
Our Job Opportunities for the Blind Program has continued to grow. During the last year we have enrolled more than two hundred new participants and placed dozens in competitive employment with entities such as Amerix Corporation, Cendant Travel, Sears, the Social Security Administration, Travelers Insurance, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Service Master Aviation Services, WESLA Federal Credit Union, Catholic Charities, the General Services Administration, and the Baltimore Harbor Court Hotel. Other employers have asked us to find applicants for them to consider.
Protecting and defending separate and identifiable programs for the blind is part of the ongoing work of the National Federation of the Blind. Our experience has shown that better service is provided for a greater number of people when the administrative structure of state governmental programs for the blind is separate and accountable to the blind.
During the past year programming for the blind has been attacked in South Dakota, Florida, and Louisiana. In South Dakota the outcome is particularly definitive. In a memorandum dated August 26, 1999, John Jones, Secretary of the Department for Human Services, announced that he was scrapping a plan to combine rehabilitation services for the blind with other functions of government. This was done despite the fact that Mr. Jones and others had indicated that the plan to eliminate separate programs for the blind could not be stopped. Karen Mayry and our members in South Dakota, working with me and others in our National Office, combined our efforts to oppose elimination of separate programs for the blind. The reason Mr. Jones decided to change his mind is clear from his own words in the memorandum he issued: "Hard core opposition from the blind."
In Florida, too, the proposal to eliminate separate programs for the blind died. In Louisiana the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana, Joanne Wilson, brought together a massive public protest in the capital. More than five hundred people attended, and the proposal to privatize rehabilitation there was killed. This is the power of the National Federation of the Blind.
In Nebraska the Federation urged members of the legislature to create a separate commission for the blind, and legislation to establish this agency has been adopted and signed by the governor. On July 1, 2000, the Nebraska Commission for the Blind came into being. It is governed by a five-member board. One representative is a long-time member of the National Federation of the Blind, Barbara Walker.
The Fair Labor Standards Act contains a provision that allows employers to pay blind workers less than the minimum wage. For decades we have fought to eliminate this unfair discriminatory provision. Earlier this year at our request Congressman Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut introduced bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate to eliminate subminimum wages for the blind. Our efforts to bring pay equity to blind people have been reported by CNN, the Washington Post, and many other news outlets. Support for ending the policy that permits subminimum wages for the blind is growing in Congress, and we are creating the momentum.
A proposal has been introduced in Congress to authorize officials within the Library of Congress to shift money from one line item within the budget to another. What difference does this make to the blind, you may ask. Funds appropriated to provide books for the blind could be used for other purposes if this bill is adopted. Almost all of the reading material available to the blind comes from the Library, and the blind of the nation need it urgently. If we do not have the full range of information available to us that others have, our capacity for participation is severely restricted.
The proposal to permit shifts in allocated funds within the budget of the Library of Congress is not new, and it constitutes a severe threat to one of the most important and vital programs for the blind currently in existence. Therefore we have opposed this proposal in the past, and we are continuing to do so today. For ourselves, for blind children who cannot readily speak for themselves, for the blind who will come after us, we say: maintain the funds; give us books; let us read!
We have also been active in supporting the rights of blind people through the courts. As I reported a year ago, Monica Stugelmeyer is a blind woman living in Spokane, Washington, and a long-time member of the National Federation of the Blind. Some time ago she became employed at the Cowles Publishing Company, which produces the Spokesman Review newspaper. After working on the paper for some time, she sought a promotion to become an inserter operator, but her request was denied because of blindness. We assisted Monica Stugelmeyer in filing a complaint of discrimination. In late October last fall the case was settled. The settlement agreement says that we cannot disclose the amount received by Monica Stugelmeyer. However, it is big enough that Cowles Publishing will not soon forget.
Norwegian Cruise Lines offers pleasure voyages that originate in United States ports. However, several members of the National Federation of the Blind have recently been informed that blind people are unwelcome onboard unless they accept conditions of travel laid down by Norwegian that do not apply to the sighted. Robert Stigile and Joy Cardinet are members of the Federation from California who were planning a honeymoon cruise with Norwegian.
However, the cruise line demanded that they sign waivers of liability, that they obtain advice from a physician regarding risks of travel for those who are blind, and that they purchase special travelers' insurance to cover the supposedly added risk of damage faced by blind passengers. If this set of conditions seems onerous, it is not all that was demanded. Robert and Joy were informed that they would not be permitted onboard unless they agreed to make the cruise accompanied by a non-disabled passenger, who would stay with them in their cabin. Does this condition sound particularly impressive for those planning a honeymoon cruise?
We are assisting with the case. We have asked the Department of Justice to take an interest. We reject every single one of the conditions imposed by Norwegian Cruise Lines, and we will find a way for the blind to sail along with others without restraint, without harassment, and without some snoopy sighted person to bother us in our cabins.
Dr. Daryush Sattari is a blind teacher living in Georgia. For two years he has taught earth sciences in Jonesboro. All six of his performance evaluations give him the highest rating, and his supervisors have consistently indicated that he is a good teacher. However, a new principal has been assigned to the school where he teaches. Shortly before this convention Dr. Sattari was informed that he will not be retained as a teacher because there are problems with his classroom management. Although all other teachers in the school received letters from the district superintendent requesting that they continue to teach, Dr. Sattari was told to pack up and leave.
We are working with the teachers union to file a complaint of discrimination. The union is with us; it recognizes unfairness; and it is prepared to fight. Good performance demands recognition, and we intend to get this for Dr. Sattari, along with a renewal of his contract or damages for discriminatory behavior.
Bob Clark lives in Indiana and is a blind father of a three-year-old daughter. In a custody battle with his former wife he was denied the opportunity to have unsupervised custody of his child because of blindness. If he wanted to see her, he must have with him a full-time sighted supervisor, the court ruled. We learned about the case and assisted him by filing a brief on his behalf in the Indiana Court of Appeals and by appearing for him in the court. On March 10, 2000, the Court of Appeals issued its decision reversing the lower court. Bob Clark can visit with his daughter without the necessity of a sighted person to supervise the two of them. Blind people have as many family obligations and rights as others possess, and this was made clear by the decision of the Court of Appeals.
Rose Tillis is a blind person living in a rural community of Georgia called Ellavell. This spring she gave birth to her daughter, Angel La Rose Tillis. When it was time for her to leave the hospital, personnel there said blind parents could not competently care for newborn children, and they insisted that Rose Tillis sign papers to grant custody of her new baby to her sighted sister.
The National Federation of the Blind learned of the matter. We investigated and found that Rose Tillis is competent. We sent lawyers to Georgia along with dozens of blind parents to serve as witnesses, and we filed a petition of Habeas Corpus demanding that the child be released to her mother. As we gathered in the court room for the hearing, with the blind parents prepared to give testimony and the newspaper and television reporters prepared to write the story, the sister of Rose Tillis and hospital officials agreed to do what should have been done in the beginning. They released Angela La Rose Tillis to her mother. The family has been reunited through the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind.
Carol Randolph is a blind teacher in Greenville, South Carolina, who was informed that she would not get a job teaching in the district because she is blind. Negotiations failed, so we assisted with the lawsuit, and the matter has now been resolved. Carol Randolph has been offered a contract, and she will be teaching. In addition the school district has paid for the harm it caused. Carol Randolph received more than one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.
At our convention last year we announced a campaign to raise capital to construct the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. This is one of the most ambitious endeavors we have ever undertaken. We estimate that the construction will cost approximately eighteen million dollars. Concept documents have been drafted, and we have asked for support from thousands of individuals, dozens of companies, and many foundations.
The purpose of the campaign is to bring into the field of work with the blind an emphasis in research which recognizes the fundamental capacity of blind people. We also intend to include within this facility the Jacobus tenBroek Library, which will collect documents and writings on blindness from all over the world. It has been said that revolutions begin in the libraries. Our revolution was initiated in the hearts and minds of the blind, but it is not finished. We intend to promote it within the research library we plan to build. As we come to this convention, we have raised approximately four and a half million dollars in outright gifts and pledges for the construction of this facility. We hope to have sufficient funding to begin construction in a little more than a year's time. We must build our own future. With the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, we intend to do exactly that.
In 1991, 1993, and 1996, we conducted at the National Center for the Blind jointly with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind US-Canada conferences on technology for the blind. The fourth of these occurred in the fall of 1999, once again hosted by the National Federation of the Blind at the National Center. This conference, as did its predecessors, invited decision-makers from all major manufacturers of products for the blind and organizations involving blindness in the United States and Canada.
New technology was discussed along with trends in development of access systems for the blind. Joint efforts to shape policy so that blind people are considered when systems are developed was a high priority. Exchange of ideas and information has been a fundamental force in bringing these conferences together. However, the fourth US-Canada Conference on technology for the blind also encouraged an exchange of mutual support. It brought greater harmony and cooperation to matters dealing with technology for the blind than has previously existed. A full report of the proceedings appeared in the January, 2000, issue of the Braille Monitor.
Last fall we hosted a meeting of the International Council on English Braille, inviting representatives from all English-speaking parts of the world to support Braille programs for the blind everywhere. Promoting independence of the blind through increased literacy was a favorite mission of Betty Niceley, who served as President of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and who had formerly been a member of the National Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. Betty was elected President of the International Council on English Braille last November. Within weeks of her election we learned that she had serious heart disease; she died within a few short months. However, her dream of greater Braille literacy for the blind of the world remains, and we give it our full support.
We have continued during the past year to conduct programs and activities that have come to be a part of the Federation. We have taught seminars to parents and educators of blind children and given classes in Braille and nonvisual technology. We have assisted in creating a training video on the handling of blind passengers for United Airlines. We have supported a blind mountain climber, Erik Weihenmayer, in his efforts to scale the tallest peaks in the world. We have conducted seminars for blind high school students from New York and New Jersey at the National Center for the Blind.
We have increased our scholarship program to provide thirty students with scholarship grants that range in amount from four thousand to twenty-one thousand dollars. We have commenced conducting community education breakfasts at the National Center for the Blind to which we invite business and sports leaders. The tennis champion and news commentator Pam Shriver served as one of the keynote speakers.
We are currently upgrading our Web site, nfb.org, which offers 3,426 files to the public. Four hundred and twenty-two thousand, nine hundred and sixty visitors from 113 different countries sought information from our site in the last year, and the requests for information numbered 1,354,097.
From our Materials Center we filled more than six thousand orders, distributing approximately two million items to blind people in the United States and throughout the world. A record number of visitors came to the National Center for the Blind, almost two thousand from twenty-one different countries. We have continued to distribute the Braille Monitor, with a circulation of approximately thirty-five thousand per month, and Voice of the Diabetic, which is now being distributed to more than 280,000.
We continue to produce and distribute the Kernel Books, those volumes of firsthand accounts about blindness that offer a depth of understanding about the problems we face to members of the public. The eighteenth Kernel Book, Oh Wow!, is being released at this convention; and the nineteenth book, I Can Feel Blue on Mondays, will be released later this fall. Blindness is often misunderstood, but with the distribution of our Kernel Books we are having a powerful impact in bringing greater understanding. There are currently more than four million of these volumes in circulation.
Then there are Future Reflections, the magazine for parents and educators of blind children; the American Bar Association Journal, recorded edition; and a number of other newsletters and magazines of divisions and affiliates of the Federation.
As I reflect upon the activities of the Federation for the preceding twelve months, I believe that we have never been in better health--never been more active--never been better able to promote our own goals and carry out our own programs. Some of the programs we undertake change from year to year, but the fundamental purposes of the Federation do not.
I came to be a part of the movement over thirty years ago, and my first convention was a revelation to me--it was fresh, exciting, stimulating, challenging. It placed the responsibility for our future squarely in our own hands, and it demanded that we find a way to make that future bright both for us and for those who would come after us. The convention insisted that we recognize and adopt a pattern of behavior which would give to our lives independence and productive accomplishment. We knew it wouldn't happen overnight. We knew it would be demanding. We knew it would require sacrifice and the capacity to believe in ourselves and our blind brothers and sisters. But we also knew that the faith we shared could never be crushed, the progress we made could never be thwarted, and the dreams we possessed could never be extinguished if we would only maintain the proper spirit. It was true when I came to the Federation. It is true in this convention today. It will be true when we come together in the decades to come!
What causes our dreams to become real? Why do we continue to gain greater success? We in the Federation have a bond of shared love and trust. As long as we share our sorrows, our disappointment, and our burdens, none is too great for us to bear. And, of course, with the sharing of work and responsibility comes also the sharing of triumph and joy.
I have said in the past, and I repeat today, that we in the Federation have a mutual commitment--you as members and I as President. As long as you want me to do so, I will lead our movement with as much wisdom and firmness as I am capable of bringing to the task. I will give my time, my energy, my interest, my imagination, and my resources. I will not shirk or duck responsibility or try to cut corners, and I will be prepared to stand in the front line of the battles and to take whatever comes.
You too have a responsibility to our movement, and I will not hesitate to ask that you meet it. You must believe in what we are doing and give of your time, your imagination, your resources, and your dedication. You must also support me when the challenges come. With this bond--this commitment--there is nothing on earth that can prevent us from reaching our objectives. I have looked into the hearts of Federation members, and I know the spirit that burns within them. We the National Federation of the Blind are absolutely unstoppable. This is my faith in our future. This is my commitment, and this is my report to you.